Just an hour outside of Brussels (that is, if you don’t miss your turn and go the wrong way on the Ring and pretend that you did it on purpose..ahem) is Mons, Belgium. Mons is home to SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe – fancy), one of the military commands of NATO where the American accents run rampant. The day was a pretty one, and lively, too. It attracted a festival of bounce houses in the city’s Grand Place. Kids running around bragging about their bags of candy (dropping them on the ground as if they’ll never run out). Just wait (I mean, don’t..it’ll prob be a while) til we have a little kid to score us candy bags. I’m hoping they’ll take after their pops and not crave sweets so I get the whole loot. A girl can dream big.
I was trying not to pay attention to the tiny, little candy hoarders and to keep looking up. You see, the thing with Mons is the steeples. The steeples in this city, man. Poking out of the skyline wherever you walked – turn the corner…oh, look another one! While we were in the Grand Place, I went to scoop a tourist map to tell us the names of them. The guy seemed too eager that I spoke English and gave me every English-written pamphlet in that little tourist office. I usually feel like my American accent is a burden, but this week has been unusual. This week I’ve had TWO people get excited that they can practice their English lessons on me. I’ll take it. I’m so helpful. Aaaanyway, the city was full of us English speakers, maybe he’d been waiting a while for one of us to walk in and give him a chance.
After we had our map, we took to the path. Actually, I take that back – we didn’t. We saw another steeple that wasn’t on the path and felt sorry for it. Why didn’t it get included? We walked in and verbally exclaimed ‘this isn’t the nicest.’ We felt kind of bad for even thinking such a thing about a holy building, but in our defense, it hasn’t been kept up very well. After our fair share of basilicas and Notre Dames throughout Europe, the bar has been set pretty dang high. This one in particular looks like it used to be nice, but the updated nonupdated fluorescent lights they installed to hang from the antique ceiling and silver bars hanging over the pews….just…no. This is why it didn’t get included. Call us church snobs, if you must.
The path turned out to be more of a scavenger hunt. ‘On the facade of the Grand Place, you’ll find..’ um, by definition, Grand Place is huge. Okay, where is this monkey? No, really. There was a monkey. And he was tiny, but allegedly good luck if you rubbed his head with your left hand. When in Mons. The Town Hall has only one story above ground equipped with hidden gardens and all. Then there was Square du Chateau, or Castle Park, which looked like a big blob on the map, but we had the hardest time finding it – switching turns with the map, because, surely it couldn’t be this hard. Apparently, the square is on a higher level, so while we’re looking for a park to ‘stroll around’, we needed to find the steep walk-up to the upper level -whha? I don’t know..it was weird, but we found it…8 calve muscles later. THEN, when we got up to that pretty, pretty, over-looking-city park, we visited the Saint Calixte Chapel, the oldest monument in Mons, and the door guy asked us if we’d like to see the tomb. Justin asked him what’s in it. He told us ‘c’est une surprise!’ That still cracks me up. He brought us down below and unlocked the tomb doors to show us mummies and French inscriptions everywhere. We were the only ones he invited, and there were lots of visitors. I know, why? Also, the Belfry on the square is a UNESCO site, but it was closed. Maybe it was for the best – we had had enough tall, scenic views and calf muscles…
There’s this group that meets at 17 every Sunday to sing hymns in one of the city’s prettiest buildings, Sainte-Waudru. The church really is exceptional. They heard my voice and asked us to join in the choir. No, no that’s actually not true. I think it was because they didn’t hear my voice that they invited us to sing along. We declined, mostly because we can’t sing and also because we know zero hymns in French, though that would be impressive. I wouldn’t mind knowing how to play the organ either.