Sunday, May 31, 2009

First day in Belgium!

So after a long struggle to get the IMEC program running this year, it has finally become reality. I left the the states on Saturday, May 30th 2009 and arrived in Belgium around 7:30 am local time the next day. I departed from Houston, TX and had 1 layover in Newark, NJ. The flights were fairly short, Houston to Newark was approximately 3 hours and Newark to Brussels was about 7. The last time that I had airplane food as a meal was 8 years ago. Back then, it was abysmal. This time, it was surprisingly decent. The lunch was a side salad with a chicken enchilada wrap and dinner was either a choice of chicken with rice or pasta with meat balls. The food was actually pretty good. I chose the pasta with meat balls and it actually tasted similar to what you would get at the freshman FFC.

Once I dropped off my suitcase at my temporary housing, I went out to explore the city of Leuven. I'm temporarily placed in a dorm very similar to the style in the freshman AMRs back at Hopkins, with the bathrooms and showers shared communally with everyone on the floor. The room is a single bedroom similar to the size of a Charles Commons bedroom. IMEC owns a section of the dorm housing of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven so that everyone on the floor works at IMEC.

Suffice it to say that the room is so small I can't fit it into a picture.

After getting situated, I decided to travel around the small city of Leuven. Walking around the streets, I noticed that all the signs are in Dutch. Apparently in Belgium, half the country speaks Dutch and the other half speaks French. After dropping off my bags, I blindly started roaming the city of Leuven. The city is essentially a giant roundabout with small streets zigzagging in towards the center, so I figured it wouldn't be that hard to get to the middle. Apparently I was wrong because I spent the next hour and a half getting lost in all the side streets. For future reference, wearing birkenstocks on all these cobbled stone streets is not a good idea.

Anyway, eventually I found my way to a main road and then took out my map to guide me into the city center. One thing to note about Leuven and in several cities throughout Europe, bikes are the mode of choice in terms of getting yourself around the city. There is a bike rental store where you can rent a bike for about 20 euros, with an additional 6 euro or so extra per month. Having a bike is definitely a life saver. There are bike racks all over the city and the local train station has a parking garage just for bicycles, where it houses thousands and
thousands of bikes.

While traveling around, I found the city hall building, a university library with a structure of a fly stabbed with a thread needle. I asked some people about what this structure was supposed to symbolize, but no one knew. They could only tell me that it had recently been put up about a month ago.

At night, my floormates took me to the city center filled with bars and pubs. Belgium produces over 500 types of beer and many bars have their own house-made brew. By the way, the legal drinking age here is 16 for beers and wines and 18 for anything containing >22% alcohol. It's also noteworthy that the beers served here generally have an alcohol content ranging from 8-11% (by volume), as opposed to the 4-5% in the US. This night, I tried my hand at a Belgian beer called Duvel, which is a dry beer with a sweet aroma.

The above is a daytime image of the square filled with bars.

This late night visit to the local bars concluded my first day in Leuven.

I'm in the process of adding the rest of my pictures to a flickr account, however they take a considerable amount of time to load. Once this is finished, I will update this blog with a link to the pictures.