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

Stukafest Maastricht 2013

Posted on by Reagan J Payne in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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Where anything is allowed besides stinky socks.

Stukafest takes place across the Netherlands and hit Maastricht on Feb. 28. The festival is run by students for students, and provides an affordable way for us ramen-noodle-eating, penny pinching students to experience some incredible music. Instead of attending concerts in normal venues, students around Maastricht opened up their living rooms for artists to perform. Tickets had to be purchased in advance since show sizes were limited to about 20 people.

I opted to get tickets for all three shows for the festival, and spent a grand total of 11 euros on three concerts. WAHOO! Check out the full line-up for the event on the Stukafest website. I chose to see the following shows:


As this was our first stop on our concert hopping adventure, I had no idea what to expect. We biked up to the front door down a somewhat dodgy alley and saw a small Stukafest sticker on the front of a tarnished green door – we were in the right spot.

We knocked, had our tickets checked, and were silently welcomed into a dark hallway. We passed through one more door and were then greeted with a bright room full of about 15 people. People were sprawled across couches, on the floor, leaning against the windowsill. The atmosphere was friendly and communal – I saw drinks and chocolates passing through the hands of people sitting on the floor. I joined a girl with dreadlocks on the floor and her friend sitting behind me on the couch told me to lean back against her legs for a more comfortable floor seat. Anything goes besides stinky socks.

After hanging out for a few minutes talking to the group around me and enjoying a chocolate egg, the boy sitting directly to my right got up and took the microphone and started to rap. This must be EM. I liked how he did not introduce himself – he just started rapping. It felt somewhat unnatural to start without an introduction, but the entire night felt unnatural, so in the scheme of the festival his unique start to the show made perfect sense.

Here’s EM:

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Our next concert was held at the Madril Cultural Centre. Nine people live a communal lifestyle at the Mandril and always open their doors to events in the community. Their mission statement is “To provide a platform for the stimulation of cultural participation in Maastricht and beyond.” Here, we saw a group of 8 young guys called Barulheiros. Ages ranging from 18 to 22 these guys looked like a bunch of high school kids getting together for marching band practice – but they played and performed like professionals. Using all kinds of drums and other objects they worked together to create heart-pumping rhythms and got the entire audience to dance along. By the end of the show the rhythm of the drums had encapsulated the entire audience and I exited the doors still jumping around and shaking my head.

Here’s Barulheiros:

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Sillicone Haemorrhoids Unprod. ft RE:Coreco

Our final show was the smallest with only about 10 people squeezed into a small living room on the top floor of an apartment. This soundism band used recording equipment and household items to create trippy beats. It was a nice, relaxing end to night of concert hopping.

This band must be too obscure to have a band photo. Here is the only photo of them that Stukafest has:

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On the Road: Rotterdam, Delft and Den Haag

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

Eight girls, three cities, and one crazy adventure.

After carnival, my new friends and I set out on a very affordable tour of the Netherlands. Originally, we had planned to travel to Paris to celebrate Valentine’s Day. The only thing more depressing than celebrating Valentine’s Day without a Valentine was how much money the Paris trip added up to be, so we opted to stay within the Netherlands and see what our host country has to offer.

In retrospect, exploring the Netherlands should’ve been our first thought before Paris. It is easy to get lost in all the grand cities that Europe has to offer that we forget to appreciate the cities, the local people and the country that we call home while on exchange. It felt right to first travel Holland, my temporary home, before exploring other places.

Meet the group:

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Camilla – Italy

Riikki and Karin (not in photo) – Finland

Dilyana – Bulgaria

Reagan and Kristen – USA


Rotterdam is often called the “Gateway to Europe” because it the center of a massive air, rail, road and inlwand waterway distribution system that reaches throughout Europe. In 2004 Shanghai passed up Rotterdam as the largest port city in the world, though Rotterdam is still the largest port city in Europe. The port in Rotterdam was one of the six vital ‘chambers’ of the Dutch East India Company.

During WWII, German troops bombed Rotterdam in what is now referred to as The Rotterdam Blitz. The city crumbled to the ground, killing nearly 900 Dutch citizens and leaving another 80,000 homeless. Holland surrendered after the bombing upon threats of an additional bombing of Utrecht.

Unlike other cities in the Netherlands, the quintessential old European charm is not found within Rotterdam. All the traditional buildings were destroyed in 1940 from the Rotterdam Blitz, and have been replaced with modern structures. Post-war mentality in the Netherlands is best described as a postmodern ‘anything goes’ mentality, and these sentiments are reflected in the architecture of Rotterdam. Most notable, the Kop van Zuid reflects the “new” Rotterdam architecture and personality. Cranes and unfinished scaffolding dot the ever-growing skyline – Rotterdam is still far from complete.

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Modern art lined most large streets

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Rotterdam is truly a city of personality. I took this inside a small restaurant we enjoyed lunch in. The walls were lined with pop art and the building is structurally fascinating. The entire city feels like it is trying to be more sleek and unique than its neighbor.

Pancake Boat Tour

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For 13 euros we toured Rotterdam from the water and enjoyed an unlimited pancake bar!

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This is Lexie, a resident at ROOM Hostel Rotterdam – a super trendy independently run hostel in the heart of Rotterdam.

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Happy Valentine’s Day! A girls night with wine, cheese, chocolate and lots of laughter!

Boijmans van Beuningen Art Museum

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 You can check your coat by lowering down a hanger then hoisting it back up again with your jacket on it! Functional art.


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Casually hanging out in the Romantic era gallery.

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Dali is the man.


(Located between Rotterdam and Den Haag)

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The famous Delft blue ceramics!


The capital of the Netherlands is Amsterdam, though Den Haag is the seat of the Dutch Government, Parliament, Supreme Court and the home of Queen Beatrix.

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We found these 12 euro roses at Haagse Markt – the largest outdoor market in Europe.

With roses this cheap, there are NO EXCUSES BOYS for nobody in our group receiving flowers for Valentine’s Day…

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Peace Palace

Overall, this was a great trip with a great group of new friends. I plan to return to Den Haag to visit the International Criminal Court, and I also plan to visit Ultrecht and Amsterdam since we did not get to those cities on our trip. Loving the Netherlands for its blend of quaint towns and cosmopolitan cities!


Happy President’s Day from a Proud American Abroad

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

Since boyhood, Ronald Reagan answered to the nickname “Dutch.” Legend has it that as a newborn child, Reagan’s father took a look at him and said, “He looks like a fat little Dutchman. But who knows, he might grow up to be president some day.”

