Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lady Heather and Lord Jason on a visitation upon Mechelen and 538 circular steps

That title will make sense about four fifths of the way into this post. Just tuck it away for now.

Remember that time we went to Mechelen and there was a big annoying marathon going on and we couldn't even appreciate half of the town because the big annoying marathon had sponsor booths set up all over the grote markt and barricades all over the streets and I was just straight up annoyed? Well, now that we're all caught up....

Last weekend we decided to use the absolutely beautiful Sunday bestowed upon us to go back and explore the rest of this charming Flemish town. We were extra appreciative of the sun's sweet rays after the cloudy/drizzly/lazy Saturday we had the day before.

Cloudy because well, let's face it - this is western Europe. In November.

Drizzly for the same reasons.

And lazy because we continue to torture ourselves by staying up until 3:30 in the morning to listen to the Carolina Hurricanes live game broadcasts online. And if you don't know why this is torture, then you are clearly not following the NHL. Check the standings if you're curious. Personally, I can't even look at it anymore. Hurts my eyes. My head. My heart. How a team goes from playing in the Eastern Conference Finals one season to dead last in the league the next is truly beyond me.

Anyway, let's get this train back on the tracks, shall we? Our personally guided (by us) walking tour begins at the grote markt, and specifically with the town hall. Mechelen's town hall is pretty interesting because it's actually two buildings, with three distinct facades. On the right is the older half, circa 14th century. In the middle, you can see what was supposed to become a grand belfry but was left unfinished due to lack of funds. For two hundred years, the belfry was just a shell. In the 16th century, what was supposed to be a temporary roof was finally put on it. Turns out...not so temporary. More like permanent.

The flamboyant Gothic part on the left wasn't completed until the early 20th century.

As you can probably imagine just by looking at him, this little statue has a pretty colorful history. He's called Op-Sinjoorke and is the mascot of Mechelen. The original doll, made in 1647, is hauled out for ceremonial processions and thrown into the air by means of a large sheet of cloth - which is what this sculpture depicts.

He was originally called Sotscop (Dumbhead) or Vuilen Bruidegom (Foul Bridegroom) after drunk husbands who smacked their wives around. Divorce was not allowed back then so the tossing around of the doll was supposed to symbolically punish the men. Yeah. That toooootally makes up for getting the crap beat out of you by your husband and not being able to leave him, right? *facepalm*

He got his current name in 1775 when he was tossed a little too vigorously and an onlooker from Antwerp put out his arms to ward off the doll but was instead accused of trying to steal it. He successfully plead his innocence and Sotscop was renamed Op-Sinjoork, the nickname for people from Antwerp.

This statue of Margaret of Austria was the product of the Belgian government asking cities to honor the country's heroes. Mechelen was the only one to choose a heroine.

Best fact about Margaret: Twice she was arranged to marry. The first, set when she was only three to the thirteen year old future king of France, was called off by the time she turned eleven because her intended found himself a better match. The second was arranged when she was sixteen - to the future king of Spain. On the sea voyage to Spain, they ran into a severe storm and Margaret thought she was going to die so she wrote her own epitaph. "Here lies Margriet, the sweet maiden, who had two husbands and yet died a virgin." HA! Loves it!

Next up was St. Rumbold's Tower - which you can see to the right of Margaret in the photo above. Or if your fingers are too tired to scroll back up, here's a photo of the Tower from our previous visit. Fact: The tower was never completed, again - due to lack of funds. That's why it has that sort of lopped off look about it instead of coming to a point like most.

Last time we were here, we saw that you could climb it (all 538 steps of it) but for whatever reason, we just couldn't be bothered. That, and also it costs about seven euros a person... I was all, "For seven euros I want a damned elevator!" But we later read that it's not just a climb for the views. It's actually a tour of the inner workings of the carillons. (That would be "bells" to us simple folk.) So, we decided to have a go.

I forgot what the audio guide said about this giant hamster wheel. I was too excited about staging a photo to pay attention.

It may be hard to believe but the audio guide was fascinating. I was enthralled. And it takes quite a lot to enthrall me. I was so enthralled with my audio commentator that you can imagine my shock when the bells started ringing. About five feet from my head. I almost wet my pants.

I won't even pretend to know how this whole thing works. Let's just go all Facebook status and say "it's complicated" and leave it at that.

Finally we made it to the top! Gorgeous views of Mechelen and beyond surrounded us. You could even see bits of Brussels in the distance. Namely, the Atomium. It's rather hard to miss that monstrosity.

Too bad I couldn't stop laughing long enough to get a decent photo.

This is the best we got. And it's still pretty obvious that I'm biting it back. I don't even recall why we were laughing. It was almost a week ago fer cryin' out loud. I can barely remember what I had for breakfast.

After braving vertigo to get back down the 538 circular steps, the walk continues...albeit on very shaky legs. Seriously. Walk down 538 circular steps and tell me what your legs feel like. I thought they were going to flat out collapse beneath me.

We made our way past the Melaan, an old brook that used to run through the city...

... and Klapgat, or Gossip Alley - where, sadly no one was gossiping...

...some very ornate street signs, of which there are three in Mechelen...

...and finally, Sint-Pieter-en-Paulkerk. But I really only put this picture up so I could tell you that this church is now (due to a very lengthy story which I shall not recount here) officially called "St. Peter and St. Paul on a visitation upon St. Ignatius and St. Francis Xavier".

By this time, we were ready for some refreshment. Luckily our walking tour dropped us off right back at the grote markt. Genius! Time for a glass of Mechelen's finest. (Pretty much every city and town here has their own brew. Mechelen's is Gouden Carolous.)

And don't forget the frites. Tell me, are these not the most deliciously perfect frites you've ever clapped eyes on?

And while we waited for the three o'clock carillon concert to float down from St. Rumbold's tower, we were serenaded by the local organ grinder.

All in all, a near-perfect day. It narrowly misses "perfect" only because I woke up the next morning with my aching legs practically unable to hold up the rest of my body. I walked from the bed to the coffee maker legs bent and hunched over so as not to have to endure the pain of stretching out my calves. This went over well with Jason.

Oh how he laughed.

Oh how I scowled.

Oh how he taunted.

Oh how I threatened to lace his coffee with Thai chili paste.

Oh how he shut up.


thetransplantedseattleite said...

Gorgeous pictures! Looks like you are having a great time over there! Thanks for sharing! :)

aka The Novelist
now know as: Seattleite

Meg said...

Could you please send some of those frittes over my way?!? I mean, I am on a diet, but they look marvelous :)