The Catholic Universtiy of Leuven is the oldest in Belgium. Some decades ago it was the object of a bitter discusion between the Flemish and the French speaking communities in Belgium.
Although Leuven is in Flanders, the language most broadly used in the University used to be French. When the Flemish nationalist movement begun to get stronger, they requested that the language of the University should be Dutch. Unable to find a compromise, the French speaking community decided to create a new town and a new University in the Walloon Brabant: Louvain la neuve.
It seems as though every day a new concert or festival comes to town. There's always a fair or parade or something going on.
Some of the best concerts ever come through here. The most unbelievable line-up was at the four-day rock festival just outside Leuven, called Rock Werchter.
Here are just a few of the Bands that played:
The Plolyphonic Spree
Queens of the Stone Age
De La Soul
Keep in mind that this was over the course of a SINGLE WEEKEND!! Concerts like these and all sorts of public art festivals and such kept things really interesting. It's worth checking out before you visit Leuven to see what'll be on. Sometimes these things consume the whole city!
Favorite thing: The castle of Arenberg wich is now property of the univercity, was before the world war the home of the family Von Arenberg. They were one of the richest families in this part of Europe, but with the war the Belgians thought they helped the germans and so the family had to move out... Know you can walk around in the park or follow classes in the castle.
Favorite thing: It must have been a mistake, however the big marketplace is much smaller than the old market and the old market seems newer than the big one. The "grote markt" is the place where you'll find our beatifull townhall and the St Pieterschurch. Since it started to be a car-free place the place reborn into what it is now. Only some busses pass true. When tropical weather arives chairs are putted outside as well as the beers....
Favorite thing: This is Louvain, the town where I live. The town hall is one of the most famous buildings here in this student city. Tradition has it that the first Town Hall of Leuven was situated in Old Market Square. The second was located on the Great Market Square of Leuven. It had its place in a row of houses in front of St. Peter's Church, but outside the present building line. The construction of the present Town Hall started in 1439. Even the people of Antwerp or Brugge will admit that this one is more beautifull than theirs and even maybe the nicest one of Western Europe, exept of Melkouwen than.
Well indeed if you walk around in Leuven you might cross the path of a giraffe or other strange animal. If you taste to many belgium beers you will see for example pink elephants. But this picture was the pet-giraffe of a marvelous olive shop in the "Pensstraat". If you need a ollive just go there...
So to go on a downtown safari in my town, you certainly don't need a safari-jeep or binoculars. Just a copple of to many beers or a olive shop.
When the spring arrives in Leuven, the chairs are moved outside and the whole town turns into one big terrace. Thanks to the micro-tropic-climate even palmtrees arise like you see on this picture. If you have no classes, or even when you have, or you just want to enjoy a cool beer move down to the terrases.
Some tips maybe, if you want to go to the most known bar/pub place in town, you have to search for the "oude markt", old market, where there is just nothing more than tens of pubs and ok one drugstore (see picture). If you like more a quite green place in the middle of town, you can visit the "hogeschoolplein". Also the square in front of the station is a nice place to be. A bit out of the center you can find some nice places in front of the "Arenberg castle".
Another newly constructed 'old' building is the City Library at the Monseigneur Ladeuzeplein. The impressive building in Flemish Renaissance style was constructed between 1921 and 1928. It was designed by the American architects Warren and Wetmore and built thanks to donations of American Colleges and Universities. It replaces the former university library which used to be in the university halls in the Naamsestraat. The library had been destroyed in 1914. The present building also suffered damage during a fire in 1940. Numerous important tomes were lost forever (also the Papal document for the creation of the Leuven University in 1425). In the high-rising tower is a 'beiaard' (set of bells) that was donated by the Americans.
Very recently the building was restaurated and so it is now certainly one of the cities highlights. On the ground floor there are most of the time temporarly exebitions. Many times with old books from the library itself. On the 1st floor you find the main library room. Normaly this part of the building is only possible to visit as student or in groups, but a friendly word to the person at the entrance can help to make an exeption.
Favorite thing: Leuven is infested with the presence of InBev (formerly Interbrew), the notorious firm that has been buying breweries in all of Europe, often just to close them and replacing their beers by inferior ones, for a few decades now. The picture only shows a small part of their complex in Leuven, and although it looks impressive be warned that this firm is not a friendly one, and is extremely low on ethics. Thousands of people lost their jobs due to them. Old traditional beers are disappearing, thanks to InBev and predecessors. Many breweries were closed by Interbrew, some of which had been in business for centuries and were doing perfectly fine. If you don't want to support this, brands to stay away from are Hoegaarden, Leffe, Jupiler and Bellevue, to name just the most important. For all of these beers alternatives can be found which are often far superior. Even in Leuven there are alternatives. Read on.
