September 2005. The Belgian university town of Leuven will always hold a special place in my heart. I arrived in the autumn of 2004 feeling excited by the prospect of a fresh start. But while my personal life was about to unravel spectacularly, the town itself proved so welcoming and charming it would ultimately drag me through the hard times and encourage me to stay on. I really fell for Leuven, with its cobbled streets, laid-back café culture and second hand record shops. Many a memorable night was spent here in De Oude Markt, the city’s main party square. In the winter everyone would huddle inside its tiny pubs, while in summer it transformed into a giant open-air bar. It also hosted Leuven’s annual music festival Marktrock, with performances from big name artists such as Lou Reed, The Pet Shop Boys and Texas.
August 2006. I lived a stone’s throw from De Oude Markt in a narrow restaurant street called Muntstraat, tucked away behind the magnificent town hall. There was a great little Italian restaurant outside my front door; while the local watering hole was an indie-rock bar called De Libertad, a strenuous sixty-second walk away. This photo was taken during Hapje Tapje, an annual gastro event that saw the city flooded with food stalls from all over the world.
October 2006. Leuven’s magnificent town hall is right up there with anything on offer in Bruges, the city that seems to get all the tourist love! Dating back to 1448, this giant wedding cake of a building is a sight to behold, with its pointed Gothic windows and octagonal turrets. Strategically placed pierced slits meanwhile allow for some amazing passages of light throughout the day. To go inside you need to arrange a guided tour.
March 2006. I had a fair few visitors during those Leuven years, with none more memorable than my sister and her boyfriend. We hadn’t seen each other in years and it was an unusually warm spring weekend. Whipping up a home-cooked Indian meal, we opened the windows, welcomed the sun in and let the feast begin. Good times!
September 2008. Another cherished visit was that of my old friends Bill and Mary from Iowa. This shot was taken in Leuven’s old quarter (Groot Begijnhof), a well-preserved network of ancient streets huddled around the River Dijle. Owned by the university of Leuven, many of the buildings are now used as student digs, classrooms and campus offices. With its little canals, stone bridges, brass fountainheads and gothic church, a visit here is like stepping back in time.
For more on my time in Belgium, have a look at my travel reports on Brussels.
I’ve also written a short story collection called Based In Belgium.
I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001, so why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.