Monday, September 2, 2013

A trip to Leuven, Belgium

This past weekend, my friend B. and I took a trip to Belgium. Our main destination was to Mechelen for the Hanswijkcavalcade, a special part of the procession that takes place only every 25 years. On the way, we decided to stop at Leuven, which is about half an hour before Mechelen. It was a good, and slightly odd visit, thanks to the great Use-It guide, written by locals, that I found online.

Leuven is a university town and the capital of the Flemish-Brabant region. I read that it's difficult, or in some cases, not allowed, to drive around in the city center and parking is a nightmare, so we dropped the car off at the parking lot at Station Leuven, the main train station. Trust me, you don't want to bring your car into the city, as is typical with many European locations.

We were not sure if we should walk to town or take a bus; we didn't get very far on understanding the bus tickets and didn't want to wait in line to ask, so we decided to walk. From the main train station to the city center is about a mile or less, we learned, so it was a pleasant walk.

When we visited on Saturday, 31 August, we found the city bustling with residents doing their Saturday shopping, students whizzing around on bikes or conversing in groups with their friends, and of course, tourists. 

We stopped by the Sint-Donatus Park, aka the Stadspark, aka the City Park, because I thought it was funny that the Use-it guide described it as full of "part time palm trees." I have this big thing now about palm trees as a result of some other silly adventures on other trips, so of course we needed to see the palm trees that stay in the park during the summer and in the greenhouse during the winter. Later on, we ran into the winter home of the palm trees at the Kruidtuin, or the botanical gardens, on the other side of the canal. Too funny!

Fancy, eh? The palm tree in its summer home.
In the center of town, we stopped by Sint-Pieters Church, which was begun in 1425. It was originally meant to have a 170 meter long tower but the sandy soil couldn't support it so the tower was built to 30 meters. It does look a bit stubby.

Sint-Pieters Church, Leuven. Photo by B.
I saw this statue inside and was drawn to it. What the heck is going on, I wondered. Is it like a Russian stacking doll of religious figures? Apparently "Anna selbdritt is a subject in Christian art, showing Saint Anne with her daughter, the Virgin Mary, and her grandson Jesus, literally "Anne herself the third," or if you will "Granny makes three," according to a Wikipedia article. Okay, so it's a (slightly strange) three generational "portrait," so to speak, but St. Anne is giant-sized. Got it.

Het Anna-ten-drieën, ca. 1480, by M. van Sint-Barbara van Pellenberg
The next picture is of some "marble" walls. On your next trip to an old church, take a closer look at the walls and the sculptures/carvings. There is a possibility that what appears to be marble or granite is neither; it may actually be painted wood! This technique became very popular during the Renaissance.

From a distance, this is quite realistic faux marble, but up close one can see the cracks in the wood.

A body holding its head.

A head with no body.
...and to be continued...

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