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30 November 2016

My Erasmus | A Year In Leuven

I thought I'd conclude my year abroad blog posts by rounding up the year in a series of photos. I moved to Leuven, Belgium in September of 2015 and left at the end of August this year. It was the best year of my life and truly changed my outlook on life for the better. I'm itching to go abroad again, and recent trips away have made me realise my love for travelling and my desperation to pursue postgraduate studies abroad.

If you are new to my blog, I wrote a blog post on a weekly basis whilst I was settling down during the first semester. I'll leave a link to all the blog posts I wrote throughout the year at the end of this post.

Without further ado, here it is: my Erasmus year!

14.09.2015 - Moving to Leuven
On the 14th of September 2015, I packed my life away and flew from Edinburgh to Brussels Charleroi to start my Erasmus year in Leuven. I was so, so nervous. Mainly because I hadn't managed to arrange permanent accommodation during my stay, so spent the first week in the 'Budget Flats' towards the south of Leuven. 

19.09.2015 - OH Leuven v Zulte Waregem

I spent this week with a friend from Edinburgh, where we went to see Leuven's football team play Zulte Waregem, in amongst looking for permanent accommodation. Because of this extra stress, I wasn't able to go to as many Orientation Week activities as planned, but I still managed to go to the essentials: sessions on settling into the Belgian culture and the welcome talks from my faculty. 

21.09.2015 - Moving into Waterview
On the 21st of September, I moved to Waterview! The room I moved into initially didn't have any electricity and wasn't finished at all, so I spent my first night in complete darkness and used scrunched up towels as a pillow and duvet. Thinking back on it, I was completely mental signing the contract for that room on the day my temporary accommodation expired (probably the most stressful day of my life..but definitely an experience). I'm planning on writing an in-depth post about my room in Waterview, so stay tuned for more details on that soon.

2.10.2015 - Visiting Brussels
Thankfully, KU Leuven allowed us to trial lectures and classes before submitting our courses for definite at the start of October. So, I spent the first few weeks of the semester going to all of the classes that I was interested in. I settled on EU Constitutional Law, Terrorism Corporate Crime & Organised Crime, European Criminal Law and Human Rights Law for the first semester.

3.10.2015 - Heverlee
It was my 20th birthday on the 30th of September. After only living in Leuven for 2 weeks, I still felt a bit lost and hadn't established a group of friends at this stage. Thankfully, my boyfriend at the time came over from Edinburgh to visit me that weekend, where he helped me on a huge trip to IKEA Zaventem to buy all the essentials for my room. We also took a trip to Heverlee and Brussels on my birthday weekend.

10.10.2016 - A Trip to Ghent
One afternoon, I was doing my washing in the laundrette when someone asked me how to use the machines, so I helped her out then we went her separate ways.... little did I know this person would turn out to be my best friend. We recognised each other in the law faculty cafeteria two days later and then realised we lived in the same residence - what are the chances! Una invited me to Ghent that weekend with a group of exchange students and in-a-nutshell, that's how our friendship was founded.

That trip to Ghent will always bring back good memories for me - it was the first trip I went on with exchange students and I remember arriving back at my room feeling so happy and giddy about the day.

15.10.2015 - Lipton Big Splash Party
The following weekend, Una and I got together with some Italian friends on my floor where we had pre-drinks and headed to the Lipton Big Splash Party in Musicafe. 

17.10.2015 - Japanese Garden, Hasselt
On the 17th of October, I went on my first trip with the Erasmus Student Network in Leuven. The society takes care of Erasmus students in the area by organising day trips and parties to allow exchange students to get to know each other. A lot of people go to ESN events alone, so I definitely wouldn't be afraid to attend alone during the start of the academic year, as everyone was in the same boat as I was! 

17.10.2015 - Hasselt Town Hall
We took the train from Leuven to Hasselt and walked to the Japanese gardens. The gardens were really stunning and the tour guide took us into the Japanese house and showed us how they would conduct a tea ceremony (or 'Way of Tea') in their country. Afterwards, we were given free time to explore the city at our own pace. The city was nice, but the layout was very comparable to Leuven and wasn't as beautiful as our home town. 

