I'll soon be a student with free time in Europe! What should I do?

I’m getting all excited about this. I recently posted that I had a job offer as an engineering co-op student in Belgium. In the end, I took the job, and it starts in less than two weeks.

The job’s in Leuven, a mid-size city not far from Brussels. I expect to have my weekends off, and I want to look around the country (and maybe a little farther, if that’s feasible). Also, I have twelve days at the end of the work term (13-24 November) free, before my plane from Paris leaves on the 25th – I figure I can use this period to travel more broadly, maybe spend three or four days in each of a few places (the last being Paris so I don’t miss my plane).

So… what should I do? I’m a student, so it can’t be too pricy. Where should I go? What should I experience, explore, and see?

(So far, for the weekends, I’m thinking Brussels, a look at the Ardennes, and Antwerp, and maybe some of the WWi battlefields. I’m not sure about the twelve days at the end, but some of my friends say Switzerland is cool.

Oh, and I’m Canadian, and speak English and French, and have a marginal knowledge of German, if that helps any)

Any ideas?

Leuven…home of Stella Artois…could be you won’t find time to leave :wink:

Belgium’s only a little place, you’ll certainly be able to explore more widely should you want to…searching train times here, you’re 3 hours from Amsterdam, which could certainly occupy a weekend :wink: :slight_smile: …the Eurostar to London is a similar journey.

There’s also dirt cheap airlines from Brussels’ main airport (listed here, and of course Ryanair (who fly from Charleroi, a bit further from Brussels centre)

A train to the alps? Maybe Vienna or Berlin?

Not to be misunderstood… either a visit to the alps or maybe take a trip to Vienna or Berlin.

Brussels to the Alps is a looonnng train ride, but you break it up by going through Amsterdam, to Arnhem, Hamburg, Frankfurt, and Munich.

But depending on the weather, maybe you want to head south to Aix-en-Provence, Cassis, and St-Tropez to enjoy the Mediterranean coast.

I don’t have any good suggestions, but I could show you the city of Aachen, if you manage to make your way here.

Get a rail pass. Assuming you’re under 25, a rail pass will save you heaps and heaps of money. You may have to get one now, before you leave, depending on what your “status” will be when you’re living over there. (“Eurail” vs. “Interail”, IIRC.)

Trust me, if you are going to be doing lots of train travel, these things are great. The sell flexible passes, so you can choose the days within two months when you want to travel.

When I was young I bought a Eurail in the States, and it seemed quite expensive, but in actuality (once I got to Europe and saw the prices) it was very cheap. Then when I was a student in Denmark I was allowed to buy an Interail pass, and that was even cheaper.

And train travel through Europe gave me some of the best experiences I had as a young man. Meeting all sorts of people, hopping on and off at a whim, carrying your life on your back – it really is as romantic and lovely as it sounds. (And absolutely nothing like train travel in the States.)

I always promised myself that when I got older I would still ride the rails in Europe. Alas, it was not to be. When I lived in London I always flew, because I always had to be somewhere “on time”. Oh well.

Go to a student travel agent and get lots of info on rail passes. You’ll be glad you did.

Well, of course I am going to suggest Prague! Great place and affordable as well. Only problem is that all too often visitors come here and end up staying…

We are having a PragueDope on Oct. 21 that you won’t want to miss.

Take care-

And for your travelling ease to get here, a daily overnight train leaving Lueven at 18:30 arrives at 8:15 in Prague with just 3 transfers.


Leuven’s a nice town–Brussels is about 30 minutes away, and add 30 minutes to either Ghent or Antwerp, both swell towns. Everyone in Leuven (exaggeration) can speak English-- lots of American students, from what I can tell (or at least many more than there are here at U Ghent). French won’t help you much-- in fact, when in Flanders, you should speak English rather than French.

Belgium is cool and overlooked. You’ll also be close to the Netherlands-- Amsterdam of course, but Haarlem and Delft are nice places, and you’re close-ish to the Aachen/ Liege/ Maastricht corner. Head down to Bruges at least once (another 30 minutes from Ghent but a direct shot from Leuven–go on a weekday, in winter. It’s touristed.)-- I can recommend some swell pubs there and in Ghent if you’re into beer. Lier, a bit north of Brussels, is also supposed to be small but very nice-- like a smaller bruges with fewer tourists. Skip the coast here. I don’t know too much about the Walloon side of things-- Dinant was beautiful, Chimay looked nice, too . . . nice little towns along the rivers and hills down in the francophone side of things. If you have relatives who were in the wars you could check out those sites (I just saw a monument to Canadian dead near some German bunkers between here and Bruges).

You must drink lots of beer. Stella sucks ass compared to most of the local brews. There’s a good pizza joint in Leuven called Quo Vadis. There’s a lot of sightseeing you can do in Belgium and get a nice European experience. Others can recommend a lot of other places but I didn’t want Belgium underrepresented here. . .

Here’s someone’s weblog about a year abroad in Belgium. . .

