Non, je ne regrette rien

Shane saw me to the station last week as I set off to London. He is usually my compass and navigator and travel consultant, but I had managed to arrange this trip myself. However I noticed I couldn’t rely on looking at my tickets to remind me what the next stage of my journey was within London as it merely said it was from Newbury to London Zone One. Walking smartly to the station had made me thirsty so I bought a drink that looked refreshing and fitting for a “girlie weekend away”, going by the flavour and colour.

One for the track:drink purchased at the station

My booked seat was filled with a man’s suitcase, but two nearby women at a table said the seat opposite them was free. They moved their bottle of pink champagne to make room for me. They were clearly intent on having a fun and friendly weekend too and theirs had already started. The champagne bottle was empty. I then noticed that my refreshing drink also had an unexpected ingredient. I felt that I needed a clear and focused head, for navigating the London underground, not a tripping one!

I honestly felt no affects of the CBD infusion and managed the route fine and met up with my friend Margaret outside King’s Cross and we got lunch at the food market there. We decided on more exotic foods though perhaps this stall has quite a rare selection for Londoners.

Scottish food stall at the international food market at Kings Cross

Then we headed off to Eurostar. I can recommend! We had a smooth punctual journey with very little queuing and I was not frisked.

We met with our other friend Marion once we got to Lille. Marion did languages at university and is a fluent French speaker and Margaret studied Geography and is great with a map so I had the perfect combination of friends for a successful weekend – and of course they are both fun and lovely too! Once refreshed we made our way out to explore and eat. Generally Marion was able to explain the menu but still at times what arrived was not quite as expected. Some portions were in the large side, even when called small.

We were well satisfied and had a look around the centre at night. It was soon evident that Lille was in the grip of rugby fever. I was oblivious to the reason, but they were more clued in. The central square was well lit up and lively.

We had a few ideas of things to see but also made use of the tourist office in the morning. We made plans to make best use of events and weather, checking what was available on certain days. We stuck to a local explore and getting our bearings first.

One of the main things was to be somewhere cool at the hottest times of day, like a church or gallery. Shane had found the boat unbearably hot. Lille was hotter than Newbury. Lille also has plenty of cafes and cool spots so all was well.

Flanders is famous for a lot of battles during the first world war and the cathedral modernisation was no doubt due to wartime bombing. We had been told about about a citadel and visited that in the afternoon. There were cool avenues and a moat and we later saw the architect’s star shaped works in miniature in the art gallery. I recognised a lift bridge over one of the water ways. Access is easy to the grounds but it is still a military base so you can’t go in. There was a massive war memortial, but surprisingly not to fallen men this time but to honour the carrier pigeons. We enjoyed the coots and looked for another cafe as the smoked salmon and the sun had made me very thirsty.

Eating french style is a pleasure. Flanders also had its own specialities added to the menu and surprisingly Welsh rarebit as a croque variation seemed popular. We headed for drinks then opted for the restaurant next door to the one we had been in the night before. It had an unusual modern menu and I had chosen what I wanted from a photograph I had taken of the menu when we made our reservation. When I got there the chicken was no longer on the menu and had been replaced by cockles! I just chose them anyway. Curiously the desserts were much larger than the main course.

Breakfast showed the Flanders touch with pancakes, batter waffles and wafer waffles always available. The next day was due to be even hotter in the afternoon still so we spent many hours in a cool gallery. In the morning we headed for the town hall tower for a view. I was doubting that I could make the steps, but we found a notice saying tickets to the tower were fully booked already. My legs were getting a reprieve and we had the good chance, it being a Saturday, of watching two wedding parties. We saw a gay couple leave, married with sequinned waistcoats and double bouquets being tossed to the guests and a north African wedding gather in preparation, guests singing and ululating, the bride wheeling up in a puffy white dress and beribboned car with her father (we guess) in traditional robes and cap, excited girls arranging her train.

We had a cool afternoon in the gallery and left nothing to chance for our evening meal by being sure we booked ahead rather than wandering the streets on a Saturday night. A very smart fish restaurant was perfect for me when I didn’t want a large helping and it would be closed next day so this was our chance for fine dining.

We had a plan for Sunday tourism sorted since some places weren’t going to be open but the place I was keen to go to was. We went to a Sunday market and then took the metro (and isn’t working out ticket purchase in a foreign language an adventure!) to Roubaix, of heinous cobbled cycle race fame, to see an art gallery housed in a previous piscine. It made a hat trick of art galleries in old swimming pools for me this year, adding to the Dovecot in Edinburgh and the spa baths of Leamington Spa. What a lovely building it is witty lots crammed in its former changing cubicles and pool.

We had arrived just too late for lunch and went to search for a savoury bite and lucked out with a bar named Les Trois Tricoteurs that served bread, vegetable pâté and salami style sausages, and beer under an olive tree. They turned out to also be a knitting factory that made things to order so I managed to achieve a personalised birthday gift for Bryn that afternoon too. Parfait! We had to have a second beer when we returned after the gallery was closed and in stead of a second rhubarb beer I looked at their other options and the gracious and enthusiastic server helped explain that the 8% beer was one to choose if I didn’t mind walking a weavy line home rather than a straight line. Despite having two able helpers I thought I would choose the slightly less strong one and I did manage to get safely back to the metro and was first to reload my ticket on the machine and get through the barrier. What an achievement!

We found a large place to eat in tourist central where we thought we had found an eatery but saw it was a dance competition so we moved on and found a popular place but with outside table still available and a wide menu.

Last night tango in Lille

Marion plumped for fish and chips as a change from tradition and a safe bet, Margaret had a Flemish Flammande, which she had been keen to sample and I had a fish with cream sauce and pasta, a first time for everything. Someone at the next table had ordered a dish with very smelly traditional cheese and I thought I might be put off my sauce but I wasn’t and my spritzer was delicious.

What a lovely last day so it was up in the morning early(ish) for the Eurostar and a smooth passage ‘home’ to Newbury. Shane was waiting for me and we had a catch up in the sun. The weather was set to break both in France and England. The next day, travelling on the water and locking I was not warmly dressed and it felt like the heat of Lille was far away, but still smiling even though I was drenched. Shane got chilly driving, despite managing to get a drink of coffee as we went.

Back in Blighty doing locks in the rain with Shane having a warming cup.