Several days ago I promised I’d tell you about a city I saw on HGTV’s House Hunters International. This post is about falling in love with a city based on glimpses in a 30 minute reality TV show.
How can that happen? Well, other than being ridiculously impressionable when it comes to cobblestone streets and castle-like turrets, well . . . here’s a photo. See what I mean?
Beautiful Maastricht may be the oldest settlement in the Netherlands. It’s located on the Meuse River, practically in Belgium and just a stone’s throw from Germany. Archaeologists have discovered Neanderthal and Paleolithic remains in the area (we’re talking up to 25,000 BC, folks – or even earlier).
The Celts dropped in later around 500 BC and the busy Romans put their mark on it sometime in the first century AD. If you visit the main library you can see Roman coins, jewelry, pottery shards, etc. and around the city there are remnants of a bridge, a granary and – what else? – a Roman bath (see my Splish Splash post for more about the ubiquitous Roman baths).
When I visit, what I really want to do is wander around the city center of old town Maastricht. The Vrijthof Square dates from medieval times, when pilgrims came to pray at the grave of Saint Servatius. You don’t hear much about Servatius these days, but he apparently warranted a pretty fine cathedral. The Romanesque St. Servatius Basillica is adjacent to the picturesque square and the area is now temptingly packed with fine restaurants, outdoor cafes and shops.
As an aside, Maastricht is the capital city of the province of Limburg. Are you familiar with Limburger cheese, which originated in this lovely area? It may well be the world’s stinkiest cheese and rivals the aroma that wafts from the tennis shoes of 12 year old boys (I know I’m not the only mother who made her son leave his shoes in the garage before entering the house for that prepubescent year or so).
Anyway, my parents occasionally hosted stinky cheese parties where the adults would sit around the kitchen table wolfing down Limburger and crackers and drinking beer. We kids would huddle together in the family room watching cartoons and holding handkerchiefs to our noses in a vain attempt to block out the odor.
So, other than a slight fear of running into people eating stinky cheese, I really want to go Maastricht in the lovely province of Limburg.
When I checked online I learned that the city’s only about an hour away if I fly into Brussels, Düsseldorf or Cologne. I think it would be great to rent a car and take the opportunity to explore the area. You wouldn’t have to drive much to see gorgeous and not-so-touristy parts of the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg – all comfortable little day trips from Maastricht itself.
One of my excursions would be to Aachen, Germany. This ancient and westernmost city in Germany was once home to Charlemagne. I would love to see the great ruler’s magnificent Palatine Chapel, which began construction in 792.
Whoa. Do I sound like a historian, or what? I actually saw the gorgeous Palatine Chapel on a reality TV show, too. I was every bit as surprised as supermodel Cindy Crawford was to learn that she is a descendant of Charlemagne on TLC’s Who Do You Think You Are?
Will you respect me more if i tell you I also watched a three-part series on Islam on PBS? I’m not completely shallow, but you could certainly describe my taste in television (and books) as eclectic.
But listen, have you been to this part of the world? If so, please send me your suggestions. I’d love to learn of more places to visit when I plan this trip. Happy travels to you!