Maastricht 2005

Below is the journal for Julie's trip to Europe taken June 12 through July 8, 2005. The journal is divided up by day, and was originally written as a daily blog that Julie used to keep in touch with everyone back in the States.

Julie works for Medtronic, and went to Europe to work on a clinical study for an implantable device (like a pacemaker). Julie was based in Maastricht in The Netherlands, but also took some side trips (both for work and for pleasure) to other places in Europe.

If you're interested, you can also look at the pictures that Julie took with Ken's Canon Powershot A70 digital camera.


One of my coworkers who's also in Maastricht told me that she was writing a blog, and I was inspired to write one myself. I thought it would be a good idea to keep people knowing what I'm up to over here. We'll see how this works out ... I have some pictures from my digital camera, which I'll post if I find someone with a CompactFlash card reader over here (I didn't bring mine from home).

Thanks to Ken for setting up this page for me!!!

Day 1 - Sunday, June 12

My flight left Minneapolis about 3:15pm. The flight was pretty uneventful - I had an aisle seat on the DC10, which was nice. I sat next to an EMT who has used Medtronic's external defibrillators, so we talked some about heart stuff. I didn't sleep at all on the flight, but otherwise it was OK. The food was decent - better than I expected, to be honest.

Day 2 - Monday, June 13

I arrived in Amsterdam at 6am (11pm CST), wandered around the airport some, got a new battery for my watch, and ate some breakfast. I took a 30 minute puddlejumper flight to Maastricht on a Fokker 50, the smallest plane that KLM flies. They gave us orange juice and a cookie during the KLM flight - Northwest wouldn't have given us anything!

My coworkers (Megan and Vinson) picked me up from the airport and took me to my apartment. I'm on the top (4th) floor of an older building. The apartment is a 1 bedroom and was recently remodeled. I have pretty much everything I need, though I wouldn't mind a toaster and some potholders for the kitchen. I don't have a phone, but since I have a cell phone, it's ok.

I took a nap in the afternoon for an hour, then went for a walk and had dinner. EVERYONE rides bikes here - guys in suits, little old ladies, women with high heels, etc. I think it's because a bike is main form of transportation, not a recreational item. They have bike lanes in many streets, and otherwise you just ride in the street. The cars seem to watch out for bikes well. I'm not sure who has the right-of-way, but many bikes just seem to take the right-of-way. I'm not that brave! The mopeds are allowed to travel in the bike lanes, though, and they go a lot faster than the bikes.

I had dinner at a restaurant near the main square in town. The whole block was full of restaurants with sidewalk seating. You just sit down at a table, and someone comes out and serves you. Of course, the menus are in Dutch, so I can't read them. However, the "menu of the week" featured salad, dessert, and a main course. I asked the waiter to describe the main courses, and then I picked one (chicken with a salmon filling). It was very good, and it seemed to be what I was looking for after a long day of mini-meals and traveling. Meals are very relaxed here - they give you plenty of time between courses, and they only give you the check when you ask. It was a little weird to sit there by myself, but it was beautiful outside, and I could watch the people walking by. There were 2 girls at the table next to me who, I swear, spent a good portion of the time talking to people on their cell phones.

I stopped at the grocery store on my way home. Everything is in Dutch there, too, so it's an interesting experience. I bought some breakfast food and spaghetti to make later in the week. I bought all the things I intended at the grocery store, except I bought paper towels instead of toilet paper. Oh well. That's actually pretty good, considering I almost bought orange-flavored butter instead of regular butter, all-purpose cleaner instead of dishwasher detergent, and I stared at the milk for a while before deciding which was skim milk (I picked the one that said "0%" on it). Oh, and my cell phone is in Dutch, so I can't read the menus on it ... ;-)

I fell asleep on the couch watching "Austin Powers: Goldmember" around 8:45 pm, then woke up this morning at 4:30am. I would have preferred to sleep later, but that's not too bad. At least there are a lot of American TV programs on the air here, so I'm not stuck watching Dutch TV all the time.

Day 3 - Tuesday, June 14

Megan picked me up at my apartment and walked me to work. It's a 15-20 minute walk, which isn't bad. I share an office with 3 other people. People don't have individual cubicles here. My room is pretty quiet, so it works well. We have the radio on. It's funny because it plays almost the same music that I hear at home. It's a little surreal when the announcers start talking in Dutch.

Everyone has lunch here at noon. They have a cafeteria in the building, and the food is very good and reasonably priced (unlike the cafeteria at work in Minneapolis). I had tomato soup, meat, cheese, bread, and fruit salad for about 3 euros. I'm getting used to euros - they have 1 and 2 euro coins, so paying for lunch means pulling out a pocketful of change.

After work, I stopped by the grocery store and bought some toilet paper and garbage bags. You have to buy special bags at the store - they cost 10 euros for about 10 bags. I'm guessing that it's their way of having people pay for garbage pick-up. There were many garbage bags on the street tonight, so I assume it's garbage pick-up day.

I made spaghetti for dinner in my apartment. I figured out how to turn the stove on and off, but I haven't figured out how to adjust the temperature on it. I guess that'll be another day, or I could use a different burner for simmer vs. boil. I have some manuals for the appliances in the apartment, but not the stove. In any case, they're all in Dutch or German, so it doesn't make much difference.

I was hoping I'd sleep through the night, but no such luck. I fell asleep on the couch around 9:30, went to bed around 10:30, woke up at 2:45, then slept again from 5:30-7:30. Maybe tomorrow I'll sleep through the night ...

Day 4 - Wednesday, June 15

The lunchlady either wouldn't or can't speak English to me, so she told me how much to pay in Dutch. Luckily, the person behind me translated. I feel kind of dumb when I can't even understand my numbers. Oh, well. Maybe I can work on that while I'm here ...

