Thursday the 30th
It had been some time since I last enjoyed such a late sleep in. With no obligations to force me out of bed early, I stayed on the bottom of the bunkbed as long as my hungry stomach permitted! And was still up and out before my housemates. I was sleeping at my BFF-in-Belgium’s place because Marie and I were going to spend the day at Rock Werchter! A multi-genre festival which draws crowds from all around the country and all across Europe! We were excited and had packed our satchels with the standard but minimal festival necessities. Tickets? Check. Cash? Check. Poncho? Check. Umbrella? It had been raining all night and it was raining all morning with no signs of subsiding yet. An unrelenting sprinkle drenched the greenery in a thick layer of water that did not give rise to promising expectations for the festival field. If this was the weather in Edegem, what were we to expect of Werchter! We packed an extra jumper each and donned old gumboots. Stepping out into the streets of the small city, we were slightly self-conscious of our farmer-esque attire, but this feeling was soon forgotten when we joined a congress of rain boot clad festival-goers on the train to Leuven.
The excitement was building! It was 45 minutes to Leuven, and a chorus of chatter was growing as more and more youths boarded the express train to our approaching destination. Like a game, to pass the time we began counting the kids in gumboots, and gave up just as quickly for the number had exceeded our expectations within minutes. The train slowed into the station of Leuven, a student-city home to one of the oldest universities in Europe, the Katholieke Universiteit in Leuven. Whilst in Australia, it is considered standard to have to travel an hour to go to work, university or even school. Such a long commute is unheard of in Belgium or the Netherlands as students leave home to live in share-houses closer to campus if their twice-daily journey exceeds thirty minutes. Another remarkable difference is the contrast in nightlife between here and home. My experience of Australia is that people live for the weekend! A 9:00-5:00 from Monday to Friday is the working commitment made by weekend millionaires – students and full-time employees alike party in shitty nightclubs until the lockout laws permit on Friday and Saturday night. Here, students find time to party on weekdays, with Thursday being the ultimate night out! As the legal drinking age is 16 this is necessary to avoid the minors and older patrons in bars on the weekend. Most do not have a casual job and return to their homes to visit parents and siblings after the week of studying is over. It is definitely a different experience than I am used to.
We wandered the streets for some time to gather an impression of the city. It was modern and humble, designed to facilitate the needs of its student population, but also a magnificent historical masterpiece with intangible heritage! We had little time to learn the history of the province for there was a concert to attend! But first, we stopped for lunch at an alternative hotdog restaurant pop-up by the culinary entrepreneur Jeroen Meus who is a popular television chef in Belgium. His ‘Haute Dogs’ were available in a minimally furbished warehouse which had an open kitchen opposite a window the size of the venue and a marble bar lined with rustic stools. I had a Mexico ’86 which consisted of a merguez sausage topped with mexican salad, cilantro, sour cream, guacamole, jalapeños and nachos in a corn bread bun. Damn, that’s a good dog!
We disembarked the bus and joined the congress of enthusiastic musos on the final winding pathway to the barricade. Through an archway of scaffolding and metal detectors, there were volunteers ready to receive us for bag inspections and ticket checks. Before we had even the chance to take shelter at this entrance point, it began to rain so heavily that I was drenched in the time it took to don my rain poncho. The umbrella and gumboots had come in handy, for the thick droplets indented the soft soil and a layer of sediment formed within each footprint left in the slosh. Before we knew it, our knee-high boots were coated in muddy slurry and puddles of water culminated around our angles. The gumboots were a god-send! I felt extremely thankful that 1. my friend and I had the same size shoe and 2. that she had two pairs in her size to our disposal. There were some amongst the crowd whom had not been so lucky: we cringed at the sight of ruined white Adidas Stan Smith sneakers filled with filthy mud. A resting ground, complete with a headstone reading RIP for discarded destroyed footwear, had been erected in front of the booth selling gumboots. The music kept our spirits high and souls warm in the dreadful weather, which was only improved with a serving of fries and hoegaarden rose beer to maintain our stamina through the long night of dancing. We packed ourselves between the festival-goers to get a good view of the stage and jived to the incredible artists! Ellie Goulding, Flume, Paul McCartney, Sigma Live, Years and Years, James Blake and Disclosure! It was an incredible time! It was with reluctant strides of our aching legs that we left Rock Werchter and we arrived home exhausted after 4:00am.