My Trip To France

Just got back from a very nice long weekend in Lille, in Flemish France. Travelled on the Eurostar, first time for me. So I was rather thrilled when we cruised past the flat Kent countryside, then plunged into the dark for 20 minutes, and emerged into a landscape
almost exactly the same, except for the Renault Twingos.

Our hotel, the Brueghel on the Grand Place, was very nice, with a great old cramped iron cage lift. The room was clean, fresh, light, with a great view of the hotels courtyard and bins. As soon as we’d had a quick spruce up, we headed out for some lunch.

First off, we went to Paul’s, a nice looking and popular patisserie and restaurant, where I had a pretty good cured meat platter (got to get my nitrites). Mairi was a bit scuppered in terms of choice, but travelling in Europe is a general bummer for vegetarians. Fact. It’s fine for me, I eat veg at home, but I like my meat when we’re out. But Mairi suffers somewhat.

Anyway, to round off our quick lunch, we had a quick Tarte Au Sucre while strolling. This appeared to be pastry with sugar on it – lovely. Wandering in the old town, we had a quick view of the Hospice Comptesse, a hospice (I guess) for unfortunates, which had some beautiful painted tiles, and the world’s biggest wardrobe.

For dinner that night it was Le Petit Creperie, hardly haute cuisine I know, but delicious all the same. As the name suggests, it was pancakes all the way. To start, galettes with cheese and onion, mine with added ham. Very rich and tasty. Then for dessert we had crepes, one with walnut and caramel, another with chocolate hazelnut ice cream and whipped cream. All of this washed down with cidre, a light, refreshing cider. We were suffering towards the end, the combination of amount and richness beating even these gluttons.

The next day we made a pilgrimage to Meert, the famous chocolate place. We had some fantastic cakes, and very good coffee, finished off with the incredible sugar waffles, soft wafers with a filling of butter and sugar. My God, how healthly we are.

Then a visit to the cathedral, which has a modernised front end which looks like its still got the scaffolding on it. Inside it was much as you’d expect, quiet, high ceilings, you know, the usual. I know, it’s supposed to be awe-inspiring, the power of faith and engineering conquering the forces of reason and common sense, but it just gets me down sometimes. Nice stained glass though.

Lille prides itself on being more friendly than places further south, like Paris. Apparently, Lille hates Parisians more than it hates the English! Which is nice. But one thing which struck me was that while the image of continental dining and socialising is that it’s relaxing and less fraught than the uptight Brits, I find that it’s just as bad over there. You don’t know the local rules, and you stick out like a sore thumb.

“Table for two please” – “Find it yourself”

“Can I order a sandwich please?” – “Not in the morning”

Anyway, Cafe Leffe was always welcoming, with the standard Leffe Brun a welcome slurp, along with a gigantic ham and cheese baguette.

After a nap, we went for posh dinner at the posh Hotel Compostelle. Great food, but they took their time (relaxed continentals again). I started with smoked salmon, followed by duck with figs, most delicious. And for dessert, a gingerbread concoction with cream. Great. After that, it was back to Cafe Leffe for a midnight ‘aid de digestif’.

I have to say, the guide book we had was crap. (Author and title to be inserted here!) It was far too personal, and not instructive enough. For example, it raves about the Meert Gaufre wafers, but neglects to tell you that you have to ask specially for them. Fine for French speakers I guess. Buying a book like this is like asking a strangers advice. Once you know them, you’d be able to follow their tastes. But on the strength of this, I wouldn’t buy another. It was less like a guide book and more like a childs essay entitled, “My Trip To Lille”. Albeit better written.

“I went to Lille and I like it we went to a cafe and saw some paintings. I enjoyed my trip to Lille.”

I want the facts, the trends, and a bit of etiquette. Not necessarily The Accidental Tourist, but thereabouts.