Today, I spent a few hours at work discussing some of the pacemaker features with my coworkers from the clinical group. They were very interested in learning, and I had fun talking with them.

I went to a Chinese restaurant near the train station for dinner. As usual, I couldn't read the menu, so I picked "Chicken with Chinese vegetables." I also saw something like "Cashew Chicken" and "Kung Pao Chicken" on the menu. It was a good meal - better than many Chinese restaurants I've been to. They gave me extra rice to take home, so I have plenty for tomorrow night.

Day 5 - Thursday, June 16

I woke up at 5:30am today. At least I managed to sleep that long. I brought my digital camera to work and took a picture of my coworkers (see the photo album). I also had a minor disaster when I locked up my cell phone. My cell phone was in Dutch, so I tried to find the manual so I could understand what I was doing. The first thing it says is, "Remove the battery to see what kind of phone you have." Well, I forgot to turn it off first. This locks up the phone and you have to enter the PIN and or PUK number. If you enter them incorrectly too many times, you permanently lock up the phone. I figured out the PUK number, but only AFTER I locked the phone. Oops. Sometimes that engineering "I can figure it out myself" mentality bites you, I guess ...

At this point, I hadn't found my friend Tina yet. We were planning to get together this weekend in Cologne. I didn't have her cell phone number, and I had only given her my cell phone number, so I was kind of worried. However, I had saved an e-mail from 3 years ago with her number, and she hadn't changed it, so I was able to call her from work.

After dinner, I went out to dinner with Vinson and his wife. I had good schnitzel at a restaurant whose building is about 200 years old. The English menu called it "pork escalope." I asked the waitress what it was, and then she looked at the Dutch menu and said "schnitzel." That made a lot more sense ...

After dinner, we walked around the shopping area. The shops close early most days, but they're open on Thursdays until 9:00pm. We also looked at a restaurant that had Roman ruins in the basement. It had this 70s-retro look through most of it, then a bunch of ruins. It was interesting. They also had some artifacts in display cases. I couldn't read the descriptions because they were in Dutch, but I did recognize some combs and a plumb bob. It made me think of Ken's and my experience in Vienna where we played in the Vienna Technical Museum with all the kid's hands-on displays, trying to figure out what they meant without reading any of the labels. Then we went back to Vinson's place and talked for a while.

I left a little before 10:00 and rented a bike. They cost 28 euros a week. I rode it around a little to get used to it - it definitely feels different than my bike at home. It's a little tippier, much heavier, and it has 3 speeds (24 on my bike at home). I think the pedals are closer to the ground, because it seems like I have to lift myself less to get on the seat. The man at the bike shop said I should put the bike indoors at night because theft is a big problem. Unfortunately, it's ten steep steps up to the first landing in my building. I finally managed to get it up there by holding the frame and rolling the back wheel up the steps. We'll see if I continue to leave it there or not at night.

Day 6 - Friday, June 17

I woke up today at 7am. That's the latest I've managed so far ... I found out that I can bike the entire distance to work on bike trails, which is nice. My walking path requires going through a construction zone, which I'd rather not do. I'm not used to biking on roads, sharing them with cars, mopeds, etc. It took me a little while to figure out how to use the bike racks. I think the security guard was laughing at me (on the inside), but that's OK. That's the life of a foreigner, I think.

I got a new SIM card for my phone, so I'm connected again. Yay! I told the secretary she was fantastic. My rental car for the weekend arrived this afternoon. I have a Ford Focus C-Max diesel with a 6-speed (it looks like a Focus ZX5). Vinson left his bike at work for the weekend, but that means it's locked up until Monday morning. Since I'm only seeing Tina on Saturday, I decided I wanted to have access to my bike this weekend. First Vinson and I tried putting the bike in my car (it didn't fit), then we fit it into Vinson's car, then we finally put it in my car the other direction. It was a pain getting it in, and a bigger pain removing it from the car. I think next time I'll lock up the bike for the weekend, or ride the mile to my apartment and walk back.

I drove to the apartment (I knew how to get there). Unfortunately, I drove past the apartment because I wasn't paying attention. Instead of parking 1 block away (which I SHOULD have done), I decided to go around the block and come back. Well, I went a block further, made a left turn, and ended up on the freeway. There didn't seem to be any places to turn around, so I kept going. I got off the freeway, again didn't see anywhere to turn, and then all of a sudden I saw cows! I'm thinking to myself, "Toto, I don't think we're in Maastricht anymore!" It seemed that every time I could pick one direction or the other, I picked the wrong one. Once you get on the freeway, it's hard to tell where you're supposed to get off. I knew I lived on the east side of the river Maas, but it every time I saw I was on the correct side of the river, I was in the process of crossing to the other side. When they picked me up from the airport, Vinson and Megan thought they might get lost, so they were going to tell me they were taking a tour of the city instead. They had an easy time finding my place, and now I knew why they thought they might get lost. I think it was an hour before I finally got back to my apartment.

I have to admit I was not paying attention to time at all. I have a stick shift for my rental car, which is fine, but the reverse is in a different place then I'm used to (up and left vs. down and right). There were several times when I trouble finding the right gear because it was somewhere different than I expected.