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Happy President’s Day, Dutch!

So here I am in the Netherlands, named Reagan and living among the Dutch. These uncanny parallels make me feel close to home, and proud of my country.

Since arriving in Maastricht I have asked and responded to an unprecedented number of culture sharing questions. Everything from eating celery with peanut butter to the mention of universal healthcare sparks cultural discussions. My floor eats dinner together nearly every night. Sitting around the table are students from America, Brazil, Israel, China, Austria, Singapore, Spain, Canada, Australia and Switzerland. Last weekend I took a multi-stop train tour of the Netherlands with new friends from Bulgaria, Italy, Finland and Norway. My classes are full of students representing over 32 countries.

I’ve learned much from my international peers, and I hope that I’ve taught them something also. Culture sharing sparks a special sense of patriotism. When I get to talk about America, I light up. Everyone does when asked about their country. Leaving my country for an extended period of time has created a new sense of patriotism and pride about belonging to the United States of America. At home, I often view my great country through a filter of partisan politics and political turmoil. Around the dinner table with friends who have never visited my country, I see the stars and stripes in its truest form –  with the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There is a huge focus on how much wrong is in our country, but abroad I like to talk about all the right that we have going on. Our Founding Fathers created a strong foundation for our nation, and I can not be happier to call America my home.

One of my unofficial goals while abroad is to act as a good example of America. A disheartening stereotype of my country, that is depressingly accurate, is how ignorant Americans are towards other countries and cultures. I’ve been doing individual reading and research about my friends’ home nation’s politics, history and culture. This is helping me to ask more thoughtful questions, and hopefully showing them that Americans are fascinated by and appreciate foreign nations.

Studying abroad is an opportunity to break stereotypes – both stereotypes about you and your home nation as well as indirect stereotypes you believe about other countries. Education and awareness are key to ending international conflict, and building a strong and united world. The conversations I’m having here are a microcosm of the conversations that global leaders need to be having. Cross-cultural awareness and appreciation for all people is the key to establishing international peace and cooperation.

iTravel better without my iPhone

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

Wallet, check!

Room key, check!

Burt’s Bees Chapstick (obsessed), check!


Last week, my iPhone was stolen at The Alla. For those not familiar with Maastricht, The Alla is the club that opens after all the bars close for the night. It is always packed crowded, and plays hysterically outdated American pop music. I’ve heard of many stolen iPhone episodes at The Alla, but still stupidly kept my phone in my back pocket – it was really too easy a steal.

AT&T informed me that my phone ended up in Belgium and the thief used a generous amount of my international data:

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I was so mad. I had emailed, called, Facebooked, texted my phone and I know the thief received all my pleas to return my phone. They deleted some of my emails, liked my own profile photo and never once responded to my desperate cries for my iPhone back.

When I think of my iPhone’s journey across country borders with strangers, I imagine a group of mean thieves laughing at all my embarrassing iPhone photos, reading my text messages to my mom, refreshing the front page of my NYT app. That phone has my everything stored on it, and now it is floating around somewhere in Belgium.

For the past year, my iPhone has been glued to my left-hand. It is adorned with a Chi Omega case, a Christmas gift from my mother. Losing that phone feels like I lost an important piece of myself.

Without my iPhone, how am I supposed to avoid eye contact with strangers?! Or not look lonely when waiting in line for coffee by myself?! What if I take a wrong turn, and don’t have a blue dot to guide me back to my familiar route?! These questions kept me up at night – the first night I’ve spent without a phone in years.

How silly.

My iPhone had become nothing short of an addiction, and I cannot be happier to finally be rid of the technology that takes up so much of my time and attention. Two days after losing the phone, I was moping in the kitchen with friends when a Spanish boy walks into the room and, I’m being 100% serious, asks:

“Does anyone want my old phone? I’m moving out and don’t need it.”

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So here I am. With my new free Nokia phone with a cracked screen – it even has a sudoku game on it!

Life often works out.

Technology and Travel

There are some truly incredible technology resources that bring value to travel, but it is a trade-off. I spent an entire train ride to Amsterdam searching for fun things to see/do, and I found some great information! But, I didn’t take time to look out the window and enjoy the passing countryside. The hostel owner in Amsterdam was eager and ready to answer all my questions that I already had answers to from searching online.  Sitting downstairs in the hostel, I was looking at my iPhone to look important and busy – nobody talked to me.

With my new phone, I don’t sit places and read the news, I sit and look at people. I mean, right in the eyes. There are so many human connections waiting to happen. iPhones might connect us to the entire world on the internet, but it deprives us from connecting with the immediate world around us.

I don’t miss my iPhone or the convenience it brings. Maybe getting lost and simply existing in a new city is better than diligently following my blue dot from one destination to another. Asking locals for their recommendations instead of consulting the Trip Advisor app includes a smile and not just a refresh icon. I really don’t need to take a photo of my cappuccino and post it on Instagram…I just need to enjoy it.

Think different. 

Travel different. 

Faces of Maastricht Carnival

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

These are the faces of the Maastricht Carnival. The faces of hearty street dancers, of shameless drunk singers, of new friends and fellow celebrators. Together, these faces create the perfect madness that is Vasteloavend in Mestreech.

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The history of carnival in Maastricht

February 10, 2007 by Hennie Reuvers 

During my childhood years in the late 1950’s, carnival didn’t start earlier than one week before Ash Wednesday. Our schoolmaster at the Saint Francis primary school, in the Maastricht district of Nazareth, would set out to teach us the new carnival song in Mestreechs, the dialect of Maastricht. These songs were often inspired by some local event and I still remember one in particular about the dustmen (or ‘drekmaan’ in dialect) who went on strike…

Carnival 1930, photograph: courtesy of Hennie Reuvers

My mother would stitch cowboy fringes onto our trousers and buy us new snap cap pistols. Donning the old cowboy hats that were still lying in the loft, we were soon ready for the school carnival on Saturday afternoon.

On Sunday morning, we went to watch the Big Carnival Parade (‘groete optoch‘). Shiplike floats displayed topical subjects, such as political events in the Belgian Congo, and funny individuals called Einzelgängerwere said to be dancing about with turds in their nappies.

During the next two days all the children were off school and passed the time playing ‘cowboys and Indians’. Then, on Ash Wednesday, Lent began and carnival was over.

