Bike Ride to the Countryside

Sunday September 16 turned out to be a most beautiful day. But I didn’t know that for most of the day, sitting inside Avant Garde wondering what to make of the time.

Bored

If it’s any consolation, I did start reading The Hunger Games for my first time.

So there I found myself, tablet in hand, sitting aimlessly at the dining table in our little second floor dining room. Before long, Michael, Manon, and Cyrille – my buddies from the previous night’s escapade to Vrijthof – had joined me as well in similar fashion of bored ineptitude.

Bored still

The feeling was like learning that the only TV channels you have are all C-SPAN.* (Image from theconservativereader.com)

Gradually, we began mumbling the things that we should do. Before long, and without hesitation once it hit me, I blurbed out “Let’s go for a ride!” Michael, also without hesitation, stood up immediately and went off to his room to get ready. Myself, Cyrille and Manon all proceeded to do the same; no word was given on where we should go, only “Let’s ride” echoing in our thoughts.

Bring me that horizon

“Bring me that horizon.” – Something I never said, but wish I had. (Image from www.alicia-logic.com)

Within minutes we had mounted our noble steeds (read: bikes) and were cruising our way down Vijverdalseweg, the street that runs in front of Avant Garde. We decided to cruise around a ways, trying to find streets we haven’t rode on or areas we haven’t seen, but somehow inevitably ended up right back to where we had ridden time before. We headed back near Avant Garde, this time taking a different turn from last, but ended up in a higher-class neighborhood that provided no exit. Three times we found ourselves back in this neighborhood, each time riding from a different route; I’m not entirely sure how we managed to pull that one off.

Finally, Cyrille gave the best advice of the afternoon, insisting that we head back down Vijverdalseweg, passing Avant Garde, but continuing on down the road. And thus we proceeded as such, eventually finding ourselves upon the fringe of Maastricht. We cruised around for a while in this region before finding a rural pathway that lead out into fields of corn and soy; it felt like being among the crops of Missouri! Before long this path came to an (apparent) end, so we stopped and rested for a short, taking in the sight of a distant Maastricht.

Maastricht distant

Maastricht seemed to be so far off, though in reality the edge of the city was probably not more than 1.5 km away.

I took a short dive into the corn nearby, but quickly realized that Signs made me horrified to be in such places, so I came back out. Looking up into the sky, I noticed the unique sight of a sun dog, a refraction of sunlight among the high-altitude cirrus clouds.

sun dog

A sun dog, also known as “not the Sun.”

After taking in the views that proved that no camera can do justice to, we set off on a trail that we once thought to be a driveway (a couple of people were going along this trail, so it felt to be more than a driveway). The way was a little rough, which proved a bit difficult for Michael, who’s bike frequently gave out, but spazed back to working time and again. (Just earlier in our ride, Michael had mentioned how wonderful his €10 bike was…).

As the trail wound on, we determined that we wanted to take a route that would lead us further out from Maastricht, somewhere way out of way and into territory none of us had seen before. So our journey continued on, through the woods, past new sights, locales and villages that flashed by quickly.

Cruising

Cruising along, LIKE A BOSS.

One thing we did for fun was the ride nearly next to another of us, tap them on the arm, then ride off yelling “You’re it!” We proceeded to keep up this game for the duration of our ride.

Small village

Numerous small groupings of homes and businesses were found along our ride, which proved extremely picturesque.

One of the more interesting sights we saw along our ride were caves and ruins along the hillside that ran to our right. The caves appeared suddenly, numerous and small beyond count, appearing to wind in the hill in every direction. We stopped at large gaping cave, blocked off with an iron gate. Gazing in, there was nothing but darkness and distant memories that only the past may have known.

Cave

Moments later, Batman came running out, screaming “WHERE WWRRRR THE OTHRRRR DRRRUGS GOING?!?!?!”

But just down the road a bit more were ruins, concrete pillars standing tall that once protected something. Turns out they were relics from WWII.

WWII Ruins

Remains of a bunker from WWII, picture taken on our way back to Maastricht.

