15 July, 2008

Arriving in Leuven

Leuven: Where the beer flows like water and bikes outnumber cars 4-to-1.

preface: this post covers the days of July 12 and 13.

It is a strange experience, having two days of life crammed into 36 hours. When 12 hours vanishes into thin air it leaves the body guessing. Or something like that. Ah, jet lag. Good thing I pretty much escaped that fiasco by sleeping the entire plane ride "over the pond." Well, sleeping and transferring contacts to my new cellular device. I probably could have figured out a way of doing this in a more efficient manner but to be honest I was looking forward to touching away on the iPhone.

I woke up in Portland this morning at 8:25 a.m. in an attempt to budget enough time to get in a nice run at Forrest Park, re-pack some of my belongings (making sure I had all of the essentials in my carry-on) and pounding an El Pastor burrito and some chicken tacos at Santa Cruz taqueria. Everything was nice and relaxed until we began heading for the airport; I was beginning to panic because I thought I was too late and I just realized that I forgot to pack adequate healthy snacks for the flight.

Sure enough I was one of the last five people to check in for our Lufthansa flight direct to Frankfurt, but I made it and that was all I cared about. Allow me to go on the record as saying that Lufthansa is a great airline. The seats are comfortable. The meals are edible and coordinated with the clock of your destination. They serve you with warm wash clothes when you get in the air and before you land. They provide complimentary alcohol. And their flight attendants are attractive. What more could a person want from a flight? But I digress...

I read in an airplane magazine a couple months ago that a good qay to quickly adjust to a new time zone is to starve your body so that the first real meal you eat is breakfast, essentially re-starting your body clock. I thought I would give this a shot. And thanks to a short nights rest on Friday (night before departure) and a couple of complementary German beers, I slept for most of the flight and awoke starving as we prepared for landing in Germany. I will report back on the success of this method later.

Let me now move on to a couple of preliminary observations:
  1. So far, nearly all of the overweight people I have seen are Americans... fulfilling that unfortunate stereotype.
  2. Almost everyone here speaks English, which turns out to be a good thing because French is not spoken by many people in this part of Belgium and my German, Dutch, and Flemish are not up to par. [side note: everyone except the owner of the kebab and pita restaurant I ate dinner at tonight. This place was extraordinary! 6 euros for the biggest gyros I have ever seen!]
  3. Bike friendly cities kick ass... unless you are desperately looking for a taxi to take you to your dorm.
I arrived in Leuven at about 3:45 p.m. local time (I guess I should start writing it as 15:45) and stepped off the train to see a very beautiful, quaint European town. I was told by runners who had stayed here before that the distance to our dorms at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (K.U.Leuven) was about a 20 minute walk. So after sitting for the last 18 hours I decide to try my hand at walking.

I felt like a child, lost in the woods with no idea where to go. Every place around me in this town seemed to be affiliated with K.U.Leuven, the largest university in the country, yet no one, not even my magnificent iPhone 3G, could locate the dorms in which I was supposed to stay. I asked at least a dozen people and no one knew. (They, of course, did not tell me this. But rather would send me packing another five blocks hauling two months worth of clothing and running gear, most likely laughing as I strolled away.)

I cannot be too mad about this. I did get to traverse, by foot, almost the entire city and am now pretty sure I know my way around. Not bad for one day.

Anyways, I made my way to "the ring" on the other side of the city from which my journey began in hopes of either finding a taxi to take me to my final resting place or a bus to take me back to the train station where I knew taxis existed. I found neither. Only an off duty taxi whose driver told me that he would call someone to come and get me. Great.

Enter Mr. Random Act Of Kindness to make my day all bright and cheery! A beautiful Grecian woman and her boyfriend (assumed) offered to give me a ride. They didn't even rescind the offer when I told them that I had no idea where I was going. The long and the short of this is that the Belgian boyfriend got on his cell phone and called the Belgian woman who was in charge of setting up all the rooms for the visiting runners and we finally found our way to my dorm! which, incidentally, ended up being about a 10 minute walk from where they picked me up. Le voila! Je suis ici!

And here comes another comical element to my travels. So I have never been a big fan of rolling suitcases. I think they are kind of silly and ultimately are taken advantage of by allowing people to bring too much crap with them on vacation. (I know, Mom and Dad, your more modestly sized bags are great! You tell me every time you use them.) Well it turns out that I was pretty happy to have wheels on my bag since I trekked probably over four miles (6 km) with it today, but it also got me into a bit of trouble. Leuven, you see, is pretty much Europe's version of a university town. This means after their exam period is over, the town quiets down and empties out. Combine this with it being Sunday and the town was peaceful and quiet. Insert moustachioed American with roller bag that becomes obnoxious on cobblestones. Oh, I almost forgot to mention that pretty much all of Leuven has cobblestone streets and sidewalks. So to preserve the enjoyably divine atmosphere which the cafe-goers were enjoying, I chose to carry my bag instead of having 50 or so odd pairs of eyes tear me apart as I sweated my way through town. My arms will certainly be sore tomorrow.

On top of all that I got in a nice 40 minute run on the trails by our dorm (eerily reminiscent to the trails in Minnetonka) and am successfully moved into my new room. Now I just hope I can fall asleep at a reasonable hour.

End note: now that I know where the dorms are, it blows my mind that I encountered so many useless people in town.


afreddie said...

william leer I love you!

Crosby said...

Good stuff, Memo. Keep it coming!