Friday, November 11, 2011

Louvain-la-neuve and Brussels

November 2nd and 3rd
From Köln we took a late-afternoon train the few hours to Brussels and then transferred to the smaller town of Louvain-la-Neuve.  There is an original Louvain, but the University kicked out the French speakers, so they formed their own community and university!  Belgium is quite divided between the Flemish and the French speakers – in fact, some want to divide the country into two.  So, in the early 70’s, the displaced French Belgians designed their own university and town and named it The New Louvain.  It was designed after a medieval village so all the buildings are stone and none of the streets are straight.  They also created different elevations with ramps and steps joining them and made much of it a pedestrian city.  The university is fully integrated into this small town.  They preserved woods near the town and put trails through it.  Our hotel was actually accessed via a ten-minute walk throught the woods!  Very nice.

Walking through the woods to our hotel
Darrell met with Hughes, a climate modeler, and his students.  He gave a presentation with about 30 interested people attending, including an emeritus professor whose work on Milankovich cycles have been cited by Darrell for most of his career.  It is so great to put faces to names you have known for so long!

Then, we met Hughes and two of his students for a Belgian dinner at a very nice restaurant.  The chef seemed to have a flair for fusion cuisine, but we had some traditional Belgian fair.  The “taster” – in French I think it is called the “small mouth” - was scallops and mussels prepared ceviche style in a small glass.  Then we shared an appetizer called croquettes du crevette – which was a shrimp dish wrapped in bread crumbs and deep-fried.  Darrell also tried Hughes snails – but I wasn’t that brave!  For dinner, Darrell had a local fish, and I had “faison”, which they translated as pheasant – but which I think was a kind of hooved game animal.  I couldn't find a translation for it, so maybe someone can help me here!  Whatever it was, it was delicious.  I was too full for dessert but I had a bit of Darrell’s crème du brulée on some pasta rosettes.  Amazing.

The next morning, we weren’t in a big rush so I took a run along the trails in the woods while Darrell did some work.  Then we walked into town and picked up some coffee and croissants to eat on the train to Brussels.  It is great to only pay 2 euros (about $2.50 now) for a cup of coffee and a croissant after the prices in Switzerland where it would have been at least double and probably triple that cost!

We only got to see a bit of Brussels, concentrating on the oldest parts of course.  The number one spot is Le Grand Place, a central square surrounded by many ornate buildings including the city hall and many guild buildings.  While this was a market with buildings from the 13th century, the buildings were rebuilt after war damage in the late 17th century and then refurbished in the 19th century.  Le Grand Place is a UNESCO world heritage site and is considered the most beautiful plaza in the world!

Darrell in front of just one small section of Le Grand Place
Even after months here, we can't get over how many highly-decorated buildings there are - no matter where you go in Europe!  How could there have been so many stone masons, sculptors, glass makers, painters, etc. as you would need to have made all these places - even given several hundreds of years?  And then of course, inside the buildings, are paintings, sculptures, candelabras, etc.  Coming from a Midwest background where having a bay window was pretty darn fancy, it is difficult to comprehend the elaborate nature of so many buildings in Europe!

Another delight in Brussels is chocolate and other sweet treats.  Here are two last photos celebrating food!

Window display designed to make us drool
Darrell and Lady Godiva!

No comments:

Post a Comment