A Meier in Maastricht

There to greet me at the station in Maastricht was my ‘travel buddy’ Elsbeth, who was to show me the ropes around the city, as well as get me to my residence hall. The first stop we made before heading out of the station was to get a little card that I would use as a bus pass to use the city’s buses, which I would need to rely upon to get around (when not on a bicycle). With card in hand and baggage in tow, we jumped onto the next bus bound for my hall, Avant Garde.

Maastricht Station

The Maastricht Station, arrival point for trains and center point for the city buses

Maastricht Station

Closer view of the Maastricht Station entrance

In my head, I believed the process to get my key to my room at Avant Garde would be fairly straight-forward: I walk in, got to the office to meet with the head of the building, sign some documents, get my key, then be on my way. But things were not meant to be. We arrived at Avant Garde, lugging my bags and things up to the door, only to discover it being locked. Thankfully at that moment, a fellow student was exiting the building, allowing us in. There just beyond the door was the office to where I would need to retrieve my key, but the room was dark, locked, and with no soul in sight. And there Elsbeth and I sat, wondering what the next move was we should make.

Avant Garde

Avant Garde, my residence hall (image from romaes.nl)

Nearly a dozen phone calls were made by my travel buddy, where she tried everything possible to figure out why my situation had turned out the way it had. Realizing that I was practically starving – my last meal being onboard my flight across the Atlantic – a walked out of the hall and to a convenience store next door, which was not unlike a standard gas station convenience store one would see everywhere in the United States. Grabbing a can of Pringles and a Coke, I made my way back into Avant Garde, where Elsbeth and I waited once more, trying to figure what we should do next.

Our answer came when we believed it would be best to travel to a location in the city called ‘Teiko,’ where I had hoped to possibly get a key. So we once more loaded up my baggage, boarded a bus, and proceeded towards the other side of town. The bus we rode did not take us directly to Teiko, but close enough for walking distance. As we began making our by foot, I realized that my purple suitcase was beginning to drag, making it difficult to continue. As I observed the underside of the bag, I discovered that one of the wheels had locked up and was melting away, given the extreme friction with the stone and brick roads of Maastricht. Without hesitation, I threw the case over my back and proceeded onward with Elsbeth.

We were nearing Teiko before I had to stop and drag the case again, with the weight becoming a bit much for me to handle at the moment. At the time we were in a nice, little neighborhood, with small yards and little driveways. I began dragging my case along, which made an enormously loud grinding sound with the sidewalk, which in turn drew the attention of an elderly couple who lived nearby. “Can I help you?” the man asked, with cigarette in hand and shirt nearly fully unbuttoned. He knew immediately that I was American, given the discussions I was having with Elsbeth over my dying suitcase. “We’re trying to make our way to Teiko,” was Elsbeth’s response, which the couple both pointed in the direction of the building. I ended up chatting with the couple long enough to get a reprieve and catch my breath; I felt disappointed to leave since they were incredibly nice and seemed genuinely interested in continuing to just talk. But I had to move along, tired fingers were taking hold and the thought of a shower was too pleasing.

Being at Teiko was no help for my cause at all. While everyone was extremely nice and helpful, I was still technically homeless, with nowhere to drop my cargo. Eventually, Elsbeth said the easiest conclusion for the night was to just stay at her place to sleep on her couch, which I was immediately grateful for. I threw my suitcase over my shoulder for one last time for the night and walked to her apartment.

We dropped my stuff off for the night at Elsbeth’s place, then headed back out again for a bite to eat at a nearby McDonald’s (they do have hamburgers in the Netherlands!). We sat down with our food and had a long discussion concerning our areas of study, as well as our views on social media and its role in society and advertising. It was a very long and fascinating discussion, but unfortunately I cannot remember much from that evening talk, granted I had been awake for nearly 36 hours by that point. We did finish up at the Mac Shack, headed over to a local pub, had a brew, talked about the fine arts and the influences it has had upon me, and then marched back to her apartment, where I crashed pretty quickly and slept the night away.

Despite the tumultuous journey I had to end up on a Dutch person’s couch on my first night in a foreign country, a bit of lyric from the song “Jet Airliner” by the Steve Miller Band popped into my head: “You have to go through hell before you get to heaven.”

