Festivals and fests
Trip Start Jul 26, 2007
13Trip End Aug 05, 2007
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Yesterday after dinner, we piled into the car and drove the twenty minute distance to Leuven. I love how everything in Belgium is so close together that you can visit nearly any city in the country in a few hours' drive. Leuven is primarily a student town, which gives it a fantastic vibe. It's the home of Leuven University, the most renowned university in Belgium, and is a Dutch/Flemish-speaking town. It's also where both Marie and Yannic took language courses, and not incidentally, where they met. (Louvain-le-Neuve, where Marie and Yannic lived until about a month ago, is home to the French side of the university after they were split off due to linguistic and political tensions between Walloon and Flanders). It's an old town with a ton of charm, and I could immediately see upon arrival why Marie kept going on about it.
The centerpiece of the architectural attractions is the Leuven Town Hall, which is to town halls what Barcelona's Segrada Familia is to churches: Ornate, elaborate, almost overdone, but impossible to take your eyes off of once you see it.
Every Friday night in the summertime, there's a themed outdoor festival going on. Last night's theme was tropical music, which somehow managed to include both a Brazilian band and a Japanese drum troupe (?). Okay, so it was stretching the theme a little, but it was still pretty cool. We met up with a friend of Yannic's and his girlfriend, and wandered from stage to stage, drinking our beers to the rhythms of the festival. Tired as I was, it was a great night.
This morning, after oversleeping a bit, we woke up to a breakfast of chocolate croissants and hot chocolate (I love this country!) and then once again set out for Leuven. The Eurotrek Leuven-fest was scheduled for noon. Well, we didn't make it till nearly 1, what with getting a little mixed up on autoroute directions and then parking a good half-hour walk from the train station. Karlien, Peter and Melissa were all waiting for us, maybe a bit miffed but luckily they forgave us pretty quickly and Eurotrek Leuven-fest was officially on!
A lunch of sandwiches in the style of what we have dubbed 'slow food' (after a great sign that we saw in a window) kicked off our afternoon. We meandered around Leuven, looking at old architecture and interesting sights. We took in the Botanical Gardens, which had some of the largest sunflowers I've ever seen, a famous church, some interesting fountains and statues, some extremely odd and amusing signs, and the Groot Begijnhof, among other things.
For weeks, Marie has been raving about a restaurant in Leuven that serves the best chocolate mousse anywhere. Well, you know me, I can't pass that up. We found it after only a few false starts, and the mousse was indeed exceptionally good. Yummy. Six happy people left the restaurant and we all walked around some more. In the Oude Markt, we saw costumed people preparing for a parade for something called the Meyboomplanting, which, best as I gather, involves the ceremonial planting of a tree. The costumed people seemed intent for us to understand what it was all about, and helpfully handed out brochures, but since I don't read Flemish, I'm relying on hearsay on that one.
In the evening, after splitting off for a few necessities (hostel check-ins, pizza, etc.), we met back up in the main square of the town for the Vlaanderenzingt ("Flanders Sings") festival. To adequately describe this festival would be very difficult. Picture a karaoke bar. Then multiply the size of the karaoke bar by about a thousand. Now situate that bar outdoors in the middle of a beautiful town square with historic buildings. Add a stage with a choir singing into microphones, a songbook with lyrics, and a good sense of humour... and of course plenty of beer. That, in a nutshell, describes Vlaanderenzingt. There were about 30-odd songs throughout the evening, mostly in Dutch but also some in English, French, and even one in German. All were horribly cheesy, of course, but that's the point. We ate, we drank, we sang along, we all had a good time, and Leuven-fest was definitely a success.
After saying goodbye, we reluctantly headed back to Brussels.