Monday, October 20, 2008
So I'm back. Back again. My friend Hayley and I went on a weekend trip to Maastricht, in the very south of the Netherlands. It's right at the bottom of the country, and about 5 km one way in Belgium and 20 km the other way is Germany. We took the train out Saturday morning, and after brief confusion finally arrived in Maastricht around noon. Unbeknownst to us, the train from Amsterdam seperates at Sittard, and one half goes on to Maastricht while the other half goes to Heeren. And we just happened to be sitting on the Heeren side of the train. So we arrive in Heeren, and can't figure out what happened. So we had to catch a puddle-jumping "stop-trein" from Heeren to Maastricht. But it turned out quite nice though, because we saw some South Limburg countryside that we wouldn't have seen otherwise. Maastricht is the "Crown Jewel of the south", and is about as far away from windmills, clogs, and tulips as you can get. There are Spanish and Roman ruins, since it got its start as a Roman town and then was occupied by the Spanish for a long period of time. As well, the city hosted two key moments in the history of the EU - in 1991 the 12 members of the European Community met to sign the treaty for economic, monetary, and political union, and they reconvened the next year to sign the Maastricht Treaty, which officially created the EU. So part of Maastricht's new revitalized Ceramique district (which used to be filled with ceramics factories) has a big square called Plein 1992, in celebration of the EU and the Maastricht Treaty.
We met up with our host Marten at his flat, which is about 3 blocks from the train station. We dumped our stuff off there, and then headed out with Marten who took us on walking tour of Maastricht. This was my first adventure using Couchsurfing.com to find a host to stay with. And I must say it worked out great. Marten was a great host, and we had a really fun time in Maastricht. He took us all around the city on Saturday. We visited the church with the Zwarte Christ, a statue of christ that's "black" because it's made out of very dark wood. We checked out the old city walls and fortifications, the Sint Servaasbasiliek which is a church that dates from around 1000, walked by Sint Janskerk but it was closed for repairs, went to the Onze Lieve Vrowebasiliek which has parts dating before 1000 and may well have been built on the foundations of a Roman cathedral. We got some coffee at the Markt Square, visited a water powered granary, and then got some groceries and went back to Marten's where he cooked us a very tasty Thai curry for dinner. We then proceeded to drink copious amounts of wine and discuss life until about 2 am. Good times.
On Sunday 'morning' (and by morning I mean around 12:30 pm) Hayley and I set off with a mission to visit Sint Pietersberg, a Roman fort 2 km south of the city. It's a nice walk from town, and it lies just on top of a hillside overlooking Maastricht. We didn't get to go on a tour of the fort since we missed the 1 tour they run every day, but we did get to go on a supercool tour of the Northern Corridor System Tunnels, which were built by the Romans throughout the hills over a period of 2000 years. The Romans developed the tunnels by quarrying soft marlstone at a rate of just 4 blocks per day, creating an underground system that provided refuge to the citizens of Maastricht whenever they found themselves under attack. During WWII for example, the tunnels housed a well, a storeroom, a chapel, a kitchen, a bakery, and a pen for livestock. At one stage the Northern Corridor System Tunnels had over 20 000 separate passageways adding up to a length of over 200 km and stretching underneath the Belgian border - until the French blew up a big chunk during the war, thinking they were under the Sint Pietersberg fort. However, they only succeeded in entombing hundreds of French soldiers. Geniuses at work. The caves are quite chilly, and are really really dark. Also, they're full of graffiti from across the ages. The tunnels were only closed to the public in the 1980s, so up until then people could just wander in and write their name on the walls. I saw a lot of English/American names written with the date 1944 - Allied soldiers no doubt. I even found some names carved in the wall somewhat ornately with the date 1698. Cool stuff. The guide's favourite game is (with your permission) to leave with the lamps and go to the end of a long curved passageway, and then we have to walk through the tunnel in the pitch black, using our hand on the wall to guide us. It is so dark and so ominously silent down there, that apparently grown men break down and cry when left without a light. In our tour group, one of the kids piped up as soon as the light disappeared around the bend: "Ik kan niet see!" It was pretty funny. After our tunnel adventure we walked back into town, and ate some food at a nice little cafe in the Markt Square. Then we headed back to Marten's and hung out with him some more. But we ended up turning in at a more reasonable hour since we were all very tired from our late night before. This morning we got up and did some dishes for Marten before we left - he was already at work so we decided to leave him a little present. We caught the train at about 11:50 and got home to our doorsteps at about 3:00. Not too bad. Now it's back to real life, somewhat. It's still the fall break, so the school has limited hours. I may make use of my Museumkaart and go to some museums around town, and I was also thinking of taking day trips to Den Haag, Rotterdam, or Utrecht. We'll see.