Westvleteren, the Almighty

Before coming to Belgium, to be honest, I wasn’t a huge beer lover. An occasional local dark beer with friends, and that was more or less it.

I could have never imagined how my attitude towards beer would completely change after tasting some of the finest Belgian beers.  Having experienced the most famous ones, I thought that was it – no beer could ever impress me more than the ones I tried. But then, surprisingly, I started hearing the story about ‘’The best beer in Belgium’’, an exclusive, mysterious brew, which is really hard to get. I got curious, and wanted to find out more.

In West Flanders, there exists an old Trappist monastery called ‘’Sint Sixtus Abdij’’, located in the village of Westvleteren, who’s monks produce this famous beer. Since the monks live a frugal life and don’t care much about materialistic possessions, they are producing it in extremely small quantities, but selling it at reasonable prices. What makes this beer even more unique and special is the fact that it was nominated for the ‘’BEST BEER IN THE WORLD’’ at the world beer competition a few years ago.

You want it? There’s a catch:

Every other Wednesday in month, from 8 am till noon, the monks open the beer telephone line, and expectedly, it is extremely hard to get through (obviously, the monks do not run a call center). The lucky ones who make a connection, get a chance to make a reservation for 2 casks, and are obliged to leave the car plate number of the car that they will use to pick up the beer. A person with this plate number won’t be able to purchase Westvleteren for next 60 days.

So, what else could I do, then wake up last Wednesday and start ringing from 8:00. So as expected the line was busy first time, then second, third, …, 100th time it was still busy. The time was passing and just like in movies, after almost an hour of trying, when I was about to give up it rang. I cannot describe how shocked I was. I was making the reservation for my 2 casks and couldn’t believe that it was really happening.

A few days ago, me and Arjan went by his car and picked it up. Our two casks of the best beer in the world were in trunk, travelling with us back to Gent, and we couldn’t be happier about it.

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So, the long-anticipated moment has arrived and we were about to taste the beer. Not sure if placebo played a role, but experience of drinking Westvleteren was really something peculiar. What impressed me the most is the fine bitter aftertaste that stays for quite a long time.

Since I probably haven’t tried enough beers neither I have a super refined taste for them, I cannot tell with certainty if this is the best beer in the world, but surely it is one of the nicest beverages I have ever tasted. And the whole process of getting it makes it even more memorable.

Fortunately, for the ones who aren’t lucky as I was, but still want to taste it, it is possible to buy it in certain pubs around Belgium. As expected it is quite pricey, but trust me, you won’t regret your money spent on Westvleteren.

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IMFSE life: Queensferry Crossing, Costa Rican dinner, and a wise cookie…

A while ago, professors from civil engineering department organized a site visit to Queensferry Crossing, which is expected to be the longest three-tower cable-stayed bridge. It started with presentation by Sarah Breen, senior engineer at ARUP, who has worked on this project from its start. The presentation provided us with an insight into the major stages of the project from initiation until execution. We discovered that new bridge will complement existing cantilever rail and suspension road bridges. You might think why another bridge is needed, but the decision to construct a new bridge has been made after suspension cables of the Forth road bridge showed the signs of severe corrosion. So, you can see three iconic bridges, representing the advancements in civil engineering, in one place. Along with elegant design, the new bridge will have better wind shielding and corrosion resistant features due to dehumidification system.  Moreover, deteriorated cables can be easily replaced without closing the bridge unlike on the Forth road bridge. The visit was continued with a bus tour, where we were able to have a closer look on the bridge. The new bridge is scheduled to open in May 2017 after almost six years of construction. As a civil engineer, I really enjoyed the trip since I saw the real-world application of the complicated construction methods and technologies on such a large-scale project.

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Recently, we also had a chance to discover a Costa Rican cuisine. Monica put a lot of effort, and cooked for us a delicious dinner with several dishes. First, we started with tortilla chips with smashed beans and salsa sauce, then had a black bean soup with a hard-cooked egg, followed by rice with chicken, beans, and salad and finished with a sweet plantain as a dessert. As you can see, it was a ‘bean night’, and, fortunately, nobody was allergic to them.  Again, we had one more delightful dinner and great time together.

