Most people I know of who think of traveling to
Holland The Netherlands are talking about traveling to Amsterdam. The Anne Frank House, Van Gogh Museum, Red Light District, and Coffee Shops are huge tourist destinations. Almost every University student studying abroad makes it a priority to visit this city famous for debauchery. While Amsterdam is a must see , if you want to step off the beaten path and delve into the history and culture of the Netherlands, as well as escape the hordes of tourists, Maastricht is a must see.
The small city of Maastricht is situated on the river Meuse, and is nestled on its own peninsula between Belgium, and Germany. The oldest city in The Netherlands (and one of the oldest cities in Europe) is also the birthplace of the European Union and the Euro. The first pillar of the European Union was formed by the signing of the Maastricht treaty of 1992 (thank you for border check free travel). Its rich history dosent stop there, with the second highest number of heritage sights of a Dutch town, it is second only to Amsterdam in sheer number of historical sights. If your a coffee addict like me you will love that it has the highest number of cafés per person of any city in the Netherlands (1 café per 350 people!). If the precedent setting history, and coffee dosent entice you the architecture will, ranging from roman excavations to modern design the city does not disappoint.
Traveling itself is always full of surprises, as for my day trip to Maastricht this was no exception.On a weekend trip during my time as a language assistant in the North of France I found myself visiting this charming city. Stepping onto the Vrijthof Square (city square) I was lucky enough to come when the square had been transformed into a horseball arena. For those of you who have never heard of horseball, it’s a mix between pollo and rugby, riders toss a ball to each other with the aim being to toss it into the other teams goal. This is not a tame game, riders tugged and pushed each other on horseback to nab the ball, courageous? I think so.
Usually my first stop at any new city is the tourist office to pick up a wonderful free city map. Sometimes these maps are fantastic and this time I resorted to
getting lost wandering the streets on a ‘self guided’ tour. Maastricht has no shortage of beautiful winding cobblestone streets and is VERY pedestrian friendly. The Binnenstad (inner city district) is right by the main square and is where you can shop, find the tourism office, and gawk at some beautiful architecture. Escaping from the rain I caught a glimpse of this yellow school bus. I thought nothing of it until it was pointed out to me. Yellow School busses are a distinctly United States tradition. This one had made it’s way to the Netherlands and is now a city tour bus!
After the rain died down I meandered over to the city park. Surrounded by the old medieval city wall this park was a gift to the citizens of Maastricht when the wall was nocked down in 1837 so that the city could expand. I loved this park! A castle, mini zoo, statues, and the oldest city gate in the country whats not to love!
Outside of the city park there is a memorial for Charles de Batz de Castlemore d’Artagnan aka the star of Alexander Dumas’s ‘The Three Musketeers’, and also a unpopular Govenor of Lille. Inscribed on the statue are the famous words “Un pour tous, tous pour un” (all for one, and one for all). Charles de Batz died in battle at the Siege of Maastricht, during the Franco-Dutch war. Known for his cunning and leadership skills, I couldn’t resist the photo op.
One of the most prominent buildings in Maastricht is the 13th century Sint-Janskerk (The Church of Saint John the Baptist). You cant miss the red limestone tower that can be seen from the city square. The church was closed when I visited, you can climb the tower and get a birds eye view of the city if you get there before 4pm!
I ended the day with a walk through the second main square, the Markt. The Stadhuis or city hall is the most prominent building of the aptly named market place.
Before begrudgingly leaving Maastricht a walk along the Meuse, a major river running from France, through Belgium and the Netherlands was called for. I left Maastricht caffeinated and wishing I had got up earlier to spend more time in this beautiful city.