20.10.2015 - European Court of Justice, Luxembourg
My EU Constitutional Law class arranged a trip to the European Court of Justice for us as one of our professors turned out to be the now-president of the Court, Koen Lenaerts. I met my neighbour at 3:30am and we headed to the Ladeuzeplein to hop on the bus for the dreaded 4.5 hour bus journey to Luxembourg...

Seeing the court was a really cool experience. It's always exciting for me to see an institution I've spent 4 years learning about at University finally in person. We witnessed the Genc case, followed by a lecture from Koen Lenaerts. I wish we were given more time to explore Luxembourg city afterwards, but because we were travelling by coach, we had to leave promptly after lunch.

23.10.2015 - Dad & Aileen's Wedding
On the 22nd of October, I flew back to Edinburgh for the weekend. My Dad and his partner got married on the 23rd, so all of my relatives from my Dad's side of the family in Essex travelled to Scotland for the occasion.

23.10.2015 - Dad & Aileen's Wedding
Their wedding took place at the Orocco Pier at South Queensferry, a really beautiful location which overlooks the bridges and the Firth of Forth river. I spent the rest of the weekend catching up with family and friends and cheekily requested a full roast dinner prepared by my Mum before I flew back to Brussels on the 25th. 

29.10.2015 - Waterview Pumpkin Carving Evening
On the lead up to Halloween, I organised for a pumpkin carving evening with my flatmates in Waterview. We each carved a pumpkin and displayed it on the kitchen counter... until they started to mould and were thrown out by the cleaners a couple of weeks later... oops! This was the first evening we all managed to do something together in the residence. 

30.10.2015 - ESN Trip to Amsterdam
On the 30th of October, I went on the ESN trip to Amsterdam. ESN Belgium organised the weekend for exchange students all across Belgium and actually booked out the whole Meininger hotel for us all to stay in. We received a guided tour of Amsterdam on the first day and saw hidden treasures such as the Begijnhof, which is probably one of my favourite parts of Amsterdam. 

30.10.2015 - ESN Halloween Party
That evening, ESN booked for us all to attend their Halloween party. The party itself was ok, but transportation was really badly organised before and after. People were getting hurt trying to rush onto the buses and there were a couple of dodgy characters standing around pickpocketing some of the students - not the best situation to be in! 

31.10.2015 - Wandering around Amsterdam
On the Saturday, we walked around the city centre and met the rest of the ESN Leuven group at the Heineken Brewery where we had a boat tour through the canals of Amsterdam. ESN then took us on a pub crawl that evening. We left Amsterdam on the Sunday evening. It was a very hectic weekend, but fun nonetheless!

14.11.2015 - ESN Trip to Bruges
On the 14th of November, ESN Leuven took us on a trip to Bruges for the day. I had visited Bruges twice before - it was always a city my school's music department visited before we caught the ferry from Zeebrugge after being on tour. This visit was a little bit different though, no longer being confined to only the main square, we ventured out and explored the city at our own pace.

14.11.2015 - ESN Trip to Bruges
If you're into cringy comedy, I'd recommend watching the movie 'In Bruges' before visiting Bruges. It's a bit of a stupid movie, but the scenery in all of the backdrops are stunning.

Included in our payment to ESN was a guided tour around the 'Bruges Beer Experience', but as I didn't drink alcohol at this point of my Erasmus exchange (oh, how times have changed), we asked one of the leaders if we could hop on one of the canal boats instead. It was raining really heavily all day and despite our boat being covered in umbrellas, we managed to enjoy the views regardless.

21.11.2015 - Day Trip to Antwerp
Dominik and I decided to visit Antwerp one Saturday. When we arrived, we received breaking news notifications on our phones to the news that Brussels had gone into lock down after the horrific events in Paris. We tried not to let this ruin our day, but as some building were refusing entry without being on the guest list for security reasons and the Meir being covered in armed soldiers, it did make us both a little apprehensive. Little to our knowledge, it was our first sighting of armed soldiers and army tanks in Belgium and this presence continued throughout the rest of my Erasmus stay, albeit, reducing to only Brussels towards the end.

