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26 October 2015

Living in Leuven: Week 5 | ESN Events & A Day Trip to Hasselt

I've finally completed all my admin stuff here in Leuven! After sending my learning agreement to and from Edinburgh University to KU Leuven, my courses for the year are now finalised. This semester, I'm taking 24 credits in European Criminal Law, Constitutional Law of the European Union, International and European Human Rights and a criminology course in Terrorism, Corporate and Organised Crime. On top of this, Edinburgh University require for a further course in Advanced Legal Methods to be taken online. The workload isn't as much as students back home are given, but it does mean an extra few hours a week watching the recorded lectures and completing any additional written/practical exercises. I also know the dates, times and places for all of my exams up until the end of June next year - how organised is that?!

Apart from attending lectures and sorting out paperwork this week, I've become a regular visitor to the ESN office. For those of you who aren't aware, ESN is the Erasmus Student Network who regularly arrange social events for Erasmus students here in Leuven (and 37 other European countries!). As a lot of their events are very popular, I've found they are often fully booked within minutes, so I ended up on the waiting list for their biggest trip of the semester. We received an email at the beginning of the week informing us that there was a few tickets left for those on the waiting list and we were to arrive at the office at a certain time in order to secure a place. After 2 hours of queueing, my friends and I managed to get last minute tickets to AMSTERDAM for the Halloween weekend! I'm incredibly excited. Whilst at the ESN office, I also booked a weekend day trip visit to Hasselt with the student network.

ESN Lipton Big Splash Backlight Bash

Besides day/weekend trips, ESN also have regular parties in Leuven throughout the semester. This Thursday, I went to the Lipton Big Splash Backlight Bash. I'm not a huge party goer, even at home I rarely go out clubbing, but I weirdly prefer clubbing in Leuven. You could turn up to a club in trainers and a pair of jeans and no one would even question it. Clubbing is a lot more relaxed, but the Belgians love their House/Techno music. The evening consisted of the DJ mixing modern chart music with a House/Techno beat - a bit of a strange mixture, but I weirdly enjoyed it.

I've met more people this week and I went out for hot chocolate and a cake in the Vangroot Tea Room on Naamsestraat with some students I met after a lecture one day. I've also visited the ALMA student restaurant twice and Dwerf cafe (Hogeschoolplein) with friends. Everything is very affordable here - the student restaurant charges on average 5/6 euros for a main meal - so it makes going out to socialise a lot more easier than back home. I'd often turn down going out for dinner/lunch, or save it for a special occasion, back in Edinburgh as the prices are often too expensive!

Japanese Garden, Hasselt

On Saturday, it was time for our day trip to Hasselt with ESN. Our plan was to spend a couple of hours in the Japanese Garden, then have some free time to explore the city later on in the afternoon. The Japanese garden was phenomenal! The garden itself is man made and it's surreal how much effort was put into the design - there is a LOT of symbolism involved - from rock placement to the change of water flow to represent the transition from life to death.

Japanese Garden, Hasselt

We also visited the Japanese house in the center of the garden where regular tea ceremonies are held. I was astonished that leaning the practise of a professional host can take a good few years of studying. I have seen a few Japanese houses in movies before and the inside of this house was exactly how I'd imagined it to look like, with Japanese sliding shōji doors and zabutons around the shallow tables.

Jenever shots

After visiting the Japanese garden, we walked back into the center of Hasselt and enjoyed the Jenever festival. The festival lasts two days and they even replace the fountain statue with Jenever during this time. I choose not to drink alcohol, but I felt obliged to make an exception by trying a shot of vanilla Jenever. I hate to admit it - but it was very enjoyable!

Kempische Kaai

Unfortunately, we arrived too late in the day to visit the Jenevermuseum, but we had a few hours to kill and decided to take a wander around the city. I've loved every city I've visited in Belgium so far, but Hasselt is my least favourite. I felt as though there wasn't a lot to do nor look at, as I've found a lot of Belgian cities are pleasing to the eye, Hasselt did not live up to this expectation. Regardless, we enjoyed a quick visit to Kempische Kaai (to me, the Leuven equivalent of Vaartkom) and the town hall.

Stadhuis, Hasselt

We met the rest of the group back at the train station in the evening. Una and I needed to go to the toilet quickly before leaving, so went to the station toilets. If you go to a public toilet in Belgium, you're likely to be asked to pay the toilet attendant before entering (very similar to train stations in the UK). There was no toilet attendant present when we entered, so we decided to enter anyway and pay on the way out if they returned. It turns out, the gentleman who entered before us didn't pay either and immediately pissed off the toilet attendant, who lashed her anger out on us! The toilet attendant blocked the exit of the toilets and shouted various phrases in Dutch at us, which we didn't understand a word of! We paid one euro for two toilet trips (40 cent each) and waited for our change. After 5 minutes of shouting and gesturing at us, she refused to hand us the 20 cent change to which my friend said "we'll sue you for the change!" (typical law student). I never thought in a million years I'd have money thrown at me by a foreign old toilet attendant - but it happened! That statement definitely hit a nerve! We quickly left the toilets and prayed no one else received the same treatment we did. It seems pathetic waiting around and arguing for 20 cents change - but the lady can't get away with ripping off everyone who enters, especially with the price clearly stated on posters around the walls!

Dramas aside, we left for Leuven. Although Hasselt didn't meet my expectations, it was only 12 euros for the entire trip including train fares and entry to the Japanese garden, so I can't complain!

Next week is another exciting week - I'm going to Luxembourg for the day to visit the European Court of Justice with my Constitutional Law class then I'm going back to Edinburgh for the weekend to visit my family. I'm so excited!!!


  1. Nice photos :)
    Maria V.


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