James (namelessnobody) wrote,
James
namelessnobody

Day 7: Amsterdam to Utrecht, to Maastricht and back to Amsterdam

On the advice of my friend, Pauline, who had stayed in the Netherlands a few years completing her doctorate, we decide to spend our last full day seeing two other cities, Utrecht and Maastricht. The former is the home of the country’s tallest church tower, the Dom Tower (112 m). Unfortunately we don’t have much luck with our timing and so miss the English speaking tour, the only way we know of to gain access to the top. We do, though, see the rest of the church, a wide street away from the tower. The separation of the two was the result of a hurricane in the 17th century that leveled a broad section of the church, virtually the entire nave. It lay in partial ruins until just recently, when the gaping hole was bricked up (in fact, one entire side of the current structure is modern brickwork). The transformation has been a miraculous one, with the church today being beautiful both inside and out. We spend our time not only within the chapel, but also playing in the courtyard, which we find to be entirely deserted, and in full bloom.

Back on the train, this time to Maastricht. We’re very pleasantly surprised upon entering the city, especially after crossing the bridge spanning the River Maas, which divides the city more or less into an Old and New Section. But as I mentioned before, Anne and I are having trouble timing our day, and so we spend the first half of our afternoon running to find the cave system we’d heard about on the outskirts of town, before the last English-speaking tour ends. At one point, well after getting completely lost despite our map and a thousand useless road signs, we reach a busy street overlooked by traffic lights that are wholly and utterly incomprehensible to the average pedestrian (the average foreign pedestrian, at any rate). There are three settings to the lights, none of them giving a clue as to what they might represent--I’m assuming one means Walk, another Don’t Walk, and the third Take Your Best Shot, but none of these seem to have any affect on the cars that pass, other than to vary the velocities at which they would run down pedestrians should they dare to cross. There are two rather nondescript buttons at the corner for each direction; one of them must mean I’d Like to Cross but I’m at a loss to explain what the other might be for, or which was which. At any rate, Anne and I stand at the corner for several minutes, watching the kaleidoscope of lights and pressing the buttons at random trying to figure out what pattern would make the cars stop. Finally, feeling brave and getting fed up, we look for a break in traffic and launch ourselves across the street, directly into the waiting arms of a constable with a limited sense of humour. We had crossed in front of a police station. After a stern lecture, throughout which we attempt to plead our ignorance through dull and confused looks, shrugs and random interjections of meaningless Dutch words that prove we have no idea what is going on whatsoever, he lets us go and we dash off in the direction of the caves.

Two rain showers and one Mother of All Hills later, we arrive at one of the two publicized cave entrances holding tours with less than five minutes to spare. Unfortunately, we’re at the ‘Dutch’ entrance, and so end up being in the wrong place at the right time. We console ourselves by picking a random direction and taking a walk through the countryside, feeding a horse by the roadside (we have named him Roberto), exploring an abandoned WWII underground army base carved out of the hill, stopping by a petting zoo to feed goats and see turkeys, peacocks and a few birds we’ve never seen before, buying ice cream (and a putrid-tasting yogurt drink) from a neighbourhood grocery store, and then wandering back through the center of town as the day winds down.

At this point Mother Nature starts getting serious, and our umpteenth rain shower of the weeks sends us scrambling through the cobbled streets and to the closest church, which has every entrance locked and sealed except for a tiny side door that’s only slightly ajar. As it turns out, although the place is closed to the general public for the day, there is a little old lady sitting just inside the door, waiting for a school group that’s scheduled to come in after hours. She invites us in to take a look on our own, and so we wander amongst the pews and altarpieces enjoying our private show; the lights are mostly off and so the chapel is predominantly lit by votive candles and the occasional lightning strike outside. This, we decide, is the best way to see a church, bar none. After we’re done the lady at the door gives us a little description of the stonework (only half of it is limestone, protected from the elements by a shell of another harder stone), as though practicing for her upcoming school group, and we thank her profusely for the privilege and the experience before braving the elements once again, retreating to the River Maas once again, stopping for a spell at a McDonald’s with a bathroom that looks as though it was designed by Stanley Kubrick, and then on to the train station. We arrive back at Amsterdam after dark, exhausted by ready to rise early to catch our train to Germany.

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