The Bells of Mechelen

Trip Start Apr 28, 2009
Trip End Aug 20, 2009

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Flag of Belgium  , Antwerpen,
Sunday, July 12, 2009

Well the chocolate, waffles, and beer in Belgium have not disappointed us!  Neither has Belgium for that matter.  We stayed in a beautiful city called Mechelen (between Brussels and Antwerp).  We exchanged with a younger (sorry guys) couple for their 2 bedroom apartment in the heart of the city.  It was a nice change for us after years of suburban life and showed us the draw of living downtown.  Mechelen has so much to offer from the Saturday market, parks, canals, shops, churches and the great cafes.  Since we’ve been here we’ve realized that we rely on cars way more than Europeans.  In Belgium there are bike lanes on every street and everyone rides their bike everywhere.  At stores, museums etc. there are well used bike racks.  Bikes have the right of way and cars are much more aware and cautious of bikers.  We've spent a lot of time biking around town and it was great to see so many others doing the same.

Our first couple of days we really enjoyed biking through the large town square called Grote Market.  Then the Carnies rolled in!  The next 2 weeks every time we biked past the square we heard "can we go to the carnival?".  We did give in one day and the kids had a great time choosing some rides to go on. Unfortunately for them, on subsequent requests they were rejected. 

No the boys haven't turned into the "muscles from Brussels". They were just having fun at Technopolis (a science museum) in Mechelen. They were able to play in a great water exhibit, ride a bike on a high wire, drive an ambulance, build a house out of huge Legos, "lift" a car (picture) and learn and play with many more things. A great day was had by all. It turned out to be 15 Euros more than we expected but we were more than thrilled by that. Ask us when we get home and we'll share what is now a funny story!

We were very proud of the boys for making the climb up the St. Rumbold’s Church tower.  On the way up the 530 stairs to the top we listened to an audio with information about the church and city.  We're sure the boys were encouraged to the top by the promise of an ice cream cone when we got to the bottom!  With Mechelen having so many churches, literally not 10 minutes goes by without the very loud sound of ringing church bells.  Sometimes they last for just a few seconds sometimes 10 minutes!  The sign that welcomes you to Mechelen is covered with pictures of bells if that gives you an idea of how well known the city is for them.   Thankfully they don't start them before 8 a.m.  We got quite use to the sound and may even miss them now that we are gone!

Another interesting find in Mechelen was the Toy Museum.  The boys were very excited to be greeted by a 15 foot stuffed teddy bear.   While we were visiting they had an exhibit by Playmobile.  We all had fun building new cities and having some different toys to play with for a few hours.  Aimee drooled over the Mon Chi Chi's bringing her back to her childhood. Three floors of toys is never a bad thing when you are traveling with children (and Bruce for that matter!).

Being in this part of Europe we were surrounded by history and took some time to appreciate the area in this respect.  The  Jewish Museum of Deportation and Resistance is located in Mechelen and was very powerful and well presented.  Many Jewish people during the 2nd world war were brought to Mechelen and then shipped to concentration camps from here.  Bruce visited Fort Breendonk, a torture and concentration camp in Willeobroke just outside Mechelen.  It was certainly an awful place to be and easily made you feel for the innocent people that had to endure it.  Many of the trials of Nazi's took place in Mechelen following the war. We also visited the West Flanders region. The Passchendale Memorial museum gave the opportunity to learn about the bunker system with a re-creation of the underground network that existed in the area.  Visiting the Tyne Cot museum put the war into perspective for all of us.  Seeing the tombstones of over 12,000 soldiers that are buried there helped the boys understand a little bit of the negative implications of war. The names of over 30 000 more are inscribed on the wall of missing soldiers that were believed to be lost in the area.

We took some short day trips to some beaches and recreation areas.  Recreation Park de Ster in St. Nikkolos was a really fun day. It offered more than just the beach with, yet again, amazing playgrounds, water slides, mini-electric boats and cars.   At the recreation park in De Nekkers we had an exciting game of mini-golf (Cohen got a hole-in-one!), played on the playground and went go-carting.   

We went on an excursion to Tessenderlo to ride the railbikes. The 8 km trek along the abandoned rail lines was unique and relaxing.  Also, a trip to Kessel-Lo found us spending time in another of what seemed like endless playgrounds throughout Belgium.  This one had a high ropes course which the boys (Cohen with our help) enjoyed It seems as though districts try to outdo each other with their playgrounds.   We have spent many hours exploring the different playgrounds of Europe! 

We spent a day at Mini Europe and the water park Oceade in Brussels.  Miniature size replicas of all the major sights in Europe were re-created right down to the smallest detail.    Standing next to them made you feel like King Kong.  Cohen’s "latest" is to answer every question or comment with "I don’t mind!".  So when he asked Bruce to take him on the "Anaconda" (the fastest waterslide at Oceade) Bruce told him how fast and scary it was.  He responded with his "usual" and kept asking to go on.  He was a little shocked at the bottom but came up from being submerged in Bruce's arms at the end of the tube with his usual smile.  Although, we haven't heard "I don't mind" for a while now! 

We visited Bruges, called "Belgium's Venice" and both agreed it would have been a very romantic city if ......... we were on our own!  We still had a great time and Caleb was able to get some more training for his chosen profession.  He was very proud to get to sit in the front of the carriage with the driver and wear her hat.   He was also impressed with the poop bag that trailed the horse and spent the rest of the day talking about getting one someday for his horse and carriage business.  We also went for a boat ride in the canals and had our big visit to the chocolate museum.  Any tour that starts off and ends with chocolate was a hit in the boys minds!  We finished the day with a short drive to the coast in the city of Oostende. Here we cooled off in the ocean and played on the beach for awhile.

We've had a great time in Belgium but all of the unsuspecting passengers aboard our overnight train to Denmark are awaiting us.  4 people, 3 big suitcases, 3 back packs, and a stroller all ready to fit into a very, very, very small sleeper car with 3 bunk beds.  Should be an interesting night!
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