Maastricht, of course, is more than just an Art Fair. Its an industrial city and university town at the tip of Holland, just a few miles from the both the Germany and Belgium border. When driving from France, you know you’ve arrived when the amber toned lamp posts that are the backbone of the Belgium highway system, suddenly disappear.
There are 11 museums and several churches to visit in Maastricht, but we were a bit too burned out on art to even consider more. What I did want to see was the Selexyz bookstore. Built inside a Dominican church, with metal frame catwalks creating see-thru floors below the stone vaults, it is often considered one of the coolest bookstores in the world. I wish I could agree, but there was a freak snow storm on our last day, so we had to rush home to avoid getting stuck in the snow!
This trip had been my Christmas present to Mr French, and the fact that I had organised everything down to the most minute last detail, up to and including a serious dusting of snow to ensure that it would be feeling a lot like Christmas, well he was in awe!
We stayed near the train station. Originally I was concerned that it may be a seedier neighborhood than we were used to, but there were not alot of options left, almost everything fully booked when I called shortly before Christmas. Seeing an Hermes boutique as we drove up “our” street made me laugh at my worries, but I was particularly intrigued by the tart displays at the all too tempting Patisserie Royale.
We stayed at the Beaumont Hotel, a very basic design hotel that had shuttles to the show. I stumbled across the hotel when looking for a fantastic dinner to book. Their restaurant is one of the best in town, with carefully sourced, fresh organic ingredients. I had a truffle risotto, grilled turbot and a divine lemon tart with champagne sorbet. It looked so good at the table next to us, that I asked the waiter to put one aside for me before we’d even ordered our meal!
Having a good restaurant coincidentally meant an exceptional hotel breakfast. I don’t normally go in for hotel breakfasts, but that snow storm kept us from heading out the door in search of a café. How exceptional was the breakfast? They had farm fresh yogurt with an entire selection of nuts, seeds and meusli to add to it. There were country jams and a man serving eggs to order. Even Mr French commented on the delicious honey and there was no doubt that the orange juice was freshly squeezed because they had a machine, letting you throw the whole oranges in yourself as they were sliced and pressed directly into your glass.
They also had Hagelslag. When I was a student in Paris a Dutch classmate heard I was going to Amsterdam and told me I absolutely HAD to get Hagelslag. I was thrilled to try a local specialty and when I learned that it involved chocolate, I made it a point to discover this local delicacy. Hagelslag, it turns out, is Dutch for Chocolate Jimmies and the Dutch use them rather liberally on their warm, buttered morning toast, smearing them as they melt into the nooks and crannies. Yum!
And that was all we saw of Maastricht; a pastry shop, a restaurant and a breakfast bar. Who you calling a little piggy? Me?
Just to keep with the theme of our weekend, as soon as we left Holland Mr French went into “quest” mode. He was on the look out for a Baraque à Frites. The Belgians are famous in France for their French Fry stands (love the irony, non?) and Mr French was bent on trying a few with one of their “disgusting” (his exact word) sauces. The first stand had wonderfully large, bight yellow sign of a cone of fries waving us over. Unfortunately, in true Belgian fashion, the sign came about 15 meters AFTER the off ramp for the stand! The second stand, we missed as we were in a heated debate about the spending of those million dollars that we don’t have and the third time was the charm!