Tuesday, December 1, 2009

John does Maastricht:

I’ve been going down south to Maastricht quite often these days. It's the tiny city of less than 120,000 in the very south of the Netherlands–I've been about five times, in the past two months. Which will continue every two weeks from now on. So that’s kind of fun. A little mini 36 hour adventure. Six hours of trains included. With a beautiful mediaeval, yet at one point Roman as well, city to explore at night. Maastricht is just beautiful. Really; just beautiful–with all the quintessential European components of street-life: lampposts, gray cobblestone, tiny winding streets... The city is situated on the river Meuse. Simple enough. The view of the city from atop any of the numerous bridges over the river is just stunning. Spectacular really. An interesting tid-bit of info about Maastricht’s architecture–so I’m told–is that most of the houses in the city center have their (structural) load bearing walls parallel to the sidewalks that lay in front of the houses, rather meaning there is less space for windows on the front facades, because just like how the buttress had to be developed for windows in cathedrals, so did a method for windows. And brick glazing was not an option back then. So you have, monumental buildings that visually seem 'heavy’, with tiny windows. As opposed to amsterdam’s dainty canal houses with large spans of glazing across the front façades–because their load bearing walls run perpendicular to the sidewalks, all perched mostly on the water–or nearby. As the city of Amsterdam is essentially a city of islands. Similar to Stockholm, and slightly less, Helsinki. Certainly similar to Venice. But I’ve never been to Venice. Then Stockholm and Helsinki. So with the lack of canals in Maastricht, there is only the river as the city’s main body of water, though I did stumble upon a stream weaving though the center. But the city just feels ‘heavy’. All stone; many cathedrals; a small population.And the most shocking difference. Topography! And since it’s autumn now–the surrounding hills of the city looked as if someone was shaking out a huge blanket, the blanket covering the tops of the trees, and the trees dotting the surrounding rolling hillsides. and on the that top of the blanket, were the vibrant colors, the colors being the trees, and the trees being a patchwork of browns, reds, oranges and crisp burnt golden ambers. All glowing in the bright, warm, autumn sun of mid-morning. I just love this time of year. There are so many aspects of my life changing, because the world is turning. Literally. A simple concept–but also one that inspires. And I have taken an affection to the European winter. Cold and a bit windy; here in the Netherlands it chills you to the bone. I can imagine it's even worse in Oslo. But then, on days like today–the sun shines through, the clouds disappear–and the clouds give way to sun. Sidewalks begin to fill with smiling faces, bundled up in warm winter mittens, jackets, and hats.