Louvain-la-Neuve (31st August)

Really behind on this post, but better late than never!

Last weekend, after an eventful bar crawl with the other 250 study abroad students at Vesalius College, my friend, Emily, and I decided to spend our Saturday afternoon venturing to Leuven.  Leuven, or Louvain, is located in the Flemish region of Belgium, and is situated approximately 25 kilometers from Brussels; it’s also the city where my dad attended grad school.  With great intentions of exploring the city and visiting the places my dad had illustrated in my mind growing up, Emily and I arrived at Central Station in Brussels, asked the man behind the counter for two tickets to Leuven (in French of course), and boarded the train for the 20 minute ride.  Little did we know that we had it all wrong…

45 minutes later, we arrived in Louvain-la-Neuf at the train station located on the Universite Catholique de Louvain (Catholic University of Louvain) Campus.  Immediately, we were taken by how large the university’s campus was- it was like a town in itself! Loads of restaurants, various banks, grocery stores, and a movie theater filled the lower level of the buildings, while the tops floors appeared to be apartments that housed the student body.  Having remembered reading that close to 30,000 students attended Belgium’s largest French-speaking university, I was impressed, but not surprised that the campus seemed to stretch on for miles.  On the buildings hung signs that read ‘Grand Place’ and ‘Bibliotheque,’ which gave off the impression that once we headed in the respective direction indicated by the signs, we would find ourselves in the middle of the town of Leuven.  Satisfied by that, Emily and I took to finding lunch, and enjoyed delicious crepes!

After lunch, we set off in the direction of the signs to find the list of sites my dad had indicated were worth visiting. We located what we thought was the square behind the library where he had said hosted a bunch of little shops; there ended up being a bizarre there that day, and we enjoyed looking at the fresh fruit and vegetable stands, the waffle cart, the jewelry being sold, and all the sausages!  However, after walking about a mile off the campus to try and find the Town Hall, we began to realize that we were in the middle of nowhere- really, nowhere.  We noted the main highway that ran along side the park we were walking in, and how beyond the highway there really wasn’t anything other than farmland.  We headed back to the center of town, looking for a map, but we were unsuccessful.  We then revisited the signs that pointed viewers in the direction of various landmarks, and realized that they all pertained to different parts of the University’s campus: the Grand Place (central courtyard) of the campus, the school’s library, etc.  We then caught site of a town sign, which read Ottignies – Louvain-la-Neuve… not Louvain or Leuven… Confused, we kinda assumed that the town was probably in close proximity to the center of Leuven, and, not wanting to risk getting on a bus or metro and losing our way back, we decided to simply spend our day exploring the college campus.  We ventured around a beautiful park that housed so many swans and ducks, visited several novelty shops that sold different quirky kitchen appliances, sampled the sausage at the sausage stand, and, personally, treated myself to my first taste of Belgian chocolate!! (orange slices covered in dark chocolate by Leonidas)  We made it back to our train station and home in time for dinner that night!

Here’s what we were able to piece together upon our return home as to why we ended up where we did…

Leuven is indeed different then Louvain-la-Neuve.  As a result to the linguistic tensions between the Flemish and French population in Belgium, the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (the Dutch Catholic University where my dad attended school) split apart in the 1960s, and founded a French sector of the University in Louvain-la-Neuve.  Located about 10 kilometers from each other, there is really no way to get to the center of Leuven without driving or taking two different trains from Louvain-la-Neuve to Leuven.  Because we had purchased our tickets in French from the Central Station in Brussels, and were clearly college students, the gentlemen at the ticket booth must have assumed that we were students studying at the French University.  Had we had done our research prior to this adventure, Emily and I clearly would have noted the difference between Leuven and Louvain-la-Neuve.  Yet, while we may not have made it to our intended destination, we now have another day trip location for later this semester!

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