The past week has flown by! We are feeling quite at home in our comfortable Guesthouse abode, friendships have been made, new food and drink experienced and of course there is the matter of familiarising ourselves with the international relations and politics of the European Union. Here is a little bit on what we have done so far...
Saturday 3 January, Day 1
Goede avond, Maastricht! This was the day a group of rowdy Australians descended upon your fine city. With half of us jet lagged and the other half already well traveled, we gathered together at the Guesthouse, initially to sort out rooms, procedures etc., followed by an all important venture to the shops to buy some groceries and finished the day with pizza, all whilst getting to know each other.
Sunday 4 January, Day 2
This was the day we really got to see Maastricht, separated into different groups we went on a city tour led by Student Representatives. We quite enjoyed the opportunity to familiarise ourselves with the many eateries, pizzerias, restaurants, sushi and student bars that were pointed out. Free time after the tour was had and students were left with lighter pockets due to the boutique shops and vast array of foods available along the cobbled Maastricht streets.
Monday 5 January, Day 3
Well rested for some of us and slightly bleary eyed for others, we arrived at Maastricht University for an opening ceremony with Jorg de Vette, Director of the University. Whilst warmly welcomed, we were warned about the amount of work and study we would be doing over the coming weeks, and disappointed to learn that the Dutch aren't the clog-wearing, cheese eating, windmill-watching people that we have been led to believe! What had we gotten ourselves into? However, we were impressed by the delicious local pastry delicacies and coffee that followed. Our course convener, Kyra, then took us through an information meeting on the course and we have been so grateful to have such a lovely leader looking out for us during our stay here in Maastricht. Lunch followed on (there is a bit of a recurring theme on food here, all in the name of cultural experiences of course...) and then we took the bus out to the Underground of Maastricht, with a tour through the Caves of Zonneberg. The labyrinth of man-made tunnels were created by the mining of marlstone. They originally served the Romans, limestone was used as a building material and over time turned into a refuge for Maastricht residents during the many sieges the city endured. There are many paintings and names written on the walls, with their own story to tell but we also came across ruins of toilets, bakeries and churches. It was pitch black mind, so we were securely guided through by lanterns. The fossil of the Mosasaur dinosaur was found in the caves, now housed in a museum in Paris and we were also introduced to Jimmy the bat, who was hibernating in a small crevice of the wall. Fun fact: In such a deep sleep, his heart only beats once per minute.
The day was finished off with an excursion to the Apostelhoeve vineyard led by a very entertaining man who took us through the steps of the fermentation process from the field to the bottle and then, in saving the best until last, ended with a taste of the 'fruits' of their labour. Extremely cheery despite the cold we headed back to the Guesthouse with further purchases of a bottle of two, for continuation of the cultural experience and as souvenirs to take back home.
Tuesday 6 January, Day 4
Our first day of class! This reminded us, more than anything else, that we are here to study and learn about the European Union. So, finding our way to the lecture theatre, our teacher Mr Matt Heckman, proceeded with a very comprehensive introduction into the history and integration of the EU.
Wednesday 7 January, Day 5
After our second day of class we went into town for lunch together, after which we were given a historical tour of Maastricht. Our tour guide was animated in her presentation and it was special to hear it from someone who is obviously proud of the heritage of this beautiful city.
Having said that, I think that we were all pleased to return back to the Guesthouse to warm up and settle in for a relaxing afternoon.
Friday 9 January, Day 7
An early start was required to head to Brussels, with buses leaving the Guesthouse at 7am.
Our first stop in Brussels was at the European Commission, where we enjoyed a lecture by Dr Mark Corner on the role of the Commission and its process of proposing and monitoring EU laws. Left to our own devices for lunch we got together again for a presentation at the European Parliament and a viewing of the Plenary Chamber where members discuss and pass the laws proposed by the Commission.
After checking into our hotel, we were more than happy to patron the famous Delirium bar which had a vast range of beers for us to enjoy...all in the name of cultural experience of course.
Saturday 10 January, Day 8
A great start to the morning as we were able to tuck into a very hearty hotel breakfast and so ready and raring to go on a walking tour. Starting at the Grand Place which is surrounded by architecturally and historically brilliant buildings such as the Town Hall, we then proceeded into the Cathedral which housed some spectacular stain-glass windows. We across a smurf sculpture and finished up with a glimpse of the famous statue of the peeing boy, which was dressed up on this particular day in a traditional costume (his several hundred other outfits are on display in the museum).
We then had an afternoon of free time, for the opportunity to visit the various museums such as the Magritte, Royal Museum of Fine Art and for something different, the Comic Strip Centre or the Musical Instrument Museum. We were all excited to have free time for the rest of the night and take in the Belgian nightlife.
Sunday 11 January, Day 9
After another fabulous breakfast and our luggage loaded on the bus, we headed to the Planete Chocolat Chocaleterie for an insight into its artisan chocolate workshop. The demonstration began with a smooth hot chocolate, before delving into the various stages on the production of pralines; of which we enjoyed sampling the end product. We then enjoyed learning about the origins of the cocoa, its virtues and various stages of production. Of course, we couldn't turn down the chance to leave without some of the divine chocolates available at the shop and left with a few delicious packages.
We then took the bus into Leuven, located in the Flemish region of Belgium, for a historic tour of the city. Heavily damaged in World War 1, the city is famous for its old University and stunningly detailed architecture of the Town Hall, which was the only building to have survived the destruction.
Exhausted but satisfied, we finally arrived back in Maastricht and took the chance to enjoy a quiet evening and ready ourselves for the week ahead.
Food of the week: "Speculoos spread" - the speculoos is a spiced, shortcrust biscuit and the Belgians decided it would be a great idea to turn it into a spread - they weren't wrong.
Drink of the week: "Kriek" - a cherry flavoured beer.
The experience of being in another country with a brand new group of people, yet juggling the study aspect proved to be so insightful and fun! The well-mannered structure of the program saw us get the most out of each week.