Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

I’ve probably briefly mentioned things about bikes, cars, and trains from time to time on this blog, but haven’t really devoted any single post to exclusively speaking about transportation in Maastricht. So, let me give my two cents on the matter.

My two cents

Here you go. (Image from 3.bp.blogspot.com)

As is probably stated before, bikes are – by far – the most prominent form of transportation in Maastricht. If you don’t have a bike, you’ll have a hard time getting around the city on your own, for the most part. Regardless of rain or shine, hard freezes or sweltering temps, you’ll most likely be seeing a number of people make their way to and fro on bikes only. The roadways throughout the city – as well as across the Dutch countryside – are designed accordingly to accommodate bikers on the road. Nearly every stretch of roadway has a bike lane on either side of the roadway. And fear not about getting hit by a card: the rule of thumb in the Netherlands when concerning right-of-ways goes as such, with pedestrians, then bikers, then motorists. So far, I’ve had no trouble with other vehicles on the roadway while being about on my bike.

Car and Bicycle

Though they could have had a problem with me. (Image from 4.bp.blogspot.com)

Cars are commonly seen around the city, I might add, but not everyone uses a car, clearly. Most cars around are the small, economically-sized vehicles that are only recently beginning to gain traction within the United States. By far the most popular car around, judging what I have seen, is the Ford Ka. Nearly every street I’ve been on I’ve seen roughly two of these guys either parked or being driven around. Quite the popular little machine, I say.

Ford Ka

They’re really kinda cute, actually. (Image from upload.wikimedia.org)

Aside from compact cars, wagon-styled cars are also a common sight. Up from that would probably be CUV’s, but those aren’t nearly everywhere. There’s also a van now and then, most commonly with a large family in tow. And rarest of all would be pickup trucks, which I have only seen about 4 in all of Maastricht. The rarest treat has been spotting a Dodge Ram 1500 cruising along, which definitely caught me off guard.

dodge ram 1500

“Yeah, let me go get my pontoon ready and we’ll go fishing,” said no one in the Netherlands, ever. (Image from naturalgeographic.net)

As for car brands, Ford may have the edge with the sheer number of Ka’s I see, but Citroën is another brand that seems to be everywhere as well. I’m not familiar at all with this make of car, as there are no Citroën’s I have ever seen in the United States, so I can’t really say much about them. BMW and Volkswagen round out the brands that I most commonly see.

And one last thing concerning cars: manual transmission is the way it is here. As far as I know, everyone that I have spoken with does not own, nor has driven, an automatic transmission, which is a stark difference between Europe and the US. I’ve personally only attempted to drive a stick once before, with little success I should say. So if ever wish to do a road trip across Europe, be ready to know how to drive a stick!

stick shift

I think the “R” means “race.” (Image from autocricket.com)

As for other forms of transportation, trains and buses are a big one. I’ve only used both forms rarely, but they are convenient when needed. Thus far, the bus has gotten me around on my first day in the city, to Aachen, and back to Avant Garde (after my bike suffered its second flat tire in a month’s time). And for trains, just once, when I arrived into Maastricht from Amsterdam.

And lastly of all, planes. I have not been on a plane since I came to Europe and will not be on a plane again until I leave Europe in a few weeks time, but they are still of much use across Europe. As to my understanding with the friends I have here, planes, while the most expensive of the options of transportation available, can get you anywhere in Europe in just a couple of hours time. However, most people forgo direct flights and instead prefer flying to regional hub (the cheapest), then taking a train to the final destination.

That covers everything I wished to say concerning transportation in Europe. It is a bit different than what I am certainly used to back home, but not too markedly so. And if you have any questions regarding this, shoot me one in the comments!

Who I Am

If there was one issue that I was readily ‘in the know’ concerning Europe, it’s that of the Euro Crisis that has been plaguing the European Union for over a year now, as well as pinching the pockets of everyone around the world. Several European countries, most notably Greece, have been facing very hard economic times, which has come to affect the livelihood of all within those nations that are hurting. However, with that being said, there was something else that I was not aware of at all: that of the crisis of the European identity.

