Our penultimate stop was Maastricht, a town I only heard of about 30 years ago when a Professor of Microbiology came to the University of Natal Medical School. It, too, was a lovely place to learn about.
As with Nijmegen and Kinderdijk, there was no need to go from the boat by bus, as we could step off the boat and walk straight into the city. Maastricht is the number two cultural city in The Netherlands, 2nd only to Amsterdam. It has 1 677 national monuments and a car-free city centre. In the early 1990s the Maastricht treaty was signed in this city, introducing the Euro. Near Maastricht, in Margraten, is the American Military Cemetery where more than 8 301 young soldiers, including 4 000 who fell during the D-Day landings are buried.
This city, on the River Meuse, is divided between 2 countries, The Netherlands and Belgium. Over the years it changed hands between the 2 countries but eventually a final decision had to be made and this was done in a novel manner. Cannons were fired by The Netherlands and wherever the balls landed became the boundaries between the countries.
Walking down a street going awa from the river, we passed a restaurant which had puppets ‘sitting’ on the high windowsills and on the pavement outside was a colourful sculpture called The Dancer.
We turned down a side street and passed an hotel, called the Zenden, which had a swimming pool in the basement where children were given swimming lessons. As the area around the pool was very limited, to be able to watch their children have their lessons, parents would sit on a bench outside and watch through a window.
Prior to 1620, all houses were built of wood but as this had led to many fires and so it was then legislated that all houses had to be built of brick. As bricks had to be imported it made building a home very expensive, so all homes belonged to wealthy city residents. At the end of the street there was a gate in a part of the old Roman wall. We went through this and were able to see more of the original wall from the other side. The Romans had entered the area from the river and, the first thing that they did in any new settlement they built a wall around the city and much of it still stands today.
We walked up to a park which did not appear to be particularly large as we could only see a small portion of it but it stretches almost the length of the city. As we approached it, we passed a huge Beech Tree, which was 200-300 years old and which was actually growing like a Weeping Willow. It was beautiful. It was grafted into the Willow by the Park’s creator, Lancelot Brown, who said that he could make anything grow. This earned him the name of Capability Brown.
Behind the tree was another length of the Roman wall and there was a section where toilets had been situated. Tourists like to sit there and have a photo taken without knowing that they are sitting on ancient toilets as there are no signs.
There were 2 interesting buildings, opposite each other, in the park. One was the home where Andre Rieu was born and spent his childhood and the other had been a nunnery and now comprised 3 small homes. On a rock outside the former nunnery there was a plant with yellow flowers called Golden Smelly but it has no smell. the liquid in the stems is said to cure warts.
As we continued on our walk, we passed a house which had what appeared to be Roman Numerals above the front door but they were in a self-created format which we were told was meant to be 1732. Opposite the house, outside a church was a lovely sculpture which indicated that the archives were stored here.
Around the corner we came to the Bischopsmolen or Bishop’s Mill for milling flour and grains using a waterwheel. It was owned by Godfrey of Bouillon in the 11th century and, on his death, passed over to the Bishop of Liege and is still in full operation today. The original deeds are kept in the church archives which we passed. Water for the mill was obtained from the Jeker River which also waters local vineyards. It supplies milled organic flours to a nearby bakery which makes pastries, breads and crackers and grains to the local brewery for its Korenwolf beer.
From here we walked to a large square called the Square of Our Lady of Assumption which was the name of the church on the square. Our group did not go into the church as it was difficult to enter but others told us that it was rather dark inside but had a wonderful bookshop.
We walked on to another square where, during renovations in the 1960s, many Roman ruins were discovered. As they could not decide what to do with the ruins coloured paving was placed around them so that they could be easily found once a decision was made, which had still not happened.
We then made our way back to the boat passing a few unusual and fun statues. First, there was a strange one of a horse called Amazone, a 2nd of a young man offering a packet of cigarettes with his dog sitting nearby and the 3rd was a large, red star with the words, “Maastricht: meet Europe”.
Once all were back on board, we set sail for Antwerp.