Belgium: Louvain-la-Neuve

I still have two more batches of photos from Belgium. This is the first, some pictures from my academic stint in Louvain-la-Neuve, a small town of about 30,000 people. It’s also new, as it was started in 1969 after language wars between speakers of Flemish and of French at the Catholic University of Leuven caused a split in the University. The French speakers moved to the Université Catholique de Louvain, where I spoke, and the Flemish speakers stayed in Leuven at Katholieke Universiteit te Leuven. I had no idea there was this much acrimony between Belgians speaking different languages.

I had a day to myself before my duties (a talk on April 1 on the evidence for evolution and one the next day on my recent—and final—research. You can see the website for the three April 1 talks (other speakers on that day were two French scientists, Tatiana Giraud, who works on fungi, and Marianna Elias, who works on evolution and ecology in butterflies), here; the site includes videos of all the talks (Tatiana’s and Marianna’s are in French).

I was told I’d be reimbursed for food, but I thought that, rather than eating by myself in some unvetted restaurant, I’d go to the local grocery store and see what I could find for a picnic. I had a fine repast of local cheese, ham, fruit, and, of course, packaged Belgian waffles. They sell freshly-cooked waffles on the streets of Belgium, but I never got one. But there are an infinite variety of packaged waffles in the store, and they were good. Here’s some of the selection:

They were already selling chocolate and candy eggs for Easter:

The town is small, brand new, and therefore lacks the historic buildings and interest of cities like Ghent (next installment), but there is a central “Grand Place” with lots of stores and activities. Here’s a child in the square, lost in thought.

After the April 1 talks, a group of scientists went out to dinner at a local restaurant. Here’s the crew with our entrées. Sitting next to me in the yellow blouse is Caroline Nieberding, my wonderful host who made sure my visit was pleasant and well coordinated, and that I was amply supplied with local beers. Caroline is an evolutionary ecologist, and works on a whole host of questions in different groups (you can see her research areas at the link above).

I don’t know if I’ll ever be back in Belgium, so, since it’s home to the world’s best beers (WORD!), I asked for a good one. Here’s my excellent Quintine Amber, coming in at 8.5% alcohol. Belgian beers like this are full-bodied, off-dry, and strong; they are not “session beers” to be drunk rapidly, but sipping beers to savor:

I can’t remember my entrée well, but it was some kind of tasty ragout with a salad:

And roast pork with red cabbage, carrots, mashed turnips, and prunes for a main course:

And a brownielike chocolate cake for dessert:

Tatiana takes her work extremely seriously.  Since one of her research areas is investigating the fungi in cheeses like Stilton and Roquefort, she ordered a cheese course so she could see what fungi lurked in the local cheese. She pulled sampling apparatus out of her purse and took a sample before digging in.

True dedication!

Before my science talk on April 2, I was taken to lunch in a local restaurant. I had two Belgian/Dutch dishes. The starter was croquettes with shrimp (sadly, I didn’t drink, as I never touch alcohol before I give a talk):

And an endemic Flemish dish, a stew called Waterzooi, once made with fish but now more often with chicken. There are small potatoes in it, and tons of chicken. Drenched in a cream sauce, it was filling and good (I rarely eat this much before I talk):

And then dinner after my talk at a local organic-style/locavore restaurant. I ordered a recommended beer, Orval, a true Trappist beer made by monks. (Note the distinctively-shaped bottle and the special glass: each Belgian beer seems to require its own type of glass). This is more widely available than other Trappist beers, but it’s still superb: very complex and satisfying (6.2% alcohol).

After having gorged in both Amsterdam and Louvaine the previous week, I decided to have a big salad for dinner. It came with a warm disk of goat cheese and fresh greens, and was just what I needed:

Warm apple crumble and locally made ice cream for dessert.

And the obligatory self-aggrandizing selfie in my hotel elevator:

Thanks to all my friends and hosts in Louvaine-la-Neuve, especially Caroline, for showing me a great time. After this stint, it was on to Ghent for two days, a fantastic city full of good beers and fabulous architecture. More on that soon.



  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    The self-photo – serious attitude! Love it.

  2. phar84
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Like the picture of dreamer girl, thanks for sharing.

    • darrelle
      Posted April 22, 2019 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      Same here. Great frozen moment.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 22, 2019 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      I like the big hole in her tights. Reminds me of my childhood as my mother often complained that I played in my dresses and tights and got them dirty as well as scuffed my shoes. I always found it perplexing that she thought I could do otherwise.

  3. Posted April 22, 2019 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    I’m currently in Brussels which looks to be about 30 minutes from me. I have been sampling the street food, having a waffle and, later, frites. Unfortunately, it’s Easter Monday which is a holiday here so only touristy places are open. I hope to try that chicken dish, Waterzooi, tomorrow before I leave for London and then home.

