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"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

Muntstraat, a short story from Belgium.

Muntstraat restaurant and bar street Leuven.

Muntstraat, a short story from Belgium.

In the autumn of 2004 I found myself suddenly relocating to Belgium, at the expense of an attractive job offer in Italy. It was one of those major forks in the road, the kind of big decision that could transform a life. Which, for better or for worse, is exactly what it did. 

——

I’ve had loads of homes in my life. So many that I couldn’t name them all if I tried. From this multitude of mostly temporary habitats, two stand out head and shoulders above the rest. As a kid growing up in England, I’ll never forget the magical 12 School Lane in Old Amersham.

It was a cosy three bedroom council house right next door to St. Mary’s, the primary school I attended. Opposite my front door sat a large park, with a playground, lawn tennis courts and the local youth club. I loved that modest little house, which served as HQ for some idyllic childhood years.

12 School Lane Old Amersham Buckinghamshire

12 School Lane, Old Amersham. 1989.

As an adult, the two years I spent living in Leuven’s Muntstraat were equally special. After eighteen months in my boxy room near the train station, I remember being unspeakably excited to move into a cosy one-bedroom apartment. Situated right behind the town hall, Muntstraat is a narrow, pedestrianised street home to a clutch of the city’s best restaurants and a scattering of atmospheric bars.

Muntstraat, a short story from Belgium.

Muntstraat Bar and restaurant Street Leuven Belgium.

Muntstraat restaurant and bar street, Leuven. August 2007.

My landlord was a pompous old professor named Luc, an historian, military expert and minor Belgian TV personality. Occasionally hauled in front of a TV camera, he’d be asked to give his opinion on this in Afghanistan. Perhaps say a few words about that in Baghdad.

Luc was also something of a local property mogul, owning and renting out a bunch of apartments across Leuven. He was a fussy man with scholarly spectacles and grey thinning hair. From the moment I met him he was about as arrogant and condescending as a man could be.

He was the mighty landlord, you see, I was the lowly subservient tenant. In his free time, I imagined him sat at a giant mahogany desk reading the day’s newspaper. Then a spell rearranging his collection of fountain pens into ascending height order.

Luc de Vos Leuven.

Landlord Luc: He’s spotted another cobweb.

On the mercifully few occasions I had to deal with Luc, he’d lecture me on my responsibilities as a renter and make a big fuss over little things. No matter how inconsequential to the average eye, nothing escaped Luc’s attention. It could be an offending, out of reach cobweb up on the ceiling. Or the fact that I’d put up a few nails to hang pictures.

But while he clearly wasn’t the kind of guy I’d want to have a beer with, Luc was in all fairness an honest and decent landlord. In the end, he actually taught me a lot about the pitfalls of being a renter in Belgium.

Muntstraat, a short story from Belgium.

Muntstraat a street in Leuven Belgium

Muntstraat, a short story from Belgium.

Photo courtesy of DeclerckMaxime.

Happily, such pitfalls turned out to be few. I loved everything about the apartment, especially its tiny balcony overlooking the leafy courtyard below. Even the crappy plastic cubicle shower in the bathroom had its charms, despite its precarious location plonked next to the epileptic washing machine. 

On the subject of frenzied sounds, there was plenty of entertainment courtesy of my upstairs neighbour. She was a leggy redhead who seemed intent on broadcasting her sexual exploits through the building at least twice a week. Seemingly unconcerned by who might be listening, that girl possessed a really impressive pair of tonsils.

covering your ears.

Boinky: She’s at it again.

When I bumped into her one day in the communal hallway, she introduced herself as “Binky”. It’s a wonder I managed to stop myself from laughing out loud right in front of her. Not only because it was a silly name, but because I’d initially thought she said “Boinky’’.

Leighton Travels travel reports short stories.

Muntstraat, a short story from Belgium.

A few weeks after moving in my dad drove over from Scotland in a small van, my modest earthly possessions crammed inside. Among this ramshackle collection of stuff stood my treasured music collection. Which we subsequently unloaded into a line of shiny new Ikea units in the living room.

“I’m proud of you,” he told me, as we strolled down Bondgenotenlaan.

It was an unexpected announcement and for a minute I wasn’t sure what it was I’d done to make him proud. Maybe it was because I’d stayed in Leuven after the Lucie debacle. That I’d stuck it out and forced my way through the shit times. Whatever the reason, it was a nice moment that has stayed with me over the years.

Short story from Belgium

Muntstraat, a short story from Leuven.