I’m not sure exactly how far we rode along the road/trail, but before long the sense of adventure was coming to an end, with the thoughts of Monday classes looming upon our minds. As the sun began creeping behind the hill, we turned our bikes around and began the journey back to Maastricht.

Cruising Back

Cruising back into Maastricht, entering upon the edge of the city.

The following day, gathered once more in the second floor dining room of Avant Garde with Google Maps open, Manon, Cyrille, Michael, and I realized the breadth of our brief ride had brought: we came nearly 1/3 of the way to the German border. Perhaps another couple of hours riding and we could have easily happened upon Deutschland! Goal to make happen whilst here in Maastricht: get out to Germany by bike.

To Journey's End

And here’s a lovely little portrait of us at journey’s end, the furthest point we traveled that wonderful Sunday afternoon.

 

*For my foreign friends, C-SPAN is the channel that broadcasts proceedings in the federal government. It’s the perfect insomnia cure.

A Random Time in Maastricht

The beauty of being in Maastricht is that there seems to always be something happening in Maastricht. Last night proved to be one of those wonderful nights that only got better as it went on.

Things started out a bit lazily in Avant Garde, with the lot of us wanting to do something, but not within the walls of our residence (which we have been doing with great frequency). While gathered around our table in the dining room, I randomly blurted out “Lets go ride!” And with that, we threw on weather-appropriate clothes, pulled our shoes on, and saddled our bikes. We were off!

Bat Out of Hell

Sort of like this I presume.

We had no intention of really going anywhere; we were there purely for the ride. It reminded me of being the typical American biker, one who rides his Harley Davidson for the mere sport of it. That’s the same feeling I felt and I enjoyed it immensely!

Cruising

How I felt when cruising through Maastricht, except with less leather and no cool shades. (Image from 1.bp.blogspot.com)

It wasn’t all peaches and cream though. Poor Michael unfortunately had his brakes brake just before we even departed Avant Garde. We decided to have him in the front of us, mainly for the sake that if we (Manon, myself, and Cyrille) needed to stop quickly, we would get a rear-full of Michael and his bike. But thankfully, there was no serious “OMG WE NEED TO BRAKE NOW” moments during our cruise through Maastricht.

About to Crash

This never happened. (Image from media.egotvonline.com)

We cruised on into the city and parked our bikes near the city hall of Maastricht, then set out on foot. Our walk took us up very near Hogeschool Zuyd, my university, but we rounded back away from that location and continued on into an area I had yet to travel to by foot. Along the way, we came upon an electric concert/”picnic” that we had heard about from others back in Avant Garde. With curiosity, we came into the setting and found it to be a bit dismal and dull, not much to our likely. In the time it takes you to finish reading this paragraph, we departed once more and continued on.

We eventually circled back to the city hall, where our bikes were located, when we ran into Stefania, a friend of ours from Avant Garde (and a Romanian native). We learned from her that a classical music concert was set to begin very soon in Vrijthof, but to Stefania and her friends, they weren’t very interested. But to the lot of us in our merry band, we were greatly interested in seeing the action, so off to Vrijthof we went!

Vrijthof!

Vrijthof! (Image from Wikipedia)

As we came closer, the sounds of some sort of band could clearly be heard. Perhaps the concert had already begun, I thought. Not the case! A community marching band was making their rounds around Vrijthof, playing catchy marching tunes that delighted me to no end (being a veteran of two marching bands over the course of 8 years).

Marching Band

Wishin’ I was among the players…

As the band marched their way around, the four of us moved on into the main square of Vrijthof, where a large stage and full orchestra was waiting patiently to begin their music. Several TV cameras had been set up around the area; clearly this was to be a televised event, but to what station/channel I did not know. Before long, a speaker took to the stage and began speaking of the opening of the World Cycling Championship, which was (and currently is as of this writing) to begin in Limburg, the region of the Netherlands Maastricht resides in. The female speaker went on, eventually being joined by another individual, and finally the president of the WCC organization. Languages were jumping around from Dutch and English, so I had a bit of a time trying to follow all that was being said, but I am grateful to say that I’m beginning to understand more Dutch, thanks in part to watching the mannerisms and expressions of the speakers involved.

