Hello, hello! 🙂
Welcome to the first installment of what I like to call “An American in Europe” series. This is to recount my travels during my eight-month stay in France, but more specifically to document and reflect on my travels within and outside of France during my paid vacation breaks.
As you know, I had my first, two-week vacation in mid-October. I spent twelve days mostly traveling outside of France, busy exploring cities and countries which I had never been to. The constant moving from place to place, the frequent unpacking and packing of my travel bag, and the *occasional* craziness that happened while away from my flat in Normandy made it all the worthwhile. Really, I enjoyed it. ❤
I will kick today’s post off with my first destination: Lille, France.
For those of you who don’t know Lille, it is a city in the north of France which not only borders Belgium (considered part of French Flanders), but also is the capital of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of the country. It is the fifth largest city in France, and surprisingly has many tourists who come to visit every day. Including me. 😛
Considering that I live in the Normandy region and that Lille was a three-hour drive away, how did I go about getting there? I had no car, nor was willing to pay a hefty amount for the train there (even with my train discount card, the cost was quite high). The dilemma…
What I did was something called “Blablacar,” which is this French travel app that basically lets you carpool (“covoiturage” in French) with other people who are going to the same destination as you. Sort of like a more organized form of hitch-hiking, but I assure you that I was fine. True, at first I was concerned about safety, about riding with strangers, but I made sure to research my drivers, checking out their profiles and reviews from past carpoolers to make sure that I wasn’t heading off with some lunatic. 😛 In fact, I ended up using the service twice during my whole twelve-day trip, one to Lille and the other to Paris. They were safe and efficient, as well as significantly cheaper than the train. Always a plus! 🙂
In any case, I carpooled with a French couple to Lille; I had met them in Le Havre and from there we set off on the three-and-a-half-hour drive up north. Super nice couple, both in their late twenties. Definitely the talkative bunch, and I ended up spending the afternoon with them exploring Lille.
We had left at 8:30 in the morning and arrived in Lille at noon. Parked the car, then set off on foot to this French-Flemish restaurant that the couple had made reservations beforehand (they had no problem squeezing me in, too!). We found the restaurant, which was small and resembled a tavern- very quaint. I ordered “la carbonnade flamande,” which is a sort of beef stew with fries, originally from Belgium. The beef was tender and rich, most likely from the strong red wine that it was cooked in. Yum yum. 😛
After lunch, we wandered around Lille for the afternoon. The city is quite distinctive, with proximity to Belgium and so has many Flemish-Belgian influences, in addition to the French ones. Lots of narrow, cobblestone streets, as well as the charm of the Grand Place in the city’s center:
Besides the main attractions like the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de la Treille (Lille Cathedral) and the Palais Rihour (a historical monument that dates back to the fifteenth century), we also explored the various little streets that were filled with boutiques and cafés, bursting with locals and tourists during the afternoon bustle. Again, I was surprised that Lille was such a popular destination for people- but in a good way!
After a few hours of walking all over the touristy part of town, I was beginning to get tired and wanted to go check in to my hostel for the night. I thanked my Blablacar drivers, said goodbye to them, and set off towards the hostel. Checked in around 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon, then got settled in my room, which I shared with seven other people. Dropped off my bags, and took a break for an hour or so.
Now, while I was having fun in Lille, at the same time I was worried: I was only in Lille for that one night before leaving, but hadn’t made arrangements to get to Belgium the following day. Blablacar was an option, but no one seemed to be going to the same place as I was that day. Panicking, I rushed out of the hostel to the train station, where I (unsuccessfully) tried purchasing a ticket from the ticket machines. Not sure why they didn’t work, but in the end I gave up and went back to my hostel, where I ended up using the computers there to reserve my ticket online for the next day. Wasn’t too thrilled to have spent more than was necessary on tickets (close to 34 euros just to hop the border), but in any case I was guaranteed a way out to my next destination.
Relieved, I turned in for the night, and woke up early the next morning to check out of the hostel and explore as much of Lille as possible before leaving at noon that day. Bought myself a merveilleux at a patisserie that specialized in such confections. Basically, it is a layered meringue that originated from Belgium with a variety of different shavings- chocolate, strawberry, coconut, etc., on top of it. Usually, I don’t care for meringue desserts, but the white-chocolate, Speculoos merveilleux was exceptional. Seriously, it was like eating sugar and air, which doesn’t sound very poetic, but I guarantee you that it was pretty damn tasty. 😛
Walked outside of the touristy center of the city afterwards to check out the Belfry and the Fine Arts Museum of Lille. Considering that it was a Sunday, the streets were deserted and super quiet, without cars or people. It was kind of strange, but I took advantage of it by cutting across the streets and basically jaywalking my way to the monuments that I wanted to see. I mean, no one was looking! 😉
Saw the majestic Belfry of Lille, which is attached to the city hall and is the highest tower in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France:
Also went to see the Fine Arts Museum of Lille, which I heard had a collection of Impressionist paintings, which I adore. Sadly, I felt the experience to be a disappointment, as there were very few actual Impressionist paintings and the rest of the museum’s art didn’t particularly interest me. The four euros that I had to pay wasn’t really worth it. Oh well… *shrug*
Spent no more than forty-five minutes in the museum before heading out to the train station to catch my train at noon. Got my reserved tickets at the ticket center, boarded the train, and was off to Belgium, leaving Lille behind (and France, for the while).
Overall, a good start to my vacation abroad. Lille was a city that I had been meaning to visit since arriving in France, and I was glad that I had the opportunity to see it.
Stay tuned for my next post tomorrow on my adventures in Belgium. See you then! 😀
— The Finicky Cynic
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