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Mechelen

Cathedral town between Brussels and Antwerp. Former residence of Margaret of York, not to be confused with Margaret of Austria who also used to live in Mechelen. Full of history and architecture, yet generally free of tourists.
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The town of Mechelen first hit family history just after the war, when my mother was sent to the Ursuline convent at Wavre-Notre-Dame to polish her French. (This was in the days when nice girls at any Belgian convent would have spoken French as a matter of course; as it is in Flanders, the village is now known as Onze Lieve Vrouw Waver) I still envy her the journey - by steamer from London to Antwerp, by train from Antwerp to Mechelen and then by vicinal to Waver …

The station she probably saw when she arrived in Mechelen has since been demolished and replaced by one of the least functional I've ever had to use: the ticket windows, for example, are about as far from the bus-stops as they could be, though this is probably thanks to town planners rather than railway architects. Other buildings have fared better, for instance the Brusselpoort (last of the town gates, which with the broad boulevard that has replaced the ramparts gives at least some idea of the scale of the old town walls) or the three wooden houses from the early 1500s now restored in their original bright colours Its own beers, its own truly impressive cathedral, a bit of water and the sweetest carillon in Belgium - what more could you ask?

If you intend visiting the town intelligently, make sure you bring a copy of Derek Blyth's admirable Flemish Cities Explored with you. I would put in a personal recommendation for the post-war social security office at Bruul Pleintje. Yes, seriously.

Recorder-players owe it to themselves to know Mechelen because of the annual recorder weekend, but that's another story.


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