Mechelen

Martin’s Patershof breakfast room

Martin’s Patershof breakfast room

Last Christmas Mr C and I didn’t really want anything in the way of presents so we decided to treat ourselves to a relaxing weekend away instead.  This ruled out flying because that would mean several (non-relaxing) hours in an airport waiting to fly…

As luck would have it an email arrived from the Belgian hotel chain that we used when we stayed in Bruges.  It gave us inspiration and I fell in love with one of the hotels in the chain.  The Hotel, Martin’s Patershof, is a converted Church.  I researched the hotel’s town, Mechelen (Malines in French rather than Flemish), and found that it had many things of interest.  The guidebooks describe it as a beautiful medieval town, with charm and outstanding architectural treasures.

We decided that the best way to travel was by train.  The ‘end to end’ journey could easily be booked via the Eurostar site.  As well as travel to Brussels by Eurostar, we also booked travel by rail to London and onward from Brussels.

The Town Hall viewed from the Grote Markt

The Town Hall viewed from the Grote Markt

The journey to and from Mechelen by train including Eurostar was enjoyable and relaxing.  We had the luxury of being served with meals and drinks on both inward and outward journeys.  On arrival in Mechelen we quickly unpacked our bags before setting off to explore the town.  During my stay one thing I couldn’t help but notice was the abundance of bicycles both with and without riders.  I will always remember Mechelen as the town of bicycles. This inspired me to purchase a Dutch style bicycle shortly after I returned home from my travels.

 The hotel lived up to expectations.  Architectural features and stained glass windows are prominent throughout the hotel and our room had a stained glass window and stone pillars.  The breakfast room is quite stunning being situated in what was the choir of the church.  The breakfast buffet was one of the best I have ever seen.  There was even a decadent option of having a complimentary glass of Cava; I decided not to indulge so early in the morning.

St Rumbold’s Cathedral  from Grote Markt

St Rumbold’s Cathedral from the Grote Markt

Although this hotel is no longer a place of worship there are many historic churches still in use and eight are promoted as especially worthy of a visit. St Rumbold’s Cathedral with its wonderful architecture, artworks and stained glass windows was on our ‘to visit’ list but it was difficult to decide which others to include.  We settled on the Beguinage Church (which we found to be full of amazing artworks and treasures), Church of our Lady Hanswidj (whilst there we learned that it would shut for renovations in just two weeks’ time for four years), and the Church of our Lady across the Dyle. The custodians of each of the churches were very proud of their churches and keen to point out the special features of each to us. Being English we were somewhat of a novelty to them, with Mechelen not being an obvious choice for British travelers.

Kazerne Dossin military barracks

Kazerne Dossin military barracks viewed from the museum

Mechelen played a sobering part in the history of WW2 so the Kazerne Dossin museum and military barracks were also on our ‘to visit’ list.  The barracks and museum serve as a permanent history and memorial to the Jews who were held there awaiting deportation.  I found the museum thought provoking.  It serves as a poignant reminder that atrocities still occur today and invites the visitor to ask questions and look for answers.  Alongside the barracks is a restored railway goods wagon that had been used to transport the Jews from the barracks to Auschwitz Birkenau.

Haverwerf on the banks of the River Dyle

Haverwerf on the banks of the River Dyle

We visited many other things of interest; the garden of the former palace of Margaret of Austria (Belgium was, at one time, a part of the Holy Roman Empire, which was ruled by the Austrian Habsberg dynasty), an art exhibition of the work of Rik Wouters which is housed in the Schepenhuis, the toy museum, the Beguinages and we strolled through the botanic garden to see the ancient wooden fulling mill and also along the River Dyle passing the Haverwerf and three noticeable houses from the sixteenth and seventeenth century.  We were even lucky enough to find ourselves next to the Grote Markt when the annual carnival was in full flow. The town has its own brewery as do many towns in Belgium, although we didn’t go inside we passed it on more than one occasion as we explored Mechelen.