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I want to end my blog with a bit random,but philosophical stuff inspired by a fortune cookie that Ain brought us for the dinner. Quote inside of mine was: “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity”. I was surprised to see what a real life wisdom lives inside a crisp cookie. In fact, there is no success without dealing with problems. Only by challenging ourselves, our skills and abilities, we can achieve something. So, let’s try follow the advice of a wise fortune cookie, and not overlook our opportunities in difficulties we face with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beauty is everywhere

Well, this post wasn’t supposed to be this fast and wasn’t supposed to be about beauty but sometimes, amazing things happened in the most unexpected times, and it’s worth to talk about it.

Last Friday, we started classes at 8.30 in the morning, it was our last fire dynamics class for the semester and it ended at 11.30 A.M. After class, we went to have lunch together as we were going to have our last exercises lesson from 1PM until 5PM, also of fire dynamics.

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Everything went as expected. We had lunch, we went to the classroom, the professor arrived and started the exercise session, we were asking question as usual and nothing out of the ordinary was happening. Approximately at 4.30PM, we were starting to feel tired and only 1 question was left from the exercise guide when suddenly our professor says in wonder: “is that snow?”

In the IMFSE program, all of us are from different countries, that is one of the things that is so exciting about it. There are guys from Brazil, Serbia, Taiwan, Costa Rica, Slovenia, Malaysia and so on. As you may guess, not all of us have experience snow before and we were excited about it. We were so excited that our professor was so kind to give us a 15-minute break just so a few of us could say hello to snow for the first time.

So, we put our coats on and we went to the front door of the engineering building (that by the way, it’s impresivel!). We tried to take pictures, however snow doesn’t like to be limited by a photograph, the only way of capturing its beauty is by living the moment, just breathing in its refreshing coldness. Or maybe it can be capture with a good camera, but we didn’t had one at the moment, so we only had the first choice available and I believe it was for the best.

To some people, the first snow is just a sign that winter is coming soon. I’ve even heard
that is dirty and annoying. In my case, I think there’s something inexplicable magical about snow that fills you with hope and joy. It reminded me that no matter how hard is the road to reach a goal, you must remember to look up and see the beauty that surrounds you, because life is filled with small details that we must cherish, just like snow.

There’s a small chance that we’re not going to feel the same after going to Lund next semester as we’ll have snow up to our knees, however the memory of seeing the snowflakes falling through our class window will stay with us for the rest of our lives as “the first time we saw snow falling, ever”

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Oh! this is the building I was talking about 🙂 impresive, right? see you next time!

Fire Lab (U of Eduinbrugh)

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From left to right, Max, Mohamed,Simon,Pasquale and Nemer during the pool fire experiment

Last two blogs, I used to write about the main entertainment part of our master which is travelling around Europe.

This time I am going to write about the academic side of the IMFSE experience. As I am spending my third semester at the University of Edinburgh so I am taking four different interesting courses; The Fire Lab, Finite Element methods for solid and structures, Fire Safety Engineering and Society and Structural design for fire.

This blog, I will focus on the Fire Lab, the fire lab is supervised by Dr. Rory Hadden and the teaching assistant Simone Santamaria. It is good to note that Simon is a PhD student at Rory`s group and he is also an IMFSE Alumni.

The purpose of the fire lab is to help the students to understand the different experimental setups and techniques used in fire safety engineering. In addition to that, it increases the knowledge about the main standard tests used, its applications and also limitations.

During this course, we have five different sessions in the following order:

  1. Spontaneous ignition.
  2. Flash Point and Fire Point.
  3. Ignition of Solids and heat release rate.
  4. Flame Spread.
  5. Pool fire correlations.

