We arrived in Brussels nearly seven weeks ago - I can't believe how fast time has gone - and have spent the entirety of that time getting settled, sorting out logistics, moving into our new apartment, finding work and just generally figuring things out.
Nico went home to see his family for the weekend, so I decided to make the most of the rare sunny weather and head out of town on my very first day trip in Belgium. The little town of Mechelen, just a half-hour train ride north from Brussels (about half-way between Brussels and Antwerp), was the perfect choice.
A fairy tale-looking village, with quaint streets lined with beautiful historic architecture, Mechelen is also famously home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site - the Flemish Beguinages. This and the other darling spots I walked past made for a picture perfect day out.
Mechelen isn't considered one of those must-visit places in Belgium - yet. Those spots are currently held by places like Brussels, Bruges, Antwerp and Ghent. But this place is bursting with beauty, it's peaceful and it's a wonderful place to uncover, so really, this place should be on everyone's Belgium bucket list.
Mechelen is distinctly in the Flemish region of Belgium; just a half hour train ride suddenly means all the signs are now primarily in Dutch versus French and may not even show French at all!
It was a pleasure to spend a few hours pulling back the curtain on some of Mechelen's magic:
Dijlepad // Dyle Path
Dijlepad starts at Fonteinbrug (Fontein Bridge) and winds its way along the Dijle river (Dyle River) until Lamotbrug (Lamot Bridge). This dreamy boardwalk is perched right on the river and provides a pleasurable first introduction to the sweet houses and architecture of the town.
Groot Begijnhof // Flemish Béguinages
This UNESCO World Heritage Site in Mechelen is one of thirteen women-only sites that were established for the spiritual and material purposes of supporting Béguines. These women were similar to nuns in that they were dedicated to God, but dissimilar in that they were not separated from the rest of the world and continued to work and associate with others. They did not have to stay within the walls, even though they lived and worked there. The Béguinages typically consisted of a courtyard surrounded by houses, a church and an infirmary.
Begijnhofkerk // Béguinage Church
The church at the Béguinage is of St. John the Baptist, a Roman Catholic parish church. The elaborate façade was designed by Flemish architect Lucas Faydherbe in Baroque style.
Kazerne Dossin // Kazerne Barracks
Kazerne Dossin is a moving memorial to the Holocaust. Between 1940-42, more than 25,000 Jews and Gypsies were gathered at Kazerne Dossin for transport to Auschwitz-Birkenau and other Nazi concentration camps.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the museum is currently only open on Thursdays and Fridays, so I did not get the chance to go in, but outside, an original train carriage that carried people to the concentration camps sits permanently on a piece of track.
What I found odd was that the museum was a new building built across the road from the original barracks which were built in 1756. Regardless of the atrocities and tortures that went on within its walls, the original building has now been converted into an apartment complex and people live there... not sure how I feel about that.
Het Predikheren // Mechelen Library
Next door to the Kazerne Dossin, an elegant library nestles against a stunning plaza.
Museum Hof van Busleyden
This museum offers a thoroughly-researched and thoughtfully laid-out telling of the rich history of Mechelen, all situated inside the former home of Jerome van Busleyden. In the Renaissance, this city palace was a centre for thought, culture, ideas and reflection for the city's elite. Today, it is open to the public to learn of the grand history of great thinkers such as Erasmus and Thomas More and the incredible Margaret of Austria.
Some of the collections were a little...weird...and I felt hovered over by the staff but, for the 2 euro discounted youth rate, it was worth an hour to explore.
Grote Markt // Grand Place
The heart of all Belgian cities is the well-known and well-loved Grand Place. Here, in non-COVID times, bustling restaurants, lively shops, busy tourists and shoppers and, if you're lucky, live music all come together in a architecturally beautiful central meeting place.
Sint-Romboutskathedraal // Saint Rumbold's Cathedral
The pinnacle of the town of Mechelen is this iconic cathedral, home to some of the most well-known artwork in the entire city. Built in the 13th century with a massive tower (which you can climb for 8 euros), the cathedral is simply astonishing. After years of plundering and fires through various religious wars and bombing in the Second World War, it is now host to soaring ceilings, paintings by renowned painter Anthony van Dyck and an absolutely mind-boggling high altar by Lucas Faydherbe, built in 1665.