All paths lead to Maastricht

I spent my final week in Europe in the city I love best with the people I love most - Maastricht. Eight exchangers planned to meet back in Maastricht after our individual summers of backpacking. Most of us had intercepted paths once or twice along the way - but everyone came back to Maastricht with stories to share. I came rolling into Maastricht after an overnight stop in Cologne, Germany:   We all meet by the Maas Lake and spent our first afternoon outside in the sun cheering as each new face made it to our meeting spot. Over mint lemonade and stroopwaffles we laughed, cried, and lived through the adventures of each other. Pat rocked up with painted toes: Pat's blue toenails are Read more

Alternative Culture with Berliners

Traveling solo is the least lonely way to travel. With each new city come new faces, new friends, and new adventures. In Budapest I met Cassy and Mitch form Australia. Then, I ran into them in Prague. In both cities, we had a wonderful time and decided to meet up in Berlin. Around 4am we met a group of Berliners and decided to all take our photo in a photoautomat - an outdoor photo booth popular throughout Berlin. Six people in a small photoautomat, especially when one person is approaching 7ft tall, proved impossible. Instead, we opted for a photo with the photoautomat. At 4am, you never expect plans to actually happen (or even be remembered) but partly out of politeness Read more

Returning to Berlin

I've said it before in my Paris v. Berlin post, and I'll say it again. To travel to Berlin is to be inspired - creative minds flock to Berlin. I made sure to again return to Berlin and explore all the history, innovation, and art in every form. Everyone, from every walk of life, can be found on the streets of Berlin. The sidewalks are shared by blue-haired punk-rockers, young German yuppies in suits, dreadlocks, piercings, covered in tattoos, the elderly in grayscale simple clothes, fashionistas, big thick framed glasses. It is an organic city – filled with thinkers and alive with new opportunities. Berlin is a city in transition, a city regaining an identity after its long, turbulent history. Read more

Czech out Prague

The day I arrived to Prague happened to be the same day a major heat wave engulfed the city. With relentless high temperatures and air conditioning but a luxurious dream, shade and cool places became the main tourist attractions. I chose my hostel based solely on its name - Czech Inn. The most clever punny hostel name of all hostels to ever exist! After booking the hostel, I discovered that it is considered one of the finest hostels in all of Europe. Indeed, upon arrival, I was pleasantly surprised by the upscale bar area, luxury showers, and overall trendiness of the accommodation. Though, no air-conditioning. On my first day I planned a big walking trip of the city but could only Read more

Caving in Budapest

Budapest - the city of caves, stalagmites and hotsprings! After a big night out in Budapest I ambitiously started my day early and took a long walk through Heroes Square, the museum area and Central Park as well as to the Opera House and a second hand book store. I was exhausted by the time I arrived back to the hostel mid-afternoon. My intention was to take the rest of the day easy, which was really an unrealistic luxury at my particular hostel. Every hostel has a unique culture, and my hostel in Budapest (Carpe Noctem Vitae - highly recommend!) was all about having a good time. So, instead of relaxing, I found myself on a bus on the way to a cave. Myself, Read more

Budapest Thermal Baths and Ruin Bars

There are bits of travel books that I simply skim over, some parts I skip entirely, and some that I circle, highlight and sometimes even accidentally break the book spine by reading that page so many times.  The section on Budapest Thermal baths had coffee stains and crinkled pages because it was this section that I poured over when reading about Budapest. Budapest is known as the 'City of Spas' and this reputation dates back to the 16th century with the Turks constructed public baths throughout Budapest and other parts of Hungary. These baths are built over hot springs that bring mineral rich waters into the pools. Many Hungarians believe that these waters have medicinal powers to help ailment such Read more

Mizzou Collides with Budapest

Traveling long-term includes a conscious decision to push through exhaustion and continue forward with exploration, socializing and general traveling fun. When on short-term trips, you have the capacity and energy to travel 100% all day every day because you know that you can crash when you get home. Long-term travel is a different case - and I figured that out on my eighth day in Bulgaria. Besides my illness in Spain, I sacrificed no moment to sleep in or to excessively relax. Yes, I maximized my time in each location. But also, yes, I wore myself out. I had to spend a full day sleeping at Dilyana's apartment to recuperate. The next night I caught a night train back to Read more

Koprivshtitsa, Bulgaria

Dilyana said that the "spirit of Bulgaria" can be found in the small town of Koprivshtitsa located in the Sredna Mountains. The town was the center of the April Uprising in 1876 in which the Bulgarians carried out an insurrection against the Ottoman Empire. This time period is known as the Bulgarian National Revival, and Koprivshtitsa was the center of it all. The town now represents traditional Bulgarian architecture, way of life, and is the home to many monumental works of art and culture. The boy with us is Dilyana's friend, Gueorg, who is now a member of the European Commission. I had the privilege of helping him edit his English cover letter that he then used to be hired! He Read more

The Black Sea: Nessebar

  The city of Nessebar dates back 3,000 years ago with architecture reflecting the many different masks the city wore over the centuries. It is a UNESCO world heritage site.  Charming, traditional and serene - Nessebar earned a big heart around its dot on my tattered travel map. For my journey around Europe I hardly spent anytime shopping besides looking for one, elusive item: an apron. My mom's birthday was to take place while I was abroad and with her recent gluten-free cooking hobby, she had requested an apron for her birthday. First off, an apron might be one of the most difficult items to explain to shop owners with broken English and I with very limited foreign language skills. Second of all, Read more

Morocco Pt. II: Essaouira

Posted on by Reagan J Payne in Part I, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Essaouira is a beach town located about 3.5 hours outside of Marrakech. The hustle and bustle of Marrakech can be overwhelming at times, so we decided to head out to Essaouira for one day and night. We thought walking the tight alley ways and venturing through markets was where the hustle and choas of the city was centered – but arriving at the public bus station gave us a whole new perspective of chaos.

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We had to dodge moving buses and try to not get smushed as one bus attempted to navigate around another. Honking is entirely uneffective when there are 10 buses trying to get out the same small driveway, but the inefficiency didn’t stop every single bus driver from laying on the horn. About 30 buses were all crammed into the station, all with ticket sellers outside yelling the prices and trying to grab people passing by to purchase a ticket. Beggars snuck on and off the busses asking for money, and barefoot children ran around trying to sell tissues, water and gum. We watched as a coup of chickens, a toilet and a german shepherd dog were all loaded onto public busses along with the masses of people and luggage. CHAOS.

We paid our five euros a piece and loaded up into our bus – the ride was long, hot, slightly uncomfortable but the blue and white city of Essaouira is absolutely worth it.

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The sign directing us to our hostel….took us a good hour to find it..

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oFISHally the best dinner 

Sea side shacks line the sidewalks of the beach with fresh fish and all kinds of sea life out on display. Diners pick their fish, have it grilled then eat it at a table all within the little shacks. Our group of eight caused a scene as we walked down the avenue of vendors. There are about 10 vendors selling nearly identical dinner services: soda, salad, fish. When we decided to dine on fish, the vendors nearly had fist fights over our business. We decided to go to shack number 18 because the store owner had run over and instead of yelling and fighting with the others, he picked up crabs and started dancing with a crab in each hand – easy choice!

