Tuesday, July 27, 2010


I went to Amsterdam on July 10-11. The final game of the World Cup between Spain and Netherlands was on the 11th, so on Sunday the whole city was MADDNESS! I thought people got into the Super Bowl, but that is nothing compared to this. Unfortunately, the last train I could have taken was 9pm (game started at 8:30), and I didn't have anywhere to stay that night, so I wasn't able to stay to watch the actual game. I imagine it would have been quite the experience (even being there before the game was unforgettable).

Approximately 11am. Fans already gathering on Museumplein to watch the World Cup on a giant TV set up in the the square.

Orange maddness at the train station when I was trying to leave. All these people had just arrived and got off that train. I don't know how they all fit in there. Everyone was cheering and singing and dancing too. These pictures don't really do it justice.

Other than watching the city get ready for the World Cup, I went on a free walking tour through Sandemans New Europe (New Amsterdam). The tour was actually really fun and interesting and covered most of the city. The guides were great because they only work for tips. I WOULD HIGHLY RECOMMEND THESE TOURS if you are visiting a new city, whether you are on a budget or not. They do tours in several cities around Europe, like Paris, Amsterdam, London, Dublin, Prague etc (I would put a link to the website here, but honestly, I don't know how to put links in this blog, but just google "free walking tour new europe"). It is a nice way to get to know the city a bit before exploring on your own. I learned and saw a lot of interesting facts and history about the city that I wouldn't have known by just wandering around with a map or guide book. The tour guides are also much more interesting than the pre-recorded facts you listen to on bus or canal tour (even though I do enjoy those too, if they are a decent price).

After that, I met up with a friend that I swam with at Hopkins who was studying abroad there. We explored the city some more and went to the Van Gogh museum.

From a bridge over a canal in Amsterdam. The canal system is pretty cool in this city. I thought there were a lot of bikes in Leuven, but it is NOTHING compared the amount of bikes in Amsterdam. And Dutch people on bikes don't take too kindly to pedestrians getting in their way, especially tourists. So you have to watch out for that. One girl on the tour had some pretty sweet battle wounds from being hit by a bike. Bike theft is also very common here, or they fall into the canals.

These sort of bricks used to be used to indicate a persons occupation - this was one cool thing I learned from the tour guide that I would not have even noticed otherwise!

IMEC update

It’s been a while since I talked about what I’ve been up to at IMEC, so here is a quick update. As I mentioned before, I am studying reductive desorption of alkanethiol SAMs on gold. The group I’m working with at IMEC does a lot of surface chemistry and studies SAMs for biosensing applications but desorption is a relatively new topic here. Trying to start a new-ish project in only 10 weeks is a bit ambitious because there are always unexpected (and time consuming) problems that need to be worked out. So after being trained to use all the new equipment and software, I spent most my time trying to get the set up (combining electrochemistry with fluorescence microscopy) to work properly. I finally have an electrochemical cell that fits with the microscope objective, doesn’t leak and can be used with small 1x1cm Au samples (as well as larger ones). Now I’m working to get some results and establish a protocol for running these desorption experiments in the short amount of time I have left!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Antwerp and Knokke

On Saturday, July 3, I went to Antwerp to see the city... and shop. It was a great time to go because EVERYTHING was on sale! Someone at work told me that there are sales twice a year and in the summer they start at the beginning of July and last almost all month. I was confused when she told me this because in America stores generally have their own sales whenever they want, and massive sales only happen on days like Black Friday. But she assured me that everything in Antwerp, and Leuven, and everywhere else in Belgium would be on sale. I took my time and did a lot of window shopping in stores that were out of my price range (even on sale), but I found great deals on several nice shirts and a skirt and dress! It rained a lot in the early afternoon, so good thing I was mostly inside during that time. I didn't end up seeing a whole lot of the city other than the Meir (the main shopping street), but in the evening I did wander around for a while to take pictures of several squares and the river Schelde.

View of the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp, taken from near the river. It took 200 years to build and was supposed to have a second tower.

Oh, and I finally had a delicious Belgian waffle from a street vendor! I had ordered a waffle (rectangular) in little restaurants before that didn't live up to the hype I was expecting - they were like 5 or 6€ on a fancy plate and not much more special than a waffle from FFC (Hopkins dining hall). But now I know that you have to get a sugar waffel (round-ish) from a street vendor for like 1 or 2€ in a napkin or paper. They offer toppings like chocolate and fruit, but plain is delicious by itself.

On that Sunday, the weather was fabulous, so the other interns and I went to the beach in Knokke. It was a 2 hour train ride for about 20€ round trip. It was nice and relaxing, we just sat on the beach all day and tossed a frisbee for a while, even though it was pretty windy for frisbee. But there were a bunch of people flying pretty intense kites and wind surfing with kites that were really cool to watch because I've never seen anything like that before. I actually didn't realize it was the 4th of July until we were about to leave! That is one of my favorite holidays so I was a bit sad that I missed celebrating it, but I still had fun without BBQs and fireworks.

Beach in Knokke with a bunch of windmills in the background. I didn't get any good pictures of the people wind surfing with big parachute-like kites instead of on windsurf boards, but they were over near the windmills.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Midsummer in Finland

One of my best friends that I swam with at Hopkins moved to Finland 2 years ago after she graduated, so I went to visit her during a very Finnish celebration, Juhannus (Midsummer)! This will probably be the only trip that I will go on without doing a single touristy thing. We went camping at her friends cabin in a little town called Huittinen, about 3 hours North of Helsinki. I don't even know how to begin to describe how beautiful it was or how much fun I had.... I guess from the beginning.
I flew on AirBaltic through Riga, Latvia Thursday night. There, I accidentally spent 4.50 euros on a small bottle of water because I didn't realize they use a different currency and vending machines apparently don't have a very good exchange rate. No water fountains - one of the things I miss most about America is free water. Anyway, I got to take one of those really small air planes that you have to take a bus to out on the run way and there are only 6 steps to get into it. The propeller was actually on the outside of the wing, so it was really loud during take off, but I thought it was really cool to watch it. When I left Riga around midnight, it was already dark, but when I landed in Helsinki at 1 am, it was still light out!

We took a bus to Huittinen on Friday morning (June 25) and picked up some food at the grocery store for grilling! There were several other people at the cabin. Almost everyone could speak English, but they spoke Finnish unless they were talking directly to me.

The weather was nice, it rained a few times but not for long and the thunder storms were really cool to watch. We went swimming in the river (cold! but refreshing), then went in the sauna, rode in a speed boat, played beach volley ball, sat around the fire, and relaxed. I'm just going to post a bunch of pictures because words won't do it justice.

Daytime view of the river, with the boat we rode in. All the colors were very vivid.
Campfire we cooked over and sat around all weekend. I love camping and campfire food!
Me swimming in the River with the dock, boat, campsite in the background! It was COLD but totally worth it. Went to the sauna right after to warm up.
11:20pm: beach volley ball net and the sun beginning to set
11:30: most beautiful sunset I've ever seen. The sky was actually purple.
12:12 am: Same view of the river but at "night." It never got darker than this. Dusk skipped right over night straight to dawn. It was amazing.
The Kokko! A very traditional part of the Junannus celebration is building a huge bon fire at midnight.