Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Aachen, Germany

After spending the night in Cologne this past Saturday, I took a train over to nearby Aachen, which sits on the border between Belgium and Germany. This is a very small city best known as the favored residence of Charlemagne in the late 8th and early 9th centuries.

The first landmark I passed was this city gate. Only two gates remain throughout the entire city. All the others were destroyed during the eventual wars that arose.

After passing through the gate, I made my way to the city's main cathedral.

This cathedral was originally built in 786 AD, however, additions were made to it after it suffered damage throughout the years. Charlemagne's remains are stored inside. Unfortunately I didn't get to view it. Seeing that it was Sunday, there was a service inside that prevented tourists from entering. Here's another picture from the opposite side of the cathedral.

Placed directly in the city square, I found a Starbucks.

From what I've noticed, the franchise has very few stores throughout all these medieval cities. All throughout Amsterdam, Bruges, Antwerp, and Brussels, I failed to notice any of these chain coffee shops. I'm assuming the primary reason Starbucks has few locations over here is because of the fact that much of the architecture throughout these cities are rather medieval, and there is little room for commercial expansion. In order to preserve the history in these cities, I feel like renovation in these ancient buildings is restricted.

In addition to Starbucks, there are significantly fewer fast food restaurants here. I can count the number of McDonalds and Burger King restaurants I've seen over the past month on my 2 hands.

The picture above is of the city square from the direction of the city's town hall.

After relaxing and sitting outside Starbucks for half an hour, I decided to go on a tour of the city hall.

It was built in the 14th century and is the place where Kings were coronated. Once I walked inside, I was given a tour via an audio device.

This device was actually an iPhone. When I accidentally reset it, I saw the iPhone interface and the T-Mobile symbol that indicated it was connected to the network. Since this device had GPS, whenever you stepped into a new room, a prompt of audios would appear specifically for that room. Fourteenth century architecture, meet 21st century technology.

These stairs in the city hall have been ascended by kings and nobles of centuries past.

Once you get to the top of the stairs, you can see copies of Charlemagne's relics.

Centuries ago the original relics had been stolen. After recovering them, they were stored and these copies (forged in 1913) were put on display.

Once I left the city hall, I made my way to the Elisenbrunnen. It's a neoclassical hall surrounding one of the city's fountains. I actually didn't see the fountain itself. I didn't find out there was one until I got back to Leuven.

Anyway, that was my trip to Aachen in a nutshell. It's a very small city and there are very few sites to see. As a result, few tourists roam the streets.

Changing of the CEOs

I still have a post to write about Aachen, which I visited last weekend, but I figured I'd make a quick post about today. There was a reception today at IMEC, where the current CEO stepped down to join the board of directors and appointed a new CEO. There was a large reception in the cafeteria where all types of orderves were served, ranging from cheese, salami, sushi, lumpias, some sweet interesting yogurt with dried shrimp in it, small pieces of cake, and a small assortment of meats.

What surprised me about this reception was that there was an open bar of beer in addition to champange. It's 3:30 in the afternoon and people are helping themselves to an endless supply of beer during work. The perception of alcohol here in Belgium, in addition to much of Europe, is much more relaxed than the states. It's very common here to have a beer or two or three with your lunch and it's not frowned upon in the least bit. Whereas in the states the addition of alcohol to complement an early meal is generally taboo, it's widely accepted over here. I was just surprised by the relaxed atmosphere with respect to alcohol that I figured I'd mention something about it.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Cologne, Germany

I spent this past weekend on the west side of Germany. The country's bigger cities, like Berlin and Munich, are on the east side of Germany and are a little too far to trek to for a weekend. I would love to visit either of those cities, but it takes over over 7 hours to get there from Leuven and I'm not quite sure when I'll have time for that.

Anyway, on Saturday morning I left Leuven for Cologne. I caught a train from Leuven to Liege and then from Liege to Cologne. It took less than two hours to get to the city. The weather forecast for this day was overcast, with several sprinkles all day long. As long as it wasn't pouring all day, I was fine with the cloudy weather.

As you can see, I was pretty excited to head over to Germany.

The second I step out of the train station, I find the Cologne Cathedral. It's Cologne's most famous landmark and the largest gothic church in northern Europe.

I think I'm getting used to the whole self-portrait thing, even though I tried taking this picture at least 5 times.

