Sunday, 28 April 2013

Maastricht: Parking Adventures

Since this blog is about new experiences and joys that I encounter in the different countries that I visit, I was forced to add the word "adventures" to the title of this post. 
To be honest, "Pulling-my-hair-out-of-my-head frustration and aggravation" would've been a far more accurate depiction of the situation.

The two-week workshop in France came to an end on Friday and I boarded the Thalys train, pulling and tugging on my two suitcases, to the country that will become my home for the months to come. 

These high-speed European trains are amazing and this one was full of French teenagers on a school trip, a couple of backpackers, businessmen in black suits, a rowdy American crowd, and a group of elderly English tourists. 

While I was busy hauling one of my suitcases into the overhead storage area, the group of school kids smartly used my other suitcase as the cornerstone on which they constructed a vast luggage mountain. They obviously attend a technical school where they are trained to become civil engineers from the age of five. Since my French vocabulary only consists of ordering fruit at the marketplace, I decided not to make a (luggage) mountain of a molehill and rather descended on the train snack bar. 

The attendant greeted me with a friendly "Bonjour-Goedemiddag-Guten tag-Good afternoon." Four languages served with a smile. Incredible. I chose the latter and armed with coffee, a sandwich and chocolate I made my way back to my seat to lazily flip through my Kindle for the duration of the 2 hour train journey.

At Liege I was greeted by a colleague and my (rather squashed) luggage was re-loaded into the boot of the car. When I had left Paris 2 hours earlier the sky was a brilliant blue, but as we drove closer to Maastricht, dark clouds descended and soon raindrops were pounding against the windscreen. Maybe this was what my French colleague meant when he described the Netherlands sky as being "very low".

I couldn't be bothered by the rain though, because I had a fantastic little car to drive around with. The only challenge was to find a parking spot for it in the Maastricht city centre. I drove into Maastricht on the right side of the road, which is the wrong side in South Africa (and the left, the right) just as the sun was setting behind the clouds and the rain was coming down hard. 

Luckily I found a parking spot not too far from my apartment, and was quite chuffed with my parallel parking skills on the right (wrong) side of the road (I am so ready to become a Capetonian!) that I barely took notice of the tiny yellow sign painted on the pavement. Besides, many cars were parked there and I couldn't see a parking meter where I could deposit any money. 

I walked the three blocks to my apartment in the grey rain, mentally adding an umbrella to my shopping list, and was soon in my cozy, dry apartment. But the yellow sign on the pavement kept bothering me... After pottering around my new apartment for about an hour, I decided to look it up online, just in case. What I found, chilled me to the bone.

Nowhere was there any mention of a yellow parking sign and what it could possibly mean, but it was clear that there was no such a thing as free parking in Maastricht! Words like "fined", "towed away", "clamped" and "locked up by the angry traffic police" jumped out at me from the screen. I helplessly jotted down a couple of parking areas nearby, but red blinking lights ominously informed me that they were fully booked until 2026. I ran out into the cold night, trying hard to remember where my car was parked and praying that it would still be there.

Luckily it was and I jumped behind the wheel and sped off, shivering from the rain. Or maybe from relief. I drove around aimlessly, hopefully looking for a big blinking sign with the words "Park here!", but none appeared. Cars were parked everywhere and I saw a few open parking spots in-between rows of bicycles, but according to the internet I needed permits, declarations and reservations to be able to park on the street. At 10 pm on a Friday night it was unlikely that I would get any of the required documentation.

Suddenly I saw a blue sign with a white "P" for "Parking"! I pulled in with a sigh of relief and rushed closer to see what the charge would be. However, upon closer inspection, the small print on the sign sternly instructed that the driver of a vehicle parked within 1000 m of this blue parking sign will be locked up for life and fed andouilette sausages every day. Or something along those lines.

Exasperated, tired, cold and wet I climbed back onto the car, wishing I was inside one of the warmly lit bars filled with music, laughter and people who arrived by means of a bicycle, which could be parked anywhere for free. How ironic that everyone who cycled in the rain was now warm and dry, while I sat soaking wet and shivering in my car.

As a last resort, I phoned the manager of the apartment and explained my dilemma. 
"No, there is no parking available on the street," she informed me, quite unnecessarily. "But I can arrange for you to use one of the parking garages for the week." 
I thanked her profusely and sped off to get the keys, a parking spot and a change of clothes.

I have no idea where I'm going to park next week, but at least I have seven days to get a reservation for the declaration and application of a parking permit.

Maastricht Bicycles

Travelling by Bike
Cyclists Crossing the Maas River Bridge

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