21.11.2015 - Day Trip to Antwerp
We visited Rubenshuis, the Grote Markt and walked to the port of Antwerp, which was really lovely and modern. I suspect this part of the city is easily missed by tourists, but I would highly recommend venturing out there and having a walk around that area (towards the port house, for reference). 

On our way back, we came across Antwerp's red light district, which was on a completely different level compared to Amsterdam's district. Walking through it, it's very obvious it's not deemed a tourist attraction and everyone there was there to shop, not to observe like we were! I really enjoyed visiting Antwerp during my stay in Belgium, I took my family there again to visit the main sights this year and regularly visited for shopping trips - hands down the best shopping city in Belgium!

26.11.2015 - Lokomotion Party
On Thursday the 26th of November, I went to the Lokomotion party hosted by LOKO international. LOKO is a student organisation that takes care of all students in Leuven, from internationals on exchange to Belgians studying their full degree in the city. Unfortunately, I didn't have a lot of experience with LOKO apart from attending their parties, however, more information on the organisation can be found HERE

The party was held in Alma 2, one of our canteens in Leuven. I really liked parties in ALMA 2, it was a lot more spacious than the bars in Oude Markt, which were often overflowing with people at times!

4.12.2015 - Arriving in Budapest
Dominik and I decided to make the most of the Winter flight sales and book a trip to Budapest for the weekend. Originally, we planned to visit Paris and Versailles, but accommodation prices were a little too over our budget.. 

We flew with Wizz Air and although the flight itself was fine, they charged me extra to store my cabin bag above in the lockers... so beware if you're used to flying with Ryanair/Easyjet, who let you bring larger bags free of charge. We booked the Marriot Courtyard for the weekend, which on the face of it, seems really expensive but we managed to receive a hefty discount on a whim. On the first day, we wandered around the city centre, visiting Heroes Square and St Stephen's Basilica, which is now one of my favourite ever Basilica's I've visited. The interior and exterior is simply stunning. 

5.12.2015 - Day Two in Budapest
Budapest is split into Buda and Pest by the Danube river. We were staying in and visiting monuments in Pest, so decided to travel to Buda on the second day. There, we visited Buda castle and Matthias church. The colours on top of the roof of the Church made the building's architecture even more beautiful. Unfortunately, we didn't pay to go to the bell tower, but decided to have a coffee in the building to make the most of the views around us. 

That afternoon, we treated ourselves to a visit to the New York Cafe. The interior of the cafe is guaranteed to make you feel like royalty, however, our experience wasn't the best it could've been as the service was really slow for a visit that should've taken up to an hour and not the 2.5 hours we spent there.

6.12.2015 - Day Three in Budapest
On the morning of our third day in Budapest, we had a guided tour of the Hungarian Parliament. The interior is very grand but there wasn't much to the tour. Although it's the 3rd largest Parliament in the world, we were only given access to the staircase, the crown jewels and the main chamber. I'd recommend giving it a go if you're ever in Budapest, regardless.

11.12.2015 - 'I Survived Leuven' ESN Party
For the final party of the semester, ESN Leuven organised a 'I survived Leuven' party for us all. We could buy t-shirts and the whole evening was spent signing each others shirts - a lot like what happens at the end of primary school, progressing into high school. I still have my t-shirt and on it is a nice comment from Una and Natalija and another from a law friend giving me life changing advice to 'Dance More'!

12.12.2015 - ESN Day Trip to Cologne
A trip to Cologne was one of ESN's final excursions of the year. I had heard a lot about the popularity of Christmas Markets in Germany and couldn't pass on the opportunity to visit one whilst living in the centre of Europe. As soon as we arrived, we climbed to the top of Cologne's Cathedral. Supposedly, it is Germany's most visited attraction and I'm not surprised as it's absolutely humongous and is a fantastic display of gothic architecture.  

12.12.2015 - ESN Day Trip to Cologne
We walked around the Christmas market after our visit to the Cathedral. The whole city centre was covered in stalls, so much so, there was a shuttle train that transported people from one market to another. We spent the majority of the rest of the day visiting stalls and took a break to visit the Lindt factory before heading back to Leuven. 