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For three euros each we had about 6 different courses of sea food, salad, bread and soda. We payed the real price later when about half our group got sick – regardless, a great experience.

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We found another perfect terrace to enjoy the sunset from

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Enjoyed the beach!

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Though touristy, Essaouira is worth the day/night trip. The real charm of the city is the atmosphere – relaxing, enoying, exploring.

Morocco Pt. 1: Marrakech and the Hammam

Posted on by Reagan J Payne in Part I, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Morocco is not a “check-list travel” destination. Day time itineraries don’t start with a “must-see” monument, then move into a “have-to-try” local cusine and wrap up with a “can’t miss” museum. No, Morocco is all about soaking up the atmosphere. Wandering. Getting dirt underneath your nails. Squinting through sandy winds. Suffocating in crowded markets.  Summiting mountains. Listen to daily prayers, to shopowners yelling, to donkeys neighing – traveling Morocco is all about the sights, smells, foods and people.

On April 6 I traveling to Morocco with a fantastic group of fellow Maastricht students from Australia, Barcelona, Chile and Argentina. If you want a quick overview of the trip – watch this video my friend Pat created.

We spent 9 days exploring Morocco – and had the most incredible journey. As students operating on a minimal budget, we had some real adventures. We got dirty, we stayed in what some would consider unfit lodging accomodations, but we got a real Morocco experience. It was with little money but open attitudes and a knack for meeting people that we were able to stumble into some of the most authentic experiences. No tour book can ever, ever create a trip like the one we had – and for this I am thankful that I was able to enjoy Morocco with such an openminded and adventurous group of friends.

When words fail, I’m turning to photos to hopefully convey at least a snapshot of our adventure! This post won’t be linear, but our trip wasn’t about an itinerary, so the chaos that will ensue in this post is somewhat representative of the chaos of the experiences we found ourselves in while traveling around Morocco!

Quick note for loved ones: Not once did I feel like I was in a bad situation or in danger of any kind. Some of this stories might sound dangerous, but I was with a very smart group of travelers and we always looked out for each other. Also, Morocco is full of fantastic and welcoming people. Overall, a safe country to travel through as long as you are always aware of your surroundings.

Meet the group:

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Overnight train from Tangier to Marrakech – our first adventure. On our student budget, we bought second class train seat tickets. For 11 hours we crammed into a small compartment car and tried to get sleep as travelers, crying babies, drunks and all kinds of fascinated people got on and off the train. The best part – the train toilet that was just still standing water, just a compartment away but with smells ever present in our compartment. Around hour 9, I had to brave the toilet and have been a stronger person since. The group managed to make it through the overnight train with high spirits and decided that if we can make it through the train experience, we can make it through anything Morocco might throw at us!

And then we hit our first hostel in Marrakech:

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Looks nice, right?! For 5 euros a night, we thought we hit a jackpot. Turns out, this living room you are looking at was actually our groups accommodation. Sleeping blankets (covered in dirt) were scattered throughout the couches in this living room – and this was our room. Not bad for five euros, except again we had severe issues with the toilet/shower situation. The overall conditions of this hostel could’ve been enough to send some groups right back on a plane with a non-stop destination of comfort, but our group was again ready to embrace the discomforts and experience!

The unfortunate hostel situations (and even more unfortunate, the digestive issues of multiple members of our group making our already bleak combination toilet/shower situation even more of a disaster) were just a bump in the fantastic journey we had in Marrakech. Here are some snapshots of the incredible city:

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 This is the Koutoubia Mosque in the Medina (Old City) quarter. We saw a 2pm prayer here – women and men enter into two different quarters for Salah. Learn more about formal worship in Islam.

Terraces defined our dining in Marrakech. We ate tagine, coucous and kebabs on rooftops for nearly every meal. Our favorite terrace in all of Morocco was on the rooftop of our first hostel – we enjoyed both the sunrise and sunset from this roof. When visiting Morocco, the stairs are always worth the climb to eat on the terrace! This is an example of a typical terrace view in Marrakech:

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Jemaa el-Fnaa and the surrounding marketplace is the heart of the city. Vendors line the cracked walls and hawk their goods at the passing crowds tripping over each others feet and navigating around livestock. The city square is filled with street performers, snake charmers, orange juice stands and beggars. These following photos are representative of what a typical walk down a nearby street off the Jemaa el-Fnaa feels like:

Artists and craftsmen both make and sell their goods on the streets:

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Woman making Moroccan oil:

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Smells would transition between exotic spices:

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to the lingering scents of raw meat:

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Jemaa el-Fnaa by night

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The Hamam

As promised to the owner of Hammam Ziani, I wrote a favorable review of his hammam on TripAdvisor. I was trying to negotiate the price with him, and to lower the price I offered to write a very positive review to market his business. Somehow, this negotiation ended with a price reduction of 100 dirhams or roughly 10 euros. Annie and I got to enjoy the full hour and a half hammam package for about 17 euros! This price is unheard of, considering most normal hammams cost about 50 euros and upscale ones range into the hundreds for the same package deal Annie and I got.

Here we are about an hour before the hammam enjoying the tranquility of the Royal Palace:

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Local Moroccans visit the Hammam weekly, the public bath serves as a centerpiece of culture in Morrocco – and Annie and I were determined to experience, though we had little idea what to expect. From the second we entered the changing chamber, we realized we were in for an adventure and we shared a look of “what have we gotten ourselves into?!” Instructions were in Arabic, so we did our best to figure out what was going on – with no prevail. We were entirely clueless as to what to expect, what to do, and who the two ladies in the corner giggling at us were.

Our basic understanding was to strip down, then walk through a steamy door. We hesitantly obliged, and entered the hammam dressed with nothing but uncertaintly. Through the steam we could see faint outlines of naked figures moving about. The two giggling women took our hands and guided us towards water basins, then proceeded to THROW water over our heads repeatedly. I got a bad case of the giggles, and started laughing at the situation – I was naked in Morocco with a large woman dunking water on me. Annie started laughing too, then the ladies started laughing, and with the laughter, everything became a lot less tense. I accepted I was naked with strangers – and with this acceptance I was able to enjoy the hammam.

We spent a good 20-30 minutes in a steam room relaxing, then the women scrubbed us nearly raw, removing dead skin and the travel grim that had built up over the first few days in Morocco. We then proceeded to a massage, where our feet, back, neck, everything was spoiled. Our hammam experience ended with a final bathing back in the room with the basins. At first, I was exiled to the corner as they shampooed and washed Annie. Then, Annie was directed to the corner as the same process was done to me. The last moments we spent in the hammam, we were instructed to stand shoulder to shoulder as both women again lunged water at us. After the relaxing experience, we were lightheaded and refreshed. The final few minutes we could not stop laughing at the comical site we must’ve been – two friends standing naked as women poured water over us. But, we did it – we survived, and even enjoyed, a Moroccan hammam.

