Aside from being just a short train ride from Brussels, Mons also appealed to us as a day trip destination due to its status as one of the European Capitals of Culture for 2015, which is being celebrated with a number or cultural works and events in the city throughout the year. We already had the chance to check out the Ailleurs En Folie event earlier in the year, and had been keen ever since to head back and explore more of the city. When we found a great deal for an overnight stay at the Dream Hotel (which, being a former convent, was an experience in itself) we packed our walking shoes and set off to discover what the city had to offer.
Our first stop was the Grand Place, the beautiful central square surrounded by colourful building facades, restaurants and cafes with outdoor terraces. Buzzing with activity, the square was even more animated during our visit thanks to a giant swing installation called “Wannaplay” which featured a set of sixteen interactive swings that each produced a unique melody depending on the rhythm of the person doing the swinging.
The Lucky Monkey
The most impressive building on the Grand Place is the Town Hall, which is particularly picturesque at night. The gates of the 15th-century gothic building lead to a pretty courtyard garden which features a giant boot-shaped bush. But the real stand-out is the small iron monkey statue at the front that is supposed to bring good luck if you pat its head with your left hand while making a wish.
A wander through the town’s steep cobbled streets revealed some narrow alleyways, unusually short doorways and some interesting street art along the way. A highlight for me was the poetry art installation (part of the Mons 2015 cultural programme), with phrases, in French, painted onto several buildings and on pavements. Entitled ‘The Phrase’ the work starts at the train station and weaves along the city’s walls, parks and cobblestones for a total of ten kilometres. Another eye-catching piece was the psychedelic forest by famous Brussels graffiti artist Bonom.
As we explored the historic city centre, I was struck by a brick building whose windows had been cleverly used to frame paintings of scenes that looked as though they had come straight out of a 1950s Hollywood film. Throughout the weekend we came across a few more of these windows and learned that there are several dotted around the city which make up another installation artwork that is part of the Mons 2015 programme, called ‘True Story’. These eye-catching reproductions of comics and posters of Hollywood films by local art students Calvin Dussart and Charles Myncke really brought these buildings to life.
For our visit to Mons I had my sights set on the Belfry, a UNESCO-listed site and the only baroque style belfry in Belgium. I had mentally prepared myself for the climb to the top, through an ancient hidden alleyway called Ruelle César which winds up the hillside behind old houses to a summit which offers a panoramic view of the town. I was disappointed to find that the Belfry was closed on this particular day, and the entry gate to Ruelle César was locked. But the tower was still impressive to view, even from afar.
Plaza Art Cinema
After a day of exploring we gave a our feet a short rest as we took in a film at the Plaza Art Cinema, an independent movie theatre which, unusually for a cinema in French-speaking Belgium, screens international movies in their original language rather than dubbed in French. Located just off the Grand Place, it is perfectly positioned for a pre-or post- theatre drink at one of the square’s many bars.