An American Couple in Delft
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Weekend in Maastricht

After four and a half months in Delft and Den Haag, Lynn and I had a desire to get out of town for a little while. We have taken some short trips to Amsterdam but that’s no more of a trip than from our old house in Montgomeryville to center city Philadelphia. We quickly discovered that train tickets to Paris or flights to London or Berlin are not so easy to come by at the last minute and arrangements have to be made several weeks, and in some cases, several months, in advance.

Someone at work suggested to Lynn that we visit Kasteel Vaeshartelt in Maastricht. This castle was once the home of William of Orange. You might have thought, as I did, that William of Orange was a king of England. If you did, you would be right. He was king of England. But not this William of Orange who was William I. He is buried in the Nieuw Kerk (new church) on the Markt square in Delft along with all the other Dutch royalty from antiquity. I should also point out that my research on this topic shows that there were several guys known as William of Orange (one thinks they could have been a bit more original with the names). His son, William II, was married to Mary, daughter of King Charles I of England. That made them William and Mary but they were not the William and Mary of Williamsburg, Virginia fame. William II, though, was the one who owned the castle that started this little dissertation, but he only ruled for three years. William II and Mary had a son, William III, who, through his maternal grandfather and whole lot of religious upheaval, became king of England, Ireland and Scotland, but in Scotland he was William II. I’m not making this up. William III (William II of Scotland) also had a wife named Mary and, surprise, they are the ones for whom the College of William and Mary is named). He is buried in Westminster Abbey.




Other stuff you can't live without knowing

The castle is pretty nice with great food. It rather like one of those really large Main Line mansions in Gladwyne in size with an English type garden and grounds, but I don’t think one would want to come all this way just for the castle. The town is another story; Maastricht is terrific and easily worth the trip.

First, little about the trip. Maastricht is about 150 miles or so from Delft. Things are pretty congested in The Netherlands so this figured to be a three and a half hour drive. It turned into five during midday, non-prime time hours. You know how in the summer traffic seems lighter? If we assume that in a 12 week period from mid-June to mid-September that everyone takes one week off, that would mean that in any given week 8.33% of the population is away. Yet with that small percentage reduction, traffic is much smoother. That’s because there is a point before which, extra traffic can be absorbed without causing much problem, and after which, the slightest problem causes things to clog up royally. I will call this the point of Mass Congestion. In a previous post, I documented how the Netherlands is more densely populated than New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the United States. Here, we are constantly beyond the point of Mass Congestion. So say, for example, some guy in Utrecht has a flat tire on the highway. Within ten minutes, highways are clogged in Den Haag and Amsterdam. That’s what happened on the trip down here.

On our first full day in Maastricht, we walked into town, about a three mile hike. We found our way to the old city. I mean old. We discovered something called the Helpoort, a gate flanked by two round towers. This thing was built in 1229, the oldest town gate in the country. On the second floor was an open window and there we saw what appeared to be a woman dressed as a 13th century queen. She waved and I took her picture with a 21st century digital camera. She seemed to done this routine before.

Maastricht is in the far southeastern part of the country about 10 miles from the German border on the east, two miles from the Belgian border on the south, and 273 feet or so from the Belgian border on the west. It gets its name from the River Maas. Spain seized the town in 1579. The French seized it in 1673 and again in 1748. The stuff I read doesn’t make it clear what happened in the middle that they had to do this twice. In 1814, the year of Francis Scott Key, Ft. McHenry, and the Star-Spangled Banner, it again became part of The Netherlands. During the Nazi occupation, it was one of the first towns liberated and more recently, in late 1991 and early 1992, it was the place in which the European Community countries agreed on political and union, and where the treaty on European union was signed.

Maastricht is different from other Dutch cities we’ve seen. So is Utrecht but I can’t quite quantify why. Here’s it’s easy to say why. Although there are the bike paths and the whole bike culture that’s seen everywhere else, the architecture here clearly looks more German and there are also French flavors. In addition, there are no canals (we think because there is no problem with water from the sea here) and there are hills. Actual hills where you have to walk up to get to the top. You don’t have to live in San Francisco or Seattle to know what I’m talking about. These are not monster hills but they are hills nevertheless. One book referred to them as the Dutch Alps which is pretty funny. Another guide book said Maastricht is "a sophisticated open-minded border town, far removed in spirit from the regimented north provinces" and is "the country’s most user-friendly city combining quality of life with standard of living in a way northerners haven’t quite got the hang of yet."

The old town is on the west side of the River Maas. When entering it via a pedestrian bridge, one is immediately aware that with all the crowds of people, there are no cars. But intersections are sometimes in chaos with pedestrians, bikes, and small motor bikes. The streets meander and never run in straight lines. There are two large squares. One contains the Town Hall and the Markt (which is open two days a week) and the other is called Vrijthof, two sides of which are filled with outdoor sidewalk cafes where you can sit for as long as you want with no hassle and have lunch, or only a cup of coffee or a beer. On another side of the square are two large churches, Sint-Janskerk (St. John’s Church) and Sint-Servaasbasiliek (I’m not attempting this one in English).

Upon crossing the bridge to the east side of the River Maas where the rail station is, the streets are noticeably wider, the buildings, while not new, are much newer than the west side, and there is the unmistakable feel of Paris.

Maastricht is pretty small and the book says a visitor can see it in a day. Having been a visitor for a day, I would concur; it isn’t London or Paris. But it really is a great place and if you get a chance to come here, you could do worse than spending a day in Maastricht. Lynn and I will surely come back.

See my pictures of Maastricht.


2008 Rick Wexler   last updated February 21, 2008