Monday, August 27, 2012

Day in the Life - Antwerp

After over a year here, I've been taking the time to reflect on how things have really changed / progressed for me. I still remember arriving, very new, not knowing where anything was, still getting lost in the hospital... to today, where I know where everything is at, I feel comfortable getting anywhere, and have developed great friendships with the team here. It's something I can really feel proud about, growing from nothing to everything that I've built over the past year

To help me remember my time here, I thought I'd do a series about "day in the life", starting with my trips to Antwerp from Amsterdam. Although I lived in Amsterdam, I also had to cover Antwerp. Depending on my schedule, I'd rent a car for longer trips, or take the train for shorter trips.

1. By luck / chance, I happened to get an apartment near Amsterdam Lelylaan, which is only 5 minutes away by bike from my house. From here, there are frequent trains to Schiphol, and within 10 minutes, I'm at the airport. Such a strange feeling, biking to the train station, and arriving within 10 minutes to one of the largest international airports in Europe!

Amsterdam Lelylaan, with typical Dutch summer weather

2. Arrive in Schiphol, which has a fantastic train station connected with the airport, where I transfer onto the Thalys, the high-speed train to Antwerp. And it's seriously fast, I think like 180 km/h, so that's maybe 120 mph? If I'm hungry at Schiphol,  I always loved stopping by the Delifrance to get a sausijzenbroodje (sausage filled pastry.. totally unhealth) and a warme chocomel met slagroom (hot chocolate with cream...) Guess if I'm already going unhealthy, might as well do it all at once. =)
Schiphol plaza

3. One hour later, arrive in the beautiful Antwerpen Centraal station. There's usually wifi on the train, but it's so unreliable, especially with all the tunnels between Amsterdam and Antwerp. And besides, when I'm going to Antwerp, it generally means a sleep study, so I try to get as much rest as possible where-ever I can..

And - that reminds me of another story, the dangers of not getting enough sleep.. I once had to go to Antwerp right after a sleep study in Amsterdam, with only 2 hours of sleep, and I had all of my photography equipment with me to make a training video. Normally, when I traveled to Antwerp, I just brought a backpack for a daytrip, but this time, I had my suitcase.

I stepped off the train, almost right under the sign below, and started walking towards the escalator, when I realized... WHERE'S MY LUGGAGE! I had left it on the train!! And the Thalys stop isn't more than a few minutes. In huge panic, I ran back to the train, told the train attendant that my luggage was still onboard, she told me to quickly search since they had to leave soon. And in such a panic, I completely forgot which coach I was sitting in, and was running like a a crazy man going thru all the carriages, trying to find my luggage. Eventually I did find it, but that was a close call. Would have been terrible if I didn't get it on time, all my equipment, probably ending up in Paris (the final destination). Later on, this also happened to one of my colleagues, and the Thalys staff actually radio'd ahead to have the luggage brought offboard and locked up for retrieval.... but that was a close call. Note: make sure to always have some business card or contact info on your luggage!

Arrival in Antwerpen Centraal via Thalys
4. After arriving in Antwerp, I usually called my taxi-guy, Issah. It's so funny how we first met, I just chose a random taxi from the station, and got this native English-speaking Ghananian (ie, from Ghana) guy, and we just struck up a great relationship. He knows where to pick me up, always takes my calls, keeps me updated on Belgian and Ghana news, and a guy I could always trust. The 2nd time I was in Antwerp after meeting him, I had planned to call him ahead of time, but didn't have a chance... and when I went to the taxi rank, guess who I found first in line? Issah again!

5. UZA unfortunately is really far away from the center of Antwerp, so that's why I had to take a taxi. I initially tried going there with buses, but it just took too long. It's so far out of the city, they have chickens running around. (ok, it's only about 15 mins away, but it's funny to find chickens running around)

Chickens in front of UZA (University Hospital Antwerp)

6. Then, I head into my "home", the sleep lab. The staff there have been so nice to me, and so funny too. I've enjoyed hearing about one tech's travels to the US, how she loves travelling to the west, to the research co-ordinator, who sometimes "camps" overnight inside the hospital, since he has to be back in the morning, and it's easier to sleep in the hospital than to fight traffic going home. Amazingly, they have like 10 rooms, with 1-2 sleep techs the entire night. With 2 monitors per room, all mounted on the wall, it gets super-hot in that room! I think in the winter, we'd even open a window to keep the room cool enough!


And that's a typical night in Antwerp, another 6-7 hours at night in the sleep lab, then a very drowsy taxi/car ride back to my hotel, where I crash for the next 5-6 hours, then back to Amsterdam!

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