Saturday, January 24, 2015

The coolest place you’ve never heard of: Three things I love about Mechelen

The tower of Saint Rombouts Cathedral in Mechelen

London. Paris. Amsterdam. Brussels. Bangkok. New York. These are some of the world’s greatest cities and some of my favorite destinations too – each an undeniably awesome center of culture amazing in its own right. 

But my favorite city – the one I’m always happy to come back to – is my home town of Mechelen, Belgium. 

What, you mean you’ve never heard of it? 

Mechelen is a small city of about 80,000 people in the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium, a quick twenty minute train ride from both Brussels and Antwerp. Before I moved to Europe more than a decade ago, I had never heard of Mechelen either. But now I’m proud to call myself a Mechelaar

While it might not be that big, Mechelen has a perfect mix of young and old, traditional and trendy, and local and global influences, making it uniquely dynamic and charming at the same time.

You don’t have to just take my word for it though. I hit the streets to find out what other people like most about Mechelen too. So without further ado, let me introduce you:

This is me, John 
Age: 34 
Occupation: Marketing by day, Blogger by night 
Place of origin: Alliance, Ohio (USA) 

What I love about Mechelen

1.) It’s got the best beer in the world. No joke - the local brew, Gouden Carolus, won the World’s Best Dark Beer prize in 2012. 

2.) Its many independent coffee bars. Yes, this is one of the few places on earth where you won't find a Starbucks on every corner.

3.) And last but not least, it’s home to some of the friendliest people I've ever met...

Myriam “De Bellemadam” (The Bell Lady) 
Age: 60 
Occupation: Town crier; retired caregiver 
Place of origin: Mechelen born & raised

What I love about Mechelen

1.) Everything! Its many monuments, beautiful buildings, Town Hall, the Bontanique park, the Big and Small Beguinages, … 

2.) The people (Mechelaars). They can be shy at first, but once you get to know them they are friends for life. 

3.) Its long and proud history that goes back for centuries and centuries. 

Age: 30 
Occupation: Hairdresser 
Place of origin: Hamme, Belgium 

What I love about Mechelen

1.) There are a lot of cultural activities organized throughout the year and many beautiful historical buildings. 

2.) It’s really gezellig (cosy).

3.) People still stop and talk to each other on the street and there’s a more personal feel than you have in bigger cities. 

Age: 23 
Occupation: Food service industry 
Place of origin: Sint-Katelijne Waver, Belgium

What I love about Mechelen 

1.) It has nice restaurants. Den Beer on the Grote Markt and De Tien Gheboden on the Woolemarkt are my favorites. 

2.) The Vismarkt is a good place to meet friends and have a drink on the weekend. 

3.) The shopping street (Bruul) where you can find anything you need. 

Age: 87 
Occupation: Retired butcher 
Place of origin: Boortmeerbeek, Belgium 

What I love about Mechelen 

1.) The beautiful old buildings, like the Town Hall and Saint Rombouts Cathedral. 

2.) Taking walks along the IJzerleen. 

3.) The new public swimming pool at the Nekkerhal.

Age: 29 
Occupation: Student (Business Management) 
Place of origin: Cameroon 

What I love about Mechelen 

1.) The city center is nice. Always a lot of people around, nice cafés, and good places to hang out with friends. 

2.) Near the train station there’s a nice café with good music where I like to go with my brother. I forget the name though! 

3.) The football team, KV Mechelen. I go to a lot of games because my brother plays on the team. 

Age: 70 
Occupation: Retired primary school teacher 
Place of origin: West-Flanders, Belgium

What I love about Mechelen 

1.) It’s a safe city and the police are nice. It’s also evolving in a good way thanks to the work of the mayor. 

2.) The train connection is very good to Brussels, Antwerp or anywhere else you want to go. 

3.) It’s a kid-friendly city with a lot of fun things to do for families like the Technopolis Science Center, Planckendael Zoo, the Toy Museum, … 

There’s a lot more to love about Mechelen, so let me know what’s on your list in the comments. And if you’ve never been, give me a shout when you do and I’ll show you around!

I wrote this post as my entry in the Accor Hotels ‘A Tale of Three Cities’ contest. Find out more here.

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