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!

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.