Friday, July 1, 2016

Life in Louvain-la-Neuve

Salut la Maison!

It seems the blog rate has decreased as people are settling into their summer activities, but I thought I’d give a little update.

Since I last blogged, I’ve been math-ing, traveling around Belgium with other MISTI people, running a lot, etc.  Work has been going well; I’ve been learning lots of things about quadratic forms and Lie algebras, both of which interest me keenly.  Plus, my advisor is very patient and kind; you can tell he’s a different sort of mathematician than you’d find at MIT by his mannerisms, which are very polite and welcoming.  During our meetings, he doesn’t act like he wants to be doing something else or that he has a set window of time open, which is refreshing.  Plus, it suits well the slower pace of life here where people take time to relax by the lake, sit on the steps in a city square, walk around in the park, etc.

The city Louvain-la-Neuve (LLN) where Nancy and I are living for the summer has many hidden treasures.  It was planned, I believe, specifically to promote interactions between people; thus, there is a number of tucked away places to sit and talk, and the walking paths of the city (the main part of town is strictly a walking city, except for deliveries to the stores) wind around and take their time getting you to your destination.  As a side note, I just moved from one house to another (I’m renting rooms from adults who live in LLN), and my new host is the man who planned almost the entire city!  I’ll have to ask him more questions about the planning process for the city.  The house is filled with books on urban planning, city green-space, the history of urban planning in Belgium, etc.

Place de l'université

Pathway along Parc de la Source

La gare et l'art

Despite all these great features of the city, it’s also true that I’ve found it quite difficult to navigate.  The streets don’t go in straight paths, and many of the buildings have roughly the same brick appearance, so it’s not easy to get landmarks.  But of course, one learns how to get from place to place.  My favorite way to get used to a new place is to run in it–getting lost is super fun when you’re running since it doesn’t take too long to find your way back usually, and it’s good exercise.  Last week, however, I ran into a guy who works in my building who loves distance running; he used to do ultra-marathons, including a 100 mile race, but he had some knee problems and now typically goes around maybe 15 km at the furthest (which is still pretty far, really).  Anyway, he’s been taking me on these awesome 12-17km runs in the beautiful old countryside surrounding the city; we see centuries-old houses, mansions, and walking/horse paths, plus there are many occasions to see great rural landscapes, which remind me of home in Migigigigichin.  This guy knows all the obscure running routes around here though, so it’s great.  In fact, this weekend I’m going to attempt to guide the other LLN MISTI people on a hike along a 12km running route I’ve done twice.

A common sort of pathway I run along in rural Belgium

Running path in the Bois de Lauzelle

Nancy, Zehreen, Jésus, Sefa, and I have also travelled a bit (Jésus, Sefa, and Zehreen are also doing MISTI here in LLN).  All of us except Sefa went to Bruges a couple weekends ago, which was awesome.  I can’t stop thinking about the first 30-40 minutes we spent in the city proper.  We arrived early on a Sunday morning at the train station and followed a flower-bordered pathway leading into the city.  It was obvious when we entered the city because all of a sudden, all the streets were cobblestone, and the buildings were hundred(s)-year-old brick/stone houses.  Right when we got to that point, the bells on one or two churches/cathedrals began ringing, which continued for 15+ minutes as we searched out way towards the center of town.  The bells stopped as we went through a little tunnel, but on the other side was a guy playing accordion and collecting donations in his hat.  Anyway, the whole beginning of the day was an extremely Medieval-European-feeling time.

We also made a pleasant journey to Leuven, which is where the original Catholic University of Louvain/Leuven was located.  The original university was founded in 1425 and was changed a bit throughout the years.  Then, somewhat recently, the Flemish (Dutch-speaking) people basically kicked the French-speaking people out of the university, so they founded the Université Catholique de Louvain here, and built the city LLN to house the university.  Anyway, we got to see the OTHER Leuven, which is beautiful and old.

Escargots, hamburger, hot dog stand in Leuven
Windmill in Bruges
A church in Leuven
View from the university library tower in Leuven
University Library Reading Room - Leuven
Very intricate architecture in Leuven
Try to hear the bells ringing in the background: Bruges

There’s always more to share, but I think I’ll leave it here for now.  Overall, Belgium seems like marvelous place with kind people and beautiful sites.  Hope everyone is having a nice summer!

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