  4. yazikus
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    And now I want a salad with a disc of goat cheese.

  5. Ken Kukec
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Not sure who that cat in the elevator is, but I think he used to hang out with Kerouac and Cassady.

    • darrelle
      Posted April 22, 2019 at 10:54 am | Permalink

      Reminded me of Arnold in The Terminator. Best PCC selfie yet.

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted April 22, 2019 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

        That’s it!

        I was going to say Matrix, but ugh – no.

        And now I’ll step right in it and propose this selfie be dubbed “The Evolutionator”.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted April 22, 2019 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

          Ha ha. Better than the Urinator which is the moniker I give myself given that I always miss things because I have to use the washroom. Damn woman bladder.

  6. 355101pkl
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    it has always been bad between Walloons and Flamand . I was there at the time of the riots and they were indeed violent in the 60’s. Flemish speakers claimed that their culture and language was oppressed. They are the majority in Belgium Belgium is such a lovely place its a terrible shame but hopefully it will not happen again.

    • Etienne Van den Boss
      Posted April 24, 2019 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      At that time the Flemish people wanted to block the expansion of the French language in their region.

  7. Posted April 22, 2019 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    In the UK, Easter eggs start appearing in the shops right after Valentine’s.

  8. Michael Fisher
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    Missed photo opportunity:
    Woke Noodle Bar, Louvain-la-Neuve.


    • Posted April 23, 2019 at 3:38 am | Permalink

      It’s Woké. More Woke than Woke.


  9. Ken Kukec
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    I don’t know if I’ll ever be back in Belgium, so, since it’s home to the world’s best beers …

    I delivered a yacht to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands with a crew of guys from Belgium one time. These Belgian guys were first-rate sailors, but they were world-class beer drinkers.

    They all spoke English — more or less (and, in any event, a helluva lot better than I spoke any of the 17 or however many languages they speak in Belgium) — so we communicated just fine, especially when it came to beer drinking. But they were a bit unclear on the use of certain American idioms. When we were all on deck, for example, and any of them had a full bladder, they’d go take a leak over the leeward rail (first thing a sailor learns is never to piss into the wind!), and as they’d do so, they’d invariably look back over their shoulder at the others and say “I gotta pee like a horse race.”

    First couple times I heard it, I laughed and tried to explain to them the “horse race”/”racehorse” distinction, but it was no use. Eventually, after a couple weeks together in the close quarters aboard a sailboat, I tossed in the towel and started to say “pee like a horse race” myself.

    When I got back home, I told my wife about it, and she and I took to saying it to each other. Eventually my in-laws and my siblings picked up. From there it spread to my friends and extended family and, for a while there, when nature called, everyone I knew was saying “I’ve gotta pee like a horse race.” 🙂

    • darrelle
      Posted April 22, 2019 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      That sounds like a fun job.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted April 22, 2019 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, weather depending.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted April 22, 2019 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      they’d invariably look back over their shoulder at the others and say “I gotta pee like a horse race.”

      Couldn’t it be a contraction of something more like “I’ve got to pee like a horse has got to race”? That would be how I’d parse it.
      Is there an American idiom about racehorses peeing? The closest I can remember is the apocryphal reply when Bud sent some of their “finest” for testing at a [Belgian / Czech/ Polish/ to flavour] beer maker and received a reply about their horse having diabetes.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted April 22, 2019 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

        The expression to “pee [or piss] like a racehorse” is a venerable American idiom. It’s origins are discussed here.

        If you’ve ever been in the paddock at a thoroughbred racetrack when a horse micturates, or if you’ve ever heard “the sound of a horse pissing on a flat rock” (another hoary American idiom), you’d recognize forthwith that it means “I gotta go Number 1 really bad.” 🙂

        I’m pretty sure my Belgian sailing buddies encountered the expression on this side of the pond.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted April 22, 2019 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

          I say “I’ve got to pee like a racehorse” a lot.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted April 23, 2019 at 8:23 am | Permalink

          My only close experience with horses is being propelled into a police cavalry charge by a drunk with a shotgun. There was pissing going on, but the details hidden by trousers.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted April 23, 2019 at 8:37 am | Permalink

            Why were the horses wearing pants?

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted April 24, 2019 at 9:36 am | Permalink

              The people being herded at shotgun point into the path of the police cavalry were the ones doing the pissing, not the horses.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted April 24, 2019 at 9:48 am | Permalink

                Yes, I know. I was being facetious.

