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16 December 2015

Living in Leuven: Week 13 | 'I Survived Leuven' Party & A Day Trip to Cologne

I can't believe I'll be back in Edinburgh this time next week for Christmas - this semester has flown by! I'm actually really upset to be leaving Leuven next week, so I've been trying to make the most of my final few weeks with friends that are only staying in Leuven for one semester.

After a weekend of non-stop sightseeing in Budapest, I felt absolutely exhausted during my 9am Constitutional Law class on Monday morning. In the afternoon, I spontaneously decided to re-arrange my room (which you'll see a blog post on at the beginning of next year) and crashed in bed by 8pm!

Grote Markt, Leuven

The final hand-in for the Advanced Legal Method online course in Edinburgh is due on the 18th of December, so I met my friend from Edinburgh on Tuesday afternoon to go through the assignment. We have a nice coffee and catch up in Cafe Anna (my new favourite tea room in Leuven).

In amongst classes this week, I've been stuck in the library working on my research proposal. I don't think the online course I'm taking back home is that well thought out for year abroad students, so I'm definitely struggling to get my head around it all. That combined with absolutely no motivation due to the different teaching structure here is Leuven is making the task almost impossible to complete!

After a day of classes and hard work on Wednesday, I met one of my Belgian friends for a quick catch up at Coffee College on Thursday before heading to my Human Rights class. As a lot of my friends have been swamped with last-minute essays and Dutch exams before Christmas, every one has been pretty busy so catching up with friends this week has been a rarity. I managed to convince Una into going to ALMA for dinner after the lecture , then we briefly visited the Christmas market in Leuven before heading home. I'm really looking forward to visiting the Christmas market properly next week - I'll be sure to go into detail about it more in next week's post!

Friday consisted of a trip to the library during the day followed by my usual 4-6pm Human rights lecture. It was one of my Scottish friend's birthday gathering at my residence that evening, so Una and I went round to his kitchen for a quick catch up. Originally, we had planned to meet at Una's kitchen with her flatmates before heading to the final ESN party of the year. However, as we went into the lobby of our residence, we met a group of our law friends who were heading to the opening of the residence's common room. Literally everyone in Leuven had heard about this party apart from us!

Our new common room is actually pretty cool - the room has a cosy corner with sofas (TV coming soon!) then the other side is filled with table tennis tables, pool tables and a fridge. I definitely think the room will be put to good use next year - pre-parties in our kitchens are OK, but not very practical as the security is quite tight meaning it's almost impossible for the public to enter without at least a key card and a set of keys.

We headed to Fuifzaal Albatros for the ESN: I survived Leuven party. The party was great and it was really nice to see everyone out to celebrate the end of the semester together. ESN were selling t-shirts and pens at the event, so for most of the night we went round trading our t-shirts in return for messages written on them. As I was going to Cologne early the next again morning, I called it a night at 2am.

Cologne's Cathedral

I was one of the sensible ones who decided to leave earlier than usual from the party and although I only had 2 hours sleep, some of my friends didn't make the 8am bus because they had slept in or were still out partying! The disappointment of being let down by my friends soon disappeared when I met friends from previous ESN trips (Anna, Anett and Nina) on the bus. 

The drive to Cologne took 2.5 hours and it's fair to say I have no recollection of what it's like to drive on a German Autobahn as I slept for the whole journey there and back!

We arrived in Cologne at 11am where we were shown our meeting point later on in the evening by the city's Cathedral. The Cathedral (or Dom, in German) is lovely and although it was packed with tourists, it's worth a look around inside - it's free!

Afterwards, we climbed the 533 steps to the top of the cathedral. There was only one spiral staircase to the top for both people walking up and down to use - definitely made it quite dangerous having to keep moving into the narrower stairs in the middle to move past other people!

We took some photos of the view at the top of the tower then headed back down. It didn't quite hit me how many steps we climbed until walking around the Christmas market later at midday - both of my legs wouldn't stop shaking and I thought I was going a bit crazy until the other girls said it was happening to them too. Bizarre!

