Thursday, April 5, 2012

Weekend trip to Leuven, Belgium

Two weekends ago, Bobby and I got to explore the Belgian town of Leuven. Bobby had been at the university there for a week of research, so I flew out on Friday afternoon to see him and explore a new town with him. Leuven is a university town and has been since 1425, when the university was established!
We stayed at a really lovely hotel, which was a converted stable. Our room is the arched doorway on the left. The hotel was right across the road from the university.
This is what the hotel used to look like when it was still a working stable. Sadly, Leuven is the town where those 12 year old school children died on the bus crash in Switzerland while on a ski holiday. The hotel was just a block away from their school, and all around town there were reminders of the city's grief over the tragic accident.
Castle Arenberg, which is a part of the university, was right across the road from our hotel. Here's a random factoid: the first manned gas-filled balloon flight in history took off from the front lawn of the castle on 21 November 21 1783.
The city was filled with beautiful buildings. Here you see the university's Library (I think the balloon sculpture is in commemoration of the above mentioned flight, but I can't be sure because I can't read Dutch). This building was actually a gift from American to Leuven to celebrate the end of World War 1. The German burned the original library during the war.
In the background you can see the spires of City Hall.
And here is City Hall by night. The building dates from the mid-1400s and is quite Gothic-bedazzled!
In the middle of the city is the UNESCO World Heritage site Grand BĂ©guinage. This area, which dates to the early 1200s, was a community for unmarried (or widowed), semi-religious women who wanted to dedicate themselves to the Catholic church but not take a vow of poverty. The majority of the buildings are owned by the university. Many students and international staff now occupy the buildings. Can you imagine having a dorm built in the 1200s?!?
An old water pump inside the Grand BĂ©guinage.
Aside from beautiful Gothic and Flemish buildings, Leuven also hosts some lovely art. This painting, The Last Supper, was located inside St. Peter's Cathedral. The painting, dating from 1464, was painted by Dieric Bouts, and it a wonderful example of early Netherlandish art.
We didn't only see old art, though. This huge work was in the square right outside of the university library. We rather like it.
One thing I always look forward to when traveling is exploring new foods. We've eaten some fantastic meals over the years and I'm always excited to try new things. Unfortunately, the food in Leuven was disappointing. Not only was the food bad, it was really expensive. We ate at one Greek place, where we had a meal that would be bad by take-out standards, and it cost over 60 euros! Thankfully the hotel's provided breakfast was decent, but every other meal we had was just not good. We even had bad ice cream (seriously, how can you mess up ice cream?!?). Oh well, at least the waffles were palatable.
And, of course, the chocolate was good. Bobby assures me that the beer was good as well, but I can't comment on that myself.

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