Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A random morning in Aachen

Last week I spent Friday morning in Aachen, shopping for some toilettries and make-up which are quite cheaper in Germany than in The Netherlands. Aachen lies just in the border of Germany with The Netherlands and from Maastricht it is quite easy to reach it on a one hour bus ride. I really like going there from time to time for two reasons: first, just because of the excitement of being abroad, so easy, so quick, and secondly, because I really like Germany! Since I started learning German some 12 years ago (time flies!!!) I have been wanting to travel extensively around Germany. However, that hasn't happened yet, so I have to content myself with short daytrips to this currently neighbouring country of mine. 

Aachen is not too big, not specially charming and if you have studied as little history as I have, probably not so famous either. Before living in Maastricht, I had never heard the name Aachen, neither its Spanish version Aquisgrán, but then I learnt that it is particularly important in western European history, as Charlemagne once set the capital of his empire there. While he probably found the strategic situation of Aachen in the heart of Western Europe interesting, Charlemagne was actually taken by the allure of the thermal waters surrounding the region. And up to date, the city of Aachen still celebrates the richness of its waters with the many arty fountains spread all over the city and its crowded spa complex.

The city center of Aachen is rather small and the most central part is a pedestrian zone made of charming cobbled streets lined with bakeries in every corner. Probably, the oldest and most iconic fountain of the city is the Elisenbrunnen, which is part a fountain, part a neoclasical building and also hosts the tourist office. 

Besides the many fountains, the town hall is also worth a look. It somehow reminisces the architecture styles of neighbouring Netherlands and Belgium and just in front of it there's another fountain with Charlemagne still watching over the city upon it. This is probably the main square in Aachen and it is surrounded by lovely cafés with terraces full of wooden tables and banks to enjoy some nice German cuisine and beer, just like in many other streets in the city center. Oddly, there's also an Starbucks, I don't know why, but I found this rather surprising, as Aachen is not such a big city. Nearby the Markt and the town hall is the cathedral of Aachen and I particularly love it! It's not very big but it is really beautiful, somewhat eastern inspired with an octogonal dome and the interior is totally tiled with thousands of hundred tiny tiles of gold, green, blue, red ... Charlemagne is buried inside and for almost a millenium emperors and kings of the Holy Roman Empire were crowned within its walls (this time I arrived so early in the morning that the cathedral wasn't open yet, so no photos ... I'll try to take some pictures next time!)

Furthermore, there are some other things which really make me love a trip to Aachen, even though I cannot always enjoy them. As I said, the city has a nice spa and therapeutical swimming-pools complex. While it may not be as impressive as the Swiss ones secluded in the Alps, it is also a nice treat once in a while and kind of affordable. Then, when Christmas draws near there's also the joy of a wonderful christmas market filled with traditional handcrafted gifts, mulled wine and delicious sausages with sauerkraut, as well as many other seasonal treats! And speaking of treats, for a sweet tooth like mine Germany is just a paradise full of bakeries selling all sort of lovely sweet and salty snacks, I just can't get enough of it!

Deutschland, ich liebe dich and I really want to get to know more of you. Hopefully, some day I'll finally get on a train or a car and drive around the country discovering many other great places in Germany but in the meantime I'm really looking forward to going back to Aachen to have a taste of Christmas in the christmas market. And maybe I'll also indulge in a daytrip to Düsseldorf in the first weekend of November.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

On my way to Belgium I found ...

Recently I've picked up the good habit of going out for a long walk in the evening. After a tiring day this is a good way to relax and and it really helps me to unlock my mind making it easier to find new ideas and to keep on studying later in the evening. So last Sunday, after an stressful problem-solving session, I decided to make the most of the nice weather and to walk until I reached the Belgium border, something I had been wanting to do since I came to live in Maastricht. And besides enjoying the sunny weather, I could also enjoy an interesting photo trip, as I found many beautiful, eye-catching places on my way. These are some of those beauties!

I followed a winding road into the countryside and I got lost among lush green hills. The sun was shining brightly and there wasn't any clouds in the sky, making these fields the perfect spot for a laid-back hike.

Another winding path took me to this secluded church surrounded by a graveyard. While the church may look just like any ordinary church in The Netherlands I found something special in its isolated location on the top of a low hill and the inside was rather beautiful.

Nearby the church I came across this beautifully ornated door. I guess it was the entrance to some cottage but I couldn't help but wonder what mysteries it would unveil if I opened it.

Later on I spotted this hidden haven. Well, it's not really that hidden as it can be viewed from the other bank of the river but when you're walking along this side you can only guess it is there after the bushes, so you have to get closer to take a look through the fence.

On my way back I saw this beautiful garden, which somehow reminded me of Alice in Wonderland and I thought that perhaps a mad tea party was about to be enjoyed inside the house.