Post hammam, enjoying tea and letting the relaxation as well as the confusion about what just happened set in.

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Queensday Amsterdam

Posted on by Reagan J Payne in Part I, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A sea of orange flooded the streets of Amsterdam on April 30th as all of the Netherlands took to the streets in celebration of the abdication of their new king – King Willem-Alexander. For the first time in 123 years, the Netherlands will be welcoming a male monarch to the throne. Koninginnenacht (Queensnight) and Koninginnedag (Queensday) is known as one of the biggest street parties in the world, and I was there proudly wearing orange and celebrating the peaceful transition of power.

The university organized a trip to Amsterdam for Queensday. Usually, I try to avoid these massive group outings and the subsequent easy identification as a tourist – but with Queensday, I could not be more thankful to step onto the tour bus. About 800,000 people flocked into Amsterdam for the celebration, and hotels capitalized on this increased traffic. The school organized trip was a hassle free and cheaper option to get to Amsterdam and stay overnight – without this organized outing I probably wouldn’t have battled the crowds, chaos and expenses to make it to Amsteram. Which would’ve been a real bummer, because experiencing Queensday was a fantastic insight into Holland and two purely fun days in Amsterdam.

The atmosphere on the bus as we pulled away from Maastricht enroute to Amsterdam was rowdy anticipation. We arrived midday on April 29th and had a few hours before Koninginnenacht festivities started. Having already visited most the museums in Amsterdam, my friends and I enjoyed cappuccino’s outside, soaked up some sun in the large Museumplein square then spontaneously walked by a tourist office and bought reduced priced tickets to the House of Bols museum.

Koninginnenacht

Our night started in Leidsplein at a massive outdoor concert. All the bars had their doors open and people opening went from the bars to the concert back to another bar down the street back to the concert danced with their friends danced with surrounding strangers sang loud and off key then again back to the bar – the night was chaos.

After hours outside at the concert, my friend Sarah and I decided we wanted to see other parties around Amsterdam. The city has a valid reputation for being a party town, but I don’t think Amsterdam gets enough credit for the great community that lives there. The night was safe. It was chaos, but controlled chaos. Not once did Sarah and I feel uncomfortable while exploring Amsterdam. It was around 3 in the morning when we set off on our adventure, and in America I would NEVER wander around Chicago at 3am with just another female friend as a companion. Given, it did feel more like three in the afternoon because the streets, even at the late hour, were packed with people celebrating.

We walked around a bit then landed on a fancy looking club with a long line queuing to enter. People were dressed up, looking Amsterdam sharp with trendy haircuts, dark jackets, studs and embodying every aspect of the word “hipster.” Without tickets and without paying, Sarah and I managed to enter the club. We found a group of people from Vice Magazine who were on the list, and they somehow talked us in as +1’s and we entered the club.

It was three stories, packed, and probably one of the coolest party venues I’ve ever been inside. Later that night, when looking for the bathroom, I realized that I had walked from the club to the Chicago Comedy Club – where Seth Meyers started his career. It turns out the club Sarah and I entered was actually the Chicago Social Club, one of the trendiest and most sought after party venues in the city. SUCCESS!!!

Inside the club and feeling like rockstars for managing to get in!

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We finally arrived back to our hotel around 5am, managed to get around 4 hours of sleep before it was time for Queensday.

Koninginnedag

On the way back to the hotel I was surprised to see people in sleeping bags lining the street, but I didn’t think too much of it. Early on April 30th I awoke to what seemed like an unnatural amount of people outside for so early in the morning and so far away from actual Queensday activities. When I opened the window, sunlight filled the room. After my eyes adjusted, I was surprised to see hundreds of people and vendors lining the room. Instantly it clicked that the people I had seen sleeping on the road just hours before were actually there to reserve their sideway space to set up shop.

Queensday is the only day of the year that street sales are legal. The holiday brings people to the city to celebrate the Queens Birthday, but also to shop at some of the hundred flea market type stands all across the city. I left breakfast early to walk through the vendors – it was the typical junky “garage sale” type products for sale. Still, the number of vendors added a fun element to the holiday. I especially enjoyed occasionally seeing part-goers holding bizarre purchases like a massive gittering owl in Museumplein.

The day started off slow as our group recovered from the night before. We headed back to the Museumplein where a giant stage and massive screens stood tall with crowds filling the grass and enjoying the sun. We watched the Inauguration on the big screens and danced to the live stage performances at the Museumplein. Food vendors and other merchants walked around the crowds and added to the upbeat atmosphere.

I am Amsterdam sign in Museumplein

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After the Inauguration some of us headed out to explore. Walking through Amsterdam was like flowing with a sea of orange. Orange balloons created a new facade of Amsterdam buildings. Everyone was wearing orange – shirts, crazy hats, face paint. The canals were packed with people partying and holding orange flags. It was the craziest, largest, most festive street and water party I have ever been a part of and exceeded all my expectations of Queensday.

Party exhaustion hit and a few of us broke away from the street party scene to head to the other side of the canal to watch the Royal Boat Parade. We basically just followed the crowd and a few signs, and ended up with some of the best seats in all of Amsterdam! The King’s boat stopped directly in front of us, and I swear we had eye contact and waved! The boat was stopped for a good 15 minutes directly in front of us and we had the same view of the water stage as the king did. It was fantastically lucky how we ended up with such good seats!

The small group of us then headed back to Museumplein to end the day with a live performance by Andre Rieu accompanied by a full orchestra. Maastricht is very proud of Andre Rieu – he is from our small town in Limburg! It was a real treat hearing him perform and watching couples gleefully dance to the music across the lawn.

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Final Exams and a Retrospective Look at Learning

Posted on by Reagan J Payne in Part I | 3 Comments

I’ve completed two full courses thus far in Maastricht: Project and Production Management and Consumer Behavior. Finals are behind me and I’m finally starting to get the hang of the Problem Based Learning system used at Maastricht University. I spent a full cappuccino amount of time analyzing my formal education experience at the University so far. Here are some of the random thoughts, self-feedback and general analysis that I’ve come up with between sips of espresso:

I am challenged.

The material isn’t necessarily more difficult than back home – but HOW I am reading and learning the material is fantastically different. I’m going to call much of my business education up to this point as “lazy learning” while the history, journalism and other liberal arts classes I’ve taken thus far have not been “lazy learning” classes. In those, I have actively read the texts, engaged in critical thinking and participated in class discussions that created mental unrest and a nearly obsessive hunger for knowledge on the subjects.

With business, however, I haven’t had the passion or the opportunity to really dig into a business curriculum. I’ve been bored with my classes, frustrated with the content and uncertain of the importance of receiving a degree in business. While Mizzou does have a highly esteemed business school (of which I am a Business Ambassador and really shouldn’t be saying all this on the internet..truth prevails!) I have to admit that the school has failed me. For three years I just thought I haven’t had much of a passion for learning business. Through extracurriculars at Mizzou I’ve come to enjoy applying business, but learning it? Boring waste of time.