The construction of this cathedral took over 600 years to complete. Construction began in 1248 and wasn't finished until 1880. The cathedral contains the Shrine of the Three Kings.

The opening of the shrine in 1864 exposed human remains along with 2,000 year old clothes. It is believed that the remains are those of the Three Wise Men. Throughout the entire cathedral are stain glass windows depicting religious events. I'm not well versed in biblical history, so unfortunately I can't make sense of their meanings.

This structure was right in front of the cathedral. I'm not quite sure of it's significance.

After walking around a little bit, I was starting to get hungry since I neglected to eat breakfast. I stopped by this crowded pastry shop. (It was crowded during the day anyway. I came back later at night to take this picture.)

At this shop I picked up 2 berliners for 1 euro, exactly what the sign says. After looking for a definition of a berliner, I found that it's a traditional German pastry made from yeast dough, filled with a marmalade (in my case strawberry), and topped with conventional sugar.

Once I filled my belly with a snack, I was ready to start the rest of the day.

I made my way to a perfume shop.

Cologne (the perfume) was invented here in 1709 with the Eau de Cologne, a spirit-citrus perfume. This original formula was used by nobles of the time. To this day, the original formula is still produced. The recipe, however, remains a secret. Inside the shop, there is a fountain that circulates the formula, which apparently you can take a sip from. I didn't realize you could drink from the fountain until after I got home to Leuven. I wish I knew this fact beforehand.

After stopping by the perfume shop, I made my way to the Lugwig Museum.

The musuem features works from the 20th and 21st centuries and has one of the largest Picasso exhibits in Europe. Since I'm not much of an art buff, I can't really elaborate on my opinions of the artwork. Honestly, I had a really hard time trying to find the inspiration and meaning behind the majority of the works here.

There were suppose to be paintings from Andy Warhol, but I didn't find his exhibit here.

After shopping around along the streets for a little bit, I decided to head out to dinner. I went to a place called Gaststatte Bei Oma Kleinmann where I ordered a schnitzel and a locally brewed beer. The beer tasted vaguely similar Corona light.

It consisted of a huge slab of breaded pork stuffed with potatoes, grilled onions, bacon, and cucumbers. This piece of meat was gigantic. It took me about 40 minutes just to finish it.

After dinner, I made my way to a hostel.

I was hoping to find other travelers or backpackers to chat with and perhaps go out to a bar, but this place was mostly vacant. I checked the lounge, kitchen, and downstairs cafe and only saw one person using one of the computers. Right when I entered the room and said hi, he just left. My room had two bunk beds and a locker for each person.

Cologne is a city of cathedrals and art museums. Besides the main cathedral that I showed earlier, there are 12 Romanesque churches. If you're a fan of churches and cathedrals, this is definitely the city for you.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Eurotrip Planning

My work at IMEC this past week mimicked last week fairly well. I've been running models and simulations in order to determine a viable structure to then bring into reality when we fabricate these 3D self-assembled plasmonic nanostructures. In addition, I've been communicating with the technicians that operate the instruments over here so that I can try and ease the transition from the equipment we use at Hopkins to the equipment at IMEC's disposal. Just as I had assumed earlier this month, transitioning between equipment facilities is the hardest aspect of this research experience.

One thing I've noticed while being trained here at IMEC is that it helps immensely to have a background in microfabrication. Going through basic safety trainings in the clean room, it's almost assumed that you're familar with lithography and all of the steps and equipment involved. Luckily I've been working in the Gracias lab for the past year and half, so my transition to the research here has been fairly smooth. I don't mean to imply that you have to have a background in microfab to be able to work here, because that is absolutely not the case. It's definitely feasible to learn about lithography through means provided by Hopkins (like Dr. Gracias' Micro to Nanotechnology class or the Microfabrication lab offered by the BME department) or through literature.

Anyway, onto the point of this blog post. Seeing that I'm in Europe until the end of August, I'm trying to plan weekend trips to different cities. As I've shown in my earlier posts, I've mostly been traveling throughout Belgium and a little bit of the Netherlands. This weekend, I had originally planned on making a trip to Paris. This past Tuesday, I booked a hostel in Paris for Friday and Saturday night. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of not booking a train ticket first. I went to the Leuven train station on Wednesday to buy a train ticket to Paris (via Brussels) for Friday night. Lo and behold, the trains were fully booked the entire weekend. So there goes that plan. No trip to Paris. I immediately canceled my hostel reservation and began looking for somewhere else to go. The lesson I learned from this was that in the event that I need to take one of these high demand trains, I need to do it in advance. For future reference to anyone planning on vacationing in Belgium, if you plan on taking direct trains from Brussels to Paris or Brussels to London, be sure to purchase your ticket at least a week ahead of your planned departure date. To be safe, book your ticket a couple weeks (or even a month if possible) before you intend to leave, otherwise you'll be departing later than you had intended.