I didn’t spend my adolescent years in Maastricht, but my children did. My daughter took part in the carnival festivities with her girlfriends disguised as a geisha or a samba dancer. Much to my grief, the feasting lasted all day and a large part of the night. After carnival, she was always ill. Nowadays, she’s had enough of these three days of madness, and flees from the city in good time.

What is carnival? 
Sober outsiders can’t easily understand what is going on. Where the hell does this folly come from? A bit of reading into the matter quickly made me realise that carnival is celebrated in many places all over the world, but not nearly everywhere. In the northern part of the Netherlands, it actually falls under the realm of ‘popish naughtiness’. (‘paapse stoutigheden‘)

Moreover, there are wide differences in the way the festival is celebrated. For example, the exuberant summer carnival of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil bears little similarity with the Farmers Wedding feast (‘Boerenbruiloft’) typical of the Dutch province of Brabant.

The origin of carnival appears to be mainly threefold and can be traced back to:
First, the Roman Saturnalia, Bacchanalia, and Lupercalia festivals. These were fertility rituals connected with the succession of the seasons. Slaves and women were sometimes allowed to be the boss for a while, or conversely, had to endure even more hardships.

Wodan, source: WikipediaSecond, the Germanic-Celtic pendants of the Roman festivals. These were also linked with fertility, and hence with death: for instance, the Wild Chase (‘Wilde Jacht’) represents a procession of slain warriors, led by Wodan. (This gives me a nice idea: why not go to carnival disguised as Wodan, the one-eyed supreme god with a wild beard, a soft hat and a wide mantle, riding on a white horse and flanked by two ravens?)

Third, the ecclesiastical feasts of fools. These held a reversal of the normal hierarchy as well. Since medieval times, the Catholic Church has gradually substituted Christian counterparts for the old heathen customs. Accordingly, Shrove Tide was the last occasion for pleasure before the beginning of Lent.

The Carrus Navalis 
The Dutch words for carnival are ‘carnaval‘ and ‘vastenavond‘.

There are two possible explanations for ‘vastenavond‘: First, it can be understood as ‘Fast evening’, meaning the eve of Lent. Second (as in the German word Fasnacht) it can refer to the Indo-European word stem ‘pes‘, and our word ‘penis‘, and thus to fertility.

For the word ‘carnaval‘ there are three explanations from Latin: First, carnevale – meat farewell, referring to the approach of Lent. Second, related to the first, carnelevare – to abolish the meat. Third, carrus navalis – ship cart, or float, and that’s something quite different.

Carnival float, photograph: http://hetiscarnaval.homestead.comFloats have been present in fertility festivals from Norway to Greece since pre-Christian times. Some historians think that the carnival float is a remainder of the ancient Indo-European brotherhoods. Other people consider it as a parody of the Ship of Saint Peter, which represents the Catholic Church. And that isn’t improbable either, because carnival has always been the festival of parody and reversed relationships.

The carrus navalis appears early enough in the written history of the Maastricht carnival: in 1133, a blue ship on wheels arrived from Aachen into Maastricht, dragged on by members of the guild of weavers, and continued its way to Tongeren. Scattered reports about vastenavond in Maastricht from later years exist as well. But how did the modern carnival festival come into being?

The Momus Society
The retreat of a strict government in favour of a more lenient one has always given a strong impulse to carnival. After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, and the resulting Congress of Vienna, there was room for new associative life ‘for instruction and pleasure’ (‘tot lering ende vermaak’).Various carnival associations burgeoned in the Rhineland and the newly chosen carnival princes wore a fool’s hat that bore an uncomfortable resemblance with the Napoleonic bicorn, placed crosswise. Of course, the alert Maastricht people didn’t fail to notice this.

The Momus Society, named after the Greek god of satire, was founded in Maastricht in 1839. During its hundred years of existence, the Society organised many events in the fields of sports, charity and culture, among which also historical ‘cavalcades’ (historical parades with many horses) on the occasion of carnival. The first carnival parade organised by the Momus Society was a parody of the ‘entrée solennelle’ in 1520 of the emperor Charles V in Maastricht.

After buying the Momus House, located on the eastern side of the city centre’s beautiful Vrijthof square, the association refurbished the building, basing all the measurements on the number eleven, a symbolical number for carnival. Its front façade was adorned with the well-known stone fool’s head. In its 1872 association rules, the Momus Society speaks of “really-fine folly, but not beyond the boundaries of decency”.

Momus House in Maastricht, photograph: Herman Pijpers

Many humouristic orators gave addresses in Mestreechs. Mounted on a winged horse called Pegasus, the poets were allowed to escape from reality, but upon reaching the star constellation of the same name, they were met by eleven elves who would bring them back to Mother Earth. (In Dutch the number eleven is elf, which is also the word for the well known nature spirit, in English and German and Dutch. One of the (many) explanations for the symbolical carnival number eleven is that it comes from the name of the nature spirit (in old-German: alf).)

The carnival festivities 
Alphone Olterdissen, photograph: M.Reuvers-HendriksAt the beginning of the twentieth century, the Big Carnival Parade was organised by the unforgettable pacemaker Alphonse Olterdissen, whose cast iron statue stands in the Grote Looiers Street. Special committees were responsible for the other activities, both indoors and in the open air. Stately halls were reserved for high society, while the lower echelons would feast in the streets and pubs.

After 1936, a growing number of individuals started taking part in the carnival parades (a phenomenon known as the ‘Bonte Storm van Einzelgänger‘), and the mayor of Maastricht officially welcomed the city’s Prince Carnival at the municipal hall. More often than not, some ministers of the national government were present at the reception as well.

Momus cannon, photograph: Tempeleers websiteDuring the Second World War, the German authorities banned the festival, so it returned with new vitality after the war.

Every year the city’s carnival festivities are organised by Maastricht’s main carnival association the Tempeleers and the people of Maastricht choose a new carnival song, composed in Mestreechs. The Prince heralds carnival with eleven shots from the old Momus cannon, and hoists up a large papier-mâché puppet, the Mooswief, which represents the patroness of the Maastricht carnival. This is the well-known woman selling vegetables at the market, whose stone statue stands on the Market square. She guards the festival from above. At the closing ceremony marking the end of carnival, the Prince hauls the puppet down again.

In the 1960’s, young people began to challenge authority all over the western world, and carnival developed even further in Maastricht. ‘Drunken’ wind bands (‘zate herremeniekes‘) increasingly began to contribute to the colourful street festival.

