The Home Stretch

As of this writing right now, I can say that I am 18 days our from leaving Europe and heading back home to Kansas City, Missouri. For me, this is the home stretch, with only a couple weeks left and only two class days to attend.

finish line

An accurate representation of me at the moment. (Image from 2.bp.blogspot.com)

Currently, I have finished my second week of Semantic Web. My early review of it is to say that it was not what I was expecting from the start. My initial interpretation of the course was that Semantic Web would be concerned with responsive web design, which is to say designing a website that is both flexible and usable to the end-user across multiple devices – think tablets, smartphones, and desktop machines. But after my first day of class, I learned that Semantic Web is really more about taking raw data and formulating a workable method of presenting that data that is both usable and readable. Essentially, it’s all about making sense of data.

semantic web

Surprisingly, Googling “not understanding” brought up this image. (Image from informationaccess.files.wordpress.com)

Aside from attending two more days of class, a possible day-trip to Brussels, Belgium is in the works. It’s unfortunate to say that I have done next to no traveling while living in Europe, but I honestly feel no regrets in saying that. But with that, a do wish to visit Brussels, primarily to say that I have been to Belgium and to see it’s largest city. I have next to no clue what I would like to do while in Brussels, but I will do the most that I can in a day! And a return to Aachen, Germany may also be in the books, if only because it’s dirt cheap to go back (and they have Christmas decorations galore up and ready for the season, according to word-of-mouth).

With my time running down, these blog posts will, too, be coming to an end. I’m not quite sure how I will wrap things up at the conclusion of my study abroad, though I am sure I want to, at the least, include a post entirely devoted to pictures. Granted, I do have a limit on the megabytes of data I can upload here to WordPress, so I will be ensuring that I choose only the best that gives a good breadth of view to what it was like living in Maastricht.

For now, that is all I have to report for the day. More to come later!

Star Wars rock band

So I leave you with this crazy awesome image of familiar faces rocking out. (Image from cdn.ebaumsworld.com)

Aachen, Germany

October 17 marked an important occasion for me: my first excursion into Germany! It was a short trip, and not a terribly far distance from Maastricht, but it was yet quite a lovely day to visit a wonderful city with some wonderful ladies (all friends of course, mind you). This trip would also mark my second time visiting a new country outside of the United States (not counting the United Kingdom because, seriously, I was only at Heathrow for barely an hour).

So here’s the part where I am going to post a bunch of pictures with brief explanations and y’all can gawk and enjoy!

 

Charlemagne's casket

This particular photo above I wanted to pull out of the gallery specifically because of its historical significance with the giant gold thing in the background. It appears to be a gold cathedral-looking thing, but in reality it’s a casket made in 1215 by Frederick II, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Within the casket houses the remains of (WHAT FOR IT) Charlemagne, King of the Franks, first emperor of the Carolingian Empire. Chances are you may have slept through this awesome part of history class, which is unfortunate because this man had a vast influence on the Middle Ages (or the Dark Ages for you backward hillbillies who insist nothing happened between the Fall of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance).

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 420 AD – by that point in history, the Roman Empire had split into Eastern and Western divisions, with the Eastern Roman Empire taking on the name of the Byzantine Empire and existing for another millennia until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 AD – there was little in the way of kingdoms for a few hundred years. The shining beacon during the Early Middle Ages was the rise of the Frankish Kingdom (thusly, the name of France deriving from the Franks). The Frankish Kingdom was not a particularly large kingdom, but eventually a man by the name of Charles I came into ruling. Within time, Charles would eventually take on the name of Charles the Great, aka Charlemagne, and founding the Carolingian Empire, which would come to rule a vast part of western Europe for nearly a century.

So I got to see the gold and silver casket of a long-dead European emperor. Definitely the highlight of the Aachen trip.

A Random Time in Maastricht

The beauty of being in Maastricht is that there seems to always be something happening in Maastricht. Last night proved to be one of those wonderful nights that only got better as it went on.

