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Medium Dawn Felagund of the Fountain

Back from Lille!

The (Cyber) Bag of Weasels

bread and puppet

"About as much fun as a bag of weasels"...when I first saw this Irish adage, it made me think of the life of a writer: sometimes perilous, sometimes painful, certainly interesting. My paper journal has always been called "The Bag of Weasels." This is the Bag of Weasels' online home.

Back from Lille!

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About six months ago, Bobby and I decided we wanted to visit my sister and sister-in-law in England for the holidays. We haven't been able to make that happen in the eight-or-so years that Sharon has been here. So Tuesday night, we made the onerous overnight flight to London, then the short flight north to Newcastle. (Including a layover in Heathrow in which I fell soundly asleep in a chair and woke up after having drooled all down the front of my shirt.) We usually like to do a little excursion with Sharon and Kirsty during our visits to England, and this time, we decided to go to Lille, France, to visit the Christmas market there. (Lille is the third largest city in France and located in the north of the country, near the Belgian border.) So Thursday morning, having arrived in Newcastle the previous afternoon, we went back south by train, to London, and then onto Eurostar for our first trip to the Continent.

We arrived in Lille at around 5:30 PM and took taxis to the hotel. The hotel was very nice and looked out onto Grand Place, where the famous big Ferris wheel of the Lille Christmas market was located. I mean, this thing was so close to our window that, were there a fire in the hotel, a good leap would have taken us into one of the gondolas.

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We found a restaurant near the hotel that served local cuisine, so Bobby enjoyed moules et frites (mussels and fries) while I had a goat's cheese tart. It's France! Do we need to say that the food was wonderful?

Sharon and Kirsty were worn out from the travel day and so went back to the room, but Bobby and I had itchy feet by this time and so set off exploring right away. I think we covered half of the central part of the city that night; we scoped out places to visit for the next day and restaurants. Then we sat on the fountain to rest our feet and people-watch and had our first turn (of three!!) on the big Ferris wheel.

This was the biggest Ferris wheel I have ever ridden. A distant second is the Ferris wheel in Ocean City. When the Lille wheel started going up, we reached a point where we could see the top of our four-story hotel and we weren't even halfway up yet, and I realized how big the thing was. I had one of those fluttery precarious feelings that comes from feeling vulnerable in a high place. As a thrill ride aficionado, I don't get that much anymore. (I got over it fast--but for a moment, it was there!)

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The next morning, we headed to a bakery around the corner from the hotel for breakfast. Bobby accidentally mispronounced his deux pain au chocolate, and we ended up with twelve! (None lasted long enough to come home, so it was a fortunate error.) Right next to our hotel was one of Europe's biggest bookstores, so we headed there next. Most of the books were in French, of course, which did not stop me from mooning over certain sections for lengthy periods of time. Bobby bought me an illumination book (in French!), and he and Kirsty both picked up a copy of Tolkien's Letters from Father Christmas (in English). We then split up because Bobby's and my interests in European cities involves a lot of "geeking over stones," i.e. visiting endless numbers of old churches, castles, and buildings.

The architecture of the city is just beautiful.

The opera house.

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The clock tower that overlooks Grand Place (and that you get pretty much eye-to-eye with on the Ferris wheel).

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Detail from one of the buildings on Grand Place.

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Bobby and I headed first to Le Musée de l'Hospice Comtesse, which is an art museum in a medieval-era hospital, thus combining two of our favorite things (art museum + medieval site). The museum was set up quite nicely with information about how each room was used in the hospital and a nice selection of art of particular significance to the city.

The museum courtyard.

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The herb garden, which I admired because I grow many of these herbs and know that they are not easily tamed into those neat little blocks.

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I was fond of this cute little baby holding a skull.

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Next, we headed around to some of the churches and cathedrals in the area. For a pair of agnostic heathens, we spend a helluvalot of time in churches when we travel. First was the Cathédrale Notre Dame de la Treille.

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This is one of the side entrances, but I actually like it better than the front entrance (which is very modern. Bleh.)

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Next was L'église Sainte-Catherine, which is the city's oldest church. Parts date from the 13th century, I think? (The page is in French, which is not my best language for reading.)

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It was closed, so we could not go inside, but we snooped around the outside a bit.

Finally was the Église Saint-Maurice.

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Bobby and I took a brief respite in our room before heading out for an excellent supper at a creperie. Then was our first night at the Christmas market.

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I am not generally one for things Christmas-y. Bobby and I have our traditions that come from going-on 18 years together, but the holiday in general tends to combine commercialism and saccharinity in a way that feels shallow and that I don't find appealing. But I loved the Lille Christmas market. There were beautiful, handmade crafts and ... hot wine. Actually, pretty much any alcohol you can imagine, served in a warmed form. Gods, I love Europe ...

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A mime, because that is not stereotypical at all.

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Bobby and I ended up purchasing quite a few handmade blown-glass ornaments for people back home (and ourselves!) and a ginormous bag of chocolate. Bobby also got me a lovely necklace with red glass and spiral patterns (that sounds kind of dumb but when I have occasion to wear it, then I'll post a picture; it's lovely).