Earlier that day, I had told my friend Myriam at work that I would have dinner with her. I told her that I'd be there after work (5:00 or 6:00). So, I finally called her at 6:45 saying that I was lost. I can't drive and talk on the phone, though, so I couldn't stay on long, and I couldn't articulate where I was well enough for her to give me new directions. Luckily, though, for once I took a correct turn (mostly by accident) and ended up in my neighborhood soon afterwards. I put my bike in the apartment building (it was easier today, now that I knew how to do it), then headed for Myriam's place. She had given me new directions since I was starting from home instead of work. Unfortunately, she gave 1 wrong turn, and I ended up in a bus-only lane. I came to a stop light where there was a pillar in the center of the road afterwards. The light was red, so I stopped. It never turned green. Then a bus came up behind me. It honked at me several times, but I couldn't figure out what to do, so I stayed there, because the pillar still blocked the road, and there was a 4-inch barrier between me and the opposing lane. Then someone came from the other direction, stopped, and told me I had to turn around. I turned around, then went to the nearest parking lot and called Myriam. She apologized for giving me bad directions (she realized it after saying it to me, but didn't have my number to call back), then gave me the right ones. It turns out that the pillars only go down for busses and some other vehicles. Oh well. The whole driving experience is funny in retrospect but it wasn't at the time. I think I'll take my bike around unless I'm leaving the city next time ...

Myriam made some Indonesian-type curry for dinner. It was very good. We had a nice conversation, and she suggested some other places to visit during my trip. A couple of her friends stopped by, too, later in the evening, so I got to talk with them. I left her place around 11:00, drove to her apartment without incident, and wrote this letter. OK, not completely without incident - the stop lights are in the near side of the intersection, so I keep forgetting where they are. I tend to be slow coming off red lights because sometimes I don't notice the green immediately. Someone flashed their brights at me. Overall, though, I'd call that successful ... ;-)

Day 7 - Saturday, June 18

I woke up at 6 am, called Ken for a while, then fell back asleep for a few hours. I drove to Cologne to visit my friend Tina. The morning was comedy of errors. First, I had to feed the parking meter for my car. I bought the parking ticket, but I had forgotten to bring my car keys with me downstairs. So, I had to make a 2nd trip so I could put the ticket on the dash of my car. Then, I'm about to leave and I can't find my passport. I can't drive legally or leave the E.U. without it. Yikes! Yestrday, during my driving adventure, my purse had dumped out on the floor. I thought I had picked up everything, but I missed the passport, which was lying next to the center console.

my driving to Cologne was pretty uneventful, except that I was still uncomfortable driving in Europe. I had Mapquest directions, and I called Tina when I was close to ensure I was going to right way. I picked up Tina in Gleuel, which is a small town just south of Cologne. Driving there is nervewracking - the streets are 2 cars wide, but in places there's parking on 1 side of the street. If there's an obstacle in your way and there's oncoming traffic, then you wait until the other side is clear before continuing. Also, if there's no "right of way" sign, the person on the right has right-of-way, regardless of who arrived first.

Peter was still packing for he and Tina's move to the U.S. next week, so Tina and I headed for downtown Cologne. I missed the "Koln-Centrum" sign, so we went a different way into town. We found a parking garage, and then went into the main square. There was a large gathering of Turks in front of the Cologne cathedral celebrating a recent soccer victory. The Turks are a large minority (10%) in the German population, and their standing in society is kind of like the Mexicans in the U.S. (i.e. not that great). We walked inside the Cologne cathedral, then had lunch at a cafe that Tina knew. We went to the Chocolate Museum, where we saw lots of stuff about chocolate and machines that make chocolate. They also had "chocolate art" - for example, someone made a casting in chocolate of a man's brimmed hat. It looked completely real!

Tina and I met Peter for dinner at one of their favorite pubs. We shared a half-meter of bratwurst and potato salad. We also had kolsch, which is the local specialty beer. Each town in Germany has its own particular version of kolsch. After dinner, Tina and I wandered around and got some ice cream. We finally got back to Gleuel about 11:30. We got some Mapquest directions back to Maastricht (I didn't want to take chances with getting lost), and I left around midnight. I got back home around 1:30am after take a couple wrong turns but managing not to get completely lost. Overall, I had a relaxing day (except for driving) with my own German-speaking tour guide!

Day 8 - Sunday, June 19

I slept until about 9:30, then relaxed around the house a while and decided to visit Aachen today. Aachen is on the way to Cologne, so I knew how to get there. I found a parking garage in the downtown area and headed towards the main square. All of a sudden, I hear Pachelbel's Canon in D! I turn the corner and see a string quartet playing the square. I think they were maybe university students or something. I sat for about 30 minute and listened to them. I walked by a couple hours later and they were still playing. The 1st and 2nd violins had switched places, but I can assure you that it's tiring to play that long at a time. I saw many posters about music concerts in Aachen and saw several people carrying violin cases, so I suspect there's a music school here. I walked inside the main cathedral, had some lunch at a Greek restaurant, then wandered around town. The waiter didn't speak English, but it worked out ok. I had a good afternoon, then headed back to Maastricht.

It's hot in my apartment. The high was about 85 degrees on Saturday and Sunday, I live on the top floor, and I don't have a fan. Maybe I can get one somewhere. After eating some leftover Chinese, I went looking for a gas station. Many gas stations aren't open late, and of those that are open, only some take American credit cards. I found a BP that was really crowded, so I didn't go there. I saw another that took MasterCard, but only after I had driven past it. I gave up and decided to stop there on my way to work the next morning.

The Daily Show is available in the Netherlands! It's on at 11:30pm on CNN - "The Daily Show Global Edition." Before the show started, they had a disclaimer that said something like "This is not a real news program, etc." I guess since it's on CNN, it's possible that people over here might think it's real??

Day 9 - Monday, June 20

My apartment is hot. The high today is about 90 degrees, I live on the top floor, and I don't have air conditioning or even a fan. I complained to the apartment fan, and they said that they'd buy me one. However, they forgot to give me a screwdriver to assemble it with. Oops. Luckily, it cooled down at night and it wasn't too bad when I went to bed.

