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Going Solo in Maastricht & Aachen

Updated: Jan 12

Open-air concerts and cities steeped in centuries of history, a quick day trip to offer a flavour of solo travelling gave me a taste for much more!


All throughout my year abroad I had planned to go travelling around. A quick weekend away there; a few days here. Naturally, I hadn't properly considered how difficult that may actually be, not to mention the cost... As such, my first experience of visiting the Netherlands' neighbouring countries was in July. Coming right at the end of the year, I didn't have to worry about work at all!


That year had been about trying new things so why not have that same spirit in where I could visit? My interest had been piqued by a first term module which taught me all about Charlemagne. Despite a lack of prior knowledge, which my professor both noticed and remarked upon, I am proud to say my fascination with the subject was not affected. The religious wars which brought together and strengthened Charlemagne's empire helped to forge his capital of Aachen and contruct the magnificent cathedral. To see this would not only be an exciting experience, to see in stone what I had leant about and connect to it, but in my own way served to stick two fingers up to my old professor...


Maastricht seemed an obvious choice for the visit too. Being around an hour away from Aachen, I would have to change trains there so no harm in hopping off to see what it had to offer.


Starting the day...


Catching the 09:15 train to Maastricht would mean I'd get in around 12:30. This allowed for lots of time to relax and enjoy the train ride whilst admiring the sleek, efficiant dutch trains compared to the tired service we have in Britain... However, the three hours and fifteen minute journey gave me enough time to re-evaluate and get fed up with the dutch trains too.


Very British.


Maastricht isn't like other Dutch cities and you'll not find the typical canals here as its at a higher level than most other places in the Netherlands. As a result, Maastricht doesn't feel as 'Dutch' as lot of the other places I visited in Zuid and Nord Holland. Nevertheless, Maastricht is as Dutch as any place you could hope to see if you consider their love of bikes.


The first thing I did was to rent on of the public transport bikes to save time; I had an hour and a half until my train to Aachen and I wasn't going to waste my time walking! These OV Fiets were a life saver on my trip to Maastricht. Instead of spending 40 renting a bike from a company, I could pay €4.45 on my public transport card and use the bike all day. This isn't an option for everyone though as you'll need to have access to a public transport subscription card.


Zipping around Maastricht, I could make my way to my first sight of interest, a maginificent 13th-century church, converted into a bookshop. Opened in 2005, Bookhandel Dominicanen has to be one of the most intrigiuing bookshops I've ever seen and looking up at the painted ceiling, it's as if you're in a story yourself. This amazing space incorporates a modern function whist embracing the obsolete but beautiful features which make it so interesting.


For lunch, I wandered the central market square and after gawking at the prices of a picturesque café in view of Maastricht City Hall, found a pleasent, modest spot for a sandwich called Délifrance. I'd forgotten to bring a big enough waterbottle and had drunk all I had quite quickly, so had to venture in for at least something to drink.


Over to Aachen


With plenty of time, I got myself back to Maastricht station, ready for my train into Germany. Despite staying inside the European Union, I assumed there would be some kind of change in crossing the boarder. No sign came on my jounrey there, or back, much to my annoyance. Sadly, the artsy, travelling story post for the gram would have to be something a little different...


Without the ease of the OV-Fiets rental, I had to think of another way to get around. Using an e-scooter proved to be a great way to travel. Once you're balenced and you've got the hang of it, it's just like riding a bike. I used mine to get from Aachen Hbf, the city's main train station, to the cathedral in less than 10 minutes.


Arriving at the city centre, I bought a postcard for my grandma in a quait bookshop. I thought this little surpise would be the ideal reminder that even if I was't seeing her as often as I would like, I'd still have her in my mind.


I found the cathedral amazing to see. In my mind, I pictured it being the only thing ine a squre. It's own dedicated space in an urban environemnt. However, observing how it looked so at home in view of a peaceful café, it al seemed so normal. As if it was normal to have an 800-year old catherdral, which served as the centre of one of the largest empires of its time, building up to advancments not seen since the romans, amidst daily life. But, of course it was. It almost semed quite poignient in a way. Showing how amazing displays of epic history can be ingrained in normality. If I was living in Aachen, would I stop noticing it eventually?


Stepping inside was a treat. The Palatine Chapel forms the centre of the cathedral and stands as the oldest part. Built to be the chapel of the Palace of Aachen, this octagonal tower is adorned with blue and ivory-coloured marble alongside intricate mosaics. But if that wasn't enough, hanging down and imposing into the view of groundlings, is a huge guilded gold chandiler. Even more impressive is the fact that the 12th century Barbarossa Chandelier remains in daily use, with each of its 48 candles symbolising a solemnity of the Church.



Around the chapel, in gold letters was latin. This really fired up my curiosity and so I began a hunt to find out what it might mean. Embarrisingly my mini-Da Vinci Code quest was short lived as I sooon found a handout with multiple translations of the phrase adorning the octogon. The translation was as follows:



Are the living stones peacefully united in unity,

Agree in every part number and measure,

The work of the Lord will shine,

who created the hall will shine;

Pious people's endeavour crowns the completed building.

A lasting ornament of human art, it will tower forever,

when the hand of the Almighty graciously governs it.

Therefore we ask GOD to protect the holy temple,

which Emperor KARL built for us on safe ground!


Sadly, I did not see all that Aachen Cathedral had to offer. For example, I wasnt about to catch the guided tour (€6) to see Charlemagne's throne. I also chose not to visit the Cathedral Treasury (€7) as this would have made me late for my train back to Maastricht.


Back to Maastricht


The city was much the same as when I arrived in the morning but with two hours to spare I chose to go back to the city centre and wander. The city centre seemed busier than before, much busier. It turned out that André Reiu was set to be playing an open air concert at Vrijthof, the large public square in the centre of Maastricht. I parked my bike to see the people who began to gather in the bars around the square.


I then came up with the idea to follow suit, perch in a bar, or on the street, and listen to the concert. Eventhough the performance would be obscured by a fence, the experience would be all the same, I was sure. It just didn't work out this time though; when I spoke to a guard at the fence, I was told the performance would start at 21:00 and I would have missed my train home. I regret not staying no but it only gives me an excuse to go back to Maastricht again.



Overview

Overall, this trip was a great way to break up my time in Leiden and see something I wouldn't have otherwise seen. I totally recommend a visit to Maastricht, especially if you can catch an open-air André Rieu concert. I would have liked to have more time to explore the city but couldn't imagine myself spending more than one night there. Aachen, while home to picturesque cafés and amazing historical sights, is smaller with fewer things to do. However, if the catherdal interests you, you long for a 'main character moment' outside a café or you're content to wander, you'll easily fall in love with Aachen.


Final Budget: €103.34 / £89.07

Train ticket (Leiden to Maastricht): €60

Train Ticket (Maastricht to Aachen): €15

OV-fiets: €4.45

E-scooter: €6

Food & drink: €12.89

Postcard to send home: €5


Overall, perhaps not a real 'budget' traveller trip but hardly one I could ever regret.





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