Mechelen Surprise

I made the slight mistake of writing off Mechelen from my itinerary. I mean, no one has heard of it, and I don’t know anyone who has ever been there or who plans to go there. And when I looked up on the internet, there were no tours going to this place. So, I was really down to zero expectations for this city.
Which actually turned out to be a good thing – I was very pleasantly surprised to find that Mechelen (our base for three days in Belgium) is actually a charming old town with cobblestone streets, gabled buildings, and a town square that would fit right in with any medieval movie. It was a gem waiting to be (re)discovered.
It was a downcast day when we got there and I was freezing (it was I think 15C – too cold for a girl from the tropics), so I slept the entire day in our hotel. Lucky for me, the sun sets at around 11PM so when I woke up for dinner at 6 or so, it only felt like midday.

My first glimpse of the city as I walked about on our first day was of this lovely canal with cafes dotting the sidestreets.
Just about every corner of Mechelen is picturesque. I didn’t even mind the 30-minute walk from our hotel to the train station. Every day. By my lonesome. Normally, you’d hear endless complaints from me but the streets were too pretty and the weather perfect that I thoroughly enjoyed those long walks (not to mention that they saved me eight euros a day, hahaha). Even the hubby was surprised – he knew I would never hesitate splurging on cab fare if I didn’t want to walk. Anyway, for those wondering, Mechelen is right smack between Antwerp and Brussels and is about 20-minutes away from either city by train (if you arrive at the right time, otherwise, the wait is about 15-20 minutes for the next train). Very convenient.

Even the stones on the streets are pretty, I couldn’t resist taking a photo.

Look, there’s even a pond with actual ducks in the middle of the city! This would never happen in Manila. This is the first photo in this series of European posts taken by hubby. I don’t like sharing photo credits with him and I was the one who usually totes the camera on travels but I wasn’t able to take this shot so there 😀

The Grote Markt (told you you’d read this term many times in my Belgium posts) of Mechelen is quite small, the city itself being small compared to the likes of Brussels but it is one of my favorites. It has a very grand cathedral, lots of old buildings, and yet the square is small enough to be considered cozy. Imagine a snowball with a little village inside – that’s the kind of memory Mechelen stirs in me.

Taken from one of the “shopping streets” off the Grote Markt

More shops

Restaurants near the cathedral

Margaret of Austria
One of the nicest buildings you’ll see in Mechelen is the Saint-Rombouts Cathedral (Rumbold for us non-Dutch), a very imposing structure (even more pronounced since it’s the biggest and tallest in the area) right in the Grote Markt (but of course!).
Construction of the church was started something in the 12th century and well into the 15th century, but the tower was started only in the 15th century. Originally supposed to reach 167 meters (including a spire that was to be put above the tower), financial reasons forced it to stop at 97 meters. I read somewhere that there more than 500 steps to reach the top of the tower and from there you can have marvelous views of the city but unfortunately, entrance closes early and I can’t really climb the 500 steps at the moment (for obvious reasons). I would have loved to though.
I swear, there is no ugly angle to this church. It’s not too big and yet it looked so grand. It reminded me again of the city of Gondor (from Lord of the Rings). 
View of the cathedral tower from the Grote Markt – with the Challenger ride from the amusement park nearby

Inside, I was just struck dumb. I mean, I know there are a lot of beautiful churches in Europe but this one just felt so solemn, what with all the statues of the apostles looking down on you, and church music (Gregorian?) filling the air. At certain times during the day/week, you could even hear carillon concerts. I find it hard to describe the sound – imagine tingling bells chiming in perfect harmony. But whatever, it was quite magical and literally music to my ears. Mechelen is actually the carillon capital of the world and has the Royal Carillon School where students learn how to play the carillon.

Beautiful stained glass windows
View of the interior  from the altar

The fact that it was so quiet, apart from the soft music playing, and the overall solemnity of the place tugged at my heartstrings. I actually couldn’t help but cry – a good thing I was the only visitor inside the church. Can you believe??? It was empty! I feel really bad for the churches in Europe, where I think a lot of people don’t go to church anymore. I hope they don’t fall to ruins (and I hope the faithful can find their way back to the fold).

Lit candles for myself, hubby, Joey and our little bun in the oven

There are a lot of quaint restos in Mechelen but hubby had been craving Chinese food (or anything with rice for that matter) so we ended up at Golden House Chinese restaurant. 
Bad idea. The food took forever (more than 30 minutes since the guys ordered while I was still on the train from Brussels), and when it did reach us after we followed up, the server was stomping and the plates were all clattering on the table. I was almost worried she would break them. As for the taste? It was the blandest I ever tasted in my life. It looked appetizing enough but I had to dump tons of soy sauce just to make it acceptable.

It felt like such a rip off – expensive food, poor service, and get this – they don’t have house water and since you’re bound to drink water anyway, prepare to spend at least 5 euros. A “glass” of water offers little more than a 250ml tetrapack of juice. And a single glass costs about 2+ euros.

Hubby and I felt so bad that we felt it necessary to offset it with a good dose of sugar. Fortunately for us, there was a waffle stall at the Grote Markt where I had seriously to die for waffles complete with melted Belgian chocolate, fresh strawberries and lots of cream. It was soooooo good that even after I left some overnight on my night table at the hotel, it still tasted marvelous the morning after. And it only cost three euros!
I am salivating just looking at this

I enjoyed Mechelen so much I was almost sad to see the sun set on our last night there.

When hubby and I do get to Europe again, Mechelen will surely be one of our stops. There are still so many old churches and museums to explore there!
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