The meaning of carnival for the people of Maastricht
Mooswief, photograph: Tempeleers brochureAn elderly Maastricht resident told me that in his early days, people used to pray the forty-hour prayer for the poor sinners who couldn’t behave during carnival. In his view, people who didn’t grow up in Maastricht couldn’t celebrate vastelaovond in the right way. As for himself, he had taken part in the organisation of both religious processions and carnival parades. For instance, he had led a group of winged motorscooters, offering a solution for the traffic problems on the old Saint Servaas bridge. He explained that although one could borrow things from the Tempeleers’ storehouse, people usually had to do most of the work without help. He regretted that nowadays, ‘people weren’t patient enough to prepare a nice act for the parade.’ He saw leadership as a serving task. As a matter of fact, carnival pacemakers were often leaders in sports clubs or in youth work organisations as well.

I also spoke with a most friendly Tempeleer and former Prince Carnival. He told me that in the early eighties some Tempeleer friends had tricked him into the function of Prince. In his role, he had had to pay visits to all the rest homes in Maastricht for several weeks. During vastelaovond, perfect strangers had poured out their hearts to him. His broad fool’s head has been beaming with festive joy ever since.

Prince Carnival in Maastricht, Carnival 2006, photograph: Tempeleers websiteWhen I asked him about the origin of the Maastricht carnival, he replied that this was a mystery, and should remain a mystery forever. Moreover, he presently had more important things to think about. The Tempeleers wished to proclaim our city’s mayor Gerd Leers the most thorough-going mayor of the whole Meuse-Rhine Euroregion. And this was going to happen during a festal Veolia bus ride along the trenches caused by the inner city works. It had to be an event with esprit, the former Prince Carnival stated, ‘because esprit was the basis of the Maastricht Vastelaovond.’

The Mestreechter Geis
The spirit of Maastricht (Mestreechter Geis) has been greatly influenced by the city’s history.

First of all, we think about Catholicism: severe in theory, but mild for the confessant. The people of Maastricht know that the soup is not as hot when you eat it as when it is served (‘De soep wordt nooit zo heet gegeten als dat zij wordt opgediend’). Second, we think of new rulers turning up again and again throughout the centuries. They come with awful war violence, proclaim severe laws, and depart to be replaced by new rulers with other laws. The people of Maastricht have learned to consider how to ignore the new rules without offending the authorities. This is how they played off the rulers from Liège against those from Brabant for many centuries.

The spirit of Maastricht (Mestreechter Geis), photograph: Sueli Brodin

Humour and practical jokes are a necessary part of this way of being. Maastricht humour is mild and doesn’t violate other people’s dignity. The people of Maastricht will not directly confront another person’s viewpoint, preferring to demonstrate in a subtle way that their opinion differs.

And for Maastricht, dialect is indispensable too. No other city in the Netherlands cherishes its dialect to the same degree. Mestreechs is a ‘sweet language’ (‘zeute taol’ ) indeed. Both high and low society speak it, much thanks to the Momus Society and Olterdissen!

The popularity of carnival
Carnival in Maastricht, photograph: M.Reuvers-HendriksThe Indo-European brotherhoods may be the forerunners of freemasonry, but not of the modern carnival associations. Of course, it is in the character of men to gather in clubs, lest they should always sit at home (which reminds of a nice movie: Sons of the Desert, starring Laurel and Hardy.) And it is no secret that women enjoy dressing up. Seen in this light, carnival is an excellent occasion for young men and women to contact each other in a virtuous way.

But in my view, a more important reason for the popularity of carnival is the opportunity to be creative among friends: just think of the costumes, the floats, the puppets, the music, the speeches, the magazines, the comical acts, the organisation, and so on.

However, our Catholic writer Bertus Aafjes once formulated the most important aspect of carnival: the opportunity to let the soul tread outside of the body. This is quite unlike debauchery. When people from the north of the Netherlands come to celebrate carnival in Maastricht, they often make this painful mistake.

So all in all, it appears that historical circumstances in Maastricht favouring the development of a strong carnival tradition were just exceptionally good!

By Hennie Reuvers

Dressing up for carnival in Maastricht, photograph: M.Reuvers-Hendriks


Introduction Week – Academic

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

Introduction week was a blast with all the parties sponsored by the Erasmus Student Network…but I am here to learn. RIGHT, MOM AND DAD?!

Maastricht uses an innovative education model called Problem Based Learning. Here is what the university website has to say about PBL:

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This system was one of the main reasons I was drawn to study here in Maastricht. The university consists of 42% international students, and I think this diversity paired with a discussion based learning environment will lend itself to some fantastic conversations and fascinating learning. According to the Maastricht University School of Business and Economics Facebook Page, 227 exchange students from 69 different partner universities and 32 countries world-wide attended the Introduction Days and will be enrolled as full-time students this spring. Introduction day at the business school meant I was finally going to experience the PBL method and meet my diverse classmates! It was like a nerdy Christmas day!

Registration opened at 9am on the first day of Introduction. I was really impressed by the flow and organization of the entire two days starting from the moment I walked in. Each student received a personal envelope which included our Student ID card, official acceptance letter, maps, city information, a student handbook and a schedule for the day.

We then had a breakfast meet and greet to talk with other students in our program. This was hilarious social observing. I believe most of us came here to meet people from all over the world, yet during our first chance to talk to foreign classmates everyone tended to congregate with students from their homelands. I know I ended up talking with Americans and other students whom I had already met.

At 1oam we took our seats in a very nice lecture hall. The facilities here are impressive – a true blend of old Hogwarts type architecture with a new, modern feel inside. On each seat was one of these awesome orange bags:


 Taking this selfie bag shot on my computer was easily the strangest part of my day. The bag is great though, I had to show it! Also, the bright orange has been convenient for me. I still often get lost on my way to the business school, and it is a relief when I am able to follow another student with an orange bag and know they are heading to the same place I am!

The morning lectures started with a Welcome by Tom Van Veen, then progressed through this schedule:

Welcome Speech by Mayor Onno Hoes

  • Yes, as in the Mayor of Maastricht. He descended from the dark stairs in the back and walked up to the podium with charisma. He gave a fantastic speech about how our classmates are a great learning opportunity. He also referenced the Maastricht Treaty and how studying abroad can be an extension of the treaty’s purpose to have a pan-European community. He also touched on all the fun Maastricht has to offer, like Carnival!

School Matters by Ruth Reynders

  • The Dutch use a grading system of 1-10. You need to get a 5.5 to pass a class. Most students fall into the 6/7 category. It is impossible to receive a 10, and nearly impossible to receive a 9 or even an 8.5. Lucky for me, I just have to pass my classes and none of my grades here will effect my GPA! Though there was a collective gasp of horror at this grading system from other international students who aren’t as lucky to be taking classes pass/fail.

