I love Leuven! Everyone speaks English!!

20170127_142506

Of course  I visited Belgium regularly after making England my permanent home.  But you know how it goes, those trips focused on catching up with family rather than exploring the touristy towns and attractions and there had been no need to return to the Alma Mater, my university town Leuven.  Actually, I cannot remember the last occasion when I was in Leuven before my recent sojourn a couple of weeks ago, but I believe the time span should be measured in decades rather than years…

20170127_140804

20170127_141110

The first thing that hit me after surfacing from the depths of Leuven station was the emptiness.  It was a Friday afternoon.  Deserted streets.  Silence.  The rumblings from the odd bus.  An assortment of bicycles hugging a pedestrianised area.  I did a double take.  Did I accidentally leave the station through the wrong exit?  It took me a while to discover the proper station entrance, roughly in the same place where I was expecting it, but hidden behind an enormous monument that had definitely been added since my last trip to the town…

The whole area has clearly had a serious face-lift recently and motorised, polluting vehicles are now discouraged from entering the town centre giving priority to the humble pedestrians and cyclists.  So much so that I suspiciously eyed  a driver who voluntarily came to a complete standstill to let me cross the road…  After two years navigating the congested streets of India and dodging feckless road users in China, it came as a shock…  Along the streets, wide pavements provide ample space for bicycle stands,  and near the centre of town, a huge underground bicycle garage, complete with bicycle repair shop, makes this one of the most cycle-friendly towns I have ever seen.

20170127_142416

On a quest to legalise my hard-earned university degree (more about this in future blogs..), and with Google Maps as my guide, I set off to the KUL’s (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) admin headquarters.  Map reading has never been my forte, so here and there it was essential to turn to locals to get more precise directions.  Admittedly, I instinctively turned to members of a younger generation, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that even the shopkeeper in the chocolate shop, the assistants in the train station  and a random girl asking ME for directions in French reverted to flawless English without any hesitation.  I had absolutely no need to use my ‘native’ Dutch language.  I love Leuven: EVERYONE SPEAKS ENGLISH!!! I almost felt at home…

formula-for-luck

I passed Fons Sapientiae, or  ‘Fonske’ as Leuven’s famous statue is affectionately known, smiling at memories of student pranks committed after maybe one too many drinks.  A statue celebrating student life as perpetually pouring beer in your head whilst studying the mathematical equation for luck…??  In my days,  the ‘Fountain of Wisdom’* was certainly a source of entertainment and amusement but had not yet been turned into an expensive confectionery.  7 Euros for 8 ‘Leuvense Fonskes’ chocolates…  They’d better be exceptional!! (I still have to open the box… just waiting for the right occasion..)

*The Latin name Fons Sapientiae translates as ‘Fountain of Wisdom’

20170130_084708-2

20170130_084625

I deviated from my route and sauntered towards the Oude Markt, where the pubs and restaurants used to keep students awake and alert until daybreak.  No such thing as the British 11:00 pm closing time here… If you stayed long enough, you could catch a hearty breakfast on the way home.   The market square still looked pretty much the same; most bars probably changed ownership by now and new, more trendy names are displayed above the doors, but the Oude Markt has lost none of its charm nor its purpose in a student’s life…

20170127_142522

20170127_142810

I stopped at Leuven’s impressive 15th century City Hall.  Barely touched by the ravages of two world wars, its restoration was actually not completed until 1983, just after my graduation…  How wonderful to explore the historic city centre, ambling through the cobbled streets, undisturbed by annoying traffic, just breathing in the beauty of  awe-inspiring architectural skills of the past.

And yes, I made it to the university, photocopies of my degree in hand, ready for the official stamp…  After heading to Leuven straight from the airport to start the laborious process of legalisation, the office was closed!!  I arrived just after lunch and the Student Administration Office is only open in the mornings…

It set the tone of things to come in the next few weeks; I just did not know it yet…

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s