If you want to travel on the cheap you could check eurolines and travel by bus. And stay in hostels. I would recommand the www.eurotrip.com board which caters mostly for young north-americans travelling on the cheap.

For more general infos, you could want to check the “europe” message board on www.fodors.com which is extremely active (for instance, you’ll get more infos about hostels on eurotrip, but if you have a question about train tickets, or monuments, etc… you’ll get more answers on fodors because there’s more traffic).

As for what you should visit, it widely depends on your tastes and interests, so I don’t think we could tell you where to go. In Belgium I wouldn’t miss Bruges, though.

Actually, rail passes generally aren’t a good deal. You have to make a lot of long train rides for them to be cheaper than just buying train tickets, generally speaking.

At least, you must actually check the prices of the tickets (directly on the railway companies sites, since they’re sold with a huge margin…30% or so… in the US) for comparison before considering buying a pass.

Definitely make time for at least one day trip to Antwerp, which is a very cool city. One thing you can do there is tour the De Koninck brewery, whose product I strongly recommend consuming as often as possible while you’re in Belgium and can get the real thing straight from the tap.

You’ll probably get suggestions to visit every city and town in Europe if this thread lives long enough (reason being they’re pretty much all great in their own way). I’d suggest buying a good European travel guide book before you go. Skim it over and pick the places that sound good to you that you can get to fairly easily (i.e. no 15 hour train rides w/ 4 transfers). I personally am a big fan of the Lonely Planet guides. I feel they offer the best combination of sight-seeing info, history of the place you’re visiting, and listings of cheap places to stay and eat. The Let’s Go guides are very popular w/ the American college set because they have the best listings of cheap places to stay and eat, but I find their sight-seeing info rather lacking.

Allow me to second the suggestion to stay in hostels, especially if you’ll be traveling alone. It’s a great way to meet other travelers from all over the world and find people to hang out with. I’ve made friends with people from all over that way. Plus they’re cheap. (In my experience don’t bother buying the HI card. Of all the hostels I’ve stayed in I’ve only had someone ask to see it once).

Switzerland is amazing, but expensive.

Hope this helps.

Well, I’d agree up to a point – he/she will have to take at least two long distance trips to make it worthwile. I think a lot is a bit of an exaggeration, considering passes start at around $250 and those long trips can be very expensive. A quick search shows that one trip to Nice on a discount ticket is EUR160, and Marseille is EUR110.

Definitely do your research. If it were me (and I was young again), I’d get one of these passes and do France, Switzerland and maybe Italy too. It’s amazing how little you can live off of by staying at hostels, using your pass wisely and “roughing it” a bit.

Fantastic! I was hoping there’s be a EuroDope while I was there. I’d love to get in on one of the rooms you’ve got booked. Question for you… travel excluded, how much do you think I’d spend on the whole weeked (the food, entertainment, and other thigns you’ve got planned)?

I might be able to take the Friday (or Monday) off from work, too, so I could be in for the whol long weekend. PragueDope, costs permitting, is hereby the flagship event of Leuven 2004 :slight_smile:

To those telling me to go to breweries and indulge in the splendour of Belgian beers… thanks, but (odd as it may sound) I don’t drink. :smiley: On railpasses, from what I’ve seen they’re a definite advantage if you’re doing lots of travelling and want flexibility. For the weekends, I’ll probably buy the multi-trip passes from the Belgian rail company that allow you to go anywhere in Belgium/Benelux. For the 12 days at the end, it looks like it’s cheaper to just buy a few one-way train tickets. (Or even air if those super-discount lines work out).

Good point.

Also, everything and everyone in real life says to go to Brugges. What’s so awesome about that city?

Staying in hostels is definitely the plan for the 12 days, and any weekend trips from Leuven where I can’t return to Leuven to sleep. I’m going to look into some of the cities listed so far.

I would suggest Oktoberfest in Munich, but your vacation’s in November, about a month late. Might be worth a weekend trip in September or October, though?

I’d considered Oktoberfest, too. I wondered, though, if it might be too far away from Leuven to do cheaply or conveniently.

Definitely check into those discount airlines. I lived in northern France near Brussels for a year, and those airlines were much cheaper than rail was. I flew youth fares on Sabena (don’t think it’s still going) but other similar airlines are still there. I flew to Vienna, Barcelona, and Edinburgh from Brussels. The flights were much shorter than the train rides and about half the cost.

Explore the area on the weekends. Brugges is just a beautiful city- one of my favorites. It’s easily walkable and just has a lot of little places to explore. I liked staying at the Bauhaus hostel there- they have a fun bar. Lille, France is about 40 minutes from Brussels by Eurostar, and about an hour from Brugges. Eurostar to London can be expensive and it’s much cheaper to fly. It’s even better if you’re under 25.

Eat lots of frites with mayo for me! (Soooooo good. Try it.)

Oh, I just remembered one big catch.

You may need to buy your Eurail pass outside Europe! Check with a travel agent.