Maastricht, the Netherlands

Maastricht, the Dutch city famous for the treaty of the EU signed here decades ago, is in a very far, Southern corner of the Netherlands, in the province of Limburgh, of which it is the capital, but at a distance of many hours of drive or train journey from almost everywhere, wedged between Belgium and Germany. As distance is translated into travel costs, I never really hoped to get there, but an action by HEMA, a chain store in the country, helped me out with a cheap offer (a quarter of the usual price) of day tickets I could tap into.

A few words of warning for tourists in order here. People other than residents of the Netherlands can only dream of receiving such deals except if the tourist has local friends. For a start, if you have internet access, you have to have a Dutch bank account to pay for the ticket as well. That’s a tall order, but foreign banks are not accepted. Then you need a printer to print the ticket after you’ve run the full gauntlet of the complicated procedure successfully. Further, be warned that the country is on the cusp of getting rid of paper tickets so you need to buy daily chip-cards to put money on before you get on a train. For the sake of the relatively large numbers of Dutch people visiting other countries, I wish other countries also introduce such systems almost fully shutting off travel possibilities so that they get an experience of their own medicine. With a venom. Talk about free travel in the EU.

Well, no problem for me, so I went to see this beautiful, intercultural city a few weeks ago, and to full satisfaction. One can hear as much French and almost as much German in the streets as Dutch, quite unlike anywhere else in the country, and it is a beautiful city on top of local hospitality. Its history goes back to the early middle-ages, which is reflected in a large part of the inner city and the ring around it, though there is not much as a surprise for continental Europeans.

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The inner city is dominated by a number of great churches, of which St. Servaasbasiliek is the oldest and most respected one with a wonderful collection of religious relics inside, some of which dating back to the 5th century as the city and this church was involved in the old Franc empire of the Karolings, Karel Martel, Karel de Grote, Barbarossa and others right after the fall of Rome.

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