15.12.2015 - Erasmus Law Faculty Christmas Dinner
During our final week of class, the law faculty organised a Christmas dinner for the Erasmus students. It was a really nice evening and we enjoyed a three course meal, followed by drinks at the Christmas market on the Ladeuzeplein. Unfortunately, I met a lot of really nice students who were only in Leuven for one semester, so it was a shame we hadn't met earlier in the year. 

16.12.2016 - Wintertijd in Leuven
As exams were looming, I didn't get as much time as I had hoped to tour the Christmas markets in Belgium. However, I managed to catch a glimpse of the Wintertijd in Leuven where the Grote Markt was decorated with Christmas decorations and the town hall was covered in lights. There was also a Christmas Market on the Ladeuzeplein, which I visited a few times with friends. I'm glad Leuven stuck to only having a Christmas market and decorations in the Grote markt/Ladeuzeplein, it seemed a lot more traditional compared to the amusement park and ice skating rinks we have every year in Edinburgh.

18.12.16 - Back to Edinburgh for Christmas
I left Leuven on the 18th of December and spent Christmas and New Year in Edinburgh with family and friends. A lot of this time was spent in the law library at Edinburgh University, as my exams were in the middle of January in Leuven. I really like Edinburgh's exam schedule, I much preferred sitting exams before Christmas as I felt I couldn't enjoy Christmas properly last year without the thought of exams constantly at the back of my mind. 

8.1.2016 - Hozier at the Usher Hall
The Christmas season is always full of celebrations in my family as my Mum's birthday is on the 23rd of December and my sister's on the 2nd of January. I left Edinburgh on the 10th of January, but before I left, my sister and I exercised our Christmas present from our Mum and went to see Hozier at the Usher Hall. I've enjoyed Hozier's music for what seems like years and thoroughly enjoyed his gig - he sounds exactly the same live as he does on his album - something which is very rare with artists nowadays!

10.1.2016 - Back to Leuven
I spent most of the exam season studying in the central library in Leuven. I had to submit an assignment for an online class in Edinburgh during the middle of December and was left with 4 exams in Leuven. All of my exams went reasonably well and although the exam structure/level was completely different to what I was used to in Edinburgh, I didn't have any disasters like I regularly experienced back home, which is a good sign I guess!

16.1.2016 - Snow in Leuven
On the morning of my first exam, I woke up to my garden covered in snow! The usual 20 minute walk to uni took 45 minutes as the ground was so, so slippery. Much like Edinburgh, the snow in the city centre only lasted for a couple of days. 

28.1.2016 - Celebrating the end of exams in Antwerp
I finished my exams on the 27th of January. On the day after, Una and I went to Antwerp to do some post-exam shopping. We went to Ellis Burger for lunch and had a really nice day out, completely exam free!

29.1.2016 - A Day in Brussels
Not all of my friends were spending the entire academic year in Leuven. My friend, fellow student and neighbour, Ben, was unfortunately in this category so we decided to go to Brussels for the day for a final farewell. He showed me the European Quarter, where we went inside the Parlamentarium. On our way back to the city centre, we decided to hop on a couple of metros to the Atomium. We didn't pay to go inside, but spent a good hour having a photo shoot outside - photos that will always put a smile on my face!

13.2.2016 - Chloe visits for the Weekend
The induction week for new students started the week beginning the 1st of February, where I tried my best to attend the events which I couldn't quite manage during the first semester. I went to the international dinner, international party, played the ESN city game and participated in the Dutch crash course. Overall, it was a really fun week. 

On the 13th of February, my best friend from high school, Chloe, came to visit me for a few days. We saw OH Leuven play Loekeren on the Saturday evening and visited Bruges on the Sunday. Unfortunately, the weather was really terrible all weekend, so we found ourselves paying to go into the torture museum just to get some shelter from the rain!

15.2.2016 - A Day In Brussels
On Chloe's last day in Belgium, I decided to take her to Brussels. Brussels was by far my favourite city to visit in Belgium. I find there is so much beauty in the city centre and the Grote Markt never failed to take my breath away every time I visited. We did the usual tourist excursions: Mont des Arts, Grote Markt, Court of Justice, Mannekin Pis and St Michael's Cathedral. I really enjoyed the few days I spent with Chloe and we recently booked a trip to London next summer, definitely something I'm looking forward to!