This fully booked train scare encouraged me to plan my trips further in advance. Accordingly, I've already booked train tickets to Paris in 2 weeks and London in 3 weeks.

Long story short, I've made plans to visit Germany this weekend. Tomorrow morning I'm catching a train to Cologne where I'll be spending the entire day walking around the city and sight seeing. On Sunday morning, I'll leave Cologne and head to Aachen for the rest of the day before returning to Leuven on Sunday night. The current weather forecast predicts rain in both cities this weekend, but hopefully it changes for the better.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


This past Thursday, I decided to make a trip to Amsterdam. Earlier during the week, I was debating between going to Paris or Amsterdam. Each passing day I was monitoring the weather forecast for each city, seeing which one would be better. On Thursday night, I decided I was going to go to Amsterdam. I went to a BBQ that night with some of the other interns, so I didn't get back to my studio until 11:30 pm.

Planning on spending the entire weekend in Amsterdam, I forgot that I needed to book a hostel. I scoured the internet for hostels in Amsterdam and I come to realize that either they're all booked or they are 3+ miles away from the city center. Also, one thing I didn't realize is that most hostels require at least 2 nights stay on the weekends. However, I couldn't even find a hostel that had a bed available on Friday and Saturday. Instead of spending the weekend in Amsterdam, I decided that I would try to make it a day trip. If I wanted to go back, it's easy enough just to hop on a train.

I forgot to mention how I'm managing my use of the trains. Before I left for Europe, I bought a train pass called a Eurail Global Pass from this website. With this train pass, you can travel on each eligible country's national rail line without any extra charge. There are 22 countries where this pass is valid and the only trains the pass does not cover are high speed trains. With regard to the cities I currently plan on visiting, I should only need to pay an extra charge to go to Paris and London. These extra charges are actually discounted as well, since I have this type of rail pass. When I say I'm hopping on the train, I'm doing just that. This rail pass allows me to evade the ticket lines to purchase individual tickets. I just arrive at the train station, park my bike in the parking garage, wait for my train, and then hop on.

The train ride to Amsterdam took 3.5 hours and included 1 change over. I traveled from Leuven to Brussels and then from Brussels to Amsterdam. To get the most out of my day, I boarded the 5:30 am train to Brussels and arrived in Amsterdam around 9:00 am.

Once I arrived in Amsterdam, I bought a city map. There was absolutely no way I could have navigated the city without one. It was incredibly helpful, however, my navigation skills could use some improvement . Immediately after I stepped outside the train station, the first thing I noticed were the canals that spanned the entire city. These canals cover over 100 kilometers and include over 1,500 bridges.

I planned that the first stop of my day would be the Anne Frank house. On the way, I stumbled across some coffee shops offering cannabis. Although visually they were easy to identify, the unique stench emanating from the store was much more noticeable.

Side note: Although cannabis is legal here, it doesn't mean that everyone uses it. Before coming to Amsterdam, I had the impression that a large majority of people in the city were users and that these coffee shops would be teeming with people. From walking around the city all day, I noticed that these shops were relatively empty and that more people smoke cigarettes than cannabis. I feel like a lot of mainstream movies give a false interpretation of Amsterdam.

Anyway, I eventually made my way to the the Anne Frank house.

When I got there, it was about 9:30 in the morning. After waiting in line for a little more than half an hour, I finally was inside.
This is the outside of the Anne Frank house. Taking photographs is prohibited inside, so unfortunately I can't provide pictures. Once you're inside, you can walk through the moving bookcase and peruse throughout the entire house. The hideout actually consisted of two floors, each with several small rooms. On display, they had Anne Frank's original diary flipped open to a page where you could see her handwriting and the edits she made throughout it. Throughout the house, there are news clippings and pictures posted onto the walls, which are still intact from when the house was raided in 1944.

