I spent last week in the charming city of Leuven, Belgium. I must admit that I didn’t know anything about Leuven before going there, but I was pleasantly surprised at what a nice, walkable, European university town it was. There was lots of shopping, cobblestone streets, good food, and surprisingly good architecture.
The trip certainly started off well. The plane was as close to empty as I’ve seen in years. An overnight flight is never great, but this was about as great as it can get, and I had a row to myself. I was able to lay down across 3 seats and get almost 3 hours of sleep.
Belgium is not a place that I ever really aspired to visit. I really couldn’t list anything that I’ve “always wanted to do” in Belgium. Whenever I’m in a place, I always like to eat the food of that place, but I wasn’t even sure what the food of Belgium was. However, four things kept coming up: Beer, french fries (or “Belgian fries” as they call them in France), chocolate, and mussels (as opposed to the Muscles from Brussels, which is something else entirely).
Well, check, check, check, and check (alas, no JCVD sightings).
I want to specifically address beer.
We all have a friend who is “that guy”: he’s always up on the latest micro-brews, always talking about beer, trying to get you to try this beer or that beer, even brews his own beer. Probably you know quite a few of those guys. I’m telling you now, that guy has nothing on Belgians.
Beer is absolutely a way of life over there. A bar with less than 30 beers is wasting everybody’s time. Each beer is served in a different specialty glass specific to that beer, designed to highlight its unique qualities. They literally make pilgrimages to remote monasteries for a chance to buy a case of rare, Monk-produced beer.
In other words, they take it pretty serious.
I, on the other hand, hate beer. Hate it. Yet every time I searched for variations on “what to do in Belgium”, beer was always at the top of the list (Stella Artois is specifically brewed in Leuven). Even when I started searching for “what to do in Belgium if you don’t like beer”, it mostly returned results that basically said, “Well, come on, there’s thousands of beers, how can you say you don’t like beer?” or “10 best beers for people who don’t like beer!”
So, as they say, when in Rome. I do like to try the food of the place.
I never would have believed it if I hadn’t tasted it with my own mouth, but damn if they don’t have tasty beer over there! I really enjoyed Leffe Brune (much better from the tap than from a bottle).
The work meetings went great, and overall it was a really nice little trip. Unfortunately, with the travel and time change, etc., 2 days of work necessitate a 5 day trip. And even then, I essentially had no time to really explore the city, much less Brussels or any of the other surrounding areas. It certainly would have been a lot more fun to have Sara and the kids with me (probably more fun for them too, especially Sara), but we managed to get by with a couple of one-way video chats (I had a camera, they didn’t). Maybe we’ll have another chance sometime!