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Got up very early and left the B&B without breakfast because I had purchased separate train tickets from Brussels to Maastricht via Liege and had to be sure to make the train on time.When you have a rail pass you may still need reservations; and in some instances they actually may be required on the popular trains, the high-speed ones in particular. When I was buying my pass from RailEurope I couldn't get a confirmed reservation on the first leg of the trip to Maastricht; hence my decision to buy tickets instead.
I took the Metro again as I did the day before. The ticket agent wasn't too helpful on my first trip and I found the whole experience a bit confusing. The Brussels Metro is not as intuitive as it's counterparts in Paris or London, but you can eventually figure out the routes you need to take. As is typical on my trips, about the 4th out of my 5th day in any city, I finally get comfortable with the local transport.
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When I got to the rail rail station, I was definitely on the platform early enough, but still unsure I was in the right place. I hesitated, but then asked a woman who was sitting on the ground if she knew if this was the train to Masstricht. She confirmed that it was.
She was a German national living in Kalamazoo, MI.As we talked, I learned she was an industrial engineer who ended up as a spice buyer for a company she didn't name, but one in competition with McCormick, where one of my cousins once worked.She was traveling on a business trip and lamented leaving her 3-year-old daughter with a sitter.Her husband happened to be somewhere in Africa so she had no choice.He is a professor at Michigan State.
I changed trains in Liege for a local line to Maastricht andsat across from a young man who turned out to be a soccer coach.He was returning home to a small town outside Maastricht after attending a soccer camp in Spain.He also worked in the U.S. for a year or so, coaching soccer in Ann Arbor, MI at the University of Michigan.
What are the chances I would meet two people on the same day who had ties to Michigan universities?
As is the case with many European towns, there often is no tourist information center in the rail station and you must walk to the center of the city, a.k.a. the centrum. It was about a 10-minute walk down the main street and up over the main bridge across the Maas River (known as the Meuse in Belgium) and into Maastricht.
Turns out, as told to me by my friend Jen Davis in New Zealand, that Maastricht's most famous son is Andre Rieu, theDutch violinist, conductor, and composer who gives worldwide concerts with hisJohann Strauss Orchestra.Albeit Rieu isn't the Waltz King himself -- those honors of course belong to Strauss -- but he may have done more than any other modern conductor to refocus attention on what was the contemporary music 300 years ago, at least for a lot of PBS viewers. And, had I opted to take the boat ride down the Maas River, I could have caught have a glimpse of his home.
For a Dutch city that's easier to get to from Brussels than Amsterdam, this is no jerkwater town.There has been some civilization here since the early centuries when the Celts, who had been here for about 500 years, we're routed by the Romans who built a bridge over the river.
Maastricht didn't achieve city rights, however, until the 13th century, and like many European cities, it came under the rule of various conquerors, including a series of Dutch dukes, the Spanish, the French, and the Dutch again. The famous French musketeer, D'Artagnan was killed at Maastricht in 1673.
Some three hundred years later, Maastricht gained notoriety once more when 12 European counties signed the Treaty of Maastricht , which lead to the introduction of a common currency, the euro.
Speaking of euros...the shops along several small streets are among the most high-end I've seen anywhere, offering expensive and sophisticated clothing and accessories. I have to admit I was surprised, but not tempted.
The Tourist Information Center (designated VVV) is housed in one of the oldest buildings in Maastricht. Except for the steady stream of people wandering in and out, you wouldn't guess it was there.
Following my typical modus operandi, I obtained a city map and a walking tour map.Then I took it one step further and asked a tourism representative that if she had just one day to see Maastricht, what else would she do to get a feel for the city.She quickly told me about a little pie shop that was slightly off the walking tour route.She said the pie was among the best in the city and the big plus was that the shop was housed in a working mill.In fact, the mill wheel has been turning since the 1200s. Unfortunately, she forgot to give me it's name and I forgot to ask.
After I hadviewed the requisite remnants of old Roman walls and the original gate to the city on the first third of the walking tour,.I wandered off the route and finally found a bakery/restaurant, the Bisschopsmolen, down a small side street, but still didn't see any mill.