No visit to Belgium is complete without sampling some chocolate.  We came home with a box for ourselves and some as gifts.  The lady in the shop guided us through the different options and helped us to choose a bespoke collection for someone who has nut allergies.  The delicious chocolates didn’t last long…

I enjoyed my stay in Mechelen and the Hotel Patershof; there is more than a passing chance that I may return there one day.

You can read the unabridged version of my travels in the following links; Mechelen Day OneMechelen Day TwoMechelen Day ThreeMechelen Day Four and Mechelen Day Five

The best place to find out about the attractions of Mechelen is the official tourism site.

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Kazerne Dossin

Kazerne DossinMechelen played a sobering part in the history of WWII.  Within the city, the Kazerne Dossin museum and military barracks serve as a permanent history and memorial to the Jews who were held there awaiting deportation to Nazi concentration camps.

The Kazerne Dossin museum of ‘deportation and resistance’ was initially housed in the former Dossin barracks until a new purpose built building, containing a more permanent exhibition took its place.

The Dossin barracks was a waiting room for death for more than 25,000 Jews and gypsies from Belgium and Northern France during the Second World War. The museum serves as memorial to those deportees and as a poignant reminder that atrocities still occur today and invites the visitor to ask questions and look for answers.

From Museum website:

The barracks were designated ‘Sammellager’, a transit camp for Jews and gypsies. The central location of the barracks (between Antwerp and Brussels where most of the Jews lived), the railway next to the barracks, and the enclosed structure made this location the ideal deportation centre. Between July 1942 and September 1944, 25,492 Jews and 352 gypsies were rounded up and transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau and to a number of smaller concentration camps. Two-third of the deported persons was gassed immediately upon arrival. At the liberation of the camps, only 1,395 were still alive. On 30 May 1948, a commemorative plaque was attached to the façade of the Dossin barracks as commemoration to this abomination. Since 1956, an annual ceremony is organised to commemorate the victims.

Between 1942 and 1944, 25,484 Jews and 352 gypsies were deported from the barracks to Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Only 5% (approximately 1200 – 1300) returned!

The museums introductory film presents some chilling images and poses some disturbing questions. The film highlights the part that Belgium played in the Holocaust and touches upon other human rights issues in recent times.

The Kazerne Dossin museum deals with wider issues than the ‘Belgian Case’ and deportation of the Jews by focusing on massive violence as a central theme.  Starting with the Holocaust it looks at how group pressure and collective violence can, under certain conditions, lead to mass murder and genocide.  The behaviours of instigators and opportunists are explored and how they instigate collective violence.  It questions why individuals find it difficult to say, ‘No’.

An enormous photo wall spans five floors showing the faces of the 25,856 deportees and their human aspect contrasts with those whose propaganda and mass hysteria persecuted the deportees and threatened them with annihilation.

Within the museum two of the rooms are dedicated to present the names and faces of those who were deported therefore breaching the anonymity of the victims and going against the aim of the Nazis which was to extinguish them without a trace.

The two rooms can be viewed here and here.

The museum is both sobering and thought provoking, inviting the visitor to ask questions and look for answers.

A railway ran alongside the barracks and today a restored railway goods wagon that had been used to transport the Jews from the barracks to Auschwitz Birkenau can be seen next to the barracks in the place where the tracks used to lie.

The former barracks have now been turned into residential apartments but a memorial remains in one corner of the Dossin barracks.  When I stepped into the quadrangle I heard the beautiful sound of birds singing and it was so peaceful that I found it difficult to imagine the sadness of its former use.

We must ensure that we remember, think and act to stop these atrocities recurring…

A Weekend Away in Mechelen

A Weekend Away in MechelenMy recent journey to and from Mechelen by train including Eurostar was enjoyable and relaxing.  We had the luxury of being served with meals and drinks on both inward and outward journeys.  On arrival in Mechelen we quickly unpacked our bags before setting off to explore the city.  The Eyewitness Travel Guide to Belgium and Luxembourg states that the historic city of Mechelen, on the River Dijle, has exceptional charm.  It was easy to see why.  During my stay one thing I couldn’t help but notice was the abundance of bicycles both with and without riders.  I will always remember Mechelen as the city of bicycles.