I'm running out of cash. Most places don't take credit cards, and I'm using cash everywhere. However, my cash advance limit is only $200/week, and I already took out my max. So, when I went to the grocery store, I carefully counted out how much money I was spending so I wouldn't run out (note: on Tuesday, they raised the limit to $1000/week since I was traveling internationally, so now I'm set). I made some spaghetti for dinner, then went for a bike ride because I was bored. I should have brought my camera - the countryside is only 1-2 miles away, and you could see farmfields and cows. Some of the cows here look like Holsteins in Wisconsin, but there are also many pure white ones. I watched the 2nd half of "Angela's Ashes" on tv - I'll have to watch the 1st half some other time, I guess.

Day 10 - Tuesday, June 21

Today, I almost managed to pay the lunchlady the correct amount. I thought she said "$2.30", so that's what I gave her. Then she said something like "2 more", so I gave her 2 cents. I turned out to be right. Dutch numbers aren't too far from English, but I still have a hard time understanding her accent. At least I got close.

I came back to my apartment, and my fan is assembled! It helped keep the apartment cooler during the night.

I made tacos for dinner, then went for a bike ride. The scenery just east of the city is pretty, I think. I saw farmfields, old buildings, cows, geese, and goats. I remembered to bring my camera this time, so I took a few pictures. I finished up the night by cleaning up the kitchen and watching some TV. I can find American TV programs here, but unfortunately none of them is one that I watch regularly at home - Seinfeld, Friends, Pretender, Gilmore Girls, Everwood, Married With Children, Will & Grace, etc. They have a TON of Wimbledon coverage here. During primetime, there are 3 stations covering it - 2 English ones and a Dutch one, all live.

Day 11 - Wednesday, June 22

This afternoon, I got another rental car. It's an Opel Vectra Caravan CTDI - station wagon, 6-speed, turbodiesel. In Maastricht, gas is 25-30% more expensive than gas, so I think that's part of the reason that both cars have been diesel. Of course, even the diesel is 1 euro per liter ($4-5 per gallon). I don't like how big the Opel is, because it's bigger than any car I'm used to driving, and it's really big for a European car. However, it drives much better than thhe Focus I had last weekend. You have to pull up a ring on the gearshift to shift into reverse instead of 1st gear, which I really like. It's not possible to switch into reverse by accident! The clutch and gearshift are very smooth and easy to use. It also has a navigation system, which I have a love-hate relationship with. I decided to try using the nav system on my drive home. However, it gave me long-distance and short-distance warnings for making turns every time EXCEPT when I was supposed to exit the freeway. It said, "turn in 400 meters," then "turn now" about 10 feet from the intersection. Thanks a lot, nav system! Then it started to tell me to make a U-turn, so I started yelling at the nav system and going home a different way that I knew. I haven't used it since. Vinson had this car last weekend, and he said it was very nice for navigating in unfamiliar cities and finding tourist spots. I may or may not use it this weekend. We'll see.

After dinner, I extended my bike rental another 2 weeks, then wandered around town on foot. I found the old city wall just south of the main shopping area. It looks like the fortifications were constructed in stages from the 1200s to the 1800s (or something like that). However, as usual, the sign is in Dutch so I can't read it. I also found some kind of animal park (too small to be a real zoo) where they had deer, goats, geese, chickens, peacocks, and some other animals. I found a statue of D'Artagnan (from the Three Musketeers) in the area. I later read that D'Artagnan died in the Battle of Maastricht during the Franco-Dutch War in 1673.

Day 11 - Thursday, June 23

Today, I went to Heerlen to give product training to the Product Performance group. I left a little early, but it turned out that the building in Heerlen is very easy to find. Heerlen is very close to Germany - you can see Germany from the building! As usual during training, we got into many tangents during our discussion. I had lunch there, then headed back into town. I stopped by my apartment on my way back so I could buy some stamps. The post offices here have similar hours to U.S. post offices - open during business hours on weekdays and a few hours on Saturday. Since I was out of the office anyway, I thought it was a good time to buy postcard stamps. There might have been a closer post office to work, but I didn't know where it was.

Most stores are open until 9:00pm in the shopping districht on Thursdays, so I wandered over there after dinner. Lots of people are out at that time ...

Day 12 - Friday, June 24

My food supply is depressing. I have butter, 1/3 jar spaghetti sauce, spaghetti, 1 onion, 2 tomatoes, 1 box of cornflakes, half a loaf of bread, plus granola bars and dried fruit that I brought from the U.S. I stopped at the grocery store and bought some fruit, yogurt, and snacks. I looked for lemonade, but I couldn't find any. I found something called "lemon-grape", so I bought it. It turns out to be lemon juice + white grape juice. It's not what I expected, but it's ok. After putting away my groceries, I wandered around the downtown area and ate at a restaurant in one of the main squares. I had chicken salad for dinner, which turned out to be hot chicken in a honey-barbecue type sauce on top of a salad.

Day 13 - Saturday, June 25

Today, I drove to Luxembourg for the day with Cheryl and Doug. Cheryl is also from Minneapolis, working on my project. They arrived Thursday from the U.S. Since they didn't have a car this weekend, I asked if they wanted to come along. Luxembourg is approximately 2 hours from Maastricht. We attempted to find the non-freeway scenic route, but after some unsuccessful navigation, we went back to the freeway. There was a bunch of road construction, which was annoying. We found a parking lot near the main square, and there were "information people" in yellow shirts to help the tourists. There were TONS of tour buses there - more than I've seen anywhere else. We had lunch, then signed up for a walking tour of the city. Then, we moved the car to a free parking lot (we would have to feed the meter every 2 hours at the 1st lot), wandered around a bit, then went on the tour.

