Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Walking through Maastricht: A Day trip

Maastricht is easily accessible from Aachen. I once spent a day in Maastricht wandering around the city and managed to do the whole thing under 20 euro. The Aachen University had an offer for international students which allowed us a guided tour of the city for 12 euros. I spent another 3 euro on lunch from a local vendor in Maastricht and another 5 euro on a waist-coat from a second hand shop. I went there two years back and I don’t remember all the details. I certainly haven’t seen all the must-see sights and I regret not having the chance to explore the underground caves. But I did spend a long time wandering about imbibing the flavour of Maastricht and wanted to share some of my memories of what was a wonderful outing.

Maastricht City Hall
Maastricht is often overlooked by tourists. But if you have some time to spend when you are in the Netherlands, I would certainly suggest you spend a day here. With influences of Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, Maastricht is international spirit represented. At the same time, there are quaint little alleyways and hidden corners that give you a glimpse of thousand years’ worth of architecture that recount the journey of this town from since the Roman times.

For me, the first thing I noticed in Maastricht is the traffic signal. The figure on the signal is female – or a Scot in a kilt and a pony-tail. My money is on female. Finally there is a break from the male-dominated street crossings. Somehow, you feel like obeying traffic rules more when a cute pony-tailed figure tells you to wait or to cross the street.

As I walked down the streets, I saw many quirky vehicles. Immediately upon arrival, even reaching any of its sights, Maastricht will let you know that she has a personality and that she is not afraid to show it.

What vehicle is more Dutch than an orange bicycle?
Walking down the main street from the train station, one can quickly reach the city center. Here at the Markt, near the city hall, there is a statue of  Jan Pieter Minckele, a Dutch scientist and inventor with ‘eternal burning flame’. I haven’t seen many statues holding up a flame and I realise now, from some twenty pictures I took of the statue, that I may have been more impressed with it than necessary. Still, I think at night, it would have been quite nice to see.

Statue of Jan Pieter Minckele
Jan Pieter Minckele holding the 'eternal flame'

 Some way along the road I came across another statue, this one of no one famous, a boy and his dog. What makes the statue strange is that the boy is holding up a pack of cigarettes almost as an offer – hmmmm what’s with that?

A boy, a dog and a pack of cigarettes

This being Holland, shops selling tulips were a common sight. There were other kinds of flowers too of course but tulips dominated the inventory.

Colours at a flower shop

Road-side flower shop

As I was making my way towards the Vritjhof square, I stopped at Bisschopsmolen, an old mill turned bakery. The mill still functions, grinding flour for the bakery next door. A quick visit there allows visitors to see how a flour mill work while sampling one of many freshly baked breads made from that flour.





The Vritjhof square is for all purposes the very heart of Maastricht. Home to the famous twin churches, Sint-Servaasbasiliek and Sint-Janskerk.  Sint-Servaasbasiliek or the Basilica of St. Servatius is a UNESCO monuments. The gothic Sint-Janskerk or St. John’s Church boasts of the tallest tower in all of Maastricht.

Vritjhof Square
The twin churches at Vritjhof

Strange statues at the Vritjhof square

The towers and the smattering of whimsical statues and a never-ending stream of people make the Vritjhof square a great place to hang out for a spot of food and people watching. I bought my lunch from one of the many food vans that line the square. These are decidedly cheaper than the many restaurants in the area and are ideal if you are looking for a light authentic Dutch snack on a budget.

Students buying food at a mobile cart at the Vritjhof square

I spent a lot of time in the square, probably more than I should have and at the end I did not have the time to do all the other things I had planned on doing while in Maastricht. As I got up to leave, a flash mob gathered and started to dance. I had never seen a flash mob before and for a while I could not figure out what was going on. I thoroughly enjoyed myself once I figured it out. For those who do not know, a flash mob is a group of people who get together in public places and perform seemingly pointless actions, in this case, a line dance, without prior announcement. Flash mobs are usually organized through social media and the participants may not necessarily know each other. Imagine my surprise then, when in the crowded squares people from all directions started walking towards the center in ones and twos and in groups, formed a line and then started to dance.
Flash mob at the Vritjhof square

Flash mob at the Vritjhof square
It was good fun spending a day wandering about in Maastricht. May be someday I will get a chance to do the touristy things there but for now, I am happy with the memories of my laid back day there.

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