Maastricht and Beyond
28 February 2020
In her third blog Frankie tells us more about Maastricht and her travels.
Just after the last blog post, I took a quick trip to Leiden for a debating competition. Walking around the incredibly flat streets made the Dutch description of a steep hill outside of Maastricht as a ‘mountain’ make a lot more sense. Like Maastricht, there were a lot of cobble stoned streets winding through the city, but these were regularly interrupted by the water. For every road there seemed to be canal and an old windmill with no apparent function sat within a roundabout. Its location meant it was convenient to travel to Amsterdam with a friend for a concert. Besides the music, the highlights were wandering around the array of second-hand shops and small cafes. I’m sure I’ll visit Amsterdam again.
If you travel to any town in Benelux during winter, you will probably come across a Christmas market. I accidentally visited a few whilst travelling but also intentionally visited the market in Maastricht and the famous market in Aachen. Fortunately, it was raining so the Aachen market wasn’t completely packed. The best part of all the markets was the food and Glühwein (mulled wine), although it was expensive. In Maastricht there was ice-skating (which I did not do well) and a Ferris wheel with a stunning view of the city. During the winter, the town centre was very typically Christmassy and quaint, even if it didn’t snow.
From late October onwards, Christmas lights started going up around Maastricht. Unlike the UK, these were turned on as soon as they appeared and slowly continued to be put up for over a month. My favourites were strings of lights that hung from the trees like luminescent laburnums and made walking home from university in the dark a little brighter. This all started early as in the Netherlands, they celebrate Sinterklaas at the start of December. During the night, children leave their shoes outside and get sweets if they have been good that year. They then celebrate again on Christmas day and the lights have only just been taken down now, at the end of January.
In 2020 so far it has been quiet. UCM has terms where students focus on a project rather than taking academic classes. For me, this was preparing an academic conference and teaching a workshop. It has been great to have more freedom to choose what to study whilst studying abroad. Generally, living abroad has taught me to try new things. Compared to moving from the countryside to London, going to the Netherlands hasn’t been too difficult. Rather than culture shock or having changes forced upon me, learning how to be confident and experiment has been the biggest challenge. The new things have included taking different subjects, going to different social events, travelling to different cities and meeting different people than normal. Maastricht is a small place, especially within UCM, but you only get what you put into it out of it. Therefore, it’s worth trying things.
So far this year I haven’t taken any planes, so visiting Paris before coming home for Christmas broke up the long journey. It reminded me of what is great about the hustle and bustle of London compared to a smaller city. Being asked about UCL by students interested in exchange trips has also helped. The relative quietness of the past month meant that I thought about what opportunities to take during this rest of this year and upon returning to UCL. However, the calmness is bound to end soon, with normal, busier classes resuming and the start of the city-wide parties that happen during Carnival.
By: Frankie Osborne