I went in anyway and asked if I could sit opposite a woman who was alone at a long table.Her name was Jolanda (Yolanda - Js and Ys in Dutch)
As we talked, she explained that she was doing a little sight-seeing on her own while her daughter was being interviewed for acceptance into the medical program at the University of Maastricht. They had come by car from northern Holland.Her daughter said she didn't want to trust the train, but I can't figure out that one logic.Even if they are a few minutes late, the trains do run regularly. I've never yet had a train that didn't show up, but as sure as I'm writing this, I will get a doozy of an experience somewhere along my trip.
At any rate, she was enjoying her cappuccino and not feeling at all rushed.Since I had no time table we chatted a bit longer.She said she also has a son who is doing well and I gathered that life has been good to her and her family thus far.
Remarkably, she was the one who knew that this was the pie shop with the mill wheel and that is was located at the back of the building.I was grateful because I don't know if I would have remembered to ask the waitress about it.
BTW the tourism representative was absolutely right about the pie. I ordered a piece of plum pie, which I never had before. It was chocked full of tart fruit, but balanced by raw sugar sprinkled on top of the crust. Yum!
When Jolanda andI finished talking, we decided to walk out back to see the mill wheel. It was one of those perfectly charming European photo opps. There was the old wooden wheel turning steadily as it has done for ages while the water from the small stream flowed from paddle to paddle. There we're multi-colored flowers all around the stone walls of the mill. Inside, you could get an explanation of the grinding process. I took Jolanda's photo by the mill wheel and will email it to her.
After we parted company, I ventured up the hill and south of Maastricht toward the fort.You can't tour the fort, but the view is quite nice.Also on the top of the hill, you can enter the Sint Pietersberg Caves, man-made, sandstone (known as marl) caves where workers once mined most of the building blocks to construct Maastricht.Paleontologists have unearthed fossils of a type of lizard from millions of years ago.NOTE: the tour is in Dutch, but I lucked in and got a guide who would from time to time explain in English. There is an English pamphlet, however, that you can read ahead of time to get a feel for what you will be seeing.
The tour guide told us that there are 8,000 roadways in the cave, but, of course, we toured only a small part.You learn that the people of Masstricht used the caves as a hiding place during WWII (actually throughout the centuries of pillaging and plundering) and stashed important objects and papers to keep them from falling into German hands.
When I left the caves, I was struck by the quiet of the spring setting and couldn't imagine what it must have been like to have a foreign army trampling over your country.But it was all too true; the Germans swept through all the Benelux countries in a matter of days during the early part of WWII..
Back on the walking trail again, I passed by historic churches and squares, each with it's story to tell.It's just fascinating to me to find out about all these places that mean so much to other peoples.
I completed the circuit and made it back to the Tourist Information Center,planning to have an early dinner or appetizers close by before heading to the train station and the trip back to Brussels.I decided to go into the center and thank the woman who provided me with such interesting diversions from the typical tour.
When she spotted me, she smiled and I was touched that she even remembered who I was given the parade of faces that pass through that little office.I would think they would all become one big blur, but was happy to see that it was not so.She asked how I like the tour and the city, and I told her she was a gem for making her recommendations. She gave me a metal button that said Maastricht above a little drawing of an angel. Too sweet, huh?
Then she asked if I was planning to get some dinner.I told her I was looking for a place nearby, and she she shook her head and smiled.Now mind you, she wasn't breaking any code of impartiality.All of the restaurants key restaurants are listed in a separate brochure.
She said I must retrace my steps not an appealing thought after walking around for five hours, but she was insistent.There is a restaurant and hotel in an old church and it's just around the corner behind theVrijthofSquare, the huge central plaza that is the center of activity for Maastricht.
I put my faith in her once again and did as she suggested.When I got to the church I was astonished to see a gleaming copper tunnel that serves as the entrance to Kruisherenhotel-Maastricht. The hotel and restaurant are housed in the 15th century monastery of the Crutched Friars, but it now showcasesone of the most modern yet subdued interiors I have ever seen.I even fell in love with the ladies room!
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Posted in Home Post Date 04/15/2018