The PBL at Maastricht University has entirely redefined for me what learning business entails. We read textbooks, scholarly articles, cases and the news and work as a classroom to challenge our perceptions of business. For two full hours, fifteen of us students question each other, question the business concepts we learn, apply these concepts, reevaluate business decisions, create our own business models and are so ACTIVELY engaged in learning that we expand our education much, much further than definitions in the textbooks. Nearly all my business exams at Mizzou have been multiple choice – this is a testament of the one-dimensional business education that my home university offers. At Maastricht, business is organic and alive – problems aren’t defined by filling in a bubble on a scan-tron; rather problems are to be discussed, debated and knowledge to be fought for. I am challenged here – challenged by the material, challenged by my classmates, and challenged by this new active way of learning.

I am humbled.

These high level classroom conversations are happening in my native tongue – but for the rest of the classroom, English is a second, third or even fourth language. My peers excel academically in a foreign language. They are able to discuss complex business issues and do so eloquently with an impressive array of technical business terms. My favorite thing about studying with ESL students is listening to the idioms and English sayings that are used. From slightly overly formal English, to the most attractive boy in class using an English expression typically reserved for those over 80, there are obviously some quirks and smile-worthy translation error moments. But, for the most part, English is flawless. I could not be more impressed by my peers, and more humbled to study with them. I studied Spanish for over 4 years and then spent 6 weeks in Barcelona – fairly extensive language training. Yet, I could not even come CLOSE to engaging in the level of conversation in Spanish that these students are capable of in English.

Even more impressive than students speaking perfect English are the exchange students who choose to study in English in Maastricht who do not have a comprehensive background of language training. One boy from Chile in my Consumer Behavior class nervously admitted before his speech that it was his first time to ever speak in English in front of so many people. He rocked it. He’ll never know, but I was like a proud mom in the corner listening to him tell jokes in English and occasionally stumble over his words. I hope he’s proud of himself because of what he did…to be that fearless and to speak a language he’s not comfortable in, and to do so well in the delivery, is truly something to be proud of. Way to go Sebastian – though you’ll never read this!

Humility induces learning. 

Numbers terrify me, and opening my Project and Production Management book on the first day of class indicated that I had a lot of numbers in my future. The course was very math heavy, though I was familiar with some of the material, many of the models and formulas were new to me. For a handful of German students in my class – the material was all review and supposedly “awwh so easy!”

One boy in particular would drive class discussions quickly through the equations that I didn’t understand. He would always say something along the lines of “this is so easy, do we need to go over it? Let’s just move on.” He would say this before anyone else really raised a question or issue. Whenever this happened, most of the class was like me and kept our heads down. A few other German students might nod in agreement, or some brave soul would chime up and request the problem on the board because they couldn’t figure it out. Asking a question should never be something shameful – it was after questions in class that the best discussions and most learning occurred.  No knowledge is “too easy, not worth going over” and yet no class went by without some that boy killing an opportunity to learn by hindering knowledge with the shadow of pride and self-worth.

My new courses this semester are Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management. Compared to other courses offered at MU, these are two of the easiest (so I’m told). This Friday I am facilitating my HRM course – meaning I am a discussion leader for two full hours. It is my responsibility to cover all the material we’ve read, bring real world examples to the class and facilitate critical discussion. It is a lot of work and preparation but is helping me to prepare for big pitches or meetings in my professional future.  So while Thursday night at 1am as I put my finishing touches on the presentation, I’m sure I’ll be cursing all this academia and hating school. In the long run however, the black bags under my eyes will disappear but the knowledge and experience from facilitating a session will help me succeed.

Here’s a photo from my exam/nightmare. Multiple class subjects from different schools gather together for 3 hours to take our exams/suffer together.

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Surprise Flight to Dresden, Part II: Exploring The City

Posted on by Reagan J Payne in Part I, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

After a full day of hiking outside of Dresden, Annie and I were thrilled to reach our hostel. Walking down the long avenue towards our accommodation we passed small independent theaters, vegan restaurants, sisha lounges and all sorts of vintage shops. The overall feel of our neighborhood in Dresden was very “cappuccino, candlelight and Kerouac” if a metaphorical alliteration description will do!

During WWII Allied Forces bombed and destroyed Dresden on the night of February 13-14, 1945. Before WWII, Dresden was known as the “the Florence on the Elbe” due to its fantastic monuments, palaces and art. The bombing destroyed the town and killed between  35,000 – 100,000 civilians.  Civilians.

While in Dresden I bought and read the novel Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut – the story takes place in Dresden. Travel tip: when traveling in certain destinations, try and pair your reading material with something relevant to that location.

Our two days in Dresden can be defined by good eating and thoughtful conversations. Considering the student budget we usually remain inside, Annie and I splurged on dinner and enjoyed over 3 hours of good food and even better conversation:

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Annie is dating another Maastricht student from East Germany. History is young. He was born before the Berlin Wall came down. Small things stand as reminders that the WWII we learn about in school isn’t so long ago.

I found the crosswalk symbols in Dresden adorable:

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When the light turns green, the figures would light up in a walking movement. After snapping this photo I learned the crosswalk symbols are different in East Germany and West Germany. Another small reminder of a time not long ago.

From space, the divide between East and West German is apparent due to the use of different light bulbs. (Potential unnecessary disclaimer, but I did not take this photo)

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The Military History Museum of the Bundeswehr is worth a visit in Dresden. Annie and I did the audio tour and we agree that the audio component did not add much value to the exhibits. The museum is large and took us 3 hours to get through because we knew we had a full day ahead. Ideally 4 hours for this museum!

Here’s some more photos of Dresden!

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Sehr gut Dresden!

Surprise Flight to Dresden, Part I: Hiking in Sächsische Schweiz National Park

Posted on by Reagan J Payne in Part I, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Trip planning is a tedious process but one I find enjoyable and rewarding. Yet, I’ve become exhausted from skimming through Ryanair flights, reading Travel Advisor hostel reviews and checking train schedules. During the exam period, I realized my schedule allowed for an extended weekend of travel. My days were filled with academic obligations and while I wanted to travel that weekend, I was on a time crunch and did not have the mental capacity to study for exams AND book a full weekend trip.

A solution presented itself through an innovation and fun program by Germanwings called Blind Booking. The airline offers 33 euro airfare tickets to fill up empty seats on their flights. Destinations include cities from all across Europe that otherwise would cost more than 100 euros to travel to. The catch is, that at the time of booking, you have NO IDEA WHERE YOUR TICKET WILL TAKE YOU.

My Australian friend, Annabelle, and I had similar exam schedules, and together we quickly decided to leave the fate of our extended weekend in the hands of Germanwings. After a few minutes of anxious anticipation waiting for our ticket purchase to go through, we finally learned where we were heading for the weekend:

Dresden, Germany…

I recognized the name, but could not place why. We were hoping for somewhere warm like Barcelona, but we left it up to fate and fate sent us to the cold city of Dresden.

We laughed and laughed at our luck, booked our hostel, and went back to studying.

