Friday, May 20, 2011

A Pretty Neat Idea

I think this is a record for me: two non-food-related posts in a row! Not to worry, my musings on Dutch cuisine and other such subjects will return shortly, but for now there's something else I want to talk about, involving, of all things, religion. Well, sort of.

According to Wikipedia, the Netherlands is one of the most secular countries in Europe, with less than 40% of the population affiliated with a religion. Roman Catholicism is the largest major religion in the country, but is declining rapidly (about 26% of the population identify as Catholic, down from 40% in the 70s). Only two southern provinces are still majority Catholic, Noord-Brabant and Limburg, where Maastricht is located. Even there, church attendance has dropped dramatically, with only a tiny fraction of Dutch Catholics going to Sunday services with any regularity.

There are a whole slew of churches within a 10 minute walk of our apartment, but apparently, assuming Wikipedia’s stats are correct, they’re mostly standing empty. Actually, that’s not quite true: the big churches, like the ones on the Vrijthoff and Markt squares, seem to be mainly tourist attractions now. But what about the more out-of-the-way buildings, ones tourists might not be interested in as much? Introducing the re-purposed church:

That may look like a medieval church (and it is, on the outside at least), but as I was delighted to discover, it actually houses the Selexyz Dominicanen bookstore. I think a church is a perfect venue for a bookstore, don’t you? They were the original centers of learning in Europe, after all. This one used to be a Dominican church (hence the addendum to the name; Selexyz is a chain of bookstores with locations around the Netherlands) and dates back to the 1200s. Apparently it was being used to store bicycles for a while, but architecture firm Merx + Girod headed a renovation that was completed back in 2006. It’s since won various awards and accolades, and with good reason, I think. This is what you see when you walk in:

The books are housed on shelves along the walls and on tables in the aisles, as well as in those metal stacks you see on the right side of the picture. Here's a view from the top:

And if you'd like to settle down with a book or magazine, there's a Coffeelovers cafe in the back, with comfy couches and chairs under a big chandelier:

How's that for atmosphere?

If you’re anything like me, you love old buildings like these so much you wish you could live in them. Well if you have the funds, during your stay in Maastricht you can! (Temporarily, at least.) Todd actually found this gem, located in an out of the way corner of the old city:

Called the Kruisherenhotel now, it was built in the 15th century for the Crosiers Friars of the Order of the Holy Cross. The place is massive; I couldn't even get a picture of it, it's so big. That's just the front there, with the weirdly modern, tunnel-like entranceway. The rooms are located in the former cloisters at the back (makes sense, since that’s where the friars lived back in the day), while the nave houses the lobby, restaurant and bar/lounge area. I immediately knew I wanted to bring my parents here, and so Saturday night of their visit, after registering for the marathon in Vise, we wandered over for some pre-dinner drinks (we asked about eating in the restaurant, but sadly they were fully booked). We were perfectly happy to sit in the cool lounge, though:

Not a great pic, I know, sorry. It was kind of dark in there. At first I couldn't see where they had put the restaurant, but then I spotted it hidden away on an upper level along the side of the nave:

You can just barely see some tables peeking over the edge there (click to enlarge)

Too bad we couldn't try it, but the bar was plenty cool, done up all in very chic red, and we sat right next to their famous above-ground wine "cellar":

Also not a great pic, sorry :(

I think it’s really neat how the city is re-appropriating these old buildings, rather than simply turning them into tourist attractions or (heaven forbid, no pun intended) tearing them down (another church on the northern outskirts of the city has been converted into a gym! I wish it was closer, I would totally join.). Instead, the people get to appreciate these gorgeous landmarks in a completely different capacity, while still experiencing their fantastic architecture and soaking in hundreds of years of history. Bravo, Maastricht!

On a completely unrelated note, and because I simply can't help posting something food related, today I came upon a completely new-to-me food pairing: white chocolate and sesame. Anyone ever tried this combo? A cafe/chocolate shop called Chocolate Company near our apartment had some samples out of squares of white chocolate sprinkled with white and black sesame seeds (and something else too, I think: maybe ginger?) It was delicious! The two flavors went together surprisingly well, and the crunchy seeds against the smooth chocolate provided some textural interest too. Something to keep an eye out for if you're a white chocolate fan.

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