Jussi vaihtoon

Waffles and fries in Antwerp, Belgium

Category Archives: Arrival

First week at school

I was standing in the entrance hall of Karel de Grote-Hogeschool on Tuesday. I saw students entering the building. I looked at them and tried to find people like me. Foreign people. People in the corner, alone, also looking for someone. Some of them looked like they would be in this place for the first time, but after a while their friends stepped in from the street and together they walked away. ’Goeiemorgen’ just polishing my assumptions incorrect. It was 10 AM and I was waiting for someone to break the ice – calling for people like me. The exchange students.

Finnish people often tend to lie foreigners about our ability of being always on time. Well, this time the story was actually proven to be true, since the same time I saw my watch taking the last step towards the H-hour, I heard a Finnish guy asking someone next to him if he was about to attend the Dutch language course today. I turned around and saw a bald guy – very Finnish looking guy actually. He introduced himself using the name Mikko. ’A Finnish name’ I thought and decided to move closer. The icebreaker resulted a chain reaction mobilizing the people to leave the corners behind, and suspiciously approach towards the two talking boys. Unfortunately my camera was out of reach, since the approaching students looked quite similar to zombies. Reaching the target slowly, but conscius of having the right direction. Next thing I actually realized was series of handshakes and names everyone knew they wouldn’t remember. Then a man came and took us into a lounge room with free coffee and more students. The first school day was full of new faces with different nationalities and dialects of English. It was no big deal for me, since I’ve already studied almost three years with people from all over the world. The main point was that with these people we would share a semester of our lives. Something we will never forget.

The word to describe the start of our Dutch course is ’explosive’. The first week has been very busy with studying and arranging things. I am very overreactive when it comes to making sure everything goes well, which has had a negative effect on my sleeping during the week. The positive side of our tight schedule is of course the fact that the more we study the more we learn. I can honestly say that I couldn’t have imagined how much one can learn in four days when it comes to Dutch language. Hard work requires of course some celebration, and I guess the whole Erasmus reputation is more or less dominated by this theme. The first party was on the second day of our studies, and after that some of us has been celebrating every day. Even though the beer is very good in Belgium (even the cheapest ones beat the Finnish reindeer pee), I still try to keep my drinking under control. Training on my bike is so solid part of my rituals that since I’ve put a huge effort on getting my dear peace of aluminium here, I try to go ’fietsen’ every time it’s not raining like Amazon. On thursday I took a ride to the Dutch town of Bergen op Zoom. The idea was to follow the same route home, since I didn’t want to get lost in a new territory. All the way to my destination was very enjoyable and especially DRY. Riding home was quite nice too, even though it started raining right after turning back. Tomorrow will be another day for fresh air and rotating legs. Our Dutch teacher is also a cyclist and she told me where to find nice cycling routes around here. I like these people, I like these students, I like the language, I like the beer, I haven’t had any waffles yet but I know they’re good, I don’t like the instant coffee at school but I like the crema from espresso.

Last but not least a photo from a visit to the city hall. This is hospitality, but something that should not be carried out in the presence of Erasmus students.

Antwerp city hall

Antwerp city hall

Zeemanskerk and sunday shopping

The weekend is over and the school is starting tomorrow. This is the 7th day for me here in Antwerp and everything should be now arranged, except the copies of my rent agreement which I should give to the school during registration. As I wrote in the previous post, I had some issues with finding a safe place for my road bike. Well, that is not a problem any more – I’ll get back to this as the story goes on. I also got myself a gym membership to a place nearby. So far I have nothing bad to say about the place (except that own drinks are not allowed). I’m more of a ”iron up-iron down” -kind of guy, but there are also some group lessons available. The website is http://www.centercourt.be. Students get good discounts, so if you live in Borgerhout or e.g. somewhere close to the central station, I suggest you take a look! The personnel speak good English and they’re very nice too.

So, it was the first Friday evening for me here, and I had nothing to do. Normally on Friday evenings I’ve used to see my friends and stuff like that, but as sad it sounds I have no friends here, yet. Before coming to Antwerp I knew there is a Finnish Sailor Church (NL: Finse Zeemanskerk/FI: Suomen Merimieskirkko) located somewhere here. The idea of the church is to support bypassing Finnish sailors, travellers, truckers, students etc. There is a café, sauna, Finnish TV and of course Finnish newspapers available for everyone. The café also sells some classic Finnish groceries. So, I decided to pay a visit. The place is situated on Italiëlei, and there’s a Finnish flag on the wall. After some everyday troubles with my bicycle chain I managed to get to the front door and the café waitress took me in. We had a chat about living here with her and another Finnish girl, who was doing her internship here in Belgium. I told them about my time here and also mentioned about the problem with my road bike. The waitress promised to ask her boss whether she knew a place for storing the bike. It was worth of trying, since yesterday she emailed me some really good news. She told that the bike could stay in the church premises. The place couldn’t actually be more perfect, since the location is just at the very northern part of the city center, so I don’t have to ride the cobblestone streets of the center.

Yesterday it was Sunday, and what could be a better way to start the day than heading off to local marketplace! That’s right, vegetables, rabbits, waffles, sausages, hats, bicycles, olives, comics… what ever you could think of! Everything was for sale and the square was crowded. In addition to the nice atmosphere lead by a choir of salesmen shouting their prices, the sun was shining like never before! It was an enjoyable moment and took me back to my childhood years when I used to visit the marketplace for strawberries and pancakes in Jyväskylä! The evening was, once again, the same as every day: taking my fiets (local word for a bike) around the city and getting to know the districts.

One thing still reminding me of my ascetic Finnish nature, is the fact that I’ve spent a whole package of coffee in just seven days. Dark roast, me like it.

Sunday market

Sunday market

Je suis arrivé!

Finally here in Antwerp and everything has gone well so far! My journey started from Jyväskylä (my home town) at 00:30 by taking a 4h bus drive to Helsinki airport. Then I flew to Brussels via Copenhagen. A bus took me from Brussels airport to Antwerp in less than an hour. I hopped off the at the Central station at around goedemiddag -time (at least that’s what the coffee lady said after checking the clock). I had a look at the map and found the front door to my apartment very quickly, since I live next to the station. I called my landlord and he took me indoors.

The landlord explained all the dos and don’ts related to renting the place and was really helpful with my questions. He was the first person I meet here, and gave me once again a helpful and positive picture of Belgian characteristics. There is only one problem in living here in this very place: taking bicycles in your apartment is strictly forbidden. My road bike that I sent here by Schenker should arrive in couple of days and I cannot use it before I find a safe place for storage. That is after all a minor problem and I’m sure things will sort out in a matter of time! Actually, my landlord is again being helpful and also looking for some alternatives.

The sales season is on. It started in the beginning of January and I heard it will last for about one month. This gives some advantages for incoming students on January, since you find lots of low-price accessories and clothing. The disadvantage for sure is that at least the main shopping street Meir is packed! You really need some time for the fitting room cue.

I also rented a commuter bike today. I had reserved it beforehand on http://www.fietshaven.be. The only problem is that I don’t have the local student card yet and I had to pay the full price. That is why I rented the bike for one month, and they promised to return me the surplus after I have the student card and will make the contract for the rest of the time. As I already mentioned, the bikes cannot be taken indoors, so one has to lock them on the streets. The good thing is that there is a parking hall for bicycles under Astridplein, which is just next to Antwerpen Centraal (the main train station). That’s also where my bike is at the time, or at least should be. You get two locks with the bike so you can lock the rear wheel to the frame and also lock the frame to some fixed bar.

That’s all for today folks, below there is a photo I took on the way to Antwerp.