Although I had never even considered studying abroad until the very last minute, my second semester senior year, I can already say that it has been one of the best decisions I have made in my life. Leuven has turned out to be the perfect fit for my study abroad experience. The city is relatively cheap (although the Euro is not the most cost effective currency), close to other major cities, and has a small college town vibe that sets it apart from other large touristy cities. Belgium also seems to have a never ending variety of one of my favorite adult beverages in the world…beer. After a month overseas, I have already experienced so much. Let’s start from the beginning.
The flight to Brussels from Chicago was a very smooth 8 hour plane ride, and getting to Leuven from Brussels was an even easier 2 minute high-speed train ride. However, the journey to my residence once in Leuven was beyond difficult. Checking two bags was a quick regret after walking miles on foot in the rain to find my residence at Camilo Torres, which seemed to be the farthest possible point on the map from the train station. After getting all settled in, I was able to meet some of the other exchange students and it wasn’t long until we started planning our weekend trips throughout Europe.
My first stop was Amsterdam. I had never seen a city like this before. Bikes outnumbered people and there were more canals than there were streets. If I didn’t keep my head up, the odds of getting hit by either a bike, tram, car, or eager tourist were very high. Such a lively place. Overall Amsterdam was beyond beautiful, and I had the opportunity to see much of the city in a boat tour that went through many of the canals. I also toured the Heineken Brewery and saw the house where Anne Frank hid in before the Nazis captured her and her family.
My next major stop was in Budapest, Hungary. For those of you who don’t know, Budapest is actually two cities, Buda and Pest, that are separated by the Danube River. Buda is very hilly and scenic with lots of old castles and unique architecture, and Pest is extremely flat with more restaurants and bars. Some highlights of this trip include swimming in the Szechenyi hot thermal bath, which is the largest medicinal bath in Europe, attending a Hungarian fish fry festival, and climbing St. Stephen’s basilica, which offered an amazing view of the city. We also accidentally stumbled upon the changing of the guards at the Hungarian Parliament building, which I had never seen anywhere before. To close out the trip, the thirteen of us reserved a large table at Trofea, for an all out all you can eat all you can drink buffet style dinner for only 18 Euro!!! This was by far the best deal I think any of us has scored for a restaurant like this. You just can’t beat the quality and variety of Hungarian cuisine for that kind of price.
After traveling to Amsterdam and Budapest, I can already realize that each trip to follow will be its own unique adventure with different people and new stories. So far, I have already booked trips to Oslo, Prague, Munich, and Berlin. Until then, I will be getting back to my full time job as Belgian waffle connoisseur.