Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Lille was like being in Flanders yet speaking French. Lots of the typical architecture and Belgian-like food. It was also incredibly cheap and quick--you get to ride the Eurostar heading towards the chunnel and London, so anyone who just wants to go to Lille is a bonus for them. The weird thing is that since the majority of passengers are going to London, you have to pass through British immigration enforcement within the Brussels train station.

Upon arrival and orienting ourselves (which went something like "building shaped like massive ski boot behind us: check; giant psychedelic tulips in front: check"), we went to the tourist office, which is housed in a medieval building that used to be the residence of a count or something, by a most circuitous route, and bought a pamphlet of walks around town then went upstairs to their minuscule museum. They had some great stained glass up there, including this one of this guy calmly holding his own head while a fountain of blood shoots from his neck, and photos by kids in one of their sister cities.

Lunch was decent, Belgian-seeming cuisine with good beers in a nice old cafe. I believe I had rabbit in kriek sauce.

Following a visit to the old Bourse where we procured some vintage postcards from Alsace, we discovered that the opera house across the street was having an open day, so we wandered around in there a bit. The set on the stage was fantastic, but we were too antsy to stay for any of the programmed entertainment. More wandering ensued, leading us to the Cathedral anchoring the center of town. The church has a relatively new facade. At first I was put off by the monolithic look of the thing from the outside, all chunky black doors and white/grey paneling. But. Then you go inside. It is the most amazing transformative effect imaginable, as the dull paneling turns out to be marble which glows in the sunshine, and the black doors are textured glass that becomes translucent inside (the black arch on the door in the photo above corresponds to the one at the bottom of the photo below; there are a lot of better pictures of this on the web if you look for "Lille Cathedral"). I was hoping to come back after nightfall and see it lit from within but it was not meant to be.

Young people are always being hazed in Europe. Or at least that's how it appears to the untrained eye, anyway. Having to dress up in shapeless coveralls, kiss strangers while wearing a sandwich board, smash eggs on their heads for party money, or drink to excess and strip down to their skivvies and swim to a duck island in the middle of a pond. The skivvies were removed after this photo was taken. There was quite the amused/bemused audience watching this scene including one person in a gorilla costume. Oh, you crazy Lillois.

We crossed a canal and headed towards the military fortifications created by our 17th century nemesis, Vauban. The earthworks now enclose a military academy which is surrounded by a scummy moat that a reasonably fit person could hop over, which is in turn ringed by a jogging path. Being a nice day for March, many users were vying for space on the trail. We took a leisurely lap around and then dipped back into the main area of town. Through "Three Eels Passage", where we noticed one entrance led to a karate school. Over to the Hall of Sugars, which was noted on our map but sadly failed to be of any interest.

As it began to grow dark and spit rain, we made our way to a tarte flambee restaurant we had seen earlier. We hadn't encountered anything like that since we left Alsace, and despaired ever tasting that homey delicacy again, so we were pretty excited. We went inside and heard the dreaded words: "Vous avez une reservation?" Sadly, no. A mournful shake of the head let us know there was no space. Dang! We wandered the streets in a daze, wanting something exciting, something different, and ended up after a fashion at Buffalo Bill's for burgers. I thought it was going to be all American tourists in there, but everyone around us was speaking either French or British English. The burgers were decent but not exceptional.