Rathen, Germany

The first hostel we booked was a small bed and breakfast type cottage about 45 minutes outside of Dresden in a quaint city called Rathen. Upon arriving in this small village town we were hungry, and found out that only 1 restaurant in the entirety of the village was open. Two other hostel guests joined us at this small family owned restaurant with a very German menu. This meal was a snapshot of the town itself: small, cozy and very German.

Good morning Rathen, Germany!

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Our hiking started with a visit to the Weißenstein Castle. After a 20 minute bus ride up the mountain to the castle, we were startled but excited to see our hostel owner at the top! We frantically waved and smiled at good ol’ Lenny. Here’s a photo of the bus we sat on top of and frantically waved from…

 

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There’s really no dignity in this for us.

It turns out he had chased us all the way up the mountain in order to retrieve the hostel key that was still safely sitting in my friend’s bag…embarrassing start to the day!

The embarrassment soon sunk into oblivion as we took in the impressive structural remains of the castle and the natural beauty around us.

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We returned to town, grabbed a lunch and Gluehwein to warm up then proceeded in the direction of our next hiking adventure: The Bastei Bridge.

All the locals told us it was too icy and snowy to hike to the bridge, but we were determined and headed on our way. The Bastei is a rock formation towering 194 meters above the Elbe River and is part of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains in Germany. The highest point of the rocks reaches a height of 305 meters and looks like a scene out of James Cameron’s film Avatar. It is believed that the jagged Bastei rock formation was formed by water erosion over one million years ago. The Bastei has attracted hikers and climbers alike for over 200 years. In 1824, a wooden bridge was constructed to link several rocks together for visitors to traverse, and was then replaced in 1851 by the modern sandstone Bastei Bridge.

Here’s the sites we saw along our hike:

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Here’s the incredible bridge!

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With cold red noses, sore feet and a satiated nature fix, we hopped on a train and headed back into the city of Dresden, Germany Part II.

 

The European Fine Arts Festival – TEFAF

Posted on by Reagan J Payne in Part I, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

TEFAF: the world’s most glamorous art fair! Held in Maastricht every March, The European Fine Art Fair welcomes the world’s most demanding and sophisticated art collectors for a no-expense-spared celebration of culture…and I was there!

Determination always pays off.

I’m ashamed to say that the TEFAF event in Maastricht didn’t fully grasp my attention until I read that Kanye West was in Maastricht for the event. KANYE WEST IN MAASTRICHT?! I couldn’t believe my favorite rap artist traveled all the way to Maastricht to see me!

Soon I discovered he was just one among the many big names and wealthy art enthusiast to poor into Maastricht for the most-respected and comprehensive fine arts festival in the world. Entry tickets were pricey, and the town became alive with extremely nice vehicles and silver haired art patrons.

My curiousity about the event became overwhelming and I worked my email contacts to try and find a way to get a ticket to the event. International student networks, the Fine Arts Department at MU and even the Exchange Student Blog yielded no ticket for me. Upset that the event was nearing a closure and I still didn’t get even near to a piece of art, I devised a plan to sneak in. Operation TEFAF was to commence at 10am the following morning. The operation was aborted before any action due to a series of bizarre but very lucky events.

Some friends and I were enjoying a night out at Take Five, a favorite jazz bar of mine. An older man at the bar asked us about the town, and we all got to chatting about Maastricht. After about five minutes of banter about Maastricht and majors, he offered up why he was in town: TEFAF.

He is an art enthusiast and also a currency broker. Basically, his job is to manage large exchanges of currency between the buyers of art and vendors. He informed us that the previous day he had managed the exchange for a purchase of a 2.2 million euro map. All my other friends seemed bored by these stories and were slowly starting to turn their backs. I instead asked a few more questions then dropped the one question that I was eager to ask:

How can I get a ticket to TEFAF?

Be it the ambition of a young student trying to get a ticket, or just a wealthy person sharing a good experience with a new acquaintance, he asked for my number and said that he would call at 10:30am the following morning with instructions about a ticket.

Though late the next morning, he followed up on his promise and called to let me know that a ticket was waiting for me at the front desk.

WAAAAHHHOOOOO!!!!!

Dressed in my nicest clothes I hopped on my bike and rushed to the other side of the river – SO EXCITED! I soon realized that riding a bicycle into TEFAF was absolutely not acceptable, so I hired a taxi for a few blocks distance and rode up to the legitimately red carpet walkway – feeling fabulous.

My ticket was in a red envelope with my name written in calligraphy. I could not believe my luck! The walls were lined with fresh flowers and live trees provided roadblocks for the beautifully dressed art patrons strolling through the vendor stands. I was actually inhaling class with every breathe I took, and I went into a “look and mimic” way of survival as I tried to flow into the sea of luxury around me.

I called the kind man who had organized my ticket and we briefly agreed to get lunch at 2 since he had to meet with clients and mingle all day. This left me with hours open to stroll around and admire. The floor plan was organized by section, and I decided to start my day in the antiques section.

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Each vendor created a room that tailored to their specific store personality, so each passing shop provided an entirely different experience than the previous. It was like traveling through hundreds of little museums, but with the bizarre knowledge that people around me were shopping. Many of the vendors created settings that resembled a home – Picasso paintings were hung above dining tables and Rodin statues rested on dresser tables.

At the Bowman Sculpture vendor stand I was able to touch real Rodin statues. This blew my mind that my fingertip was resting on one of my favorite artist’s actual work of art. It was even more mind-blowing to know that the patrons around me owned magnificent art like the sculpture my finger was resting on. Filled with the luxury and class around me, I braved a look at the price tag, imagining myself one day owning the tiny Rodin treasure. For 850,000 euros, and no taller than a gallon of milk, I slowly walked away from the unattainable and shockingly expensive statue.

Consistently, one of my favorite items to look at was the jewelry. There tended to be a sense of comradarie between all us females when we entered the jewlery store. For the women who were trailed into the jewelry stands with their husbands, the diamonds behind the glass were attainable and exciting. For others, like me, it was a magical sense of imagination that allowed us to lust over the jewelry together. Jewelry, like this necklace:

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For a brief moment during my window admirations, I became part of the shopping experience. An older woman was alone and shopping for a pair of earrings. The man behind the counter was trying his hardest to make the sale, but was starting to miss the target. He spent the entire time talking up the earrings – the quality of the diamonds, the shape of the cut, the way they dangled. I was watching the older woman watching the diamonds, and realized how little his words were impacting her. As a nearby stranger, I could not help but cut off the salesman and speak directly to this glamourous woman. All I said was, “those would look beautiful on you.” She smiled at me, and I walked away mortified that I had spoken.

At a distance, I watched her purchase the 7,700 euro earrings.

That’s the deal with sales. Often, salespeople get so caught up with the grandeur of the product they are selling rather than focusing on the implications and what it means for the customer. To spend that much money on a pair of earrings is simply narcissistic, and in the case of this sale there needed to be a focus on the customer, not just a focus on the earrings themselves.