This conflict was brought to my attention the day following my Maastricht adventure and evening dinner; the exchange students were gathering at Zuyd Hogeschool for the first of two days of learning about the building, as well as each other. Nerijus and I made it to Zuyd by way of car, much thanks to Nerijus for making the drive from Denmark with his vehicle. And getting to Zuyd proved to be quick and easy, again thanks to Nerijus and his handy (and hilarious) TomTom GPS. Before we knew it, we had arrived to Zuyd in short, markedly different than had I made the journey by foot.

What followed was a fairly long and drawn introduction ceremony, which seemed to be taxiing for some of the students there, myself included (again, jet lag).

Jet lag

This is how I felt (image from berkeley.edu)

I did keep my interest glued on a couple of the professors who spoke with prepared statements concerning the state of the European Union and what can be done to fix. One professor took the viewpoint of the Union needing a centralized federal bureaucracy, a la the United States of America. The other, a somewhat younger, professor, while supportive of his colleagues point of views, chose to go the opposite of his statements, believing that more independent nations akin to before the Union would help make a stronger Europe. All of this proved to be immensely engrossing to listen in upon (when I wasn’t fighting sleep), but it was only to get more so fascinating.

After this introduction, we students were split into 5 separate groups, then headed off to various classrooms where we would continue the discussion of this European crisis. Much of the thought around solving this crisis was believing that the European Union needs a strong, centralized government to ensure that all nations are cooperating upon an equal basis. The problems with this, according to many of the Europeans that were in my group (and more so later) were that if such a government were founded, individual European powers would begin to lose the identity that they have held preciously to for decades, or centuries perhaps. Many cannot deny the benefits of having a federalized government, but the sacrifice is perhaps too great in losing their own identity.

FREEEEEDOM!!! AND IDENTITY!!!!!!

Kinda like Braveheart I guess? (image from vennervox.com)

All of the groups eventually coalesced again in a large room, where a speaker (yet another professor) awaited for our arrival. The discussion for the afternoon revolved around this very issue of the identities, crisis, and coming to a solution. What had began to gather from listening to many others discuss this issue was that the European Union, by some stretch, reflected the early United States during the time of the Articles of Confederation.

This old document just didn't work out

These Articles. BAM. (image from Wikipedia)

Under the Articles, states sought to act more as independent nation-states, rather than strictly states under one federal government. There was indeed the government of the United States, but it became very apparent rather quickly that the Articles were a complete failure in maintaining a country. So with comparing the Articles to that of the European Union (as it stands now), the European nations within the Union wish to continue to act as nations while trying to work together under a weak unionized government.

And as with American history, the Articles were eventually scrapped, with the form of government we currently see in the US today being formulated within the words of the United States Constitution. So far, I think I can say that the Constitution has been working just fine, sans a little Civil War that happened some time ago.

Battle of Gettysburg

‘Little’ is a relative term (image from Wikipedia)

And with that, I believe that if this issue of the European Crisis were to be solved, reformulating the European Union into a federalized power with one leader overseeing the executions of government – akin to the President of the United States – Europe can potentially be better off that it ever has been in its history. And concerning the identity crisis itself, Europe can still function as they have been throughout their history. Even though I, myself, identify as an American, I’m also still a Missourian by birth and feel proud of that fact. So a citizen living under the European Union may identify themselves as a European, but they can still say with pride they are a French, or German, or wherever they may hail from.

I shared some of these views with the group of exchange students – though only really when the speaker/professor asked if there were any Americans in the room (I was one of two, but he found me first). Granted, I didn’t share my thoughts on the Articles of Confederation and comparing them to the current European Union (I wasn’t about to give a history lesson for everyone), but I did give the best explanation I could give out to all. But to end that discussion, and here as well, the decision for a federalized European government under one man/woman is something for the people to ultimately decide, because it should be Europeans who wish to determine whether they want to be ‘European’ or remain as they are now, i.e. as citizens of a single nation.

This is definitely been a thing that I have been discussing heavily with various other exchange students from Europe over the past few days, so I will hopefully have a clearer and vaster understanding of all of this transpiration.