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

*And to wrap up my account of journeying from the United States to Maastricht, Netherlands…
Leaving the British Isles and coming into the Netherlands was essentially one giant, 45 minute leap into the clouds and back to the Earth. I didn’t get to see much from my window seat while onboard the jet plane, save for a few glances of the North Sea and the coastline of Europe. My view didn’t clear up until we began the landing approach for Schiphol (Amsterdam International Airport), where I saw the strange sight of seeing dozens of electric wind generators placed just off the coastline, literally out in the middle of water. Definitely was a sight I was not expecting.
Heading from the plane to the baggage claims was a bit of distance to reach, though not unmanageable. Before getting there, I took the time to get my US Dollars exchanged out for Euros, a very simple process to do. As the exchange machine dispensed my new money out, I took the moment to hold the bills and coins in my hand and go, “Wow, my first time seeing Euros.” Yes, it was a cheesy and ridiculous moment, but how often does one need to change currency in their lifetime? (Unless your name is Jason Bourne, of course).
With money in hand, I stepped my way through the passport line, getting my first stamp ever, with the ‘ker-thump’ of the stamping machine being an immensely satisfying sound. And there just beyond the passport booths were the baggage claims; surprisingly, I was able to spot my giant purple checked suitcase immediately, so I grabbed that and went on my way to find my train to Maastricht.

First Passport Stamp

My first passport stamp. That’s rad.

Getting a ticket for my train was easy enough, getting to the right train was a different story, however. The lady at the ticket counter told me that if I hurried quickly enough, I could make it downstairs to the train that was departing for Maastricht. However, with a 50lbs suitcase, another 20lbs carry-on case, and about a 15lbs backpack, ‘quickly’ is a relative term (23kg, 9kg, and 7kg, respectively, for my European friends who may be reading this). By the time I reached the platform for the train, the doors for the cars had been shut, with the train promptly moving out and away.
I knew that there was another train heading out for Maastricht, so I had to do some searching and asking around before figuring out which platform that train would be arriving/departing. Once I knew where, it was another workout going back up stairs and down again to reach the other platform. A short wait followed before the train rolled to my platform, where I then bordered and began my journey…
… Until the conductor said the next station was the end-of-the-line for the train. “Erg! Now where do I go?” Obviously, I needed to change trains to continue my journey, but I didn’t know for sure which train to catch. I quickly found a sign for some train that said ‘Maastricht,’ so I presumed that was where I needed to go to be on my way. Thankfully, it was the right train, so my journey continued…
… Until I once again found I needed to change trains again. “This is madness,” I said to myself. “No, THIS IS UTRECHT!” Okay, I didn’t really say that, but there I was, standing in the middle of the station at Utrecht, unsure of where I needed to go. Traversing the massive platform, I eventually came across a train that once more said ‘Maastricht,’ which I again (correctly) presumed to be heading towards my destination. I climbed aboard and went on my way.
For being my first true train ride ever, the experience was surprisingly calm and smooth, much different than what I was expecting. I spent most the time writing some of the earlier entries for this blog (how meta of me to mention that), as well as reading 2001: A Space Odyssey (still in progress of reading as of this writing). After nearly 2 hours onboard the train, with numerous stations passed, I made it to my city of destination: Maastricht.

 

*A random note on the title: no automobiles were involved on my journey into Maastricht, but the reference to a certain Steve Martin film was too good to pass up.

Britain, Land of the Britons

If there is one thing I like to remark, it’s that I love the British accent that Britons share. Yes, I am aware that there are subtle variations from region to region, but generally they all sound cool, regardless of it being from London or Edinburgh. So upon arriving into London at Heathrow International, the sound of that accent echoed everywhere.

To be honest, I don’t believe I have ever been around very many Britons in my lifetime; I can’t even recall prior to arriving in London the last time I saw or met a Briton (could have possibly been when I was in Washington, D.C. earlier in the summer). Needless to say, it was a delight being in London, despite my short stay there.

Getting to my location at Heathrow for my departure flight proved to be taxiing for myself, given that I had no sleep on the flight from the United States. The process began with a long march to the bottom of the terminal I had arrived in, where I had to await the arrival of a bus to carry me off to Terminal 5, where I would be departing. Time was pressing by this point, as I realized I had very little – if any – time to catch my flight to Amsterdam.