I learned about art during TEFAF, but even more so, I learned about business. From observing the earring sale, to watching the wealthy interact, to even studying how older and dignified women behaved, I walked out of TEFAF with a new set of knowledge about how to conduct business in a very “high class” setting. I enjoyed my time as an outsider looking in at TEFAF and look forward to the next time I’m able to explore the world of TEFAF and luxury.

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A big thanks for the ticket, and to all people who take the time and effort to gift a young university student the experience of a lifetime.

__________________

This article by Giovanna Bertazzoni from The Telegraph best sums up the essence of TEFAF. You can find the original source here.

Exploring the extensive, varied range of art on show at TEFAF Photo: L. Bodewes

By Giovanna Bertazzoni

11:49AM GMT 22 Mar 2013

Every year, in March, there is an appointment that the global art community feels compelled to honour with punctual regularity: TEFAF, or The European Fine Art Fair, in Maastricht. This year, the fair runs until 24 March, having opened on the 14 March.

 Known in jargon as ‘the Maastricht Art Fair’, it is indeed the most glamorous, lavishly presented and visually attractive of all international art fairs. It is not all appearance, though: there is a lot of substance, because TEFAF is perceived – accurately – as the most serious and distinguished ‘rendez-vous’ for the most demanding and sophisticated art collectors in the world. Established in 1987 by a group of entrepreneurial and pioneering Old Master dealers, it celebrated its silver jubilee in 2012. Tradition and prestige have a pivotal role at this fair: every gallery allowed to exhibit has a celebrated pedigree, and every work of art exposed has been carefully vetted by an army of independent scholars, curators and specialists, called to Maastricht days before the opening.

Every year, the magic is repeated: anonymous industrial pavilions are transformed in a matter of a week into a wonderful world of luxury and sublime juxtapositions. Flower compositions – the most elaborate, rich and inventive I have ever seen- grace every corner of the fair: the entrance is always decorated with an exuberant ensemble of fresh roses, covering entire walls, creating splendid abstract patterns. Every season, the ever new, extravagant welcoming of this rose-covered corridor amuses me and amazes me in equal measure. As I walk through this wall of fresh flowers, I am immediately reminded of the uniqueness of this fair. Fleshy tulips of every colour of the rainbow leap out of huge silver vases (we are in the Netherlands in March, after all!), and punctuate the cosy lounges between the stands.


Image: Loraine Bodewes

What is unique to ‘Maastricht’ is the explosive cohabitation of galleries dedicated to Asian Art, Old Master Paintings and Old Master Drawings, with establishments devoted to Contemporary Art, or exquisite Cabinets de Curiosités offering Renaissance Sculpture or Boulle Furniture. An entire section of the fair is consecrated to jewellery, and one of the biggest sections is the Impressionist and Modern area, with galleries representing all of the most important players in my segment of the market. There’s much to explore and this is certainly the only fair in the world, where one can admire a 40-inch Gandharan bodhisattva on a throne (at Asian art gallery Marcel Nies) side by side with a sinuous Henry Moore bronze (at Robert Landau).

The setting of every booth is carefully curated and pushes boundaries for sensual aesthetic stimulations: a whole 18th Century extravaganza is recreated in one stand, whereas another will be a manifesto of pared-down bohemian-chic, with Cycladic sculpture simply shown on textured, rough wooden shelves.


Image: Bastiaan van Musscher

The opening night, always on a Thursday (this year it was on 14 March), is famous for its sumptuous and generous celebration of the senses. Champagne flows, oysters are offered, while the most exacting collectors in the globe parade down the central aisles, stopping often to chat to the dealers, leading them into the treasure-troves, the most discreet rooms in the stands, to which only the most seasoned buyers are admitted.

But an atmosphere of more matter-of-fact business alertness takes over from the second day of the fair: the glamour remains, and hovers over everything, whilst the elegant, witty conversations of the opening give way to animated business discussions, leading to major transactions.

 

 

 

 

 
Image: Loraine Bodewes

The most intense days for business are the first Friday and the closing weekend. During the first weekend, and the whole week, the fair becomes the playground for art lovers, students, and tourists, joining in from everywhere in Europe, especially the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. A ticket, available to the general public and which can be purchased online as well as at the fair, allows a full day in what is, after all, a splendid temporary museum, a magical, almost surreal gathering of works of art from all periods and all corners of the world.

Personally, I prefer visiting the day after the opening, and I throw myself into it with gusto, for hours, barely stopping to eat. After a full day of trotting around with fellow specialists and clients, I leave feeling halfway between stunned and delighted, exhausted and energised, full of ideas, questions and new contacts. A good place to be, after a day of work.

 

The Lumiere Theater – Made in Europe Go Short Film Festival

Posted on by Reagan J Payne in Part I | 1 Comment

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With exams around the corner, my friend Keelin and I struggled deciding if we should attend an International Film Festival at the local Lumiere Theater in town. After a few grimacing faces we eventually decided that of course we should attend and were immediately validated with our decision to live outside of our textbooks.

I love the parallells that often arise between home and foreign places. One of the most difficult things for me to miss back in Columbia, MO is the annual True/False Film Festival at Ragtag Cinema.

Here’s an excerpt from my beloved True/False Film Festival:

True/False began as a foolhardy lark back in 2003, an exercise in youthful exuberance. We figured that our downtown could use a festival linking venues like an old-time movie palace, a vintage vaudeville theater, and our small storefront cinema. We couldn’t have foreseen the significance and responsibilities the fest would accrue. If we had, our dauntless souls would have no doubt been daunted.

In time, we learned that T/F could play a role in encouraging and congealing a community of nonfiction filmmakers around the world interested in making innovative work. We witnessed the fest becoming a focal point for a wide variety of creative energies in art and music.

But the most astonishing aspect has been watching our fellow mid-Missourians step in, lift a hammer (real or figurative), and build some facet of the fest to their dream specifications. We may have mapped out the house and poured the concrete, but each year we’ll turn a corner and discover a new room, or a skylight that wasn’t there before.

In our tenth year, we salute those with the devil-may-care DIY spirit that has made True/False so much more than we ever imagined. In T/F’s 2013 poster “The Collective Architecture of the Impossible,” a neighborhood rises up, with one idiosyncratic structure perched atop another. This is how the festival has developed—the blueprints we drew attracting more and more layers, transforming our doodled sketch into a full-blown painting.

We are deeply indebted to two communities: Columbia, Missouri, the hardest working town in the U.S. (or at least that’s what some magazine said), where dozens of people come home from their day job and contribute to making the fest run. And to an idealistic, loosely knit network of filmmakers dedicated to pushing nonfiction forward. We couldn’t be more proud to be a part of both. Happy tenth year, everyone, and thanks for making the impossible a living, breathing thing that we all can share together. Whether it’s the shared pleasures of a darkened cinema, parading through the downtown streets en masse, or huddled together debating ideas late into the night, True/False is and will always be a collective structure.