Eventually the speakers departed, the conductor took the stage, and the concert began! The music itself was primarily classical in nature, but synthesizers, electric strings, and awesome lights were some of the highlights of the concert – namely a quartet of female electric violinists and cellist proved to be delightful (Strings 4Ever being the name of the quartet).

Earth Symphony

Rocking on stage, with the Strings 4Ever quartet jamming on their sweet, sweet electric instruments.

All in all, the evening was practically a perfect one to be had. Once the concert had finished, we trudged back on to our bikes, our feet and legs sore from standing for over an hour without rest. But who’s to complain for such a good night of a random time?

Random pic

And here’s a random picture of me taking a random picture of others taking a random picture. We’re such tourists.

Pink Houses

Coming to and fro within Maastricht, I oft travel through primarily residential areas of the city. Much of the residency are small house complexes, namely two stories, or apartment buildings that rise many stories more. Many of the small housing complexes are brick, with barely a front that can constitute as a yard, but have a backyard similar to what one may find at a shotgun house in the United States.

Houses of Maastricht

A standard look at many of the residences that I have encountered in Maastricht.

A part of me urns to see the inside of a standard home here in Maastricht, just so I can get a better understanding of the regular life of a Dutch individual. It’s something that I wish to compare to the dream of owning a home in the Untied States, one with a 2-car garage, a beautiful front yard, and a spacious backyard to throw a barbecue party and play whatever games wished to be played.

That concept of the American dream home always reminds me of the song “Pink Houses” by John Mellencamp/Johnny Cougar/John Cougar Mellencamp/The Guy Easily Confused with Bruce Springsteen. So I wonder: is there that dream among the Europeans? Do they wish to have a home with a spacious yard, living in content that they have made it? Is there a European dream of being successful?

Ultimately, I hope to be able to answer this question by the time I leave the Netherlands near December’s end.

A Dinner for Many

Last night, in the midst of much food, music, and dancing, I could feel only one emotion, that of overwhelming happiness. Last night proved to be one of the finest that I’ve ever had.

To begin, I had this thought brewing in my head the moment I arrived in Maastricht to have an international dinner night with my compatriots in Avant Garde. I discussed this time and again with others, with no one shooting down the thought of doing this. So in one of our many gatherings in the commons room, we affirmed that we were going to have a dinner party for all.

The Commons Room

The Commons Room, everybody.

So I grabbed the bull by the horns with this dinner party concept, threw out a date and time on Facebook and told everyone to make it happen. And man, it happened all right.

My initial thoughts on the meal were that a few us were going to pitch in a couple of dishes, have little dinner, and chill. But things got decidedly bigger (and better) as more and more people became interested in participating in some way. So when Friday, September 7 rolled around (the day of the dinner party), the kitchen on the second floor of Avant Garde became abuzz with a flurry of activity.

Making Sushi

Latvian-native Michael (pronounced “Mee-sha”) preparing sushi.

Nearly two hours before the official start of the dinner party, floor-mates Michael and Bea were both madly prepping dishes to share for everyone that night. While sushi is itself a Japanese cuisine, according to Michael it’s quite popular in his native Latvia. Bea herself was working on making a Spanish tortilla, a popular dish from her home country (yes, Spain).

Making tortillas

Bea, seen here diligently making Spanish tortillas.

And in the midst of watching food get made, I decided to go out and begin setting up in the small dining room found on the second floor, but Michael was quick to say that we should move to the hallway on one end of the floor where there was plenty of more room. So the two of us quickly gathered up the tables from the dining room, as well as my desk from my own room, and made a nice long table. Before too long, table clothes were out, chairs were getting set, and lights were being placed.

Setting up

Our dinner table, in the process of getting set up.

So I returned to the (quite crowded) kitchen and got to starting my dish: chicken with Gates BBQ Sauce (yeah, the same sauce that I fought to keep with me before even leaving the United States).

