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Lakes, design and coffee

In April I visited my friend in Copenhagen. The next time I arrived at Københavns Lufthavne, I was on my way to Helsinki, Finland. During your Erasmus time you get to know a lot of new people. In May, I decided to book my trip to my Finnish, Riina. So it happened; waking up at 5:30 AM, catching my train at 8, up in the air at 9:30. Suomi, here I come!

Finland is, for the people who don’t know, locked up between Russia and Sweden. It has only 5.4 million inhabitants, which is not that much since the country is around 8 times bigger than the Netherlands (with approximately a population of 16.7 million). The country is famous for its lakes and islands. Just look at the map and you will see what I mean. Moreover, maybe some people know Suomi better for winning the Eurovision Songfestival (2006). Or the high prices. It might not be the ideal place for folks whose wallet is just as empty as their fridge (like me). Except, if you know where to go. With my guide Riina-Malla, aka Riina or Riini, it couldn’t go wrong. Well… it became a similar experience as with our guide in Brno: “I just feel like her”, she said when we arrived in Suomenlinna, the only and oldest fort Finland has. “I don’t what or why all these buildings are here”, referring to our splendid visit to Hrad Veveří (“We don’t know what it means, it might be English, but it might be French as well. We lack funding to do research on the origin of this cupboard” blablabla).

Suomenlinna, by the way, is worth visiting. Just stroll around the island, which is basically one big museum. The only difference is that there are still people living there. The landscape will reminds you of the Teletubbies or the Shire, part from the huge canons and other military stuff which can be found all over the island.
Helsinki has more to give than just one fort and high prices. Take a look in the white Helsingin tuomiokirkko (aka Helsinki Cathedral). Don’t go here on Saturday because every hour, there will be a wedding. Great if you love Say Yes to the Dress or Four Weddings, but not so great if you want to see the inside of the protestant cathedral. The other red brick stoned church, a bit further down the road, is called Uspenskin katedraali (great word for hangman or Wordfeud). From up there, the view is marvellous. But not as marvellous as you can get from the Torni Hotel. Why go there? Because you can have the best shit ever; a toilet with a panoramic view over Helsinki plus its area.

I’ve met Riina during my Erasmus in Vienna. Vienna likes alcohol and so do Finnish people. Unfortunately, alcohol is very, very expensive in Suomi. So what to do? As much Austrian people drink wine, beer and other stuff, Finnish people tend to have more coffee (kahvi)  in their veins than regular blood cells. Don’t expect your favourite cappuccino or sugar sweet lattes; Finnish don’t rape their coffees; they drink it pure and black. Or with a lot of (cold) milk; luckily Starbucks hasn’t opened a branch in Helsinki, yet.  Riina took me to a place called café Regatta (note; when someone says ‘cafeteria’, they mean a café, not a snackbar). The little red house was situated by the shore; a crackling fire, little sparrows twittering around and… good coffee with free refill. For hipster hunters, Helsinki would be an utopia. Finnish design (e.g. iittala) is to be found not only in the Design District, but also in the clothing of the inhabitants. Some creations could go straight to the catwalk and Armani or Chanel couldn’t hardly better them.

Helsinki has surprised me, in many ways. The views, the culture, the people, the nature… Helsinki is beautiful and doable in a few days. But really; make sure you have a local guide. Riina showed me all the secret and hidden places in the city; places where no tourists were there to be found. I ate the biggest soft ice cream of the city; had sushi behind a rock club (Kuudes Linja; lots of metal heads past us), together with 6 other native, blond, Finnish people (iittala cutlery and Ikea table). Of course, you communicate in English because sometimes you need 5 words to translate the Finnish word to English, because the Finnish language doesn’t use prepositions and make endlessly long words which are almost unpronounceable. For example
Kiitos vieraanvaraisuudesta: Suomi on kaunis ja vierailun arvoinen maa.

which means: Thank you for the hospitality: Finland is a beautiful country and worth visiting.

 

‘Coffee shop’ or ‘coffeeshop’

Jack Daniels. Jack Sparrow. Jack the Ripper. Jack and Jones. Jack Wolfskin. Jack Johnson. Jack Nicholson. Yes, Jack received a lot of nicknames during our time in Vienna. Especially Jack Daniels became quite popular because well… we liked the combination. Jack is from Australia, Sydney, to be precise. However, he studies in Vienna and speaks a bit German. Last week, he was in Amsterdam for a summer course on digital methods. And well, if one of your ‘mates’ is around, what would you do? Exactly; catch-up!

Apparently, Jack and his room mate Noel (New York) had crashed somewhere else last night, so I kind of found the Jack I was expecting. Hang-over. Luckily, Aussies have a great amount of energy and are inexhaustible (at least, the ones I have met). The only thing they need is a shower and a coffee. But the difference between ‘coffee shop’ and a ‘coffeeshop’ is more than just a space…

“Hey Marie, do you think I sound too Aussie?” asked Jack, after a ‘coffee’. Well bloke, at that point, I thought everything was ace. Especially his accent caused quite some amusement. Later that night we ended up at a house party, with a bunch of PHD students. Suddenly your situation “I just finished my study Arts and Culture” didn’t sound that impressing any more. Particularly when some dude from England tells you he just started his second PHD at the university of Utrecht. His first one was at Oxford.

Back to the accents. It appeared I was the only Dutch person in the room and for some reason, it was automatically assumed I knew the way in Amsterdam like the back of my hand. On our way to Leidseplein, it became clear I did not. However, when we finally reached an Irish pub and were all settled down with something to drink, the conversation of ‘where are you from’ continued. During my Erasmus, I have met many people from every corner of the world (South Korea to Finland). It was quite fun to hear all the different pronunciations. Most of the time you can tell where people are from. “Listen very carefully, I shall only say this once” is obviously a Frenchman, (or in this case, Michelle frrom thee rezistenz). Also Hercule Poirot does not hide his roots “No-no-no-no, I am not some French gent. I am some Belgian gent.” ( No-no. Ai em not som Frrenz zjent. Ai em som Belzjan zjent). I love it.

