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!

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)

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.

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!