Cooking my chicken

Manning two skillets, as well as a pan for my special butter and onion side dish.

Making salad

Mag making a favorite of hers: salad!

The kitchen became a whirlpool of people coming and going. Others from the third floor were coming down and bringing their dishes; others were moving in and out grabbing plates and silverware. This was surely to be a beautiful dinner.

So as I finished up my chicken, I began the process of making sandwiches: cutting the bread, placing the meat, pouring the sauce. It admittedly took time, but before long it was ready. So with sandwiches in hand, I headed out to our impromptu dining hall and was greeted with the  delectable sight of many dishes set and waiting. All that was left were my sandwiches and one more side (courtesy of the third floor I believe).

Our dining hall

Our dining hall(way), almost ready for the feast to begin!

We soon gathered around the table and patiently awaited for the arrival of the last dish. Many of us drew cameras out and took many upon many pictures of our table. All of us felt so immensely proud at what we had accomplished that we nearly did not want to eat the food, it was just too perfect. But this was a feast and the food was made to be eaten and shared by all, so we waited.

Waiting

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

And continued waiting for what felt like an eternity, though it was probably closer to 5 minutes.

FOOD

With a big table filled with food that you’re forced to wait and watch, the Hunger Games suddenly becomes more literal.

But without further waiting, the final dish arrived, so we preceded to dive in and eat all that could be had. My chicken and BBQ sandwiches quickly vanished within minutes of starting, with nearly all approving of the meat and/or Gates BBQ Sauce. All of the other dishes were equally appealing and easily delicious!

Perfection

This was perfection.

With bellies getting filled, appetites satisfied, we then decided to hit up a playlist and dance and sing the night away, courtesy of a large amplifier provided by Italian friend and floor-mate Federico.

Dancing the night away

Everyone’s on their feet. I can say that this was the perfect night.

And that’s the way it is.

The Peculiar Americans

Now that I’ve been settled into Maastricht for over a week now and have met, as well as heavily discussed, with many international students, I can say that I am starting to get a clearer picture of what others see of America.

One of the first, and possibly funniest, concepts that many Europeans have is that Americans either are cowboys or love surfing. Basically, it boils down to this: Europeans know two states well and they are California and Texas.

California and Texas

This is America in the minds of many Europeans I’ve met (jokingly, I should say). (Image from spyglassrealty.com)

California comes into the picture because a majority of the Europeans that I have met greatly desire to visit California someday, mainly for the beaches and the local culture. Of course with that, I’m always quick to tell them “You don’t want to live in California, you’re asking for an expensive lifestyle.” But I always ensure that I tell them “Yes! Go to California! It’s a place everyone needs to visit!” I had my blasts in California the couple of times I’ve been out there and certainly hope to return there again in the future. When I would tell others that I was from Kansas City, Missouri, usually the first question that was asked was “Is that near Texas?” Which would leave me telling them, “No, Texas is a ways out from Missouri.”

Now for Texas, I have no idea how that state has become so vivid with the minds of those that I have met. Perhaps it was President Bush, who hailed from that state and is still viewed with scornful eyes upon everyone abroad (I’m sure the same goes for the States as well). Or maybe its the cowboy/Western films that featured the desert Southwest of the United States that have caused many Europeans to remember Texas (Arizona, New Mexico, it all looks like Texas I can only presume in their minds). It’s something I need to delve further into as time wears on.

John Wayne

This guy may or may not have something to do with it. (Image from montanawriter.com)

Speaking of Bush, yes, many people greatly dislike that man abroad! I think ‘hate’ is probably an appropriate word, despite it being very strong in its definition, but that’s the vibe that I get. However, President Obama is almost universally adored by all from abroad, who see him as quite an awesome dude. It’s such an interesting concept to see play out, granted that Obama doesn’t appear to share the same level of support he had going into the 2008 Presidential election. And by the looks of it, signs point to “yes” that he will be re-elected again come this November, which appears to excite many Europeans around.

