…continued from 1988 Europe Bicycle Trip – Part 8
[Thursday] 9/1/88—I got a bit of a late start today. I ended up going to bed rather late last night and needed the sleep. I was in no hurry though. Brussells looked to be about 120 miles from Cologne with Maastricht almost exactly halfway, so I planned to make it a two day ride. 60 miles in one day is just about perfect, and counting lunch and rest stops takes about six hours to do. As long as I get to Maastricht before the VVV closed, I was not too concerned about when I got there. This was the first day I can honestly say that I never got lost, not once did I have to do any sort of backtracking. Getting out of Cologne was a breeze. I didn’t hit the road till about 10:00 AM so rush hour was over, and I just headed straight west. The German countryside was much like the ride into Cologne, lots of farmland, not too many woods, gently rolling terrain. That is until I approached Duren. From then on I encountered much hillier country, apparently the area between Duren, Germany and Maastricht, Holland lies right at the northern foothills of the Ardennes Mountains. On several occasions I had to shift the bicycle into first gear in order to make it up the grades. The final grade I had to climb before I got to Maastricht was the longest, it must have been a good 2–3 miles long and I was in first gear for about the first 2/3 of it, farther up the grade softened and I was able to shift into some higher gears. Along with the increased hillyness came an increase in the amount of forested land. When I crossed the border into Holland, I was stopped and had my passport checked, that was a first after all the border crossings I had done.
Once into Holland, I could tell almost instantly. There’s something about the countryside in Holland that makes it so lovely. It seemed cleaner, the buildings have more charm and all the homes are so well landscaped, making bold use of yellows and reds in their annuals. And, of course, the quality of the bicycle paths was instantly increased. I was really happy to be back in Holland. I enjoyed it so much before and the prospect of another day their [sic] made me feel good. Shortly before I got to Maastricht, I stopped at a bank to exchange some money. It had been very lightly sprinkling for the last hour or so and cool and cloudy all day. Now it was raining , and rather hard. Then I knew for sure I was back in Holland, the same thing happened the first time I entered Holland. Well I was in no hurry this time and I wasn’t about to ride in the rain so I went to a Frite-Snack Café across the street and waited the rain out with some frites and ice cream (ijs that is!). Eventually it did stop raining and I started out again. That was when I encountered the incredibly long, steep grade I mentioned earlier.
When I got to Maastricht, I found the VVV, got a hotel, again right in the Centrum, for about $25, and it was fairly nice. I fell in love with Maastricht right away. Of all the towns I’ve visited on this trip, this one is by far the most beautiful. The city is not nearly so big as the true big cities, but it is definitely not a small town. The centrum is rather large and seems to be very much intact in its original condition. Old building, churches, plazas, and statues abound, and it has all been maintained very well. The city is also relatively clean. There may be a college here, there seems to be a disporportionate amount of young adults and a lot of cafés, shopping, and record stores. The town is split by the Maas River and several bridges span it. At the center of the city, it is spanned by a beautiful, old, stone-arch bridge. Most of the centrum is closed to automobile traffic. I took a look around and then had dinner at an Egyptian Restaurant. It was my first experience with that type of cuisine, and was very good. Then I hit the cafés for, what else, dessert and coffee. I have really taking a liking to the coffee they serve over here. I guess it’s actually expresso. It’s very strong, and I need to have lots of cream in it, but the flavor is wonderful and I’ve been drinking it like I’ve never had good coffee before [it was earlier that same year that I even began drinking coffee at home]. It’s so pleasant to spend the evening at the cafés (outdoors of course), drinking coffee and looking at all the beautiful Dutch ladies with their diverse and sophisticated fashions (both dress and hair) and their large, hooped earrings. Call me an art lover!
All evening, I’ve been trying to think of a way to move here, I love this place so much. In addition to being such a lovely city itself, it is in what I consider to be the prettiest part of Holland (from what I’ve seen). It’s green and lush and beautifully landscaped like the rest of the country, but unlike the other parts, it’s not flat, the landscape has real character. Its location in northwest Europe is ideal with Brussells to the west, Germany to the east, Amsterdam to the north, and France and Switzerland farther south. The only problem would be the continued rain, but this is the closest thing to paradise that I’ve found yet.
I have to continue on to Brussells tomorrow, but I think I’ll start out the morning looking around here some more and taking photographs, and then get on the bike after lunch. Bill’s not really expecting me till Saturday though I told him maybe Friday, so if I get there Friday evening, that’ll be OK. I can get there pretty late too because I wont have to mess with getting a hotel, I’ll just go straight to his house. As long as I get there before dark [famous last words].
To be continued…
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013