 

And here’s an excerpt from the Lumiere Theater event that I attended:

Made in Europe, the platform for European and Euregional film talent in Maastricht, works together with the Go Short International Short Film Festival Nijmegen. Whereas the theme of the Nijmegen festival will be short movies, the Maastricht festival will offer a broad programme with a selection of the best short movies, Euregional productions and master classes, meet & greets with film makers and the one and only Made in Europe after party on the 15th and 16th of March.

In addition to the presentation of the best current European short movies, spread over a number of units, Made in Europe will highlight meet & greets with different film makers from all over Europe. The exchange of knowledge and experience is an important aspect of the talent programme of Made in Europe.

This is why there will be a master class programme, specifically aimed at short films for professionals and students of various educational backgrounds. There will also be attention for new, Euregional short films. Made in Europe shows a selection of the short movies that were also screened in Nijmegen.

The Maastricht edition is a new step for Go Short to put the short movie in the spotlight in the whole of the Netherlands. Go Short collects the best new European short films in all genres: from cartoon films to documentary films, from fiction to art films. The only requirement is that the film is no longer than 40 minutes, but the majority of the films are shorter.
After the festival, Go Short will tour throughout the Netherlands with the Best of Go Short tour. This selection of festival highlights will be screened in cinema clubs throughout throughout the Netherlands starting from the end of March.

The theaters, separated by an ocean and thousands of miles, have a similar ambiance, crowd and overall goal of sharing good films. Attending the film festival in Maastricht filled me with a similar love for the cinema that I feel back at Ragtag in Columbia. It amazes me that two places that developed entirely independent from each other can both exist to create the same content feeling and have so many parallel features.

The short films shown at the festival were divided into four different categories: Drive, The Life of Others, Animation Bonanza, and Going Dutch. We opted to see ‘The Life of Others’ category. Films in this category included…

THE FUSE: OR HOW I BURNED SIMON BOLIVAR; Igor Drjaca – this documentary follows how a young boy attempts to avoid a poor mark on a school assignment in 1990’s Sarajevo, may have contributed to a civil way.

SILENT; L Rezan Yesilbas – 1984. Zeynep lives in Diyarbakir with their three children. She seems to be in daily routine and is going to visit her husband in prison.

A SOCIETY; Jens Asur – In an enclosed space eleven strangers are on a journey into the unknown. They are forced to confront each other’s prejudices in order to establish a temporary and functioning society.

OUTSIDE COMFORT; Andreas J. Riiser – Mona is a married woman with children who goes on a personal journey under the radar in her own city without telling anyone.

 

 

On the Road: Bergamo, Milan and Lake Como

Posted on by Reagan J Payne in Part I, Recommendations, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Spontaneity defined the Milan trip from March 9th to March 12th.

Kate, Annabelle, Casey and I casually were sitting around drinking tea a few days prior. Before any of us really had time to think about it – we all booked a Ryanair flight to Milan for my birthday weekend. We stumbled across cheap tickets, and from there no real discussion happened – we were heading to Milan!

After a miraculous morning of disheaveled hair and chaotic packing following a big birthday night out we managed to make our early flight. Our flight landed about two hours later in the small town of Bergamo outside of Milan. The University of Missouri Trulaske College of Business has a summer program located in Bergamo, so I convinced the group to head into town for lunch and delay departing for Milan.

Be it curiousness about the TCoB Study Abroad Program, or a selfish ploy to remove myself from transportation while my headache pounded – it turned out to be a great excursion.

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The Color Palate of Bergamo – a mixture of fading reds, blues, greens and tans. Italy decays beautifully, and Bergamo is wealthy with rustic Italian charm.

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See more photos of Bergamo

On the plane we met a fellow Maastricht University student from Switzerland. She joined us for a pizza feast outside in Bergamo and city exploring. Highlights of the afternoon included an Italian man asking Kate out and her awkwardly giggling the entire time. Also, I thought I had found the tourist information office but instead had barged into a private office with my maps out. Intense fits of laughter dotted conversation our entire afternoon in Bergamo – it was going to be a great trip!

Arriving in Milan we made our way past the Duomo and eventually (somehow) found the apartment we were renting. The apartment split between four people was cheaper than the hostel and had a better location near Bacconi University and the Navigli District. We had two king size beds, a full kitchen, a television, bathroom and it was charming! The company we rented from is B&B Hotels Milan – highly recommend for groups of 4 or larger!

That night we enjoyed a real Italian Aperitivo.

The concept is to drink to whet your appetite – a testament to the value Italians place of enjoying their meals. We settled on an Aperitivo place near a canal that had a Mayan theme and then poured over the extensive drink menu. We each ordered a fancy cocktail, and shamelessly yelled CHEERS! as we clinked our glasses and started the night.

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Aperitivo works like this – you purchase a drink and then you eat from a buffet for free. The buffet included lots of seafood and pastas – we filled our plates and kept going back. Long after our drinks were empty we continued to snack from the buffet table. Aperitivo is meant to take hours, and our waiter kept encouraging us to get more food and never once rushed our dining experience. The night concluded with a dramatic presentation of a giant tiramisu cake – which of course we all enjoyed.

We set out early on day two determined to get some sightseeing in before lunchtime.

We made it one block before spotting an endearing cafe and reaching the mutual agreement to live La Dolce Vida – we stopped for coffee at Cafe Saint George. After friending the waiter and admiring the well-dressed Italian women pass by, we started throwing around the idea of saving sightseeing for the following day and instead heading to Lake Como to spend our Sunday.

Thirty minutes later, we were sitting on the train en route to Lake Como. The day was beautiful, we could not have made a better decision!

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After all the dreary gray weather that dictates winter in Maastricht – Lake Como was a breathe of fresh air. Here’s a token photo for you, Mom!

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We enjoyed a perfect lunch outside by the Lake. For the first time during the trip we had moments of silence between the four of us. It was the most content of silences, as we all could do nothing but smile and enjoy our surroundings.

After lunch we caught a gondola up the mountains. Hello, Switzerland!

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New friends in Lake Como

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To conclude our perfect day in Lake Como, we bought deserts at a bakery in Milan and headed to Colonne di San Lorenzo to enjoy wine and deserts. My friends from Bacconi University informed us that this is where most Italian students start their night and mingle outside. Sure enough, we made some new friends and enjoyed plenty of laughs over great food and cheap wine!

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Luca, an Italian student, was easily our favorite person we met at El Colonne. Usually, the ability to understand and communicate with humor is a strong indicator of a high language ability. For Luca, he learned all his English from watching Youtube videos. Speaking basic conversational English? Luca struggled. Telling complex jokes and perfectly delivering punchlines? Luca was perfection. It was a hysterical time communicating via solely jokes with Luca. He even rapped for us! Which was actually just a string of English profanities to a bizarre melody.

Camilla, my good friend in Maastricht from Milan, recommended about a million and one things for us to do in Milan. She gave enough restaurant recommendations to last a month – she was so enthusiastic to have friends visit her hometown! Another one of my friends, Gabriele, let his friend Bruno know that my friends and I were in town. I called up Bruno and we made breakfast plans for the following morning. Annabelle also had a friend from Australia doing exchange at Bacconi, so our group grew from 4 people to seven people at breakfast.

