Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Tagging along to Leuven

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JieJie and MeiMei are getting to be great travelers, and genuinely seem to enjoy getting out and seeing things. They have half-days of school on Wednesdays, so when the university group's trip to Leuven was scheduled for a Wednesday afternoon, I told Mr. K (Director of Logistics) that the LL's (Little Ladies, as he calls them) and I would be along for the ride.

We would need to find our own things to do because the students, who are studying business-related subjects during their time in Antwerp, were going to Leuven to visit InBev, the world's largest brewery, maker of Stella Artois and Jupiler among other brands. No little kids allowed in the brewery.

No matter. Our Michelin Green Guide to Belgium indicated that Leuven is known for its extravagantly decorated town hall and its cathedral, and the map showed a walkable city with plenty to keep us occupied for a little while. We loaded La Stroller on the bus and settled in for the ride, a little over an hour.

When we got to InBev, Mr. K pointed the way to the center of Leuven, we arranged a rendezvous time for the return trip, and we were off. We walked past a big bus depot, the train station, and turned down Bondgenotenlaan for the stroll to the town square.

The girls wanted to look in a few stores along the way, and finally we arrived at the town square, which is small enough that it wasn't possible for me to capture the whole of the impressive Stadhuis (Town Hall) facade all in one photo frame. Today the Stadhuis is the seat of the provincial government of Flanders (Vlaanderen), the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium. We didn't go in the Town Hall but we did go in the 15th-century St. Pieterskerk right across the square. It was (as is usual with these great European cathedrals) beautiful, lofty, full of wondrous things to see. JieJie and MeiMei wanted to light a candle. As I lit the one JieJie chose, she sang a prayer in Flemish, one she had learned at school. Pretty neat. I like that they get the connection and we have never had to admonish them about being respectful in these amazing buildings, either. They seem to understand.
One of the things I've enjoyed are the elaborately carved wooden pulpits in the cathedrals. I've never paid much attention to them before but I'm tempted to look for a book on the topic. The thing I find almost funny is the reason behind the elaborate decoration, or one reason anyway: the inevitability that some congregants will daydream during the sermon/homily. And when their attention wanders from the person in the pulpit, what do they see? The tree of knowledge with a snake coiled in the branches, the dove of peace, a crucifixion scene, palm trees symbolising Paradise, or perhaps their glance travels to the base of the pulpit where (in Leuven anyway) they see a vision of a horse and its rider being sucked down into Hell. I took some photos of the pulpit in Leuven, which the Michelin guide says is a scene of St. Norbert struck down at the foot of a rock, but they are a bit too dark to post.
We popped into a toy store called Krokodil just off the square--great store!!! We ended up getting two additions to our growing collection of Groovy Girls, which are great little rubbery plastic dolls with names like Oki and Vanessa and O'Ryan...very cute, ethnically diverse, not at all like the Junior Sluts dolls (Bratz) I can't stand. So we came home with Jenna and Bretta and their dune buggy and bicycle.
John sent a text message that things were wrapping up, so we headed back to InBev, stopping along the way for a Croque Monsiour to go for each of the girls. It was a bit raw and windy, so we ducked into the train station waiting room to eat. We ran back to InBev, which we needn't have done because the students spent almost an hour in the gift shop wasting their money (IMHO) on Stella Artois t-shirts and beer mugs. We hung out with the InBev security guard for a while and then were allowed in the secure area to go get on the warm bus for the trip home.
The rest of Leuven, from what I could tell, looks like a nice place, though it's similar enough to other places we've been in Flanders that I wouldn't go out of my way to go there again before we leave.

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