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Published: September 24th 2019
We left our French troubles behind and took to train north to Belgium via Lille, a town on the French-Belgian border. I had found a French ‘budget airline' of trains called Ouigo – the tickets are significantly cheaper and its €5 extra for luggage. Quite a good concept actually, it’s still a high-speed train but with no on-board bar. The next train we caught from Lille to Brussels was the Eurostar that had come from London. Once in Brussels, we took a local train to the nearby town of Leuven. Leuven is a very pretty town – a university town – on the Flemish/French language border (we learnt that from our Intrepid friend who is from Leuven). Our first day there we just walked around town to orientate ourselves and had dinner in the main square. The next day, a Sunday, virtually all shops were closed including most supermarkets so we took the opportunity to do some laundry and laze around drinking coffee. The main building one will see coming to Leuven is the City Hall (which is no longer used for official purposes its more ceremonial). Situated on the Grote Markt (main market) square it is an impressive building that
was built in the Brabantine late gothic style in the 15th century. There are daily tours of the hall (otherwise its closed) so we bought tickets at the tourist information, as well as tickets to the museum and university library. We had a quick lunch, and met up with the English-speaking tour to wander the city hall. The outside of the building is dotted with statues in little niches, and the architecture almost looks lace-like. Inside, we were taken through several different halls, including the marriage registration hall (only for residents of Leuven), and, if the marriage is successful after 50 years then the lucky couple are invited back to hold a reception in another room. There was so much art work in all the rooms, it is definitely a must see when coming to Leuven. Afterward we went to the Leuven museum which displayed paintings and other artwork, but strangely in amongst all the great artwork was modern art – things that pass for ‘art' in these modern times include pieces of paper stuck on the wall, videos of nude people running around the paint splashed on canvas. We always find modern art museums a bit amusing! There was
also a room dedicated to art (including decent paintings) by local artists where you could vote on who was your favourite artist. Afterward we visited St. Peter's church a few minutes before closing time.
The next day we went to the university library, which is open to tourists as it's a historical building and you can climb the bell tower to get 360-degree views of Leuven (of course, students are waived the entrance fee to use the library). We learnt on our city hall tour that the university (which is spread out all over town much like Oxford University) is now offers courses in two languages, Dutch (Flemish) and English only (there are many foreign students studying in Leuven). The French speakers were given a French only university just outside of town in the 1960's. The audio guide for the library tour was a great asset to have as there are many statues and halls to this great library. Burnt down twice by the Germans in WWI and WWII, the library was reconstructed in the 1950's however thousands of books and manuscripts were destroyed. Today you can visit the reading room to see the impressive amounts of books in
the bookcases on the walls, the impressive staircases, statues and paintings as well as entering the tower climbing the 300 stairs and on each of the 4 floors dedicated to the history of the tower. It is another highlight that is well worth the visit. After a quick drink we proceeded onto the Abbey Park, which is a 30-minute walk to see the abbey and the surrounding park. Unfortunately, we missed the abbey tour which runs only on the weekend, but we had a nice walk around the grounds and stopped in the cafe for a drink – we also saw some cows!! In short, Leuven is a great pit stop in Belgium and is not usually on people’s radars as its predominantly a student town but I would highly recommend it!
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