After the Anne Frank house, I made my way to Rembrandts' house. His artwork wasn't actually on display. This month, there is a traveling exhibit of his friend, Jan Lievens.

This spot is where Rembrandt worked on his paintings. I was a little disappointed that I didn't get to see Rembrandt's works, but oh well, there was nothing that I could do about it.

After Rembrandt, I found my way to the Van Gogh museum.

Once again, photography was strictly prohibited. Van Gogh's works were organized chronologically such that you could see the evolution of Van Gogh's style. Some of the pieces on display included Wheat Fields, Wheat Fields with Crows, The Harvest, and Skull smoking a Cigarette. Pictures of Van Gogh's work in books pale in comparison to the originals. Most of Van Gogh's work is oil on canvas and what you don't see in books is the intricate texture that each brush stroke provides.

Walking around Amsterdam still, I found a Chinatown!

Continuing on with my travels, I found myself in the Red Light District.

In the Netherlands, in addition to cannabis, prostitution is legal. The windows on the left are where the women watch the world go by and try to grab customers. The scene is suppose to be completely different during the night hours, however, since I wasn't able to find a hostel, I can't attest to that.

After walking around all day, I decided to find somewhere to eat for dinner. I went through my travel book and found a place called Kantjil & de Tijger (Antelope and the Tiger). It was a modern Indonesian restaurant just outside the city center.

Tonight, I tried the nasi goreng Kantjil, accompanied with a dutch beer called Hertog Jan. The food consisted of fried rice, topped with pork kabobs, spicy stewed beef, pickled cucumbers, and vegetables. The food was delicious and pretty cheap too! The total bill was almost 14 euros.

After dinner, I had to make my way towards the train station to head home. My first train was from Amsterdam to Brussels. The train schedule was altered at the last minute, some stops being removed and others added. I ended up arriving in Brussels 20 minutes later than I was suppose to and in the process I missed my train at 10:56 pm to Leuven. The next (and last) train heading to Leuven would leave at 12:10 am, so I ended up having to wait in Brussels until then.

Friday, June 19, 2009

IMEC Update 6/19/09

I realize I haven't discussed much about my research over here at IMEC. The major reason for this is the fact that the first couple weeks have been rather slow.

The work atmosphere at IMEC is similar to a research position at a university. The company structure is divided into departments that are then subsequently divided into groups. Each department has a department leader and each group has a group leader. For example, I'm in the Bio-Nano Electronics department in the Functional Nanosystems group. The work day is very relaxed. You can essentially come to work whenever you want, as long as you put in 8 hours a day. I've typically been coming in around 9 am and leaving around 5:30 or 6 pm. I imagine once the research starts picking up I'll be staying later in the evening.

The company places itself as a link between university and industry. Almost all of the students who work here already have their Bachelors or Masters degrees and are either here for an internship, like myself, or working towards a PhD. In my temporary housing, the age of the interns ranged from 21 to 28. Only two of us did not have a degree.

IMEC's link to industry stems from their collaboration with other companies. Several third party companies conduct their research here and fabricate their products using IMEC's facilities. This 3rd party presence has contributed to the slow progress of my research. For the past 2 weeks, I've been trying to get approval to use one of the instruments, specifically a plasma etcher. One of the companies that conducts their research here depends on this instrument for their products. As a result, the IMEC technician for the instrument was hesitant to let me introduce a new process into the mix. Yesterday, I finally got approval to use the instrument, so hopefully the research starts to pick up.

So what have I been up to these past couple weeks? I spend a lot my time getting trained on the procedures here. One aspect about university research that I miss is the ability to use instruments on my own, whenever it was available. At IMEC, a lot of instruments are serviced, meaning that technicians, and only technicians, operate them. Coming in to this internship, I expected technicians to be responsible for the instruments. With a single technician, the company saves itself a significant amount of time in training each employee on the tool. Additionally, the company saves money. People who aren't well-trained on a piece of equipment are more likely to have an accident and not know how to remedy the situation.

In addition to being trained on procedures, I've been learning how to use a simulation program for electrodynamic modeling. Before we physically fabricate some structures, it's important to know what we should expect and if it's worth investing time in fabricating them in the first place. This past week I've been running simulation after simulation hoping to get some usable results. The structures I'm currently modeling are a combination of the cubes we fabricate in the Gracias lab and plasmonic nanostructures developed over here at IMEC. In these simulations, I'm looking for localized charge distributions and resonance wavelengths. Within the next week or two we should be physically fabricating these structures.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


This past Saturday, I left Leuven for a trip to Brussels. The weather Saturday was absolutely gorgeous, sunny and mid-70s all day. It was such a beautiful day!

