Monday: 11 May 2009
The small quaint town of Maastricht in the south of the Netherlands is a different feel from the rest of the country and incorporates a mix of influence from Belgium and the Netherlands. This seems very logical given the border is only four kilometers away from the city center.
Getting a late start on Monday lead to the beginning of my exploration of this magnificent city. I borrowed a bike from a friend of Alex to insure I could cover a majority of the city before days end. I just wondered around, no sense of direction or use of a map, just taking in everything around me and stopping where ever I could or wanted to bet a better glance and take in the details. The first interesting place that I found was a church near the center square that was very beautiful and caught my attention. I decided to take the tour and wondered around looking at imprints on the walls of Dutch writing and symbols representing the countries allegiance and nationalism.
Historical and detailed architecture embrace the city while numerous buildings entail ruby red shutters and stained glass windows above the entrance ways of doors including the city or countries crest depicted in a mosaic of art. Each narrow street with cobble stone roads feel like a maze that leads to different elements within the city just waiting to be explored. Numerous artistic statues, eccentric and unique, can be found throughout Maastricht while the river divides the city in two; the center on one side. With beautiful parks, narrow paths, wild geese and large fort walls with hidden treasures along the tops of stairways or tucked in the hidden covet of tree branches and along the rivers path. While on the other side I discovered it was slightly more of a residential area with cafes and pubs lining the street along the rivers edge and the location where the European Union was originally founded can be seen here as well. A small path winds along the river where horses graze and small mud puddles have formed from spring rains; the smell of nature lingers in the air as I draw every breath. As I close my eyes I capture this moment by remembering and embracing the very essence of this beautiful countryside with each breath that I take. As I open my eyes I feel like I am seeing for the first time and search to take in every inch of my surroundings trying not to leave out anything and to capture everything as if recording a video in my mind to archive and savor for years to come. The path eventually leads to a small Marina before heading out of town among more unknown territory just waiting to be explored but must be saved for another day since I must meet my friend Alex back in the city.
When Alex joined me he guided me to see some of the small hidden sites that capture the very essence of this small city; to the place where a bear sits all alone on a bench in the woods, where the caged replica of a zoo entails the scene of a fallen giraffe embraced by a young girl who grasps him in her arms. We rode along the stream that winds through out the city taking in the buildings, watching people enjoying the beautiful warm weather and embracing such sights as baby ducklings struggling to travel up-stream as they fight the waters current. The night before Alex shared with me one of his favorite places in Maastricht which was very intriguing, they converted the location of a former Dominican Church into a book store. Old walls lined with book shelfs including publications of literary pieces written in various languages and the feel of a historic piece of the city embracing each of these books written throughout the years.
Before the break of day and with only a couple hours left of light we decided to drop off our things and bike from the Netherlands to Belgium. We rode to the outskirts of town and over a bridge into a small town on the border; my first taste of Belgium. The city replicated the simplistic country-style of the Belgian culture with homes lining small streets, little shops, and cute cafes but the steeple of a single church rose above everything else which I was inevitably drawn to. A small cemetery with gates wide open struck my attention right before we reached the doors of this church. What was interesting is that many of these inhabitants were laid to rest on the 10th of May 1940. Men, women, children…numerous people who where caught in the devastation that embraced Belgium in the 1940s as Germany sieged this small country; the result of death among many innocent lives caught in the affects of war.
We explored from one edge of town to another and found it very interesting that just beyond these homes lay acres of beautiful green pastures. The green is so pure and looks so picturesque that it seems unreal; a painting enriched with colors that I have not yet seen and are experiencing for the first time. As we head back I could feel the burn in my legs and the rush of being able to ride a bike so easily across borders as if it were one land and one country; no recognition of the separation that divides these two nations. The two different cultures blend into each other and become a fluid balance between two individual countries. The only indication being that the signs where now written in French instead of Dutch.
Teenage boys linger outside of a local cafe that braces the border staring as we rode past, delivering cat calls in French and whistling to catch my attention. An unsubtle attempt to flirt with me as I ride by and when they caught up to me on their mopeds one boy grabbed my ass in hopes to seem more adventurous and brave then his fellow friends. I would have to say a ride by ass grabbing was a first and definitely unexpected on my part.