15.2.2016 - Semester 2 Classes Begin
The semester was in full swing towards the middle of February. During the second semester I took classes in: International Criminal Law, Humanitarian and Security Law, Public International Law, Substantive Law of the EU, International Police & Judicial Cooperation and Swiss Social Security Law. I really enjoyed the second semester content-wise and found a new passion for humanitarian and security law, an area which I'd like to pursue further in the future.

27.2.2016 - A Day In Maastricht
On Saturday the 27th of February, a few law friends and I decided to go to Maastricht for the day. I knew of a couple of friends from home who did their Erasmus year in Maastricht, so I was looking forward to being a tourist in their city for the day. We went to the underground caves, which were absolutely amazing! I would highly recommend paying them a visit if you're ever in Maastricht. We also visited the fort of St Pieter. Afterwards, we had a wander around the city centre and visited a library inside an old cathedral - pretty cool!

2.3.2016 - KULMUN
On the 29th of February, I received a skype call from one of my Uni friends back in Edinburgh who said he was in Leuven for the Model UN week. So, when I wasn't attending classes that week, I was spending time with him and others that were a part of the Model UN. The night pictured above is actually an event for only model UN participants, but Daryl managed to steal someone else's lanyard for me to wear so I could attend the party too. On the day Daryl was leaving, we went to Brussels for the afternoon where we (unintentionally!) bumped into the Belgian Royal family and the German president (no, not Angela Merkel!) arriving in the Grote Markt. I've never seen any Royal family before in my life, so it was a really bizarre and unexpected experience.

3.3.2016 - UN peacekeeping conference in Brussels
Our Humanitarian and Security law professor invited students to a UN peacekeeping conference in Brussels on the 3rd of March. Of course, I jumped to the opportunity and Kevin and I headed to the UN house in the European Quarter area of Brussels after our class. The afternoon was really inspiring after discovering my passion for Humanitarian and Security law, so, for me, it was an experience I'll never forget. The experts spoke about current issues such as Kosovo and the Russia/Ukraine conflict. Hopefully it wasn't just a once in a lifetime experience, as I would be honoured to attend conferences there again in the future.

3.3.2016 - Afternoon at the Atomium
After the conference, Una met us in Brussels and we took the metro to the Atomium. This time, we went inside and although we were a bit disappointed by the exhibition itself, the spaceship style escalators were super cool! Of course, we also spent a good amount of time taking photos around the area.

4.3.2016 - A Weekend in London
On the 4th of March, I got the 8am Eurostar train from Brussels Midi to London St Pancras. My Dad's side of the family are from the Essex area and it was my Nan and Grandad's 50th wedding anniversary, so I decided to visit them for the weekend. My cousin worked in London, so she met me at London Victoria and we spent the afternoon together, visiting the Shard and we had a lovely (but extortionate!) afternoon tea at Sketch. 

5.3.2016 - Nan and Grandad's 50th Wedding Anniversary Party
Originally, only my sister and Dad were going to visit my family in Essex for the weekend, but I managed to book my Eurostar ticket quite last minute and met them there. My Nan and Grandad didn't know I would be there, so it was a lovely surprise for them when we were reunited. 

They had an Elvis impersonator at their party on the Saturday evening and it was a really enjoyable evening being with my extended family again. Unfortunately, we only get to see each other a couple of times a year. The weekend was full of catch-up dinners and gatherings with family and on the Sunday evening I stayed at my cousin's house before heading into central London to catch the Eurostar home on the Monday morning. 

12.3.2016 - A Family Visit
My Mum and sister booked to visit me for a long weekend in the middle of March. A couple of months before my Erasmus year started, we all visited Leuven to check it out before I moved. Because of this, my family were pretty familiar with the city, so we decided to venture out and visit other cities in Belgium. I took them to Ghent on the Saturday, where we visited the Cathedral and had a walk around the waterways. Ghent is another of my favourite cities in Belgium - it's very medieval and always brings back good memories of the first time I went on a day trip with international students in Belgium.

