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Places Around Maastricht: Koestraat

Type of Place: side-street of restaurants.

Location: Koestraat, near the Onze Lieve Vrouw Square and Cathedral; 6211 Maastricht

Enjoying a stroll down Koestraat.

A little something different for this week’s “Places”, Koestraat is not a single location, but rather a short, foot-traffic only street lined with restaurants. If you’ve grown tired of the tourists at the Vrijthof and want something a little different than the classic Dutch fair on the Onze Lieve Vrouw square, Koestraat offers a quiet, more intimate setting for dinner or drinks.

Dan and I typically head to Koestraat to eat at Thai Ichi, one of our favorite Thai restaurants in Maastricht, but this narrow street has a nice variety of other eateries available. There is an Indonesian restaurant, tea shop, a couple pizzerias, and more. Of particular note, although we haven’t eaten there yet, is the Beluga Nxt Door. This cocktail bar and restaurant is the “little sister” of the Beluga, a well-known 2 Michlien Star restaurant here in Maastricht. Most of the retaurants also have a little outdoor seating, which narrows the cobblestone street further and keeps foot traffic slow and (most) bikes out.

At the end of Koestraat, you’ll find the Bisschopsmolen, an active water powered grain mill and bakery.  Pop inside for a tour or just to see the large waterwheel in the back. Seeing the mill is free, although the tour may not be.


Places Around Maastricht: Bridges over the Meuse

Maastricht may not be a canal city, but its history and identity has always been wrapped around the Meuse river that flow through middle the city and its tributaries. Centuries ago when Maastricht was founded there was only one way to get across the Meuse. Today there are 5 major bridges in Maastricht itself: three you’ll use as a pedestrian and two for vehicles only.

St. Servaas Bridge
St. Servatiusburg (St. Servaasburg) is the oldest bridge in the Netherlands and a beautiful, understated structure in the center of Maastricht. Built in the 13th century, St. Servatius bridge was repair and updated several times over its history. Today only a single arch remains from the original structure; the rest of the bridge is reinforced concrete faced with stone except for the metal drawbridge added to accommodate water-traffic. Only pedestrians and bicycles are allowed on St. Servatius bridge, but it sees daily traffic due to its central location.

Just downstream on the western bank of the river you can see a metal post topped with a lion statue. This monument marks the location of the original 50 BC Roman bridge.

Wilhelminaburg was built in 1932 to accommodate increasing traffic in Maastricht which was threatening to damage the historical St. Servatius Bridge. Accessible by both foot and auto traffic, Wilhelminaburg crosses the Meuse right in front of the Gemeente and makes for excellent access to Markt square on one side and the Minerva Cinema on the other.

de hoge footbridgeDe Hoge Footbridge, built in 2003, is the newest bridge spanning the Meuse between the edge of the stadpark and the Centre Ceramique. The suspension bridge design was selected to prevent any new piles from being sunk into the river. Only accessible to pedestrians and cyclers (with steps and elevators at either end), the view from this bridge is wonderful.

JFK Bridge & Noorderburg flank the Maastricht city center on either side and splits the N2 highway coming from Belgium into the N590 and N278 for East/West traffic. For bikers, they also provide a less cobblestone-bumpy ride around the edges of the city.
This article was written for and can be read in the “To Live” section.

Places Around Maastricht: Vrijthof


Vrijthof in 2008

Type of place: Public Square
Location: At the opposite end of Grotestraat from the Dinghuis
Zicht Op Maastricht on Vrijthof
When you visit Maastricht, you will neither be able nor want to miss the Vrijthof. It is one of the best known squares in the city and plays host to a variety of events including Preuvenemint, Andre Rieu’s open-air concerts, Winterland, Carnival activities and more. Ceremonial city events are also held on the Vrijthof. We once caught a Botche ball tournaments there and in 2009 the Queen’s Day children’s market was held on the square. Overlooking the square you will also see the imposing St. Servaas Basiliek and St. Janskerk (identifiable by its bright red tower).
Of course you probably won’t just be visiting the Vrijthof to say that you’ve been there. You will probably also want to relax in one of the cafes that line the square. Many of the cafes here serve Dutch cuisine and have large patios where you can relax with a cup of coffee or glass of beer. During events, these patios are always packed to the gills with people enjoying the festive environment while also getting a little something to eat. Keep an eye on the prices however. Since the Vrijthof is one of the most popular places to eat in Maastricht, the prices can be quite high. I suppose there is always SnackPoint (a Dutch fast food place) or McDonalds (ew), but it is worth it to experience one of the proper restaurants at least once. Watch for daily specials and pre-fixe menus for a better deal.
When nothing in particular is going on at the Vrijthof, you may want to check out one of the various cultural institutions that line this area. The Theater aan het Vrijthof always has several live musical and theater events going on. If you don’t want to wait for a show, the Hoofdwacht, the stone building that sits in front of the cathedrals, contains a rotating exhibition of art and historical artifacts. Since that exhibit won’t take you long to view, you can also check out the Museum aan het Vrijthof which is located in a 16th century former chapter house and has been decorated to reflect the decor of both that century and the 18th. You may also wish to visit the two cathedrals.
ice skating on the Vrijthof

Ice skating on the Vrijthof, Winterland 2009

In the end, one of the best things about the Vrijthof is that you never know what is going to be happening there. I try to keep up with what’s going on in Maastricht, but there are days where I walk by and discover some odd event or another going on. So despite its grandeur, there’s something a little whimsical about the Vrijthof as well.
Do you have a favorite memory on the Vrijthof? Share it in the comments.

Update: Thank you Sueli for keeping my facts straight. :)

Places Around Maastricht: Grotten Zonneburg

Type of Place: Cave Tour
Location: Near the Buitengoed Slavante, Slavante 1, Maastricht. Reachable by bike, car, bus, boat, and foot.

Grotten Zonneburg is the larger of the two marl caves (actually mines) in St. Pietersburg that you can tour with a guide and is one of my favorite places in Maastricht. We’ve visited it three times (twice this summer) and since it offers an English language tour more frequently than Grotten Noord I’m sure I’ll experience it again. The Zonneburg tour usually focuses on the history of the caves creation, WWII, and mushroom production. For stories about the invasion of Napoleon, Sint Peiters fort, and aquatic dinosaurs, try Grotten Noord which also offers an excellent touring experience (and one closer to Maastricht).

Guide at Zonneburg

Guide at Zonneburg

After having been through the caves multiple times I think what really draws me to the experience is the feeling of connecting a little to the people of Maastricht through history. There is something very intimate about descending into a labyrinth of tunnels continuously dug for hundreds of years by local hands.
The first tunnels were dug out in Roman times to make use of this pervasive building material. Later, the St. Jans church on the Vrijhof (and many other buildings besides) was built of marl from these very mines. People have hidden, been born, married, grown food, and stored wine in these spaces. No doubt some have died. In a sense, your tour guide is giving you a little history of Maastricht when he or she gives you the history of the caves themselves. All to the light of a few flickering gas lanterns several tens of meters below the surface.
You can learn more about Grotten Zonneburg through their website (warning: Flash) and the liberal use of Google Translate. English language tours are offered 7 days a week at 1:50 PM from July 5th to September 6th. During the months that Zonneburg isn’t offering English tours, Grotten Noord will be. The entrance fee is 4,90 for adults and 3,90 for children.