During my stay in Belgium, I've been using Leuven as a base and making day trips to other cities.
Although I flew into Brussels last week, I didn't get a chance to explore it until Thursday. Brussels is the capital of the European Union, and is considered a melting pot of different cultures. However, seventy percent of people in Brussels speak French, and I kind of felt like I was in France when I first arrived. French (and some German) is spoked in southern Belgium (Wallonia), and in northern Belgium (Flanders) where Ashlee lives, Dutch is spoken.
I started out at the BIP (Brussels Information Place), where I basically learned how great & wonderful Brussels is. :)
I was definitely impressed by the BIP Expo, which had several interactive exhibits, including a giant map of Brussels. By clicking on the name of a specific region in the city, that area of the map would light up and a video would play. I especially loved that the Expo was free!
I picked up a "walking guide" at the tourist center and followed it around the city...
The flag flying on top of the Royal Palace indicated that the King was in. I decided not to pop in to say hi.
This is one of several parks in the city. Notice the rainbow by the fountain--the first rainbow I've seen in Belgium. (I saw them frequently in Ireland! Ah, I miss that magical place.)
There was lots of construction everywhere. Ashlee was definitely right when she said that Belgium is constantly under construction!
The tour ended at this arch, where there was a nice overview of the city from the top...
The town of Gent is about an hour train ride from Brussels. It's a student town (like Leuven) with cobblestone streets and several churches.
I loved the night view of St. Michael's bridge...
Antwerp--which is also in Flanders--is an alive city, where many people go to shop.
Ashlee and I went there yesterday in search of a leather jacket for her (we were unfortunately unsuccessful).
We enjoyed perusing the jewelry in the diamond district.
We also went to this castle and took an audio tour of the famous painter Peter Paul Rubens' house.
When I haven't been traveling around northern Belgium, I've been hanging out in Leuven feeling like a student. My time here in Leuven has felt a bit like a study abroad experience, which I never had in college. I've had good discussions with Ashlee on a variety of topics, and I've spent time at cafés reading, writing and preparing for my teaching job in France.
I leave for Le Mans, France (via Paris) on Monday morning, and I'm excited for Part 3 of my adventure in Europe! Au revoir for now.