Belgium 2019 travel blog

Train station

Hotel d’Emperor

Saint Servais Basilica


Such a small playing area for so many pipes

Meeting up with Frances from a previous trip

Someone get the key!

It seems all waterways have at least one swan

Vlaii - delicious dessert from the province of Limburg in Netherland

Frances took a selfie on the train and sent it to us

our “Golden Girls” crew at the sidewalk cafe

September 7, Saturday

It rained in the night, but the morning was simply overcast. We were hoping for dry weather because today we were going to Maastricht in the Netherlands to pick up our friend Frances from the train station. Frances was our neighbour when Marilynn, my cousin Darlene and I did a house exchange to Buitenpost in the Netherlands. She and her husband Piet were very good to us, taking us places and recommending things to do. We were glad that she was willing to take the five hour train ride in order to have a reunion. Our plan was to explore Maastricht for the day, which is why we were hoping for decent weather, then bring Frances back to our place to stay until Monday.

Forty minutes after leaving the house, we were in Maastricht, pulling into the underground parkade next to the station. The exit door was locked, as was the next one, but we weren’t actually trapped. We learned from a woman in the parkade that the public exit, as opposed to the access doors to office buildings, was just a little further down. The train station is an imposing brick building from **. We first sought out the washrooms, which cost seventy cents to use, then located Platform 1, which was where Frances’s train would arrive at 11:00. Since we had almost an hour to wait, we took a walk down Stationplein, the road that leads from the station to a bridge over the Meuse (Maas in Dutch) River. It was lined with well-kept old buildings with storefronts on the ground level. Maastricht is well-known as a shopping centre, and there were some familiar names - Subway, Birkenstock, Esprit, Body Shop, H&M - among the European brand stores. We particularly noticed the patisseries, which had beautiful window displays of their goods. Maureen was also quite taken with the 70% off signs in the shoe stores, but she resisted temptation, for the most part. The sidewalks thronged with people, many who carried shopping bags. There were many cyclists and lots of bikes chained to bike racks and other stationary objects. The Netherlands is the land of bicycles and it’s important when crossing the street to look not only for cars but also for oncoming bikes. They are fast and silent, except for the tinkle of a bell warning you of their approach from behind.

We wandered as far as the bridge, then headed back to meet Frances’s train. It arrived on time and we soon spotted Frances coming towards us with her suitcase. After greetings, we took her suitcase to the car, then set off down Stationplein to look for a restaurant. We ended up at a sidewalk cafe, because by now the sun had come out and it was actually warmish. As we ate, two women sat at the table next to us. These were two very well-groomed blonde Dutch women (think “HouseWives of Amsterdam”) that Frances had met on the train. She had told us how entertaining they were, and now we got to meet them for ourselves. They greeted us warmly, then posed for photos smiling brightly and holding up their glasses. They insisted that Frances have her picture taken with them and had an animated conversation in Dutch with her before returning to their own table. We could see that they would be lively companions.

We carried on down the street and over the bridge. Our goal was St. Servais Basilica, which was started in the 11th century. Our route was indirect. We wandered along streets and through squares like the lovely market square lined with sidewalk cafes and dominated by the imposing grey limestone 17th-century City Hall. The square was occupied by the tables and kiosks of a flea market, so we spent twenty minutes cruising the aisles before we carried on to St. Servais. The square in front of the church is very large. Frances told us she had been there to an outdoor concert by Andre Rieu, a famous Dutch conductor.

It took us a while to find the side door entrance to the church, but it was worth the search. Like the others we’ve seen, the basilica is grand architecture filled with many wonderful works of art and craftsmanship. The colonnades outside were lined with stone benches and it was easy to imagine monks and medieval worshippers sitting there. Frances said it made her wish for a time machine to have a glimpse of what had once been.

Leaving the church, we headed towards the station in a meandering walk, going in and out of shops and taking pictures of interesting sights. We went into Van Delft de Pepernotenfabriek, makers of pepernoten (peppernuts) since the 1880s. Pepernoten are small Dutch spice cookie treats, available in many flavours and different colours of candy coating, although the original has no candy coating. We came, we sampled and Maureen bought a bag of the original kind. We made a point of stopping at a boulangerie with a display of vlaaien, which Frances tells us are traditional pies of the Limburg region. Frances went in to help me choose a vlaai (pronounced “fly”). We wanted half an apricot pie and half a cherry pie, but even after hard bargaining in Dutch, Frances could not move the seller from charging 12 euros for a half, well over half the 18 euros cost of a whole cherry pie. We settled happily for the apricot vlaai , and even stopped at another bakery along the way for a small rice pudding vlaai, which Frances insisted we should try.

Back home, Frances introduced us to her habit of having a hot drink and a little dessert around 4:00 (although it was already 5:00), so we all sampled the vlaaien, which were both delicious. Time went by and we suddenly realized it was 7:30, really too late to go out for dinner, so we had a casual meal of sandwiches, salad and of course more vlaaien. By 11:00, we were all in bed.

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