February 18, 2023

New BEginning

A new project in a new country. The elation runs huge!

The past decade saw me undertaking various positions, many of which took place in different locations. Each new address had something in for me, but the change was somehow more noticeable when the move involved entering a new country. So many new experiences and inspiration; I never left the same as I entered. I reflect on all that because I started a new chapter of this excitement: Hello, Belgium!

Arenberg Castle

Engaging with different cities formed an idea of what makes them pleasant to me: They should be peaceful and safe places to live and work, with easy access to services, culture, food, and nature. They should offer diverse ways to socialize and to reach places, while the transit shouldn't be stressful and too long. Attractive visuals make the icing on the cake. Well, in my new city, Leuven, I am in luck! Here are some of my first impressions:


Let's start with mobility: almost everything is within a 30-minute walk, which erases the need to have a car. Yes, driving can be fun, but sitting in everyday traffic and paying the related running costs is not. Officials here felt the same and pushed to make the city suitable for alternative transportation methods, such as cycling, used by many locals to get to their errands. I rented a bike the first workday I was here and gladly learned that for the same rate most bike rentals in Finland charge per day, I could get an entire week here. But oh, the bikes here are heavy! It took me a bit to get used to riding one. Still, I am a big fan. I can be anywhere in about ten minutes, and it is fun, even with the heft.

This is not a display in front of a bike store. It is a parking lot.

Since building parking lots for bikes takes far less room than cars while serving the same number of people, it leaves a lot of space for parks:

There are plenty of green places all over the city.

It is not that they were always here; many neighborhoods are relatively recent, and others are being built as I write this.

There are also visible efforts to better the old streets into more people-friendly layouts:

Reducing the road width to make more room for greenery and pedestrians.

Besides the physical properties, there's a smart system that reduces cars' impact. Some areas have regulated access allowing different kinds of vehicles based on the current time and conditions, and most streets have slow speed limits, so walking or cycling there feels much safer, and the city is surprisingly quiet as a bonus.

Chatter is more prevalent than droning tires and engines.

Still, should one want calmer settings, a massive forest is a short bike ride away.

On the other hand, if the city feels too quiet and small, or one wants to expand their work/social/culture reach, Brussels is under 20 minutes by train.

Commuting Selfie.

But let's stay in Leuven now, as there's more to be happy about. Let's talk structures:

There is a mixture of old and new buildings, many of which feature a unique design that makes orientation simple. One can start to function without a map in no time.

One of Leuven's main landmarks is the building of the University Library:

It is cool inside and out, and one can climb on its tower. Of course, I had a go! I thought I would cherish seeing the city from the bird's eye, but another attraction overshadowed the views. I was there just before 11 a.m. and walked up an attractive staircase.

When I was somewhere in 2/3 of the tower, suddenly, I started hearing a racket. It sounded like an old elevator, but surely, there wasn't any. "What on earth is that hum?" I wondered before it clicked: the tower houses a good number of bells, and something has to get them going. "It must be the clock!" I thought and rushed up. Indeed, the bells started their thunder. "Wow!" It was like being in some intimate concert venue where musicians unexpectedly dropped a beat that tore straight into the folks' mood.

Once at the observation platform, one side had an outlook on buildings that I earlier admired from the street level and distant horizons with countless opportunities to get purposefully lost. On the other side, the tower revealed these giants.

Hammer Selfie

The closest bell pictured here, bass, is called Liberty Bell and weighs around seven tons. Almost as much as the bike that I rented here!

This was one of many moments that improved my mood since I came here, but I am not in a situation to write it all down. At least I captured some as images:

It is evident: the new city fits my liking a lot. But it is not just about the city, no. It gets better: The reason I am here is to build on those positions I mentioned at the beginning of this post. While I cherished these chapters, as they happened, they often looked anything but related. Some of my past experiences took place in newsrooms, others in art studios. Some exposed me to scientists, others to politicians. One moment I taught a class, then I did an analytical report. As if each of these stops was a piece of a puzzle, but I didn't know they could form an image together. Until they did. And I am in Belgium. Now, that will be an adventure!

It feels like I am starting to climb a mountain taller than any I have climbed before. It is thrilling and scary at the same time. I can't tell how the conditions will be all the way to the summit, but I know one thing. I like climbing mountains.


Tech note: I took all the pics in this article on a cellphone. It is a great tool, but I already spotted compositions that would deserve a dedicated camera. I would like to make a post with these at some point; stay tuned. Meanwhile, you can browse my previous posts sorted by their location, cameras I used, and other categories in my Blog Archives.

Published by: Jakub Stepanovic in Collections, Stories


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