Following comments from one of our blog followers, we are attempting to improve the ‘product placement’ opportunities for our Strada bidon (drinking water bottle) with the faint hope of an increase to our 10% discount at Strada Cycles on North Street. Alas, Bradley and Cav were both busy today, but we did get a couple of shots that were an improvement of the one of ‘grumpy Mike with a bidon on a train’, and of course we’ll keep trying!
If you think the Tour de France is just about cycling – think again. Like most major sporting events these days, there is plenty of product placement. “How do you do product place in a cycle race”, you may ask? Each stage of the race is preceded by a ‘caravan’ where sponsors’ floats are accompanied by loud music, advertisements and the sight of grown adults scrabbling like refugees at a feeding station to catch the ‘tat’ being thrown into the crowd from the caravan. Amongst the tat on offer today were pens, key-rings, shopping bags, sun hats and spectacle cloths – all emblazoned with the sponsors’ logos. Alas all we managed to catch today was a packet of ‘Madeleines’ (small buttery cakes) and as Mike won’t eat them I guess I’d better eat them all with a cup of tea!
So the Tour de France has begun, and although the Brits didn’t quite conquer, they certainly put up a good fight with a taste of what’s to come. Chris Froome, Stephen Cummings and David Millar were all fantastic securing 11th, 14th and 15th place respectively. Clearly the star of the day was Bradley Wiggins who was narrowly pipped into second place in the Prologue time trial by Fabian Cancellara, (although only by 7 seconds). Hopes were high for Bradley and he didn’t disappoint, putting in a storming performance. There were plenty of Brits and Union flags in the crowds, (which were very large). We cycled to Liège straight after breakfast to make sure we secured a good spot, which we did right next to the 450 meter marker with a view up and down the course. There was also a good view of a giant tv screen until – rather annoyingly – some staff from FranceTV Sport decided to inflate a giant pink microphone, obscuring most of the screen. Nevertheless, if we craned our necks we could just about make out the leader board. Tomorrow the Tour leaves Liège for the first proper stage from Liège to Seraing – we’ll be up early so we can get a good spot to cheer on our boys!
Finding vegan food on the continent is not that easy – thank goodness for the Chinese restaurant!
After a delicious tofu-rich dinner, we took a walk around Maastricht taking in the city walls, the bastions, (large pre-Napoleonic earth and stone battlements), a catholic shrine, a Synagogue, the chiming town hall clock (If you’d like to hear that you can watch a short video here:
We also saw lots of bikes at night and a flaming statue. When I say flaming, I don’t mean an annoying statue, but one that is literally on fire. It commemorates one of Maastricht’s famous sons – Jean-Pierre Minckelers. Jean Pierre was a local philosopher and scientist who is credited as the inventor of illuminating gas. As with most of these things he was trying to find something else – which gas would be best for getting hot air balloons to float. It sounds like science has a long history of attempting to find out the ‘things that are not very useful for many people’, a bit like the recent research to find out how long you can dunk a biscuit before it drops into your cup. Anyway Mr Jean-Pierre Minckelers struck lucky and found out the best way to illuminate gas and to thank him for it – his home town gave him a flaming statue.
We’re coming across an interesting phenomena in the Netherlands – the inability to pay by credit card. In the UK we’re used to buying anything with our flexible friend – cinema tickets, weekly shop or even a car park ticket, but not here. Almost everywhere we have tried to pay by credit card, we’re declined. Only cash or debit cards seem to be acceptable. In some ways this is very admirable, living within your means is a lesson that the David Cameron would like the British to follow (unless you’re a banker that is!).
While the Dutch may avoid payment by plastic, they certainly excel in plastic table coverings. I must confess to a small ‘obsessive-compulsive disorder’ when it comes to wipe-able fabric, so while Mike will make a bee-line for a bike shop, I can sniff out a plastic covered fabric retailer at fifty paces. The continental market is rich pickings for someone with such an addiction, and thankfully fairly safe – since luggage restrictions prevent me actually purchasing anything. Not that I need to purchase, as I’ve recently OD’d on some lovely new plastic fabric from Marrimeko – lovely but eye-wateringly expensive, so for the time being the plastic credit card is under lock and key as its ‘look but no buying’ on plastic fabrics for a while!
