It is a beautiful city with lots of charm and history
Our third day in Belgium, and our third city in the area of Wallonia. This time, we were headed to Mons. We had a quick breakfast at our hotel in Tournai and made our way back to the train station. Note to all: the toilets were closed when we passed through…so if you need to use the rest rooms, do so before arriving or you will be out of luck. The train itself had little booth type seats with a most uncomfortable back that was board straight and left no room for poor posture. Luckily, the trip was short (no more than an hour) and we were in Mons by 11am.
The hotel in Mons was relatively close to the train station, however it required us to hike uphill past the enormous church that we would later learn was not actually a cathedral. We passed through the Grand Place, and within minutes had reached our hotel which was centrally located, clean and staffed by friendly workers (always a welcome thing when you are travelling.)
We decided that before setting out to explore Mons, we would take a minute and have a glass of beer in the Grand Place and organize our travel notes. This was a fabulous idea given that the weather was so fickle. We only spent about 24 hours in Mons, but we saw sun, clouds and rain during that time. The beer was served with little cubes of cheese. I´m not sure exactly what kind, but in a country that is not as generous with its tapas as Spain, we were excited to see something to nibble on along with our beer (and I do love cheese!) As we contemplated the scenery we realized that this was the Grand Place that you might imagine from reading about the history of Belgium. The Town Hall was huge and built from a blue grey stone that had weathered over the years causing parts to turn dark, almost black. It reminded me of the Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh, which turned black in spots due to pollution and rain. The square itself reminded me of somewhere that Belle might dance around with her books in the opening of Beauty and the Beast. Maybe this is not the best description in the world, but there was a storybook quality to almost everything I saw in Belgium.
We decided to start out by seeing the famous Belfry of Mons up close and personal. The only downfall to this plan was the fact that it was undergoing renovations and we weren´t able to climb to the top. This really was a shame, because it is 87m tall and appeared to have at least as good a view as we had enjoyed the previous day in Tournai.Just around the corner we found some red brick houses that were supposedly built in the Spanish style and date back to the 16th century.
Just down the street from the Belfry and Spanish houses was the collegiate church of Sainte-Waudru, built in gothic style architecture. The church dates back to the 15th century and is considered to be one of the defining monuments of Mons along with the Belfry. Inside, the church was beautiful with huge stained glass windows, gorgeous works of art and sculptures and impossibly tall ceilings. While we were there they were setting up some kind of stage for a choral performance, or something of the like. There was also a huge banner announcing that Mons was chosen to be the Cultural Capital of Europe for the year 2015.
We walked out of the church, and learned (after the fact) that it was not actually a cathedral. I think because of its size and presence we just assumed that it had to be a cathedral, and not a regular church. But, as it turns out, Mons does not have an official cathedral. Interesting factoid. Of course, we only learned this because it started to rain just as we were leaving and we paused to take out our umbrellas next to the little plaque that explained the history of the building. We also decided that it was high time we looked for some lunch. But, again, we were on a Spanish schedule in terms of lunch hours, so we began what seemed like an unending search for a restaurant that would serve us some lunch type food. The search, however, proved to be a great way to see some more of the streets of Mons.
One of my favorite things about the city of Mons was seeing the little hidden corners and winding cobblestone streets of the city center. There were so many places that invited you to stop and take a photo! We wound our way down the main shopping street of Mons, passing tons of shoppers, but not too many restaurants. It was strange, because we passed a good number of Chinese restaurants, but nothing stood out to us as being typical of Mons (I´m sure we were missing something, but we continued until we arrived in the Grand Place). And, in the end we had lunch near the hotel.
After we had eaten, we were newly fortified to continue our visit of Mons. We wandered down one of the streets off the Grand Place, and the first thing we came upon was the Royal Music Conservatory. Located at number 7, Rue de Nimy, the Conservatory is housed in a 17th century convent, and you could hear strains of music coming out of the open windows.
We continued down the street to the Church of Saint Elizabeth, built in 1588 in the Gothic style. Inside, what struck me most was the fact that there were no pews. Instead, there were rows and rows of straight backed chairs, the kind you might expect to find around a kitchen table, waiting for parishioners. As was the case in many of the churches, there were extravagant examples of sculpture and stained glass windows that took advantage of the rays of sun that managed to break through the cloudy skys.
Mons is a University town, and we wanted to get a glimpse of student life, so our next stop was the University of Mons. What we didn´t realize when we left Saint Elizabeth, was that the University is located a good distance away from the city center. We passed through an area of old cobblestone streets and picturesque buildings on our way out of the historic center of town. We also found a charming little park where we stopped to take in our beautiful surroundings. There were little kids playing, and everything, for a moment seemed very idyllic.
After walking another 10 minutes or so away from the center of town, we came upon a very modern (in comparison with what we had seen up to that point) university campus. What we could see of the University Campus was quite small compared to the Universities that we attended (Pedro in Málaga and Madrid and I studied in Pittsburgh and New York, this was not a surprising factor. What struck me about the campus was the lack of color. The buildings were very plain and the paths were not adorned with flower beds or anything to decorate them, so to speak. There were few students around, but we did visit on the day before a national holiday late in the afternoon, so the atmosphere wasn´t the best. Just before leaving the campus, we came upon a touching memorial to the victims of Hiroshima located in one corner of the campus in the form of a rock garden. Its simplicity made us both reflect and stop for a minute.
We made our way slowly back to the Grand Place, where we had begun, and on the way enjoyed seeing some more of the side streets of Mons. Its interesting, because Mons is caught somewhere in the middle between being a tourist destination and a town for the locals and university students. You won´t find many shops dedicated to selling souvineers or guide books, but at the same time, Mons is slated to become the European Capital of Culture in a few years. I expect with this new project on the horizon, things might change. But for now, you can still enjoy the local atmosphere, and get lost on its winding side streets.
We ruskommend a visit to Mons with 4 boquerones. It is a beautiful city with lots of charm and history. Everything is within walking distance, so it’s easy to get around, and you can visit the major landmarks in one day without a problem.