Much to my mother’s disdain (‘what are you, 8?’), I am a big birthday person. It’s not so much that I like to be the centre of attention – quite the opposite in fact – or that I like party games and endless rounds of pass the parcel. Rather, it’s more that your birthday gives you the excuse to do things you wouldn’t normally, be it an extra drink, a fancy dinner or a brand new sparkly dress that you’ll maybe wear for 3 hours in total. Birthday are a chance to do things by your rule book and your rule book only. Oh, and you get to eat cake for every meal.
This year to celebrate turning the big 2-4, we took advantage of a deal on spoorwinkel.nl (a fantastic site for anyone looking to explore the Netherlands for cheap) for a little weekend trip to the southern city of Maastricht. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the place, and as part of my resolution to explore the Netherlands it was the perfect choice.
Maastricht is undoubtedly a beautiful place. Nestled between the German and Belgian borders in the south of the Netherlands, it’s a city quite unlike any other Dutch cities that I’ve visited, and not least because I heard mostly German in the streets. I love living over here, but after a while the lustre of canals lined by tall, narrow homes and open squares with colourful buildings begins to lose its charm. So going to Maastricht, with its open streets and relatively squat buildings, was like a breath of fresh air. The city itself is a wonderful mix of old and new; ruins and caves intermingled with modern shopping centres, as well as bridges that date back to the 1200s running into modern suspension bridges, opening to let the ships pass along the Maas.
We only really spent the actual day of my birthday in Maastricht, but I think we did it right. I mean, when you start the day with a hotel breakfast, how wrong can it go? We wandered into town for a quick little snoop around the local markets, before walking up to the fort and caves for a guided tour. We opted for a tour of the caves only and I would really recommend giving it a go. The caves are pretty much freezing so definitely pack your gloves, but hang on in there for a brilliant guided tour around the tunnels and galleries of the man-made caves below the fort. The caves are steeped in history – Rembrandt’s masterpiece The Night’s Watch was stored here in WW2 away from the Nazis – and the walls themselves are covered in etchings, carvings and fossils. One of the highlights of our trip for sure.
After our tour we headed back into town to check out the main sights, eat some bitterballen and grab a cheeky birthday crêpe. I even bought a new hat. Don’t wait up. In the evening, we headed out for a quick pre-dinner drink at Beez, a cocktail bar that’s much recommended online – and I can see why. With a huge menu of cocktails there really is something for every taste here; and all for 7 EUR. Not too shabby. Over the course of the evening I had 3 cocktails (1 before dinner and 2 after) and each of them was amazing, even if the 3rd exists in my mind as only a faint memory. I think it was peach flavoured. Definitely had alcohol.
It’ll come as no surprise that I take the matter of birthday dinner extremely, extremely seriously. Weeks before the fact, I’d already scouted out all the ‘Best places to eat in Maastricht’ lists online, so I was well-prepared. Maybe even too prepared; had we had a week in Maastricht I still wouldn’t have made in a dent in my list, but as it was I could only choose 1. In the end, after much much much deliberation, my stomach settled on tapas. We opted for La Bodega and I couldn’t be more at peace with my choice. Delicious food, great wine, fantastic ambience and friendly service – my only issue is that I couldn’t eat everything on the menu!