Hogmanay, New Year and Goodbyes

After a year and half we spent together, it is time to say goodbye to my best friends in this program. Me, Nemer, Pasquale, Max and Ain started from Ghent and stayed all the way together till our third semester in Edinburgh.

We finished our exams on the 21 st of December, we decided to extend our stay in Eduibrugh to hang out together and attend the great events of Hogmanay. Also, Pasquale`s mother decided to come to visit us during the holidays and enjoy the celebrations in Edinburgh. We started our holidays with an amazing dinner on the 25th of December, Pasquale`s mother cooked the famous Italian Pasta with meat and cheese, it looks amazing in the picture but it is beyond amazing when you eat it !!! She even brought all the ingredients from the ancient city of Napoli where Pasquale comes from.

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On the 30th of December, we joined the spectacular Torch Light procession which is one of the main events in the Hogmanay celebrations.

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During the celebration, the four of us carried a torch for charity and help to create a river of fire through Edinburgh’s city center, witness the lighting of the bonfire and fire elements followed by a stunning sound and light show and fire works finale which is visible from multiple points across the city.Here are some pictures from the event yesterday:

After that, we all went to say goodbye to Pasquale’s mother and Pasquale himself as they are going to travel back to Italy for vacation. This is only sad part of the IMFSE, at some point we need to say goodbye to the people that became our best friends in a short period, people who supported us, laughed with us and even built our dreams together for a stunning future for everyone. It was a sad moment to say goodbye to Pasquale after this year and half, however, we knew we are going to see each other soon in Lund for the fire safety day in February. Here is our last picture together:

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The most beautiful exam venue

One of our Christmas exams was held at the Playfair library. I must admit I have never had an exam in such a beautiful place before.

Playfair library can be considered as the treasure of Old College.It is named in the honour of William Playfair, who was one of the prominent Scottish architects of the 19th century. The National Gallery of Scotland and the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh were designed by William Playfair in the style of neoclassicism. He has also contributed to the architecture of Old College.  As you can see from the photo below, the major features of the library are vaulted ceiling and classical columns. It functioned as a library from 1820s until 1960s, when the Main Library on George Square was opened. Currently, the venue is used  to host dinners, receptions and prestigious lectures.

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Other students told me that exams at the Playfair library tend to be complicated, so if you are going to have an exam there next time, you should study harder for that course.Since it was the last exam, we decided to celebrate the end of the first semester by having a haggis which is a traditional Scottish meal made from sheep’s liver, lungs and heart, oatmeal, onion, suet and seasoning. It is traditionally cooked in a sheep’s stomach and served with ‘neeps’n’tatties’-mashed swede and potatoes. Haggis can be served differently, for instance, I had haggis inside chicken with potatoes and carrots as sides. Although the description might not sound appealing, haggis is really delicious.

 

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The first semester has already finished, and I hope that we all did well on our exams. Now, it is time to relax, spend some time with family if you can, and gain strength for the next semester. Enjoy the holidays, my IMFSE friends!

Dinant adventure

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When I first started the program, I picture myself studying hard during the week, and enjoying Belgium in the weekend. However, this is not always possible because we have so many things to learn in such a short amount of time that sometimes sacrifices must be made in order to become the Fire Safety Engineers that science deserves.

Yet, back in November 14th I decided to go in the last big adventure before the exam period started. I present to you: Dinant adventure.

Everythmr-saxing started when my Salvadorian friend told me she wanted to come and visit for the weekend, so I was truly looking on how to impress her and I found that Dinant was an excellent place to do so. Dinant is a small city located in Namur (also in Wallonia, as Liege!) the whole city is crossed by the Meuse River (if you remember from my last blog, this is the river that crosses Liege as well) The small city is best known for its gorgeous citadel and for Mr. Antoine-Joseph Sax (Mr. Sax) the inventor of well… you can guess… The saxophone in 1846! Well done Belgium!  (Here is more info about it in case you want to know more)

Dinant is 4 hours away from Brussels if you go by train, so it’s a little hard to reach, however it has many wonders, as “La grotte la marveilleuse” that is a truly amazing place with nature wonders. You can go in guided tours where they will explain you the different rock formations in French, Dutch and English. You can spend 1 hour in the cave and afterwards identify the difference between stalagmite and stalactite in the same picture.

