I’ve been to Leuven, but I’ve never written about it. In fact, I’ve been to Leuven four times last year, but each time I went, I headed directly to a specific meeting point for fellowship, and never explored the city beyond the route that I took.
To introduce Leuven a bit, it is in the Flemish region of Belgium, which means people there speak Flemish, not French. Leuven is located north of Louvain-la-Neuve and east of Brussels, forming an equilateral triangle on the map. Leuven is home to the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KUL), which is directly related to the Université catholique de Louvain (UCL, where I am at) as UCL split from it in 1968. I don’t know the entire history behind the event, but due to some language tensions, what used to be known as the Catholic University of Leuven split into KUL and UCL, and UCL “moved” to Louvain-la-Neuve in Wallonia, providing French-language instruction.
My visits to Leuven generally began at the train station as I arrived at around 19H00. Then I would stroll down Bondgenotenlaan (name of a street) until I got to the Grote Markt and took a turn onto Naamsestraat (another street name) until I reached my destination at 19H30 for the start of fellowship. At the end of fellowship, I took the same route back to the train station at 22H00 in order to catch the last train back to Louvain-la-Neuve. Unfortunately I don’t attend this fellowship anymore due to the tight timing. Sometimes I can’t make the train that gets me there on time, and leaving early at 22H00 doesn’t give me much time to mingle at all 😦
The few times I was there, however, I really liked Leuven. The wide streets and the gorgeous Gothic architecture were certainly refreshingly different from Louvain-la-Neuve. I’m sure there’s much more to see beyond the limits of the city centre, and it’s a trip I’ll have to re-take one of these days, when the weather is slightly better.
The silhouette of an unknown structure glowed prominently straight ahead of me as I walked down Bondgenotenlaan, towards the Grote Markt. In October last year, I usually arrived in Leuven right before sunset, just as the sky was turning dark. This was taken during my first time in Leuven, and that silhouette really stood out and amazed me.
Turn around and we see where I came from, the train station. There was a World War II monument right outside the station, can’t miss it. And yes, I was standing right in the middle of the road. I liked the feeling of stepping off of the sidewalks and taking a picture right down the centre of what are supposed to be car lanes, and thankfully there weren’t many cars on the road. The lack of cars (perhaps only during the time period I was there, I don’t know) made the whole city feel so spacious, so clean.
Behold the town hall at the Grote Markt! Really, what Belgian city DOESN’T have a place called Grote Markt or Grand Place? I’d have to say this one is quite unique though, probably the most stunning Grote Markt I’ve seen aside from Brussels. You see, at the Grand Place at Brussels, you’re SURROUNDED 360 degrees by these buildings. You get dizzy just by the sheer dazzle of the architecture. Here in Leuven, the Grote Markt was much humbler while at the same time not losing its charm and glamour. Just look at the splendid Town Hall shown here! I loved how the fascinating façade was covered in a simple beige, yet enhanced by the colourful flags hanging from its windows. Beautiful!
Look at the amount of details on the exterior of the Town Hall! Architecture truly amazes me sometimes. It is beyond my understanding how humans are able to design and construct such delicate and magnificent structures.
For some reason I just liked the Leuven Town Hall more than the Brussels Town Hall. Observing and admiring the Leuven Town Hall sent shivers down my spine due to its sheer audacity and beauty, a ravishing beauty that gave a completely different feeling than Brussels. Maybe it was because the Grand Place in Brussels is always so filled with tourists and you can barely enjoy and take in the true essence of it all, while Leuven is not so tourist-oriented, in turn feeling more like a “real” city with more “authentic” student life. At least in the Grote Markt, I felt like I had all the time and space in the world to marvel at this one building, a gem well-hidden.
I took a random turn near the Grote Markt as I had a few minutes to spare, and ended up at another place with a lot of flags, though I have no idea what they are or what they represent.
I couldn’t resist taking another picture of the Town Hall, this time with respect to the entire Grote Markt. Lots of bars and cafés here, frequented by the student population which makes up the majority of Leuven. I think I’d enjoy living in this city, much like I enjoy Bordeaux’s relaxing lifestyle.
The whole time I was in Leuven, I thought it reminded me of Bordeaux. If you were to ask me last year, when I visited Leuven, whether I’d prefer to live in Leuven or Louvain-la-Neuve, I would say “Leuven” without hesitation. Everything seemed superior compared to LLN – atmosphere, aesthetics, lifestyle. To be fair and honest, back then I didn’t like LLN a whole lot, but that was before I experienced the autumn wonders of this place. Now, during my third stay, I am liking tiny LLN more and more, and wouldn’t answer as quickly as I would have last year. Yes, LLN can’t compare to Bordeaux (I’ve only scratched the surface of Leuven so I won’t use it as a comparison) in certain aspects, but it does have its own strengths as well – tranquillity, convenience, eccentricity.
A lovely full moon floated in the sky on a clear, cloudless night, magically lighting up the Grote Markt on my way back. I also found the building on the right to be quite cute. Those protrusions from its roof looked like rows of mini-houses attached to the top. It made me imagine that perhaps a gnome lives in each of them…teehee 😉
Waiting for the train at the station that would take me back to Louvain-la-Neuve. Leuven has a fancy train station, which reminds me of the one in Liège, especially at night.
I should find the time to visit Leuven again before I head back to Bordeaux, perhaps spend a full day to go into the actual city and see something that is NOT the Grote Markt. Oh, and I should probably find out the names of the buildings that I saw when I went last year so I don’t just call them “that building” or “that structure”. Ha!