The tour guide was a native Luxembourgan, and he gave all the descriptions in German and English. He was very knowledgeable about the city and gave us a lot of great info. He said that a significant percentage of people in the country are foreigners - for example, half the people in the City of Luxembourg live in Belgium or Germany and commute into the country every day. It's officially called the "Grand Duchy of Luxembourg" because it had been a "county" under foreign domination for several hundred years. It's nickname is the "Gibraltar of the North" because it has a series of fortifications that were started in 963 and enlarged over hundreds of years. There were 3 walls around the city plus a series of casemates (underground tunnels that were used for defense). There were 15+ miles of underground tunnels, but only 2 miles are open to the public. They fit 35,000 people in them during World War II during bombing raids! Most of the walls were demolished in the 1800s, but they couldn't destroy the casemates without damaging the city above them. Luxembourg doesn't have grand castles like many places in Europe because the country used to be one of the poorest in Western Europe. I think it was in the 1800s that it became wealthier (due to the steel industry).

We ate dinner near one of the main squares, then waited about 30 minutes for a concert to start. There was a French man performing covers of Frank Sinatra songs, accompianed by a big band and orchestra. It was funny to hear Sinatra songs at a European concert ... we stayed for about an hour, then went back to car for the 2 hour drive home. I finally got home about midnight, and I was very glad to be home!

Day 14 - Sunday, June 26

I decided to take it fairly easy today since I got home late last night. I had agreed to bring Megan to the "family walk" in Wijlre with other people from work. Unfortunately, I left her 3 messages but never found her. I discovered the next day that she had accidentally disabled her phone the same way that I did. I was sorry to hear that I couldn't find her, but I felt a *little* better that I wasn't the only one to do it.

The Wijlre area is a combination of nature reserve and farmland. We went up some hills, walked in forest area, then walked down by some dairy farms. We got close enough to some cows and sheep that you could touch them. I didn't - that didn't seem like a good idea. I talked to some of my coworkers and walked part of the time by myself. I was the only American there, so I appreciated when people spoke English to me.

After the walk, we had lunch at a cafe. We started with a slice of apple-raisin-golden raisin pie, then had Indonesian chicken curry soup with peanut flavor. I expected to dislike it, but the peanut flavor was mild enough that it tasted good. It was thick enough that you ate it with a fork.

After the gathering, I decided to go for a drive in the Netherlands countryside. I decided that I would wander around, then turn on my GPS system whenever I got tired by it. I saw many small towns - towns are much closer together than Minnesota or Wisconsin - maybe 5 miles max between each one. I decided to follow other cars down the road when possible since that would increase my chances of avoiding roads I wasn't supposed to be on. The roads got smaller and smaller, and all of a sudden I'm on a 1-lane road! There were people walking around the road, but no other traffic. A little later, I turned on the GPS to head home. The first turn appeared to be a driveway, so I made a U-turn and kept going. Then, if the GPS told me to turn onto a non-major road, I just ignored it. That seemed to work well and I found my way back to the main road.

I had planned to do laundry that night, but since I couldn't find Megan and her laundry detergent and the stores were closed, I ended up hanging out at the apartment that night. I was a little bummed by that, but oh well. What can you do??

Day 15 - Monday, June 27

Tonight we had a group dinner for everyone on my project team since this was the only night that we could be all together (Vinson left the next day for India, then back to the US, Cheryl had just arrived, and Megan had returned from vacation). We went to this restaurant called Reube just west of the main downtown area. The food was really good - I had salad, fish, and strawberry ice cream for dessert. It was a beautiful night, too, so it was great that we could eat outside.

I left the dinner around 10pm, then followed Megan to her apartment to get laundry detergent. We ended up talking for a long time, so I finally got home around midnight. Guess I'm not doing laundry tonight!

Day 16 - Tuesday, June 28

My computer fried itself at work. The hard drive is dead. The computer had been occasionally crashing for the entire time here, but finally it went kaput for good. I lost a couple panoramic pictures off my camera, since I had deleted them off the camera but hadn't uploaded them yet. However, since I had put all my critical work stuff on the servers, it wasn't a tragedy - mainly just annoying. At least they have a spare one to lend me for the next 10 days.

I HAVE to do laundry today! I have zero clean clothes, and I'm going to Austria tomorrow for work. I went to the grocery store after work and bought some ready-to-heat paella, cheese and crackers, and some more milk. I wandered around the cheese section and finally picked one. It's called "fromage de chaumes 50+". It tastes kind of like Brie. I started my laundry around 8:00. I didn't have a laundry basket, so I used a clean garbage bag to carry my clothes. I had looked at the washer and dryer during a previous day, so I thought I knew which buttons to push on the machines. The cycle for the washer was 45-60 minutes, which was longer than I expected. Since it's 2 floors down to the laundry room, I returned in about 50 minutes and then waited for the cycle to finish.

I put my first load in the dryer and started the second. I return 45 minutes later, and my clothes are still wet! I put it on a higher, hotter setting, and let it go another hour or so. My clothes are hot but still wet! I don't get it. I gave up, hauled my clothes upstairs, and pulled out my clothesline. Megan had suggested that I bring one because she didn't have a dryer at her place. There's no good place to put it in my apartment, so I strung it around the kitchen cabinets. It wasn't in the way because I haven't cooked much. I finally went to bed around midnight. Not long afterwards, a HUGE thunderstorm came through. I normally sleep through them, but this one was so loud that you couldn't possibly sleep through it. I don't think they get tornadoes in this part of the world, but the thought crossed my mind. I heard later that they don't have tornadoes, and thunderstorms are usually much milder.

