How can you not be charmed by Maastricht?

 

Late this afternoon, we arrived in Maastricht, the city furthest south in the Netherlands, and is also one of its oldest. It is located near both the German and Belgian borders, which gives Maastricht a cosmopolitan feel. According to Lonely Planet, “No Netherlands itinerary is complete without visiting Maastricht.” For once, they were right. From the second you left the train station, you could feel a vibe in the city quite unlike in any other Dutch cities we had visited so far. A closer inspection of the city showed the place to be intriguing, beautiful and fashionable. Every street seems to offer a new atmosphere or interesting sight. It is perhaps due to its mixture of buildings from different periods and styles. As we walked through the city, we moved from shopping districts which had the energy of Causeway Bay to the quietest European alleys. The city in a way feels like a pastiche of all things and yet unlike postmodern pastiche which can feel artificial and forced, the streets of Maastricht flow into each other naturally.

We first dropped off our bags at our hotel, Matuchi. Then we started our early evening stroll in the city. Our hotel is on the Markt; from there we walked to the square of Vrijthof. Off the square are two impressive churches, Sint Servaasbasiliek and Sint Janskerk. Although smaller, Sint Janskerk is probably more memorable as its tower is made of bright red stone which really stands out in the Maastricht skyline. Below you will find a picture of Sint Janskerk:

After the square, we walked through some quieter parts of the city. Every corner seemed to have a new surprise. Eventually, we made it to Helpoort, the oldest surviving town gate in the country. We walked through the gate and then came upon a park which followed the old town walls. The park has a mini zoo which houses an eclectic collection of animals including ducks, geese, chickens, deer and goats. At the end of the park, however, we were greeted by a disturbing surprise. Inside a cage which formerly held live bears, we found a rather unnerving piece of public art. The work featured a number of extinct or close to extinct animals as well as a woman tending to a dying giraffe. The meaning of the artwork was obviously intended to raise awareness for endangered species. Its placement at the end of the zoo was probably also designed to admonish people for the causal attention they have paid to various animals in the earlier section of the park. The fact that all the animals in the bottom of the cage stare upwards with wounded gazes made one uncomfortable. Here are some of these animals:

Perhaps we too are guilty of apathy as on the way back to the hotel, we stopped for ice-cream at a beautiful Gelato shop called Luna Rossa. The ice-creams on display were works of art themselves and the cone we enjoyed was rich and creamy:

More about Maastricht tomorrow.

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