May 16, 2013

Maastricht, Netherlands

Exploring the hilly part of Netherlands  

I normally travel every month, it is an addiction and a way of living. Maybe I should have said it the other way around but it truly is an addiction, I have to travel to feel well, and if I don't travel for work it becomes even more important to travel for fun.

Valkenburg Castle
Valkenburg Castle
This year I have tried to cut back as I am planning on moving to Taiwan, so I have spent less time on the road and didn't plan any big trips, except for the trip to Austria which I wrote about before, I was staying in home in Germany. Wuppertal, Duisburg, Essen, Köln and the other cities around Düsseldorf not included (links go to the official website for respective city), I was not out on a single trip the first months. And then came the day when I just couldn't stand it anymore. I had to get away! And looking at the map and looking at the train tables one city was sticking out - Maastricht, in Netherlands (Limburg area - link go to the city of Maastricht). I have plenty of friends who have been and told me how beautiful it is, it is very close by, but still I never made the trip - shame on me. Amsterdam, Brussels, I have seen them all, but never did I go to Maastricht. So on a Friday in April I decided to change that...

If I had known such a beautiful city was in the nearby, I would have gone much sooner! It is relatively easy to get to Maastricht from Düsseldorf. Driving may be faster, at there aren't any direct trains between Düsseldorf and Maastricht (check Deutsche Bahn for tickets and time tables), but the train ride is simple and connections are plentiful, and furthermore, it is inexpensive, especially considering you actually travel to another country.

outside Maastricht -
Outside Maastricht
I arrived Friday evening and immediately fell in love with the city. The low buildings - just a few storeys - and the beautiful facades, stunning architecture: It is all worth a visit. I heard from friends when I got back that they didn't like the look of Maastricht, but asking a bit more it turned out that they had visited the bit fair/exhibition centre, and not seen the central parts of town. The traffic issues are also being solved: A tunnel is being built underneath the city - or if it is a town - to lead the traffic a different route. 

In Maastricht I really appreciated going up to the old fort, the fort of St Pieter, in - logically enough - St Pietersberg: You have a magnificent view from the top, and can see the silhouettes of Maastricht itself. Another thing not to miss is the bridges over the river, you can stand there for a while and just watch people go buy - it is amazing. Another thing that I learnt when I was in town was the the whole Limburg area, where Maastricht is located, is full of tunnels. These tunnels were mainly dug out by people wanting the sandstone, but they have served their purpose both as hiding places during several wars, and storage places for art that needed to be protected - Maastricht is well known for the art, not the least the yearly art fair that is one of the biggest in the world.

I was also very lucky to have a local guide for part of my trip, and with him I went outside Maastricht city: Among other things we saw was Valkenburg, a small village where I discovered that Netherlands in some areas are far more hilly than you expect! In Valkenburg we went to Valkenburg Castle, an old fort, and we did a tour of the caves under Valkenburg. This is where I learnt  that there are about 400 km of tunnels in the area of Limburg! Quite amazing - and definitely worth a visit; But you have to go with a group, and don't be claustrophobic... I would also avoid the Christmas market in the caves, even though Valkenburg in general is well known for it's Christmas market and the Christmas theme could be seen also in April...
There is so much more to see in this area, and a weekend was definitely not enough. I would like to return and try more cheese, more local food, see more, go to some of the museums (Bonnefanten Museum in Maastricht is a well known fine arts museum that I would love to see, for one). I want to mingle with the students, sit at a café and have a local beer (that I did though) and watch people passing by. I want to breath in the atmosphere.

I am definitely returning to Maastricht. The only questions is: Will it be soon, or will it be in a few years, when I have spent time in Asia and speak Chinese already? Not that it matters for Maastricht, here Dutch, German and English will do just fine, but that is the well known problem with the world: There is so MUCH to see, so MUCH to do, and so MUCH to explore.

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