We spent a couple of delightful days (25th- 27th Aug) in Masstricht! Lovely city and everyone we met was extremely friendly and helpful. Certainly another place we will return at some point.
We moored in the Pieters Yatchaven to the south of town. Lovely spot – there was even a bar and swimming pool beside the river. The weather was great so the first thing we did was to go and have a nice cold beer at the bar – to recover from the hard trek down river amongst all those big boys, you understand! We are really getting into ‘beer o’clock’ and enjoy trying new beers as recommended by the waiters.
Next day we decided to do some focused touristy stuff and headed off to visit the fort and the underground caves / tunnels nearby.
Maastricht has a history of invasion, particularly by the French, because it had a strategically placed bridge across the river Maas which invading armies needed to cross. The town itself was fortified and protected by the enclosing walls which repelled most attackers. The fort was constructed after General Vauban (French) used the elevated site to fire at, and breach, the town’s walls. The fort is not that big and of a simple but effective design, it was only manned in time of siege.
Most of the city’s walls have been demolished to allow for the expansion of the town and the fort was decommissioned and was being demolished when it was taken over by the Dutch equivalent of our National Trust. Volunteers now act as guides – our English speaking guide was extremely good.
Then down into the caves, which aren’t actually caves but underground tunnels left after underground quarrying of the sandstone. Really extensive network of tunnels – approx 200kms worth! Apparently the French once tried to destroy the fort above by going into the tunnels and setting off a big pile of gunpowder. This didn’t work because they weren’t actually in the right place (ie not under the fort) and the layer of hard rock above the tunnels did not collapse.
The tunnels have had various uses over the years. Archaeologists have found the remains of dinosaurs and the Germans used the tunnels to store Dutch masterpieces during the war, ready to take back to Germany later. Luckily they didn’t manage to destroy them when they surrendered, and the masterpieces were returned Holland at the end of the war.
We were left in total darkness for a minute while our guide went round the corner with the torch – very very dark and quiet (apart from the kids in the group!). We were told that one man – van Schaik – liked being down in the tunnels and spent a significant time mapping out the network of the tunnels. Many have now been filled in; some quarrying still goes on but only to provide he sandstone slabs necessary to repair the Churches above; and the site has been declared a World Heritage site.
Van Schaik’s map of the tunnels
Once back up top we headed into town for a beer! This tourist stuff sure is thirst making!
Very pretty place with wide tree lined streets where cycle ways are the norm. Never seen so many bikes or so many different types and styles of bike. We surveyed these while we drank our beer and Adrian even rushed off to talk to one guy about his particular style of bike. We are trying to see if there is one that I might manage – after about 50 years!
We were told that there was a food and wine tasting festival going on in the centre so off we trotted. Lovely, busy atmosphere and certainly lots of tasting going on. We eventually managed to understand that we had to buy a card and load it with credits in order to taste anything at all. Being good tourists we persevered (well I kept the table while Adrian went off to he appropriate ‘bank’ tent). 20 euros didn’t buy much at all but we got to listen to the Maastricht male voice choir with a glass of wine and a taster dish.