Things started out a bit lazily in Avant Garde, with the lot of us wanting to do something, but not within the walls of our residence (which we have been doing with great frequency). While gathered around our table in the dining room, I randomly blurted out “Lets go ride!” And with that, we threw on weather-appropriate clothes, pulled our shoes on, and saddled our bikes. We were off!

Bat Out of Hell

Sort of like this I presume.

We had no intention of really going anywhere; we were there purely for the ride. It reminded me of being the typical American biker, one who rides his Harley Davidson for the mere sport of it. That’s the same feeling I felt and I enjoyed it immensely!

Cruising

How I felt when cruising through Maastricht, except with less leather and no cool shades. (Image from 1.bp.blogspot.com)

It wasn’t all peaches and cream though. Poor Michael unfortunately had his brakes brake just before we even departed Avant Garde. We decided to have him in the front of us, mainly for the sake that if we (Manon, myself, and Cyrille) needed to stop quickly, we would get a rear-full of Michael and his bike. But thankfully, there was no serious “OMG WE NEED TO BRAKE NOW” moments during our cruise through Maastricht.

About to Crash

This never happened. (Image from media.egotvonline.com)

We cruised on into the city and parked our bikes near the city hall of Maastricht, then set out on foot. Our walk took us up very near Hogeschool Zuyd, my university, but we rounded back away from that location and continued on into an area I had yet to travel to by foot. Along the way, we came upon an electric concert/”picnic” that we had heard about from others back in Avant Garde. With curiosity, we came into the setting and found it to be a bit dismal and dull, not much to our likely. In the time it takes you to finish reading this paragraph, we departed once more and continued on.

We eventually circled back to the city hall, where our bikes were located, when we ran into Stefania, a friend of ours from Avant Garde (and a Romanian native). We learned from her that a classical music concert was set to begin very soon in Vrijthof, but to Stefania and her friends, they weren’t very interested. But to the lot of us in our merry band, we were greatly interested in seeing the action, so off to Vrijthof we went!

Vrijthof!

Vrijthof! (Image from Wikipedia)

As we came closer, the sounds of some sort of band could clearly be heard. Perhaps the concert had already begun, I thought. Not the case! A community marching band was making their rounds around Vrijthof, playing catchy marching tunes that delighted me to no end (being a veteran of two marching bands over the course of 8 years).

Marching Band

Wishin’ I was among the players…

As the band marched their way around, the four of us moved on into the main square of Vrijthof, where a large stage and full orchestra was waiting patiently to begin their music. Several TV cameras had been set up around the area; clearly this was to be a televised event, but to what station/channel I did not know. Before long, a speaker took to the stage and began speaking of the opening of the World Cycling Championship, which was (and currently is as of this writing) to begin in Limburg, the region of the Netherlands Maastricht resides in. The female speaker went on, eventually being joined by another individual, and finally the president of the WCC organization. Languages were jumping around from Dutch and English, so I had a bit of a time trying to follow all that was being said, but I am grateful to say that I’m beginning to understand more Dutch, thanks in part to watching the mannerisms and expressions of the speakers involved.

Eventually the speakers departed, the conductor took the stage, and the concert began! The music itself was primarily classical in nature, but synthesizers, electric strings, and awesome lights were some of the highlights of the concert – namely a quartet of female electric violinists and cellist proved to be delightful (Strings 4Ever being the name of the quartet).

Earth Symphony

Rocking on stage, with the Strings 4Ever quartet jamming on their sweet, sweet electric instruments.

All in all, the evening was practically a perfect one to be had. Once the concert had finished, we trudged back on to our bikes, our feet and legs sore from standing for over an hour without rest. But who’s to complain for such a good night of a random time?

Random pic

And here’s a random picture of me taking a random picture of others taking a random picture. We’re such tourists.

