Monday, June 01, 2015

Soyez malins, allez à Malines!

On the last of the official May long weekends (although not the last for me, with Vitiloire - hurrah), we decided to take advantage of the beautiful Sunday weather by getting out bright and early to catch some sunshine before watching the Monaco Grand Prix in the afternoon. With this self-imposed tight time schedule, we managed to make it to Mechelen (Malines in French) before 9.30 am - it's just a 25-minute drive from Brussels. Luckily enough, since it turned out the town was hosting a "Play Festival" that day, and by the time we left a couple of hours later, the whole place had filled with thousands of children. AKA my worst nightmare.

But in the early(ish) hours of the morning, we had Mechelen pretty much to ourselves and the people setting up for the festival, and we were able to explore what felt like a hidden gem, off the tourist trail, although after our brief encounter, I would say it deserves to be visited every bit as much as somewhere like Bruges.

Mechelen actually has quite a few similarities to Bruges. Like Bruges, it grew wealthy via the cloth trade in the Middle Ages, when it was ruled by the Dukes of Burgundy before becoming, for a time, the capital of the Low Countries under Margaret of Austria. When money from the cloth trade dried up and the seats of power and influence moved away to Brussels, Mechelen went into decline - unfortunately for them, fortunately for the preservation of the beautiful medieval and Renaissance architecture in the city.

Margaret of Austria's palace, now a court. Apparently this is the "oldest Renaissance building north of the Alps" and Anne Boleyn was here for a time.

The Mechelen Grande Place

Shaking my head, partly in admiration, partly in disgust

This fallen-down fool seemed to be the symbol of Mechelen, as it was also on flags all over the city

The Late Gothic Hof van Busleyden museum (the Mechelen city museum)

Jules et le poisson

Pretty buildings near the Grande Place - we liked the golden sheep and balcony tree on the nearest building in particular

This pretty, peaceful path floats on the centre of the river, so you walk along almost at water-level

Roof-top ornaments seemed to be a speciality of the Grande Place architecture - my favourite was this bull with a curly tail

In front of the tower of St. Rumbold's Cathedral. We would have liked to go up - apparently on a clear day like this you can see Brussels and Antwerp from the top - but it's only open in the afternoon

The beautiful town hall on the Grande Place

Since we only had a couple of hours before fleeing the children and going back home to watch the Formula One, we didn't get to see much of what Mechelen has to offer. Apart from the closed tower, we couldn't see inside the cathedral because a Mass was in progress, we couldn't visit the De Wit tapestry workshop because it's only open on Saturdays, and we didn't have time for the Jewish Museum of Deportation and Resistance, which recounts the dark days in World War II when Mechelen was a major transit camp on the way to the concentration camps in the east, or the Large Béguinage, a World Heritage site.

So there's a ton to see in Mechelen, and the good news is it's really close to Brussels, so we'll be able to go back next time there's a sunny Saturday to see some of what we missed out on. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait until 2038 to see its special jubilee "circumambulation" parade, as that particular Mechelen event only takes place once every 25 years and we just (relatively speaking) missed out on it. Darn!

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