Sunday, September 8, 2013

A trip to Mechelen: Aug. 31-Sept. 1

Last weekend, my friend B. and I took a trip to Belgium; we visited Leuven (and here) and Mechelen. The main destination was Mechelen; we wanted to experience the Hanswijk Cavalcade.

We had arranged to stay with a Belgian family in Mechelen and it was a wonderful experience! When we arrived in town, we had dinner with the couple and E's mother, who was also in town to visit. They were so warm and welcoming; it was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about Belgian life.

E and her husband J took us to their favorite cava (Spanish sparkling wine) bar in town. Along the way, they told us about the history of the town. They told us that the city center had been very unsafe about 17 years prior; after about 4 pm, everything would shutter up and people didn't feel comfortable going out on the streets. The town voted in a new mayor who very aggressively cleaned up a lot of the trouble; now, people can safely enjoy a nice late night dinner or some drinks downtown. The downtown area was very charming; there are many Gothic and Renaissance buildings that have survived.

E and her husband J took us to their favorite cava (Spanish sparkling wine) bar, Sava, in the Grote Markt, a huge square. We sat outside and enjoyed the beautiful view of the square; it was lovely, with a great view of the Stuidhuis. I didn't go inside the bar, but wish I had checked it out after seeing the bar's website; the interior looks awesome! Prices were reasonable; I bought the four of us a round of drinks for 12 euros. I ordered cava. The last time I had it, I was in Barcelona for a trip with my cousin and we ended up giggling for an hour and watching passersbys. The silliness then might have resulted from being really dehydrated and the cava went straight to our heads. In Mechelen, there was no silliness.

B ordered the city's official beer: Maneblusser, which means "moon extinguisher." It's even the nickname for Mechelen residents because of a famous story: during a misty night in 1687, a drunk man exited the bar and was shocked to see that St. Rumbold's Tower was on fire. Everyone ran to put out the fire but soon realized that the tower wasn't actually on fire! Instead, the red glow was from the full moon and the mist. Even though the residents of the city tried to keep the story under wraps, it didn't work and they earned the nickname of "moon extinguishers." Het Anker, a brewery in the town, makes Maneblusser.

Our hosts told us a little bit about the cavalcade the next day. King Philippe and Queen Mathilde were going to be in attendance. We also learned that there is some controversy about the royal family; apparently, they are maintained by the state, and they are very costly to the taxpayers. Some Belgians are very unhappy about this as the royal family is only a ceremonial figure and people believe that the family should support itself.

It's a bit misty...good thing it's not on fire!
It was getting late, so after we finished our drinks, we headed back. We walked by the tower of St. Rumbold and were relieved to see that it wasn't on fire.

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