“Hey Leighton, De Libertad tonight?” asked Vicky one morning. It was a Saturday and she’d caught me down in the communal hallway on my way to grab coffee and bagels from Nosh. Vicky lived downstairs with her boyfriend Steven. We quickly became friends, as we were all hugely into music and film.

Thus we wasted no time in convening for movie nights. Lazy Sunday afternoons meanwhile were all about hanging out on our balconies listening to music. Their friendship soon became integral to my Leuven experience. From time to time I’d meet Vicky for lunch at a nearby cafe, while Steven and I built up a quiet bond through weekly squash sessions and my ongoing discoveries of Belgian indie bands.

Revenge of the Squash Nerds.

Muntstraat a short story from Belgium.

Revenge of the Squash Nerds: With Steven.

Encouraged by my Flemish neighbours, I became hooked on Deus, a fantastic alt-rock outfit from Antwerp. Not to mention the brilliant Admiral Freebee, a Neil-Young inspired singer songwriter bursting at the seams with tight melodies and unexpected quirks.

Thankfully, I was able to feed my new addiction at a handful of Leuven record shops. Namely Bilbo on Ladeuzeplein and the rickety, rummage-friendly shelves of Sax on Parijstraat. I could lose myself for hours in those stores, both playing a pivotal role in my musical education.

Sax World Music record shop in Leuven

De Libertad meanwhile, was an amazing little Muntstraat bar just a few minutes walk from my apartment. A magnet for music lovers, they played everything from Bowie, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, to more underground artists like Pavement, Cornelius and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.

The Libertad music bar Leuven Belgium.

De Libertad, Leuven.

Hip, smoky, friendly and refreshingly unpretentious, it instantaneously achieved local dive status. In fact, we spent countless nights within its magical walls. From time to time they hosted live music and the odd quiz night. De Libertad was also the place for intimate conversations and passionate debates. Were The Police overrated? What’s your favourite Coen Brothers movie? Who played Chunk in The Goonies?

Muntstraat, a short story from Belgium.

De Libertad Leuven Belgium.

Chatting through the smoke in De Libertad.

That first Muntstraat year flew by, punctuated as it was by wave after wave of visitors. Never before in my years living abroad had so many people come to stay. No doubt buoyed by the fact that I was finally settled and within reach. 

In March 2006 my sister came over from Scotland with her boyfriend Thomas. It had been years since we’d spent time together, hence I pulled out all the stops. I did a home cooked curry and ordered boxes of fresh deli bites from Saha, the Moroccan arts & crafts studio and gourmet food shop on Pensstraat.

Muntstraat Leuven Belgium March 2006

Muntstraat, a short story from Leuven.

Soon after, my dear friends Pierre and Mireille paid a visit from Ghent. Reminiscing about old summer camp days in England, we spent an evening together at the wonderful Pata Negra bar knocking back cocktails and playing Jenga.

Jenga at Pata Negra Leuven memories

Pata Negra.

In June my old friends Ad and the Steves popped over from London. Camping out together at Time Out on the Square sports bar, we spent our days playing pool and watching The World Cup football (soccer) championship. It was the perfect environment in which to suffer England’s underwhelming performances.

The Old Market De Oude Markt Leuven June 2006.

The Old Market Square in Leuven.

When my mum and brother flew over to Belgium for my 28th birthday weekend a few weeks later, we marked the occasion by eating ourselves into an ice-cream coma at Hotel Professor. We weren’t the only ones celebrating, because the city’s Italian contingent rejoiced noisily throughout the evening after the Azzurri lifted The World Cup. Thanks in large part, of course, to Zinedine Zidane’s inexplicable head butt.

Muntstraat, a short story from Belgium.

Ice cream Hotel Professor Leuven Belgium.

Ice cream insanity at Leuven’s Hotel Professor. June, 2006.

When there weren’t guests around it seemed like Leuven always had some kind of event on to compensate. There was the Jazz Festival in March and the M-idzomer Arts performances in July. Indeed there was never a dull moment, with comedy skits, dance acts and colourful, energetic street concerts. In August the city’s yearly music festival Marktrock consumed the old square. While in December the charming little Christmas Market did a grand job of getting me into the Yuletide spirit.

Midzomer Arts Festival in Leuven Belgium

The M-idzomer Arts Festival, Leuven.

I remember waking up one summer morning feeling particularly blessed with how everything had panned out. Sure, I wasn’t jumping on camels anymore or backpacking through rural Hungary. However, in its own quiet way life in Leuven felt just as thrilling. What’s more, perhaps the first time since landing on Belgian soil, the place was really starting to feel like home.

