Travels

Lovin’ Leuven

Friday 20 July. Left Blegny Mine full to the brim with water and all waste empty. A fantastic place as a motorhome stop and heavily used, with 16 to 20 overnighters for its 12 official spaces, but nobody seems to worry.

Drove to Leuven, pitched up on a car park about 3k from the centre and cycled in. All very easy. Leuven is a compact city, easy to wander around and see the main sites, the ornate town hall being the show off.Statues in canopied niches are distributed all over the building. The corbels supporting the statues are carved with Biblical scenes in high relief. While the niches and corbels are original with the building, the 236 statues themselves are relatively recent, dating from after 1850.

A lively city, the main squares were set up for events – a beach volleyball competition in one and a free music festival in front of the town hall. A sixties tribute act from the UK called The Overtures were sound checking for an evening gig. Elton John rates them highly, apparently, though I’d never heard of them. Reminded me of many excellent ‘third tier’ bands I used to book who had packed and regular tours on the continent. I did intend to go back into the city and see them but came over all knackered.

There are indicators of the Belgian temperament that I’ve seen consistently, whether in small towns or cities. Places are clean, sometimes remarkably so. When cycling along the Meuse from Huy, it struck me how little rubbish was in the river, then I realised I wasn’t seeing it on the cycle path so started looking out for it. I hardly saw any litter on a 20k ride. Towns and cities are litter free and so are roads and motorways.

The Belgians like parks and play areas, and these are designed imaginatively. These are well used, clean of course, and not vandalised, continuing the sense of an understated civic pride and responsibility.

The pedestrian rules. There are zebra crossings everywhere and cars stop even as you approach. Cyclists also rule and the cycle lanes are a delight. Where pedestrians and cyclists mix, both make small accommodations for each other. I’ve never seen one frustrated not to have right of way, each expects the other to get in their way sometimes, and behaves accordingly. People just get on, people are relaxed.

Humour and the surreal are celebrated publicly, and you can see that Magritte and Hergé reflect this aspect of Belgian character. Public spaces are inhabited by quirky, modern and humourous pieces, like the one below in Leuven, which deserve a blog of their own.

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