You may recall from my last V&V post that I had fallen in love with a hotel (Martin’s Patershof) which led to us choosing Mechelen as a destination.  The hotel lived up to expectations.  Architectural features and stained glass windows are prominent throughout the hotel and our room had a stained glass window and stone pillars.  The breakfast room is quite stunning being situated in what was the choir of the church.  The breakfast buffet was one of the best I have ever seen.  There was even a decadent option of having a complimentary glass of Cava; I decided not to indulge so early in the morning.

Although this hotel is no longer a place of worship there are many historic churches still in use and eight are promoted as especially worthy of a visit. St Rumbold’s Cathedral with its wonderful architecture, artworks and stained glass windows was on our ‘to visit’ list but it was difficult to decide which others to include.  We settled on the Beguinage Church (which we found to be full of amazing artworks and treasures), Church of our Lady Hanswidj (whilst there we learned that it would shut for renovations in just two weeks’ time for four years), and the Church of our Lady across the Dyle. The custodians of each of the churches were very proud of their churches and keen to point out the special features of each to us. Being English we were somewhat of a novelty to them, with Mechelen not being an obvious choice for English travelers.

Mechelen played a sobering part in the history of WW2 so the Kazerne Dossin museum and military barracks were also on our ‘to visit’ list.  The barracks and museum serve as a permanent history and memorial to the Jews who were held there awaiting deportation.  I found the museum thought provoking.  It serves as a poignant reminder that atrocities still occur today and invites the visitor to ask questions and look for answers.  Alongside the barracks is a restored railway goods wagon that had been used to transport the Jews from the barracks to Auschwitz Birkenau.

We visited many other things of interest; the garden of the former palace of Margaret of Austria, an art exhibition of the work of Rik Wouters which is housed in the Schepenhuis,  the toy museum, the Beguinages and we strolled through the botanic garden to see the ancient wooden fulling mill.  We were even lucky enough to find ourselves next to the Grote Markt when the annual carnival was in full flow.

No visit to Belgium is complete without sampling some chocolate.  We came home with a box for ourselves and some as gifts.  The lady in the shop guided us through the different options and helped us to choose a bespoke collection for someone who has nut allergies.  The delicious chocolates are sadly already gone…

I enjoyed my stay in Mechelen and the Hotel Patershof; there is more than a passing chance that I may return there one day 😉

You can read the unabridged version of my travels in the following links; Mechelen Day One, Mechelen Day Two, Mechelen Day Three, Mechelen Day Four and Mechelen Day Five. I am currently writing up on the details and history of the places that I visited.

A Christmas Gift

A Christmas Gift

When Christmas time arrived, Mr C and I didn’t really want anything in the way of presents so we decided to treat ourselves to a relaxing weekend away instead.  This ruled out flying to a destination because that would mean several (non-relaxing) hours in an airport waiting to fly…

As luck would have it an email arrived from the Belgian hotel chain that we used when we stayed in Bruges.  It gave us inspiration and I fell in love with one of the hotels in the chain.  The Hotel is a converted Church!  I researched the hotel’s town and found that it had many things of interest.  The guidebooks describe it as a beautiful medieval town, with charm and outstanding architectural treasures.

But how would we get there…

We decided that the best way to travel was by train.  The ‘end to end’ journey could easily be booked via the Eurostar site.  As well as travel to Brussels by Eurostar, we also booked travel by rail to London and onward from Brussels.

In theory it should all be ‘Plane Railing’ and I will be able to sit and relax and watch the world go by and maybe take a photo or two along the way.

By the time you read this I should be able to tell you how we faired on our travels…