07.05.2010 - 09.05.2010
It's only been a couple of months since my last weekend break but I was itching to get out of the country again. Due to struggling for work and often trading in silver for copper, I am currently limited to the odd short break after a period of strategic saving. Despite my cynical persona I often make the best out of tight situations and I am starting to realise the value of this as I get older, especially in the face of those who assume the fantasy life I seek to lead is unobtainable. Alas, it seemed a bit touch and go whether I could afford to get to Lille, but by the time I arrived I was in a strong position to do whatever I liked.
We'd booked our stay at the hotel Citea. It was cheap and had fairly decent reviews so it seemed like the best option. Upon our arrival we are not disappointed, and I woud certainly stay here again, ticking as it does, all the right boxes - clean, cheap and good location. We located it easily after a 15 minute walk, and after dumping our gear we decide to head out and envelope ourselves in Lille.
The Art Nouveau facade of La Maison Coilliot was something I wished to see. Not because I have a particular interest in Art Nouveau but because it was designed by Hector Guimard, who also designed the entrances to the Paris Metro which opened in 1900. It sits rather shyly on the small and quite insignificant Rue de Fleurus, shoulder to shoulder with it's neighbours as if being squeezed out of the ground, rising upwards to the light. This is the intended spectacle I'm sure.
Something of the Art Nouveau is replicated on an indoor market (Marche De Wazemmes) situated in a square as we sit across from it having a drink outside the Bar de la Paix on Rue Leon Gambetta. I have a slight headache and it is good to relax. The area is nothing special but delivers a good dose of bustling life, and a drunk old man kindly called my girlfriend 'belle', which was nice.
After a long walk and a lot of deliberation, my stomach tells me it's late and we end up at Aux Moules, on Rue de Béthune. I hate mussels, and sea food in general for that matter but as usual feminine coercian is a powerful thing. Fair enough, mind, I enjoy a cracking pot of cheese known as a Welsh Complet. This is one hell of a dish and I highly recommend it. Aside from that, the restaurant is reasonbly priced and delivers a great, casual atmosphere.
It is the following morning and we take a walk into the old part of Lille, and in search for an andidote to my hangover we stop at Cafe aux Arts. Sitting outside, the sun finally begins to illuminate the Place du Concert, and suddenly my beer seems to liven up, and in turn I do also. This area seems like a quieter corner of the old town and it's nice to enjoy a drink here. As I am writing this however, the sun hides again, probably avoiding the bill.
We encounter a group of 'Grease' imitators gathered outside the Basilique-cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-la-Treille de Lille. I suddenly become very self-conscious as I stand a little distance from them, clad as I am in my leather jacket and denim trousers and looking like some outcast from a French 'Grease' sequel. We beat a hasty retreat in case anybody thinks I am part of the gang - I only rock solo.
We go in search of a little respite and after some poor map-reading and walking in circles we find the Jardin des géants. It is a nice, if unnatural, space and appears to be a work in progress. The giant heads will, I assume, one day be covered in green, and there are other structures with the same intention. I'll be interested to go back at a later date. For now though, the garden is suddenly invaded by an army of menacing looking little children on push-scooters, clad in high-vis jackets led by what must be their teacher, or warrior-queen. Our gang doesn't stand a chance, and so, like the Michael Jackson video suggests, we 'beat it', looking for a different place of respite. The cemetery close by is more peaceful and is expansive and interesting. It lacks the edge of real beauty but the broken state of some of the tombs retains the power to silence, and would no doubt produce a different experience at a different time of the day.
On our way back past the station we witness a clash of some size between what appears to be punks or rockers of some sort against kids from the town. There is a lot of running after each other and the swinging of sticks and chains but no blows are dealt from what we can tell, and very few people seem interested. We drag ourselves away and head back to the hotel to drink some 8% Hellemus beer, which beats Special Brew hands down.
So, it's our last night and we decide to go out in search of some laughter. We find it at a bar named le Balatum. We try out some cocktails and are much refreshed by them, and although not particularly cheap, they were very good, as was the service. Try the 'Barbara', a mix of Bourbon, triple sec, jus de citron and Grenadine. At this stage the music is pretty good too. We play some cards, drink some more and head out for some food. We stumble upon Quai du Wault, and this is by far the best food we've had in Lille. The atmosphere, service and food are superb, and the price is good too!
After a quick hop back to le Balatum, we find ourselves back at the hotel. So, on the French telly is a woman who sings like Celine Dion (they're really pushing her in France, whoever she is), sat in front of an actor dressed in a disturbed manner, like a mentally ill man from the streets. I'm desperate to improve my French but I'm glad I can't understand what they are saying. Now I wish we had sat by the canal for awhile and enjoyed some silence and a drink. I can't pretend I'm not enjoying it here though, when I turn away from the telly. We're drunk and a new dance routine and card trick that my friend seems to have just created is a fitting spectacle for this little box in hotel Citea. The fact that the trick goes wrong completes the comedy, and the show is a resounding success. Now we're channel hopping French TV. We can't understand it but maybe we'll find out about the election back in Britain. It seems we'll end up Tory anyhow...
The next afternoon we arrive in England to find the country on the cusp of being choked by an uncomfortable cloud of yellow/blue. It seems it's something that no one wants but will happen anyway. If I close my eyes I can just taste a hint of maroilles with a dashing of the unknown. It's fading fast though...