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…
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!”
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.
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.