12.3.2016 - A Day in Ghent
On the Sunday, I made a rookie mistake of taking my family to Antwerp for a day of shopping. I completely forgot shops closed in Belgium on Sundays, so we were all a little bit disappointed to say the least... We visited the town hall and took a walk up to the port. That evening, we chilled in their hotel room and had a relaxed evening catching up with British TV.

18.3.2016 - VRG Galabal
Our law society (VRG)'s galabal was on the 18th of March at Le Palais De Plume in a village in the Wallonian region of Belgium. Una and I didn't know of anyone who was going and when we arrived, we realised we were the only Erasmus students who had signed up to the full event. We mingled with a few of the Belgians, but spent the rest of the evening by ourselves on the dance floor. We took our shoes off and danced like no one was watching - I'm sure everyone else thought we were completely crazy, but we had a fantastic time!

29.3.2016 - Day Trip to Ostend
During the Easter holidays, Daniel (a friend from home also studying in Leuven) and I decided to go to Ostend for the day. I had visited Ostend before when I toured Belgium with my high school orchestra, but I was interested to go again as we didn't get to walk along the beach the first time round. The weather was wild on the day we went to Ostend, so we visited the Cathedral and quickly walked along the beach before stopping for various beer and waffle breaks along the way. On the train home, we discussed booking a spontaneous trip to Berlin that weekend. By 10pm, our flights/accommodation were booked and we were set to fly off in just 5 days!

3.4.2016 - Three Days in Berlin
On the morning of the 3rd of April, Daniel and I set off towards Brussels Charleroi airport to catch our flight to Berlin. We stayed in the Zoological Gardens area of Berlin, which was conveniently close to a tram stop taking us straight into the centre of the city. We spent the first day walking by all the main tourist attractions such as the Cathedral, Parliament, Brandenburg gate and the TV tower. Since we were only in Berlin for just under 3 days, unfortunately we didn't have time to go inside many of the attractions. Just an excuse to pay a visit again in the future!

4.4.2016 - Visiting the Olympic Stadium, Berlin
On our second day in Berlin, we took the U-bahn west to Charlottenburg Palace, which was under maintenance so we couldn't enter, so decided to venture further west to the Olympic Stadium. I really enjoyed visiting the Olympic stadium, the interior was spectacular and remains such as the Olympic bell with a scored out swastika was available to view in the stadium's grounds. The exterior of the stadium had a very Nazi-feel to it, as a result of being built under Hitler's leadership. I can imagine not many people think of visiting the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, but I would definitely recommend going. 

5.4.2016 - Visiting the Bradenburg Gate, Berlin
That afternoon, we took the U-bahn to the East Side Gallery, an area where the Berlin wall is still standing and covered in artistic graffiti. We thought the portrait of the 'Fraternal Kiss' would be easily visible, but we couldn't find it! We enjoyed the trip nonetheless and came across an exhibition on the wall further into the city. 

9.4.2016 - A Day in Namur and Dinant
On one of the last days of the Easter holidays, some friends and I decided to visit both Namur and Dinant in one day. One of the great things about studying in Belgium is the cheap train fares. On weekends, train ticket prices are 50% off and for those under 25, there is a ticket called the 'GoPass' which allows for a journey with two stops for under €8.

We climbed the hill in Namur and visited the fort, but we weren't overly impressed by the city centre itself and thought it was a bit run down compared to other cities in Belgium. We then moved onto Dinant and were really blown away by its beauty. The main tourist attraction in the city is the castle, where we ended up paying €8.50 for a ticket, which we thought was pretty steep.. but besides this, we enjoyed the views from the top of the castle and the bridge connecting both parts of the city.

16.4.2016 - ESN Trip to Aachen
The following Saturday, a few friends and I went on ESN's trip to Aachen in Germany for the day. Unfortunately, it rained the whole day and we were quite restricted on what we could see around the city. We managed to visit the Cathedral and the town hall before stopping for lunch in a bakery and ended the day wrapped up in blankets drinking Berliner Weisse's in one of the old German pubs in the city. 