Usually the lab session starts with a discussion between the students and the teacher about the pre-prepared risk and verbal assessments. For the risk assessment, we are expected to think about the experimental setup and what are the main risks that we could point out and also how to decrease its risk`s level. For the verbal assessment, we should read some literature about the experimental setup, the purpose of the test and what are the targeted measurements.

Despite the fact that we are usually serious when dealing with such experiments, we also usually have some fun and take nice pictures for the flames and the ignited objects. Here are some nice pictures from the lab sessions this semester:

According to Simon, the cone calorimeter that we are using in our experiments is the same as that was used by Prof.Dougal Drysdale who consider one of the main scientists in the fire safety topic and he is also the author of the standard reference text ‘ An Introduction to Fire Dynamics’.

Here is a picture of the Cone Calorimeter:

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The Cone Calorimeter in the Fire Lab at the University of Eduinbrugh

Here, you can find more about the courses of the IMFSE.

A day in Brussels

Studying in Belgium, the heart of Europe, brings many privileges. One of the most important ones, for me personally, is the possibility to visit the nearby cities with such ease and in no time. The city I always love to come back to is Brussels. The beautiful capital of European Union makes me feel I could never get enough of it – and here’s why.

If taking a train, travelling from Gent to Brussels’ Central Station takes no more than 40 minutes. Right upon arriving, I prefer taking the tram number 1 to get to the Merode station. As soon as you get out from the underground, you are standing at the entrance of the famous Parc du Cinquantenaire (French for “Park of the Fiftieth Anniversary”) or Jubelpark (Dutch for “Jubilee Park”). A walk through the park will lead you to magnificent Triumphal arch surrounded by several impressive museums – Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History, Jubelpark Museum and Autoworld. When the weather is nice, the park is full of young people enjoying the sun, playing sports or some instruments. If you happen to be here at such a moment, you will for sure fall in love with this place.

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If you walk further towards the west, in a couple of minutes you will reach the famous EU quarter. The enormous buildings and an imposing architecture in this area will for sure impress you.

If you happen to be hungry (or even if not) you simply must get to the place Jourdan and try one of the most popular fries in whole Belgium – Maison Antoine. I did write about excellent Flemish fries in Gent in my previous blog, but these fries just have something unique which takes them above every competition.

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After filling your belly, you are ready for discovering some more intriguing attractions. Continue walking towards the Central Station and you will pass by the beautiful Royal palace. After a couple of minutes, you will reach one of the most impressive squares I have ever seen – the famous Grand Place. No doubt you will take your time here to admire the marvelous square. When you’re ready, continue walking behind the City hall – in a few minutes you will encounter the lovely Manneken Pis statue, the symbol of Brussels. On the way back to the Grand Place you absolutely must try the delicious Belgian waffles at the well renowned Maison Dandoy. If you continue walking through the same street, you will come to the entrance of one of the oldest, but in the same time one of the most glamorous shopping malls in Europe – Galeries Saint Hubert.

Head on towards the Bourse and catch the metro line 5 towards Erasmus. The ride will take approximately 25 minutes, so you will have some time to recover the energy – for the best that is yet to come. After exiting the metro at the Erasmus station, you will have to walk for another 5 minutes and in order to stand right in front of definitely the most impressive monument building in Belgium (and among the most impressive ones in the world) – the splendid Atomium. This unusual monument was built for the World exposition in ’58, and consists of nine diameter stainless steel spheres connected by tubes – so that the whole forms the shape of a unit cell of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. The building itself is so magnificent that you could sit there for quite some time and admire it. If you, however, happen to have some extra money to spend, you can enter inside and climb it, or even have dinner at the restaurant in the top bowl – for dessert they are serving a breathtaking view of Brussels!

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One last thing before getting back to Gent – you must stop at the famous Delirium pub. You will find offer of more than 2000 beers and a lovely Belgian-pub atmosphere. Enjoyment is unavoidable!

