French fries, caves and a mosasaurus

After a stressful but successful semester and a short and exhausting trip to Berlin I visited A in Maastricht, Netherlands. Now, I don’t know how much you know about the Netherlands, but my knowledge was limited to windmills, wooden clogs and a crazy love for bikes. All my prejudices were instantly debunked: The only windmill I saw was right before I landed in Amsterdam, I didn’t see any wooden clogs other than the ones in the souvenir shop and although I can testify the Dutch love for bikes, it didn’t spark any interest in me loving the bike death traps. But first things first: A was in Maastricht for about a month to finish up some projects he was working on and although he has been going back and forth between Maastricht over the past five years, I never got the chance to go with him, until now. So I, of course, was super excited. After a short flight from Oslo to Amsterdam, I basically ran to the train platform only to learn that my train had been cancelled and I had to take the next one. Now, I have never seen a country being so well organized when it comes to train schedules. Within less than 5 minutes a conductor informed us about the cancelled train, told us what train to get on to and how to get to our final destinations from there.

I arrived late in Maastricht, the air still filled with a lingering scent of french fries and waffles. Sadly, during my short stay in Maastricht, I didn’t have a single waffle, that was mainly due to my own silliness but A and I still ate our way through the small city. And here is the first gem I discovered and visited almost every day: mhmmmm chocolates.

Life is like a box full of chocolate... Made by Chocolatier-Confiseur Boulanger
Life is like a box full of chocolate… Made by Chocolatier-Confiseur Boulanger

That of course was just the first course breakfast. For second breakfast we had this beauty from Bakkerij Souren: It’s a milk-rice cake topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Oh my!

Bakkerij Souren
Bakkerij Souren

 I kid you not, when I tell you, that with EVERY meal we had (excluding first and second breakfast) we had fries. Good fries but fries. Not quite sure if my Asian heritage could live happily and satisfied in Maastricht, after all, this girl needs some rice. But that’s a different story. Also, A and I should have really at least taken one picture with the fries overload, but honestly, by the time we got to our first and second lunches and dinners (and yes, this was totally an eat-cation with lots of food), we were too hungry to wait and take pictures. So instead just imagine swimming in a pool of fries.

But in order to justify our eating, we had to at least do a little sight seeing, right? If I would have to describe Maastricht in one word, it would be “oddity”. It is a really odd place, for some odd reason they put a bookstore in a church, which don’t get me wrong, was one of my favorite places to see, but then again, it’s a bookstore…. in a church. Maastricht has three bridges over the Maas (hence the city’s name) all of which you can see when standing on the first (or for this matter last) bridge.

A and me at the old bridge...
A and me at the old bridge…

There are a few basilicas to visit, and they are truly wonderful, but A and I couldn’t stomach more than four. Also, all of this was within walking distance of our apartment, so within 30 minutes, we saw it all. So by day two of my short visit, I was aching for things to do and see. So I used my old friend, tripadvisor and found this wonderful gem: THE NORTH CAVES of Fort St. Pieter. Now, if you don’t like the dark, the clammy cold and easily get disoriented, this is not a place for you. On second thought, I am still impressed that A actually wanted to go with me, because he is all of these things.

A was fine for the first ten minutes but he increasingly got more anxious, worried about disorientation and altogether unhappy ALTHOUGH his allergies instantly subsided. So if you want a short lived relief, this is the place to be! Our tour guide was amazing, she showed us her most favorite places and I was not aware that one could have favorite places underground, but apparently one can. The caves are full of coal-paintings and showed history in a way, that buildings above ground usually don’t. Beyond anything, the caves showed humanity’s ability to preserver through dark times (literally). People tried to escape wars through the tunnels, people desperately trying to survive and people returning after wars to show that this was their way out. The caves really show you, what humans are made of.

An oven underground. Photo by  Pierre-Henry Muller.
An oven underground. Photo by Pierre-Henry Muller.

At one point our tour guide asked us if we wanted to experience what is must have felt like, walking in the dark through the caves, without any artificial light and you know me, I was the first one to sign up for this experience whereas A looked at me terrified. To be fair, he had the chance to say no, he could have just walked with the tour guide, followed the light, but no, he chose to stay by my side. We were asked to put the right hand out and walk along the straight wall for about 20 meters, now what’s that? Like 10 feet in a straight line? That’s nothing, I bet you walk further at night, when you are sleep-drunk going to the bathroom at 2 am in the morning. That’s no reason to freak out, right? Well, that’s what I thought…

As the light slowly faded, we reached out and touched the wall with our right hands, A’s left hand firmly gripping my shoulder. At this point he lost his ability to speak. I, on the other hand, was getting more excited and started talking about bats, spiders and rats while A’s grip on my shoulder got tighter and tighter. Again, remember 10 feet in a straight line! The whole ordeal was done after maybe three minutes tops, but if you could have watched A, you would have thought this was the last time he has seen daylight.

Even after we reached our tour guide who stood with all kinds of flashlights and lanterns A refused to talk to me. Every time I tried to coax a little “Wow, the paintings are awesome” from him, he nodded almost unnoticeable. You would think, he was holding a grudge because I wanted to walk in the dark – 10 feet in a straight line!

You know, how they say, to keep the best for last. Well, our tour guide did and with that she made A’s week or maybe even month. Although being underground in the dark, with limited artificial light, A was excited as only a man who loves dinosaurs could be. Turns out, the very first mosasaurus was dug up in the caves of Maastricht! Don’t be fooled though, you won’t see the fossil unless you travel to France and although the Dutch have tried several times to get it back, they have not yet succeeded.

- photo courtesy of Miss Tess Macher via Flickr
– photo courtesy of Miss Tess Macher via Flickr

But the very fact, that the first mosasaurus was discovered in the caves of St. Pieter instantly catapulted A’s mood into happiness times 1.000. He couldn’t stop talking about mosasauruses, Jurassic Park and the possibility of finding more fossils in the caves (only 15 minutes earlier, he couldn’t wait to get out of the caves, now he was talking about technology he could use to find more dinosaurs).

So yes, the caves where BY FAR our favorite attraction and if you ever do make it to Maastricht, you should give it a try! It’s simply amazing! Just a small FYI though, taking pictures in the caves is not allowed, but to be honest, I think that’s what made the experience even 100 times better!

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