Five years ago I studied abroad in the quaint town of Maastricht, Netherlands. It's about two hours from Amsterdam right on the Netherlands/Belgium border.
The three months I spent there were some of the most important and forming months of my life. Before my study abroad trip, I was a premed psychology major who wanted to be a therapist. I had just started dating Garner but we weren't super serious yet and we were going to see how the summer apart went.
That summer, I started my first blog (it's private now so don't try Googling it! LOL) and fell in love with writing. I decided to switch my major to journalism and did that immediately after my return. I also fell even more in love with travel - I was fortunate enough to travel with my family growing up but I always associated it with museums and hiking (hi, dad) so traveling alone or with fellow students allowed me to plan my own trips and experience unique adventures. This sort of traveling forced me to grow up, to become a leader and to make my own decisions.
"If I'm going to make the train back before class, what's the best route? If no one speaks English, how am I going to get the point across? If I don't want to pay for an international cell phone plan, I guess I'm going to have to use a real map. Do I want to spend my remaining 20 euro on dinner or this dress I found at the market?"
These were the types of questions that I laugh at now, but honestly led to who I am today. And through all of the chaos, I still managed to grow my relationship with Garner. When I returned, we had been dating apart more than our time spent together. It took a while to readjust but I knew he was the one after we made it through those three months.
So fast forward five years later, my sister Claire is doing a similar program at the local university. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit the beautiful Maastricht again, hang out with Claire and show my now-husband the places I've told him all about.
I stayed at Hotel Les Charmes which is truly a charming boutique hotel. However, it doesn't have AC so I was a sweaty mess my three days there. If you want to visit Maastricht, I'd recommend staying here but only in the cooler months.
The first place I took Garner was Vrijthof square which is the center of downtown. It's where most large events/concerts are held and is surrounded by shops and restaurants with outdoor patios. One of my favorite things to do is sit at one of these patios, drink a cappuccino and people-watch.
A few blocks away is the famous Bookstore Dominicanen. It's an old church that's now one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. There's even a coffee shop inside (that actually serves coffee) where I used to go to study or read.
One thing I never did while studying abroad was visit St. Peter's Caves. I don't know if I was deterred because it's a few miles away or because they are man-made, but I'm glad I visited them on my second trip to Maastricht.
The tunnels are very large and underneath most of the Netherlands and parts of Belgium. On our walking tour, we learned how they were used for various reasons: for transporting goods from the sea to various cities, for Jews to escape to Belgium during WWII (we saw where they signed their name) and for protecting important Dutch paintings such as the The Night Watch during WWII. We even visited the room where all the paintings were stored.
Other things that are great to do in Maastricht:
- Bonnefantenmuseum for incredible Dutch art
- Netherlands American Cemetery to learn about WWII history
- Chateau St. Gerlach Spa to relax and unwind
- Basilica of Our Lady
- Basilica of St. Servatius
It was so special to be back in a town that meant so much to me. If you ever have the chance to visit the Netherlands, I highly recommend spending a day or two in Maastricht.