Living in Leuven

Despite the fact that we spend an inordinate amount of time traveling, we genuinely love our little city. We live right in the heart of “downtown,” which is utterly comical if you’re to compare it to say, any city in the U.S. Our garage door is the very last spot on the street before it turns into a pedestrian zone. The next street up from us (1/2 block) is a retail center. It’s all pedestrians from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Other than those times, the only cars allowed on there are those going to shops to make deliveries, street sweepers, and garbage trucks.

Here’s the thing about garbage collection, though. There is a LOT of it. We have 5 different containers for trash in our house:

  1. the blue bag: plastic bottles, cans, and aluminum products (collected every 2 weeks)
  2. the pink bag: almost every other type of plastic (collected every 3 weeks)
  3. the green bag: all food scraps (collected every Friday)
  4. the cardboard/paper recycling bin (collected every 2 weeks, provided you have gathered it into a cardboard box and sealed that box)
  5. the brown bag: all other trash (collected every Tuesday)

Pop quiz! Did you realize I didn’t list a particular type of trash? Go ahead and read over the list again. I’ll wait.

Did you figure out I didn’t mention glass? That’s because we don’t actually have a container for glass. We rinse out the bottles and set them aside. Glass is not collected for us. We have to take it away ourselves. Glass recycling is more complex. If it’s a particular type of beer bottle, it can be turned in via machine at the grocery store. The machine tallies the total number of bottles and we get a receipt. We present the receipt to the cashier at checkout and they treat it as a coupon for 10 cents/bottle. The beer producers here expect to receive a certain number of bottles back each month, so they don’t order new bottles as often as they would otherwise. Wine bottles and all other glass, however, have to be taken somewhere else. There are various collection centers throughout the city and the closest to us is about a block from our grocery store, so we generally detour on the way to shop. There we separate the glass between clear and colored glass and drop it into the appropriate container. I don’t know what the schedule is for collecting glass, but you can hear it loud and clear when they do!

Alright, enough trash talk. Part of the fun of living here is the sheer number of celebrations. The Flemish people celebrate everything. It’s wonderful! A couple of weeks ago, there was a mid-week holiday for a Celebration of Flemish Community and it’s celebrated annually. Usually these celebrations involve rerouting the main bus route into downtown and blocking the streets with vendors and fun. I believe the buses run on a different street at least once every 2 weeks and more in the summertime. Last week, there was a sand volleyball tournament in the plaza closest to us, so they relocated half of the Friday market into the street and rerouted the buses to accommodate the vendors/shoppers. The volleyball tournament was set up for 3-4 days, which means that a lot of people took time off work to compete in it. They also had bounce houses and ice cream stands set up around the perimeter, so the kids and I stopped to check it out when we went to the market last week.

The volleyball tournament was part of Het Groot Verlof (The Great Leave) which takes place through July and August every summer. This festival means there’s a party every weekend. On Friday evenings, 2 stages are set up in 2 different, but nearby, plazas. There are 2 concerts. We live about 2 blocks from the second one, which fires up at 10:30 p.m. (as it finally gets dark) and goes for a couple of hours. Even with all the windows open, however, it’s still not very loud and you have to listen hard to hear the music from this distance. It’s perfect! The other amazing part is that by Saturday morning, the stages are down and the plazas are cleared of all debris. You’d never know there had been an event!

Play space in Grote Markt for Het Groot Verlof – can you find Laine?

In addition to the music and sand volleyball, there are fun days set up in the park. The kids and I went a couple of weeks ago as we waited for Todd to get back from Austin. There was a band (think big band) playing show tunes and 80’s American music, plus there were cold drinks and ice cream, and a bounce house for the kids. Everyone had a great time: Laine and I on the lawn while Isaac bounced.

My girl & me. Isaac was busy having the time of his life in the bounce house

There are a lot of random parades here. We usually find out about them because we accidentally stumble into the sidelines of one. They’re fascinating in their uniqueness. They are incredibly esoteric, so we don’t “get” some of them. But they’re lively and fun!

A bit of the parade: The unicyclists were so talented; they’d pretend to be out of control and then save themselves to be upright again. The orange car expands at all of the joints, raises itself on a scissor lift, and breaths smoke. The silver car was playing music as this man was the DJ. And the people on stilts were amazing, especially considering these streets are cobblestone.
The kids did get picked up by the police, but it was just a misunderstanding.

Elsewhere, we got to see street performers, balloon artists, and numerous bounce houses. And all of it took place within a few blocks of our apartment. We started at one end of the celebration and worked our way around in a semi-circle surrounding our apartment building.

Balloons and bounce houses and face paint! Oh my!

On days when there aren’t major celebrations in front of our door, we go to parks and explore. We have learned we can get fresh milk from a machine at one of the parks just outside the city’s inner ring. We’ve gotten quite spoiled from the delicious milk and now no one wants “store bought” milk. This will be a major adjustment when we return to Austin.

The kids are familiar enough with Leuven to navigate on their own. It’s been exciting to see how much they’ve grown living here.

Independent kids leading the way

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