Tuesday, June 3, 2008

(Business) Trip Report: Maastricht

The rest of my stay in Maastricht affirmed my affection for this city. I expected to be busy late into the evening Friday night, but was told that my journalist status rendered me Not Invited to the conference dinner. Just as well -- I was anxious to walk around.

So, I did just that. I have no idea what I was looking at because I still do not have a guidebook (and still know zero Dutch), but I walked by the, I'm guessing, Natural History Museum and some sort of medieval fortification wall. I meandered the adorable streets admiring the cozy restaurants. I scoped some for dinner for myself, but I guessed I'd probably sacrifice the restaurant's atmosphere so I could find an optimal people-watching perch, which meant looking in one of the city's multiple squares.

Just after turning off of one of said squares, I encountered some furniture moving, Dutch style. At first I wasn't sure what was going on as the huge red sofa was sitting in the middle of the street. The guys had their bikes parked on either side of it. I went up to them and said, "You guys are up to something." "No, just wishing for bigger bikes," they said. I giggled as one guy hoisted one end of the sofa onto other guy's handlebars, then I held one guy's bike steady as he lifted the other end onto his back rack. Slowly but surely, they made their way down the street.

After that, and still not quite ready for dinner, I sat on one of the aforementioned squares and enjoyed a Belgian beer whilst people watching. When I stood up to leave I realized I may not be very hungry, but Belgian beer is not such a good idea on an empty stomach. Just down the road I spotted a shop selling Belgian waffles -- the perfect follow-up to my Belgian beer, I thought. While waiting in line, though, I realized the guy in the back was actually making the ice cream they sell there, so I opted for a chocolate ice cream cone with completely gratuitous whipped cream on top.

Very satisfied with my purchase and very satisfied that I still had hours of the evening and night with nowhere in particular to be, I wondered what to do next. Cue the band!

No, really. There was a band.

Marching band in Maastricht, the Netherlands from dceditors on Vimeo.

So, I followed them for a bit. Eventually they headed over the river, so I let them go on their merry way while I returned to the main Markt square, where that morning I had seen them setting up a huge Friday market. Perhaps there would still be some vendors there? No such luck. But I did see lots of young folks in black tie apparel posing for their formal pictures by the Stadhuis and in front of a Mini Cooper. And in front of the Stadhuis, it was clear that Something Exciting! was going to happen.

But not just yet.

So, I thought I'd go back to my hotel, change, dump my backpack, grab a book, and come back into the Markt for dinner. But as I started down the street with my hotel, guess what I encountered?

Another marching band.

This was just too much. I have to wait and see what happens, I thought. So I followed this band back into the Markt area, and saw that another was coming in from the other direction. Suddenly, a reviewing panel appeared in those previously empty chairs in front of the Staduis. One of the bands marched in and around the huge fenced area, then out the other side. People applauded. And then the next band went in. Meanwhile, more and more marching bands came in from all directions.

And this continued for 2 hours.

Turns out the bands were from all the small villages around Maastricht, and this little event happens every year. Seemed a little strange on a Friday night, but it made for a quite pleasant evening. After an hour of watching the bands, I chose one of the restaurants surrounding the Markt so I could continue watching. I just happened to set myself down next to a chatty guy from The Hague. Eventually 12 other Dutch guys joined him -- they were all friends from different places and in town for a guys' weekend. I met a couple of the other guys, then wished them well so I could continue watching bands, sipping a glass of wine, and enjoying some pasta. A fine night in Maastricht, I'd say.

Saturday was far less random but fun nonetheless. Maastricht is like Cambridge and Bruges, in that on the weekends it swells during the day with lots of day visitors and people who come to town to shop, but they thin out in the evening. So when I got out of my meeting at 2:30 or so, I was surprised to see how crowded the town was. I figured I had time for maybe one tourist thing, a little shopping, and a nice sit. My One Thing was going into St. Servaasbasiliek, a gorgeous Catholic church that (according to the one article I have with me on Maastricht) houses the tomb of the first bishop of the Low Countries who died in 384. No, I didn't forget a 1 before that date.

My shopping involved buying a new black summer suit, as you can always count on me to show up somewhere dressed stupid, and this conference was no exception. All the ladies were wearing their summer dress apparel, and here I was in dark merino wool. I finished off my time in Maastricht with a sit next to the river. As the late afternoon became later, it was time to go collect my luggage and head to the train station. Next stop: Amsterdam.

Maastricht photo album here.

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