Police Maastricht by Paul Vermin

  • The usual safety warning

PBL the concept by Wim Gijselaers

  • Please visit the PBL Preparation website to learn more about the process
  • I think the concept is ideal for education and even efficiency in the workplace. It is similar to creating a giant think tank of ideas in a single classroom with an extremely diverse array of people with different backgrounds, education, political beliefs, upbringing ect. Group cohesion isn’t the goal. Contradicting ideas are supposed to drive conversation, and we work together as a team to come up with new ideas and help teach each other the material.
  • Clearly, Wim Gijselaers sold me! I’m a fan of PBL. Though, I am very fortunate to have English as my first language. I have so much respect for non-native speakers who take PBL classes. What a challenge to have to think on your feet, understand the material AND speak in front of a group in a foreign language. The level of English spoken at MU is impressive, and academic conversations are comparable to those in the States. I’m surrounded by very impressive students at MU!

ESN activities by ESN President

  • The ESN President gave a charismatic speech in a full suit (then later that night I saw him standing on the bar pouring tequila shots into people’s mouths). That dichotomy is the best snapshot to describe ESN. It is a very polar organization with part super professional, and part crazy party.

Dealing with the Dutch by Mark Vluggen

  • Ha! Dutch people making fun of themselves is my new favorite comedy genre.
  • This was hysterical, and accurate. He touched on a lot of what I’ve been feeling as an American here.
  • One idea he commented on was the German students. German students take school very seriously, while the Dutch tend to just put in the work required to pass. Of course these are bold generalizations, but the lecturer assured us to anticipate these characteristics.

After lecture, we met with our groups to get lunch. My group had about 15 people in it from all over the world. During lunch, I sat with Chinese students and talked to them about China. They were shocked that an American knew how to speak some Chinese and that I had visited China. Their surprise with this minimal Chinese culture awareness is bummer considering they were speaking perfect English to me. America has the reputation of being very nationalistic and citizens fairly ignorant about the rest of the world. While this might be the case, I think (hope) we are improving.

The number of American passports issued since 2000 has nearly doubled. Read this article from Forbes about American Passports for more information on American’s going abroad.

After lunch we visited some key buildings around campus, including the library and student services complex. Our tour guide explained that everyone dresses up to go to the library. This is strange to me, since I one time spent all night in the library in basically pajamas. He was right though, people did look great. I think this might be because as MU students we have so much reading to do, that we all spend a lot of time inside the library, so it is almost a social spot. I guess I can trade in my glasses for some mascara to go study!

The tour concluded our first Introduction Day. A group of us struggled together to find our way back to our dormitory. We’re all 20-something and yet felt like college freshman lost on campus on our way home. When I was actually a college freshman I used landmarks like the gym to navigate home. Here I use landmarks like a medieval cathedral.

Day two kicked off at 10am with the long anticipated…PBL session! We were given a small excerpt on Wikileaks, and then discussed. The “formal” format of a PBL lecture should follow these seven steps:

1. Word Definitions from the reading

2. Problem statements

3. Brainstorm

4. Analyse and criticize

5. Learning objectives

6. Study the required literature

7. Post discussion

Our teaching assistant said this format isn’t strictly followed, but provides more of a loose backbone to the discussion. I enjoyed the following two hours discussing Wikileaks. We hopped from the topics of whistleblowing in the workpace, to the role of government, freedom of information as a human right, the need for watchdogs and government responsibility, the dangers of too much information…conversation leaped into so many interesting directions! Each person came from a different cultural background so many different beliefs were represented and shared. This was just a “practice session” but I walked out feeling like I learned a lot. Can’t wait to experience a “real session”.

After the PBL session we headed to the school cafeteria where…

Club music was playing and we were given four drink tickets good for soda, juice, wine and beer! PS THIS IS 1:00 IN THE AFTERNOON INSIDE THE SCHOOL CAFETERIA! Hosts were walking around with plates of hors d’œuvres to students gathered around small cocktail tables. I found this all amusing, then totally lost it laughing when I saw a slideshow playing photos from the previous night at the pub crawl. Again, another flawless semi-bizarre but fantastic mix of fun and professionalism.

The introduction days at Maastricht University were nothing short of impressive, and I look forward to my time studying here!

Here are some photos of the business school:

Smaller lecture hall – a screen comes down for presentations. Also, desks don’t discriminate against left-handers! I love it!


Entrance to business school


Cafeteria seating


*Photos from Maastricht University School of Business and Economics Facebook Page

Introduction Week – Social

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

Since my arrival at Maastricht University the word “Erasmus” has been floating around during daily life. Curious, I asked a friend what it meant, and learned yet another reason why I think many European countries are doing education right.

The Erasmus Programme stands for EuRopean Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students and also holds the namesake of Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus. In 1495 Erasmus was granted a stipend to study at the University of Paris. He later attended Universities in Leuven, England, Basel, Venice and traveled to many other European cities.

Created in 1987 by the European Commission, the Erasmus Programme aims to create an opportunity for EU students to also study throughout Europe as Desiderius Erasmus did hundreds of years ago. In addition to creating a network of participating schools, the Erasmus program also offers scholarships and grants to European students.

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This concept ROCKS. Education is so expensive in America, and many students are prohibited from studying abroad due to financial limitations. The Erasmus Programme opens up an experience of a lifetime to all EU students by providing financial assistance and an easy means to go abroad.

While I did not receive any money from the Erasmus Programme (being American and all) I am still benefiting from the programme. Erasmus is more than an academic institution, it also adds a huge social component.

My first week here was filled with ESN – Erasmus Student Network events. Here is a breakdown of what Introduction Week looked like in Maastricht:

Jan. 28-Jan, 30: ESN hosted City Tours to show new students around Maastricht. After the city tours, they took us to Kiwi for a free drink to socialize with other new students. Click here for the Facebook event to learn more.

  • It is possible that I did not attend the City Tour; but made it to Kiwi every night for the free drink….maybe. It was always a great way to start the night and make new friends! Basically the entire second floor was reserved for Erasmus students, and new faces were always coming and going. Lots of fun! This is Kiwi.Screen shot 2013-02-04 at 3.12.54 PM

Monday, Jan. 28 Welcome Drink at The Shamrock. Click here for the Facebook event to learn more.

