Car Culture Shock

Of all the cultural differences between Belgium and the US, I was perhaps least prepared to experience the difference in car culture. From across the pond, I saw an incredible density of amazing racetracks in amongst the homelands of exotic and interesting brands like Donkervoort, Artega, Weismann, and Caterham (not to mention the more famous ones you’re thinking of). So naturally, I expected a car culture something like what I experienced in America, but with cooler cars and more track time. But that’s not really how it is.

Car culture in Europe, or at least Belgium, seems to be generally much more intentional and event-oriented, less casual than American car culture. If there’s a type of car event in America that you like, you can find it in Belgium taken 1 or 3 levels up. Cars & Coffee becomes a once-annual car show with parking spots reserved months in advance. Instead of doing autocross with your local sports-car club, you run hillclimb events with the Royal Automobile Club. A casual cruise to a winery with a few friends turns into a club convoy to a historic race at Spa. Instead of a few mates running a $500 rattletrap against other such heaps in ChumpCar, they run something a bit more expensive on track with Porsche GT3s in the national endurence championship. The local tracks host Formula 1 and WEC instead of NASCAR and IMSA.

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Track Days (Here and There)

Lots of people have travel blogs. I hoped to do something a little different, and make a motorsport-oriented travel blog, but that hasn’t quite come together like I wanted. Between the shipping delays and a couple of abortive attempts at track days last year, I’m about eight months behind on the track-touring experience I wanted to pursue. But finally I’ve had a mostly successful day driving at Zandvoort, so things are getting underway, and boy is it a different experience than going to tracks in the US.

 

Back in the States, I went to to 5 track days at 5 different tracks with 5 different organizations. So far in Europe I have done 4 track days at 3 tracks with 1 organization. And even though two of those have been largely unsuccessful, with one noise violation and one minor accident, it’s enough for me to be able to spout some more-informed-than-average nonsense about it on the internet.

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Road Trippin

Undoubtedly, America was built for road trips, and vice versa. I’ve enjoyed my share in my day, short, long, and multi-day. To be sure, they still have their place in Europe, but I have found that there are a number of factors which make them feel like more of an afterthought in the transportation network, a means to an end rather than something to enjoy in themselves.

Train travel is great. High-speed rail is a wonderful way to travel. Air travel here is ok too. Security is usually far less aggravating than anything involving the TSA, and higher gas prices make it easier to justify the cost of a plane ticket. But if your destination is far enough outside the main rail network, and not far enough away from your origin to want to deal with the temporal overhead of flying, then it’s time for a drive.

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Culture Shock: It’s The Little Things

I’m not especially prone to culture shock. I’m willing to try new things and go on adventures (it’s why I’m here). Mostly it’s just an adjustment period until I establish new habits and preferences. In a way the bigger differences are easier to deal with because there’s fewer of them and you can retreat from them at home. But all the little things that are different add up to make even your own apartment seem foreign sometimes.

When you take a language class, there are always little culture lessons they give to you along the way. Tips to help you understand the language or get around when you visit another country. “The second floor is the first floor.” “Train travel is very common.” “Steak tartare is a thing.” But there are a lot more little things you start to notice when you spend a lot of time in a place, and especially when you establish a home there. Some are kind of neat, others take some getting used to. For example:

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Househunting in a Foreign Land

Great news! I signed a lease today! It’s nearly my perfect apartment! Well, not really; it doesn’t have a gas stove, or an in-sink disposal, or even a two-basin kitchen sink, or bedroom closets, or any appliances (not even a fridge or oven), or a pantry, or decent cabinetry and countertops in the bathroom, and it’s “against the rules” to do grilling on my terrace (something about “smells” and “smoke” “antagonizing” the other tennants).

But you know what, it’s got two bedrooms (come visit!), a great living space (come party!), a nice view off the terrace (come drink beer with the sunset!), an elevator (come…elevate?), and (most importantly) an in-building electrified box garage in which I’m allowed to do my own mechanical work (you can find somewhere else to park). And it’s only 900 EUR/month. Check out that picture! Doesn’t it seem nice? Compared to the other places I saw, this is perfect. Continue reading “Househunting in a Foreign Land”