The only thing I didn't find on my way to Belgium was Belgium. When the pedestrian lane became a bike path lane and the street a motorway I knew that it was high time to walk the way back home and maybe try another way to Belgium another day. Anyways, I don't bother that much for not having reached Belgium on foot yet as in two weeks I'm probably going to spend the weekend in Brussels. And even better, I'll be spending four or five days in Brussels during the last weekend of October and as I'll be a birthday girl by then I'm already wishing for a nice trip to Antwerp as a b'day treat! I am really looking forward to visiting my first adoptive city again, to getting lost in its cobbled streets, to enjoying some fritjes and some kriek (cherry beer), to catching a glimpse of the city from the left bank and to listening to some jazz for free in De Muze. Besides there are a couple of new things I would like to check: the new MAS (Museum aan de Stroom) and its impressive building with glass windows spiralling up the building until the top floor, the new collections at the Mode Museum and the only Forever21 store in the Benelux. I've never been to a Forever21 store but lately I just seem to find their clothes in every fashion magazine, to read about them in many fashion blogs and I spotted some gorgeous golden ballet pumps on their website, so I'm curious about it! But before by birthday comes I am a girl on a mission, namely passing my exams. And maybe, when the time finally comes I'll be so exhausted that the only trip I'll be willing to plan will be to Slumberland!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Some thoughts on my last trip to Tenerife

It's been almost three weeks since I came back from Tenerife and I realized that I never wrote much about my trip except for a post about my evening in Candelaria. While it is true that I didn't do many interesting things during my holidays, the real reason for not writing more about it was the bittersweet feeling that accompanied me during my week in Tenerife. I had a wonderful time in my home island, I enjoyed every moment with my family and friends and my boyfriend and I indulged in some relaxing days doing nothing, as we both needed a break from the hectic year behind us. But at the same time, I couldn't help but noticing how dramatic the economic situation was and that was slightly depressing. Actually, this story started 4 years ago when I went back to Tenerife after spending a year in Belgium as exchange student. Back then the finance world had started to tremble as a consequence of the bursting of the American housing bubble and all the mess caused by the subprime mortgages (phew, that's a fine mess that's still troubling us today. Probably almost everyone has heard that story and i don't want to bore you with too many economic details. If you're intesrested you might want to check Wikipedia, to take a look at Paul Krugman's blog where he has written extensively about it or if you speak Spanish to watch Simiocracia, by Aleix Saló). However, while the rest of the world was a fearing a drastic recession, Spain was just excited about the football eurocup they were about to win and the prospects of becoming a member of the G8 thinking that those American problems wouldn't affect them in a big way. And were they wrong! 

I arrived back to Tenerife the same day that Spain kicked Russia out of the Eurocup, making it into the final (I'll never forget that flight with the pilot cheerfully informing about the goals scored by the Spanish national team). Nothing had changed that much in Tenerife while I was away. Just two  details could presage the terrible years to come: petrol prices had risen to 1€ per liter and the pace at which building and roadworks were down had slowed down, gone were the days of 24/7 working in the construction sector! People ignored the problem and kept on spending as if there was no tomorrow. And tomorrow came, darker than ever and it tore apart every hope that people might have had for the future. The unemployment rate reached a maximum never seen before (the Canary Islands have one of the highest unemployment rates in Spain, up to 30%), investors took their money away and the governements have been carrying out dramatic spending cuts programmes which haven't improved the situation so far. 

It's been for years now and the end doesn't seem to be drawning near. People started to lose all their hopes after hearing day after day that there's no future and they just had an dazed look in their eyes. The last time I spent a long time in Tenerife was from January 2011 until June 2012. I tried to find a job but it was impossible. I would meet my friends any morning and the streets were always crowded, as there were so many unemployed people. Back then people had some hope to hold onto. They still tried to find a job, still tried to lead a normal life going for a drink with friends, buying some clothes to cheer themselves up. This summer wasn't like this anymore. Bars and stores were mostly empty and many small shops were shut down, more people than ever were asking for money, food or simply a job, the streets were dirty as there's no money to pay people to clean them up, spending cuts had minimized fire-fighting resources so a string of fires were burning for weeks this summer, and the list goes on. Ironically, while I was living in Tenerife I somehow managed forget about the drama thinking there might be better days to come but now that I don't live there anymore and this problem doesn't affect me that much is when reality really hit me. And it did hit hard! 

Maybe I am more sensitive to the situation now that I am living in a country where things still run smoothly (it may be true that the financial crisis has also taken its toll on The Netherlands, but nothing to do with Spain!) Maybe it's the fact that I once lived there and I once knew better shiny times and now seeing so much misery  where there used to be prosperity deeply saddens me. I am aware that many other countries find themselves in far worse situations than Spain and Tenerife, after all, there are heartbreaking stories everyday on the news. But this is my story, this is the story of my holidays. And I guess that this is another side of travelling, which many tourists choose to ignore by booking themselves in all-inclusive resorts.