One of the more interesting and deep conversations I’ve had lately was with another fellow student from Norway (his name escapes me) and our views on justice. I’m not sure what drove the conversation towards the justice system, but I know it began somewhere along with Anders Breivik and the mass killings that man perpetrated in Norway last year. The man was recently convicted in court to a sentence that many Americans would deem ‘light,’ given the level of mass terrorism he single-handily did in short time. My Norwegian friend and I both were in unanimous agreement that the man was certifiably crazy for what he did and that justice should fall upon him, but it was the level of justice we didn’t agree upon. For Norway, and I believe nearly all of the European nations (I need to fact check this), the death penalty (capital punishment) does not exist, therefore a murderer, however vile and murderous they may be, will never be executed by the state. Of course in the United States, it’s up to the actual states themselves to decide whether capital punishment should be enforced, with many of states having such level of punishment ‘on the books’ (capital punishment on the federal level, however, exists, regardless of state). My Norwegian friend just thought this was beyond peculiar that we Americans would go to such levels of ‘cruelty’ upon those who commit such cruel acts. I did my best trying to explain the reasoning why many Americans believe in capital punishment, using the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” concept to express such views.

Gallows

This is still a viable method of execution in the states of Washington and New Hampshire. (Image from gocalifornia.about.com)

We segued then into discussing last year’s Bin Laden raid, when SEAL Team 6 killed the world’s most wanted man, Osama Bin Laden, in his compound in Pakistan. Again, we both came to the same conclusion that, in one respect, Osama’s death was an acceptable conclusion to one of the most intense manhunts in history. But what it came down to was whether it was a morally correct act to kill someone in such a manner (for those that somehow don’t know how the raid went down, here’s an abridged version: SEALs get into compound, find Osama on the third floor, shoot him in the head, leave. There’s a movie coming out near the end of the year chronicling the full events of the manhunt, including the raid, as directed by Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow.). From my friend’s point of view, he believed that Osama should have been arrested and not killed outright; he should have faced the court system and stand for the charges that he committed in his life, despite the fact that Osama’s ultimate punishment would most likely have been the death penalty. I was inclined to agree with his statement that justice should have been taken down in the manner of the courts, but I’m not one to tell what the Navy SEALs should and shouldn’t do (they’re a terrifying and effective force as is, best I not stand in their way).

SEAL Team 6

SEAL Team 6, wearing the finest blocks Photoshop can buy. (Image from worldofwild.blogspot.nl)

Our discussion concerning Osama, the Norway mass killings, and other matters were certainly some of the most insightful that I’ve ever had with another in a long time and has really helped put a perspective on the views of other Europeans. Granted, I was only speaking with one person from Norway, so his view should not be the view of all Europeans; after all, assumptions can be the worst form of stupidity a person can suffer. We did delve into the matter of gun rights and why there should/shouldn’t be laws for such material items, but I prefer to sway away from that discussion given how contentious of an issue it is in the USA and abroad; I am here to discuss the happenings of my travels, not to give political speeches on various ideologies (though if enough people feel that I should write about our gun discussion, I would be more than happy to oblige).

Fearless

Today, I walked up from Avant Garde to Hogeschool Zuyd, which, if you’ve read before in these posts, is no small feat. The walk takes nearly an hour by foot, which comes out to be a few miles/several kilometers, which typically leaves my feet sore for about an hour (thankfully I recover quickly). Yes, I will eventually get a bike, but that hasn’t been in my cards lately. So far, going by way of foot is serving me just fine.

On the academic side of things, I am fully registered for my classes at Zuyd and begin said classes on the 17th September! Next week I should be seeing the arrival of my full class schedule, so patience is my new game to play.

With that errand accomplished, I decided that I would zig-zag my way through Maastricht back to Avant Garde, by taking streets that I have yet laid my eyes upon. You know, prior to coming out to the Netherlands, situations such as this (mindlessly wondering the streets) were not something that I would be akin to doing. Even the thought of doing a semester of study abroad never fully crossed my mind; it’s much too scary to be living in an environment that I am not familiar with. Granted, that’s an element of human nature that’s in us all – everyone feels that sense of unease when we feel displaced from the habitat that we have longed call “home.” What it takes to see the fuller picture of the world, and that of humanity, is learning to fight fear by becoming fearless and taking the plunge.

