May 20th, 2003

taxis

Adventures in Limburg

Considering the fact that we never left Amsterdam until halfway through the afternoon, it's hardly surprising we barely made it to the border on the first day of our holiday. But what the heck - we were free! And Maastricht is actually quite a nice town for a stop-over. It's quite un-Dutch in appearance, boasting stone-clad houses with French mansarde roofs, cobbled roads and pavements, with the rolling Limburg hills surrounding it and the wide, fast-flowing Meuse dissecting it; and its inhabitants that speak an incomprehensible dialect to our spoilt Western ears. I'd been there before, but not recently, and it was nice to reacquaint myself with it again.

We checked in to a cheap hotel in the seedier part of town and while I had a leisurely soak, Peronne, ever the gourmet and wine buff, wasted no time in booking us a reservation in a top cuisinier's restaurant - which in these times of economic recession, proved not as hard as it could have been. Besides, Mondays are always a slow night in any restaurant - or so I'm told. The food was excellent, the wines scrumptious, but when the bill arrived, it took me quite an effort of will not to blanch.

The following morning, we were glad to discover that the car and all its wheels and hubcaps was still there (locals had warned us it might not be, parked where it was, ominously adding "especially a car as fine as that"), enjoyed our breakfast, then packed up our things and checked out...and found that we'd mislaid the car keys. Well, Peronne had mislaid the car keys. I was sure of that. Last I had seen them I'd put them on the desk in our room. Right next to the television. I could picture them there clearly. But according to her, they weren't there when we went downstairs. "Oh go on up and check, you'll see', I said and rolled my eyes meaningfully at the desk clerk. Vicars!

She came down again insistent that they were not in the room, and suggested we search my luggage. What?! I didn't have them! Muttering that if you want a job done properly, I went up to the room next. And searched and searched. Nothing. The cleaning staff came in and helped me look, but in a small space such as our en suite, there were only so many places we could look; so many waste-paper-baskets to overturn. Nothing. Not a thing.

Downstairs, Pee was quietly going insane, going through her luggage and bag once more. She arranged with the desk clerk that we could leave our stuff in a closed off room in the hotel while we went to find a solution to our problem, and we were going over the possibilities when I absent-mindedly dipped my hand into the secret compartment of my handbag, and -much to my total surprise- produced the missing car keys. How on earth had they gotten in there? I couldn't remember putting them away. Still can't.
We were elated. We did a little dance of joy in the hotel lobby. And then decided to go out and celebrate our narrow escape in the time honoured tradition of women everywhere: this called for a shopping spree! So we left the hotel and headed back into town.

Nothing could spoil our good mood. Not even the occasional showers that caused us to take refuge in several pubs. Not even the cold blasts of wind that prompted us to order tea and rum in every one of them. Suddenly, we found ourselves in front of an Australian restaurant. Australian! Bush tucka! Now this bore investigating! Turned out they didn't serve any koala, termites or kangaroo; but big hunks of BBQ-ed meat with a side order of chunky chips and a pitiful amount of salad. The meat tasted fantastic though - the secret must be in the marinade.
Peronne, ever the weltfremd vicar and wine buff, caused a bit of a stir when she asked for champagne, and when told they didn't serve any, compounded her gaff by asking to see the wine list. The proprietor, who came from Perth, went back behind the bar, scribbled something on a slip of paper, and handed it to her with a flourish. It read: 'RED, WHITE'. I thought I'd die laughing.

Having had our lunch, we went out exploring again. There are some lovely design and antique shops in Maastricht and we spent the rest of the afternoon ooh-ing and aaah-ing in several of them. Peronne thought she might buy a ruby glass decanter and glassware but decided against it on grounds of practicality. We were only on the first leg of our tour and who knows whether she'd be able to bring them back home safely and in one piece? I fell in love with a pair of shoes and matching handbag, but after taking several turns around the centre, couldn't find the shop again...so those will forever be engraved on my memory as the ones that got away.
Never mind, it started raining again. I pressed up to a shop window to get out of it...and spotted one of my other passions: millinery! Rows upon rows of the most beautifully designed hats. They called to me, I had to go in. Peronne needed no prompting. She loves hats as much as I do. It's a residual thing from our time in England (we both studied there: I in Leicester, and Peronne in Oxford) - The Netherlands is a fine country, but not very hat-friendly. Only the Queen and her daughters-in-law wear them, and I shouldn't wonder if they get theirs in London, too.

It took me about 2 minutes to decide which one out of the hundreds of hats on display in the shop was the one for me. A wide-rimmed classic design in black and white, with a wriggly bit and three small white feathers on the side. Pee took a bit longer to find hers, and practically tried every last one in the shop. Meanwhile, we chatted with the proprietress, about the quality of English millinery (I'd been right about the provenance of the items in the shop), belcanto (her hobby) and being in love (turned out she was having a torrid affair with a fine upstanding but very married citizen of note in Maastricht, and was now in the fifth year of her illicit passion). In return, Pee bent her ear about her recently discovered Mr. Wonderful, and finally settled on a dark blue, beautifully crafted but otherwise unremarkable hat...very suitable for a vicar but missing that certain je ne sais quoi...I took another look around and spotted a red one with a stylised flower on the front, and persuaded her to try that one instead. Once she saw her reflection, she agreed that that was a much better choice for her, and we got our hats at a discount; because the woman had enjoyed chatting with us so much. 32 and a half euros off mine, and 10 euros off Pee's (mine was the more expensive choice still), and she threw in a pair of hand-crafted beaded jewellery boxes as well. All in all, we were well-pleased with our purchases!

We now went back to the hotel, collected our luggage and showed off our hats to the desk clerk still on duty, and were relieved to find that the car was still there were we had left it. It took us only a minute to find the car keys, and with David Bowie prophetically singing 'Weaving down a byroad/singing the song/that's my kind of high road/gone wrong!' in the background, we hit the motorway.

(tbc)