Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

Ease Up in Belgium’s Mechelen

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Margaret of Austria ruled the Netherlands from this palace in Mechelen, Belgium. 

Story and photo by  

Sandy Katz

MECHELEN, Belgium —- Perched on the Dijle River in the relative shadows of both Brussels and Antwerp,  this town glistened when Margaret of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands, made it her capital from 1506 to 1530.

Taking advantage of Ludwig van Beethoven’s family roots, it has honored the famous composer
with an elegant statue even though he was born and raised in Bonn. The Mechelen connection
stems from Beethoven’s grandfather, who worked here as a baker, and great-grandfather, who ran a painting business.

The best way to take a look around this center for lace, baroque woodwork and drapery tapestry that’s but a an 11-minute train ride from Brussels Airport is on foot or by bicycle. There are trendy shops, friendly terraces, galleries, museums, and recreational areas for sailing, fishing, mini-golf and windsurfing.

The symbol of Mechelen is the imposing St. Rumbold’s Tower, a UNESCO World Heritage Site completed in 1536 in late Gothic style. If you can negotiate the stairs to the skywalk atop the tower, you are rewarded with a magnificent panoramic view. Eight historic churches fill the city center and each displays religious treasures.

The spectacular Renaissance  facade of the Palace f Margaret of Austria frontage features
her coat of arms. The building still houses the law courts but you can still enjoy some quiet and tranquility in  charming gardens. For another pleasant pastime, you can take the footpath along the back of picturesque old houses lining the Dijle.

The Kazerne Dossin is a special place of remembrance for Belgium. This center keeps alive the memory of the Holocaust and it gives a face to 19,000 of the departed.

Mechelen is just what you need for rest and respite after dashing around nearby Antwerp. Widely known as a global center for the diamond trade, Antwerp also has long been the capital of Belgium’s fashion industry. It’s also the birthplace of Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens.

And it’s the home of the Red Star Line Museum that traces the late-19th- and early-20th-century immigration of Eastern Europeans through Antwerp to the United States and Canada.
Between 1873 and 1934, the Belgium shipping company Red Star Line transported approximately 2 million migrants from Antwerp to New York. What makes the Red Star Line’s passenger lists different is that it transported Eastern Europeans of Jewish origin mainly, including Irving Berlin and Albert Einstein, who were fleeing persecutions by the Czar of Russia and Hitler.

This museum is in a restored warehouse of the Red Star shipping company and mirrors the American-arrival story housed in the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. Not everyone who hoped for passage through Antwerp was allowed to leave on the 10-day transatlantic voyage. Everyone had to pass a medical examination first.

Between visits to the many historical gems around this country, you can sample its tasty specialties along the way. Belgium Waffles, which were introduced to America at New York’s 1964 World’s Fair, are available from street vendors and in gourmet restaurants. They’re usually served warm and dusted with confectioner’s sugar or topped with whipped cream, soft fruit or chocolate.

Potato fries – French Fries – are part of Belgium’s culinary cultural heritage. They are often eaten with mayo or served with mussels or Flemish stew. There are more than 50 dipping sauces to choose from.

Belgium endive is a popular vegetable, as are Brussels sprouts. And Belgian beer is featured in a number of recipes. Beer Central, which offers 300 types of bottled beers and has 20 beers on tap, is the perfect bar to jump into the Belgium beer culture. Connoisseurs favor Belgian beer for its variety, flavor and character. It has enjoyed the unparalleled reputation for its specialty beers since the Middle Ages.

Mature Life Features, Copyright 2015

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Written by Cecil Scaglione

February 15, 2015 at 11:33 am

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