Monday, July 7, 2014

Expat Experiences: Spotlight on Antwerp, Maastricht and Basel

I am delighted that Molly of The Move to America has brought back the Expat Experiences link-up in July. This is a wonderful opportunity for expats, perpetual travellers and worldwide wanderers to share their experiences and get to know some like-minded bloggers. And I personally enjoy writing these Expat Experiences posts because they help me reflect on my own journey. So, YAY! 

The Move to America

Every week there is a different topic and this week the prompt is Spotlight on … The idea is to write about three top things to do or see in your current home city. But because I am still very fresh in Dublin and I haven't seen or done some of the most touristy things, I am leaving Dublin aside today – though a similar post about the gorgeous Irish capital is on the making. Instead, I will look back to Antwerp, Basel and Maastricht, three great yet underrated cities where I've lived before. Who knows, maybe you'll find this post inspiring for planning a city break after the summer holidays.

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ANTWERP is the second largest city of Belgium. The city of diamonds, the city of fashion, Antwerp is probably the coolest city in Belgium, though too often ignored by foreign visitors. I lived in Antwerp from September 2007 till June 2008 and I absolutely love it! As an exchange student, it was my first time living abroad and I really enjoyed the diverse student community. Also, Antwerp was a very welcoming city with a pretty city centre full of historical sights but also of international eateries and upbeat cafés and club. And there's the shopping too.

In 2011 the MAS (het Museum Aan de Stroom) opened it doors and it is since the place to go to get the best views of the city. But back in 2008, Linkeroever – the left bank of the river – was the place to view Antwerp in all its glory, preferably on a sunny evening while having a picnic with friends. The walk to Linkeroever is quite an experience itself, as the only way to get there is via a tunnel under the river because Antwerp has no bridges over the Maas. On foot or by bike, the usual way from the city centre is the Sint-Anna Tunnel, which still has some old scalators dating from the beginning of the 20th century. It is rather chilly in the tunnel and the walk can feel quite overwhelming if you stop and think that you are 30m down the river and totally surrounded by water outside the tunnel.

MAASTRICHT, oh, Maastricht. If you have been following this blog for a while I'm sure you've already read more than one post about Maastricht. I started Away from Tenerife while living there and most of the first half of this blog chronicles my life in Maastricht and adventures the Netherlands. Maastricht is the loveliest city I've ever lived in and it will always have a special place in my heart. Located in the most southern point of the Netherlands, some Dutch people joke that Maastricht isn't really part of the Netherlands. And somehow they're right. Maastricht is and feels very different from the reast of the country; even the sun shines way more in Maastricht than in the rest of the Netherlands, if you ask me!

Two of my favourite things to do on Maastricht were book-related, so if you enjoy reading and spending hours in a bookshop or library, I am sure that you will like Maastricht as much as I do. My Saturdays in Maastricht would usually start with a trip to the Selexyz (now Polaris) bookshop located in an old dominican church and considered one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world – read more about it here. Another fave of mine was the Centre Ceramique, which was just round the corner of my apartment. It is the public library of Maastricht but they have much more than books; they also lentd DVDs and magazines and I would usually go there every Sunday to read the weekly magazines and get some films to watch during the week. They also have some interesting exhibitions from time to time, like the annual Photopress or a precious one I saw once about weather inspired traditional Japanese drawings.

BASEL is a Swiss city located on the dual border with France and Germany. I first went to Basel after meeting Boyfriend and I spent some time there in 2010 and moved there for good last summer. I have an almost love-hate relationship with Basel; it is Boyfriend's home city and I really like it there but I just cannot get over the fact that I feel so foreign and somewhat unwelcome. Life in Basel would be perfect, were it not impossible for me to find a job in Switzerland.

Anyway, Basel is an interesting city with much to do and see. Apparently, it has more museums per square km than any other city in the world and though pricey, some of them are really worth a visit. My favourite is the Natural History Museum, probably because they have a couple of complete dinosaur's fossiles, including a T-Rex. Another cool thing to see is the mammoth reconstruction with a tiny window on its side to look into it. You can still see the contents of its last meal in its stomach! My second favourite is the Museum of Dollhouses and Teddy Bears, which features four floors of dollhouses, teddy bears, and many, many antique dolls and toys – it is a real treat for doll collector wannabes.

Moving to a new city can be a daunting thing to do but also a very rewarding experience; these are my tips to make the most of your new home.

Do some research – get on the internet; grab some free local newspaper listing festivals, exhibitions, restaurants; buy a travel guide; or whatever works for you.

Be a tourist – in fact this is what you are until you become settled, so enjoy doing and seeing as much as a tourist would.

Ask the locals – getting off the beaten track seems to be the way to go nowadays and there is no one better than a local to show you the way out of the tourist crowds.

Have you ever been to Antwerp, Maastricht or Basel? Did you like them? What were your highlights of the trip?

Have a lovely week!


  1. I would definitely like Maastricht for the books and Basel for the museums. I remember when you featured that doll house museum. Glorious! Very nice post Irene.

  2. I am pretty sure I would like Maastricht as well! It looks like a great city! And I love all the teddy bears in the last picture!

  3. Qué bonito que hayas dedicado unas cuantas líneas a cada uno de los sitios en donde has estado, Irene, aunque sin duda Maastrich te ha robado el corazón. Espero que con el tiempo vayas conociendo Dublín y nos cuentes muchas cosas interesantes para hacer y ver allí. Bss:)

  4. Wow that first view is amazing! I would love to visit someday.

  5. We should have passed Antwerp. We went straight to Ghent from Brussels during a road trip in Belgium. Wish I could be granted another opportunity to go on a road trip around Belgium all the way to Netherlands. There's so much to see.


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