After visiting the cave, it was time to go to the major attraction: La citadel de Dinant. The funny thing is that we saw the scalier of the photo below, we got so scared of them that we thought we were not going to make it. Luckily for us, there was a funicular available for a reasonable additional fee, so we took it. At the top, you can join the guided tour however, you must choose the hour correctly as they’re divided by language and the most frequent one is given in french. We joined the french tour and got to practice a little bit it (bonus point!) during the tour you can have a glimpse over how the soldiers lived in the citadel and the history of war to take over Dinant.

Needless to say, my friend was impressed 🙂

If you want to visit Dinant, click here and you can find the major attractions of the city.

Bike culture

Although the public transportation in Gent is well developed, the only authentic and real mode of transportation for students are bikes. Before coming to Belgium, I only knew about the famous Dutch bikes tradition, but the more time I spent here, the more I realized how, at least in Gent, the atmosphere and the way of living are quite similar to those in Netherlands. While walking through Gent, you can immediately notice a large number of bikes, but it will be nothing compared to the shocking number of bikes you will be able to see on the huge bike parking lots.

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After arriving to Gent, you will definitely want to get one as soon as possible, and luckily its quite effortless. Each student can rent a bike for a symbolical price of €15 to €30 per semester, depending on the bike type. If you perhaps want to get a better and higher class bike, you can search numerous options on second hand market, or even go for a new one.

Since travelling by train in Belgium is also super cheap, and students tend to use this benefit, I wanted to find a bike that is good for both riding around town, but also easy transportation. Fortunately, the official UGent bike department ‘’studentENmobiliteit’’ had something that suited my needs perfectly. A foldable bike, which when folded occupies a really small space, and is thus free for taking it into trains, unlike regular bikes, which require buying of a supplemental ticket.

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According to the statistics, bikes are among the most stolen things in the World, so unfortunately Gent is not an exception to this trend. But, if you want to forget about this problem or at least minimize the chance of having your bike stolen, my advice is to rent a UGent bike. Their bikes have an embedded GPS device, but are also very recognizable, which makes them much less interesting for lawbreakers.

To sum up, when coming to Belgium, if you want a fast, secure and fun way to explore the cities, make sure to grab a bike and pedal out to an adventure.

Sports and activities

According to the recent scientific researches, practicing sports and body activities will highly influence the studying performance. Being a student at the IMFSE you will be studying in three of the best universities in Europe and of course that means you will have access to many sports facilities. In this blog, I will present some valuable information for those who fancy doing sports during the semester time.

Ghent University:

Ghent University has an amazing Sports center, with five indoor facilities, swimming pool and sauna. In this center you can play any of the following sports:

  • Handball
  • Football
  • Swimming
  • Basketball
  • Tennis/table tennis
  • Karate…etc.

There are also many other activities that you can do there; for example Body & Mind and Yoga classes.

If you are interested to go to the gym, it is also available at the university sports center. Yet, I would also recommend that you can check the gymnasiums available in the city itself, there are many of them and you can get really good price with your student card.

More information about gent university sporting center is available here

Lund University:

When you are in Lund you can also do sports, there are many facilities available in the student nations, student associations and some local sports clubs.

There is also a very nice gymnasium with a big indoor swimming pool available at Delphi, to get good price ask about the plans they offer and the student discounts.

 

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Delphi`s gymnasium from outside

 

At the spring time, it will be amazing to gather together and play some football. We did so last semester and here is a photo for us playing football at the football pitch behind Delphi:

 

The fire department at Lund University will organize a football tournament and every year the IMFSE students participate in it. We made a team of seven players and we played six matches against the local students. Keep in mind that it will be better to play with football`s shoes as the tournament takes place in an outdoor grace pitch not indoor.

University of Edinburgh

The University of Edinburgh has a very big sports facility, there you can almost do all kind of sports and they have got a 25 meters swimming pool. The best thing is the price; it is around hundred pounds for one semester.

More information can be found here.

More activities are available in the three universities and I highly recommend attending the orientation days as most of the students unions will offer you brochures with their activities which can include hiking, climbing and even skydiving.

If you prefer to go for long runs, the three cities are awesome places to do so. Just put your sports shoes on, go out and run!. The three cities has many landscapes to offer you !

Inside Belgium: Liége

A few weeks ago, I got the share with you my experience exploring Ghent, this time is the turn for another beautiful city in Belgium: Liége.

