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 thats 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. Im 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.
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 dont 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. Thats 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. Thats
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
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
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 doesnt 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
weve seen. So is Utrecht but I cant quite quantify why. Heres
its easy to say why. Although there are the bike paths and the
whole bike culture thats 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 dont have to live
in San Francisco or Seattle to know what Im 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 countrys most user-friendly city combining quality of life
with standard of living in a way northerners havent 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. Johns Church) and
Sint-Servaasbasiliek (Im 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 isnt 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.