Day 17 - Wednesday, June 29

My alarm went off at 5:10 am today. Yuck. I'm just exhausted. I have to drive 90 minutes to Dusseldorf so I can catch a plane to Graz, Austria. Flying to Maastricht is kind of like flying to Madison - it's small enough that only puddlejumpers fly to it. Therefore, most of the time, you're driving 1-2 hours to Brussels, Dusseldorf, or Amsterdam to fly anywhere else. I get to the shuttle to the main terminal, and it says which terminal belongs to which airline. The problem is, my airline name (Tyrolean Airlines) isn't on the list! Now what? It appears that it's like Minneapolis where the big airlines are in 1 terminal and the small airlines are in another, so I just get off at the main terminal and cross my fingers. I found my flight on one of the "departures" monitors, so I know I'm in the right place. I think Tyrolean Airlines is a partner of Lufthansa, kind of like Mesaba and Northwest. I flew a CRJ to Graz.

I hate my new rental car. It's an Opel Zafira. It looks like a tall car/crossover SUV. It has the same engine size (1.8L) as my other two cars, but with a gasoline engine and 5-speed (vs. turbodiesel and 6-speed), it has a lot less power. This isn't a problem if you're driving 50 mph near the city, but it's a problem when you're on the autobahn and everyone drives at least 80 mph. Passing people is a real pain, because I can't scoot around cars all that well (and avoid the BMWs going 120 mph). Also, I don't like the seating position and the cruise doesn't work. Besides, gasoline is 30% more expensive than diesel here and my mileage is worse because I have to run the car at 3000+ rpm all the time on the highway. I complained to my admin the next day because the cruise didn't work, and they'll give me a new rental car ...

I saw 3 follow-up appointments at the hospital and spent a little time talking to one doctor and more time with a Medtronic rep there. It was good to see people interacting with the device for a regular appointment (and within a clinical study). They have to fill out a ton of paperwork for the study, even for one like ours that isn't that complex. Everyone spoke exclusively German except for the doctor and Medtronic rep, so I tried to observe and pay attention as well as I could. After the visit, the Medtronic person took me to a restaurant and we had a "typical" Austrian meal - beer, some kind of thin beefsteak, and fried potatoes. I couldn't eat the stuff every day, but it tasted good.

The taxi driver pointed out a statue in the main part of Graz as we drove back to the airport. It was a metal outline of a figure looking much like the Statue of Liberty, except it has a sword and globe instead of torch and book. The driver said it symbolized America's meddling in foreign matters. I did some more research later and found that the statue was constructed in 1992 and that it was controversial, but I couldn't find out anything else. However, I did learn that there's an Arnold Schwarzenegger museum here (he was born in a small town nearby). Admission is free! ;-)

I got back to the airport and waited for my plane. The boarding time passes, then the departure time, and still they haven't boarded the plane or made any announcements. I know I'm in the right place because the gate says "Dusseldorf", and there are lots of other nervous-looking people there. We finally boarded the plane, then waited 15 minutes longer because of traffic and weather problems elsewhere. Finally, we arrive in Dusseldorf, I get my car, and drive home. It was a good day, but it's 10:30 pm and I'm tired.

Day 18 - Thursday, June 30

I had the rest of my leftover paella for dinner, then go to the main shopping area to walk aorund. I bought some more postcards - hopefully I'll have some time to write them in the next few days. I think I'm going somewhere with Megan this weekend - maybe Amsterdam? We'll figure it out tomorrow, I'm sure. I spent the rest of the night catching up on my blog and putting away my laundry.

Day 19 - Friday, July 1

Today at work, I gave a training at work about pacemaker sensing and thresholds. It was in a building across the street, and I brought my laptop plus some demonstration equipment. The weather was fine when we went over there, but an hour later, just as we finished, it started pouring! We hadn't brought the bags for the computers, so we had to abandon them in the other building and run back in the rain. Megan and I returned after lunch with the bags and brought everything home in a drizzle.

Megan I decided to go to Amsterdam for the weekend. I had my car at work and Megan had her bike, so we decided to rendezvous near home after packing a few things. However, there was a huge accident on the road, so I had to take a detour, and she got there long before I did! At least I managed to get home on a self-determined detour without getting lost. Plus, Cheryl, who was with me, showed me the location of the only grocery store open until 10pm.

Amsterdam is about a 2 hour drive away. Megan founhd a good deal on a hotel, and we got there about 9pm. We met up with her friend Reid from work who was spending 1 week in Europe for work. We wandered around, had dinner around 10 pm, got kicked out of that restaurant at midnight when they closed, went to a bar and got kicked out of there when they closed at 2 am, then wandered back to the main train station through the red light district. There are lots of skimpily-dressed women standing in full-length windows, many of whom look really bored. Their rooms seem to have a bed and not much else. Megan and I got on the "night bus" a little before 3am, and then I called Ken when I got back to the hotel. I think I fell asleep around 4:30am...

Day 20 - Saturday, July 2

Not surprisingly, we tried to sleep in today. I slept until about 9:30, and I think Megan woke up sometime after 10:00. We checked out of the hotel, left the suitcases in the car, and took the tram back into town. Our main event of the day was going to the Van Gogh (pronounced "Van Hock" in Dutch) Museum. This museum has a significant portion of Van Gogh's work, so it was really cool to see how he progressed as an artist. Like many artists, Van Gogh's talent wasn't appreciated until after he died, so he had to depend on his brother Theo for money. We also wandered around the main shopping area a while, where we saw a pedal-powered bar. It looked like a trolley, and The patrons sat on barstools on either side. They had to pedal the vehicle while drinking their beer. I wish I had gotten a picture of it, but I wasn't fast enough.