Deciding what to do with churches that no longer have a congregation to serve is an ongoing dilemma facing many places in the UK. In Bristol, several have been put to new uses, including sports clubs and a climbing centre. Here in Maastricht an ingenious new use has been found for a redundant Dominican church. Pews have been replaced by bookshelves and in place of the altar is a café. The space still retains a reverential air, which seems appropriate for those of us who still love books and are saddened to see the demise of bookshops as the rise of philistinism and tablet reading device moves ever forward.
The Guardian newspaper described this place as the best bookshop in Europe, and in terms of atmosphere they are not wrong. Perhaps this could be glimpse into the future where the bookshop becomes a place of pilgrimage in the way places of worship once were, with the ringing of cash tills replacing the ringing of bells.
It is now a pre-requisite of any new development that there is a contribution to a local art project or installation. In Cabot Circus, Bristol’s most recent shopping development among the art (of which there are many including some fine glass by Susanna Herron and some etched stone by Timorous Beasties), is a crushed car by Neville Gable encased into a concrete pillar in the car park. The registration of the said car is embossed into the side of the pillar. I may be wrong, but I don’t think that crowds of shoppers gather round this installation in awe at its cultural contribution to the local art landscape.
In Maastricht, however, the art installation in the recently opened Mosae Forum shopping centre certainly seems to draw in the crowds. One floor below ground and at the entrance to the car park, is a large collection of Citröen model cars. Displayed behind glass, but clear for all to see are hundreds (if not thousands) of toy Citröen cars and related objects of every shape and size. We particularly like the ‘Rapha’ style sag-waggon. I could easily have left Mike here for a couple of hours, but there’s plenty more to explore in Maastricht so we pootled off to explore further.
Some of the readers of this blog may be familiar with the experience of continental ’boutique’ hotels. We are more used to the Travel Lodge-standard, or if we’re pushing the boat out, a Premier Inn! However, for four nights we’re staying in Hotel d’Orangerie, a very smart and ‘chi, chi’ little establishment tucked between the old town of Maastricht and the Mass river. There is a stone set into the wall in our room that has ‘1783’ engraved into it – I’m pleased to report that the room has been upgraded since then, with nice fluffy towels, plump bedding and stylish decor. We have a glimpse of the little courtyard garden from our window and as we descend the two flights to reception we pass lovely stained glass windows and tall dishes filled with various sweets. Unfortunately, I picked what I thought was a chocolate sweet last night – only to discover it has the unusua,l (and rather disgusting) flavour combination of salted aniseed – I think I’ll go easy on those!
We finally made it to Liége – but missed the presentation of the teams completely. We just had time for a quick wander round the start and finish lines before we headed back to the rather amazing station in Liége (like something out of a Star Trek film), to catch the train back to Maastricht. Off to bed now, hoping to wake up to a more successful day tomorrow.
Well today started well – lovely breakfast and a pleasant departure from Venlo. Unfortunately following the cycle route took us on a very windy and not very direct course. By lunch time we’d barely covered a quarter of the journey to Maastricht. We decided to go on the more direct road route and did manage to make up time – but the temperature was rising and we were getting hotter and hotter. We eventually touched down in Maastricht just after 5 but by the time we had checked into the hotel and got ourselves sorted it was gone 6 and the presentation of the teams started at 6.30 in Liege (30 mins away by train). We decided to risk it and walked to the station. The next train wasn’t until 7.20 but we thought we’d at least get there to see the end of the presentation. What we didn’t bank on was the unscheduled 30 minute stop at Vise to deal with some kind of incident that happened elsewhere on the train. Still don’t really know what it was, but it involved the police and lots of unsavoury looking characters. The train has now set off again and we’re nearing Liege – over an hour after we left Maastricht. We’ll probably just have time to turn round and catch a train straight back again :0(