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.
Fondest memory: 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 of Louvain can claim the title of the "first University in the Netherlands", being founded in 1425 by Pope Martin V. It is the oldest Catholic university in the world still in existence.
Jan, our guide at University Library, talked about some 28.000 students, in many disciplines. Since its debut, it has attracted top-level researchers. They contributed a lot into anatomy, chemsitry, all kinds of study.
Louvain theologists had some influence on the then Catholic world. The Popes used to seek for advice here to know about works to be accepted and printed. Yet, controversial Cornelius Jansenius (1585-1638) is a Louvain Theology University product and Ypers archbishop.
What was he wrote already? A whole thesis on Grace and free will: posthumously published "Augustinus" (1640). Jansen believed in absolute predestination: humans are, for him, "incapable of doing good without God's unsollicited grace and only a chosen few are believed to receive Salvation". Smells like Calvinism. Still, Jansen, when attacked by Jesuits and popes, claimed to be tied to Rome.
Jansenism was the most divisive issue within the Roman Catholic church between the Protestant Reformation and the French Revolution (from a French point of view). It was "raised" in France quite after the release of the treatise (Jansen couldn't see the evolvement of Jansenism).
At that time (18 century), it was a Church scandal. It didn't raise unnoticed by Royal French government either. Jansen, and his "followers", had the backing of Catholic philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal, an ante-Jesuit hardliner. After some longlasting success (till the persecution of French jesuits), the current declined end 18 century.
Jansen was not the only character from this University. I knew about the "Jansen- gate", from an interesting French lesson in my secondary school :) I just discovered that Jansen was based here. That made me wrote it. The tips sometimes leave room for reflection, so do travelling.
Fondest memory: By the way, the University was founded as University of Louvain. Yet, when it was fashionable to categorize insitutions (19 century), it was an obvious choice that the University was a Catholic one.
More about the university history, check http://www.kuleuven.ac.be/english/about/history.htm
Writing this tip, I just realized that I've been always into Catholic educational system. First, in a French-Swiss nuns' school (primary) then within a Canadian fr?res' school (secondary). Well, those schools are all Malagasy but run by/ under influence of those foreign religious categories.
Then in Belgium, I started with a Jesuit school in Brussels to study Maths for a year, then switched to International trade in a Catholic influenced school, then a Facult?s Universitaires Catholiques de Mons (for my B. Sc.) and finally Universit? Catholique de Louvain (for some specialized studies that I left, after some months, for lacking interest in the stuff. Ooh! I found a nice job too so the choice was clear).
Yeah! all of them were catholic.. Quite strange for a rouhgly Anglican-raised-girl who turns out to be a Calvinism-influenced-adult (by conviction). I am surprised realizing this Catholic connection. Oh well! It was not that bad :)) I learnt about tolerance, for having been, for years, the one (or one of the two) Anglican student in my class.
So far, none else of the Belgian cities and towns I visited celebrate friendship as much as Louvain.
First, for the city having been massively bombed during the two world wars (and seeing the central University Library torn down), it has benefited from solidarity moves.
The one that epitomizes this international friendship was the building of the University Library in the 1920s and the restauration of its book gathering. The USA took charge of building a new home for the mibrary. As for the book collection, apart from Germany who was required to donate 13 million DM's worthin books in reparation, many countries, Allied and neutral alike, took part in helping Leuven (and Belgium) to retrieve its status as a center of education, knowledge. Books flocked in to amount 900 000 volumes in 1939 from France, Japan, the US, UK... A year later, though, bombings would destroy the collection again...
See following picture? The main reading room was designed by a French architect; books, as I just said, came from every part of the world and the exterior was deisgned by an American architecture (following Flemish Renaissace standards).. finance came namely from the USA, as far as I understood our nice guide, Jan.
Other donations related to knowledge and education, sciences were made to the city too, like this bronze globe given by China.
Fondest memory: Then, while wandering through the city, you would notice some elements that celebrate/ commemorate friendship.
A hot balloon just at the back of the University Library... to celebrate friendship;
A tree in the city, the Vriendschapsboom... to celebrate friendhip between people who use to share same birthday (?)
Also, University was for me a place where to build friendships, share views, open one's mind to difference, newness and knowledge. That, for me, grants all University cities the features of Friendship cities.
