Travelogue: Maastricht (Pink Pop)

MAASTRICHT

14 – 17 June 2018
Another great night’s sleep had us up and out at the requisite time to meet our growing group (Kieron joining us from SA and Harry from London) at Central Station at 11am to catch the train to Maastricht.
Yet again, Burger King saved our bacon and restored good humour for the train ride that was taking us to our music festival. And after a two hour train ride through the pretty Dutch countryside, we arrived at Maastricht Station for the second part of our trip.
Neil had booked us into a hotel right across the road from the Station so it was easy as pie to get there and checked in. Kaboom Hotel was new and neat and had functional and fun decor. Perfect for our stay!
We wasted no time getting moving: Back across the road to see how to get to Landgraaf, where the festival was actually being held. Instinctively splitting into teams, we (sort of) efficiently sorted train tickets, cash (oddly, lots of places in Netherlands only accept Maestro cards, which none of us had) and a bargain Heineken festival kit comprising waterproof backpack cooler + 10 beers for €10 with a couple of Amstels for good measure.
Soon on the train to Heerlen, we opted for the bicycle cabin with the flipdown chairs along the walls that face each other so we could pass the short hop with a giddy round of a drinking game called Fives that requires little more than being able to make a fist / open your hand at will and to correctly predict – in multiples of five – the total number of digits being shown by the people participating in the round.
We organically absorbed a Laurel and Hardy pair of Dutchmen who happened to be sitting in a couple of seats amidst our rough circle and who had earned themselves one of our Amstels for what looked like a passing interest in our game. On arrival, assuming that they knew where they were going, we followed them to the bus stop… Only to find we had another train to catch.
Back to the platform and on board the next train, we had a forty minute journey to get us to the correct stop.
The Landgraaf station was very busy. The shuttle buses (free, included in our ticket) didn’t seem to be operating so quite a queue had formed at the bus stop. We gave it a 10 minute wait but then, super eager to get started, just walked to the venue instead. It wasn’t that far – maybe a K and a half – and gave us time to see the sleepy town surrounds and suppose what the locals thought of this annual thrall. The last stretch up to the main entrance was lined with banners from previous years. Anyone who’s anyone has played! And that’s a lot of anyones seeing as next year will be the 50th Pink Pop festival!
The festival grounds were MASSIVE and a bit overwhelming all at once. The whole festival was cashless so we started with making an investment in the green plastic squares currency (called Munten) printed in sheets with serrations so that you could easily break off whole or half tokens. One token got you a small beer or a tiny wine, served in plastic cups on paper trays of 6 servings.
With a welcome beer in hand, we decided to acclimate with a base close to the main stage, so found a table in a long open marquis with rows and rows (and rows and rows) of tables and benches opposite a long line of bar and food trucks.
Cleverly, the festival incentivised recycling by offering a token for every 50 cups or 25 trays returned. With the rate that beers were going down, it was a very manageable proposition. And resulted in a remarkably clean and tidy beer garden.
Our warm up served us well and we were in fine fettle for our first true festival performance, Snow Patrol.
We worked our way to a central position between the massive banks of speakers that fed the music to the back of the field, ensuring that the anticipated 60,000+ capacity could all hear what they came for. We had a good view, both of the stage and on the big screens flanking it on either side and it was an enjoyable performance in the afternoon sun.
Our much-debated pickle was whether to dash from the main stage to the smaller stage adjacent to see The Offspring and then dash back to the main stage for the night’s headliner – and main reason for our trek in the first place – Pearl Jam. Now, with some firsthand experience, it was clear that there would be no ‘dashing’ and manoeuvring the crowd and keeping our merry band together seemed a highly unlikely combination.
Kieron and Harry braved it while the remaining 5 of us put the time between acts to good use, topping up with supplies, visiting the (astoundingly clean and dry) portable toilets and strategising on how to best immerse ourselves in the crowd for the best position closest to the stage.
The last objective was the least successful. The Dutch are a very organised concert audience. They assume position and do not, under any circumstances, move from their spot. They are also very (very, very) tall.
Despite only managing intermittent glimpses at the actual bodies on stage, the performance was unbelievable. Eddie Vedder has a magnificent voice and the quality of both sound and visuals was so flawless that the experience wasn’t hindered by lack of line of sight. Eddie also related an anecdote about playing Pink Pop in 1992 where he’d climbed onto the video cameraman’s boom and launched himself from there into his adoring fans, crowdsurfing across the audience and back to the stage. We later realised he was wearing the very same T-shirt he’d worn that night, which is an amazingly sentimental touch!
Minds officially blown, we shuffled back to the train station with the tens of thousands of people that weren’t camping and needed to get back to wherever they’d come from. It took a good couple of hours to get back to Maastricht, by which time we’d dissected the day and the performances and all aspirations of an afterparty had dissolved.
Saturday morning was a leisurely start and since there were no early bands that anyone particularly wanted to see, we took a walk through Maastricht’s cobblestone shopping streets to get to Vrijthof Square, the centre of Old Town, known for its beauty, being lined with trees and a variety of quaint restaurants and pavement cafes.
A solid feeding under our belts made a world of difference and set us on our merry way for Day 2 of festivalling, which was a much easier mission to repeat seeing as we already had our train passes and knew where to get the Heineken coolers (we got a few).
This time we managed to catch the shuttle transfer and were soon entering the festival grounds. We repeated the easy start at the beer tent – and even bumped into our Laurel and Hardy duo from the previous day, making us feel right at home!
We worked our way onto the field for a band called Nothing But Thieves (a name we collectively had a mission remembering so they were mostly referred to as Barking at Cars or similar) and managed to get separated, which was a bit scary with so so SO many people. Fortunately, with some navigation on WhatsApp we got reunited, so all’s well that ends well.
A bit more ambitious than the previous day, with both the confidence of having better bearings and less pressure from the lineup, we bounced off to one of the other stages to see A Perfect Circle, bought merchandise, ate pasta, chilled in the pretty little cider garden, saw some of Noel Gallagher‘s set (shame, his solo career seems to be a bit watery and he only really got a rise with the Oasis songs he now covers) and were soon on our way to see the evening’s main event, Foo Fighters.
The concert was a bit self-indulgent with the singer and drummer swapping places for songs, lengthy drum solos with the drum podium elevating into the air and Dave Grohl calling people up on stage. Not my favourite at the best of times, it was a particularly gruelling task to deal with all the ad-libbing and showmanship.
We left just before the end to get ahead of the madding crowds, which made a world of difference to the length and comfort of our commute.
Motivated to rise only because of check out time, we left our lovely hotel to catch the midday train back to Amsterdam, opting to picnic on the couple of hours’ journey on the train to allow more time at our destination.
Arriving in Amsterdam, we stowed our luggage at the Central Station lockers and did a flash tour around the city centre, stopping for a traditional waffle (finally!) and ending up at a Mexican restaurant, of all things, serendipitously as the Mexico vs Germany World Cup match was on.
A last lunch, a farewell Heineken, some cards for old times sake and the group disbanded as first Kieron and Harry headed for the airport and then, an hour or so later, so did we.
What a rockstar getaway!