Then went back to the car and drove to The Hague (Den Haag) for the night. In the evening, we looked around the main area until we found a restaurant that looked good (our criteria: the restaurant cuisine type looks interesting, and other people are eating there). We found this really good Greek restaurant. All of a sudden, the music is turned up, and there's 6 people dancing around! You could tell they were having a lot of fun with it. I guess we got both entertainment and food for 1 price! We stayed up only until 12:30, so that was an improvement. ;-)

Day 21 - Sunday, July 3

We slept in until almost 10:30. I guess we needed the sleep. We decided to spent part of the day in Den Haag and part in Delft. Den Haag (The Hague) is the capital of the Netherlands and the home of the House of Orange ruling family. We found the parliament building and some of the palaces. There was a sculpture garden in a nearby park, so we walked around there. We also found an Escher museum, which we would have liked to visit, but we decided there wasn't enough time to do both that and Delft.

Delft is the home of famous blue and white pottery. I believe they adopted their style from the Chinese. There are pottery shops (both cheap and expensive ones) everywhere. Megan really likes art (her sister was an art major), so we spent some time on a walking tour of Johannes Vermeer's life, since he was from Delft. Megan encouraged me to watch "The Girl with the Pearl Earring," which is based on his life. I should rent it sometime after I get home.

We left around 6pm and headed back for Maastricht. Cheryl and Doug invited us over for dinner, so we went there after we arrived. They made pasta and salad for us, and we all had some good conversation. I think it was almost 11:00 when I got home. I had to spend some time ironing and packing for my Germany trip tomorrow.

We had a triumph this weekend: driving to 3 unfamiliar cities without getting lost! I had looked up all the directions on Mapquest before leaving, and that seemed to help a lot. Megan says I'm a good navigator. I think she's my good-luck charm (tomorrow's navigating on my own didn't go so well ...).

Day 22 - Monday, July 4

Happy 4th of July! I get to work today! When you work overseas, you use the holidays of the place where you're at. That usually works well, since Europe tends to have more holidays than us, but not this time.

I had dinner with Megan after work, and then I started for Bad Nauheim, Germany. I had directions from Mapquest for most of the journey plus directions in the town from the hotel's website. Everything went fine until I got to Bad Nauheim. I'm getting used to driving on the autobahn - it feels like what I consider "Chicago rules" apply - drive with traffic, don't look at the speedometer much, and watch carefully for people swerving in front of you or coming up really fast behind you. The average traffic speed is 140-160 km/h, and the BMWs, Audis, Mercedes, and Porsches whoose by you really fast, even at that speed. I briefly did 180, but I kept it in the 140-160 range most of the time.

The directions to the hotel were a little vague, but I thought it would be obvious when I got there. It wasn't. It said, "Take a right, direction Bad Nauheim, until next crossover. Turn left, direction Stadtmitte ..." Well the 1st "Bad Nauheim" sign was 5 km outside of town and didn't have a "Stadtmitte" direction, so I kept going. I eventually took a right Stadmitte turn, but I didn't find the hotel. Then I ended up on the road out of town and it took me a while to get bak. I eventually gave up and called the hotel for directions. The receptionist was confused about where I was, though, and gave me bad directions. Luckily for me, I went about 1/2 mile in each direction from where I made the phone call and found a sign for the hotel. It was about an hour and a half from when I entered Bad Nauheim until when I found the hotel. I almost cried when I saw it. It was 11pm, and I had been driving for 4 hours. I was tired and wanted to go to bed. It felt rather lonely when I turn on the TV and find 1 station in English (BBC World), plus a couple with music videos. Also, there are very few things written in English in my hotel - the hotel guest directory, etc., are all in German only. Unlike the Netherlands, they dub American TV programs into German instead of using subtitles. I could've watched "Empty Nest" otherwise. Oh well.

Day 23 - Tuesday, July 5

I had to wake up pretty early so I could be at the hospital on time. I got a map from the hotel desk, but I still took a couple wrong turns (based on the road markings, it wasn't entirely obvious to me if I could turn a particular direction that I was supposed to do). Then, I had a hard time finding parking. I turned down the "Kerckoff Hospital" sign only to find myself in the back of the building in the doctor's parking, I think. After several more times of turning around, I parked in a lot across the street from the hospital. There's no official hospital parking lot or ramp, which I didn't expect. When I got back, I was disappointed to learn that I had to pay 12 euros for the 6 hours I was there. Ouch.

We got done with the hospital work early, so I drove to Frankfurt and took the train into town. When I bought my train ticket, it said "City", so I thought I'd find a "City" stop. Nope. I went past Hauptwache and saw many people getting on and off. I had a feeling that was the correct stop, but I wasn't sure. Then I looked at my watch right after the train left and realized that the timetable was correct for arriving there, so that must have been it. I got off at the next stop and headed back into the city. When I arrived, I knew I had found the downtown area, so that was good. I wandered around for a while, found St. Paul's Church where the 1st German constitution was signed in the mid-1800s, and walked around the shopping area. I bought some quiche for a late afternoon snack (I was having dinner later that evening), which I thought was ham and spinach. It turned out to be salmon and spinach quiche - a strange combination, I think. I could have visited McDonald's, but since I've managed to avoid American fast food restaurants so far, I really didn't want to succumb to them now.

I took the evening flight to Hamburg and Frank, my contact there, picked me up. He showed me some of the highlights of the city and surrounding area, and then we went to dinner around 10:30pm. I was REALLY hungry by this time (I had expected dinner an hour earlier). We ate at this nice restaurant in a small town that reminded me a lot of San Francisco, with stairways connecting the buildings and houses built into the hills. I finally got home a little before 1 am, so it was going to be an early morning the next day!

