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4 November 2015

Living In Leuven: Week 7 | Pumpkin Carving & A Weekend in Amsterdam

As my weekends are always pretty full on here in Leuven, I always find myself spending the start of the week relaxing and recharging from the previous weekend. Thankfully, I only have a two hour class on Monday and a class every second Tuesday, so I have a lot of free time at the start of the week to catch up on sleep/grocery shopping/washing (boring adult chores!).

I also had the Amsterdam trip in mind throughout the week and as much as I love a chilled night in, I didn't expect a group of 700 students to have to same mind set as me in the party capital of Europe!

I visited the Vangrootloon tearoom on Naamsestraat a couple of times with a friend and, yet again, the Dwerf cafe next to Pauscollege. I really need to get out of the habit of eating at the same places all the time here, my obsession is the same as playing a song I really like, I'll wear it out until I don't like it any more or find something better!

I haven't spoken a lot about who I share my residence with in Waterview. There's around 12 rooms in our corridor, some not yet occupied, and we all share the kitchen. As far as I know, there's two British people (myself included), two Americans, two Italians, one Brazillian and three Belgians. I feel as though I can have comfortable conversation with the Brit and American, but apart from that, it's a brief hello and goodbye as we pop in and out of the kitchen throughout the day.

They all seem like lovely people, but there rarely is an occasion when we're all in the kitchen having a meal together, so I decided to host a pumpkin carving evening on Thursday night. I was half expecting to be carving a pumpkin on my own, but surprisingly 5 people showed up. Some hadn't carved a pumpkin before or even celebrated the holiday, so it was fun showing them how to do it and we shared our Halloween traditions from our different cultures.

As we were heading to Amsterdam at 7am in Heverlee the next again morning, an early night on Thursday was obligatory.

After a 4 hour drive to Amsterdam, we arrived at Museumsplein where we gathered with over 700 other Erasmus students from all over Belgium (Ghent, KUL Brussels and Louvain La Neuve, to name a few) in front of the IAmsterdam sign for a group photo.

We then split off into our own ESN groups and went on a walking tour around Amsterdam. The tour guides were students at the University of Amsterdam, and although they weren't clued up on dates of buildings/events etc., it was nice to have a chat with another student who actually lived in Amsterdam and we got a few juicy stories out of them normal travel agent tour guides most likely wouldn't share!


On our walking tour, we visited Dam Square (where we found the Royal Palace and Madame Tussauds), Begijnhof, Rembrandtplein, the Heineken Experience and the Red Light District. The whole walking tour took a good five hours, which was quite irritating in some ways, but understandable as there was a group of about 100 of us to direct around Amsterdam.

Begijnhof was one of my favourite places we visited during the walking tour. It's known as a hidden treasure of Amsterdam and, supposedly, not many tourists know about it. Similar to a convent, the court houses over 100 single women. There's also a chapel at one end of the court where the most famous beguine is actually buried under the pavement.

The townhouses in Amsterdam are VERY narrow and are actually built to a great height as the Dutch are known to be the tallest people in the world. I also found it fascinating the hook at the end of the gable at the very top of a typical townhouse is used to transport furniture from the ground floor to another floor of the house and through the window, as it's near enough impossible for furniture to be brought up the narrow staircases!

After our tour around the city centre, we jumped back on the coach and headed to our hotel. ESN arranged for us to stay at the Meininger hotel in the west of Amsterdam and I was so impressed with it! I shared a room with three of my law friends at KU Leuven. The room was great, the bar/lounge area was cosy and the staff were super friendly! I would definitely recommend a room in this hotel if you're looking for somewhere affordable - they also have a chain of hotels all across Europe.

My friend and I had dinner at Julia's pasta in Sloterdijk station (which was delicious), then we headed back to the hotel where I killed a few hours teaching my two German friends how to play pool in the hotel lobby before we got ready for the Halloween party.

I had a bit of a costume nightmare as I had originally planned on going as a Mime and thought I had my outfit sorted, but I forgot my liquid eyeliner and white face paint, so my plan flopped. Thankfully, I brought a spare dress I bought from Primark I was willing to destroy and decided to cover it in fake blood instead. Evidently, I wasn't very scary at all.

