In this post, I finally explain why I decided to write about some random, fairly spontaneous travel to Western Europe in 2018. Bear with me.
Here's a quick recap. In 2018 I went on an impromptu work trip to Berlin, which was extended at the last minute to Aachen, Germany. This was stressful, but fun.
(If you want, you can read the previous posts in this series for more context. Otherwise, the next paragraph serves as a condensed recap.)
My boss gave me a few extra days off before I returned to the United States, so obviously I wanted to take advantage. My goal was to hit up some cool places and stuff.
I got some travel recommendations from colleagues, and picked a few of them to visit.
The first was Maastricht, Netherlands.
Tourist Steve Does Tourist Stuff
I took an early morning bus from Aachen to Maastricht. When I arrived, it was drizzling a bit. I didn't have much time to plan my stay there, so I hightailed it to a coffee shop with WiFi to look up some things to see and do on my phone. By the time I did that, it stopped drizzling.
Then, I was in tourist mode.
The city center is pretty compact and walkable, so I covered a lot of attractions quite quickly.
I started with the The Book Store Dominicanen, a book store built in an old church.
Obviously, the selection is primarily Dutch, but I did pick up a book translated from the Dutch. (More on that in a subsequent post.)
Maastricht also boasts many churches which haven't been converted into bookshops. A few of them are named after St. Servatius, an Armenian missionary who became the area's bishop, eventually dying in Maastricht around 540.
Many of these touristic churches are near Vrijthof Square, which was rather quiet early in the rainy morning.
The Basilica of Saint Servatius is the big roundish one in the image above. It was built on St. Servatius' grave. The current Basilica was constructed in several phases, with the earliest portions of the structure dating to the 11th century.
Next to it is the Church of St. John.
There is also an Armenian Church not far away. It's the red-looking one in the picture, and it was built around the 14th century. I was pretty bummed that it was closed.
Besides this, we have There's also a rather unique-looking city gate called the Hellesport.
And also, there's the Bisschopsmolen, a pretty cool old mill with a waterwheel.
In case you don't read Dutch, the name does mean "Bishop's Mill," and it was owned by some prince-bishop of Liege at some point. In modern times, there are demos of the mill for tourists.
I poked my head in, but I wasn't super interested in a windmill demo if I'm honest. I mean, this was a day off.
Maastricht also has all of the generic shops that you would imagine in any pleasant-enough and touristic-enough European small city, in the part of any European town with a touristic center that my inner monologue voice dubs "the Swarovski Crystal part of town."
As you may imagine, I was less interested in jewelry and Nespresso machines than the windmill demo.
However, Maastricht also boasts one more thing that I really do love -- bridges.
(Got to give credit to the Meuse river for flowing through Maastricht, and forcing people to build them.)
The oldest of these is the Bridge of Saint Servatius which was originally constructed from stone in the 13th century.. (Evidentially, the dude wasn't content with only having all the churches dedicated to him...)
It has been renovated several times since then, most notably after it was nearly destroyed in World War II, so it isn't all original.
Did I mention the bridge has a troll under it?
Incidentally, my accommodations were not far from this bridge, in a room in an AirBnb, which happened to be operated by an artist. It was comfortable and economical.
And with that shilling out of the way, let's get on to the main message.
Hoeve Lichtenberg / Steve Finally Gets to the Damn Point
I saw the main tourist sights. And, I said to myself, "that was nice."
I still had quite a bit of daytime and daylight to go.
I knew there were some other historic sites that were a longer distance away, and arbitrarily decided on Hoeve Lichtenberg, which the bloggers and travel apps of the world told me was a "farm-castle thing." It was a little over two miles away.
I started walking there, through some less touristy bits of the city center. I walked under a colorful underpass, full of artwork inspired by various nation's flags, which was a nice treat.
As I continued walking, it felt as if the city center melted away around me. Instead of densely packed buildings, there were fields. I walked past some really beautiful Dutch architecture, a small grotto to Mother Mary.
And, the sky opened up above me, and rain poured down. I got completely soaked. And, it didn't matter. I was in a joyous mood.
Incidentally, close to the farm-castle, there's also a quarry with a plinth, purpose-built for quarry admiring by some mining company. That was also fun!
I got to the farm-castle. I walked around, and I examined at all of the disrespectful graffiti that reminded me of other people and places.
I walked to the top, and took some selfies. None of them were very good.
I left the farm-castle, and headed back along a dedicated foot/bicycle-path which I hadn't used on my way there. And as I walked, soaking wet, locals on bicycles passed and gave me a friendly 'Hallo.'
And as I walked, I was in a weird state of ecstasy.
Maastricht was a pretty and charming place. But, I realized the happiness I was feeling was something that I could have felt almost anywhere.
Rather, I felt release.
Release from the stress of not-knowing whether I would be going to Aachen, or going back to the US. Release from the stress of not-knowing where I'd sleep a few nights earlier when my airbnb was cancelled. Release from needing to catch a plane or train (for now at least). Release from needing to fit professional obligations and intuit requirements from a continent away.
I was present in the moment, with my wet T-shirt sticking to my chest, and I was free to walk past fields and just spend a day getting rained on and being inattentive to water wheels.
I realized that the joy I felt was more from my state-of-mind, and more from my circumstances than the place where I was, and I appreciated that.
Still, it did help though that my surroundings were beautiful.
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