On Sunday morning we left Brussels behind and drove to Mons, capital of the Belgian province of Hainaut, 45 minutes to the south. We were on a mission: to revisit my youth--the scene of countless crimes of fashion and zero crimes of passion, now seventeen long years past. We were also hoping to find someplace decent to eat lunch. They were two very important missions, you see.
Grand Place and Hotel de Ville, Mons
Mons was quiet and empty when we arrived. We had to park on a side street and find our way down to the Grand Place. It was cold and breezy. The sky was overcast and gray. Thankfully, the predicted rain had held off.
We wandered around the market square, where I showed the kids the famous Mons monkey.
See how shiny his head is?
That's because the residents of Mons rub his head when they pass him, for luck. It's a tradition.
We all took our turns.
I hoped my good luck would soon lead me to a nice, cold glass of beer.
**Update: Mr. Lush was asking me about the history of the Mons monkey, so I started reading about him online...It turns out he's been visited (and caressed) by Emperor Napoleon of France. What do you think of that, Alice? A timely coincidence!
View of the bell tower, Le Beffroi, Mons
I had high expectations for this visit to Mons. I'd been mentally preparing myself during the car ride, however, for a slight feeling of disappointment. It's hard to truly appreciate a city like Mons--which thrives in the warm summer months--with its open air cafes and lively market square--but seems rather grim and sterile in the dark, cold winter months. I wondered if it would be depressing to be back at this time of year.
It turns out I had nothing to worry about. The city center was deserted, but familiar and reassuring. Nothing had changed, really. We walked along the cobblestone streets and into the pedestrian zone, which lead past small shops, restaurants and bars. Even the alleyways looked pleasantly familiar.
Eventually we made our way to the most famous building in Mons. It's the St. Waudru cathedral, named for St. Waudru, the founder of a monastery here during the 7th century.
It also happens to be where I graduated from high school.
After hanging around the cathedral for a bit, we made our way back out to the Grand Place to find someplace to eat lunch.
Eventually, we settled on "The Copenhagen," a Danish restaurant and bar where I used to put away a few of these back in the day:
They're Carlsburg Elephants. Mr. Lush coveted the beer glasses...
while I coveted what was IN them.
Fun Fact: You know who else lived in Mons for a time?
Mr. Vincent Van Gogh, in 1879.
It's where he painted one of his first paintings, "The Potato Eaters."
He was living in Mons, working as an evangelist, preaching to and comforting the poor coal miners, in an area known as "The Borinage."
The photo above is the belfry in Mons, known as Le Beffroi. It's a famous landmark, once written about by Victor Hugo in a letter to his wife. He wrote: 'Imagine a giant coffee pot, with under it four smaller tea pots. It would be very ugly if it weren't that big.'
Vincent Van Gogh and Victor Hugo--both in the tiny city of Mons for a short while during their lives. This little city attracts good company, methinks.
How could this have happened? Why? Why?
So, let's recap: Mons, former home of Vincent Van Gogh, visited and written about by Victor Hugo...now home to Chi-Chi's.