Archive for the 'Netherlands' Category

Maastricht (Netherlands)

Today I made my first crossing of the Belgian border, into the Netherlands! It only cost 5,60 for a return train ticket from Liège to Maastricht, and the journey took about 30 minutes, maybe even less. No passports or anything needed, which is the beauty of the EU. Liège probably actually has more in common with Maastricht than with the other cities of Wallonia. For one thing, Liège is much nearer to Maastricht; moreover, both of them are actually part of one province, called Limburg, which is divided between the two countries. Did I ever mention that it was actually only in 1839 that Belgium became the country as we know it today?

This was, in fact, my first ever visit to the Netherlands, and my first impressions were almost certainly helped by the fact it was very sunny, maybe even the sunniest day I have experienced here. It was bizarre to have accustomed myself to one foreign language, and then suddenly face reading signs in yet another one. Nevertheless, it was pleasing to hear people speaking Dutch as I walked by. I even had a go at speaking it very simplistically in a shop, until the person said something I didn’t understand. But I feel glad that I tried.

The most important and most famous thing is that the Maastricht Treaty was signed there, and thus the EU was born. It was also, therefore, where the Euro currency was created. I found some paving slabs that commemorate this:

Maastricht is also home to quite a good university, although I suspect that at weekends, the students get out of town – I didn’t see that many walking around today, it was mostly middle-aged people. Since it’s so pretty, I almost found myself wishing that I’d been able to take Dutch at university so I could spend a semester here. Or even that I didn’t study languages at all, because then I could come here and take classes taught in English. However, I soon came to the conclusion that while very nice and historic, it wouldn’t really be “gritty city” enough for me. Maybe I’d retire here, but it’s not really somewhere I’d want to live as a student.

One thing I must say to anyone who’s about to visit for the first time is: BEWARE OF THE BIKES! They are probably more dangerous traffic than cars. From what I’ve gathered from speaking to Dutch friends who have laughed at me for being such a perennial pedestrian, it seems that bikes are so ingrained into the culture that people are brought up to know cycling protocol by example, not by words. I was extremely impressed at how efficient they make life seem. People pack a week’s worth of groceries into huge satchels attached to their bikes, there are seats for their kids to sit on, and then they just cycle home like it’s nothing. It seems that a bike is appropriate for every occasion, not to mention a necessity for survival.

It’s also pretty necessary for me to comment on a language thing. I found it really nice that on many street signs, the name was given not only in Dutch (at the top), but also in the “Limburgish” dialect, which doesn’t get used anymore, as far as I know:

I think I have written all I can. I didn’t particularly “do” anything in Maastricht today because I think most of the attractions lie just outside of the town. But it was definitely a charming day out, and certainly very lovely to walk around. The architecture is great, both the old and the new aspects. I will just leave you with a photo of the riverside now. (Putting lots and lots of pictures up doesn’t really work on here, but I did take many more that collectively represent the town quite well!)

P.S. When a lot of people think of the Netherlands, they think of the “coffee shops” – and yes, there were quite a few. Their names were quite funny, such as “Laid-Back Coffee Shop”. There were rumours recently that they were going to stop letting non-Dutch citizens in… but in fact, all you have to do is prove you’re 18+.