This weekend my program organized a trip that took me outside of Amsterdam for the first time since I've been in The Netherlands. As some of you may know if you've been keeping up with my blog, I missed the bus for the last excursion that our group had planned and ended up missing an opportunity to visit Gouda (where the cheese comes from) and Rotterdam, one of the most metropolitan cities in the country. This time I made sure to set my alarm and I checked it many times to make sure it was set correctly (not pm instead of am, etc.). I also made plans to meet my friends outside of our dorm and bike over to the bus together and told them if I wasn't there to ring my buzzer and make sure I woke up and didn't miss the bus again. Well, needless to say... I overslept again! I really don't know why this keeps happening. I'm sure that my alarm was set, I've never overslept or been late to any of my classes this semester, so I really don't know why this keeps happening on days when I need to catch a bus. Anyway, good thing I made those plans with my friends because at 8:40am I woke up to my obnoxious buzzer, realized what time it was, promptly dressed, grabbed my bag and headed outside. We made the bus on time, and so by 9:30am I found myself staring out the window at the Dutch countryside.
The drive to Maastricht was a bit more than two hours and upon arrival we were greeted with a large buffet lunch that we all were more than ready to enjoy, especially since I had overslept and therefore not had time to eat breakfast. After our meal we were met by two tour guides who split up our group and took us on a walking tour of the city of Maastricht. First let me say a little about our tour guide. I didn't catch her name, but she was one crazy lady. She was probably in her mid-late sixties, with hair that was sitting completely still above her head. She was also wearing bright blue eye shadow that was magnified through her powerful glasses. She spoke a mile a minute and gave us some of the most absurd details and information that I've ever heard on a historical tour. Anyway, it was still a fun tour and she was definitely entertaining to listen to.
The city is full of old architecture, a lot of which is made of stone from a local quarry that is now a series of underground tunnels that we were able to explore the next day. One of the highlights of the tour was these sculptures that were located in the main square of the city. The subjects of the sculpture are taking part in the Dutch version of Carnival. Another highlight on the tour is shown in the third picture. This is a picture of what our tour guide called "shit houses." Apparently, many years ago, before the invention of indoor plumbing, people who lived along the canals and the rivers in Maastricht would have their bathrooms built over the canal so that when they did their business, it would just got right into the canal and then float away. Throughout the course of the tour there must have been at least 5 different shit houses pointed out to us by our guide.
After our tour of Maastricht, we had a bit of free time to go shopping in the city and have a cup of coffee. I ended up buying myself some tea and a flannel shirt, which I am currently wearing and which I have decided is my new favorite article of clothing, it's extremely comfortable and comforting to wear and I've worn it every day since I purchased it. When we finished shopping we met up with the
rest of the group and got back on our bus in order to make our way to Drielandenpoint, which is the spot in Europe where The Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium meet. Here's a picture of three of us all standing in different countries!
This place is basically a big tourist trap, but since we didn't get there until it was dark, there was no one else around. We had dinner at a restaurant right next to the point where the countries meet (on the Dutch side I think). The restaurant was this place where they basically put out a bunch of vegetables and meats and pancake batter and eggs out and then you can cook yourself dinner... It was weird to be cooking for ourselves at a restaurant, but we all had fun making fun creations. In one of my trips to the cooking station I made myself a pannekoeken with mushrooms and onions that was absolutely delicious... I'm pretty proud of myself for that one.
After dinner we piled back on the bus in order to make our way to Aachen, Germany where we spent the night. I think the only reason we went there was to say we had spent the night in Germany because we had no planned events in the city and the next morning we all got back into the bus and drove back to the outskirts of Maastricht for our next event. After we checked into the hotel and put all our stuff down we decided to check out the German night life. After walking for probably a mile or so we found a pretty lit up street with a few bars on it and so we picked a place and sat at an outdoor table (even though it was pretty cold). Apparently in Germany they like to put random things in their beers, like banana syrup, or coca cola... Needless to say I ordered a Colaweizen (that's probably spelled wrong). It was basically just a beer with a bit of coca cola in it, it sounds gross, but it actually tasted pretty good. The weirdest part was the foam on top, which was like a mix between soda and beer foam, it was odd.
The next morning we went to visit the caves in St. Pietersberg, which is located on the main mountain outside of Maastricht and has a really nice view of the city. The caves used to be a stone quarry, but have for a long time just been a tourist attraction in Maastricht. We had a guided tour through them, but at one point in order to give us an idea of what it would be like to get lost down there, our guide took away our lanterns and had us walk about 100 or so feet in complete darkness in order to get back to our only light source. It got pitch black in there, and it was pretty scary. We had to hold hands and trace the wall in order to find our way. It's crazy to think about, because our guide also told us stories about how people had gotten lost down there and ended up dying because they weren't able to get out. Jews also used these caves as hiding places during World War Two.
Continuing on the WWII theme, after leaving the caves we made our way to our next stop which was the Margratan Cemetery, a United States WWII cemetery located in The Netherlands. The cemetery is home to around 8,000 American men (and 4 women) who lost their lives in Europe during WWII. It was a really well organized cemetery. The first thing you see is a display that outlines the military strategies and actions taken by the Allied forces in the last years of the war and details many of the main battles that a number of the men burried in the cemetery were involved in when they lost their lives. One thing that was really interesting is that a number of the graves have fresh flowers on them, despite the fact that the families of these men still live in the United States. Our guide told us that it has become customary for local Dutch families to adopt one of the graves and care for it as if the soldier were a part of their own family because they are so thankful to the US forces for liberating the area almost a full year before the end of the war. I took a picture of this one headstone because I noticed that the person had died on June 10th, my birthday. When I looked more closely, I noticed the name and realized that I was looking at the grave of one of the 4 women in the entire cemetery, even more reason to have a picture of this particular headstone.
I have many more pictures from this weekend, I'm planning on making a facebook album, so when that's done, I'll make sure to put a link up here for non-facebook users to be able to take a look. That's all for now. I'm going to Vienna on Thursday, so my next post will be a fun filled Austrian adventure (though I hear it's already below freezing there, so it may be a quite cold adventure as well). Thanks for reading!