The English language has its own characteristics as well. The British English is often more ‘posh’ “top hole, old chap”. Except during Geordie Shore; then I’m very happy with the subtitles. Jacks’ accent (Australian) has its own characteristics. Coldies really influenced his choice of words and his strine. At one point (and I have to admit; I had drunk some plonk too), I had problems understanding him. But in the end, we had a rip snorter of a night. During our ‘breakfast’ (chips with mayonnaise at 5 AM), Jack noted that the inhabitants of Amsterdam sounded ‘weird’ and ‘funny’. It is true that Amsterdam has its own dialect. Just like Rotterdam and Maastricht. It is one of my favourite aspects of Holland; the accents. But ‘pure’ Dutch? I’m not sure where to find or to look for it. But I do know that ‘coffeeshop’ has the same meaning throughout the whole country.

Luckily, Jack liked both.

Abandon Spotted, fall in love

Okay funny story. I met my boyfriend of now almost three years here in Maastricht. At the library.

I walked towards him. Our eyes met. Instant attraction. The tension was almost unbearable. Fireworks, butterflies, the whole shebang. I walked past him. I went to get my books. Then to the copy machines. Made my way back. And then. I guess I felt adventurous and rebellious and a badass so I straight up walked up to him and hit on him. We started dating immediately.

I had just started my Bachelor and he had just gotten to Maastricht for his Erasmus semester. Clearly, neither one of us knew what we were getting ourselves into. You don’t expect the very first person you go out with in a new place to be the person that will change your life. Especially since a First-year student and an Erasmus student are about the most unsettled type of student out there, and not really in it for long-term relationships. But luckily there are always exceptions to the rule.

Now, Spotted, the (in)famous Facebook website dedicated to pointing out eye candy at the library or other UM- premises, is pretty old-school if you think about it. Whatever happened to face-to-face interaction, and self-esteem and charm? Everyone seems to be so overly confident and sassy on the Facebook page so instead of blurting out vulgarities online, why not turn it down a notch and come up with a more everyday-appropriate pick up line and actually approach your crush? And don’t anonymous suggestive comments scare a person off rather than increase the chances of the interest being mutual? No matter your intentions, if you are looking for a casual affair or are genuinely interested in getting to know a person, why do we feel like we can’t initiate it in person?

Is our generation to blame, for being too judgmental, too superficial, and too condescending to each other all the time? Why do we need an anonymous online platform to mediate our flirtatious conversations? Are we being too cruel to each other so that nobody can be entrusted with reacting to being hit on in a way that it is not humiliating for the other person? I know the website is also a compensation for our hard study and an outlet for adolescent antics containing the classic formula “Why don’t you x my y with your z next time?” and variations. But I can’t help but think of how crazy and wild things would get if it were a common thing to do that people actually worked up the courage to talk to each other. It is so socially accepted to walk up to a person in a club or just shamelessly start grinding up on someone on the dance floor so why not simply talk to someone in a more civilized environment? If anything, it will increase your chances of not regretting your partner choice the morning after because you consciously chose your subject… Think about it.

What I am trying to say is that had I allowed myself to listen to doubts or fear of rejection, my life would be completely different right now. I wouldn’t have traveled to the places that I traveled to. I wouldn’t speak Italian now, to him and his family. I wouldn’t have met some of my best friends. He would have gone back to Italy after only one semester instead of staying for two years. We wouldn’t have rented an apartment together. I wouldn’t walk through this city full of awe and wonder and exhilarated by the richness of memories I have of us. And then I think about how easy it could have been for us not to have met: I could have gone to the library on a different day, he could have been on a different floor, or by the coffee bar downstairs, or I could have walked a different way, never seeing him in the first place. The chance of us never meeting were much bigger from the start than the odds of us ending up together and that is a pretty scary thing to think about considering the huge impact we have had on each other’s lives. I swear, nothing would be the same.

So if you see someone you’re attracted to and you have a certain feeling about it, just be aware that there is a possibility, even if it is miniscule, that your life will change for the better. (There is always a chance that you might have bad luck and it will be the worst mistake you’ll ever make, and lead to the most terrible broken heart, leaving you emotionally scarred or forever resentful, in which case I will take zero responsibility.) But obviously the choice is up to you to make it happen or to always remain wondering what could have been. Think about all the people you will never meet that would make you happy, that you would love, and that you would want to share your life with. If you want to do your part, abandon Spotted, and fall in love for real. Or fall in whatever you want. I can’t wait to hear your stories. Or read them on Spotted.

Why my semester abroad in San Diego sucked

So a couple of weeks ago I came back from my semester abroad. Never in my life have I been this happy about returning to Europe, and I didn’t think I would ever qualify as a person that wanted to leave their exchange destination. Especially when said destination is San Diego, CA. Read more

Was it all just a dream?

I always considered the people talking about this condition to be whiners, but since I now feel it myself, this blog will be about my ‘post Erasmus depression’. Just to wrap up the whole experience.

It is difficult not to reach for clichés like how all the colours seem less vivid and how life seems so dull now. However, I figure I don’t need those clichés anyway because normal life isn’t dull and the winter in Maastricht is actually quite beautiful. The irony is that the PED did not come from a sense of missing Vienna or my friends. It feels like the past half a year was just a great dream, until I woke up in The Netherlands. And that is just the problem.

Because really, wasn’t it anything more than just a dream?

Read more