Terminal 5 of Heathrow

Heathrow is massive, simply massive (image from Wikipedia)

After reaching Terminal 5, it was another long march to reach security, where I had to go through the process once again with my luggage. I was tired and jumping between feeling extremely hot and very cold, which does horrors on my mind (it sucks). I definitely felt flustered through the whole process getting through security, but eventually recovered, donned my personal items, and proceeded to power walk my way to my departure gate, which was also a long march. (I get the feeling Heathrow wanted to put me through the gauntlet).

I did manage, thankfully, to catch my flight to Amsterdam just in time when boarding began. From there, it was a short jaunt across the water before landing in the Netherlands.

My Life in 3 Bags

Packing for this extended stay in Europe proved to be… interesting. I knew immediately on what particular clothing items I would need, namely anything that goes well with the cool fall weather, transitioning to cold, wet winter weather. With clothes out of the way, personal items came next, such as hygiene products. I bought what was necessary and then moved on to the extraneous items that aren’t particularly necessary for my stay in the Netherlands.

The heftiest of these extraneous items was possibly my large container of Gates BBQ Sauce, which I found necessary to take with me as it is a taste of home. Several books, a harmonica, and other odds and ends were included in this packing process of extra things. But I was to have an enemy from it all before I even left the United States: the American Airlines weight machine.

Upon arriving to Kansas City International, I began the process of checking my large suitcase, which held all my winter/fall clothing, jackets, and primarily the extraneous stuffing. As per American Airlines policy, any checked bag or suitcase weighing above 50 pounds was to be charged an extra $100; my suitcase came in at 61 pounds. With the threat of that $100 fine hanging over my head, I tore open the case and began removing any items I deemed ‘not necessary.’ I made mad shuffling moves, handing such items a few bars of soap and shirts to my parents, who bagged each item to take them back home. I eventually had only 3 pounds left to discard, but I had a difficult time between two necessary items: my shampoo, or my Gates BBQ Sauce. I held both in my hands for a moment, feeling how they were nearly equal in weight. At that time I knew I would make the right decision: the shampoo was going back home.

Take it from this perspective: one can wash their hair with Gates BBQ Sauce AND eat it as well. Shampoo, however, only does one of those things well…

Of all the items I wish I could have taken with me on this journey, it would have been my beloved acoustic guitar. Creedance, as I have affectionately named her after the amazing Creedance Clearwater Revival, has become one of my strongest avenues of expression in recent years.

Fender DG-100

A Fender DG-100, the same model as my guitar, ‘Creedance’

Checking with American Airlines regarding a second checked bag a few weeks before departure, I would have to sell a kidney to get her to come with me – it would be roughly another $150 for an extra checked bag. I was seriously contemplating early on in the packing process with only packing the things I absolutely needed and taking that as my carry-on luggage, with Creedance tagging along as my checked bag. If only that were the case…

Over the Hills and Far Away

This trip would mark my first time ever leaving the United States. And boy, was it a long journey out.

Flying High

Somewhere out over Northern Missouri or Illinois

My first leg of the journey, from KCI to Chicago O’Hare, was primarily good, until reaching the fringe of Chicago, 20 minutes out from landing.

Bed of Clouds

Looks comfy enough to take a nap upon

In the vicinity of the airport was a decent thunderstorm, which definitely caused a hefty amount of turbulence going in for the landing. The bouncing and rocking was exacerbated further due to the tin can of an airplane I was in.

The Tin Can

A 6 foot man would have to duck down to avoid hitting the top of the tin can, I mean airplane.

Normally, I am totally fine with turbulence in an aircraft. But the fact that my desire to keep reading a book, as well as the intense heat from being so close to everyone inside the plane, had caused much agony for my being as I came down with some tough motion sickness. “Get this plane on the ground,” was all I could keep thinking. “Okay, there’s no barf bags in here and I have two individuals in my immediate vicinity that I cannot avoid should something come up. Yeah, we need to land.”

Fortunately, the plane landed before I had any chance of seeing my lunch again. Descending through a thunderstorm is a very intriguing experience – clouds and darkness veil the exterior of the plane, as though you’re suspended in a place that has no up nor down. The occasional brilliant flash and streak of lightning would illuminate the world outside, which was certainly wicked cool.

