Panoramic view of Vrijthof If you’ve ever lived in Maastricht as an Erasmus student, this blog might bring back some good memories of the Guesthouse or Meta. If you’ve never been to Maastricht, still read this blog, as you might discover that it’s a great place to visit for a weekend. I went back last week and had a ball.
Eleven years ago my life changed, for the better. I decided to study abroad for a year. I wanted to go to Australia, but didn’t get it, so got offered someplace called Maastricht. I’d heard about the 1992 European Treaty, but that was it. It’s in Holland right? Kind of, it turned out, as I spent a year living with the best mix of people from all over the world. Eleven years later, I returned for Maastricht part deux.
Elf jaar later…
I returned last week to meet up with two good friends and ex-house mates from the Guesthouse student accommodation. Giovanni and Cesco haven’t changed a bit, or else we’re all getting older together. I arrived Friday afternoon, with a direct Ryanair flight to Maastricht, which cost €15. So far so good. Walking across the old Roman bridge towards the Vrijthof, all the memories started flooding back. The bicycles, the tall people, the kebab shops, small biertjes, nice shops, waffels, bitterbollen, red pants, greasy curly hair, cobbled streets. Our hotel was overlooking the Vrijthof, so we could hear the bells ringing from St. Servatius Basilica each hour. There was a cool Lichtspektakel each night, which lit up the square. In 3 days we saw more culture and history in Maastricht than we did in a year back in 2002. Call it getting old and sensible.
Wanderen in het stad
We walked all day Saturday, exploring 4 churches (including TWO basilicas! Surely I’ll go to Heaven?), the caves of Grooten Noord and Sint Pietersberg fort (excellent tour and guide – the caves were home to dinosaurs, bats, mushrooms, farmers, art and even pigs), as well as soaking up the atmosphere just walking through the cobbled streets, taking a coffee or beer along the way. So many surprises, including the Polare bookshop and café, which is housed in a beautiful old church. How did we never explore these places as students? Philistines. Maastricht is a great place for food and drink. So we ignored all that and ate kebabs! The Italians had a craving for a good doner, so we went to Capadokia on the Markt. We did eat well in a few nice bars, such as Café ‘t Pothuiske. We spent our time recounting old stories – it’s amazing how your brain finds old nuggets that make you laugh.
Eeten en drinken
Living in the Guesthouse, corridor C3.10 with Aiman, Ulla, Milosw, Heiner, Katie, Tyler, Antonio, the Belgian girls, the Italian girls, all the people from the Teiko building. Nights out in Take One, chatting to Peet and Mery, or the Highlander, Take Five and the Shamrock. We even called into Heaven 69, the local coffeeshop, but now the laws have changed, and drug tourism has stopped – you need to be a resident to smoke marijuana now. We enjoyed so many beers over the weekend. This was the best part. Never the same beer twice, as there’s always another taste or brewery you haven’t tried. In Take One, our favourite speciaalbierencafe, you don’t choose the beer, it’s the owner Peet who decides. You tell him your “smaak” or taste (e.g. bitter, dry, sweet, sour – no colours like white or dark, or brands like Heineken) and he selects the bottle. Usually he makes a great choice and you’re rewarded with an amazing taste. My favourites were the porter Zwart Witte, the special Gouden Carolus, the local witbier Wieckse Witte, but also the long list of beers I can’t even remember. I had an unusual sour beer, a lovely dark beer, an amazing imperial IPA. I didn’t get to try the gueuze or the imperial stout (recommended by Giovanni who knows an amazing amount about how different beers are brewed).
Fundag en Hasselt, Belgie
On Sunday, we decided to go on a day trip, since we’d been such good tourists on Saturday. We asked the barman in ‘t Pothuiske for ideas, as we could hop on train or bus and go to Eindhoven (boring), Rotterdam (a bit far), Aachen (nice German town) or Liege (Belgian waffle capital). He invited us to come hiking with him, a 20k walk through Limburg, but that sounded a bit much, so his other recommendation was a Jenever Feest in Hasselt, in Belgium. Now, genever is like Dutch (or Belgian) gin, flavoured usually with juniper berries and lots of other sweet flavours. So it sounded like fun, as there would be music, food and lots of genever. It turned into a great day. The town was buzzing with people, brass bands, line dancing, dance music and old crooners with keyboards to keep everyone moving. We ticked our cultural box by visiting the Nationaal Jenevermuseum – where we learned all about distilling genever. It’s like gin, but they have about 20+ flavours, which were too sweet for me. You feel like you’re choosing ice cream – they have lemon, bitter orange and even waffle flavour. Yuck. Much better to drink it straight. We finished up in a nice biercafe, Het Hemelrijk, which had over 500 beers on the menu. After 10 minutes flicking through everything from kriek, dunkel, geuze to pils you’re just confused and have to start again, or randomly pick one. Such a nice experience though. I’d a nice witbier or biere blanche from Bruges. So our day out in Belgium was surprisingly fun.
We rounded it off by a kebab, then a few relaxing beers in Take One. It was so nice to be back there. We recreated a photo we took there in 2002. Giovanni had the original photo, with Cesco, himself, myself and Antonio. So we found the exact table at the back and got in position. The toilet sign “Heren” might have changed and we might have less hair (and less brain cells), but it was a great way to finish our weekend in Maastricht. We’re already planning the next trip – maybe for the Christmas Market, Carnival, Koningsdag or even the triathlon I saw they have in September. Hopefully it won’t be 10 years before we do it again.
Netherlands American Cemetery
On Monday, I visited the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial, which is just outside Maastricht in Magraten. It was really humbling see where over 7,000 American troops were buried during World War Two. It was really interesting to read the history of the famous battles to push the Nazi forces back over the Rhine in 1945, with huge battles in Arnhem accounting for a large number of losses.
These cemeteries are always humbling – the symmetrical layout of white crosses along the cleanly cut grass. Walking through you see many names, rank, the states they came from and the date they died. Except for the unidentified, which are marked simply: “Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God”. I did check out the register for any Power’s – there were a few, so I found one: Clifton H. Power PFC 405 INF 102 DIV MASSACHUSETTS MAR 3 1945.
View the full photo album on Skydrive here (over 160 photos)