Thursday, June 11, 2009

Random observations

In my previous post, I had mentioned how I was a little worried about finding housing. Maybe I misunderstood the situation, but everything is all settled now. I've moved into a new efficiency that's probably 27 square meters. It's clean and all kitchen utensils, pots, pans, and microwave are all provided. I'm actually renting this place from a landlord, I'm not subletting from a student. Although I initially have to pay the bill for housing, I'll be reimbursed later by IMEC.

Anyway, there are a lot of interesting things that I've noticed while I've been here in Belgium and I wasn't sure how to go about describing them, so I'll just list them.

-At a lot of public restrooms, there is an attendant that you have to pay something like 0.50 euros in order to use the facilities. I didn't want to pay to go to the bathroom, so I can't say anything about the cleanliness of it since I never went in.

-Since I'm already talking about bathrooms, all the stalls I've seen have actual doors on them that fully close, so you don't have that awkward gap between the swinging door and the rest of the stall.

-Also, the sinks in the bathrooms over here at IMEC only have cold water. I can't attest to other public bathrooms since I haven't used any of them.

-That's enough about bathrooms. As I mentioned earlier, bikes are the dominant form of transportation throughout this city. Next to the main roads, there are dedicated lanes for vehicles on 2 wheels (including motorcycles, scooters, mopeds, bikes) and separate lanes for pedestrians. Riding my bike around the city, cars ALWAYS yield to bikes unless there are dedicated street crossing signs. I've never seen a car accelerate through a cross walk to beat the people on bikes. Even though they would have had plenty of time to pass the crosswalk, they still stop and wait.

-A large majority of the taxis that I see here are Mercedes. I've seen several Volkswagon stationwagons, but I'd say approximately 90% are Mercedes. I just found it odd that the cars used as taxis are more expensive than the cars everyone else drives. Also, tipping here isn't necessary. Even for taxis, you only pay the fare on the meter. When I was switching my housing, I needed to take a taxi in order to transport my suitcases. In total I traveled about 4 km, with an additional 5 minutes of wait time for me to retrieve my luggage. The fair ended up being 17 euros, which is about $25. I feel like that's rather expense, considering at Hopkins you can get a taxi from campus to Fells Point, which is significantly further away, for about $16.

-The education system here is a little different than the States. In most European countries, it's customary to go to a university for 5 years to get both Bachelors and Masters degrees. Very rarely do students go to a university just for a Bachelors. Right out of high school, they expect to be at a university for 5 years, regardless of the school.

-All the digital clocks here use 24 hr military time.

That's all I can think of right now. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments.


  1. Mike, I am enjoying following your adventures in Belgium. Plus, you are so observant and such a good writer that you really capture what is going on there. I would think your blog would be very valuable for anyone traveling to Belgium, even if they are not on an research internship. Keep it up.

  2. Hi Mike, sounds familiar to me. You have to pay for using the restroom. Don't forget to keep a pack of tissue with you for emergency. Last summer, I went to Belgium too. I saw a three-leveled parking garage with thousands of bicycles. I think it is great for you to have the chance to explore the culture of other countries.