A couple weekends ago we took our first official European trip. We went to a little town called Maastricht, only a couple hours south on the train to celebrate my 29th birthday. Maastricht is on the southern tip of the Netherlands, just 10km from France and 15km from Germany.
We had heard from everyone how easy and painless it is to travel by train from Amsterdam. Unfortunately, we can not say that we agree after our first railway experience. First, the train we were trying to take was cancelled, forcing us to hang out for a bit at the train station…no biggie. But apparently our train wasn’t the only one that was cancelled, meaning that when the next one came it was packed with 4-5 times as many people as would normally ride. Conor and I got separated as we were squeezing ourselves onto the train. I was stuck on the stairs on one of the train cars while Conor was a few people in front of me. We literally couldn’t move. I hadn’t been that uncomfortable on public transportation since I rode in the luggage rack on a train in India. Luckily, most of the people spilled off the train at Utrecht (only 25 mins into our journey), and we got a seat for the rest of the way. But it wasn’t necessarily smooth sailing after that. Due to construction, we had to get off the train, transfer to a bus for a while, and then get back on the train again. We made it eventually, but I can’t say it was the most pleasant journey.
When we arrived, we went immediately to check out our Airbnb, which was the nicest place we’ve stayed yet. It was super convenient to the small downtown area, so after a short nap we headed out to familiarise ourselves with Maastricht. One of the things Maastricht is known for is an incredibly beautiful bookstore that is in an old cathedral. We all know how Conor feels about bookstores, so this was at the top of our list to visit. It was enchanting/stunning/gorgeous, but didn’t hold our attention long since we couldn’t actually read any of the Dutch books.
Next, we had dinner at a restaurant in a converted fire-station. The service wasn’t the best, but the delicious food and fantastic wine made up for it. After dinner, we found ourselves in an old brown bar with a couple of rounds of delicious (and strong) Belgium beer.
Sunday was the day I was most excited for, because we had decided to take the train to a neighbouring town called Valkenburg, which is known for its Christmas markets inside of caves. Yep…caves. The atmosphere made it feel a bit like an amusement park ride, with festive Christmas scenes along the cave walls between shops. The markets were great, but even better was the hot chocolate and mulled wine (gluhwein) we treated ourselves to afterwards. I’ll let you guess who ordered which drink.
On our way back to Maastricht a miraculous thing happened. The sun came out! I was so excited to dust off my sunglasses, even if only for a few minutes.
We finished the weekend off with a lovely dinner at Marres Kitchen. It was a beautiful place with a very rustic, homey feel. Conor ordered their famous beef stew (totally deserving of fame) and I got the gorgonzola gnocchi which was very much up my alley.
Maastricht treated us well, and was exactly what we needed for a first European trip: history, beauty, caves, a little relaxation and most important, really good food.