Maavelous Maastricht

A white man in a Nederlands bar. There is a goblet-shaped glass of very dark beer in front of him.
Mr Robot inside t'Pothuiske
My husband turned 50 at the start of May, and I'd been planning a very special trip for him for some time. Years ago* we went to Maastricht for the day with his mum, and his aunt and uncle who live in Eindhoven in the Netherlands. He fell in love with the city, and has said every so often ever since that he'd like to go back for longer. As it was a Big Birthday – 50 – this year, I made it happen. 

While you can't fly direct from our local airport to Maastricht, it is possible to fly to Amsterdam, and I trusted the Netherlands' rail service to get us from there. I'd arranged a gap of around an hour between landing and getting on the train and was worried it'd be a bit much as there's a railway station at the airport. I hadn't reckoned with the post-Brexit queue at passport check, but hey, that's what a lot of people voted for (not me). ANYWAY step away from the politics, Mim... Train down was swift and easy, and the place I'd booked for us to stay, a room over a traditional bar called De Poshoorn, was clean and bright, and only ten minutes' walk, if that, from the station, and another ten from the heart of the old town, just across the river. 

A redheaded white woman in an olive green top with a navy floral kimono over it.
Me in t'Pothuiske

Within a short time of arriving we'd dumped our luggage in the bar's back room (check-in was later) and wandered into town. And just over the bridge we found another brilliant bar, called t'Pothuiske. All that travelling makes us thirsty and hungry, so a beer and bitterballen (beef croquettes) it was. 

A view of an urban riverside, with a church spire and old buildings.
Wyck, the district where we stayed.

I won't give you a day-to-day itinerary as it was mostly wandering and eating and drinking. The old town is fairly compact, so in our few days there we zoomed round all the major sights: the central square, with the basilica, old city watch house, and red-spired church; the market square; the second basilica. 

A big red church next to a big yellow one
Nowadays they're different denominations - the red church is protestant, the yellow one the Roman Catholic basilica - though once the church belonged to the basilica.

The winding, pedestrianised streets were a joy to walk round, and I was really taken with the old-fashioned identifying markers on buildings – a white rose, say, or a golden bird. Somehow it's more romantic to meet at 'the sign of the silver pig' than '34 Generic Road'. We popped into the first basilica on our first full day there; I tried buying tickets in the scraps of Nederlands I'd managed to pick up from Duolingo (which had mostly taught me the words for things like 'A rhinocerous has a horn and a tail' and 'A deer is an animal') and the lady immediately responded in the language and I was hopelessly lost but it's good to know I sounded intelligible. We did get asked if we lived in the Netherlands at one point, because apparently tourists never bother learning the language! (Shame on them. The locals kept saying, "It's a very difficult language..." but it's honestly not.)

A medieval gate in an old city wall.
Helpoort - permission was granted to build in in 1229. It's the only remaining old city gate in Maastricht, and the oldest in the Netherlands

One day we took a slightly longer walk to the 18th/19th-century fortress outside the city. I was expecting something more castle-like, whereas this is more like a solid block, the main part entered from tunnels beneath the moat. It's not at all pretty, and I did feel sorry for the soldiers stationed there in the dark. But again, there's a degree of romance to it. In the 17th century Louis XIV and his brother, the Duke Of Orleans, besieged it. (The duke was quite a character – if you've ever watched Versailles, all the strangest bits have their roots in fact, and he was indeed both a gifted soldier and loved wearing a good frock and was described by a contemporary as 'the silliest woman in all of France'.) We went all the way from the lightless bottom level, where the well was and black powder was stored, all the way to the top, from where we could see the river. It's amazing to think the cannon fire could reach all that way!

Maastricht fort, a large, square, sturdy-looking stone building.

The fort was used through the Napoleonic period, which means it was operational at the same time as Dartmouth Castle, which we visited in February. It's quite sobering to think of people so many hundreds of miles apart doing such similar jobs and having similar concerns.  

On the way back we passed a little area with some animals – not exactly a zoo, more like a park with enclosures – which gave me the chance to finally make the most of Duolingo and start pointing at animals bellowing 'EEN HART IS EEN DIER! EEN EEND HEBT EEN STAART!' much to the bewilderment of the locals. 

Another animal was my most amusing discovery of the trip. I'd never known there were wild hamsters in Europe, and I only found out because I ordered a beer called Korenwolf and the waiter explained to me that the Korenwolf was a very rare wild animal. Limburg, where Maastricht is, is the very tail-end of the Netherlands, and is often seen as less Nederlands than other parts as it's so close to Belgium. It's certainly the only place in the country that has these little chaps, though there are also some in Belgium. They can get up to 12 inches long (surely a foot-long is a hotdog, not a hamster?) and are completely untameable, much wilder than the Syrian hamsters people keep as pets. I did a bit of digging (not literally...) and found out that although they're endangered, there's a significant population in the old cemetary in Vienna, Austria, where they snack on floral tributes and votive candles. 

A fat hamster eating a candle.

Cute, eh? But wild.

Anyway, that was Maastricht, and jolly good fun it was too, aside from a spot of Train Chaos on the way back when there were animals on the line and we ended up going to Rotterdam and changing there in order to get to the airport on time. Still, if you've got to have chaos, better right at the end when it can't overshadow anything else!

Various carved house signs from Maastricht.
Some of the house signs in the old part of town.

Happy birthday, Mr Robot!

*Before I even began this blog, possibly, all the way back in 2010, because I've searched my old posts and can't find a reference to it.


  1. How beautiful. So glad you were able to put Duolingo to use. Happy Belated Birthday to Mr. Robot.

  2. In spite of being a lot closer to Maastricht than you, I'm afraid I've never visited the city. Nor have I ever heard of a korenwolf, cute though it looks. Perhaps they only occur in Limburg ... did you know that Belgium has an area called Limburg too?
    Kudos to you for attempting to speak a bit of Dutch. Not many people would make the effort.
    I absolutely adore those house stones (gevelstenen) which are all over the place in Amsterdam as well.
    Oh, and a belated Happy Birthday to Mr. Robot! xxx

    1. I think the two Limburgs are the same place, just now split by national borders. Maastricht has inspired us to see more of western Europe, including Belgium at some point.

      I don't know why people don't try languages - languages are fun! It always seems polite to try, at least.

  3. Yes, happy birthday Mr. Robot! Masstricht looks fab. I loved the individual signs on the houses; how quirky. As for the hamsters surely votive candles can't be good for them? What do they eat in the wild? I just can't imagine wild hamsters somehow!

    1. I think in the wild they live on roots and plants. I wondered about the candles myself; the David Attenborough documentary says the oils are a valuable source of calories, but I'd assume that only applies to soy or beeswax ones - like you, I can't imagine the petroleum-derived ones being good for them.

  4. Happy Belated Birthday, P! I'll forever associate Maastricht with John Major and the tedious negotiations back in the 1990s, I never knew it was so pretty and historic. That little hamster is adorable, I want one. xxx

    1. I reckon a foot-long hamster might be large enough to terrify my cats... Apparently while Syrian hamsters make good pets, the European ones are really unfriendly as well as being enormous.

  5. Happy Birthday Mr Robot. What a lovely trip and wild hamsters who knew??

  6. Belated Happy Birthday to Mr.Robot!
    And so lovely place to visit!, totally a huge fan of the brick architecture, the cute house signs, and obviously the wandering and eating and drinking!


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