Liége is placed in Wallonia, the francophone region of Belgium. It has direct access to the Meuse River and just by looking at their bridges, their train station and bold architecture you can see their unstoppable growth. At first, I thought everyone was over reacting about the beauty of the train station, so I decided to not look at any pictures beforehand and make my own criteria. It really took me by surprise how incredible it actually is.

The Guillemins train station is a real piece of art designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and its part of the high-velocity train network of Europe; you can be in Paris in just 2h15 if you take a high velocity train from there! Oh! and its warm inside so you can wait your train without freezing in winter, its great!

If you’re going to Liége you must walk through all the city. We walked and visit the main places in approximately 4 hours, so a day trip is doable. You could start walking from the train station to the “Parc de la Boverie” where you can walk and relax in a peaceful ambient surrounded by trees and animals. You can also cross 2 gorgeous bridges and get to another park (yes, a lot of vegetation in Liége!) if you’re there in October you will find a huge fair with lots of food and kids having fun with their parents. In the fair, that you can picture it as a mini amusement park, you can find the famous “lacquemant” that is basically heaven in form of a thin waffle with a caramel-like syrup inside, it’s delicious! (Hint: go to Liége in October!!)

And well, I cannot leave aside the very well-known and bucket-list inspiring place for many adventurous people out there: “La Montagne de Beuren”

As you can see in the pictures, La Montagne de Beuren is actually not a mountain but a staircase with a 28° slope. Here you will have 374 steps to convince yourself that it’s a very good idea to exercise more than “once in a while”. When you conquer the mountain, you will have fresh air and a beautiful view of the city, it’s totally worth it! afterwards you can walk down the mountain through a park that leads you to the other side of the city where you can walk around and enjoy the view.

I could keep talking about Liége because is a great city with a lot to offer, however I want to seize the moment to send a special message to the whole IMFSE team, as right now we’re facing the examination period.

Remember that nothing is product of “luck” we have to earn our own success. This is the moment to prove ourselves that we are capable of reaching any goal if we truly commit to it.

Just keep going guys! you’re doing great! 

First real fire experience

Everyone knows about the usual opinion that during the studies, engineers gain too much of theoretical knowledge and very little, or almost none of the practical one. Luckily for IMFSE students, we were able to choose the course called “Fire Safety Engineering based Firefighting’’, taught by Mr. Karel Lambert, who, apart from being a civil and fire safety engineer, is also Battalion Chief at Brussels Fire Department.

As you can already assume, aside from learning about firefighting tactics, equipment, ventilation, fire behavior itself, etc., the vital part of the course was actually doing a real firefighting training, and getting some first-hand experience.

Dealing with fire is a really serious and hazardous problem, therefore it has to be considered with utmost care. Probably the most important thing is picking appropriate and high quality gear, which we all have done successfully with the assistance of the really helpful Fire academy crew. Next thing was learning about the whole training, and becoming aware of all safety precautions.

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When everyone was ready, we entered the container and the training began.

They set a wooden pallet with several minor combustible materials on fire so it started growing slowly. As the fire was growing, we were staring at it through the thermal imaging camera and we could notice that it was reaching really high temperatures of up to 800 °C. The smoke was produced in large quantities, but since the container door was completely open, it easily flew out sticking to the ceiling. At some point, a crew member closed the upper half of the door and we could immediately notice something amazing. Due to the change in ventilation conditions, and the change in neutral plane position, the smoke instantaneously dropped to less than a half of the height of the container, and in our sitting positions, it was almost touching our helmets. We turned the camera to the smoke and it showed 150 °C. Karel told us to stand up, which we did, and we were immediately stunned. The visibility was awful, and even through our several layers gear we could feel how hot it was.

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When they reopened the container door, the smoke was under control again and we continued observing the fire. Karel approached the fire and pushed a wooden table with cardboard pieces on it just next to the fire. It didn’t take long before the cardboard started pyrolyzing and then burning without even touching the fire. It was a really nice example of radiative heat transfer, and perhaps a short glimpse of flashover.

After seeing the most important phenomena, Karel extinguished the fire and the training was over.

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Discussing the whole practice with my colleagues, we all agreed on several things. First of all, how heavy the gear was, and how complicated it was putting it all on. Obviously, it takes a lot of practice to be ready to act properly in short amount of time.

Next thing we all agreed about was that, although we knew we were completely safe, just being near a serious fire isn’t that comfortable, and firefighting job definitely takes a lot of courage.

At last we concluded how being a firefighter certainly looks pretty cool, but even looking beyond that, it’s such a tough job and it definitely deserves huge respect.