Chateau Neercanne, Maastricht, and the Fog of War
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
The river cruise portion of our journey through Belgium and the Netherlands aboard Tauck’s beautiful new ms Inspire is slowly drawing to a close. Today is our last full day aboard the river cruise ship before our nine-night Belgium & Holland in Spring itinerary concludes tomorrow with a guided visit to Brussels, Belgium and an overnight stay at the Hotel Amigo.
Today, Tauck had designed a wonderfully ambitious day of touring for us in Belgium and the Netherlands, coupled with a brilliant Tauck Exclusive Event at the Chateau Neercanne, a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the outskirts of Maastricht. And our day began as our last had concluded, this time with a look at a memorial to the Second World War.
The skies were heavy with charcoal-coloured clouds by the time we got to the American Second World War cemetery near Maastricht. For the first time on this trip, the wind turned bitterly cold. The entire atmosphere seemed to only accent the bleak hopelessness of war.
At the foot if the cemetery is a reflecting pool, bordered by walls listing the names and homes of the dead that have no known grave. The pool is coloured jet black, and scarcely a reflection can be seen in the water.
The majority of the cemetery is situated higher up, and isn’t visible from the reflecting pool. This means that, as you climb the ten or so steps to the top, you’re confronted with an uncomfortable scene.
Row after row of white crosses stretch for kilometres in each direction. With every one, a different name is accompanied by a different hometown. Many, however, have the same date if death, their graves reading like some horrifying calendar where rarely a day is skipped.
Our Tauck directors thoughtfully bought roses for each guest to lay in the grave of their choice.
As I walked among the stones, the names of the dead became impossible to discern, blending together only because of their sheer numbers. There’s Samuels and Gray and Bartlett and Rogers and Wagner and Vance and Ridenour and Lamb and Burgess and Klein and you want to look away but you can’t so you keep reading the names and the dates and the places and you start moving faster through the rows but it doesn’t matter how fast you walk because the graves seem to go on without end.
I am Canadian, but even a Canadian – or someone from Finland or France or Britain or Australia can’t fail to appreciate the sacrifices made by these Americans for our greater good. The awful truth is that death, in the end, knows no nationality.
After Tauck’s guests had each paid their respects, we boarded our three coaches for our short drive across Maastricht to the elegant Chateau Neercanne. Part of the Camille Oostwegel Chateauhotels & Restaraunts group, Chateau Neercanne is situated just southwest of Maastricht, nearly right on the border between the Netherlands and Belgium. In fact, the yellow border sign can actually be seen from the Chateau’s terrace.
Chateau Neercanne is the only terraced Chateau in the Benelux region, complete with Baroque gardens and architectural elements that give it the appearance of a Chateaux in the tradition of the grand French palaces.
Our destination, however, was quite possibly the Chateau’s most unique feature: the wine caves and cellar that have been cut into the rocky cliff face upon which the Chateau is situated. This would be the site of our Tauck Exclusive lunch today.
The lunch turned out to be a complete sensory overload. Not only were we sitting in a fantastic, medieval cellar, we were in a place steeped in history: these caves dated back to the Ancient Roman period, while the rest of the castle is predominantly from the 1600’s. We also saw a document signed by the founding members of the European Union hung proudly on the wall, and it’s tough to put a price on something like that.
The food and wine, as you might expect, were phenomenal. Many guests I overheard remarked that this was their favorite meal of the entire trip, bar none. It’s not a mark against the quality of food served onboard the Inspire, but rather an accolade for the Chateau, which has earned a Michelin Star for its cuisine.
With lunch behind us, we travelled by motorcoach to the Dutch city of Maastricht. The capital city of the province of Limberg, Maastricht is the location where the Treaty on European Union was signed on 7 February 1992. Historically, it’s also one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands and is in fact the subject of a rather interesting debate on which city is older: Maastricht or Nijmegen.
Upon arrival, we could elect to continue our guided Tauck touring with local guides for a walking tour of the historic city center that is just steps away from the Inspire, or join our Tauck Director Yenner for an afternoon espresso at a local coffee shop – on Tauck.
Coffee and outdoor seating sounded fantastic on this gorgeous day, so I joined Yenner and a few fellow guests in an espresso. I temporarily got all excited when I saw that this particular café had Gluhwein on the menu but, of course, they no longer had it. Gluhwein – or spiced, mulled wine – is a delicacy at the European Christmas Markets that take place each year from about November 25 until December 23.
If you like shopping, Maastricht is the place for you. There’s everything from big, high-end shops you’ve heard of before to local tailors and perfumeries that rank as happy little discoveries. Here, all the shopkeepers were friendly to a fault – much like the rest of the Netherlands. Even I didn’t escape the alluring shopping craze of Maastricht, coming away with some new colognes.
Should you take the walking tour of the city? Not really – it’s so easy to get around that you’re unlikely to have difficulty getting your bearings in Maastricht. I’d recommend a local drink and a stroll through the picturesque city. Cycling would also be an option, particularly along the riverfront where the Inspire is docked.
Maastricht was really one of the great unexpected gems of this trip. It’s a city that is very inviting and welcoming, but which still flirts with the fantastic Dutch sense of humour.
This is our last official ‘port of call’ on this trip. Tomorrow, we’ll disembark the ms Inspire and set out by motorcoach with our three Tauck Directors – one for each coach – for Brussels, where we’ll enjoy guided touring of the city, followed by dinner and a relaxing evening at our hotel, the Hotel Amigo.
For now, it’s time to spend one last night enjoying all that the beautiful Inspire and her fabulous crew have to offer. The past seven days have, honestly, embodied Tauck’s credo down to the last detail: Never Settle for Ordinary.
Tauck's MS Inspire - Belgium & Holland
|April 7, 2014||Amsterdam, Netherlands||Arrive Amsterdam; Embark Tauck's new ms Inspire|
|April 8||Amsterdam, Netherlands||Private river cruise through Amsterdam's Canals; visit the Rijksmuseum; tour Keukenhof Gardens|
|April 9||Hoorn, Netherlands / Enkhuizen, Netherlands||Walking tour of Hoorn or visit to Alkmaar. Walking tour of Enkhuizen & open-air Zuiderzee Museum.|
|April 10||Arnhem, Netherlands||Choice of tours - De Hoge Veluwe National Park exploration with Vincent Van Gogh at the Kroller-Muller Museum, or tour sites associated with the WWII airborne assault on Arnhem.|
|April 11||Rotterdam, Netherlands||Tour of Rotterdam & its museums, or optional excursion to the historic city of Delft.|
|April 12||Veere, Netherlands / Middleburg, Netherlands.||Exploration of Veere or excursion to Neeltje Jans Delta Works to learn about the country's storm surge barriers. In Middleburg, enjoy time exploring on own.|
|April 13||Antwerp, Belgium / Ypres||Orientation walking tour through Antwerp's historic city center & visit the Red Star Line museum. After lunch, Tauck Exclusive tour to Flanders to observe the centennial of World War I with dinner and a private visit to the In Flanders Fields museum.|
|April 14||Antwerp, Belgium / Hasselt, Belgium / Maastricht, Netherlands||Drive to Margraten to see the Netherlands American Cemetery. Tauck Exclusive Lunch at Chateau Neercanne, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Guided visit to Maastricht & free time in the Old Town.|
|April 15||Brussels, Belgium||Disembark ms Inspire & travel to Brussels for a full day of sightseeing. Overnight at the Hotel Amigo.|
|April 16||Brussels, Belgium||Onward journey home.|