I first heard about the International Environmental Law program from a friend who completed program two years ago, and had nothing but good things to say about her experience here in Maastricht. The people, the place, the classes, and, of course, her time travelling through Europe. Having now spent some time in Maastricht, I can say she was completely right. Maastricht is an old, beautiful, quaint town, with windy cobblestone streets, historical buildings, bicycles everywhere, cute cafes, and friendly locals that don't mind pointing lost tourists in the right direction!
I arrived at the International Student Guesthouse a little earlier than most of the other students, and was lucky enough to bring in the New Year seeing the town's firework show from my dorm window.
To help us find our feet the Centre of European Studies (CES) had their Student Assistants take us around on tour of the town, shopping precinct, the main university buildings where our classes would be held in the coming weeks, and wisely, the supermarket.
Our first days of the program were packed, but so much fun. With three very different courses being run at the same time (Positive Psychology, International Relations and Politics in the EU: Peace, Conflicts and Human Rights, and my course, International Environmental Law) getting to know everyone and getting to know the area (and getting lost!) was half the fun!
Our introductory lecture with the Director of Maastricht University's CES was very welcoming and it was in one of the nicest lecture halls I have ever seen.
Later that day students in my program were taken to Maastricht's famous system of man-made caves that were built between the 16th and 19th centuries, and sheltered refugees of WWII and the Cold War, as well as, famous artworks and artefacts.
The drawings painting on the limestone walls were incredible, as were the stories of caves that our tour guide shared with us.
There was a moment during our visit that the tour guide let us experience what it was like to be in the caves without our lanterns for just a couple of minutes; and I can't explain to you just how incredibly dark it was. You couldn't see your own hand, even if it was right in front of your face! It's also for that reason, our tour guide explained, that even the most experienced guide would get lost in there without a lantern. There is no continuous wall that can be found inside the caves to help you find your way out, rather there are many, many thick limestone pillars throughout the caves. This is also why it made such a good place to hide in times of war. (It's also a good time to test the flash on your camera!)
Our next stop was the Apostelhoeve Winery, where we were given a step-by-step account of the winemaking process from sapling to the finished product.
As it was winter, everything looked a bit bare, but I have no doubt that in spring and summer that the whole area would look amazing, green and full of life. Which, I think, is the perfect excuse to come and visit Maastricht in the spring time!
I'll let you know how the rest of my adventures go in coming posts, but until then, see you!
"Oxford is a world of its own, and in the sunny afternoons of summer, the flowers bloom, the tourists throng along the streets, while the cafes are crowded and the book, souvenir and antique shops become jammed with delighted people"
"I really enjoyed the stimulating academic discussions in class, which were followed by very social meal times and activities, making the trip overall a wonderful experience. The accommodation was also perfect for my needs"