Stella Artois, the beer widely known and spread is from Interbrew company, one of top5 world breweries.
The company is located in Leuven (near the train station). If I recall it well, it bears the brand and label of Stella Artois on its red-orange facade.
Stella Artois was a traditional brand that was brewed in Leuven from the 14 century. But only from early 18 century, it was given the name of Stella Artois (Artois being the family name of the master brewer. I don't remember of the initial name of the brewery, though.
This beer is now the flagship brand of Interbrew company. It gathers some famous beer brands here. To name a few Stella Artois, Bass, Leffe, Beck's, Jupiler and Hoegaarden (this is OK with mussels-fries, for me). Whether those are the best of Belgian beers is debatable but they are well-known and quite best-sellers. That's a debate I would not damp in for me NOT being a beer-connaisseur at all. I am not even a beer lover. I just appreciate some of those I could taste.
That's for Stella Artois/ Interbrew in Leuven, "beer capital city of Belgium".
Also, another brand of the area is Domus (domestic brewery), a beer from the tap with special pruduct around Christmas period. Never tried it. A visit here may interest you, check this http://www.domusleuven.be/
Fondest memory: When the voluble guide at the City Hall told us that around 200 buildings in the city belong to Interbrew, I suddenly realized why it is sometimes nicknamed "Stella Artois city".
For sure, the fact that Stella Artois has been brewed in Leuven for years and that Interbrew HQ are there have to do with that, but not only.
Part of the collection are some of the buildings on Grote Markt area. I guess not the City Hall, neither the Tafel Rond and Sint-Pieterskerk.. but very probably the brewer guildhouse and surroundings. :)
No pic of the Interbrew HQ (a right picture will come).
Update March 3: Just heard on the news Interbrew and AmBev group (Brazil based) just agreed to merge (not really merging in finance technique, rather exchanging shares). InterbrewAmbev will become then Wold's n°1 Brewery. Prior to that, Interbrew was World's n°3 whilst AmBev was n°5. Well, some happy news in this gloomy period in Belgium.
A last piece: while visiitng Leuven, you may notice it (or not) but the city is a rebuilt one. The bombings had left deep scars but those "old-school" styles won't reveal them.
Those Renaissance buildings are not from Renaissance period. They replaced the ones from Renaissance.
That's an example but same as for Gothic or any other style.
Here on the pic, I wanted to have a picture of a building whose use I don't even know. If some architecture and building freak can help me on this... See? The one at the back !
Update on March 2 :): OlafS just told me this building is the post-office. I guess central post-office.
Fondest memory: Only the beguinage was saved from bombings, if I recall it well. Hence, kept its Middle-ages style, foundation and spirit, that contributed in adding it in the list of UNESCO World Heritage list.
No Art Nouveau houses here (or very very few), for same reasons as above.
Along with Leuven's moving history, visiting the Library and beguinage was my fondest memory of this day-trip.
At the library, there was those minutes in the cold and the wind, listening to our guide Jan (I recommend him, English-speakers wouldn't be left aside). History of the University Library, closely tied to the fate of Louvain.
Then, visiting the reading room reminded me of friendships bound in libraries. Since we couldn't talk that much in classrooms, after some "rounds of observation", we relied on those afternoons in our school library to loosen up.
Afternoons in library and music classes were hours we used to await for so much.
Apart from making friends, and you would find later how things were at that time for me, libraries meant some other thing for me.
It means the discovery of old books, with the dusty smell of the yellowish pages. I've been always a keen reader. Reading everything: newspapers, books (novels and biographies alike, no sci-fi for me), women magazines, economics and business reviews.. and of course, like many here, travel and discovery magazines. In few words, some trash, some culture and some education.
Fondest memory: Visiting this elegant reading room was something of impressive, of course.
While entering the room, it stroke me as an evidence: the smell of libraries is special. The atmosphere is serene.
I have some preference for the smell of old books. Hate the smell of glue and ink of those books that are just out of the press.
More than I suspected, I like the atmosphere in libraries. It all came back: some time spent in my university library, in some Brussels University library: studying, making notes. Trying to study would be appropriate. The stacks are always tempting. Chewing the copied notes that teachers used to read (!) during the lessons at university is a so-so activity. What is more interesting is understanding the theoretical notions from experience, seeing it in real life... and in stacks, there were books, weeklies, reviews in every subject.
Those times I skipped lessons to read in libraries suddenly came back with this visit.
I'd say, I developed from those early years some need to dive in there, wander through the shelves, sometimes read the books there.. the other times, xerox like mad.