Have you ever experienced something similar, no matter where in the world? Have you felt overwhelmed by the consequences of the credit crunch while travelling? Let me know your thoughts about it.

p.s. This is one of my favourite songs lately and it's part of my inspiration for writing this post. I guess I also  felt that I had to tell the world where I've been ... Enjoy!

Monday, September 10, 2012

The insides of Maastricht: Sint-Pieter Fort

Yesterday I decided to take a break from studying in the afternoon and I went for a nice walk in the surroundings of Maastricht. It was the Open Monumentendag (officially Open Heritage Days in English) so many monuments were open and free, so I didn't hesitate and jumped at the chance of visiting the Fort Sint-Pieter (again!) I had already been there last year and I thought it was a really nice place to spend half a day and get some gorgeous sights of Maastricht. And unlike last year, yesterday the sun was shining brightly and there wasn't any cloud in the sky, so the views from the top were simply perfect!

Fort Sint-Pieter is a fortification at the top of Sint-Pietersberg (Saint Peter's Hill) that lies at the south of the city, just 15 minutes away from the centre on foot. The Sint-Pietersberg has been declared natural monument and is a great site to go to for a walk, as there are many paths to hike or to bike and the natural surroundings are really beautiful.

Maastricht is right at the border with Germany and Belgium and all over history it has been a very strategic point for most western rising and falling empires. The Romans arrived to Maastricht around 2000 years ago and built a bridge over the Meuse river. Ever since Maastricht became a very attractive objective for troops of all sign and  the Romans started digging the first tunnels which sheltered the population of the city every time that Maastricht was attacked. Over the centuries these primary tunnels evolved into a very sophisticated defensive system, including around 20000 tunnels that even reached Belgium, the walls surrounding the city (the remainings of the wall and the entry gates can still be found today spread over the city) and several fortifications. Nowadays, after many sieges, the tunnels are no longer necessary but part of them are open to the public and can be visited with a guided tour. Fort Sint-Pieter is also open to the public and is a good starting point to explore the underground history of Maastricht. So, welcome to my own photographic tour to the insides of Maastricht.

Once in, the way is down! The fort is an intrincate labyrinth of dark and cold tunnels and stiff stairs.

The brick walls have seen centuries pass by and endured many a siege. Outer tunnels have windows to spot past attacking troops and cannons were always ready to fire.

After wandering in the darkness for a while some steps finally go up and out to the top of the fortress, which probably once was the highest point of the city making an outstanding point to watch over the rebellious surroundings.

Once out, it still possible to climb up a little more to get an awesome view of Maastricht and its countryside surroundings.

While walking along those dark tunnels alone I wondered what it must have been like to be hiding there for days or months and the dangers that might have encountered the people staying there during a siege, as they were probably not only facing the enemy but also shortages on water and food and being inside those tunnels pute them just as in much peril as being outside. After all, 200 km of dark tunnels cannot always be controlled and whatever happened in a lonesome corner could possibly never be found. It kind of remind me of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, one of my favourite childhood books. And for some reason this brief excursion to Sint-Pieter Fort also remind me of my visit to Edinburgh's Castle and that put a big smile on my face because I absolutly loved that short trip to Edinburgh! I also realised that I should really try and do more things even if it's on my own and even if I have very limited spare time now. But still, even if I'm busy and not moving around that much for a while, I shouldn't be so lazy and try to discover all the specials places nearby. Maybe I should go back some time this year for some hike!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Hello Instagram!

Step by step I'm finally entering into the 21st century. Even though I once started blogging six years ago and I created my fb account when Facebook was still only availaible in English, the truth is that in the last years I was totally left behind in the information era we live in dominated by ever-changing technology. Not only is it difficult having to learn to use a new device or application every now and then, it is actually exhausting to keep track of all the technological novelties and their names (smartphones, widgets, blogs, apps ... you name it!) However, I think that it is high time that I stop neglecting reality: the world won't stop, so I better get back in shape and follow the pace of this crazy high-tech race. Who knows, maybe it's even about time to get rid of my old, loyal and beloved Nokia, yes, that brick-a-like with the snake game as its most exciting feature ... maybe. But for now I'm happy to announce that I just signed up to Instagram - and even happier to finally have my own Instagram account!

So, that's it, my first instagram! As you can see, the weather is still incredibly nice in Maastricht and I'm trying to make the most of it on my now scarce free time amid many lectures, tutorials, hundreds of pages to read and dozens of problems to solve and, oh, exams in just eight weeks. I guess that the most exciting trips I'll be doing in a while will be to the library. A great year has just started!

If you want to follow me on Instagram, then search for awayfromtenerife.
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