More than just a day trip, Rotterdam

Do you love solo-travelling? Or determined to visit a particular place but was unable to find like-minded peers to travel together? Here are some tips for all you adventurous solo travellers out there!

I embarked on my first solo day trip to Rotterdam last Saturday. The UNESCO World Heritage site, Kinderdijk is only an hour bus ride away.

1. Buy NS group tickets on Facebook groups

Gather 10 people travelling on the same route and get discount on your train tickets! Instead of the usual 20++euros one-way ticket, you pay 7 euros for return ticket (on the same day). It is uncertain whether this great cost-saving scheme will be extended into 2018 by NS, so grab them while you still can!

2. When in doubt, always ask

I encountered 2 train disruptions on my way to Rotterdam Centraal. Announcements were made overhead in Dutch so I wasn’t sure what had happened. Luckily I met very helpful locals who explained the situation. Even though the kind lady wasn’t very fluent in English, it did not deter her willingness to help me find a connecting train to Rotterdam Centraal. “Come with me”, she said and I gratefully followed her to the platform.

3. Learn to enjoy the unexpected

Due to the disruption at Breda station, I had 20 minutes of free time. I decided to have breakfast at the station kiosk instead of at Rotterdam as initially planned. I took my time to queue, order and observe the service staff making a cup of warm cappuccino, feel the vibes in the station as people from all walks of life walked past. Even though the train disruptions set my schedule back by 30 minutes in total, I am glad that I was able to take everything in stride (:

4. Plan beforehand to make the most out of time

Finishing all of Rotterdam’s sightseeing attractions in a day is rather ambitious, hence I prioritised certain attractions and planned my route according to their proximity to one another. I am very very glad that I visited Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. The exhibition by Tal R was really impressive: his drawings are often of people in their everyday life and they contain very rich emotional expressions. The fine art collection was amazing too.

https://www.boijmans.nl/en

On the other hand, the Cube houses wasn’t as interesting as I thought.

5. Always look out for applicable discounts

 

Many places offer discounted entrance fees for students (with valid student ID), for example Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen.

I arrived at Kinderdijk with only 45 minutes before closing and was offered the closing discount ticket at 6 euros (instead of the usual 8 euros). On hindsight, I think the closing discount ticket wasn’t worth it because with the limited amount of time left, it was impossible to enjoy all the activities the ticket encompassed. I highly recommend you spend at least a few hours at Kinderdijk. It has amazing view and the tranquility is perfect for contemplation of life. Best to go in summer, in my opinion. It was really foggy last Saturday and the greens are withering away in the harsh cold winter.

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6. Treat yourself to good food

Travelling alone can be stressful at times because you mostly rely on yourself and have to be quick-witted when dealing with challenging situations. Treat yourself to good food as a reward for your hard work and bravery! Generally, I find tripadvisor’s recommendations rather valuable. I tried Panzero’ Apulian StrEat Food‘s Panzerotti (fried dough with filling). It was my first time eating this kind of cuisine and was a pleasant surprise.

On top of consulting tripadvisor, I also have the habit of roaming randomly on the streets and deciding my dining location spontaneously. I chanced upon a korean restaurant called Gamasot and craved for a bowl of hot soup in the freezing weather (it was -1 degree celsius in Rotterdam then). Had a brief conversation with the service staff about the food and life in the Netherlands. It was a cosy dining experience with good food (:

http://www.gamasot.nl/

You are now ready for your next adventure, just go!

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Are you ready for period 2?

In the blink of an eye, Period 1 is already over, and I have been in Maastricht for 2 months. The workload in Maastricht is definitely heavier than what I am used to back in my home University. Consequently, I wasn’t travelling as much as I initially intended to. But I understand that you only get as much as what you put in. Indeed, studying in Maastricht has pushed me beyond my comfort zone: I have been training myself to read faster and pick out main points more quickly. Looking back, I also gleaned a lot of insights from my classmates (I particularly enjoyed my entrepreneurial course because of the engaging conversations we had in class). My first examination was last Thursday; though I am not sure what results to expect, I know I have done my best, so I will patiently wait for the results (which my classmate said will be out in 2-3 weeks’ time)!

Before period 2 started, I went on a solo trip to London and Oxford to find my childhood friends who are studying there for their bachelor degrees. I was quite apprehensive as this was my first time planning and travelling alone in Europe. After nearly missing the flight to London (I underestimated the duration for security and custom clearance at the Schiphol airport :'(), I finally arrived in London safe and sound!

(Tip: please still arrive at Schiphol airport early even if you have completed online check-in as it’s a busy air hub so there are long queues)

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Regent’s Park, London
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M&M Store, London

I really love the vibrancy in London ❤ And even though it was just a few days, I am really glad I managed to catch up with these dearly-missed friends.

Now that I’m back from travelling… am I ready for Period 2?

