Sunday, November 4, 2007

One day trip to Maastricht - a medieval town in the Netherlands

Fifty percent of the land in the Netherlands is claimed from the sea, there is no wonder you don't see much sudden land level changes in this country. However, in the most southern province Limburg, it locates the highest point in the Netherlands, 322.7 meters above the sea level. The Drielandenpunt, where the three country Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium meeting at one point, is also close to the oldest city in the Netherlands, Maastricht. Thanks to the rail system's promotion during the weekend, we made a visit to this famous oldest dutch small town.

We arrived at 10:30am and the train was rather packed on a Saturday morning. It was the end point. The whole crowd floated out of the train station and floated into the main street which was then an antique market. The city looked more lively because of the in-flow of tourists. You can see the streets on both sides were very deserted. The whole crowd were moving to the west, crossing the river maas via the
oldest Saint Servatius bridge, eventually spreading over into the maze of twisted medieval streets.

Most part of my life time I have lived close to mountains. I was so excited to see this little hill and realized that I have been missing the hills in my life in the past several months. This is a part of the old city wall, possibly man-made in the history. Well, when most of the landscape was man-made and similar, this is extraordinary even if it were man-made. We ran on top of the hill pretending this were the highest point in the Netherlands, which is actually kilometers away.

Before going, I have read some about this little town, and many said it was the most beautiful Dutch city. I can only agree that this is not a typical Dutch town. In fact, it is a typical medieval city that if comparing to other medieval cities in other parts of Europe, there was nothing much excellent. I couldn't agree more with the city guide in BBC:

The Dutch think of it as that foreign picturesque little city down south, cut in two by the river Maas. With its laid back ‘Burgundian’ [i.e. flamboyant] atmosphere they love to spend a weekend on its cosy cobble stoned streets, admiring the wonderfully un-Dutch like architecture and getting a fair bit of shopping done in between. Taking the hilly surroundings of the Southern Limburg region into account, it’s the closest the ‘Hollanders’(as all people coming from the North are referred to by the locals) can get to going abroad without actually leaving the country.

It is just different. Most Dutch towns are affected by canals and polders design, street networks are mostly crosscutting and straight. A medieval town is famous for its organic growing nature of the town development with curly and meandering streets. It is possible that Dutch people made this town the best tourist town just because of its uniqueness.

I still enjoyed walking slowly along the cobble stoned streets without looking at the map, and suddenly realized that we were back to the place we were before. There are a few things worth noting down. It is a nice city for window shopping, lots of brand shops in small scale but very fancy or humane interior design. There were stone dogs on leash in front of shops. I love the one with a little cute bull dog. The bike sign on the street made out of white color cobble stone was interesting. I love the Kinderboerderij here, but it was weird to see a fake zoo in the park along the city wall. They put animal sculptures in a fence, giraffe, penguin, wood-peckers, ... also with introduction plates outside the fence.

This town is also famous for the Maastricht treaty in 1992, which led the creation of EU and was the result of separate negotiations on monetary union and on political union. I heard also it had a place where Karl Marx lived for several years, which was actually his sister's home. A little surprise to us was a Li-Ning store. It always makes me feel embarrassed that there are so few Chinese famous brand in this world. For a 15 million population Netherlands, there are Philips, Shell, KLM, ... but for a 1.3 billion China, too few to be counted.