One event that I must share from my arrival into Chicago was the happenstance of running into another fellow Northwest Bearcat. As I was walking the gangway out into the terminal at O’Hare, a man (faculty I can only presume) wearing a very apparent Northwest T-shirt walked by me. It took me a moment to register what was happening, but when it clicked I yelled at him, “Are you a Bearcat too?” “Yes I am, I’m in Chicago for an event here,” he said, or something along those lines. I was too stoked to believe that I ran into another Bearcat in Chi-town. Small world.

I left Chicago on a Boeing 777, which I believe is the largest twin-engine jet in operation (Wikipedia fact check: it is). I was unfortunately stuck in the dead middle of the plane, away from all window seats, with two interesting foreigners at my side. I never spoke to the lad to my left, and I only gave a few words to the dude to my right, who remarked from hailing in the United Kingdom ( the accent being very apparent). Not much occurred during the long flight across the Pond (Atlantic Ocean). I spent part of the evening watching Battleship* on the fancy monitors placed at the back of each headrest. About the time the aliens in the film started going all Michael Bay on Taylor Kitsch, I realized that I had flown out over into Canada, en route to London: I had finally left the United States.

*Rhianna was a lot like a cardboard Kristen Stewart: cold, stale, probably reading her lines from a cue card just off screen.

To Study Abroad…

I'm here!

Maastricht, all the way at the bottom of the Netherlands

Studying abroad was not something that I had intended to do during my college career at Northwest Missouri State University. I had chewed over the thought of possibly going somewhere, at some time, but those thoughts never amounted to much. “I’ll travel someday,” I told myself.

Things began changing, however, in early 2012 when a chance moment of correcting German pronunciation with a professor led me on the path that I am currently on. “No, it’s not ‘Kreeks-bergs, it’s pronounced ‘Crikes-bergs,’ with a long ‘eye’ sound,” I was telling to Jacquie Lamer during the annual Off-Broadway Tour into Kansas City on Groundhog Day 2012. I was assigned to lead a group of my fellow peers through a couple of the agencies in the downtown KC area, one of which included Meers, where my group would be meeting with an (awesome) gentleman by the name of John Kreicsbergs. Upon learning of the dude’s last name, I immediately recognized it as Germanic in pronunciation, thanks to two years of learning German back in the far-off age called “high school.” Similar to my own last name of ‘Meier,’ when there is an ‘ei’ in the middle of a word, the ‘I’ sound is pronounced. The reversal happens with ‘ie,’ wherein the ‘e’ is then pronounced.

“Why haven’t you studied abroad?” Jacquie asked me directly after I gave a lesson concerning German pronunciation. I sat there for a moment, wondering what I should say. “Because I would get homesick really bad,” I believe that was my (lame) response. She nagged at me a little bit more as we continued to journey into Kansas City, though I shrugged off the suggestions for the duration of the day. But therein a seed had been planted.

As the day progressed during the Off-Broadway Tour, I continued to ponder the thought of possibly studying abroad. “Where would I go? How hard would it be? Would there be hamburgers there?” Those were but a few of the thoughts that were swirling through my mind during the tour. A few days passed before I finally found the initiative to find out more concerning studying abroad. A quick email questionnaire to the study abroad office at Northwest brought back answers that I sought, most importantly where I should go. Part of the questionnaire included asking what countries I was interested in, which I believe I gave the United Kingdom and Germany as my choices (Europe has been on my bucket list of places to visit). Of the few choices given, one school did strike my chord: Zuyd Hogeschool.

Zuyd Hogeschool, located in Maastricht, Netherlands, first popped up on my radar during the Fall 2011 semester at Northwest. An exchange student by the name of Tim, who hailed from Zuyd Hogeschool, was then studying at Northwest and shared Web Publishing with me. He gave a song and dance speech about his university and the city he came from, which I found to be quite interesting. During that time, I also learned that Jacquie, as well as my advisor Jody Strauch, had both done a short teaching gig at the school; these connections only furthered my interest in Zuyd Hogeschool.

And Zuyd’s offering of courses catered perfectly to my major, Interactive Digital Media: New Media. While here in Maastricht, I’ll be taking four fairly intensive courses, which should only help sharpen my skills and grow my knowledge.

As of this writing, there are still a couple of weeks to go before starting up classes. More to come regarding those matters!