Day 24 - Wednesday, July 6

Today, Frank picked me up around 9am and we went to 2 different hospitals - one in Hamburg and one in Kiel, Germany. Like the other hospitals, there don't seem to be obvious parking places. I was glad that I wasn't driving! Frank has a big black Mercedes - I think it's an E-class with a diesel. It's a very nice car. At 200 km/h (125 mph), you can't tell that you're moving that fast, except that the road signs go by very quickly. It's definitely built for speed.

After a couple doctor meetings, we had a late lunch at a "beach restaurant" near the river. A while ago, someone brought in a bunch of sand and made a "beach", then all of a sudden other places did the same thing. I even saw one that was nowhere near the water! Hamburg is a big shipping port on the river Elbe, so there were a few ships in harbor. Then, I had to return to the airport for my flight back. I was running late, so I was hoping the drive wasn't too long before we arrived there. I went to the first set of self-check-in devices and checked in partway, only to realize that they were for carry-on luggage only. I had to get my luggage scanned, then use the automatic devices. At Lufthansa, you have to print your own luggage ticket, attach it to the bag, and put it on the conveyor belt. So, unless you had problems, you had no personal interaction to get checked in. I arrived at the gate a couple minutes before boarding, so everything was fine.

I had an uneventful flight back to Frankfurt. Unfortunately, I had parked in the furthest part of the parking garage from my flight, so I had a long walk back to the car. I knew that I needed to take highway 3 back to Cologne, and I could get home from there. When I got out of the parking garage, I had 2 directions and 7 cities to choose from, none of which was Cologne. Hmmm. Which one to choose? One choice was Frankfurt, and I was pretty sure I wanted to head away from the city, so I took the other one. The next intersection had "highway 3 to Cologne." Whew. It was about 2.5 hours home, and I was very glad to get back around 9:30pm.

Day 25 - Thursday, July 7

Today is my last day at work in the Netherlands! I have a hard time believing that I'm about to return home. It's been a lot of fun, and I'm both excited and sad to return home. I had to leave work a little early today so I could have my apartment checkout. Although I had heard this unofficially from Vinson, the apartment manager didn't tell me until my checkout at 5:30pm that I had to completely clean the place (including all the linens) before leaving the next morning. My rental agreement may have stated this, but since it was in Dutch, how would I know? In an unfurnished apartment, this isn't a big deal, but I'm in a furnished apartment where I leave behind everything except my personal gear. My question was, "How do I wash and dry the sheets when I'm leaving at 6 am?" She offered to put the sheets in the dryer if I put them in the washer. Oh, thanks. There's no garbage room in my building, but I can't put my garbage on the street yet, so I was told I should leave my garbage in the laundry room, write a note for the neighbors, and ask them to put out my garbage. I guess it's too much for them to take my 1 bag of garbage 2 blocks to their office and put it with their stuff. I'm not impressed with these people.

Luckily, I had seen some cleaning supplies in Vinson's apartment when I visited it a few weeks ago, and now Cheryl was living there. So, I called her, rode my bike to her place, and borrowed her cleaning supplies. I also had to take my recycling out - you have to recycle there, but they don't have curbside pickup like at home. You have to take it to the recycling bins in the neighborhood. I was pretty sure I had seen some a couple weeks ago somewhere in the neighborhood, so I rode around looking for them. I finally found them about 8 blocks from my apartment.

I returned my bike to the rental shop, went home, cleaned my apartment, and packed my bags. I owed Megan money from last weekend, so she stopped by, picked up the money, Cheryl's cleaning supplies, and my cell phone around 10pm. At this point, I feel very alone ... I haven't been completely without a phone for a long time. I finally went to bed around 1 am (I wasn't in a hurry to pack or clean, since I knew I would be jet-lagged when I got home, anyway).

Day 26 - Friday, July 8

My alarm went off at 5 am. Yuck. I finished putting my stuff together, cleaned out the last few items in the fridge, took out the garbage, stuck the sheets and towels in the washer, and hauled my luggage to the front door. The taxi driver was waiting for me when I got there with the first suitcase. I thought I heard him ring the neighbor's doorbell. Oops. I asked him to stop at the apartment company's door (2 blocks away) so I could drop off the keys. I expected to have heavier-than-normal security at the airport because of the London bombings yesterday, but luckily it wasn't too bad. They patted down everyone at the Maastricht airport, but that was the only unusual thing that I noticed. My 2 flights back to the U.S. were uneventful, and I finally arrived home about 1pm.

It feels good to be home. It's funny how you start changing what's "normal" after you've been gone for a while. For example, I got used to the big numbers on all the Euro bills and coins - seeing George Washington's face on the front side of the quarter seemed odd (Euro coins have pictures but only on the back). I miss the great bike lanes in Europe - I felt like I could ride a bike in the street without fear of being run over. On the other hand, it's nice to read all the public signs (not speaking the language in a foreign country is a little like being illiterate), and I really appreciate the yellow line that tells me where to find oncoming traffic.

Experiencing Europe is very different when you're a tourist vs. a resident. I wasn't quite a resident, since I was only there for 4 weeks, but I felt like I lived there, unlike when Ken and I visited Europe 3 years ago. It's definitely a different culture than the U.S., but that's not a bad thing - we live in a very fast-paced society, whereas the Europeans have a more relaxed one. Taking 2 hours for dinner is not uncommon, and they won't bring your bill to the table unless you request it. I'd definitely go back if I had the opportunity.

This is the end of my blog ... hope you've had fun reading it!