Afterward, we took our second turn on the Ferris wheel. Sharon and Kirsty watched for us from their room and waved to us from the window.

Me and the creepy-ass snowman that watches over the line for the Ferris wheel.

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On the Ferris wheel.

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The next day, Bobby and I grabbed breakfast at Lille's best-known bakery, Paul. Paul has been around since the late 1800s. (1889, if I remember what I read on the napkin correctly!) And could we go to France without a picture of break and pastry?

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Then we walked to the north part of town to the Palais de Beaux Arts.

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We were lucky enough to catch a traveling illumination exhibit that set the work of artist Jan Fabre beside the more traditional medieval illuminations. When I first saw that the two were combined, I was kind of like o.O but the concept really worked to highlight the combination of the "sacred and profane" that appears in both forms of art. We spent a long time in the exhibit; I read every tag--which took a while since they were all in French! The selection of illuminations also spanned the Middle Ages nicely, so the evolution of styles could be seen. It was one of the best museum exhibits I've seen.

We spent pretty much the whole day in the museum and managed to see everything. We were very footsore by the day's end!

We had all intentions of eating in the Christmas market that night, but when we went down in the early evening, the place was packed, and not only could we find nothing vegetarian for me but my misanthropy kicks in when in crowds, and so Bobby and I ended up eating in a restaurant near the hotel. We then played a ridiculous game of trying to find Sharon and Kirsty; we were faster at dinner than they expected, and so they weren't at our meeting place when we were done, and our paths crossed at some point before we finally found them in an outside dining area for a McDonald's. By now, the market was calmed down a lot, so we went back to pick up a few final items and take a last turn. It started to rain, so we took our cups of warm wine back into the outdoor dining area for the McDonald's, which was under cover; we found an old coffee cup to stick in front of Sharon to pretend like we were customers. Then we got on the Ferris wheel a third and final time with Sharon and Kirsty. When we stopped at the top? The wind was fierce.

We were all silly after all of this and so went back to our room and stayed up till the very late hour of 10:30 PM, at which point the person in the room next to us banged on the wall because we were apparently being too loud too late on a Saturday night. (Since drunk people were loudly singing Christmas carols on the Ferris wheel until 1 AM, I can only imagine them banging on the window and shaking their fist at the Ferris wheel.)

Bobby and I went back to Paul this morning for breakfast and took a final turn around the Grand Place. Then we took a hike hauling all of our luggage and purchases to the train station and were off to home. I will leave this post with some street view pictures of Lille.

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The view from our room of Grand Place at evening time.

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This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!

  • I LOVE your travelogues, and this one did not disappoint! What a beautiful little city, and that Christmas market is charming. I love the cherub holding the skull! :^D

    Looking forward to hearing more from you. Oh, and the Green Knight is rockin' that beard!

    Uh, sorry about the Ravens.
    • Thanks. That was painful, and I didn't even watch the game but sat in the corner where I didn't have to see the TV as the others watched it. ;_;

      I should have known that you would also appreciate the cherub-skull combo! :D It's one of the few pictures we took in the hospital museum (mostly because flash photography was not allowed, so much would not have turned out).

      Bobby's winter beard is in full effect! It got cool early this fall, so he got a good start on it. He's the envy of several male coworkers. Apparently, it keeps him quite cozy while doing his on-mountain ski patrol training.
  • WOW! What an awesome cool trip, and what awesome cool pics!

    Did I mention I think this is awesome?

    BTW, I also have The Father Christmas Letters, and I love them. Sheds a whole new light on JRRT!
    • Bobby is really enjoying the Father Christmas Letters! I am looking forward to reading them, likely nowhere around Christmas, as I am saddled with much school reading right now. D:

      It was a great trip, and Bobby takes lovely pictures. (Most of them are his.)
  • What a wonderful side trip, I've heard the market is fabulous and it looks like it is even more wonderful than I had thought. It seems like you and Bobby are having a fantastic time sharing the holidays with your sister and her partner. Enjoy your time off and your continued travels. Post more if you can - I always adore seeing your travel-logues.

    - Erulisse (one L)
    • I will! We are taking some smaller excursions throughout the area. Today, though, we have been sitting in this same semi-dark room for like four hours now. (It's the first day we haven't been away or traveling in almost a week ...)
  • That all looks/sounds amazing. I'm particularly enamoured of the theme of the art exhibit. And that ferris wheel! 8)
    • The art exhibit was really great, and I've been to my share of illumination exhibits. :D I felt like the combination with Fabre's work really drew out some of the aspects of medieval illumination that often don't get a lot of attention, like the grotesques or inclusion of gruesome and scary images. It really was a thought-provoking exhibit.
  • Sounds and looks like you had a much better time in France than I did. (I'm determined to never go back.) Your museum stops sound like a lot of fun.