Fearless

Today, I walked up from Avant Garde to Hogeschool Zuyd, which, if you’ve read before in these posts, is no small feat. The walk takes nearly an hour by foot, which comes out to be a few miles/several kilometers, which typically leaves my feet sore for about an hour (thankfully I recover quickly). Yes, I will eventually get a bike, but that hasn’t been in my cards lately. So far, going by way of foot is serving me just fine.

On the academic side of things, I am fully registered for my classes at Zuyd and begin said classes on the 17th September! Next week I should be seeing the arrival of my full class schedule, so patience is my new game to play.

With that errand accomplished, I decided that I would zig-zag my way through Maastricht back to Avant Garde, by taking streets that I have yet laid my eyes upon. You know, prior to coming out to the Netherlands, situations such as this (mindlessly wondering the streets) were not something that I would be akin to doing. Even the thought of doing a semester of study abroad never fully crossed my mind; it’s much too scary to be living in an environment that I am not familiar with. Granted, that’s an element of human nature that’s in us all – everyone feels that sense of unease when we feel displaced from the habitat that we have longed call “home.” What it takes to see the fuller picture of the world, and that of humanity, is learning to fight fear by becoming fearless and taking the plunge.

Never did I once feel fear when I departed Kansas City, nor did I feel fear when I was far from home in London; on the long train ride to Maastricht, fear never raised its head, nor was it ever there through my first night woes ‘homeless’ in Maastricht. Like a skydiver about to make their first dive, I quelled that fear, banished it, and now it’s no more. I honestly can feel that I can walk to Germany, fly to Scotland, or take a train into France and not once feel uneasy at all.

And besides, fear of exploring could have kept me from getting this amazing photo of Maastricht:

Maastricht

When you explore, beautiful things happen. This was one for me.

And Now for Something Completely Different…

Since a lot of my recent posts have been largely text-based, I decided to show off a portion of the photographs that I have taken while in Maastricht.

Following the highly political discussion with all of the international exchange students, we went on a tour around the city to see various sites. The following day at Zuyd Hogeschool, we also have an afternoon BBQ session, which proved to be a very social occasion.

And now for the pics:

A Wondering Man

Mornings have been difficult to adjust to while here in Maastricht. I’ve been finding myself waking up much later than when I would normally be waking, usually around 10am. With that, there is a 7 hour time difference between home in Kansas City and the Netherlands; so I’m still feeling like it’s 3am and I need to be in a deep sleep, despite the sun shining fine and bright through my window.

But with my first full day of living in Avant Garde, I decided to take the opportunity of not needing to accomplish anything by walking through the whole of Maastricht. My goal was to travel by foot all the way to Zuyd Hogeschool and back to Avant Garde, seeing as many sights as possible along my journey. At the time of my departure, I had a bus map that showed the routes of all the city buses, but it was little good in the way of finding specific streets and other small locations. Elsbeth had helped me the day before with marking certain locations on the map, such as that of Zuyd, the Station, and the supermarket we had visited the day before. With my backpack strapped on and bus map in hand, I set out for the center of Maastricht!

The walk from Avant Garde to the Station is a long walk for sure, covering a vast distance, but with little distractions to hinder my journey, it felt fairly brisk. I at first wasn’t too sure of the location of the Station, I had only the vague idea of where it was located from the few times I rode the bus. But my intuition of the Station’s location proved to be correct, so I knew immediately where I needed to head to cross the Maas.

The day of my walk turned out to be very beautiful, the skies barely cloudy and the sun shining brightly. Seeing the river in full sunlight was absolutely splendid; the coloration of the water was nowhere near as dark as what the Missouri River is at home, but not perfectly clear either.Still quite a beauty to behold.

Another bridge

Crosswalk over the Maas

The Maas

The river, looking towards one of the main crosswalk bridges

I made my over the river and through the shopping district; I had little interest in seeing all the shops, they’re not anymore different than what can be found on the Plaza or Zona Rosa. What I was really interested in seeing was the Vrijthof – the main square of Maastricht if you caught it in the last blog post of mine. Rather than it being blocked off, the whole of the square was finally open, which proved to be totally wicked. Large buildings encircled one portion of the square, with various bars and restaurants taking up the rest of the ring. I took the time to take it all in, viewing much of the fine architecture with wonder.

