Great Tour Guides in Brussels and a WWII Bomb – Belgium Day 4

Today was the most interesting day in Belgium so far.

We got on an early train to Brussels, Belgium’s capital, and headed straight for the Grand Place, where we arrived at our first destination, the Museum of the City of Brussels, to view their exhibit called “14-18 Brussels in German time,” which focused on Germany’s occupation of Belgium in WWI.

City Hall on Grand Place

Belgians dealt with the terrible situation they were given through comics, several of which were displayed at the museum. 

Our tour guide, Sarah, was very knowledgeable and absolutely fantastic. She made the tour engaging and incredibly interesting, leading us through what the Belgians went through during this time period.

Following our tour of the museum, we strolled through some of the more well-known parts of Brussels, spotting the famous Mannekin Pis.

Mannekin Pis

We then met with some students from the university and meeting with a few professors for lectures on the Belgian media landscape and the U.S. presence in Belgian media. It’s not hard to see how U.S. media can penetrate Belgian media and other medias around the world.

Then we went to the Bozar, a fine arts museum, to view their portrait gallery called “Faces Then, Faces Now,” which compared portrait paintings from the Renaissance era to photograph portraits now.

I didn’t expect to like it so much since I’m not usually one for art museums, but our tour guide made it very interesting as well as interactive. She got us all thinking and even working to make our own portraits of our fellow travellers, focusing on aspects such as environment, identity, and power.

After a full day, we headed back on the train, only to find out when we arrived that a thousand-pound WWII bomb had been discovered and neutralized near the Leuven train station – the one just feet away from our hotel – while we were gone! It delayed our train back but I am so glad we were not affected and no one was hurt.

All in all, it was an educational day, one that started with learning about WWI and ended with realizing that things from WWII can still affect us today! Only in Europe!

“Plantin” Ourselves in Antwerp – Belgium Trip Day 3

Waking up this morning for an early train to Antwerp was hard work, but of course it ended up being worth it.

The hour-long train ride to the city northwest of Leuven was a great way to see the countryside scenery. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by the beauty of Antwerp Central Station. Here we also met our host and journalist Kris Vanhemelryck, who showed us around the city for the whole day.

Antwerp Central Station


Antwerp Central Station


First we enjoyed a lecture by Baldwin Van Gorp from KU Leuven, who spoke on the ethics of photojournalism. He explained what the goals of photojournalism are and how ethics can play into what journalists decide to publish. He presented many examples spanning across decades of photos that have raised controversy and provide an example of questioning ethics in photojournalism, and invited our comments and questions. 

After enjoying lunch, we went on a tour of the Museum Plantin-Moretus, which honored Christophe Plantin, a printer who helped the evolution of typography. 


Printing presses at the museum


The group touring the museum


Following the museum visit, Kris took us to see the St. Anna pedestrian tunnel, which is 572 meters long and can be reached either by elevator or by the original wooden escalator, built in the 1930s, which was our mode of transportation of choice. 


Details of the tunnel


Going down the original escalator!


St. Anna pedestrian tunnel



Before grabbing a gelato, Kris informed us of a bit of Antwerp history, telling us the story behind the statue of Silvius Brabo, which gave Antwerp its name, meaning “hand throwing.” 

According to, the story goes something like this:

More than two thousand years ago, when Antwerp was just a small settlement in the Roman empire, Druon Antigoon – a giant from Russian descent – built a large castle along the river Scheldt. He exacted a toll from every passing ship that sailed down the river. The giant cut off the hands of sailors who were unable or unwilling to hand over half of their cargo, and threw their hands in the river.

Silvius Brabo statue in Antwerp


Kris explaining the legend of Brabo

Antwerp definitely has a different, more city-like feel than Leuven, and provided us with a lot of history and a true picture of Belgium. Tomorrow it’s on to the capital of Brussels! 

Antwerp, Belgium

Amtwerp, Belgium


Beautiful Leuven from Above – Belgium Trip Day 2

Refreshed from a good night’s sleep, my fellow travellers and I emerged from our hotel this morning ready for our first full day in Belgium.

It was an overall beautiful day, with the weather and the sights we were able to see.

We began by visiting the University of Leuven’s library, a gorgeous building that recognizes the University of Illinois on its outside wall for its contributions to its construction.


University of Leuven Library



The tour included a trip up several flights of winding spiral staircases to make it to the top of the bell tower, which offered us an incredible view of the city paired with a perfect blue sky.




We then visited Michaël Opgenhaffen for a lecture on social media and journalism. He explained how social media can help journalists find eyewitnesses and experts on news topics using sites such as Facebook and Twitter as well as other tools. Social media can also give us insight on how stories spread and are made known. 

Following the lecture, the group made a beeline for an afternoon snack, and you can only imagine what we decided to get.


Belgian wafels!


Enjoying our treat!


Sleepy (and happy) in Leuven – Belgium Trip Day 1


Me and a few of my friends/fellow travellers!


Ten media students; seven days in Belgium and a day in Paris, France; one trip of a lifetime.

I am so grateful that the College of Media James Scholar program at the Univeristy of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has allowed me to make my first trip out of the country with their spring break trip to Belgium and Paris.

Preparation for this week has mainly included stressing over what to pack, bonding with my fellow freshman travelers, and counting down the days until we could make this journey.

It’s almost hard to believe that the day has finally come that I get to visit the country I’ve read about and researched ever since I learned I was accepted to go on the trip. But even with the time change and long flight, the day has been incredible and full of laughs.

We arrived at around 8:15 a.m. in Brussels, and, after obsessing over the new stamp in our passport books, took the train to Leuven, snapping excited pictures with our cameras along the way.

After settling into our rooms, we made an excursion to find some waffles – a staple Belgian treat.

Yet walking the sidewalks of Leuven on a Sunday morning was a treat in itself. There were few passerby, couples strolling with arms linked along the gray cobblestone paths. It was quiet, with only the sound of busses whirring by every few minutes.




We found out our desired waffle stop was closed and settled for another place to get our first Belgian meal, and some coffee.

Sleepily, we then made our second excursion into the city for a tour, where we spotted many landmarks, such as the Lueven Town Hall, and buildings of the University of Leuven.


Town Hall



We then selected from the dozens of bars and restaurants along the Markt for a place to eat before heading back to our hotel.