After my experience in Period 1, I have drawn up the following strategies to help me cope with Period 2 better:

  • Call home more often so as to cope with the homesickness
  • Read up summaries on studydrive.net
    (I only recently realised how useful studydrive is. Studydrive is where helpful students upload relevant materials for other course mates to review. And don’t forget to give these contributors a thumbs-up on the portal for willingly sharing their chapter summaries!)
  • Dance to release stress!
    (I took the initiative to find dance schools in Maastricht so that I could continue my passion of dancing even here in the Netherlands. I am currently enrolled with ‘Dansschool Reality’. The dance studio is only 15 minutes’ walk from the guesthouse so it’s really convenient. Don’t stop something you love even when you’re away from home (: http://www.dansschoolreality.com)
  • Visit friends who are in other European cities
    (I have been thinking of how do I make my travels in Europe more meaningful and less ‘touristy’. And I think visiting friends from other cities is a good idea because they could share insights about the city based on their few months’ of living there. Though they may not be able to fully understand the local context, it still beats me getting to know these cities without any prior knowledge. Hence, I will be visiting a senior who has been living and starting work in Frankfurt soon next weekend and my friends in Rotterdam in early December.)
  • Participate in community-building activities
    (Having an interest in community development and engagement, I spent two years in high school facilitating an academic support programme for underprivileged families. Participating in community-building activities in Maastricht would give me an opportunity to learn from the locals on how to make meaningful contributions to my society too. Hence, my Dutch classmate referred me to the ‘Refugee Project Maastricht’ and I look forward to attending their English Cafe initiative. http://refugeeprojectmaastricht.nl)

Autumn is coming

Coming from a place where the lowest temperature is 24 degree celsius, the weather in Maastricht was a lot to take in initially. I fell sick in the second week here and self-medicated. I’m glad to say that 1.5month into school, I’m now able to dress adequately for the weather (averaging around 10 to 16 degree celsius these days). Thermal wear and Uniqlo’s heat tech garments to the rescue!

Besides anticipating the arrival of Autumn, September is also the time for travel (:

Festival of Pleasure, Art and Science (9 Sep)

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Held right here in Maastricht, the Festival of Pleasure, Art and Science (PAS) offered a series of activities spanning over 2 days. Ranging from ballet pieces to booths on virtual reality in crime research and MRI, PAS is definitely suitable for group outings, where everyone’s interests can be catered to.

Featured above is ‘HAHAHA’ by OKIDOK, a street theatre group. The chemistry between the two actors was amazing. While they made us laugh with their silly antics, I couldn’t help but feel grateful to people who chose to commit to professions dedicated to bringing joy to others.

I also got the chance to listen to a soothing harp and soprano performance (Chiaralt) by students and live jazz band (Kind of Pink). 

Extremely touched by the passion driving these individuals to do what they do. Their performances and studies showed me that it’s possible to imagine other kinds of possibilities in my life.

If you’re coming to Maastricht in the fall, don’t miss PAS!

https://www.pasmaastricht.nl

Oktoberfest (16 Sep)

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182 Euros – yes that’s approximately how much I spent on a 2D1N trip to Munich, the city where the elaborated and much anticipated annual Oktoberfest is held! Although it burnt a hole in my pocket, I didn’t regret my decision.

Fun facts

  • The drive to and fro Munich was a tiring 17 hours in total (gasps, we rented cars because it was the cheaper option). Expect traffic jams and be prepared to dive into unknown side roads just to beat the jams. Google map is your best friend.
  • Experienced cultural shock on German highway when police cars needed to pass through. Back in Singapore, we filter to the slower lane when emergency vehicles need to pass through. We did that on the highway here only to realise that moving to one side of the same lane was the local practice (not filtering to the next lane!).
  • Lucky to still be able to get a tent reservation 4 days before our arrival. Please plan your Oktoberfest trip way in advance! Some tents allow bookings as early as March.
  • Oktoberfest is not just about beer and cuisine (though those two are definitely an integral part), there are also amusement park facilities. Mustered my courage and challenged the 5-loop rollercoaster. Absolutely love the ambience ❤

For the beer-lovers, you will find your best friends there 😉

For the non-drinkers, I think you will still enjoy it (like I did)!

Tips

  • Be prepared to devote a substantial budget there. A rollercoaster ride costs around 9 euros, haunted house 4 euros, bumper car 2 euros. Our dinner inside the tent had a minimum spending requirement of 29 euros.
  • Check out the weather and dress adequately. We slept in tents (cheapest option we found, 45 euros per pax per night) and it was freezing cold :/

Aachen (23 Sep)

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Aachen, where Charlemagne ruled from.

3 places you should definitely visit:

  1. Aachen Cathedral Treasury – prepare to be amazed by the amazing craftsmanship behind the numerous reliquaries, locks and many more
  2. Centre Charlemagne – outlining the history of Aachen from the time of Charlemagne to post World War II
  3. Akl Libanesisches Restaurant – affordable and really tasty Lebanese food!!!

