The "town centre" is fully pedestrianised and seems eerily quiet as a result. All the streets and squares are named after faculties or eminent academics/scientists/brainy people. The kindness of the old lady in the Catholic agency, she was so sweet.
Belgians like to kiss. When two friends meet, or are introduced by a mutual friend, they exchange one kiss on each other's left cheek. Even men exchange this greeting. As an American, I found this creepy at first, but I gradually accepted it.
Belgains kiss when they greet someone for the first time that day; therefore, every morning, I would have to kiss my flat-mates' cheeks, eight in all, and most of those male, scruffy and beer-stinky.
But it's the culture, right? Small price to pay for access to such excellent food and drink.
Walk by the lake
A convenient lake sits in the dell beneath the l'Hocaille Quarter. Of course, I don't have a picture, but I do have a picture of the woods between my apartment and the lake.
The lake is nice, with a 1 km loop path around it that makes for quality jogging. It's also where I spent the afternoon of September 11th, 2001 in deep reflection with my flatmate Natalie. She spoke practically no English, and my French was awful at the time, but talking with her made me feel much better about being so far from my home, friends, family, and country. That day as much as any made me love Belgium.
Louvain-la-Neuve -- Through Hallowed Halls the Beer Doth Flow
For four incredible months, I lived in the happy little college town of Louvain-la-Neuve, in central Belgium. Studying at the Universite Catholique de Louvain, I thoroughly misspent my time there traveling, drinking, eating, drinking more, and living a fun-filled, if debaucherous, life.
Which is VERY easy to do in LLN. Belgian college kids love to party. And there's nothing else in the town except college kids and the adults who feed them with moules, frites, et beaucoup de biere.
"Une Petite Histoire"
Many many moons ago, in what would later become Belgium, the Catholic Church founded the Catholic University of Louvain. The university and its scenic Flemish hometown flourished and fell according to the whims of the large nations and peoples around them. And for 450 years, all was good.
Then in the sixties, trouble brewed. The people of Flanders, suddenly wealthy from the rise of tourism in their villages and the grwoth of the service sector, began to crave their own university, a school for Flemings taught in Flemish. At the time, the UCL still taught in French. Faced with rioting and other uprisings, the Belgian government did the unthinkable: they separated the university into two halves. The Flemish half would stay in Flanders, in Leuven (the ancient city), and the French helf would be transported thirty kilometeres south to the village of Ottignies, where a "New Louvain" would be constructed.
And so it was. All the French-speaking profs, books, students, workers, and paraphenlia were uprooted and moved to Louvain-la-Neuve. The new city was purpose-built to be a college town, the only "new town" in Belgium since 1620. It looks as though some bonehead from the 60's tried to make a "modern classic," but ugly or not, it will always be someplace I'll call home.
"Just the facts, man..."
But this website isn't about history or the amount of beer I consumed in a four-month period. It's about travel. Would you, dear reader, deign to go to Louvain-la-Neuve? Maybe. But here's the deal:
1 -- It's a college town. Belgium is a small country. So all the students go home on the weekend, so that they can study without distraction, eat mom-cooked meals, and do their laundry. Therefore, if you visit LLN on the weekend or in the summer, you will be the only person there. I'm not kidding. I got there on a Saturday before school started, and the only thing missing was tumbleweeds. Desolate.
2 -- If you go during the week, during the autumn or spring, the place is hopping, but it's definitely college-type fun. Every group in town runs a bar, with cheap beer and dancing. Usually these are tied to majors: Pyscho, Maison des Sciences, the ever-nasty Agro. If you go to one of these glorified frat parties, wear your grungiest clothing, because the kids love to throw beer across the room. You're guaranteed to step in something nasty, so don't wear decent shoes. And watch where you walk, because bathrooms aren't real popular -- balconies are much more convenient. A Spanish friend of mine there couldn't take the filth: "How do people live like this?" she'd ask before counting the days before she would return to Barcelona. If you're not prepared, you might do the same.
3 -- There are no sights here. All the history is on the Flemish side. It's very difficult to get to. The train station is on a spur off the Brussels-Luxembourg line. The food is all right, but nothing special. The brew pubs are all right, but Brussels has better. As a tourist, there is no reason whatsoever to take the side trip to LLN.
But as for me, I would never change a thing. Part of me is still there, sitting in Jazz Matazz, guzzling a Chimay Bleu, or hanging with mes amis playing obscure Belgian drinking games or going to the massive cinema on the Grand'Place and watching Jean Reno films without subtitles. That's Louvain-la-Neuve. Mine.
Orlikins gets stranded in Louvain la Neuve
My soujourn in Louvain la Neuve (LLN) came after my 4 month stint teaching English in the University of Graz, Austria. The plan was to stay in LLN for the summer to improve my French & get a summer job (and travel around Benelux when i got time off) before going back to Dublin in the autumn for my final degree year.
?.yes?.that was the plan alright?.
As my friend Maeve had spent her Erasmus year in LLN, she recommended that I come up to Belgium and stay with her for a few days til I got a job and a flat. Sounds good so far. But with various teaching commitments and visitors I had in Graz, I couldn?t get to LLN until the end of June, of course by then, she would have left. That couldn?t be helped, but I figured I?d get by.
?.of course that didn?t happen?
I left most of my luggage back in Brussels airport, intending to come back to pick them up once I had gotten accommodation in LLN. So I hopped on the first train to Louvain, only to realise I ended up in Leuven and not LLN!! Leuven is the Flemish for Louvain. But no worries, I got back on track pretty quickly and arrived in LLN (Universit? station)
If you do need to stay in this general area, the nearest large town is Ottignies, you are probably better off going there instead of LLN. I will admit my knowledge of this town is pretty limited, but if you find this page useful/entertaining, then my work here is done :-)