27.4.2016 - King's Day in Amsterdam
On the 27th of April, ESN arranged a trip to Amsterdam to celebrate 'King's Day', a national holiday to celebrate the birth of the King of the Netherlands. We arrived at 11am after driving for 3 hours from Leuven to Amsterdam to discover the whole of Amsterdam had turned into a massive street party! Confetti was being thrown everywhere and the residents were inviting members of the public into their canal boats to celebrate the big day. We spent the majority of the day browsing the streets and stopping for fast food in Dam square. 

Overall, the 6 hour journey was a little bit tedious for a one day celebration, but if I'm ever in the city to celebrate the occasion again, I'll definitely consider staying in Amsterdam for a couple of days and going to one of the bigger music festivals hosted outside the city centre next time.

29.4.2016 - Dinner at Bamse Erasmus House
On the trip to Aachen, I met Una's Croatian friends and Jason, one of the residents of the Bamse Erasmus House in Leuven. After this trip, he kindly invited us all to a dinner cooked by his house and two subsequent house parties which we all thoroughly enjoyed!

7.5.2016 - Visiting Brussels with my Dad
On the 6th of May, my Dad and his partner, Aileen, came to visit. On the day they arrived, I showed them around Leuven and I was treated to a lovely dinner on Muntstraat that evening. The following day, I couldn't resist showing them Brussels, so we went there for the day. We visited the usual tourist attractions: Grand Place, Court of Justice, Mont des Arts and St. Michael's Cathedral. On their final evening in Leuven, we had dinner at the Belgian restaurant in Muntstraat and spent the evening in Leuven's Groot Begijnhof (Grand Béguinage) - one of my favourite chill-out places in the city.

21.5.2016 - Clubbing in Brussels
As it was Una's birthday on the 23rd of May, so we decided to celebrate the occasion in Brussels. Una, Natalija and I went through to Brussels on the Saturday evening and had dinner at the Rock Salt Chilli Peppers restaurant. After wonderful food, we hopped in a taxi to Spirito, an ex-church now reconstructed as a club. The music wasn't the best, (but I've since heard we chose a bad date to go) so moved on to Bloody Louis on Avenue Louise. I have a few videos on my phone of us all entering the club and our excitement went through the roof! Unknown to us, it was actually the club's anniversary, so it was packed full of energy for the whole evening and we thoroughly enjoyed our night there. 

22.5.2016 - Celebrating Una's birthday in Brussels
After partying in Brussels, we travelled back to Leuven, but Una and I decided to head back out to Brussels later that day and spend the night in a hotel to celebrate her birthday the following day. We stayed in the Royal Windsor Hotel next to Central station and right behind the Grand Place - a perfect location! We took full advantage of the spa facilities and had dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe that evening.

25.5.2016 - Exam Season
Unfortunately, after a fun weekend, it was time to get my head down again as exams were approaching sooner than I expected. My exams started on the 11th and ended on the 21st of June. Although I had 6 exams compared to only having 4 the previous semester, I found studying not to be as tedious as before. I studied a lot with my boyfriend at the time and we switched between studying in the law library, central library and my residence's study room giving each other motivation along the way, making exams seem a lot less daunting than usual.

After exams had finished, Una and I went on a shopping trip to Antwerp (which seemed to have turned into a post-exam tradition!). As I had some resit exams in August, I decided to prolong my stay in Leuven, so I spent the Summer travelling and hanging out with friends who were due to leave Leuven as soon as their exams had finished.

7.7.2016 - Girl's Holiday In Valencia
For months, Una and I had been talking about planning one final holiday before we had to say goodbye to each other at the end of July. We invited her buddy, Laura, and flew to Valencia from the 7th to the 12th of July for a holiday by the beach. If I'm being honest, we didn't do a lot in Valencia... after a tiresome exam period, we all agreed a week of relaxing is what we were all looking for. We spent three days by the beach and two days exploring Valencia's city centre.

8.7.2016 - Sightseeing in Valencia
We were completely submerged in the Spanish culture thanks to Laura's Spanish friend, so managed to find the best paella in the city and had various fun-filled nights in the La Carme area of the city. One of the highlights of the holiday was visiting the area around the Oceanogràfic in Valencia. The architecture around that area is incredible and really modern, definitely worth a visit. We visited the area again the following evening where we attended the MYA Party, one of the most insane parties I've been to as we were dancing under palm trees in the open air and moved to the underground club later on in the evening. Such an amazing party experience!

