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dennis batchelder

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All the Churches in Leuven
By dennis batchelder
Friday, September 05, 2008

Rated "PG13" by the Author.

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An inadvertent midnight exploration of most of the churches in downtown Leuven (university town in Belgium)

Leuven is a small city, next to Brussels, but much older (1,000 years old). Leuven has lots and lots of churches in it. How do I know this? Because last night we got a tour of them.

Not that the tour was planned, of course. Ingmar and I were planning to meet Geert and Annaleis for dinner at a Portugese restaurant in downtown Leuven, but we had a hard time parking. The space we found was about 1/2 mile away from the restaurant.

Ingmar asked me to remember where the car was, so we could find our way back. No problem, I told him, we parked next to a church, and we'll just look for its steeple when we return. It was a nice walk; we crossed a small bridge over a canal, saw some nice photographs in a shop window, and walked by a city drinking fountain.

You can guess what happened next. Yes, it was dark, and no, we couldn't see the steeple. Geert and Annaleis (who live in Leuven) offered to walk us to our car, and off we went. Since we forgot which way we came, we told them that we left the car next to a church, right after a canal.

"Ahhh, I know right where that is!" says Geert. Great! and guess what; he even knew a shortcut to get there. Annaleis is happy, because she grew up right next to that church, and she's able to show us her childhood house on the way to our car.

We walk a half-mile, and Ingmar and I take a look at the church. Wrong church, we say, and besides, we didn't cross any water to get here. We need to cross a small bridge over a canal to get to the right church.

"Ahhh, you mean a church with water. I know right where that church is!" says Geert. So we walk a while longer, and come to a bridge, and then another church. But it's not good news; again the church is wrong.

I try to remember what else we saw along the way. I tell Annaleis that we walked past a "Beethoven Kareoke" on the way to the restaurant. She knows where that is, and suggests that we go there and re-trace our steps.

We stand outside the kareoke place, and for the life of me I can't remember which side of the street it was on while we were walking. I remember that we saw a water fountain, and there is one very close to this kareoke, so we go there.

When we reach the water fountain (unlike churches, they're rare in Leuven), we look around. Neither ingmar nor I recognize the place. I'm positive that this is not the way we came. So we ask Geert if there are any other churches, with canals and water fountains, that are in the area.

"Ahhh - you mean a church with water AND a water fountain. I know right where that is! You should have mentioned the water fountain earlier!" Great. Along the way to the next church, Annaleis is pointing out some nice landmarks and historical sites, but we're not really interested. It's after midnight, and we just want to check in to the hotel, and go to bed.

Again it's the wrong church. Everyone is getting a little edgy. We are also panicky, and start walking half-way down streets, just to turn around and come back when we don't see anything we recognize. Ingmar has gotten so upset that he's gone silent, and answers every question with a grunt. Geert and Annaleis are trying to keep the conversation light, but it's getting pretty strained.

We see a couple more churches, but they're not the ones. And now we're out of churches. Everyone is frustrated, and Geert and Annaleis are offering for us to spend the night with them. Ingmar is looking for a taxi that he can ride around in. I have no clue what to do. I try to remember what other shops i saw - I mention a family medical center, but nobody knows where that is.

Finally, I say I need to draw a picture. Nobody has paper, so I pick up a sharp rock and use it to draw a chicken-scratch map on the sidewalk bricks. I draw the church, our car, the bridge, and the water fountain. Plus the location of the cathedral and the restaurant.

Geert and Annaleis walk around my crude map a few times, studying it. Then Geert says, "Ahhh, THAT church - you should have drawn that earlier! I know just where that is! We'll take you on a shortcut to there!"

Not that we believe him any more, but since we have no other options, off we go. We walk past the kareoke. Past the water fountain. Down the street that I was sure we didn't walk on. All of a sudden I get excited - I remember this street! The photographs are there, and so is the family medical center! I tell the others, but for some reason they're just not as excited as I am. We cross the little bridge over the canal, and we arrive at the car, right where it was supposed to be: only 1/2 mile and 90 minutes from the restaurant.

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