Never did I once feel fear when I departed Kansas City, nor did I feel fear when I was far from home in London; on the long train ride to Maastricht, fear never raised its head, nor was it ever there through my first night woes ‘homeless’ in Maastricht. Like a skydiver about to make their first dive, I quelled that fear, banished it, and now it’s no more. I honestly can feel that I can walk to Germany, fly to Scotland, or take a train into France and not once feel uneasy at all.

And besides, fear of exploring could have kept me from getting this amazing photo of Maastricht:

Maastricht

When you explore, beautiful things happen. This was one for me.

The Common Room

Most of my social interactions, and therefore most of my understanding of European cultures, has come from one room in Avant Garde called ‘The Commons Room.’ This room caters perfectly for socialization, with plenty of couches of various styles, enough chairs for all, and even a pseudo-bar area, though no alcohol will be found behind this counter. I’ve already spent a majority of my time down is the room, hanging out with some of the coolest people I’ve ever come to have known.

The best moments I’ve had within the Commons Room were those where many of the exchange students, as well as I, would begin sharing the distinctions about each of our cultures. Sometimes it were views on sports, other times it was films. Politics definitely came into view many times over, as well as our thoughts on the concept of justice (more on that and others in an upcoming post…).

I think what really struck me most has been how alike many of us are, despite the various different backgrounds we all come from. Sure enough, our accents are as unique as our own and our beliefs are how we shape them, but it turns out that we are all inquisitive students wanting to engage with new cultures to better shape our own selves. We all have this thing in ‘common’ within the room. (And apparently everyone loves to sing and dance to famous songs such as “We Are Young” and “Sweet Home Alabama.” Never would have thought Lynyrd Skynyrd would be so popular abroad!)

And Now for Something Completely Different…

Since a lot of my recent posts have been largely text-based, I decided to show off a portion of the photographs that I have taken while in Maastricht.

Following the highly political discussion with all of the international exchange students, we went on a tour around the city to see various sites. The following day at Zuyd Hogeschool, we also have an afternoon BBQ session, which proved to be a very social occasion.

And now for the pics:

Who I Am

If there was one issue that I was readily ‘in the know’ concerning Europe, it’s that of the Euro Crisis that has been plaguing the European Union for over a year now, as well as pinching the pockets of everyone around the world. Several European countries, most notably Greece, have been facing very hard economic times, which has come to affect the livelihood of all within those nations that are hurting. However, with that being said, there was something else that I was not aware of at all: that of the crisis of the European identity.

This conflict was brought to my attention the day following my Maastricht adventure and evening dinner; the exchange students were gathering at Zuyd Hogeschool for the first of two days of learning about the building, as well as each other. Nerijus and I made it to Zuyd by way of car, much thanks to Nerijus for making the drive from Denmark with his vehicle. And getting to Zuyd proved to be quick and easy, again thanks to Nerijus and his handy (and hilarious) TomTom GPS. Before we knew it, we had arrived to Zuyd in short, markedly different than had I made the journey by foot.

What followed was a fairly long and drawn introduction ceremony, which seemed to be taxiing for some of the students there, myself included (again, jet lag).

Jet lag

This is how I felt (image from berkeley.edu)

I did keep my interest glued on a couple of the professors who spoke with prepared statements concerning the state of the European Union and what can be done to fix. One professor took the viewpoint of the Union needing a centralized federal bureaucracy, a la the United States of America. The other, a somewhat younger, professor, while supportive of his colleagues point of views, chose to go the opposite of his statements, believing that more independent nations akin to before the Union would help make a stronger Europe. All of this proved to be immensely engrossing to listen in upon (when I wasn’t fighting sleep), but it was only to get more so fascinating.