Weihnachtsmarkt am K├Âlner Dom

We wandered around the Christmas market by the Cathedral, where we decided to warm up with some hot chocolate. For lunch, the girls had Raclette cheese on bread, which I may have had also, but I was so put off by the smell of the cheese I opted for a traditional Bratwurst hot dog instead. All of the Christmas markets in Cologne were absolutely packed and walking through the market itself took a lot of time as the queue around moved very, very slowly. If we had arrived earlier on in the morning, we probably would have spent more time properly looking at the stalls, but as we had to see the whole of what Cologne had to offer in only one day, we decided to keep moving through the attractions.

Christmas Market at Old Market, Cologne

As we were only offered a tourist guide in either French or Dutch, we thought it would be best to invest in the Christmas shuttle train to take us round the main sights in Cologne. The ticket cost 8EUR and took us to the three main Christmas markets in Cologne as well as the Chocolate Museum. Thinking back, we probably could have walked everywhere in half the time the train was moving, but at least we didn't have to face the difficulty of solving a foreign map in a foreign city!

The train took us from the Cathedral to Cologne's Old Market (Altstadt). The Christmas market here was very traditional and watching the Germans mould horseshoes and carve wood into Christmas shapes really added a special touch to visiting the market. We have a replica of a German market in Edinburgh and the Christmas market in Leuven is somewhat inspired by the Germans, however, there's definitely no comparison to visiting a Christmas market in Germany itself!

Schokoladen Museum, Cologne

We then took the shuttle train from the Old Market to the Chocolate museum (Schokoladen Museum). I'm a complete chocoholic, so I was really excited about this stop. I find most museums, in general, to be pretty hit or miss. You either get more than your money's worth for the experience or you leave knowing you completely wasted your money on it. The latter didn't apply here and I thoroughly enjoyed the Chocolate museum. The initial exhibition focused on cocoa beans and how chocolate is transported to the factory, how it's made and how it's eventually packaged.

Upstairs, we viewed live demonstrations of Lindt chocolatiers make the Lindor balls and bars of Lindt chocolate from scratch. Another chocolatier served biscuits topped with Lindt chocolate from the chocolate fountain running at the back of the room - I was in HEAVEN!

Behind the Lindt factory part of the museum was a room full of Lindt packaging and chocolate advertisements throughout the years. I love looking at old posters and I was really fascinated by the chocolate posters throughout the period of WW2. On my way out, I noticed a video was playing of the apparent 'Chocolate King' alongside a few posters and a painting of him. I didn't read into it, but if there's a Chocolate Queen position, I'd like to put myself forward please!

The visit ended with a trip to the Lindt chocolate shop where I bought a fair selection of chocolates for my family back home.

Markt Der Engel, Cologne

We hopped on the shuttle train which took us to our final destination - the Angel Market in the new market (Markt Der Engel/Neumarkt). At this point of the day, it was dark outside and the market looked beautiful under all of the lights around the huts and lights in the trees above.

I found myself wanting to buy more from the Angel Market than the other markets. I find most Christmas markets have a lot of jewellery and clothing stalls, which I'm not too bothered by, but this market had a lot more Christmas ornament and souvenirs, which I much preferred. My friends bought some Flammkuchen for dinner. I don't consider myself a fussy eater, but I'm always a bit sceptical of foods in Christmas markets. I'm not a fan of strong smelling/tasting cheeses and fish, so I tend to stick with fries and Bratwurst, both of which I know I will like and will not go to waste.

We rode the shuttle train one last time back to the Cathedral where we met the rest of the ESN group and headed back to Leuven. Despite the slight mishap with plans going askew in the morning and my friends not showing up, I had a great day exploring Cologne with Anna, Anett and Nina!

Next week is busy - I have a law erasmus dinner to attend, a visit to the Leuven Christmas market, classes as usual and somehow have to fit in doing my Advanced Legal Methods research proposal and start studying in between that! Oh, and of course, I'm flying back to Edinburgh on Friday. See you next week!

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