Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Tag Archives: louvain-la-neuve

The places I called home, part IV

Grad school opened the doors of Europe for me as my PhD program was a “co-tutelle” between Bordeaux, France, and Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, which meant that every few months, I had to move between the two cities and work in two different labs. If it weren’t for my choice to come do grad school in Europe, I would probably only ever be in France as a tourist and never as a resident, integrating into and loving the culture of a country that I’ve always wanted to visit. As for Belgium, who knew how many surprises it could hide? (Read Part I, Part II, and Part III of the series.)

Bordeaux – Le Port de la Lune

I was fortunate enough to live in Bordeaux for almost 2.5 years during my PhD studies, and what a blessing that was! The very first time I set foot in Bordeaux, a city known as the “Port of the Moon”, I only needed to use the word “elegant” to describe it. Till the moment I left three years later, it was still as elegant as ever and I would use no other word to describe this French beauty. The smell of the sweetest red wine in every corner of the city, the sound of the gliding trams on the tracks, the sight of the glamour that is the Grand Théâtre and Place de la Bourse, the taste of succulent magret de canard and irresistible canéle (duck breast and rum-based pastry, both specialties of Southwestern France), and the touch of the gentle breeze as you stroll along the Garonne on a late summer morning…Bordeaux is an experience that conquers your every sense, making you fall in love with it with every breath.

Many feelings are intertwined when I think about Bordeaux because of my life experiences. The mid-20s was for me a time when the search for identity formed an invisible mission, and Bordeaux became part of that search. My studies, my interactions with the people whom I met in Bordeaux, whether locals or overseas students, and my plans for the future all contributed toward the search and consequently are a part of who I am today. To me, Bordeaux is not just a beautiful city, but also a name that resonates with me just by its utterance. My heart still yearns to go back one of these days, this time as a visitor and perhaps never as a resident again. But thank you for what you’ve given me, Bordeaux, that gift of the memories that only you could ever bestow.

Louvain-la-Neuve – Learning to appreciate

And finally, we come to Louvain-la-Neuve (LLN), a university-city-that-isn’t-really-a-city that once made me feel trapped and miserable. I was there during different periods of my PhD studies, for up to three months each time I went. Compared to Bordeaux, LLN was small and boring and definitely NOT elegant. I had learned to cope with not being happy in LLN, until autumn came. And magic happened. Autumn in LLN truly transformed the place. Maybe my eyes just decided to open one day as I noticed the golden orange colours of the autumn foliages, and LLN was never the same again. Gradually I began to appreciate the little details of LLN and discover its hidden faces – the little shops with such delicate gifts (Zig Zag is my favourite), the murals that are some of the best I’ve ever seen (in addition to the ones I would discover later in Glasgow), the enjoyable walks around the lake and through the Bois de Lauzelle, the various small neighbourhoods, the cats that are everywhere, the crazy 24-H Velo events, the delicious sandwiches at Mie d’Oli, and the Brussels waffle. YES, LLN has the best Brussels waffles I’ve ever eaten – take that, Brussels!

Belgium itself is a wonder and before I went to LLN, I couldn’t even point it out on a map. I didn’t know that the country has three official languages (French, Flemish, and German) and that LLN split from the University of Leuven as a result of language differences. Most importantly, little did I know that its capital, Brussels, would become one of my favourite European cities, if not my all-time favourite. Just like that, my studies brought Belgium and LLN into my life and this place, which I still hesitate to call a “city”, has stolen a part of my heart. To quote myself from a post that I wrote almost four years ago: “…travelling has taught me that it is only with an open heart and mind that you can learn to appreciate your surroundings…if I’m going to be living in a city for a relatively long period of time, rather than complaining about how it sucks, why not look for things that make a city unique and beautiful, and enjoy it to the fullest?”

This post concludes the “Places I Called Home” series and more than three years after its conception, I’ve finally managed to write it! And what a journey down memory lane that was! Be sure to check out Part I (Guangzhou and Toronto), Part II (Waterloo and Glasgow), and Part III (Hsinchu and South Bend) for the entire story. Until next time, my friends!