After this introduction, we students were split into 5 separate groups, then headed off to various classrooms where we would continue the discussion of this European crisis. Much of the thought around solving this crisis was believing that the European Union needs a strong, centralized government to ensure that all nations are cooperating upon an equal basis. The problems with this, according to many of the Europeans that were in my group (and more so later) were that if such a government were founded, individual European powers would begin to lose the identity that they have held preciously to for decades, or centuries perhaps. Many cannot deny the benefits of having a federalized government, but the sacrifice is perhaps too great in losing their own identity.

FREEEEEDOM!!! AND IDENTITY!!!!!!

Kinda like Braveheart I guess? (image from vennervox.com)

All of the groups eventually coalesced again in a large room, where a speaker (yet another professor) awaited for our arrival. The discussion for the afternoon revolved around this very issue of the identities, crisis, and coming to a solution. What had began to gather from listening to many others discuss this issue was that the European Union, by some stretch, reflected the early United States during the time of the Articles of Confederation.

This old document just didn't work out

These Articles. BAM. (image from Wikipedia)

Under the Articles, states sought to act more as independent nation-states, rather than strictly states under one federal government. There was indeed the government of the United States, but it became very apparent rather quickly that the Articles were a complete failure in maintaining a country. So with comparing the Articles to that of the European Union (as it stands now), the European nations within the Union wish to continue to act as nations while trying to work together under a weak unionized government.

And as with American history, the Articles were eventually scrapped, with the form of government we currently see in the US today being formulated within the words of the United States Constitution. So far, I think I can say that the Constitution has been working just fine, sans a little Civil War that happened some time ago.

Battle of Gettysburg

‘Little’ is a relative term (image from Wikipedia)

And with that, I believe that if this issue of the European Crisis were to be solved, reformulating the European Union into a federalized power with one leader overseeing the executions of government – akin to the President of the United States – Europe can potentially be better off that it ever has been in its history. And concerning the identity crisis itself, Europe can still function as they have been throughout their history. Even though I, myself, identify as an American, I’m also still a Missourian by birth and feel proud of that fact. So a citizen living under the European Union may identify themselves as a European, but they can still say with pride they are a French, or German, or wherever they may hail from.

I shared some of these views with the group of exchange students – though only really when the speaker/professor asked if there were any Americans in the room (I was one of two, but he found me first). Granted, I didn’t share my thoughts on the Articles of Confederation and comparing them to the current European Union (I wasn’t about to give a history lesson for everyone), but I did give the best explanation I could give out to all. But to end that discussion, and here as well, the decision for a federalized European government under one man/woman is something for the people to ultimately decide, because it should be Europeans who wish to determine whether they want to be ‘European’ or remain as they are now, i.e. as citizens of a single nation.

This is definitely been a thing that I have been discussing heavily with various other exchange students from Europe over the past few days, so I will hopefully have a clearer and vaster understanding of all of this transpiration.

Among New Company

After I returned from my walkabout through Maastricht, Elsbeth had sent me a text on my international phone that there was to be a dinner with several other exchange students from other nations and that I should join up with them for the evening. I gladly accepted the request, to which Elsbeth responded back that another student who had just arrived to Avant Garde would be rendezvousing with me to take the journey into Maastricht by foot.

The lad’s name was Nerijus, who hailed from Denmark, but really was Lithuanian by birth and culture. We talked much about along our way into Maastricht, namely with our concerns towards the party culture of the Netherlands and his home country. (I should graciously note that partying itself is a very big part of the European culture, more so than what any American has ever understood, lest an American has been to Europe before. The business of socializing seems to be a vital component to the way of life for many Europeans and partying in the evenings is the strongest avenue to meet many new peoples.)

Nerijus arrived at Vrijthof, where we awaited Elsbeth and company to arrive. The square was just as beautiful as it had been in the evening, and it was only to become more so once the sun fell beyond the rim of the Earth. Very soon, the others arrived, where I met several new faces from around Europe. I will say learning new names of people in Europe are quite difficult for me, given the complexity in pronouncing correctly their names. One lady from France can have a very unique sounding name while another from Poland has a special way about her own. Granted, I know their faces by memory, but names are still something that I am struggling with from time to time.

