Thursday, July 20, 2006

Belgium: Brussels and Leuven

Belgium is a very strange country. Maybe strange is not the word. But somehow it left me scratching my head. Firstly it is very small. Though i have never verified i dont think it is bigger than Goa. Over that they are now debating about whether to divide it into two!! Trapped between its more famous neighbours (France, Germany, Netherlands) it seems confused. Influenced from all sides it dosent seem to have a consistent identity of its own. India for all its diversity has a very easily identifiable 'Indianness' about it, probably aided by geography.

Our first inkling that there was something wrong came when people spoke English at the train station where we went for enquiries. Of course this was perfectly right for us. It was our ignorance that led us to believe that Belgians spoke French. In reality the country is divided linguistically. The northern part speaks Dutch and the French speaking Southerners are a minority. To communicate with each other they employ English!!! What amazing luck for us! After the formation of the EU, the concept of the nation is fast coming under threat in Europe and this movement towards regional powers has led to calls for dividing Belgium. I will write more about the whole regional funda in the EU in some other post. I read a lot about this in a book on the EU. The European Union's parliament is btw located near Brussels.

Ok rewind. We took a morning Eurolines bus from Paris to Brussels and reached by noon time. Our plan was to spend 4-5 hours roaming around Brussels and then take a train to Leuven, where IIMC people were staying. First we made our way to the train station so that we could get some tourist info. We collected our free city maps and proceeded towards the centre of the city where all the maal-masala was. Brussels is a small city, and we easily crossed half the city in just about half an hour on foot. The centre of Brussels has the Grand Place and the Royal Palace.
The Grand Place is a big square surrounded by many important buildings including the Royal Palace.

I think thats the royal palace behind. This is the most famous square in Brussels.

Another view of the square

Castle Grayskull anyone?

Another reason why I think Belgium is a strange place - their national icon, the Mannekin Pis. This small statue of a little peeing boy is the most famous monument in Belgium!! It is just a small distance away from the Grand Place. On the way there is supposedly a TinTin shop (which i totally missed somehow).

The Mannekin Pis

The Belgian waffle once again...waffles, strawberry, banana, cream and chocolate sauce

Belgium is famous for its chocolates. This fountain of chocolate is guaranteed to make you drool

A beauftifully decorated seafood display

There were many things which we liked in Brussels, but none interesting enough to keep us busy for more than half an hour. One thing we noticed was that the entire city seemed to be under renovation. Everywhere we could see there were dug-up roads and squares, half built buildings, scaffoldings, yellow protective markers and what not.

From Brussels we made our way to Leuven. A bit about Leuven now. Leuven is a small town about half an hour away (by train) from Brussels. Not to be confused with Louvain which is also nearby. Leuven is reputed to have many beautiful buildings and other places of interest but no doubt its claim to fame (atleast for us) was that it was an university town. Meaning that there are 30000 students (1/3 of the population) holed up there in one of its many colleges. K U Leuven is the university which sprawls across the entire city and where our guys were studying. The presence of so many young folk in such a small area is guaranteed to be exciting, and that is how we found Leuven! With bars, pubs, discs open all night and party hungry students ever ready to fill them up the night life was rocking to say the least.

We had a nice time with the IIMC people - Arpit, Khandu, Aviral, Vaas and Pushanda.
They were staying at the American Hostel and their rooms and other facilities were really very good. A random allocation of rooms amongst people of all countries and a common area for cooking and eating aided socializing. We had a great time preparing dinner together (0r rather they prepared, I chatted with a firang girl) , eating and then hanging out in their common room. Aviral, Tirthankar and I then headed out for a bit of pub hopping. Aviral took us to all the hot spots he knew about and we had a great time with him. Finally late sometime we headed back in the foggy night .

Aviral and Tirthankar, leaving for the pub hop

Heading back into the foggy night after the pub hop

The next morning we returned to Brussels to catch our Eurolines bus to Amsterdam. On the way to Leuven station from the hostel we realised that Leuven did indeed have some really good looking architecture but we unfortunately didnt have any time to stop and admire!


Blogger Manic said...

The Royal Palace isn't on the Grande Place. ==>picture from royal palace
Belgium is indeed a weird country, you need some insight from Belgians to get it, many guides don't know or don't succeed in explaining the Belgium mystery.

10:28 am  

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