For most American teenagers, this would mean that I can buy cigarettes and vote. However, since I don't smoke and I currently do not live in the country of which I am a citizen, neither of these is going to happen anytime soon. In Belgium, 18 usually means learning how to drive (that was 16 for me), the right to vote (not in this country!), and the right to buy hard alcohol.
So, basically, not much changed with my age. I still can't drive here and prefer the train anyway, can't vote, and probably still won't take up smoking or hard drinking. I mostly just gained a new mindset- even though it is highly unlikely that I'm going to start partying hard, I know that I could if I wanted to. It's nice to have power.
Oh, and I can sign my own permission forms now.
Anyway, I didn't really have a celebration for my birthday. Instead, I went to Ghent, to visit my friend Mathilde, who is the one person in Belgium who knew me before last August. It was quite interesting to hear her français québécois and be able to understand it for the first time, something I've wanted to be able to do for nine years.
This is Ghent. And Mathilde.
I absolutely love the architecture in Flanders. It's just so...pretty. Maybe it's just because I'm used to Arlon, but it seems like the buildings in Wallonia are so plain and modern.
Ghent has three towers, all of which probably give a great view of the city, particularly on a day like this. There are two in the first picture, and the third one is below.
There were a few statues in the square...
Where is this guy pointing?
Mathilde wants to know too...
Mathilde brought me to see a giant 15th century cannon that is situated just next to the canal. There is even a street named after it!
They had to cover the opening so people wouldn't climb inside.
It was a gorgeous day...it must have been lovely to be on a boat in the canal.
In the background of the photo above, you can just see the flags of this castle, the Gravensteen, which is right in the middle of the city. It is over 800 years old and apparently offers a lovely view of the city.
That evening, Mathilde's host parents (who are Flemish, but spoke to me in French) brought us to a concert by a musician who was very popular a few decades ago. It was in Dutch, so I didn't understand any of the lyrics, but the music was quite enjoyable.
The next day, we all went to Brussels for an exposition showing the relationship between Europe and America, especially the United States.
L'Amérique, C'est Aussi Notre Histore!
Amerika, Dit Is Ook Onze Geschiedenis!
America, It's Also Our History!
The exposition had four parts, showing the development of America as it separated from Europe and became and independent nation and later a superpower. It began with "European America" as the European colonists from the Mayflower met with Native Americans, continued with "American America" as the United States became its own country and struggled with slavery and the Civil War, then moved into "American Europe" as the world faced two world wars and the Cold War, but countries also began to try to understand each other. Finally, there was "Europe and America" as we look back at the last twenty years and towards a future together.
There was something very familiar in the World War room...
...and again when we walked through the 1960s room.
It was wonderful to see and recognize the beginnings of AFS. I basically owe this organization my life, what with my three AFS siblings, and now my host family and exchange student friends from all over the world. Not to mention this entire year...
Best not to let me rant.
It was probably the best birthday I've ever had.
And I toasted it with my host family when I got home, then went to Beckerich's grand feu to say goodbye to winter and welcome the spring.