Bruno and his friend got right down to business planning out our day for us. They generously offered to show us around Italy – we were ecstatic to have Italian guides! They rushed us from breakfast to the most high-fashion shopping districts in Milan. We strolled through all the major designer stores and took turns gaffing at price tags.

Camilla DEMANDED that we try Luini before leaving Milan – and I now understand her seriousness regarding this recommendation. Deliziosa! Basically it was a pizza filled roll with some magic involved because it was unnatural how much we all enjoyed this lunch.

Sitting outside in the sun while we dined only added to the enjoyment!

 

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Across the street from Luini is Cioccolati Italiani – a must visit for the BEST gelato any of us have ever tried.

Our group headed back to El Colonne and tossed around a frisbee, then did some more sight-seeing including the Duomo.

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That night we cooked spaghetti with fresh Italian ingredients – Bruno and some friends joined us. The following weekend, Bruno visited Gabriele in Maastricht. Annie and I hosted a giant Vientamese cold rolls dinner to thank Bruno for his fantastic tour of Milan, and Gabriele for sharing his friends with us.

Evviva to sunny days, exciting cities and new friends!

Twenty one and Milan

Posted on by Reagan J Payne in Part I, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Please visit The Water Project Shots for a Cause donation page to donate to a clean water fund for my birthday! My goal was $100 and donations still fall short. Thanks! 

I had the perfect birthday weekend – and credit goes entirely to my amazing “new” friends here in Maastricht. I’ve known people here for less than two months but through shared experiences they have come to quickly be some of my best friends. And, for my birthday weekend, they completely spoiled me.

I had planned to celebrate my birthday in Maastricht on Friday night (after my first exam was concluded!) because on Saturday March 9th (my actual birthday) three of my friends and I were hopping on an early Ryanair flight and heading to Milan. On the Facebook event, I announced to the 60ish guests attending that the party would start at 9pm at the Guesthouse (where most of the exchange students live).

Earlier in the week I had stopped by my favorite small bar in town to see if the owner would offer a special drink price if I brought such a large group in around 11pm on Friday. He offered the us a huge discount on beer and even added a special birthday cocktail to the drink menu for the night. The bar, called DikkeDragonder, is a bizarre Maastricht gem. Fake tree branches spread across the ceiling and a giant 5ft mountain of candle wax rests on the edge of the bar. The bar is dimly lit with vintage chandeliers that cast an earthy dim light over the bar area. This bar is off the beaten path, and I was excited to show my friends a new place in town.

I arrived home around 6pm on the night of my birthday party. Thrilled that the final was over, I was ready to eat a big dinner and prepare for my night ahead. My friends greeted me at the kitchen door and demanded that I return to my room because they wanted to cook me dinner. Ecstatic that a few girls thought of cooking for me, I returned to my room and relaxed. An hour and a half later I was still in my room waiting for them to come get me…and waiting…hungry…

After about 2 hours of waiting FINALLY my friend knocked on my door. I said how hungry I was, and then she told me they didn’t have enough food to cook so they had all just gone back to their rooms. Stressed from my final, hungry from the long day and somewhat anxious about the party that night I actually felt a wave of crankiness at the three friends that had promised me food.

We decided to head over to my friend Sarah’s cooridor to cook dinner. From my fridge I scooped up some rice noodles, chicken and vegetables to prepare and headed with Sarah to her kitchen. She opened the door and the first thing I saw were a few scattered balloons. Then….

HAAAAPPPPYYYYY BBBIIIIRIRRRRRTTTHHHHDDAAAYYYY!!!

About 25 of my friends jumped up from behind the counter and screamed! I dropped all my groceries and then proceeded to awkwardly go around and hug everyone while they sang Happy Birthday. I think I even spun around in a circle a few times – I was just too happy and surprised to function with any social dignity. Having met most these people less than two months ago, I was filled with intense affection for all of them and was absolutely blown away by their thoughtful efforts.

For dinner, everyone pitched in to make a giant taco night. TACO BOUT SOME GREAT FRIENDS! Earlier in the week I mentioned that I was missing Mexican food, and my friends delivered. They also made a giant birthday card for me and all signed it. Inside the card was one of the biggest surprises yet. Everyone pitched in and bought me…

A TICKET TO THE XX NIGHT + DAY FESTIVAL IN BERLIN!! 😀

At this point I was overwhelmed with happiness and just wanted to hug everyone and never let go. I’m so fortunate to be surrounded by so many intelligent and fun people here in Maastricht – and having everyone in one place celebrating my birthday was the best gift of all.

Before the party, I recruited my friend Blake to help me make Jungle Juice. Jungle Juice is a typical mass drink made at fraternities in southern universities in the States. I thought it would be fun to introduce some of my European friends to the deadly drink – and sure enough it equated to a good time. The only thing I could find to hold the liquid was a mop bucket (a new one of course!) so people gathered around the mop bucket to serve themselves the jungle juice.

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As the night progressed, more and more faces showed up to the Guesthouse. Some were familiar faces, some that I was just meeting for the first time. Irregardless, I was in the best mood ever and absolutely ecstatic about making my rounds and hugging everyone and telling them how wonderful they were – hugging, singing and dancing would be the theme of my night.

After a few hours of celebrating, another round of Happy Birthday started as my friends made their way towards me with a homemade cake lined with 21 candles. Meet some of the girls that made my 21st birthday celebration so special!

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During the second Happy Birthday song my social move of choice was again to spin around in a circle dancing to the melody. Other bizarre social decisions from my birthday celebration included this strange repeated pose:

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This photo was taken right before security showed up..I’d say about 60 filled the room and at 11pm security wanted us out. Since it was my birthday and I was feeling like a birthday princess at this point I tapped a spoon against my drink to get everyone’s attention and made an announcement to meet outside in 5 minutes to head to the bar.

After grabbing jackets and making our way outside (with security trailing us all the way) we reassembled outside and made our way downtown. Typically, we ride bikes. With a group this large all of us ended up walking – warmed by the Jungle Juice and the warmth of the wonderful friendships around us!

At one point I turned around and could not stop laughing at the massive exodus of people lining the sidewalk behind us. It seemed appropriate at the time to extend my arms and shout “I AM MOSES! PARTING THE RED SEA!” and standing in place to force people to walk on either side of me. In retrospect, I’d like to retract the decision to pull the “MOSES!” move.

The bar ended up becoming packed – perhaps it was a little too small of a venue – but was still an absolute BLAST. Here’s the fantastic bartender that was so accommodating to the party! He let me hang out behind the bar for part of the night and taught me how to mix the Reagan’s Birthday Cocktail that he added to the drink specials!

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The night was an absolute success and I’m so fortunate to be surrounded by great people here in Maastricht! Making our early flight the morning after this big party was an absolutely hilarious struggle, but we somehow all managed to make our flight! While I was sleeping on the plane and pretending to not feel absolutely miserable, my friends secretly told the pilot that it was my birthday. I woke up to a flight attendant wishing me a happy birthday over the intercom. Read about my birthday weekend in Milan here.