Mons in a day

Jojo was off early for a job interview in Brussels, but the rest of the family sorted me out, breakfasted me up and set me off for a walk around Mons in the sunshine. It’s a very small town, but ideal for a stroll.

Like all Belgian towns, I am told, it is based around a large “Place” in front of the town hall, or Hotel de Ville. Roads lead in/out in all directions and the town square is surrounded mainly by night shops, bars and restaurants. At lunchtimes and in the evenings the atmosphere is wonderful. On the front of the town hall in Mons is a brass monkey which is not used for telling the weather. Instead it has a very shiny head, as rubbing it with your left hand is supposed to bring luck. I gave it a fair old rub after yesterday’s events.

Inside the doors are several plaques, mainly relating to the first World War. Mons was the last place liberated on Armistice Day, 1918 after 50 months of occupation. The last bullets fired in WWI were fired here.

A street or so away from the centre is a very old church which I took a quick look around. It’s very reminiscent of a traditional British church, if such a thing exists and from what I can remember of them.

Walking around randomly I always seemed to end up at the Town Square. It’s hard to get lost in Mons. There is a McD’s on the square – the only consession I could spot to a major international restaurant anywhere in the town. I decided to avoid it as they didn’t even have free wireless! Instead I walked off the main square, past the obligatory Irish bar and to one of many Belgian ones of a street by themselves. I settled on a glass of Belle Vue Kriek cherry beer and a sunny seat outside. As the barman said “Belgian beer – best in the world!”. Except mayby Newcastle Brown but I’ll allow him his national pride.

On the way back to the house I picked up another Belgian speciality – the waffle. All I needed now was some of that lovely chocolate… I chilled out for a bit back at the flat and booked a hostel in Frankfurt for early the next week. I ploughed through some more of the book I was reading and then went out again to keep the legs stretched… and to find a chocolate shop.

Believe it or not it took me 45 minutes to locate such an establishment (I’d walked past it on the way to the square and not seen it), but when I did I picked up a handful of choccies for after dinner. I couldn’t believe the price – 2.50 Euros for ten, around half what I’ve have paid back home. That’s when I felt like a skinflint and wished I’d bought more.

I returned with my bounty and Jojo’s mum prepared dinner. Tonight we had Authentic Portuguese cod, steak, veg soupm sausage and Belgian chocolate. Some combination! After dinner, Jojo invited me for a walk and we wandered into the centre with one of his brothers. There we located an Arabian tea shop and sat drinking delicious mint tea for a while before my hosts showed me around the university.

As we walked, Jojo told me a little about the history of Mons. The town was actually built around the largest church which used to be a convent and is the oldest building in the town. Each year there is a festival (I missed it by 2 weeks) where a holy relic is taken from the church and paraded around town. Legend has it that a dragn was slayed nearby as well and a large plastic reproduction (real ones are hard to find these days) is taken into the town square and “dances” for the crowd. The area is packed with people trying to snatch hairs from the dragon’s tail for good luck.

Afterwards, everything must be taken back to the church up a very steep hill using an old cart pulled by people. It’s not allowed to slide down the hill otherwise the town will suffer bad luck in the coming year. Tradition is a very important part of life in Mons!

At the universitym a small memorial has been set up for all the victims of those killed during the Japanese nuclear bombings and in all the tests performed before and since. Sadly, to say it’s in a state of disrepair is an understatement. Not only is grass growing through the gravel in places, certain parts have been uprooted and damaged. “This would never happen in Holland,” Jojo told me – he lived and studied there for a year. It is such a shame as it’s a lovely, simple monument as well. I guess even somewhere as nice as Mons has its idiot minority.

Back at the house I ploughed through the rest of my novel so I could leave it for Jojo before zonking out on my mat after a really enjoyable day.

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