  • The Shamrock is a small Irish pub in town, and is quickly becoming one of my favorite places to go. I was introduced to The Shamrock on my first night in town. Since then I’ve had fun trying new kinds of beers and running into loads of other students enjoying the small, relaxed atmosphere of The Shamrock.

Tuesday, Jan. 29 Beer Rallies – teams of 4 compete to chug their beer the fastest. Really. Click here for the Facebook event to learn more and here for photos.

  • I had the intentions of keeping this blog entirely alcohol free, but that simply is not going to work. Beer is essential to the culture here, and is treated much differently in the Netherlands than in the States. The drinking culture here is responsible, and focuses on the social aspects. I’m not sure where the US college culture became so warped with alcohol consumption, but we could learn a few lessons from Europeans.
  • My friend, Marta, from Barcelona and I paired up with the two biggest guys in the room we could find – we were going to take this competition very seriously!
  • Essentially the game works as a race. Two “judges” stand on each side of the table. They “cheers” their beers, then drink in unison. The first judge to put their beer down on the table starts the race,  so both ends of the teams have to pay attention. The first person chugs their beer, puts the cup on their head to prove it is empty, smashes it down on the table and the next person goes. The last person on the team of 4 to have their cup hit the table first, wins!


Wednesday, Jan. 30 Pubquiz. Click here for the Facebook event to learn more.

  • This night some of us opted to stay in and hang out. I’m sure it was a fun event!

Thursday, Jan. 31 Pub Crawl. Click here  for the Facebook event to learn more and here for photos.

(photo credit ESN Maastricht)


  • Before the Pub Crawl my friend, Lukas, from Italy cooked some of us REAL Italian pasta. Check out my blog post about Italians in the Kitchen.
  • After our Italian dinner, we met about 250 or so students in the Vrijthof (the main city square) and broke out into groups. We joined group 3 and had a mix of 5 or so European countries represented in our Pub Crawl group.
  • The Pub Crawl went through seven bars around Maastricht…a great way to learn our way around the town and meet more people!

Friday, Feb. 1 CANTUS. Click here to read about Cantus. PS that wasn’t a friendly link share, that was a demand! I cantus believe I had never heard of Cantus before, you should know about it too!

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Seriously, go read about Cantus.

Saturday, Feb. 2 prESNow party. Click here for the Facebook event to learn more and here for photos.

Sunday, Feb. 3 Superbowl at the Shamrock, starting at 12:30am read my post about The Superbowl and Other Sports Abroad.

Monday, Feb. 4 Mexican Night. Click here for the Facebook event to learn more and here for photos.

Tuesday, Feb. 5 White Party click here for photos.

  • We had dinner with friends then went downtown to an apartment pre-party and looked silly walking around as a group in all white outside of the white party.

The night started like this….

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Then turned into something more like this…

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At the end of this crazy introduction week, I am ready to start classes and dive into academics. (Token education related closure for you, Mom and Dad.)

Cooking with Italians

Posted on by Reagan J Payne in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

In The Godfather Clemenza delivers my favorite line after his driver was murdered:

“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

Since that scene, the quote has evolved into something of a mantra that basically means ‘don’t sweat it, move on. Take the cannoli and go.’ Yeah, that’s a cool mantra! Ok! But what I really love about this scene is that Clemenza took a second from his routine chaos to remember he promised his family that he would bring home dessert.

Clemenza’s responsibility to bring good food to the table was his highest priority – and this is a high priority shared by my Italian friends in Maastricht. I’ve now enjoyed three meals prepared by Italians – and they have been some of my favorite meals in my 20 years of eating!

My friend Kristen and I were invited to eat REAL Italian pasta after we told our friend, Lukas, how horrible we are at cooking. As Americans, Kristen and I get impatient while making pasta. Sometimes we put the pasta in before the water boils, or maybe stop cooking too early. We use store bought pasta, the cheapest one. To us, pasta is an affordable dinner that is fairly easy to make.

Don’t. Ever. Tell. An. Italian. These. Pasta. Sins.

Lukas walked us through the proper Italian way to make pasta, and it honestly looked like he was making a different meal because there was SO much more that goes into making pasta than throwing noodles into a boiling pot of water.

My favorite moment of the cooking tutorial was when Lukas pulled out his iPhone, and casually set a pasta timer. HE HAS AN APP FOR PASTA. Once Kristin and I could control our laughter, he showed us how the app has different settings depending on the type of pasta, what sauces you should pair with each noodle – it was very extensive.

After hearing the words, but never quite knowing what they meant, I FINALLY learned what ‘al dente’ means! Lukas and our other Italian friend, Michael, perfectly explained the meaning like true Italians – with their hands. ‘Al dente’ means firmness of the noodle to the teeth. Both explained by pretending to gnaw on a noodle, because when words are limited, the Italians have a way of visual expression.

We learned to cook like Italians, then during dinner, we learned to talk like them.

537109_10200503426975193_1990973699_nThroughout dinner, Lukas and Michael would switch off explaining different hand gestures and how to use them. It is almost an art of communicating. These hand motions are universally understood within Italy. Often words fail us, and when words fail in Italy, there is a dynamic way to express yourself with your hands.

Grazie (Godfather) Lukas and Michael!

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Some friends came over to our dorm to enjoy wine and each other’s company. Our group consisted of two people from the USA, three from Norway, one from Israel, and three from Italy. We had wine, cheese crackers and salami to snack on. When that was all eaten, the Italians took over. I said I was hungry, and BOOM all three Italians congregated around the stove.

Kristen and I handed over the pasta noodles and canned sauces we had on hand…and faced much disgust about or culinary decisions. Trying to compensate for our pasta inadequacies, we handed over all our fresh produce also. Heated Italian discussions fired up in the kitchen as they tried to decide what to do with their very limited ingredient options.

For the next thirty minutes our kitchen was an Italian cooking battle-zone! Coming from different parts of Italy, all three had differing opinions on everything – from how much oil to use, to how long to cook the pasta. For the rest of us, it was an hysterical display of pasta maniacs and a blast to watch our Italian friends acting very Italian. For the chefs, it was an important art form to not be messed up.

Somehow, with the pathetically lacking ingredients, they pulled it off! Pasta was flowing onto our plates, and new plates were pulled out for every new person who came down our hallway. I understand now why Italians make such large quantities of food – it welcomes people to the table!

As Nora titled this photo: Italian cooking, by Italians. How exotic.


 The third Italian meal I enjoyed was again, by the one and only Lukas!