    I'm glad you're with your sister and sister-in-law!
    • I really liked Lille. I'd heard bad things about France, but everyone in Lille was wonderful--including accommodating our bad French! :D It was also not expensive at all (a complaint I've heard especially of Paris). My theory is that Lille is still small and out-of-the-way enough that the businesses have a strong interest in making it a place that people will want to visit or return to. It's not Paris, where anyone who visits Europe is likely to end up at some point. I would go back in a heartbeat.
  • Lovely! Such great photos. France in the winter looks and sounds amazing. And I imagine the weather is still manageable, and not blisteringly cold like it is further into the continent?

    I do love European christmas markets -- mulled wine, all the pastries, om-nom.

    I love Paul. They've got branches in the UK, and also in Singapore, and it's such a chill, cozy place to get good French bakery items.

    Did you find language to be a barrier, or did any of your group speak French? My pal and I had that issue when we wanted to order some local French cuisine (in Paris), but that may also be because we somehow always ended up in the heavily non-touristy areas.
    • And I imagine the weather is still manageable, and not blisteringly cold like it is further into the continent?

      It was very comfortable to Bobby and me, who had come from temperatures dipping to 15F/-10C in the evenings at home. We had some rain that last night, but otherwise, it was clear and pleasant. Our first day there--as the blue skies in the pictures attest!--was particularly sunny and nice. It was cold enough for a coat, but I was never actually cold (aside from on the Ferris wheel a couple of times ...)

      I love Paul. They've got branches in the UK, and also in Singapore

      Oh! Maybe I can hold out hope that they'll make it over to the U.S.? (Probably not. They couldn't compete with Krispy Kreme and the other atrocities that pass as pastries back home.)

      Did you find language to be a barrier, or did any of your group speak French?

      Bobby speaks a little French, but not much. The rest of us don't speak any! (I intended to learn a little but got snowed under with schoolwork and so decided to rely on him.) We didn't encounter many people who were fluent in English--actually, most of them were vendors in the Christmas market! So most of our communications were a mix of English, French, pointing, and gestures--but everyone was very accommodating, and aside from the dozen pain au chocolate, we had no blunders.

      We did have quite a few instances of other English speakers glomming to us, I think because they heard a familiar language and figured we were safe! :D
  • *Stares longingly*

    Belles photos!
  • Sudden uncontrollable urge to be in Europe.... Lovely taste of Lille. I really like the side entrance to the cathedral and all the carvings.
  • This was lovely! -- I adored the pictures Thank you so much for sharing it.
    • Thank you--and you're welcome! :) I love having these trip posts to go back to and remember where we've been and what we've seen. :)
  • Beautiful pics! I love Europe and its architecture and infrastructure. Oddly enough, I have never been to France except for a couple of brief stopovers at De Gaulle Airport in Paris, but it is one of the places I'd dearly love to visit, especially some of the smaller cities. When I was in Bilbao, Spain, I could have taken the train into the Basque areas of southern France but alas, I didn't have enough time to do so. After seeing your fantastic photos and reading your anecdotes about your trip I've made it a priority to visit France in the near future. :)
    • I definitely recommend Lille. It was small enough to get most everything done in a couple of days, and the people were very nice. (A complaint I hear often about France, that the people are rude. Not the case in our experience with Lille! :) Paris is definitely on our list since it's one of those places (like London) that one feels obligated to at least see, but I'd honestly be very surprised if I liked it more than Lille.

      Also--before I forget!--I got your card shortly before leaving. Thank you so much. I promise I will be in a place soon to return the favor. *hugs*

      Edited at 2013-12-23 06:34 pm (UTC)
  • Lovely place!(like most of France). I thought Lille had been bombed to bits in one/both world wars but the photos are lovely.
    I've always had very good experiences with the French including in Paris - maybe because their reputation and our expectations were low - but most of the people we met were very very nice and patient with us and our high school French (never very good). The food is really superb and I don't mean the high end variety but the everyday tourist stuff. Paul sandwiches and croissants come to mind - or rather to stomach! :D
    • I think it did take some heavy damage in one or both world wars. Not far from our hotel was a memorial for the civilians and soldiers who died during the two world wars.

      On the food ... yes. Bobby and I had sandwiches in the museum cafe at the Palais de Beaux Arts and they were delicious--not the usual overpriced and bland museum-cafe fare.
  • I love France and have only had great experiences with the country and the people! I'm glad you did too.

    Also laughing so so hard at getting twelve pains au chocolat. (not the worst time to make that mistake ;))

    Have a merry christmas! And say hi to everyone. ♥
    • A [belated] merry Christmas to you and Boyfriendfaxe as well! :D

      Indeed, we could do worse than twelve pain au chocolates. I was initially like, "OMG what are we going to do with all of these??" but they were gone within about a day!
  • Fabulous! Glad you had a great time and I appreciate the pics so I can have a vicarious trip.
  • Awesome pictures. I missed this post. I don't know where I was! (I do have you tagged so I get an email and I am not getting LJ notifications these days! Grrr.)
    • Thanks--I'm glad you liked the pictures! I'm sorry about the notifications, though. (Is it really that hard, LJ??) I assumed you were traveling and so hadn't commented!
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