‘Muntstraat’ is the fifth part of my short story collection Based In Belgium.

You can also check out my travel report on the city of Leuven.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

Leighton Travels logo travel reports and short stories.

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41 Comments

  • Mary Phillips

    Thanks for getting my day off to a good start. I loved reading this story. I wished I’d known you then (or did I?). Would have loved to visit.

    February 28, 2016 - 1:00 pm Reply
    • leightonliterature

      Yes you did know me, this was a few years after Bratislava and just a year and a half later you and Bill came to see Leuven for yourselves.

      March 2, 2016 - 7:18 am Reply
  • Sheree

    Loved the term “epileptic washing machine”.

    April 6, 2022 - 9:13 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha, thanks Sheree, it was a wild machine!

      April 6, 2022 - 9:17 am Reply
      • Sheree

        Obviously not a Miele!

        April 6, 2022 - 9:38 am
  • ourcrossings

    Life is full of ups and downs. We all have them because they’re part of the human experience – a condition of our humanity. Whether of our own making or down to circumstances outside our control. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva

    April 6, 2022 - 11:39 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Indeed Aiva, we just do the best we can and hopefully learn and grow along the way. Thanks for reading!

      April 6, 2022 - 11:42 am Reply
      • ourcrossings

        🤗🤗🤗

        April 6, 2022 - 1:04 pm
  • Little Miss Traveller

    You paint a vivid picture of your happy days in Leuven. I’ll definitely have to visit one of these days. I’ve not been to Belgium for quite some time but it’s definitely on my radar now. Hope the week is going OK. for you both.

    April 6, 2022 - 1:11 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Marion, those were happy uncomplicated days in many respects. I too would love to go back, especially to look at some old Leuven haunts. We are heading up to Scotland on Friday, hope you are having a good week too.

      April 6, 2022 - 1:58 pm Reply
      • Little Miss Traveller

        So sorry you are needing to move on earlier than planned but I feel sure the remainder of your trip will be enjoyable with your family.

        April 6, 2022 - 3:44 pm
  • Lyssy In The City

    Seems like you really found your groove here! Also that ice cream is truly insane!

    April 6, 2022 - 1:23 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ah Hotel Professor. Great cocktails, great ice cream and sometimes a mix of both 😉

      April 6, 2022 - 1:59 pm Reply
  • grandmisadventures

    What a wonderful chapter of your life this must have been living in a beautiful city and being close enough to have so many come to visit you. Lucie may have been the unpleasant catalyst, but what a gift she gave you in getting you to move to Belgium. 🙂

    April 6, 2022 - 2:08 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Exactly Meg, it was all worth it in the end. For the life in Leuven, for the friends I made and for the direction my life subsequently took. Thanks for following this series and taking the journey with me.

      April 6, 2022 - 2:22 pm Reply
  • wetanddustyroads

    It looks like a great street to have an apartment (even with Boinky … I mean Binky as a neighbour) 😉. I would say your apartment was more like a guesthouse – but it’s great when old friends (and family) make time to visit … even more so when you’re in a different country!

    April 6, 2022 - 2:17 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Corna, it was a happy time. Simple digs, lots of free time and no responsibilities other than the crappy call centre job.

      April 6, 2022 - 2:23 pm Reply
  • kagould17

    Ahhh, communal living, always an adventure, especially with “Boinky” upstairs. Looks like it was a fun place to live in your more youthful days Leighton. It is always good to look back on the good old days. Allan

    April 6, 2022 - 2:31 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Allan, good old Boinky and her (how it seemed at the time) relentless boinking. They were indeed good days, the sunshine after the heavy rain of my early arrival.

      April 6, 2022 - 2:43 pm Reply
      • qprgary

        So down to the nitty gritty. Did you pass a rainy day or two in deep conversation upstairs at Boinky’s ? 🙈😂😂

        April 7, 2022 - 3:20 pm
      • Leighton

        Ha ha ha! Ok let me lay this down, I never boinked Boinky. Not my type, she was kind of like Jessica Rabbit in human form.

        April 7, 2022 - 3:25 pm
  • salsaworldtraveler

    Great times Leighton! Other than the noise issue, your apartment was in a prime location. I’ve played a lot of tennis but have never even seen a grass court. Maybe I’ll get to Wimbledon one day. I hope your week is going along wonderfully.

    April 6, 2022 - 5:31 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey John. I grew up playing tennis on those wonky lawn courts. Because they were just local park courts, the maintenance wasn’t exactly tiptop. I remember having quite the culture shock when, in my late teens, I switched to clay. Wimbledon would be a blast, I once bunked off college for a day at Wimbledon. Thanks for dropping by and hope April is treating you well in your neck of the woods.