Anyway, the train ride from Leuven to Brussels was about 30 minutes. I got to Brussels around 11:00 am and as soon as I step outside the train station, I see a rather tall building with spires poking up. I decided to just head in that direction. It turns out to be the Cathedrale des Sts-Michel-et-Gudule. My travel book lists these cathedrals and museums in the native language, so sorry for the these not being in English.

Afterwards, I found my way to Grand Place. It's the largest and most popular square in Brussels. It's surrounded by guildhouses and the city's town hall. While I was walking around the square, there was actually a wedding going on in this building.

The picture below is the town hall, which is in the same square.

The buildings in the picture below are the guildhouses that I previously mentioned. All throughout the square, bars and cafes line the perimeter. This square was also incredibly crowded. I saw some Japanese tourist groups and a mob of Europeans. I actually ran into a segway tour as well. I didn't try to go on that tour though, it doesn't seem worth it since you can just walk around and the see the sights on a regular tour. The segway tour travels fairly slowly, so it's not like they're zipping through the city.

As I was reading through my travel book, it suggested I pick up a bag of homemade chocolates from this store called Wittamer. Wittamer has stores in several countries, as you can see from the cities listed on the awning. All throughout Brussels and Belgium itself, there are tons of chocolate stores, since the country is well known for this sweet. Some chain stores include Godiva, Leonidas, and Neuhaus.

So when I bought the chocolates, it was about 12 pm. I didn't get back to Leuven until 8 pm. After storing the chocolates in my bag this whole time, they now look like this:

I swear they were much prettier when I first bought them! Oh yeah, I bought 6 pieces for 3.60 Euros, so it's a little more than $0.60 for each piece, which I guess isn't TOO ridiculous. I realize there are only 5 chocolates in the picture above. I was too eager to try one before actually taking a picture of them.

Speaking about food, I indulged in another Belgian waffle. The store where I got it from was absolutely packed, and they had over 15 different types to choose from.

I ended up getting the strawberry with chocolate and whip cream. The waffle itself was glazed in sugar, with fresh cut strawberries, whip cream, and hot chocolate syrup to top it off. I thought the waffle I had in Bruges was good, this one was absolute bliss. The only drawback about this waffle was that it cost 4.5o euros. It's quite a bit since 1 euro is almost equivalent to $1.50. It was definitely worth it though!

Continuing with my travels, I found the Manneken-Pis. It's a VERY small bronze statue of a boy urinating into the fountain's basin. For certain holidays, the city dresses him up in costumes. There's a museum somewhere in Brussels that showcases all of his costumes, but I didn't see it during my excursion.

To put it in perspective, here's a picture of the crowd all coming to see this statue. The statue is literally just on the corner of a block. There are many legends about the origin of this statue, but none are believed in more so than the others. Legends date the original statue back to the 12 century up to the 17 century. The original statue was stolen and destroyed, however the statue was recast from the broken pieces and what we see now is that recast statue.

Wandering around Brussels still, I come across the Notre-Dame du Sablon. It's a late gothic style 15th century cathedral.

For lunch, I stopped at a restaurant recommended to me by my travel book. It was called Brasserie de la Roue d'Or. In terms of beverages, I made the mistake of ordering bottled water. Next time I need to remember to get tap water. That small bottle of water, 0.2 L, cost 2.25 Euros. That was my mistake, hopefully I remember next time. Anyway, for lunch I ordered the vol-a-vout. It consists of a flaky biscuit stuffed with chicken and mushrooms, with more chicken and mushrooms on the side, all doused in a house-made cream of mushroom. It even came with a side order of fries, which I didn't order. I guess here in Belgium it's customary to have a side order of fries, since it's one of the nation's most famous offerings. The food was delicious! Oh my, it was phenomenal. The entire lunch set me back about 23 euros, but again, it was well worth it.

I also found my way into a little garden in the middle of the city. There are a couple parks dispersed throughout the city as well.