He prepared a traditional south Tyrolean meal/snack – including the delicious dry-cured, lightly smoked ham called prosciutto!

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 In true Italian form, the meal was inviting to everyone. Nobody had plates, and the dishes were easy to access. People had their hands free to pop in a snack, then talk to a new friend. Italy does it right. Food is not only enjoyable, it also brings together friends for a great meal. I’m so pleased Italians understand the value of dining because many of my new friends have been met over a bowl of spaghetti or handful of prosciutto.

Alla salute!

PS We want to host a Thanksgiving feast for our Italian friends, but we only have a stove top and microwave, no oven! Ah! Have ideas about traditional Thanksgiving food that doesn’t require an oven? Please comment!

Eating Cheap as an Exchange Student

Posted on by Reagan J Payne in Recommendations | 3 Comments

Dining out is eating away at my wallet.

Existing in a foreign country as an exchange student is a strange limbo between native and visitor. Everything feels foreign, yet everything around us is home for the next five months. So far I’ve been buying food with the mentality of a visitor – try it all! Now, after a horrified look into an empty wallet, I’m switching to treating food and drink spending as a native – and will hopefully start saving money!

Step 1 

Explore a few grocery stores, ask people who live here, and determine which stores are best for which products. For me, I’ve determined that Albert Heijn is my go-to affordable store for all things besides produce. Aldi’s is a farther walk from my apartment, but has the cheapest produce and is worth the extra effort.

While in line in Albert Heijn yesterday, I noticed all the locals holding identical blue cards. Curious, I ASKED. Most good saving discoveries come from simply asking, and sure enough, I learned all about the AH Reward program by asking a QUESTION to the cashier.

I’m now a proud AH Reward card holder!


Step 2

Opt to cook over eating out. I’ve met most of my neighbors on my floor while (attempting) to cook in the comunal kitchen. There is a sense of community and connectedness when you prepare food as a group, then sit down and eat together. My soups might be watery and my vegetables burned, but I love cooking here for the people value and quality time spent in the kitchen together. I’m in week two and starting to figure out cheap recipes that I enjoy. Stay tuned for my Students Eat Cheap Recipes and please comment with your own staple meals. I’d love to learn new dishes!

Step 3 

Keep ingredients simple and start buying from the bottom. “Start buying from the bottom” is my way of saying that the more natural (and usually healthier!) the product, the cheaper it is.

I often use basil, but found the packaged basil too expensive. Instead, I opted with purchasing my own basil plant. It was two euros, and has provided both myself and other members of my floor with an endless amount of basil. This was about half the price of purchasing a much smaller quantity of basil, prepackaged.

Look for herb plants; NEVER buy pre-cut fruit. It will take you five minutes to slice up your fruit, and that five minutes will save you from a ridiculously expensive additional charge.

Avoid individually pre-packaged snacks. Again, extra charges. Buy a few ziplock baggies and pack snacks yourself – much more affordable!

Step 4 

Buy store brand and take a few seconds to scan for the cheapest option. There’s no need to spend extra money on a special brand of tomato sauce: we’re in college. One day we can buy Spaghetti Bolognase le Fancy, but for now we are college students eating off plastic plates. Love it, embrace it, and buy generic.

Step 5

Don’t be afraid to go native! I’d much rather make and eat a Dutch Bitterbal snack than a boring ol’ PB&J. Explore new local recipes, and even new food.

Here is where I allow some food splurging. The Dutch have incredible cheeses, so once a week I buy a new kind of cheese to try. Find food that is important to you, or important to the culture you’re in, and be OK spending a little bit of money on it. The cheese is a treat for me, and I’m having a gouda time trying all the different kinds!

Step 6 

Learn how to cook and find fun recipes to try. There are fantastic cooking recipes out there, start building a collection. I’ve been finding recipes through:

  • Dutch home magazines. I found a Dutch cookbook, but for seven euros I’m happy I didn’t buy it. In most cafes here, magazines are on tables, many often in English. Flip through, find a recipe, and cook your own Dutch avondeten!
  • Pinterest. Of course. I have two boards going for travel cooking. One board is dedicated to cold dishes, or dishes that will be easy to prepare while hosteling. The other board is where I store more adventurous recipes, but still all easy to prepare.
  • Whole Foods Recipe iPhone App – free!
  • AllRecipes iPhone App – free!
  • Recipes by Better Homes iPhone App – free!
  • Ask people in your hallway to show you their favorite meals and how to prepare them. I’m learning about new foods and new ways to prepare foods from other students from around the world. It really is a lot of fun! There’s plenty of wait time while cooking, so conversations really get rolling while cooking together. What might start off as an exchange of cooking tips often turns into an enlightening exchange of cultures.

When collecting recipes, be sure to first look at the ingredients list. Don’t cook a meal that includes multiple, pricey ingredients that you’ll never use again. Stick to the basics, and find recipes that cater to the ingredients you already own.

Step 7

Explore local stores and build relationships. I’ve made friends with the local baker, and always have her pick out which bread I should get. Last time I was in she gave me a rye bread that looked bland, until I tore a piece off and found it filled with fruit! At restaurants, see what dish is the server’s favorite. Typically, it won’t be what you were initially eying. Here’s my philosophy on ordering – you have to eat the rest of your life. Treat food you spend money on as an experience, and go for it! You know what a hamburger tastes like…but what is this Hutspot and Snert?! Try it.

Step 8 

Pack snacks. A handfull of nuts. An apple. Cheese, salami and crackers. Avoid little snack spending this way.

Step 9

Make coffee a treat, not a necessity…AAHHH!! I’ve been making myself a lot of tea, and pretending that it is filling the void of my daily coffee. I’ve decided to never order a coffee to go. Cappuccinos and all other coffee drinks here are simply TOO GOOD to not sit down, and savor. Frankly, also too expensive. I enjoy taking my seat at cafes somewhat behind the counter, because I love to watch the baristas at work. It is an art here, and after working as a barista for a year, I understand the training and skill it takes to create the perfect espresso beverage.

Some cafes host free tasting events, I’m looking forward to attending one while I’m here!

Step 10 

It is SO MUCH CHEAPER to cook for multiple people than to cook for one. Make friends with the people you live with, and figure out a schedule to share meals. One idea is to create an “International Dinner” where everyone brings one dish from their home nation. This is a cheaper alternative to eating because you just have to create one dish and then get a full dinner from sampling other people’s foods. Potluck dinners and creating a schedule for cooking for each other allows a stronger community and a cheaper alternative to eating alone.