We also unexpectedly chanced upon an election-related public concert. Chatted with a shopkeeper and learnt that there is no cooling-off day in Germany (the day before voting when any form of campaigning by any election party is not allowed), which was unlike in Singapore.

Leaves are turning red,
Exams are drawing close,
Till we meet again (:

How to Survive in Maastricht 101

Hi I’m Wei Ling! I’m a year 3 student from the National University of Singapore, majoring in Business (Marketing) and here in Maastricht for a semester of exchange programme.

Prior to applying for an exchange programme at Maastricht University (UM), I googled intensively for information on the University and found the blog posts on this wordpress to be really helpful. This was the primary reason of me signing up to be a blogger with the school: to give potential exchange students a glimpse of our life here so that they can make informed choices and feel prepared about coming over.

Apologies if you find this post dry as it will focus more on the ‘technical’ aspects, which I hope will assist future incoming students! Future posts will be more engaging and reflective, centering around my travelling experiences around Europe as well as within Maastricht.

Problem-Based Learning (PBL)

One of the reasons why I chose to come to UM: PBL. I have never tried this form of classroom learning before. I attended my first PBL session last Friday. It was engaging and I find myself enjoying the breadth of knowledge my peers bring to class (e.g. using Zara, Apple and etc. as case discussions). However, in order to enjoy a meaningful discussion in class, one should really adequately prepare for these sessions beforehand. The preparation could be quite time-consuming, especially if you want to go in-depth with your materials. So time management is crucial!

Accommodation

There are a few ways you could source for accommodation in Maastricht:

  1. Private market (via Facebook groups or otherwise)
    Initially, my friends and I were keen to rent our rooms via Facebook groups as they are usually cheaper (inclusive of gas, water, electricity). However, rooms were snatched up very fast on Facebook and we couldn’t find an apartment that had enough rooms to accommodate us (there were 10 of us from the same University).
  2. UM Guesthouse
    Some of our friends stayed in the P Building of the UM Guesthouse, booked via Maastricht Housing. Characteristics of P Building rooms: shared room with an attached kitchen, communal toilets and showers.

    There is also a C Building under UM Guesthouse, booked via Maastricht Housing. Characteristics of C Building rooms: shared room, communal kitchen, shower and toilet.

  3. SSH Student Housing
    4 of us stayed in the M Building under SSH. There are shared and single rooms available (https://www.sshxl.nl). For me, I chose a single room with my own toilet. Kitchen and shower are communal. Do note that if you pick a room with toilet, there is no showering facilities in the attached toilet. I have been staying here for a week and so far most things have been satisfactory (: The space in the single room is definitely more than enough for one person, so if you don’t mind losing a bit of privacy, shared room is a good choice.

Dutch Bank Account

One of the first things you should do when you reach Maastricht is to quickly book an appointment with one of the local banks to open a dutch account. I arrived at Maastricht only one week before school started. By then, the appointment queue was 2 weeks long! I chose ING because of convenience; they have a branch near our hostel.

ISN Arrival Week

I signed up for the ISN Arrival Week Cultural Package and really enjoyed it! It was different from what I expected (I had in mind the kind of orientation activities we do over in my home university). There were a lot of opportunities within each scheduled activity to mingle with people from different background. You can hear ‘where are you from?’ across the room ever so frequently. I paid extra 10 euros to join the semester kick-off party. It was my first clubbing experience and definitely memorable, though I’m still not a fan of drinking.

Biking

If you have decided on getting a bike for your temporary stay in Maastricht, do get it as soon as possible! Demand for bikes is always high when the new semester starts. A brand new bike costs around 175 euros while a second hand bike could range from 50 to 90 euros or even more, depending on your luck. Besides the bike itself, do factor in the cost of accessories (bell, front and back lights, sturdy chain lock, seat cover) too. These can be easily purchased from the local store ACTION. Learn the local rules for cycling before you embark! Always have your lights on when cycling at night or you risk getting fined. Roads are really bike-friendly here in Maastricht, so safety shouldn’t be a worry so long as you follow the rules and watch your surroundings.

Supermarkets

If you’re staying at the Guesthouse or SSH Student Housing, supermarkets Jumbo and Albert Heijn are just a 10 minutes walk away at Shopping Centre BrusselsePoort. There is an Aldi supermarket nearby too. Be prepared to cook frequently as eating out can be expensive (if you come from countries where the currency exchange rates are not in your favour, like I do). Grocery is surprisingly affordable here! The value proposition for each supermarket is different; try them out to see which items are sold cheaper at which supermarket! No worries if you think you can’t cook; you will learn on the job. In my first week here, I was very dependent on my neighbour to fix my meals. But slowly, after a few tries, I can now make my own meals, though definitely not as elaborated or tasty as my friend’s (:P).

So far…

Things have been manageable! I attended Festival PAS (Pleasure, Arts and Science), a local event, last weekend and am going with my friends to Oktoberfest this weekend. Hopefully I get to share my experience at Festival PAS and Oktoberfest in my next post. Goodbye for now as I return to doing the laundry!