Heaven behind hell’s gates

Way before 9/11 I used to spontaneously pick out a city, hop a plane and some hours later basically get lost somewhere in the world. If I didn’t speak the local language, all the better. Now it’s not so simple to travel. The consequence of 9/11 is the knowledge of how the impossible can manifest itself. That has changed how we all travel and view each other. Airports are tiresome; the security gates feel like hell’s gates, albeit a necessary evil. Even so, I am just as driven now to see as much of this planet as I possibly can. There’s just too much heaven behind hell’s gates.

Maastricht is one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands. I spend half a day here visiting the cobblestoned town center in pouring rain. Luckily the rain does let up for my photos. With a drenched walking tour map in hand (note to self, keep a clear plastic folder or bag handy so that you can keep maps and such from getting wet), I meander around the narrow streets filled with upscale shops…

small squares for al fresco dining…

and just wonderful nooks and crannies with homes and stores built on/around/under fortress ruins from days of long ago…

In the middle of the old center there is a large university which explains the vibrant vibe. Maastricht is a stunning town. It’s just a stone’s throw across the border from Belgium but immediately the architecture looks different. The people are friendly (one local woman approached me to help me with my map and spoke nearly perfect English) but not overly affectionate as their French speaking neighbors in Belgium. There’s no lovey dovey chitchat with total strangers, just very curt but polite assistance. I immediately pick up on how to-the-point they all seem. Where there’s drama and flowery dialog with the French, there’s bottom line efficiency with the Dutch. At least that’s my take on it.

From this old quarter you cross a bridge to the new part of the city. Here’s a picture of the old quarter taken from the bridge on the new quarter side.

Check out this cool groove they’ve put on the bridge so that you can walk your bike across. Necessity is the mother of all inventions!

As I cross the large square to get back to the underground parking lot, I spy this mobile food-to-go place–the name is Vietnamese! When my friend and I first get to Maastricht that morning we have no idea where the public parking is. Oddly the first local person I run into is Vietnamese. She doesn’t speak English or French. So it’s either Vietnamese or Dutch. Lucky for my friend I speak VN because he doesn’t speak Dutch besides stuff like “ik houd van jij” which would definitely not get us very far in figuring out where to park. And she doesn’t look like she’s open to dating him. Anyway, at the end of the tour when I run into this little Vietnamese kiosk, I just crack up.

When my sisters and I were very young and traveled with my parents to new towns, we would open up the phone book in the hotel room to see if we could find anyone with a Vietnamese last name. No, we did not make crank calls for fun! I think it’s just not rare that immigrants have this curiosity and I’m certain we were not the only people who did this. I did it in Venezuela many years later and sure enough, I found Nguyens in Caracas.

So right in the middle of this square in rain soaked Maastricht I want to call my parents and tell them we no longer need the phone book. The Vietnamese are already everywhere.


  1. jean

    I love Massstricht, I believe I was here. in the outdoor shopping mall, we ate at a little quaint restaurant, great pics! jean

  2. beatrice

    Je connais bien Maastricht car j’y suis allée de nombreuses fois pour tourisme, shopping,ou cours de néerlandais(dutch) et je trouve que tu en donnes une bonne idée et que tu as bien respecté l’esprit de la ville…c’est une ville à part aux Pays-Bas:il y a meme des vignes!!!Les gens y sont très tolérants et en meme temps très respectueux de la vie privée
    c’est le SF europeen
    Je te souhaite encore beaucoup de voyages et j’espère que tu continueras à les partager avec nous!!

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