Arriving in Maastricht

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Amelie's apt

Flag of Netherlands  , Limburg,
Sunday, September 12, 2010

Our next destination was one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands, Maastricht. Actually, Maastricht and Nijmegen are in a historical battle to see who is in fact the oldest city in the Netherlands. Maastricht has actual historical data which clearly identifys how far the city dates back, but Nijmegen has proof that it obtained its "city rights" before Maastricht. This is clearly a battle to win a title which will bring in more tourists.

So far, in the Netherlands we have been very fortunate in finding a host on Couch Surfing. Our first host in Maastricht was a young psychology student who had just returned from her own travels in the middle east. When I say she "just returned" I literally mean it. We arrived only a few hours after she had returned herself. Steve and I were both surprised that she even hosted us at all. We soon learned that she is a bubbly and joyous girl who loves to be around new people. I was so interested in her travels in the middle east, so we spent a lot of time sitting around her laptop listening to her stories and looking at her pictures. I was so surprised to hear about all of her positive experiences.

When you think about or hear about someone traveling in the middle east, most people usually have the same idea. That idea being...why in the world would you do that? Its dangerous! But Amelie, our hew host, had different thoughts. She wasnīt comfortable with believing what she saw or heard on TV and wanted to make up her own opinion about the middle east, and so she did! Over a period of 2 months, Amelie and a close girlfriend visited Syria, Israel,Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. All of which, she said, were wonderful experiences. The people were so interested and excited to see them that everywhere they went, they were offered assistance and kindness. One day, she met a group of men who lived in the dessert who offered them their donkeyīs as transportation to a tourist destination. This group of people have a specific name which I cannot remember, but the name expresses the fact that they are nomads. They live in no city, only in the dessert. Amelie told us that they spent a few nights sleeping outside in their sleeping bags, no tent, in the dessert listening to these men talk about the stars and their lives. On top of lending both girls a donkey of their own for the day, they even helped sneak them into a "secret" entrance to the tourist destination they were heading to.

Another characteristic she found odd about these countries was the fact that literally everyone smoked. Upon meeting someone new or striking up a conversation with a local, they all, without asking, would hand her a cigarette to be polite. They didnīt even stop to think about whether she smoked or not, because everyone smoked.

While listening to Amelie talk about her travels through these countries it made me think about my own preconceptions and their validity or origins. Did I create these ideas myself, or were they made for me? I donīt think Iīm ready to take a trip somewhere in the middle east to reconstruct my ideas and values towards these nations, however the fact that I question them is a start.

The next day Amelie wanted to take us for a walk around town. She loves books and wanted us to visit her favourite book store. Amelie lives very close to the shopping district in Maastricht, so we started by walking through streets filled with very expensive stores. She stopped us at a candy store called Jamin, which actually is the store we bought our 99% cocoa chocolate bar at in Amsterdam, and told us that we must try a Belgium waffle.

One great thing about Maastricht is itīs location. It lies on the border of the Netherlands and Belgium but is also extremely close to Germany. You could literally see 5 countries in one day if you start in Maastricht. Did you know there are several very tiny countries hidden in the middle of Europe? One of which is Luxenbourg; which is located right beside Maastricht. Look it up! Because of Maastrichts location, you can find many different cultures within the city and sometimes the delicious jems they bring along with them. Amelie continuously commented on all of the different languages she could hear around her. She spoke German(she is actually a German exchange student, so German is her first language) Dutch, English, a little Spanish and she is currently learning French. Amelie is very excited to do another exchange program in Montreal, Canada this January. She was so full with questions about our weather, what clothes she should bring, what there is to do, what the people were like etc. This 21 year old girl has done more traveling than most people I know will ever do in their entire lives. At 16, she did an exchange program in Australia and loved traveling so much that she couldnīt stop. She told me that in the future she hopes to take journalism and travel and tourism in University. After completing this, she wants to travel around the world studying different cultures and writing about them. I think itīs a wonderful idea! And itīs definitely possible for her to complete this dream because they donīt have to pay for education in Europe. I love Canada and being a Canadian, but education is one of the most important things to me at this age and I canīt get over my jealousy towards the European education system. How easy our lives would be if we didnīt have to work ourselves to the bones for years upon years to pay off that ugly tumor we all carry called DEBT! I could go on about this topic for hours, but I wont. As my mother so frequently says "Such is life".

Speaking of my mother, she would have LOVED this book store. In Maastricht, instead of tearing down old buildings and building new ones, they keep the shell of the existing building and create something entirely new on the inside. In this case, they kept an old church completely in tack and built a book store inside. It was a perfect combination in my opinion. Right at the front of the church where they would direct their attention as mass was held, they created a  modern looking cafe. Most of the books were in English so we were able to fully view the different categories and books available before leaving.

Amelie is very proud of the things she enjoys, so she took us to see a few different faculties of the University she attends. We were able to see the law faculty and the business one but unfortunately not the one she attends. Although, we did have a lot of fun making jokes about the students who take classes in the business faculty. One thing Steve and I have noticed about men in the Netherlands is that they like their hair long! Think Fabio long, slicked back with gel and accompanied with a bright coloured cardigan hung on their shoulders and knotted in front of their neck. This town is very rich and it is hard to miss haha Amelie tells us that all of the other faculty's make fun of this look because it seems as though everyone who goes to school to learn business has adapted this style. Throughout the rest of the day when we spotted what we came to call a "Slick Rick" we would laugh. The truth is, I kind of think they looked good haha They may look stuck up and a bit silly but at least they werenīt wearing pants that were ripped or sagged down to their knees. And Iīve never seen men with long hair like that before. Itīs kind of handsome!

After seeing different buildings of her University we walked past a large part of Maastrichtīs old defensive wall and then itīs main gate before heading to her favourite chocolate store. I really wanted to try a Belgium hot chocolate. The difference is vast! Instead of hot water, they warm up milk. And instead of chocolate powder they give you chunks of chocolate to mix in! It was soooooooo yummy. But first we had to pick our chocolate. One wall of this chocolate shop was filled with a selection of hot chocolate chocolates. They had everything you could think of and more. I chose caramel vanilla flavoured milk chocolate, Steve chose plain milk chocolate and Amelie was feeling adventurous and chose strawberry pink pepper chocolate. We took them to our table and stirred them into the milk until the chocolate was completely melted. It was simply delicious! This is another tasty treat that I will definitely try at home.

Later on, Amelie had to leave us to run some errands so Steve and I revisited the old wall and gate. Inside they had goats ducks and geese to feed along with a park to relax. We walked around the quiet military base, through a beautiful neighborhood then headed back to Amelieīs apartment for supper. After supper we went back out to her favourite pub to try some different kinds of beer. Steve had a German beer while Amelie and I both shared a "girly" flavoured Belgian beer. I wasnīt aware that beer came in fruit flavours! But apparently it does. This beer was very soft and tasted like raspberries. To be honest, after my first sip I said "This isnīt beer!" because it tasted more like a cooler or pop. Either way, it was yummy.

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