Vrijthof

Vrijthof: the main square of Maastricht

Cathedral near Vrijthof

Cathedral right off of Vrijthof

Many of the buildings that had looked upon in Maastricht most certainly had to be over 100 years old – a few of the cathedrals themselves probably even dated back before the time of the writing of the Declaration of Independence. When I, as an American, start realizing that I’m in a country far older the my homeland, I suddenly feel so young and amateurish. It’s an experience only an American can really have outside of the United States.

I departed Vrijthof and continued westward and northward through the city, hoping that I will eventually hit Zuyd Hogeschool. I passed through many interesting places, stopping to take the sights in and enjoy the scenery. But as I kept on walking, I started to get the feeling that I wasn’t getting any nearer to Zuyd. I eventually reached another church, where I had to make the decision if I wanted to go left or right. I took the left route, which essentially took me in a big circle back to Vrijthof, adding much time onto my journey. It was only the next day that I learned how close I really was to Zuyd, had I taken the right route, I would have soon found myself at the school.

Small church in Maastricht

Beautiful Church

Another beautiful cathedral, turned out to be very near Zuyd Hogeschool

Beautiful

Very beautiful architecture for this church

Totally cool

The day was absolutely beautiful for a walk and seeing everything!

I took a brief reprieve in Vrijthof, stopping to grab a sandwich and fries at a nearby McDonald’s. I am pleased to report that the Mac Shack’s here in the Netherlands are just as affordable as they are in the United States. (Though I must note that because the US Dollar is notably weak, I am in essence paying a tad bit more here than I would be in the US, but not much to complain about).

With food in my belly and feeling refreshed, I headed back to Avant Garde to end my journey for the afternoon. During the duration of the trip, I had worn a pedometer on my belt to measure the number of steps I had taken. 13,277 was the final tally from leaving my room and returning after 3.5 hours. Doing some quick math, the average male stride is usually around 2.5 feet (possibly a little bigger for me given my height, but I’ll leave the estimate as is), so take the number, multiply it by the number of strides, and divide the result by 5,280: the final distance I walked was around 6.3 miles, or roughly 10 km for the Metric System fans (read: everyone that isn’t American).

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.

A Day at Illsan Beach

The first week here was a mini vacation due to the fact that classes did not start for a week. It gave the international students a chance to get to know each other and explore Ulsan. So far, I have met people from all over the world. Not only do I get to experience Korean culture, but I am also learning various aspects of European culture because most of the international students here are from different parts of Europe. The main countries are Poland, Lithuania, Hungary, and Germany.

The third day I was here our Korean buddies informed us that March 1st is Korea’s Independence Day. The day celebrates the movement in 1919 where the Korean people declared their nation’s independence from Japan. Now, they do not celebrate Independence Day like we do in the U.S., they just simply hang Korean flags all over the country.

 

However, my colleagues and I thought we would celebrate by going to Illsan Beach for the day. The beach was absolutely incredible. The clear blue water, the massive rocks surrounding the ocean, and mystic trees made this beach a sight to see.

Right beside the ocean was a beautiful park. There were stairs and paths that led onto rocky peninsulas. My friends and I took about three hours just exploring the different viewpoints. Below are places that we found to be quite peaceful. We stayed here for most of the afternoon just enjoying each other’s company and listening to the sound of the waves hitting the rocks.

 

Daewangam Rock was another location we stumbled upon, which has historical significance. Supposedly one of the early Korean kings wanted his spirit to manifest as a dragon and stay under these rocks, to protect the country against any invaders from the east, like Japan.

Daewangam Rock

After a long exploration of the different peninsulas we walked over to a large lighthouse. We went inside of the information building and read more about Illsan Beach. In addition, we got the chance to stand on top of the roof and view the ocean one last time.