  10. jeremy
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Skipped the rabbit in brown beer? A fitting dish for the season. Duck season? Wabbit season!!

    • Posted April 22, 2019 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      I saw neither rabbit nor duck on any menus.

      • Posted April 22, 2019 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

        I did just see horse on the menu here in Brussels.

        • Nicolaas Stempels
          Posted April 22, 2019 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

          Yes,in the Brussels suburb of Vilvoorde horse steak with french belgian fries is the local specialty.

  11. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad you liked the Orval, my favourite beer when I as living in Belgium. I’m pleasantly surprised it is more easily available than other Trappists, it used to be the other way round. Alas not available in SA.
    Waterzooi is a dish from Gent, initially with fish and later chicken, but a ‘Gentenaar” assured me that the real waterzooi is made with musk rats (Ondatra zibethicus), I’m not sure this is true, since he was quite a humorous guy.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted April 22, 2019 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      The North American Muskrat was introduced into Europe for its fur – first intro in 1905 around Prague according to Mr. Internet. I know that muskrat plays merry hell with dykes & levees & they’re shot, trapped, poisoned in the Low Countries. I would be wary of eating muskrat around there, who knows what resistance they have to all sorts of poisons.

      According to Wiki the dish was exclusively fish until water pollution [river? canal? coastal?] prompted a shift to chicken, but water quality is improved now so both options back on the menu today.

  12. Serendipitydawg
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    each Belgian beer seems to require its own type of glass

    Indeed, and the beer menu at a hotel my wife and I stayed at had a severely reduced beer menu because they didn’t have the necessary glasses… and by severely reduced, our devastated and apologetic host indicated only 30. Apparently, in Brugges this is a disgrace, and having major building works is no excuse. Our party had no complaints 😀

    • Serendipitydawg
      Posted April 22, 2019 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      I wish we could edit comments! Oh well, blame the British beer… the Hobgoblin was quite strong.

  13. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    She pulled sampling apparatus out of her purse and took a sample before digging in.

    The looks on the faces of some of the restaurant’s non-scientist patrons, had they seen that, would have been priceless.

    • Posted April 22, 2019 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      There weren’t any: the restaurant is usually open only for lunch, but they booked a dinner there just for our group.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted April 22, 2019 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

        I’m sure she has a stock of tales from other places.
        Investigating the microbiology of airline cheese could be … “interesting times”.

  14. Steve Pollard
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Umm…could the strength of your wonderful beer (8.5%) have had anything to do with your inability to remember much about your entree…?

    More seriously, I would strongly dispute your assertion that Belgian beer is the best in the world! I am a fervent supporter of English real ale, especially some of what is produced by the many micro-breweries here at this time. We have more breweries in the UK today than we have ever had: there are at least 20 within 10 miles of the SE England town where I live. But of course all other parts of the country are equally proud of their brews, and quite right too!

    Vivat cervisia!

    • Alexander
      Posted April 22, 2019 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

      This is heresy, blasphemy! How do you dare to defame Belgian beers, brewed by god-fearing monks over centuries, and who with their beers attained unsurpassed spirituality (frequently over 12%) under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and his ally Bacchus! You merit to end up in hell, a desert full of teetotalers slurping some muddy liquid with 0 % spirituality! I won’t say the CC word, since it is blasphemous! Remember what Julius Caesar said about the Belgians!

    • Posted April 22, 2019 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

      I think England has better session beers than does Belgium, but for diversity and overall wine-like complexity of flavor, I’m going to give the nod to Belgium.

      That said, there is no session beer like Tim Taylor’s Landlord.

      • Alexander Hellemans
        Posted April 23, 2019 at 6:39 am | Permalink

        Yes, the small-brewery boom is nice.
        When I lived in New York during the mid-eighties (with a view on the Twin Towers) there was on Canal Street a small disused power station that was converted into a brewery. The building had the right shape to house the large 10 meter high copper brewing vessel, bought from a defunct brewery in Germany. A restaurant was built on terraces around the copper vessel, and their beer was excellent with their rossbeef and horseradish platter. There was (and is) also the McSorley’s Old Ale House on 7th Street, close to 3rd Avenue, that had excellent beer from the brewery with the same name.

  15. Debbie Coplan
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    That was a great talk on evolution. I love the documentation of why evolution is true.
    Thanks for posting the talk you gave there.

  16. Posted April 22, 2019 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    Oh, man, a few years back the Grocery Outlet had Orval and a bunch of other Belgian beers at ridiculously low prices. I bought at least eight cases and stowed them under my house.

  17. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted April 22, 2019 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

    That English ale is racehorse produce compared to Belgian beer,
    In Belgium too, especially Limburg, there are these micro brewers.

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