13.7.2016 - Una's Farewell Drinks
All good things must come to an end and Una left Leuven on the 15th of July. We had farewell drinks for her on the Oude Markt a couple nights before and I took her to Brussels Midi station on the day she left. Life in Leuven, Waterview and the law school wasn't the same after she left. She was definitely my partner in crime and sister throughout my whole year in Leuven and we still stay in contact every day. It was such a treat to be reunited with her in the Hague recently - stay tuned for that blog post soon!

25.7.2016 - A Trip to Barcelona
As my boyfriend was flying from Barcelona back home, we decided to meet there from the 23rd to the 28th of July. It was my first time in Barcelona and I really loved the city and the energy it had. We visited tourist attractions such as Sagrada Familia, Parc Güell, La Rambla and the city's Cathedral. One of the highlights of the trip for me was an afternoon at 'Brunch in the Park', an outdoor electro music festival. The music was great and the energetic atmosphere made it a really enjoyable afternoon. 

30.7.2016 - Antics in the Oude Markt
Yet again, a period of fun was brought to a halt by resit exams looming in August. Before I knuckled down again, my friends and I enjoyed a few nights in the Oude Markt. We went to events such as 'Vlaandern Zingt', a Flemish sing-a-long event and various food festivals in the city's parks. As always, the nights ended by stumbling into Ambiorix, the ESN bar in Leuven.

Thankfully, I felt as though my resit exams went a lot better than my first attempts in January/June and I was able to enjoy one more week in Leuven before moving back to Edinburgh on the 31st of August.

24.8.2016 - Road Trip to Eindhoven
For weeks, my flatmate Stefan and I had talked about going on a road trip somewhere as he brought his car to Leuven from his hometown in Germany. One evening, he came to my room and told me we were driving somewhere, so we armed ourselves with blankets, food/drink and spontaneously drove to Eindhoven in the Netherlands. We found a stretch of water by the University and settled there for the evening, returning to Leuven the following morning. It was one of the most spontaneous trips of my lifetime and an experience I'll never forget - I'm pretty sure instances like this sum up an Erasmus year entirely!

24.8.2016 - Visiting the European Parliament
I wanted to make the most of my final days in Belgium by exploring as much of the country as I could. I couldn't leave Belgium without spending a final day in Brussels. I picked a good day to go, as the Palace Royal was open to the public, so I managed to catch a glimpse of the interior of the building. Like many other law students, it was also on my bucket list to visit one of the European Parliaments. I received a guided tour of the European Parliament in Brussels one afternoon. I'm exceptionally grateful to have visited three main European institutions throughout my time in Belgium - the Commission, Parliament and the Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

29.8.2016 - My Leaving Gathering
On my second last night in Belgium, I arranged for a final gathering at the Capital bar in Leuven. The people who attended were my closest friends towards the end of my Erasmus - Stefan and Manni, from my residence and Pablo and Charles, friends I had made through our mutual friends.

29.8.2016 - The 'PAC'
We enjoyed a final beer together in the bar, then Charles, Pablo and I headed to the Oude Markt to celebrate with a pub crawl - from dancing Salsa in Cafe Manger to partying in Barvista and Ambiorix. I'm forever grateful for having made friends for life in Leuven. We had some of the most heartfelt conversations and obscure experiences together, I wouldn't change them for the world!

31.8.2016 - Farewell Leuven!
On the 31st of August, I packed all of my belongings back into suitcases and said farewell to what had been my home for the past year. Leuven will always have a special place in my heart and I will always cherish the beautiful friends and memories I made there. I'd strongly encourage anyone who is considering an Erasmus year to go for it! The experience has changed my outlook on life and has benefited my future prospects - studying/working abroad again in the future is something I'm working on achieving as soon as I finish my undergraduate degree in Edinburgh, something that wouldn't have crossed my mind if I hadn't gone on exchange.

I wrote a short extract for the European Commission about my time in Leuven, you can read it HERE.

To read about my time in Leuven in more detail, I've listed the blog posts I wrote in Leuven below:
Semester One

Semester Two

Thanks for giving me the best experience of my life, Leuven. Tot Ziens! :)

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