A Lecture on Dutch Politics

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

Few things catch my attention like the word “FREE!”

On a walk down an avenue near the University I spotted a poster advertising a free lecture on Dutch politics. The lecture was to be held at 6:30 in the Law Facility, and I had every intention of being there.

With a few hours to kill before the lecture, I walked around and discovered back neighborhoods, boutiques, hidden windmills, a petting zoo and other “personality” places that together, form the perfectly quirky Maastricht that I love.

I then met my friends for dinner at Kiwi, which I was told was a popular and affordable spot for students to meet – I imagined a Chipotle equivalent.

Click here to see photos of Kiwi – this “college hangout” is a snapshot of how the Dutch are way trendier than American college students.

We ended up sitting next to girls our age from New Zealand and Australia and combined tables to enjoy a dinner full of laughter and accusations of pronouncing common English words funny. Connections are more quick and effortless in different countries, and social norms don’t exist. Wildly inappropriate conversations dictated our dinner topics. Despite our new friends’ efforts to keep us at Kiwi instead of attending the lecture, my two friends and I bolted at 6:20 to try and arrive on time to the lecture.

We were moving at a brisk trot (ok more like a pathetic girly run) and rounded a corner perfectly in sync with my Irish friend coming down the street. I let out a croaking “I am out of breath” type “AHHELO” really not cool. He greeted me with an “oy!” in that perfectly attractive Irish accent. We turned down a dinner invitation because we were so determined to make it to this free lecture! He pointed us in the right direction, and off we went again, trying not to giggle at the serendipitous run-in and my awkward social skills.

We miraculously arrived at the lecture before it started, and took our seats near the back of the half-full auditorium. From the handout, I learned that this lecture is sponsored by JEF Maastricht – the local section of the Young European Federalists.

Click here to learn more about JEF – Europe.

Attending a federalist event in the birthplace of the Maastricht Treaty seemed appropriate, and I sat back in anticipation of the lecture.

I took notes during the lecture, but had many gaps in my comprehension. I knew little about Dutch politics or even much on Dutch history going into the lecture. For most school subjects in the States, I at least have some background on the material. It was a challenging experience sitting through a lecture with extremely limited background knowledge on the subject.

Between scribbling notes and trying to piece together the lecture, here is what I learned:


  • Transitioned to Kingdom of the Netherlands from a former republic system


  • Parliamentary rule was added with the Constitutional Monarchy to form a parliamentary democracy.
  • Political tension existed between the liberals (wanted to extend parliamentary power) and the conservatives (wanted to respect royal power)

1860′s – ish

  • Catholics and Protestants had been politically divided, but during this era joined forces against secular liberal parties.
  • Big issue was over education. Catholics and Protestants wanted their children to be educated in religious institutions, not in state school, and demanded funds for religious schools. The Christian block succeeded and won funding.


  • Growth of the Labor Movement
  • Time of strong Pillarisation
  • Pillarisation is essentially a divide in society – politically, socially and religiously.
  • Pillars included: Roman Catholic pillar, Protestant pillar, Social Democrat pillar and General
  • Civil and political life were organized within the pillars, voters followed the precedents set by the pillars’ political leaders; newspapers operated within pillars.

Early 1900′s

  • 1919 Women gain the right to vote. (Editor’s note: WAHOO!)
  • Christian parties held majority in parliament


  • German invasion of Holland
  • The Netherlands hoped to stay neutral (held neutral position during WWI) but capitulated after the Germans destroyed Rotterdam.
  • 75% of the Dutch Jewish population was killed in concentration camps – this is a much higher percentage than neighboring countries.

Post war

  • Return to a religiously-dominated parliament
  • 1956 – parliament expanded from 100 to 150 seats

Starting in the ’60s…

  • Populations became less religious, and political affiliations became more secular
  • Economically, the labor party was shrinking
  • Post-war baby boom created a younger voting class with less political affiliation to existing pillars
  • Pillar lines blurred, new parties formed at a rapid rate, lots of political friction with many small parties


  • Christian Democrat party had parliamentary majority, centrist
  • Conservative Liberal party gained support, social-democrat
  • Dutch Labor Party (had to Google to finally figure this out! The Dutch call this party the PVDA) more left-wing, social-democrat
  • These three parties rose above all the small factions and formed the basis of modern Dutch politics


  • The Purple era – Purple for the mixing of red/blue (socialist/liberal)
  • Liberal legislation on abortion, gay rights, euthanasia all introduced during Purple era
  • 2002 – the rise of Pim Fortuym List (fascinating leader, read more about him here) who campaigned on an anti-immigration platform. He was shot a week before elections, leaving 26 seats out of the 150 in parliament without a political leader


  • Dutch politics in constant flux
  • The lecturer theorized that this constant flux and disorganization is natural. Because the pillar system fell, he sees Dutch politics in a period of finding a new way to organize
  • There is no stable political demographic. The most stable is the meritocratic divide, classified by the level of education.
  • The political agenda is focused on economic issues, and therefore is somewhat stable because it is a one-topic dominated agenda
  • general population seems dissatisfied with politicians
  • Immigration is still a big issue

I’m hoping to find a professor to have lunch with and learn more about politics in the Netherlands. This outline is my very basic understanding, and I hope to learn a more dynamic history of Dutch politics. The lecture did not talk much on modern day politics, but I hope to gain a larger insight by simply being in the Netherlands.

The Purple era is especially interesting to me. America is struggling to pass a liberal agenda, and it is incredible to me that a country was able to make so many strides in one ideological direction in such a short amount of time. Much controversy surrounds the murder of Pim Fortuym List, and it is fascinating to entertain thoughts about what direction the Netherlands would’ve taken under his leadership.

The United States operates with a two-party system. In the Netherlands, it is not unusual to see more than nine parties holding seats. Because 76/150 seats are necessary to have parliamentary majority, parties have to form allegiances and share common goals to get anything done.

The Electoral College doesn’t exist in Holland, thus where votes are cast does not matter. Voting is instead based on proportional representation. The percentage of the nation that votes for a party = the percentage of seats in national parliament. This system allows small parties to be represented.

We have a system of checks and balances with the United States governing system. The Dutch follow a model of consociationalism, which is essentially power-sharing.

Different systems, both work.

With that said, I look forward to learning more about politics in the Netherlands. Sitting through one lecture on the topic has only created a very thin baseline understanding, and I can’t wait to learn more and gain a more dynamic understanding.