ESN arranged for a shuttle bus to take us to and from the venue that evening. Unfortunately, transporting 700 people on a 50 seater bus was very challenging and people were pushing to squeeze onto the bus. It was ridiculous. It was like watching a bunch of animals.

We waited over an hour and I started to get really uncomfortable as a considerably older man was hanging around our group, staring at the girls in our group. My friend instantly knew I was uncomfortable and grabbed and pushed me in the crowd and onto the bus. There must've been around 80 people on the bus, jumping around, banging on the windows and chanting away - something I couldn't fathom happening back in the UK. As we left, I actually saw the older man trying to pickpocket some of the girl's bags in our group. Very very dodgy indeed.

The bus took us to the middle of nowhere (where I now know was in a place called Undercurrent) to the HATSA Halloween party. The venue was actually pretty cool and was set on a deck in the middle of the water. We were promised two rooms of music. We only managed to find one main room with questionable DJ music, but we enjoyed the night nonetheless.

As a non-alcohol drinker, I always find myself to be very observant on nights out. I'm used to witnessing drunken antics around me, but it was a really surreal experience stuck in the middle of a group of stoned party-goers.

We left the party at 4am and only managed to get 3 hours of sleep before getting ready for breakfast at 8:30am. On Saturday, we had the day to do whatever we wanted, but agreed to meet the rest of the group at the Heineken Experience later on in the day for a boat tour. My friends and I decided to visit the IAmsterdam sign again when it was less crowded and had a walk around the city centre. We went to the Sex museum, which with a group of immature 20-24 year olds, was quite a laugh.

After a quick toastied sandwich next to the Torture museum, we met the rest of the group for the boat tour along Amsterdam's canals. On this tour, we saw Anne Frank's house, Singel, EYE Film Institute, the famous Amstel Hotel and other attractions I didn't manage to catch the names of!

Amstel Hotel

I previously visited Amsterdam in February, where I visited only the main attractions by foot, so I found the canal tour really exciting and fascinating. The architecture beyond the townhouses in central Amsterdam is completely different. For anyone planning a trip to Amsterdam, I'd definitely put a canal tour on the top of the to-do list!

After the boat trip, we headed back to the hotel for a quick freshen up, then jumped on a bus and tram into the city centre again. A large group of us ended up eating at a restaurant called Pasta Pasta, then split up to do our own activities. As we were running late for the ESN pub crawl, we decided to skip the first pub and visit the Red Light District at night. I remember visiting the Red Light District at around 7/8pm towards the start of the year where it was fairly busy, but it's astonishing how busy the streets get beyond 10pm! It was really interesting wandering around and watching men sleazily tap on the ladies' windows and the women frantically closing their curtains when tourists took out their cameras. We were offered drugs by dodgy street dealers numerous times and although there are police controlling the area constantly, I personally don't think I would visit without some male company or a large group at least!

We caught up with the rest of the ESN group in a bar called Hotshots, then No 129 and followed by a club on Rembrandtplein. The final club was absolutely packed and full of older adults waving sparklers and singing Christmas songs, so we decided to go to a quieter bar to complete the evening.

On Sunday, we were up slightly later for breakfast and my two friends and I decided to visit Anne Frank's House. As expected, the waiting time was over 90 minutes and as we only had the morning to explore Amsterdam one final time, we decided to skip it and go for another wander around the city. We spent the morning stopping for tea/coffee breaks in cafes and enjoyed a Pizza lunch at an Italian restaurant before heading back to the hotel. We left Amsterdam late-afternoon and I slept for the whole four hours of the journey! I was absolutely exhausted and had started to feel really unwell after lunch - I'm now back in Leuven choked with the cold!

Although the Amsterdam trip was very full on and slightly hectic/stressful at times, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. It's definitely not a place I would think about settling down in in the future, as I definitely think it's too touristy nowadays. For example, it was quite surreal being on local transport in Amsterdam sitting next to a guy with an Edinburgh Leisure sports bag - there are British people everywhere!

Thankfully, it's a Belgian national holiday tomorrow, so I can catch up on some well needed rest. Things are looking pretty quiet next week, but I'm sure there'll be something blog post worthy to write about!

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