After spending hours walking around and sight seeing, I decided to shop around a bit. When I came to Belgium, I wasn't expecting the weather to be so chilly, so I didn't pack a whole lot of warm clothes. So I went out to some stores and picked some up. There's a big department store here called Inno. It reminds be of a Nordstrom's. There are lots of expensive brands, with some more affordable brands as well. I tried going into some boutiques, but as expected, their prices were outrageous. A pair of jeans at these shops was about 190 euros. A little too much for my taste...

That pretty much concludes my trip to Brussels. Once again, the architecture here is very gothic, seeing as how most cities over here have a lot of history. I imagine I'll be back here eventually. There are so many restaurants over here and I'd like to try a couple more.

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.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


The last couple days have been a little hectic. On Monday, I was told I had to vacate my current housing by Thursday. On Tuesday, I started my frantic search for a new place to live for the next 3 months.

I'd like to mention that I was aware that I was only temporarily placed in my first dorm until Thursday, and that I was told by people at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven I would need to find other permanent housing. By the information that I received from IMEC (which is a separate entity than the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven), I was lead to believe that I could actually stay in the dorm permanently. Everyone else in the dorm is foreign, and everyone permanently settled there, for durations ranging from 3 to 9 months. Somewhere throughout all this housing shenanigans there was an unfortunate miscommunication.

In this INBT IRES program, I was formally enrolled at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven as a visiting scholar. This university essentially makes up the entire city. Offices, lecture halls, and whatnot are scattered all over the city, and students bike around everywhere. During the academic year, a very significant portion of the population are students. I was told by some of my colleagues at IMEC that I should expect the city to be noticeably more empty in a couple weeks, when students are finished with their final exams.

Anyway, where I'm going with this is that since I'm enrolled as a visiting scholar at the
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, I have access to their facilities and their housing services. On Tuesday I went to the housing office and picked up a list of available rooms/studios for rent. That's all the help you really get. It's the individual's responsibility to find housing once you get to Belgium. This list comprises of addresses and costs of the rooms/studios being rented or subleted from students and landlords. Wow, that was a lot of conjunctions in one sentence. Anyway, on Tuesday I sat in the housing office, googled the addresses, and began calling away. They have a dedicated phone for students to use to call places. Good thing, because the roaming charges on my phone would be been astronomical.

The rooms/studios on the list weren't very helpful for me since a lot of the rooms were unavailable until July, so my options were very limited. I got a little bit of help from the people over at IMEC, in that they provided me with websites of some local companies that rent flats (studios/efficiencies). After viewing several places, I finally settled on a studio on the east side of Leuven. Biking to IMEC from this studio should be a little less than 15 minutes, so I guess that's not bad at all.

I would have preferred to have just stayed in my initial housing. There's always people around to talk to and everyone is foreign and working at IMEC. We could all really relate to each other. Additionally, it's close to the IMEC facilities and there is a grocery store about 300 meters away. This location was just very convenient. Oh well, I've tried everything I could to stay here, but alas I'll be kicked out by the end of tomorrow and moving over to a new flat. Speaking of which, I haven't exactly figured out how I'm going to transport my suitcases. It's a 1.5 mile trek from my current location to my new studio. I don't really trust myself to ride my bike with one hand and pull my suitcase with another, although I have seen people doing this. I feel like biking around is already dangerous enough, I don't need to complicate it by dragging a weight behind me. I guess the tentative plan right now is to go to IMEC and call for a taxi to usher me around everywhere.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


Today, me and 2 other interns from IMEC went to visit the city of Antwerp. It's in the north eastern part of Belgium. When I asked some coworkers earlier last week about Antwerp, they told me that it was a popular area for shopping. I would soon see that for myself after an hour long train ride.

Seeing that it's Sunday, the majority of the stores here in Antwerp were closed. The only ones open were some restaurants, souvenir shops, and museums. All we could really do was walk around the city to sight see.

The above buildings are 16th century guildhouses.
And next to them is the Antwerp City Hall.

I'm not quite sure what this structure is suppose to symbolize. I tried looking it up after I got home, but I haven't found an explanation yet.
This is the Het Steen. Antwerp used to be a completely fortified city, but all that remains of those fortifications is this restored building.

For lunch, we stopped by at a Greek restuarant, where I got this lamb shank, with seared vegetables, rice, and square of feta cheese. The menu did not have a single word of English on it, so we had to ask the waiter to go through each item and explain what they were. This dish was 14 euros, which is approximately $19.50 USD.