Today marked the occasion of my fifth visit to the beautiful medieval city of Maastricht in the Limburg Province of the South Eastern Netherlands. Each time I have gone there I have felt more and more at home and today was no exception. I even punched the air in a sort of cheesy Alan Partridge way as I crossed the border from Belgium into the Netherlands whilst driving up the A25 motorway alongside the Meuse (which immediately became the Maas at that point) from Liège.
My private celebration just happened without me even thinking about it but was probably prompted by the fact that on all of my previous crossings into the Netherlands I had never seen even a glimmer of a road sign to mark the border.
But this place really does seem like home to me. I know my way round by car and on foot pretty well, I know all the best places to go, I don’t feel the urge to be constantly exploring as I have seen most of it before so I can sit and relax. I took hardly any photographs because I have taken them all before and I knew exactly what to expect in terms of food, drink, language, humour and a welcome. I love you Maastricht!
I even knew that the best place to leave my car overnight was the Sphinx Car Park behind the massive but derelict sanitary earthenware factory and I knew that t’Lambe would be a good place to nip in for a beer and a blog to kill the hour up until it was time for me to check in at the Hotel de la Bourse which I hadn’t stayed at before but I knew exactly where it was located in the Markt.
I knew that not everybody in Maastricht had a voice as loud as the shouty bar lady in t’Lambe so I didn’t need to be scared . . . but I was . . . just a little bit.
I knew that the horrible noise from the public address system was only a temporary thing and that I could easily escape the chaos that accompanied the Maastricht Marathon start and finish point in the Markt by whizzing down a few streets to my favourite quiet little bar in Maastrichter Heidenstraat for a couple of glasses of Kaizer Karel. The bar was called Café de Pieter and I was last in there on my last birthday. I sat outside today by the ruined ramparts and talked to a lovely elderly couple who lived in Maastricht . . . lucky elderly buggers!
Drinking up, I had a little bit of a wander to the Maas, over de Hoge brug (high bridge) to the modern concretey Ceramique District and then along narrow old Limburger streets to call for our Rose and her Markell at her flat in Kattenstraat in the lovely Wyck district of the city. All the time I had my map in my back pocket but I knew that I’d never need it.
A couple of nice-to-see-you-again local traditional beers in the Take One bar in Rechtstraat where the bar owner always asks his thirsty customers what flavour they are looking for on that particular day, what sort of mood they are in and what colour underwear they have on before he decides what beer he will serve them. If it wasn’t such a bloody hassle getting a drink this would probably be my favourite pub in the world. Moving on we had a couple more in the equally nice but less interrogational bar at Hotel de Poshoorn in Stationstraat before I said goodnight to Rose and her beau and weaved my way back over Sintt Servaasbrug to my hotel, stopping on the bridge to reflect upon the reflections of the lights of the other bridges twinkling on the calm waters of the Maas.
Sint Servaasbrug, Maastricht.
I sat outside the Hotel de la Bourse to drink a cup of coffee and watch the townsfolk still scurrying about in the Markt so late at night. I sat back in my chair and thought of England and a terrible bout of going home fever struck. I had had a truly amazing time on my mini tour through France, Belgium and the Netherlands. I had loved every single minute of it, everything I had seen, eaten or drunk, and everyone I had met and spoken to along the way.
There was only one holiday disappointment and that was that I was only staying in my beloved Maastricht for one night. I took comfort from the knowledge that I would be back for visit number six in February 2014.
Ik hou van jou Maastricht.