Monday, 14 April 2014

Sore legs and no voice

That’s what I ended up with after a fabulous day out with Veronica and Sue on Friday, which was also my birthday. But I couldn’t have cared less. We had such a lovely time that I did’t mind suffering a little in the aftermath.

A few weeks ago Veronica, who has been reading my blog since the early days in 2009, sent me an email saying she and her friend Sue would be in Brussels for a few days during the Easter school break. We both agreed that it would be the perfect occasion to get together. We had met ‘life’ for the first time in July 2011 when I was visiting Deal and staying overnight in Charring before getting on the Eurostar to Brussels the next day. That same year, in October, Veronica and Sue visited Brussels and we got together again. Since then the invitation for me to visit them in their lovely seaside resort is still open … and I can feel that I will take them up on it soon!

Anyway, back to the present. When I learnt that they would be in Brussels this weekend, I immediately thought it would be nice to invite them to spend my birthday, April 11th, together. I had no other plans and everything fell into place beautifully. I wanted to show them something different: Leuven, home to one of the most famous universities on the Continent, an open-air museum with its Gothic town hall and Saint Peter’s church, a huge library that was bombed and burned down on two occasions – during WWI and WWII – but like a Phoenix rose from its ashes with the financial help of the US. And of course, on a lighter note, the weekly Friday open-air market.

The skyline of Leuven, with on the right, 

the renaissance St. Peter's church.
The two spires in the middle are those of the townhall.
The spire on the left is that of st. Michael's church.

And there is so much more. I think you need at least two days to see it all and enjoy some of Leuven’s excellent gastronomy. So, it wasn’t too difficult to come with a day’s program, including cultural visits, some gastronomy, a little shopping and …. Of course … some beer tasting. Because, after all, Leuven is the Beer Capital of the World.

Although I went to school in Leuven from 1969 to 1975, I thought it safer to do some research before taking my friends there. My good friend Mr. Google supplied me with all the information I needed. So when my ‘two English ladies’ arrived by taxi at my apartment on Friday morning, I was ready for them …

(More to come)

Saturday, 12 April 2014

A fabulous birthday

Yesterday was my birthday. And I had a fabulous time!! Mainly thanks to blog reader Veronica and her friend Sue from the UK who were in Belgium ... not to celebrate the occasion, but to do some sightseeing in Brussels.

Roses at Leuven's weekly market.

We got together for the day and visited Leuven, had a nice meal and loads and loads of fun. I'll tell you more about our lovely day out in my next posts.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

A city under siege

Last week and the week before Brussels seemed like a city under siege. On several occasions different parts of the city were closed for all traffic. Even buses and trams were deviated from their usual route. Tunnels were closed, sewers inspected and public dustbins sealed. Police dogs sniffed their way around two or three top hotels, looking for explosives. Building sites were evacuated for the duration and snipers manned the roof tops of buildings in the sealed off areas.

What caused this sudden and very impressive show of high level security? Well, President Obama was in Belgium for the very first time. He arrived on Tuesday evening from the Netherlands and left the next evening for Rome to meet with the Pope. He travelled with his staff of … nine hundred people. He also brought ‘The Beast’, his famous armoured car.

Commuting into Brussels when President Obama is visiting?
No, this is something completely different.
Any idea what this is?

The morning after his arrival, he visited ‘Flanders’ Fields’ cemetery in the ‘Westhoek’ were some the fiercest battles of WWI were fought and many US soldiers were killed in action during the last years and months of the war. The short, yet very moving ceremony was also attended by our King Filip and our Prime Minister Di Rupo.

In the afternoon President Obama met with the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy and the Chairman of the European Commission, Manuel Barroso. Shortly after 9 p.m. Air Force One took off from Brussels with aboard, the President and his staff. A spotless and smooth visit without any known security hick-ups.

That was two weeks ago. Last week the Chinese President visited Brussels. Although security was less ‘visible’, commuting into Brussels using a car was once again an ordeal. That was on Monday. Later that same week, the European Trade Unions marched through the city to the European district to ventilate their grievances and demands in and the around the square where the European institutions are located! Again de centre of the city was under siege.

For once I was glad that our offices are located on the outskirts of the city. A situation that will change in three years when we move to the ‘heart of the action’! Ahhh, the joys of working in the capital of Europe!