A couple of weeks ago, when reflecting on how we thought living in the same country would mean we’d see each other all the time, I decided it was high time I visit my  friend from high school Rotinda, who lives in the Dutch city of Maastricht. Despite the fact that we both now call the Netherlands home, the 3 hour train journey and geographic distance between The Hague and Maastricht was the reason we both kept putting it off, as well as the obvious reasons of busy school schedules and exams. When I realised I could take a friday off, I thought it was the perfect idea to have a three-day weekend based in Maastricht, the capital of the Dutch province of Limburg.

Maastricht, The Netherlands

The city of Maastricht is located in a unique part of the Netherlands (yes, there are even a few hills around). It is a strategic city due to its location by the river Meuse as well as its proximity to the Belgian and German borders. Being a border town, naturally Maastricht shares some characteristics with its neighbouring countries. Unlike the historically protestant cities of Holland such as Amsterdam and Rotterdam, Maastricht is a predominantly Catholic city, something it has in common with most of Belgium. Interestingly, certain parts of Maastricht, especially its historic quarters, exhume a very French feel – mixed, of course, with traditional Dutch elements. Coincidentally, my arrival to Maastricht (11/11), coincided with the beginning of the Carnival season, something Maastricht is known for around the country. Consequently, as we strolled around the city we saw hundreds of people dressed up in all sorts of costumes – everything looked like a page out of a Where’s Wally book. Maastricht is overall, a very picturesque town which I would describe satisfyingly as Dutch with a twist.

Liege, Belgium

Liege is the largest city in Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium. It is just a short train ride away from Maastricht and is just worth the day trip. When arriving in Belgium from the Netherlands, a lot of things strike you as different. Liege had its heyday during the times of the industrial revolution, and one can definitely tell that the place lost and failed to regain its former grandeur. Many buildings look gloomy and neglected and the city is one of the least safe in the region. Unemployment is high and you can definitely see a strong contrast from the Flemish cities of Antwerp and Bruges. Despite all of this, Liege has a lively old town with vibrant shops and several eye-catching churches, also it is a city where you can definitely have a variant of the Belgian experience – French fries, waffles, crepes and lots of chocolate!

One must-do activity in Liege is a shot at walking up the pretty stairs to the Montagne de Bueren, where you can get a great view of the city. Walking up a hill is an endeavour, the likes of which I should be accustomed to, as someone who has spent a lot of time in cities like Lisbon and Istanbul, however living in Holland made me forget what steep slopes were like and alongside the cold weather, it was quite a walk!

Aachen, Germany

My short holiday ended with a day trip to the German border town of Aachen. Like Maastricht, Aachen also has a rich history. It was one of the main residences of Charlemagne, the medieval king of the Franks, whose image can be seen throughout the city. The main sights are all closely wrapped around the magnificent Aachen Cathedral, a mighty structure that dates back to the 9th century. The Aachen cathedral, which reminded me a lot of the Hagia Sophia with its columns, chandeliers and Byzantine-like mosaics, was Germany’s very first UNESCO world heritage site and was also where German kings were coronated in the Middle Ages. The historic quarters of Aachen have a strong medieval feel and we were lucky enough to visit at a time when christmas spirit was in full swing.

Overall, spending a couple of days to explore the Cross-Country Triangle that Maastricht, Liege and Aachen form, is a great way to get a glimpse of each country whilst also appreciating the existence of the European Union, which bounds all these places together and makes the frontiers appear as what they in fact are – fuzzy constructs.

Published by Kenan Cruz Cilli