Taking photos of familiar touchstones feels like econnecting with the city and the people, colourful bomen en paraplu’s against grey kasseien en winkelpuien.
Its a working few days in Maastricht, time spent with design groups that are working for the business, and a lot of catch-up with lapsed pieces of everyday life that scatter in my absence. The PT clucks about how stiff my ankle has become since we last met; my housekeeper stops by to discuss the mail, (my) legal and (her) insurance conundrums. Our lives are never simple.
Still, my bike has not been stolen and it’s nice to wake to the chimes ringing across the rooftops (even at 2 am). Work seems almost complete on sinking the A2 below ground, but the sporting goods store next to me looks to have gone out of business. I see change in glimpses, registering differences.
Visitors to the ‘skade have left plants and flowers which are, surprisingly thriving: I leave thank-you notes ahead of their next visit. We discover that most of the cans and jars are years past their expiration date, and lug it all to the recycle bins up the river. I catch up with folks in the restaurant downstairs and the cafe/pub next door, who all seem to be doing well. The bier van de maand is Bush 12%: headaches ensue. I’ve been gone too long.
We get out in the evenings for borrelje: bitterballen en drinken, talking as the sun sets, watching the fietsers drift by like luie vis. I’ve missed my things, the people, the pace, of Dutch life.
It’s been a wet week in Maastricht, warmer than usual but punctuated by rolling clouds and driving rain. I have been regularly soaked pedaling around to meetings and appointments.
Still, the reflecting pavements and wet colours make the city look clean and alive, ‘never a bad time to go out and loo for photo opps.
On the road again, as Willie Nelson’s song goes, and so am I.
I’ve got a one-week / five-city tour on tap, spanning two continents from the UK to the Netherlands, Germany to the US. It begins at the train station, as all good journeys do. It also begins with the DLR down for maintenance, passengers filling the alternate-bus and wondering whether the diversion is cover for a security threat.
The events in Paris have unsettled people more than usual. I think people make an easy equivalence between UK and French capitals: one a target, both a target. This event, in particular, leaves an uneasy feeling that any innocent night out could end in tragedy. Dinner discussions of What To Do lead to heated debates about immigration, then to meta-conversations about whether this is an appropriate topic for dinner.
And the signs in the subway are starting to feel a bit surreal.
For my part, I’ll stick to my keeping a low-profile life and avoid crowded public markets, stations, and events. I favor some sort of sanctuary zones as an alternative to having migrants flow randomly across the Med and between unwelcoming train stations.
On immigration, I worry about the right-wing groups ramping up competing rhetoric, as they are in the US. But the solutions from the left are too weak: quota systems to allocate refugees can only account for a fraction of those coming. I think that the Schengen free-passage rules may soon be changed. Geert Wilders is reasonably asking for a vote on the matter and Sweden is tightening its borders.
Finally, I don’t know how people can avoid talking about events once they buzz into someone’s smart phone, although turning off the news during dinner is appropriate. I disagree with those who feel that if it doesn’t affect them directly, they shouldn’t be bothered with it. is feel like I need more than my usual precautions, but I can feel Europe stirring to protect itself.
London City Airport, and my flight is delayed for two hours by gales over Amsterdam. Everyone is checked in, sent back, checked in a second time, blowing eddies of families around the airport. The hop over is finally, uneventful, I drop into the Netherlands, Christmas displays already lit across Schiphol.
Daily commuting by train between Maastricht and Dusseldorf makes no sense, the border crossing at Venlo always takes an extra hour each way because of the little spur route that connects the NS and DB systems. I start searching for a rental car, and find one on Avis that is 95 euro for three days. A steal.
The counter attendant tells me that they can’t beat the price: in fact, there are no cars for rental no matter what my computer says. I place the order and watch my new booking pop up on their terminal.
Would you like an Upgrade to a bigger car? Now there are extras; I’ll stay with what I have. The clerks start an animated discussion in Dutch about the stupidity of computers and tourists, than smile and ask (in English) for my driver’s license.
I give them my Dutch one and smile sweetly. ‘Gotcha.
I’m actually given a lovely car, all the trimmings, and head south on the A2. It’s been years since I used to do this regularly when I worked for Corporate. The road is wider and faster than it was then, the construction projects around Utrecht and Eindhoven all completed. To the south, though, the roads are closed for new projects, routing me an hour around to the east to arrive in Maastricht very late.
‘nice to have you home, offers the ober in Rantree, smiling.
“Good to be back,” even if only for a few days.
I’m starting a 10-day trip to the Netherlands and the United States, a mix of business and family stops. A lot revilves around vehicles: it’s time to trade in my lease car (3 years, 110,000 km) and time to sell my son’s jeep. Both have a lot of memories attached, it’s a bit of a milestone each way.
It’s also my first voyage on an outbound ferry since the interrupted trip in May. The queue’s are longer than they were then, a consequence of the migrants flowing west across Europe and the unrest in Calais all summer. Stops to inspect the trunk (boot) and undercarriage are routine, and advice is handed out prior to boarding.
Trucks are backed up for (literally) six miles leading into the Port of Dover. The police are running a roadblock on the M20 motorway called Operation Stack: the goal is to divert trucks (lorries) before they join the lines at the docks and the Chunnel. From a driver’s perspective, though, it’s a pointless get-off / get-on the road detour that adds 20 minutes to the journey east.
DFDS now offers a Sea View Lounge pass for £8, comfortable chairs, newspapers, wifi, and snacks apart from the crowd that sounded like a good deal. It’s a small space on the upper deck, the good chairs pegged early by others.. Tea, coffee, cookies (biscuits) and crackers are on offer, along with a doctor’s office selection of news. The quiet is nice, and the worktables were good: it’s worth what you pay for it, I suppose, but it doesn’t change the ambience of the cruise.
The crossing was smooth and quick, a beautiful day for enjoying the white cliffs and the sea breezes out on deck
An uneventful drive across Belgium, around Brussels, through Liege, and finally down into the ‘skade. I dropped the car along a side street, said hi to friends, and walked back in the gathering twilight. The bike tunnel was a bit spooky underneath the rail station, empty and echoing.
The fietsen sailed past, Bert gave me a big ‘hallo, the kerkklokken chimed then hours: was nice to finally settle in with mijn biertje en boekje,once more t’huis.
Subtle things have changed in five months, A new burger restaurant is open two door up. Water fountains have been planted among the trees lining the High Street.
In a city like Maastricht, though, most things never change.
Bert smiles and waves from Café La Clé next door, delivering beer and gossip to the old men with elbows planted onto the new blue tables. ’t Mooswief still keeps watch over the main square, green water sparkling in the yellow sunshine. The Boekhandel Dominicanen still offers coffee and a book.
My Locomotief is little the worse for my absence: a few leaves caught in the cables, some air for the tires. I thought for sure it would be gone.
Provisioning is the first order, then opening a foot-high stack of mail. The rail card, bank card, lease car and tax authorities have priority, and I’m off to the Vrijthhof.
Preuvenemint is ending, workmen carrying away gates and knocking down the booths.
But, still and all, it’s welcoming sights and sounds, familiar along the ‘skade.
Goede morgan, Maastricht. Het is te lang geleden, weg van huis.