Thursday, May 24, 2007

Maark visits Maastricht

This amused me.

Hmmm, I disappear for more than a week and not a peep. I’m hurt.

Well, had anyone asked, I was in the BENELUX countries, which is what the Euro-hipsters call Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Belgium, despite the fact that it makes them sound like some kind of 1960s cleaning product. I am also uncertain why these 2 1/2 countries are lumped in together despite a lack of a common language.

The spur for the trip was an invitation from Babet, a friend of a friend who visited us back in January. She lives in Maastricht, which is in that part of the Netherlands that looks like it’s being pinched off between Germany and Belgium.

Babet, explaining a series statues that look like moulded turds.

Having the typically Canadian attitude that no city in Europe is that far from any other, and anxious not to jeopardize my thus-far perfect attendance record in French we didn’t leave Strasbourg until 7 pm. We immediately ended up in a traffic jam (un confiture des autos) that kept us near home until 8 pm.

The ride was fairly smooth – French highways have a bad reputation for some reason, but I’m pretty impressed by them. We hit the so-called Grand Duchy of Luxembourg at about 9:30, where we stopped for gas.

The wonderful thing about the Grand Duchy (in addition to its Dancing on the tomb of Saint Willibard festival, which I’ll have to visit) is that it is really small, and fairly rich. This means that its highways had streetlights – more numerous and brighter than those in many cities. Twas very civilized.

Under these conditions, we crossed all of Luxembourg in about an hour, including the gas stop. Belgium’s highways were nearly as well lit, though decorated with signs that appeared to be warning us about an aggressive tribe of flying, shovel-flinging constructions workers, who apparently swoop down from the sky to attack passing motorists. These highways also featured two different restaurant/motels located in overpass like structures. Because, after all, nothing adds to a good night’s sleep like the soothing rumble of 18-wheelers passing under one’s bed.

This old city entrance was called the Hell's Gate. Way to welcome visitors!

We didn’t get to Maastricht until 12:30, after some difficulty locating Babet’s boyfriend’s apartment (no one warned us that he lived in a 600-year-old convent). Despite being roughly 2 hours later than we promised, our Dutch hosts were awake and prepared with a selection of snacks.

The next day Amynah and I, armed with a selection of maps provided by Babet, wandered around the town aimlessly. We saw the river (the Meuse from which, with some linguistic contortions, Maastricht gets it’s name), we saw the shopping district, we saw ton of bikes. I am suffering from some serious Dutch bike envy now – there were some sweet rides in this town. And, contrary to expectations, there were very few bike lanes: bikes are not segregated from traffic as they are in Strasbourg, but a full-on, elbows-out army in the thick of the fighting of the road wars.

Yes, bikes and the Dutch: big stereotype. I don't care.

After what was probably one of the best cappuccino’s I’ve had since leaving Montreal with Erik and his two boys, Babet took Amynah and I around on a tour of Maastricht.

The city reminded me quite a bit of North American burgs, though that might only be because I’ve become so accustomed to Alsatian architecture. Almost everything was red brick, making all the buildings look like they were built in the 1940s, instead of the 1490s.

Coal barge, with Bridge of St Sevatious in the distance. The end bit was bombed in WWII

It’s a fairly small city, and Babet explained that up until this century the main industry had been mining, removing minerals from the Netherlands’s hill (yes, I intended the singular. No, I am not one hundred percent sure I’m joking). Otherwise, the main industry seemed to be God – not churches, though there were some impressive ones. On the other hand, the place seemed to be littered with ex-monasteries and convents, most of which seem to have been converted into condos.

For the food-lovers amongst my miniscule and indifferent readership, we intended to feast on Dutch cuisine that evening. However, Erik informed us that “Dutch cuisine” consists mainly of mashed potatoes and boiled vegetables. We therefore went for the next best thing: Indonesian cuisine, which I am happy to report, was delicious. In fact, should you ever find yourself in Maastricht, I highly recommend the Indisch eetcafé “De Branding” on Koestraat, and not just because I wanted to type “Eetcafé.”

Anyway, more photos here.

Tomorrow: Antwerp, where, through inattentive walking, we ended up with diamonds on the soles of our shoes. Those things are impossible to get out.


Travis said...

"my miniscule and indifferent readership"? Au contraire, my entertaining friend.
Way to wallow in self-pity, though.

julie said...

Randal spent a semester of law school studying in Maastricht though, ah, uh, he apparently spent a lot of time up in Amsterdam. I've been to the 'Dam but not Maastricht - would like to go someday!

Also, from what I remember of European travels, the red-bricked cities bear quite little resemblance to N. America. Yes, you've been in Strasbourg too long :)

Mark Reynolds said...

Travis: I always though self-indulgent wallowing was the whole point of a blog? I think they'll take it away if I don't.

Julie: all right, I may not know my architecture, but at least I've yet to call the Netherlands's best-known city "the 'Dam." Did you call Ontario's capital "the 'Toe?"

All right, I'm done snarking. I have to write up my travels in "the 'Twerp" and "the 'Sells."

Beejum said...

Aaah good to hear from you again! Now that I've caught up on all the past posts I was looking forward to new stories! Never take a week off again! ;) Seriously, diamonds? Benelux sounds like a diamond encrusted watch of some sort...