Amsterdam is amazing. I love it. What is there not to like? Beautiful scenery? Check. Buzzing city and night life? Check. Does it live up to its extremely fun and sordid reputation? Check. Good place to go with your parents? Um… half a check. When your parents summon you over to a sex shop window, point to a bizarre rubber contraption with spikes shooting out of it and expect you to explain its function like you are some sort of ‘young person sex toy guru’, the fun stops.
As your face turns red and you stutter through a lame answer, you find yourself cursing Amsterdam’s sexual lenience and wishing you had chosen somewhere a little less touristy for your family holiday. So thank God for Maastricht, a city where I could escape from the ‘Big Mamma’s’, old men dressed up as babies knocking on poor unsuspecting hookers’ windows, the smell of desperation lingering around every stag party stumbling through the red light district and most importantly, my parent’s inquisitiveness.
Maastricht is one of Netherlands’s oldest cities. Nestled in between the Belgium and German borders and approximately two hours south of Amsterdam, it is a convenient and idyllic city to visit. Filled with stone cobbled streets, beautiful statues and the sound of bicycle bells ringing through the air, this working town does not to conform to the needs of the masses but to its local and international student community.
The TownHouse Hotel is an exquisite boutique hotel which offers four star service at three star prices. Stepping into their funky bedrooms, you immediately feel at home; each room is equipped with a flat screen TV, a safe and a luxurious en-suite bathroom with a shower and bath combo. Each room is decorated slightly differently, giving your room the personal, unique touch; stencils depicting various items of clothing are scattered across the walls, lamps of various shapes and sizes emit a warm glow and a personalised hand written note welcomes you to the hotel.
A large continental and English breakfast is provided in the large open space breakfast room, which also triples as the hotel’s well-stocked bar and lobby. All of the staff are extremely friendly and helpful and should you need to borrow a lap top or use the hotel’s Wi-Fi or gym facilities, these facilities are complementary of the hotel. Should you need parking, the hotel offers a secure garage service at €22.00 per day.
Walking through the town
Once you have arrived in Maastricht, there is very little need for a car as everything worth seeing is within walking distance or alternatively you can hire bicycles to fit in with the locals. Of Maastricht’s many squares, the main Stadhuis square is possible the most exciting as you can wander around the markets and sample the local produce. Visit the old and stunning 10th century Churches, gaze at the gothic towers and stare, somewhat bemused, at the old and new statues that are scattered throughout the town.
The city, probably most famously known amongst our generation for the signing of the European treaty which established the Euro, is steeped in rich history, all of which is evident as you walk through the town. Modern architecture mingles with the old, as the modern town stretches past the old city walls, still evident and in use today.
Things to do
As well as the numerous cinemas, theatres and museums on offer, time your visit to Maastricht with one of their popular fairs, festivals, street parties and performances. The city is famous for its many carnivals which lead up to Easter, as well as the art, jazz, tango or food festivals which often bring the city to a standstill.
The squares are full of bustling restaurants, all of which offer some local cuisine such as soups, meatballs or stews. However, Indonesian food is highly popular in the Netherlands due to its colonial history and I sampled mouth-watering noodles, rice, chicken and pork at Gadjah Mas – Indonesian restaurant on Rechstraat 42. If you like exotic food, this restaurant is well worth a visit.
Like Amsterdam, various cafes also offer the ‘local’ weed cuisine, should you wish to dally in it before returning to the UK. Ask to see a menu, choose wisely and enjoy!
During the day, drink Al Fresco in one of the bars overlooking the Maas river, sample the local Dutch beer and watch the locals pass by, jabbering away in a mixture of Dutch, French, English and German. When the light starts to fade, head to ‘Take One’, a highly popular and entertaining bar where the available beers are always changing and the quantity of edible peanuts quickly diminishes. Although there are not as many clubs as Amsterdam, there are more than enough bars (most open until 2am) to keep you entertained and intoxicated until the early hours of the morning.
Unlike Amsterdam, Maastricht does not pander to the tourism industry and if you want to visit an authentic Dutch city, I highly recommend a visit to this idyllic town. Or just visit Amsterdam without your parents. That would work too.
Words and images: Danann Swanton