I was extremely lucky to finish this day at the famous Heysel stadium – watching a football match Belgium-Bosnia, and meeting many interesting supporters.

But even if you skip this last part, I am sure you will have a day to remember in Brussels! (of course, I’m only guaranteeing for you guys who followed my tips!) 🙂

Exploring Gent

 

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Last week, I wrote about why Belgium is so great if you’re looking for the balance between studies and travel. This time, I’ll write a little about how I explored Gent for the first time.

I’ve been in Belgium since mid-September, but in between all the accommodation arrangements and the start of classes, I didn’t had time to actually visit the beautiful city I was living it, so last 8 of October I decided it was time to actually visit Gent.

I made a little google search of what were the most iconic places to visit in a one-day-trip to Gent, so the goal was to reach as many of those places I could. I started by the train station and then walked 15-20 minutes until reaching the Citadel Park. There, I could see trees starting to turn yellow, that was particularly exciting for me as I come from El Salvador and we don’t experiment autumn, just summer and winter, so at that point I was amazed by nature.graslei

Gent is not a big city, so you can walk all the way to the city center, and so we did. At the beginning of October, the weather was still nice and perfect to get a drink at a patio cafe looking directly to the Graslei. There you can see its old buildings and people everywhere with smiles on their faces just having fun on a weekend! Here is a picture of the lovely view!

Once coffee time was over, it was the moment to visit the castle of the counts – Gravensteen, located in the city center so it’s easy to reach. This castle is special because it has been reconstructed but without losing its medieval spirit, it even has a guillotine inside and raw explanation of torture devices of the medieval era.

If you come to Gent, you must enjoy every corner of history available in your free time. You can climb the Belfry tower and get an explanation on how bells are made or visit St Bavo’s Cathedral and look at the world-famous “Adoration of the mystic lamb” painting. There are also free guided tours you can book.

If you want to know a little bit more on the main places to visit in Gent click here ! there’s a complete list and prices so you can plan your travel budget. See you next time!

 

 

Study hard,but…

During the last couple of weeks, we were quite busy with our assignments. However, we also took part in a number of social activities.

One of them was visiting the Museum of Fire housed in the former fire station at Lauriston Place. We had an informative guided tour through which we discovered prominent firefighting history of the city of Edinburgh. For instance, did you know that in 1824 the world’s first municipal fire brigade was formed in Edinburgh?

The museum transported us back in time with variety of firefighting appliances from the late 19th and 20th centuries including hand operated fire pumps and steam fire engines. From the photo below, you may see the oldest motor engine, the Halley Fire Engine, which was bought by Leith fire brigade in 1910. Historic documents such as logbooks, incident reports, and photographs can also be found at the museum. However, recently the building has been sold despite of a large campaign to save the historic fire museum at Lauriston place. So, if you are interested, you have a last chance to visit the museum in its original home. I hope that the museum will find a new home because the collection is truly unique, and it shows Edinburgh’s significant role in the history of fire and rescue.

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A few weeks ago, Pasquale and Wuquan finally found a place to stay after two months of searching. So, we were invited for a Chinese-Italian dinner to celebrate this huge event. However, not everything was as simple as it might seem because I had a difficulty in finding their place. Unfortunately, I was late because of that and missed couple of Chinese dishes including chicken broccoli and mushroom, spicy strip and fried potato strip, but I came right on time for Italian pasta al forno. That was not the end of dinner though, since chef Wuquan demonstrated us his exceptional culinary skills by cooking several more Chinese dishes including coca-cola chicken wings, mussel steamed egg, and vegetable dumplings. So, we had one more delicious gastronomic adventure right in the heart of Edinburgh.

dishes.jpgAnd last, current PhD students organized Fire BBQ at the university campus. Although the weather was a bit cold, we had a good time while enjoying our burgers.

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To conclude, sometimes it might be hard to find a balance between academics and social life, but it is definitely a must-have skill for overall well-being. So, let’s study hard, party harder, and get enough sleep my IMFSE friends!