Friday, August 23, 2019

Memories of Belgium

Our beautiful apartment
I spent most of my 2017 in Belgium, specifically a university town named Louvain-la-Neuve in Wallonia, the French region of Belgium. We had a 2-floor 2-room apartment all for ourselves, for just 750 Euro with water bill included. Until this date, that is the best apartment I have lived. Thanks to UCLouvain for the accommodation. Initially, I was worried that living in Belgium with the same amount of money I received in Portugal would be challenging. But it turned out quite ok. We, of course, were a bit more careful with money while in Louvain-la-Neuve. We witnessed snowfall in Louvain-la-Nueve in early March. Feeding the ducks and geese across the lake was also quite fun.

Thanks to the central location of Belgium and its competitive coverage by different airlines, flights from Brussels were quite cheap, throughout Europe. During the long weekends, we flew to different cities and countries. This made 2017 to be the year with most countries visited ever for me, so far. We left very early in the morning to catch the train to the nearby countries (Luxembourg and the Netherlands) or to the Brussels airport (Romania and Hungary). A long walk with a suitcase to enjoy yet another country or a city (Ghent, Bruges, and Ostende). I also attended my one and only Erasmus Mundus Association General Assembly (EMA GA), while I have been an EMA program representative for EMDC and EMJD-DC a few times.

View from our apartment
My apartment was quite far from the lab. Nearly a 30 minutes walk. But it was fun. Also, the roads were entirely for pedestrians as the vehicles always go underground. We had a shopping mall called L'Esplanade with a Delhaize supermarket. We always visited there to buy our groceries. Vegetables and fruits were very expensive there. But it was convenient. Once we went to ALDI but figured that it is quite too far for walking. We still loved walking around the lake in the summer. It was pleasant. Belgium chocolates, Belgium beers, and Belgium desserts - all were the best! We often bought fresh sashimi and sushi from the Delhaize.

My new suitcase in my lab
When we left Belgium to return to Portugal in 2017 August, I did not realize that I would return soon. But I had to, as my funding for the last 4 months of 2017 was from Belgium. I had back-and-forth 2 return trips from Belgium to Portugal. Eventually, I moved to Saudi Arabia for 2 months from Belgium. The Saudi visa did not take much time. During these days of back-and-forth travels between Portuguese airports (Lisboa and Faro) and Belgium airports (BRU and CRL), I stayed overnights in the 2 airports of Belgium, in my lab, in friends' homes, and also slept on a cat bed for 2 nights in an Airbnb-gone-wrong! Then I came back to Belgium and returned to Portugal in 4 days in December.

I also had 2 remarkable return trips to Belgium from Atlanta in 2019. First, was to fly to Portugal via Belgium, for my first defense in Portugal. I stayed in Leuven first, to meet my supervisor in Louvain-la-Neuve. Then, stayed in Antwerp before returning to Atlanta. I loved my stay in Antwerp. It was very pleasant. Then, I came back from Atlanta to defend my thesis once more (for the second and the last time!) at UCLouvain. This time, I stayed in Charleroi and Leuven. On the 23rd of August, after 7 years since my arrival to Lisboa, I completed my Ph.D. with my final Ph.D. defense. It was a remarkable journey of 7 years. Thanks Portugal and EU.

While I did not spend as much as time in Belgium, compared to I did in Portugal, Belgium still left me with very positive memories. I leave with positive memories of EU. I loved every bit of my stay in Europe. And goodbye, Belgium too.

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