Making It Through Summer in Leuven

Nick Johnston |  May 29, 2019

When the Oudemarkt has fewer familiar faces, the Almas stand empty, and Pangaea closes, what is to become of us latter-day students?

© Wikimedia Commons

Summer, the end of days?
Summer is coming, and many in Leuven will be leaving. Even before exams finish, we’ll see the number of students dwindle, and as exams conclude, the streets will seem empty. For those of us who call the city home in these quiet days, finding ways to spend our time might be a challenge as exams and departed peers appear to spell the end of our social routines. When the Oudemarkt has fewer familiar faces, the Almas stand empty, and Pangaea closes, what is to become of us latter-day students? Are we doomed to dwell in our kots alone? Luckily, the end of the academic year is not the end of life in Leuven.

Stroll and cycle
Lamentations of rain aside, summer promises enough days of fine weather for even the most minimally intrepid to find adventure. Jet-setting isn’t for everyone, but friendly walking and cycling paths are in abundance. The question is simply where to go. I’ll provide some tips on planning a trip along with my own vision for an ideal afternoon.

If you want to plan a trip, the easiest way is to pick a direction and go. A wise person once said, “The easiest way to do something is to do it.” This wisdom applies here. Flanders is remarkably clean, safe and easy to wander in. This being said, having sights and a destination in mind is both a motivation and reward. For that reason consider the following. Using Google Maps, simply search one of the following words: abdij, kasteel, tuin, or park, which mean abbey, castle, garden, or park, respectively. Flanders is dotted with fine buildings and spaces that rich and or religious people once built, and they’re top locations. Alternatively, consider following the canal at the north of the city, or the Dijle river south, for a waterside trip.

If you ask me (and I know you didn’t) the perfect afternoon goes something like this… Saturday morning, rise before dawn because it sounds impressive. Bike into the center of Leuven for the market in front of Sint-Pieterskerk. Then take gratuitous free samples from the stalls selling mangoes and olives etc. Then, buy some picnic food. From there, bike out of Leuven through the tunnel at the station. Pass by Hal 5 because it’s a cute and lively area. Then, head to Provincial Domein, an expansive family friendly park with water features. Take a pit stop there, play on the playground, use the swings or the monkey bars – because youth is a state of mind and no one can stop you. From there bike to Abdij Vlierbeek. Once there, pet some of the horses, grab a drink at the cafe, admire the architecture and continue.

Bike through Sint Gertrudisbos and look for the poppies blooming in the fields. Continue to your final destination, Kasteel van Horst. Admire the castle on the water as you eat the food you brought, and reflect on your journey.

Spicing up studying
All of the above sounds lovely, but we can’t forget that students in Leuven for the summer must also study. As the population of students decreases, so too do your competitors for places in libraries, cafes, and gardens. Take advantage of the quietude by visiting serene places to be productive.

Tucked away high in the central library is the East Asian literature section which grants a sense of ivory tower seclusion, and the few spots that are there are certain to be free on summer days. The Theology library is also a place of refuge for students from outside the faculty looking to get work done. Studying outside is also an attractive option. The green grounds of Abdij Keizersberg at the northern end of the city have benches with a view over the whole city, there’s also a small flock of sheep for a pastoral vibe. Nearby is the Vaartkom and Sluispark, each recently improved public spaces with cafes like Opek in the area to meet friends.

Two tragically underused spaces are the Botanical Garden (the ‘Kruidtuin’) and the M-Museum. It is baffling how so few students study in the greenhouses of the garden or in the museum’s study rooms. The Kruidtuin is an ideal reprieve from our usual geometric confines, and it replaces the smell of coffee with flowers. Hell, they have turtles in one of the enclosed gardens, it’s basically Eden. Meanwhile M-Museum is located conveniently in the center of the city, and during breaks from studying students can wander the grounds or browse its extensive collection of historical artifacts, or whatever exposition is on display. It has an open study space until June 9th.

Filling in the hours
People are going to tell you that it’s boring to stay in Belgium for the summer. They’ll tell you you’ll regret it, that you’re lame if you don’t grab a flight to Ibiza or some shit. Don’t listen to them. They are unimaginative and frankly – we’ll all be better off without them. Yet the skill of filling in the hours between hours is key. So take some time to take your time.