We departed Vrijthof and headed south of the square to a small restaurant that was, unfortunately, fully booked by the time we arrived. We did meet up with a couple of new persons, friends of Elsbeth, who joined us on trying to find another place to eat. We did head back to Vrijthof and proceeded to have a very social dinner outside of an Italian pizzeria/restaurant. At first, glancing through the menu of this place we were dining, I had some difficulty reading the menu items, given that they were written in Dutch. A few of the other students had some difficulties reading as well, for they were not fluid in Dutch either (glad I wasn’t alone!). I did pretty quickly pick up on certain items, that is until I realized that the menu was also written in English right underneath the Dutch items. I think I facepalmed myself really hard for that blatant act of blindness.

I decided upon selecting some sort of onion pizza, given that I love onions a bit too much. There was a pepperoni pizza that I could have chosen, but strangely the menu said nothing about the pizza actually having pepperoni on it. Maybe there’s something that I’m missing when it comes to understanding this…

As all of our dinners were being prepared and cooked up, I took the time to chat with many of the students and the like, primarily talking about the weather locally in Maastricht and comparing with that of mine back home in KC. When I told the others about my experiences with the severe weather that I experience on a yearly basis, primarily the threat of tornadoes, there was a genuine interest involved as nearly all of them (I presume) had never been through such violet storms in their lifetimes. I then explained the various different natural phenomena the United States experiences in different regions of the country, such as blistery blizzards in the north and New England regions to the ever-present threat of earthquakes along the West Coast, as well as the possibility of destructive hurricanes striking along the Gulf Coast or East Coast. I get the feeling that these new European friends I had made seemed grateful such disasters don’t befall Europe on a regular basis.

And with that discussion, our dinner arrived! I was pleased to say that to have my first non-American pizza was very delicious and quite filling. Despite the fact that I was in a Dutch country and not Italy, it was still the closest I’ve ever had to having real Italian pizza. I would describe the food as being very close to Bronx-style (or New York-style, if you prefer) pizza that is fairly common throughout the US; essentially a very thin pizza with just the right amount of sauce and cheese and a gracious amount of toppings. I feel I will need to be paying this restaurant another visit in the coming weeks…

Not American Pizza

Note: Not an American pizza

After we finished up our meal, we decided to go out for dessert at an Italian ice cream eatery, keeping with the Italian theme that we apparently adopted for the evening. For the longest time, I had the hardest time trying to remember the name that Americans knew for Italian ice cream. I told the others that it would eventually hit me at some random moment that I would remember, and sure enough that was the case. About the time we were half way there, I screamed out, “GELATO!” with laughs all around, and then curiosity as to why Americans called Italian ice cream ‘gelato.’ Gelato, it turns out, is Italian for ‘ice cream,’ so when some silly American says they are going out for ‘gelato ice cream,’ they’re sounding like a fool and really saying, “I’m going out for ‘ice cream’ ice cream.” To quote Bill Nye, “NOW YOU KNOW!”

Church at Night

Another Maastricht church at twilight

Vrijthof at Night

Panoramic shot of a section of Vrijthof at night

Needless to say, the chocolate gelato I got was extremely delicious and hit my chocolate craving right in the bull’s-eye. We all chilled around and chatted as we nibbled away on our little bits of ‘ice cream’ ice cream. Before long, our merry group of foreigners began disbanding for the night, some heading to clubs around the city, others going back to their residences in town. Nerijus and I eventually made our long walk back to Avant Garde, content that the evening was perfect.

Awesome graffiti

Awesome graffiti along a tunneled walkway when heading back to Avant Garde

But things only got better when we returned to our home away from home: a gathering of many of the exchange students was occurring in the commons room of Avant Garde, with much socializing happening. The two of us quickly joined in with everyone and from there the next couple of hours seemed to fly by as I chatted with many of the people there, especially having a lengthy discussion with a young gal named Manon from France about life in the United States.

I knew at that moment that this room was going to become a place I and others alike would be visiting frequently. The time was perfect.