21 March, 2010

A Friday Afternoon in Maastricht

Every town in the Netherlands has what they call 'market day', where traditional market is held in front of the city's town hall. In Maastricht, market days fall on Wednesday and Friday. 

Fitri loves the market, while I --mostly buy my groceries in Albert Heijn or Aldi--- have never gone there. So when she told she loves spending time buying fresh ingredients at the market, I asked if I could come with her. Fitri said yes, and we later set up the date on Friday. Fitri doesn't have classes on Friday and I could really use a short break from my thesis.

The market is full with fresh ingredients including fresh beautiful flowers. The sellers there are nice and friendly, I enjoyed our little chat with them. 

Afterward, I met Cumaziye and Denitsa at a cafe in front of Selexyz bookstore. We were laughing all the time. It was a Friday well-spent.

Paris, First Timer

First time in Paris! So of course I did lots of mistakes commonly do by Paris first-timers...

I haven't done enough research before my departure, partly because I was too busy preparing thesis proposal, party because it's not a well-planned trip. I booked cheap Eurolines ticket (55 Eur two-ways) in between breaks while sitting at the university library.

To take the bus, I needed to go to Eindhoven first. Then boarded six hours ride to Paris via Brussels. Spent most of the journey sleeping. I was too tired because the day before we --Indonesian students in Maastricht-- had Karma's farewell dinner at Athene until late night.

For me, Eurolines should be the last option for cross-countries travel. I found out later that there are better options than Eurolines which is dirty and has extremely uncomfortable seats...my back was hurt when I woke up.

I did mistake in choosing a hotel too. Having been inexperienced and spoiled by auntie Mir's first class accommodation. I booked for the cheapest motel online without carefully checking its reviews on Tripadvisor (and even Tripadvisor could not always be a guarantee).

As a first timer in Paris, of course I could not missed the city's most cliche' tourist places:

  • Signed up for the Hop On-Off bus, I think it's the best way to visit touristy places for a first timer.
  • Waiting in super long lines for Eiffel Tower and could not help myself to buy cute souvenirs in its shop. I'm a sucker for souvenir shops.
  • Went to the Louvre and took a snap in front of Monalisa...so small, so ordinary!! There are many other magnificent paintings in Louvre, Monalisa however, is valued for its enigmatic codes.
  • Took a stroll through Seine and visited Notre Dame.
  • I once went to food court at Carrousel du Louvre for lunch...should have bought Parisian street vendor crepes instead.
Things I found out in Paris:
  • Paris has great supermarkets...I done it the Dutch way and bought supplies for simple breakfast and dinner. 
  • Paris is no different than any other big cities in the world. There are many parts of the cities that are beautiful and magnificent, but there also seedy neighborhoods around. My theory is the bigger the city, the more 'dark spots' can be found. 
  • It's better to go to Paris with train than Eurolines! I could not stand to take another Eurolines back home so I went to Paris du Nord station and bought a one way ticket to Maastricht. It only took three hours and so much better ride. Plus side, Thalys train is super comfy, I wouldn't mind spending the night in it.
  • Contrary to what people say, I found many quite helpful Parisians who are willing to speak English clearly. They even given me advises voluntary. When I bought my Thalys ticket at Paris Gare du Nord's ticket counter, the man behind the locket said, "You should buy your ticket long before, the earlier you buy the cheaper you get." 

A Day in Antwerp

When we met during Ayam Taliwang dinner party at Suksma's place, I asked Rini if she wanted to travel to Antwerp with me. She didn't sound too eager at the time, so I was surprised when on a Saturday morning she wrote on my Facebook wall confirming to come. Later in the afternoon, Yanti also wrote that she wanted to joint us. 

We agreed to meet in front of Maastricht Centraal Station on a Sunday morning. Then we took a bus to Liege followed by a train that went straight from Liege train station to Antwerp. I must say I admire Rini and Yanti cleverness. They seems have been travelling together many times before, because  there are two lines at the ticket counter of Liege train station, because they clearly knew how to work together in an efficient manner (am I sounded like those management books?). For example, when we were at Liege's train station, there were two lines waiting for turn in front of the ticket's counter. Rini immediately stood in one line and Yanti on the other. When it turns Rini's line was faster and she got served first than Yanti's, we all went to Rini's to pay our tickets.
Smart eh?

After nearly two hours journey, we finally arrived at Antwerp Central Station. Antwerp Central Station is nothing like Brussel Central, it's also big and reminded me of Amsterdam Centraal Station, but much cleaner. 

As we stepped our foot outside the station, I immediately decided that I like Antwerp. The city is very different from Brussels, Liege and Bruges that I also have visited. It's definitely more crowded with a mix of modern and busy vibes all in one. No wonder, Antwerp is known as "Diamond City" with 70% diamonds of this planet earth are traded there. Also well-known as "fashion cit"y, Antwerp's the Meir, is one of the most famous shopping street in Belgium. 

First we had lunch at a Spanish restaurant not far from the train station. Considering we wear our clothes in Small size, we each ordered a large portion of ribs that came in with fat fries without hesitation. Delicioso!

Then we went ring-hunting in several diamond shops nearby. Because Rini went for a mission: to give design options for a relative that will tie the knot. Yanti was on a mission too, to give a hint for her 'other man' who had left his long-time girlfriend for her and has given hint that Yanti might be the one. To flirt with this other man (Yanti herself is not single), she asked me to take several pictures of her pointing to the rings that she'd like...talk about clear hint ;D.

We spent most of our time in Antwerp wandering the Meir and then trendy Kammenstraat. There are also ZARA stores along the Meir, but while in Antwerp we thought it's better to go shopping for brands that are not available in Maastricht.