In 2018, I prepared myself to miles of walking, after finishing a Summer School at the Antwerp University. My plan was to exhaust all UNESCO World Heritage Sites (WHS) in the Flemish region of Belgium. However, plans usually are just there to guide your anticipation and excitement. For a strange reason, my plan of visiting at least five more WHS including the Stoclet House in Brussels and the Maison Guitte in Antwerp, did not push through for a variety of reasons. One reason is the miscalculation of the distances of these sites from where I was billeted.
I spent several hours loitering around some sites, which I thought were part of the Flemish Béguinages. Do not get me wrong, I do not mean these sites – in Antwerp and in Ghent – were not fantastic and not as historically relevant as those listed as WHS. It’s just that my intention was really to add a few more WHS in the list of my travel map. Besides, it might (it will) take a long time for me to be able to get back to Northwestern Europe.
On my last day in Belgium, I was in Mechelen. My goal was to visit two sites: St. Rumbold’s Cathedral (specifically, to climb at the top of its belfry) and the Lakenhal, two belfries included in the WHS collectively known as the Belfries of Belgium and France.
I was able to climb the top of the belfry but I did not have a chance to enter the lakenhal at the Mechelen City Hall because there was a private function at the time of my visit.
While having lunch at this cute little restaurant, I had an opportunity of engaging a little chat with the restaurant’s owner (who I thought was also cute). I guess that’s because at the time of my visit, that was the only restaurant opened and accordingly, I was too early for lunch. In the little talk we had – he recommended a visit to the Grand Béguinage at Mechelen. As he gleefully mentioned, it was market day.
I googled. And how could I miss this in my research! But thank goodness, I still had time.
“Just a few minutes walk from St. Rumbold’s” he said.
That’s not bad. Assuring me a very navigable WHS. Was I excited? I was. Finally, I will be able to see the charm of this WHS.
What was I expecting? A group of beguines selling goods and products they themselves produced – very much like the Good Shepherd sisters in Baguio City in the Northern Philippines who produce and sell sweet jams such as ube, guava, and strawberry, and baked products such as angels cookies, lengua de gato, among others. The proceeds are used for charity.
After a fantastic lunch, I started navigating the directions given by the restaurant owner. After 20 minutes, I had to stop – confused that I am seeing a river – something which was not in the list of landmarks that the restaurant owner mentioned. There was a bakery nearby and I inquired.
I was in a totally different direction. I was asked to go back and find by way to the béguinage via the opposite direction. There’s another way going there from the bakery. But I thought the direction given by the baker was more complicated due to the several shifts and turns (or for lost in translation).
I went back to St. Rumbold’s. I took a deep breath in preparation for another few minutes of walk going to the other direction. I anticipated a similar distance.
Only a few minutes of walking, the smell of sweet waffles and chocolate syrup began to arouse my excitement. It made me obsessed with waffles was an understatement! And what exactly did I do upon arrival: move to one of the residential areas of the Large Beguinage, buy a piece of waffle and eat it passionately.
And just like that: I was already in the Mechelen’s Large Béguinage!
In the next days, I will talk about my fantastic time at Mechelen’s UNESCO World Heritage Site’s Béguinage.