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Wall art in Louvain-la-Neuve

One of the things that I love about Louvain-la-Neuve (LLN) – two years ago, thinking that I could ever love Louvain-la-Neuve would be a joke – is the vast amount of interesting wall art that’s scattered around the city. I don’t know if it’s just a LLN thing or a Belgium thing. Maybe it derived from the Belgians’ love of comic books, as I know in Brussels they have huge murals of popular comic strips. In any case, the wall art in LLN definitely adds a certain dimensionality to the city, however small it may be. I just love finding new pieces of art emerging from random corners of a new street or the sight of artists in the process of painting a new wall. It’s really a different and curious type of culture.

Like the previous host city-themed posts (Sculptures of Bordeaux, Streets of Bordeaux, Streets of Louvain-la-Neuve, It’s all about Saint-André, among others), I’ve been collecting images (in my mind) for the “wall art” post. Then one day in November, I had a rare free afternoon to do whatever I wanted. So I took my camera for a stroll around LLN, photographing some of the wall art that I know of around the city. By no means is this a comprehensive collection, but they are the ones I see the most often. Take a look!

This mural of a girl in a field of wild flowers is located right beside the Place des Sciences, close by my lab. It’s a relatively new painting – I think I saw it being painted sometime at the beginning of October this year.

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A very Belgian spring…finally

Spring has arrived in Belgium…I think. I can never really be sure, because Belgium has frequent unpredictable mood swings. It was snowing two weeks ago and I thought we’d skip spring this year. Alas, last weekend was a glorious 22 degrees, so it really did seem like the end of winter…I think?

I see a lot of cats in Louvain-la-Neuve, and this one I liked a lot. One day as I stepped out of the house to go to work, it ran over to my feet out of nowhere and whispered the softest “MEOW” I’ve ever heard from a cat. Then it ran off quickly, as if it was shy. Honestly, it may look badass in the photo, but on the contrary, it’s super gentle and adorable ❤

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Streets of Louvain-la-Neuve

I’ve been back in Bordeaux for three weeks and while it is nice to be back in the city I love, I’ve gotta admit that I kinda miss Louvain-la-Neuve.

Hmm, how did this happen? Louvain-la-Neuve, not just a campus, but barely a real city. I didn’t like it much when I first stepped into Louvain-la-Neuve, that much was certain. The place felt more like a trap than a comfortable place to live.

It took a while to discover the charm hidden within, a process that required living there for a few months at a time and frequent absence. Gradually I found myself starting to like Louvain-la-Neuve more and more as I found ways to enjoy the “city”, as I took delight in the small, unique things that surprise me.

So, after having written about the streets of Bordeaux, I feel that it is only fair to dedicate a post to the streets of Louvain-la-Neuve 😉

On an unsuspecting Saturday afternoon, if I am not out and about travelling to nearby cities, I like to take slow strolls around Louvain-la-Neuve. Although the area of the place itself is not big, there are so many hidden corners that I seem to have missed during my walks that I slowly discover one by one. It’s always fun to get lost, then find my way again.

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Bois de Lauzelle, love at first hike

Last year I discovered the beauty of autumn in Louvain-la-Neuve, and I am glad to have spent most of October here this year as well, to see the beginning of the end of fall. What a mesmerizing season filled with grace, vibrance, and dynamics.

There is a forest nearby my campus called “Bois de Lauzelle”, a great place for a nice afternoon hike. From the centre of Louvain-la-Neuve, it’s about a 15-minute walk. Not too far, huh. One would think I would have gone there already during my previous stays in Louvain-la-Neuve. Nope. Due to my laziness, I’ve never visited the woods, even though I knew of its existence since the beginning of the year. It’s like Antwerp and Maastricht. I didn’t make the effort to visit until this time around, when my departure from Belgium at the end of the month may be for a good 6 months.

So, on a cloudy Sunday morning after a rainy day (the day I went to Antwerp), I ventured into the woods for my first autumn hike. Laziness had to be conquered, yes, but I was not going to let this opportunity escape me again. After Tobermory and Kawartha Lakes, I was determined to discover Bois de Lauzelle, on my own.

As I started my hike from the centre of Louvain-la-Neuve to the outer parts of the city, I passed by the Parc de la Source where this gorgeous bird was chilling among the branches. I think it was a swallow…I could never be sure of bird names. The leaves were still very much green, but traces of yellow and orange have begun to appear everywhere.

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