Thursday, August 29, 2013

To Leuven

August 25th we planned to train from Luxembourg City, Luxembourg to Leuvan, Belgium (some say beer capital of the world!) with a train transfer at Liege.

Farewell, Luxembourg.

The very first thing we saw was slightly off-putting: our first planned train was replaced by bus.

We replanned on the fly to avoid the bus. This turned out to mean going Luxembourg City => Arlon (Belgium), switching trains, going Arlon => Ottignies, switching trains, and going Ottignies => Leuven. Our previous experience with German trains suggested roughly 3 out of 4 were likely to be late so we were slightly concerned. As it turned out everything went flawlessly.

Regional trains are basic but entirely adequate. And even a crappy train is better than an airplane. Stupid airplanes. Perhaps once they were an awesome, even romantic, way to travel but now they are just uncomfortable and annoying. Like cruise ships. But I digress.

As is traditional, the countryside was bucolic.

Upon reaching Leuvan we witnessed a basic bike skills demonstration (there was a sort of show going on), witnessed a sign offering Stella Artois (local to Leuven) for 1.5 EUR, then found a taxi and got to our hotel. It was very nice. A variety of signs were provided, allowing for a fully nuanced request to not be disturbed.

Just outside our hotel was some sort of university area (Leuven is a university town), rich in cobbled streets that are initially surprisingly awkward to navigate in sandals without prior cobble practice. Soon enough it becomes familiar.

Note the irregular nature of the surface.

Old buildings, as is normal in the old world, abound.

The main street seemed quiet; we feared another Luxembourg style curious mass closure might be in effect.

And then we turned a corner, hit the first of several major squares, and found the bustling world of cafes with fine beer menus. Beer that is "fancy" and costs 12 CAD at a bar that shall remain nameless but might rhyme with Starcraft is available for <= 4 EUR and tastes significantly better. Particularly fresher. Probably because it's more fresh.

This is a menu from a street cafe, NOT a bar. Note the Trappist beer for < 4 EUR and that Leffe is available on tap. Leffe is VERY good from the tap.

A man with a strange instrument prowled but didn't seem immediately dangerous.

In addition to cafes and relatively safe seeming street performers there were more old buildings.

At a bar the menu is rather larger than at a cafe, often running well over 100 beers.

Perhaps you don't know how to pour your beer? Or what taste to expect? Or what alcohol % you are looking at (important as double and triple fermented beers at 8-10+% abound). Not to worry, the menu has a large and elaborate section on this.

Also every beer *always* comes in the appropriate glass, which is particularly impressive when you have >100 brews available.

We wound up spending a good bit of time at the bar. In fact, it went and got dark on us. Finding the hotel in the winding cobbled streets in the dark using reduced navigational abilities was mildly challenging. But rewarding. Luckily we spotted a convenient convenience store along the way and acquired a potent anti-hangover remedy (bottled water).

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