Friday, August 14, 2015

Magical Maastricht

Maastricht, the capital of the province of Limburg in the Netherlands and the birthplace of
Hell's Gate built in 1229
the European Union, is a really nice city. It straddles the Maas River where the Jeker River joins it, providing lovely views of the river from the many bridges. Maastricht is much smaller, cleaner and nicer than Amsterdam although it has its full complement of bicycles; fortunately, the riders here are much more polite. This is a very historic town with 1677 national heritage sites within its borders, and although we didn’t see them all, we enjoyed many of them. The town still has a part of its original wall, connected to Hell’s gate, which dates from the 1200s and is the oldest city gate in the Netherlands. Early on Maastricht was conquered by the Romans, but later became a religious center and finally an industrial city. It was also the site of this year’s International Association of School Librarianship (IASL) 44th Annual International Conference and the 17th International Forum on Research in School Librarianship. Hearing the research at these meetings is always enlightening, as is getting to speak with the people conducting the studies. It’s also a lot of fun to reconnect with folks I haven’t seen in a year and to meet new people interested in how learners use the library resources.

My traveling companion and I got to old town just in time for a bicycle race; wouldn't you know it. We did find the tourist information center and bought a walking tour brochure. This
Top L to R: Basilica of Our Lady, Henric can Veldkek,
Church of Saint John
Bottom: Basilica of Saint Servatius
turned out to be a dandy idea! Maastricht is a pretty town with its ancient walls still standing and its cobblestone streets still relatively intact. Elegant shopping streets mark the beginning of the oldest part of the city; this was once the Roman fort. Many of the houses still retain their decorations that, before reading was universal, signaled who lived at what address. Accompanying these decorations are stones plaques that show the date the building was constructed, some as early as the mid-1600s. Farther on along we were greeted by one of the oldest church in the area; the Basilica of Our Lady was built prior to 1000AD and looks a great deal like a high-walled castle. There are two other churches we walked by. The first, a red and white edifice, is the Church of Saint John. This Gothic structure was built in the 14th century and originally served as a baptistery and parish church for the Saint Servatius sect. The Basilica of Saint Servatius is a Roman Catholic church that was built in about 1039 AD and is of Romanesque design. Both are lovely buildings and quite picturesque. Between Saint John and Saint Servatius is a statue of Henric van Veldkek, the first Dutch poet.

Swan family
One of the things that wasn’t in the guide but delighted us, none the less, was the family of swans swimming down a peaceful little creek just as we went over a bridge. Maastricht was and is a market town with lots of places to shop, eat and simply wander. We stopped for a snack in a 14th century Dominican Church that has been turned into a bookstore. This is a great venue for a bookstore because of the space to house three floors of books in a rather open air setting. There is also a nice place to sit and read while enjoying a snack. The religious decorations dating from 1337on the ceiling and the stained glass windows are still in place, as is at least one wall decoration. In 2006 these painting were restored, while others were nearly beyond repair. I was particularly interested with the crypts in the main floor; the markings are rather
worn but it is still apparent that there are folks buried in the bookstore. Later in the week we were back at the bookstore for the IASL reception that included some nice nibbles and a very nice offering of prosecco.
Top R to L: Dominican Church bookstore, Inside bookstore
Bottom R to L: Decorated ceiling, Reading and eating area
It is easy to walk around Maastricht, but there are also buses available. These run throughout the day and into the early evening. This historic little town is active, however,
Top L to R: Château Neercanne, Gardens
Bottom L to R: Wine cave, Dancing librarians
until late and there are plenty of cabs available at a reasonable cost to take you back to your hotel. You can also catch a cab out to one of the other interesting places near Maastricht, a 300 year old castle that is still in working order. The
Château Neercanne is just south of Maastricht on a site that was used by the Romans. The caves, created by mining blocks to build the fortifications, are now the wine cellar. This renaissance style castle was rebuilt out of marl in about 1700 after being destroyed in the Liège Wars in the mid-1400s.  The baroque garden has been reconstructed to the original design and is framed on one side by the Jeker River that flows in front of the castle. This was an excellent place to hold the IASL gala and dance until the walls of the castle rattled. I thoroughly enjoyed Maastricht and would go back there in a flash!
Top L to R: Cloisters, House plaque
Bottom L to R: Bag of gold, Windmill

For information on What we did, Where we stayed and What we ate, go to ‘Review of Traveling through the Netherlands’.

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