Maastricht only featured in my knowledge of European cities as the “one where the Treaty to introduce the Euro was signed”. However, it was as the birthplace of André Rieu who created the Johann Strauss Orchestra that it went on my “bucket list”. Late night TV brought him to my attention. He and his orchestra turned classical and waltz music into a worldwide concert touring act, as successful as some of the biggest global pop and rock music acts.
Stein Travel advertise Rieu concerts regularly and I decided the best place to go was his traditional end of concert season in his own Maastricht.
The flight to Cologne was uneventful and we were collected there and bussed to Maastricht. The Apple Park Hotel (nicknamed Apple Tart by a group of Dubliners), although situated outside the city, provided a regular free shuttle service. I decided to eat in the hotel that first night and was more than pleased with choice and standard of menu and friendliness of staff.
Knowing that walking is not my forte, I headed for the Stiphout jetty, a local boat company recommended at reception. There I opted for the historic trip through the inland harbor, ‘t Bassin (built in 1826). Some passengers had booked brunch – and it did look delicious – but I sat out on deck and enjoyed the sunshine. The captain kept us amused his ‘light’ historic descriptions of boat life and industry through the ages as well, as the management of water to allow trade and prevent flooding. We passed through Bosscherveld, a modern and mechanized lock that dropped the boat 3 metres.
We passed by the river boat community and witnessed their great pride in their homes complete with gardens, sun decks and playgrounds. The favourite lock was a restored and manually operated Lock 19 one where tea and buns were passed to the lock keeper on completion of task.
We sailed through a tunnel that was once part of the fortification of Maastricht with his hook lined walls for boat owners of pre-engine days had to pull the boats with hooks along the canal. The inner harbour ‘t Bassin is still surrounded by the old quay cellars where ships used to unload their cargo. Now they are shops and restaurants. Via Lock 20 we ended up in the Maas again and returned to the jetty. I would certainly recommend the trip.
Afternoon tour of Maastricht
I decided on a small roadside café to have a selection of “Dutch snacks” for lunch and at only €6 I could not believe how appetizing they were. The meal comprised of BITTERBALLEN and KROKETTEN (deep fried crispy balls and tubes filled with meat), KIBBELING (battered and deep fried fish bits), FRIKANDEL (deep fried skinless sausage, naturally accompanied by a glass of Dutch beer.
And now for the walkabout:
The Augustinian church by the river was built in the 17th century and was not open today. Onto the Tourist Office – The Dinghaus: built in 1470 it has functioned as a court, a prison, a torture chamber and an administrative centre. Staffed be very friendly people it was quite expensive – there wasn’t even a free map.
Next stop was the Dominican Black Church which now houses the Dominican bookshop next door to a coffee shop. Both were way too hot for exploring.
Having invested in ECHO runners for this trip and finding them reasonably comfortable, I ventured into the Echo shop on the Grote Staat and bought runners (on sale). I wound my way through some little streets to the Market Square – there are numerous little shops and boutiques all along the streets, very different to the usual city shopping.
The Mooswief statue of the patroness of carnivals announces your arrival in the Markt. In the centre of the square is the Town Hall on the Market – quite an impressive building with a statue of JP Minckelers, the inventor of the gas light, close by.
It was now time to hit back for the shuttle, through Mosae Forum, a large shopping centre again with very different shops.
The group had booked the Pre-concert dinner in the hotel so we all met in the restaurant in our finery. After an excellent meal we boarded the coach for the trip to the summer evening concert in the Vrijthof, the most romantic square in the Netherland. I had an excellent seat (row 6) with the Dublin crowd.
They were festooned in Irish regalia – boas, flags, hats – determined to catch Andre’s attention. They were actually interviewed on the way in by Dutch Television and I was included in the many photos taken as we awaited the arrival of the Maestro.
You cannot imagine excitement of thousands of fans, especially us, as he paraded only feet away with his orchestra, singers and dancers to the stage. The concert was everything that I expected and more – the music, André’s personality, the involvement of the audience, I even did some dancing – it was all just amazing. I might well make another trip!!!!
After delicious breakfast, I hit off on the shuttle again to Maaspromenade, this time for a trip on the Zonnetrein, the little solar powered tourist train. The best part of the ride was through the city park, only allowed because the train is solar powered. We only toured one area, the Aldenhofpark but there was also a sunbathing area, a zoo, a deer park and an aviary. It was just gorgeous and definitely worth a visit. You can see remnants of Maastricht’s old walls as well as many art works.
I had not realized that d’Artagnon, one of the famous Musketeers, died in the Siege of Maastricht. We passed his statue.
Another interesting piece of artwrk, set in sunken cage which was once a bear pit, shows a naked woman caressing the head of a dying giraffe. A zebra walks around the pit and looks pleadingly up to viewers. The piece was created to highlight the plight of endangered animals, questioning how long it will be before even familiar creatures make it on to the at risk lists. Seemingly the artist arrives from time to time and dresses her!!!
Lunch again consisted of another Dutch delicacy – the WAFFLE – you can smell them everywhere as you walk around the city. Two Welsh ladies I had met on the boat the day before said a visit to Wijck and Ceramique on the other side of the river was worth a visit. So off I het across (the very long) Wilhelminaburg Bridge (called after a favourite Dutch queen)from which I could see the church of St Martinus– hundreds of steps below the road, so I just took a look! Instead I wandered along some really old streets admiring the lovely facades with their historic numbering! Amazing! I also found myself at the back of St Martinuses’ church and strolled through there.
Even Echo runners didn’t dissuade me from hitting straight for the shuttle back to the hotel this time via St Servaas Bridge (called after first bishop of Maastricht and supposedly the oldest bridge in the Netherlands, built to replace the old Roman bridge). If André had been playing tonight I might have been tempted to go back into town and listen to the concert free from a distance – but he wasn’t so I opted for a few glasses of wine and dinner and bed.
TUESDAY – HOME via Cologne