Leuven, Vlaams Brabant provincie, Belgie
My last visit of Leuven was some days ago. VT member Suri was touring Belgium, for the second time, first time being in december 2003. I joined the tour to visit Leuven.
Leuven (Louvain both in French and English- sometimes, I would use English name "Louvain") is a small city in Vlaams Brabant for whom it is the capital city since 1995. It is located close Brussels, East of the Belgian capital city. In fact, both Brussels region, province of Vlaams Brabant (Flemish Brabant) and province of Brabant Wallon (Walloon Brabant) used to belong to the Brabant province prior 1995.
So, during this day, we were walking in this town of 90.000 inhabitants (dixit the voluble guide at City Hall). Brave people we were. It was really cold and sometimes windy.
It was about soaking the ambience, not really rushing to see all the monuments, rather browsing around, visiting some interesting spots and pub... A fine day with the nice Vters I use to talk to online and sometimes offline. It was not my first visit of Leuven, my very first was within the week I arrived in Belgium,; years and years ago. :) First city (other than Brussels) I visited in Belgium was Leuven. I was stuck in a comfy car, just saw the buildings, not walking at all.
My second last was in April while attending a film festival. One of films I saw there was about the children enrolled in war conflicts in Ivory Coast. Watching such film in a university town, a city of knowledge, where brought-up-children have the chance to fulfill their education was surreal. That time again, no real visit. My friends whom I attended the festival with didn't intend to browse around. For some reason, I depended on them. So, we took the train together, walked to the pub where we waited for some officials of the festival, headed to the festival area, entered the projection room, sat, watched, went out, headed to the train station.. and that was it.
This time, a nice visit, not rushed out.. just browsing around, listening to know a bit about the town history. Yes, history...
University city of nowadays...
Despite some turbulent events in its past, the quality University city kept on attracting students in all fields. The Belgians first. Then, the international students who come here for the Erasmus and other programs.
The city and the University paid huge tolls of French plundering (for inst. books were brought to France) under Napoleon, of German furors (Fuhrer?). The city was devastated during the WW I, then reconstructed, then was massively assaulted by German troops again during WW II. For those reasons, Leuven has many rebuilt buildings, sometimes looking like the ones from 16 century. But they are not renovated ones, they were rebuilt, sticking to the original styles.
Apart from that, the city houses the University premices (residence and Library included). It offers some student nightlife (Kinepolis complex, pubs) impregnated with beer, of course. It is the city of Stella Artois and Domus, after all. Can also rely on cheap eateries.
Shopping is possible as well with international brands in clothing, silver jewelry (oooh!) and bookshops. The international beguinage area
Escaped from the Middle ages, it was entirely renovated to house the international students and the visitings professors. So, not-Belgium-based students can be housed there. I would recommend it as your accomodation. It's really nice.
A decade ago, the Erasmus student exchange program was a real asset for it being rare at that time. Since students understood the interest in international exchanges, the language immersion, foreign students are now flocking in Belgian universities. Erasmus program has become a must-do amongst European academics though it is not that cheap (subsidied but not entirely).
Top destinations amongst Belgian students seem to be the US and remote countries like Andean areas (not sure whether those are part of Erasmus programs). Classic and cheaper destinations are Germany, France, Spain, UK, The Netherlands. Northern Europe should be nice as well though I've only seen one who went to Uppsala University. Would it be because of the cost?
The St Michaels church
This former Jesuit church was erected as from 1650 by the Antwerp Jesuit Willem Hesius. The church was finished in 1671 and consecrated to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. After the order of Jesuits had been abolished by Pope Clement XIV in 1773, the church became the parish church of Saint Michael. In 1944, the church was almost completely demolished. Only the facade survived. The nave of the church was rebuilt after the war. The facade draws its inspiration from the Gesu-church in Rome, and is one of the Baroque masterpieces of Belgium. The interior of the church is reminiscent of the Gothic style but the decoration is unmistakably Baroque. There is a set of beautifully sculptured wooden confessionals and a communal bench. The pulpit, made in 1765 by Du Roy, comes from the Saint Michael and Saint Gudula cathedral in Brussels.
Town-wide Snowball Fights
Although the winters in Leuven are cold, damp and dark, it generally does not snow. In my year living in this city, there was only one snowfall. It was great. about four inches of nice, damp, packing snow. The whole town, which consists almost completely of students, fell to throwing snowballs at each other all afternoon. If you visit Leuven, it will very most likely not snow on you. If it does, however, you'd better take care and watch your back!
Once in the five years a beerfestival happens in Leuven.
This year 2003 its in the weekend of 7 and 8 june.
On 8 june a parade goes trow the city.
In this parade 2000 people and 250 horses, shows the history of the city.
And all over the town, you can have free for free.