Our group met up for the morning guided tour for a ten o'clock start. The tour was over two hours long and our host, Charles V (see below), was accomplished in his knowledge of the Englishe language. Mechelen had its heyday in the late 15th/early 16th century when it was the centre of Burgundian power over the Low Countries and the seed point for the Renaissance in the region.
Our tour started in the Grote Markt accompanied by the sounds and smells of the traditional Saturday Mechelen market and enlivened by a series of 'happy couples' and their entourages arriving via a wide variety of transports, from high-powered sports cars to butcher's bikes, to be wed at the Town Hall.
Our tour started at the Town Hall where we were introduced to its distinct architectural styles and fabulous tapestries and continued to St. Rhombouts Cathedral with its renowned bells and carillon and the Palaces of Margaret of Austria and Margaret of York (below).
Charles V was full of anecdotes about his time in Mechelen and the history of Flanders, Spanish Netherlands and the lands beyond; not to mention his escapades with our own Henry VIII and his wars with France. All together a very merrie olde time was had by all.
Having said been bade farewell with a song by the Emperor (aka the excellent Mr. Rudi De Mets), the RSC group made for the Carlton Brasserie on Grote Markt where we warmed up and enjoyed some Flemish specialties including a taste of Mechelse Koekoek, the local poultry dish and a regional brew: Gouden Carolus beer - which is actually a 'brun'.
After lunch a few of the group carried on to visit Technopolis, the Flemish “hands-on”-centre for science and technology on the edge of the town. Technopolis offers young people aged 4 to 100 the chance to take part in a variety of experiments and experiences, including bridge building, riding a bicycle on a high wire five metres above the ground, having their hair stand on end and much much more.
Reason to return
A great time was had by one and all in Mechelen and a very good reason to return at the end of the summer was also revealed by old Charles V: the Hanswijk Cavalcade.
This historical religious procession is staged every 25 years so it is a rare treat to behold and the next Hanswijk Cavalcade will wend its way through the streets of Mechelen on Sunday 25 August and Sunday 1 September 2013. Traditionally the event is rounded off with the Mechelen Ommegang, which features the family of giants recognized as a UNESCO world heritage resource.
The Hanswijk Procession has made its way through the streets of Mechelen every year since 1273. On that day Mechelen's historic centre becomes the setting for a unique and colourful spectacle with hundreds of volunteers dressed in authentic costumes acting out historical and religious scenes. Since 1738 the Hanswijk Procession has celebrated its jubilee every twenty-five years in the form of the Cavalcade. See you there?