      April 6, 2022 - 5:42 pm Reply
  • Monkey's Tale

    Muntstraat looks like a fantastic street, perfect for a single 28 year old. I would have loved it too, but today I’m sure I would have no patience for Boinky above! Maggie.

    April 6, 2022 - 9:08 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha, same here Maggie, I would be far less amused with such a neighbour these days. Thanks for checking in!

      April 6, 2022 - 9:31 pm Reply
  • Nic

    It definitely seems like Leuven has a special place in your heart – sounds like you had a wonderful time there, despite being under the surveillance of mighty Luc 🙂 And of course, who doesn’t want to hear those words “I’m proud of you” – it doesn’t matter how independent we may be or how adult we consider ourselves to be, there are little things as rewarding as having your parents looking at you and recognising you haven’t done a bad job at all! (I’m not-so-secretly still waiting for my stubborn dad to eventually say the same to me! 😅 )

    April 6, 2022 - 9:28 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Parents, eh, who’d have them? 😉 Thanks Nic for following this series, appreciate your considered comments.

      April 6, 2022 - 9:33 pm Reply
  • Rebecca

    I’m sure you must’ve felt a huge wave of nostalgia writing this, Leighton. Plenty of memories to be had in that temporary home in Belgium, especially with making friends with your neighbors and experiencing that particular neighborhood of Leuven. While I never really got to know my neighbors during my several move-arounds in France, I got to have a ton of fun during my second and third years abroad, the former with my fellow teaching assistants while being crammed into the same dorm-style building (and countless of Friday drinking nights) and the latter with Spanish roommates with whom we partied at the end of the year. To be young and devoid of responsibilities (and pre-pandemic) called for carefree times, and the atmosphere you brought to this article made me nostalgic in the end. Bravo!

    April 7, 2022 - 4:33 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Glad the feel of this piece resonated with you Rebecca and reminded you of your own footloose and fancy free days. I’m wondering how Boinky would translate into French? Le Boinke? 😉

      April 7, 2022 - 9:12 am Reply
  • WanderingCanadians

    Sounds like you have such fond memories of living in Muntstraat (minus hearing boinky boink). It’s always nice to make friends nearby to pass the time with. I’m sure you enjoyed having family and friends visit you as well.

    April 7, 2022 - 1:22 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      It was a fun and stable period. Haven’t had too many of those over the years ha ha. The fun part is usually there, the stable less so. Thanks for reading!

      April 7, 2022 - 2:35 pm Reply
  • travelling_han

    Aw it’s so lovely you have such strong connections…well apart from Boinky. I think there’s something very special about feeling at home in different places, with different people, at different stages 🙂

    April 7, 2022 - 3:51 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      You’re right about different homes. I think Leuven will always feel like home to me. Hopefully I’ll make it back one day and I’m sure I’ll get that homey feeling as soon as I start exploring. Thanks for reading Han.

      April 7, 2022 - 4:46 pm Reply
  • Juliet

    What a wonderful story! Thank you so much for sharing your adventures!

    April 8, 2022 - 2:14 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      You are very welcome Juliet. Hope you enjoy the rest of this short story series. Great to have you aboard!

      April 8, 2022 - 2:15 pm Reply
  • Travels Through My Lens

    I love your description of the washing machine; it made me laugh. What an interesting and eventful chapter in your life! Thanks for sharing it with us.

    April 8, 2022 - 3:36 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for following these old Belgian adventures.

      April 8, 2022 - 5:31 pm Reply
      • Memo

        You make it sound idyllic. I want to live there. But only if I could have you as a neighbor. I’ve never lived in the middle of all the action like that. It must really be fun to relive the memories.

        April 13, 2022 - 1:16 am
      • Leighton

        Absolutely Memo, these were great carefree times, the kind you can only have when one is young and largely free of responsibilities. Thanks for reading!

        April 13, 2022 - 9:11 am
  • rkrontheroad

    The restaurant and bar street looks like a great place to taste different night spots in that lively city. I’m jealous at how close and easy it is to drive from one country to another in Europe!

    April 12, 2022 - 7:43 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Ruth, that little place in Muntstraat has to be one the best city locations I’ve ever lived in. I remember there used to be a pizzeria downstairs and when I ordered (from the living room window) the waiter would bring it directly up to my front door on the plate. Yeah, it was so easy to make visits to Luxembourg, The Netherlands, France and Germany.

      April 12, 2022 - 8:16 pm Reply

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