As my last couple of blog posts indicated, my wanderlust was hitting me hard in 2018. I’d planned a huge summer trip spanning 30 days, six states, several cities but a big trip like that leaves you little wiggle room for the rest of the year.
After visiting Washington in February I had no other option to go gallivanting across the globe, I was very much restricted to weekend travel which is why I jumped at the opportunity to visit Manchester and Lincoln. I needed a travel ‘fix’ to get me by until the summer.
The most recent of those trips was Lincoln at the start of May. I came back from Lincoln and the big birthday trip at the end of July still felt so far away, call me spoilt, right? I felt like I had to squeeze in one last adventure before flying out to the USA for a month.
Unfortunately my conflicting issue was that as much as I was itching for adventure, that 30 day trip had its own drawbacks. I was trying to save money and the sensible option was to stay put. Yes, it’s a ‘long time’ to wait to go on holiday but saving my pennies had its own merits, I’d reap the benefits in the summer.
It was no good, I figured I had to compromise. I ‘needed’ a mini-getaway but I was determined to restrict myself to a daytrip. I couldn’t book accommodation so wherever I went in the UK would have to be doable in a daytrip.
I planned out various possibilities, weighing up the suitability of each destination as a day trip. How costly would it be? How flexible were the travel times? I don’t drive so was restricted to public transport, which isn’t only expensive in the UK but doesn’t always run as late as you hope it would do.
I wasn’t having too much success in finding somewhere that tempted me enough to visit. The most tempting places seemed to cost a fortune to get to on public transport and the cheaper options weren’t appealing enough for me to visit or were places I frequented often enough to not give me any real sense of adventure.
Something I did ponder was a trip on the Eurostar. They’d been peppering me with continuous adverts by email – “Hey Jason, we have a sale on right NOW..”
Would that work? Could I pop over to the continent for a day? They’re not ideal to visit in a day but I’d been itching to return to Paris or visit somewhere new in Belgium like Antwerp. Of course, one of the struggles with weekend travel on the Eurostar is its appealing to many other people too. Even if you can find one leg of the journey at the sale price, you can’t always tie it in with the other half of the journey..
Travel to Paris for only £0.04, return same day for £609.86..
I’m exaggerating obviously because it’s not that bad but it just wasn’t possible to find a cheap daytrip to places like Paris and alternatively it just felt a bit too far to go to somewhere like Amsterdam in a day. I was just about ready to give up when I thought I’d have a quick look at prices for Lille and voila!
I managed to find an early Saturday train from London to Lille and a late return train, both priced at £28. Additionally I had a £5 voucher to use which reduced my overall fare price to £53 which I thought was decent going. Some of the places / trains I’d been looking at within the UK were equally expensive, if not more so and I much preferred an excuse to flee the country for a day.
Soon enough it was June 30th and I was on my way, hoping for no delays to the Eurostar as I already had a limited amount of time to explore Lille.
Other than being somewhere in France, I can’t say I knew much about Lille prior to booking tickets but my minimal research indicated that Lille was perhaps a little more of a Flemish/Belgian city than French. My only other real experience of France had been in visiting Paris so I was intrigued to see a very different type of French city.
That Paris trip in 2016 had been in a very different climate. I found a scattering of snow and endless fog which meant I couldn’t even see half of the landmarks I’d been excited to see. I was perhaps the only person in history to have been to Paris and not to have seen the top of the Eiffel Tower, I’ve since been back and seen it in all of its glory but it’s a little underwhelming when you realise the top is hidden somewhere in the fog.
In contrast, I stepped out of Lille’s train station and the weather was beautiful. It was a perfectly sunny day to be exploring a new city. I strolled towards Lille’s city centre and kept my eyes peeled for anything eye-catching, I had nothing planned so was just winging it a little bit.
It wasn’t long before I stumbled upon this stunning church. It was beautiful and no less impressive on the inside either. The bonus of the weather also meant I had it largely to myself and it was surprisingly empty for a Saturday. The French and locals seemed to be making the most of the sunshine!
Having had a decent look around I moved on, passing an infinite number of shops along pedestrianised streets which were proving popular for Lille’s locals. I darted up, down and across various little streets before eventually reaching one of Lille’s main squares. The square was made up of a number of impressive buildings and pieces of architecture plus a host of outside tables with seating from the many nearby restaurants and cafes in the square.
Suddenly it felt a little more French. The cold weather meant I hadn’t fully experienced the French café culture in Paris that I’d imaged in my head, however it was in abundance here in Lille. Perfect for people-watching and watching the world go by, I wanted nothing more than to sit and join them. However I knew time here was limited and I wanted to see more of the city.
As I continued exploring I soon stumbled upon one of Lille’s other cathedrals. I’d seen a photo of this on Instagram, in which the Instagrammer in question called it a particularly ugly building and I disagreed. I thought its uniqueness actually looked quite nice.
Seeing it in the flesh however completely changed my mind – it was hideous and I couldn’t help but laugh. Maybe all those editing tools such as photoshop do a great job of making it prettier on the eye when you see it online but I was unimpressed.
Although inside was absolutely stunning and I’d certainly recommend visiting. Its beauty was breathtaking and I couldn’t stop myself taking plenty of photos. It was a good reminder that you shouldn’t judge a book (or cathedral) by its cover. I’m glad I hadn’t let its ugly exterior put me off going in.
Coming back out of the cathedral I strolled down a few nearby streets hoping to find a spot to grab some lunch. As some of you will know from posts such as Weetabix Boy, I was quite a fussy eater as a child. So I’ve tried to be a little more adventurous the last few years and was keen to try a local Lille delicacy – the Potjevleesch – which I’d read about online.
I found a nice little restaurant that had it on the menu and figured I’d put it to the test. It was enjoyable enough without me needing to pretend it’s my favourite dish. I am glad I tried it and I’d have it again if I returned to Lille but I’m not sure it’ll ever be catching on elsewhere. However accompanied with a beer it was a nice lunch.
Whilst enjoying my lunch it hadn’t gone unnoticed that there was now a bit of a buzz and excitement in the air. The streets were suddenly noisier, French flags kept passing me as I looked through the window and cars were honking as they drove by. Something was happening!
That something was football! I’m very much a “club football over international football” type of fan – that’s a whole other story but consequently it meant that when I was booking my tickets to Lille in May that it hadn’t really crossed my mind that a June trip would overlap with the football World Cup in 2018.
As the beginning of the World Cup approached it dawned on me and I had to take a look at the schedule, it just so happened that dependent on France’s progression in the tournament that there just might be a scenario where they’d be playing on the afternoon I was in Lille. “Could you imagine..?”
By the time the trip came around I knew that France would be playing Argentina (in Russia) whilst I was in the city and that I’d have the unique opportunity of experiencing the French supporting the French.
Now I’ll be honest here, I’ve never really credited French football with that same prestige or glamour as its European counterparts. It just doesn’t have that same history and I’ve often been quick to dismiss it as a serious footballing nation.
My point being that watching football in France has never had a huge appeal for me – I’d sooner go to Germany, Spain, Italy or even the likes of Turkey or Serbia where you might run in to more unwelcoming scenes but you at least appreciate they are football crazy in those countries!
To offer some merit to my beliefs, France’s most successful football team are Paris St Germain, who were only founded in 1970! They’re younger than my parents and yet they’re France’s most successful football club! It severely lacks the history that football has throughout the rest of the continent. English football had been played for more than 100 years at this point so as I said, I’ve always been quick to dismiss France as a “proper” footballing country.
This trip went some way to making me stand up and take notice. After leaving the restaurant I’d had lunch at I strolled down the street and found this cosy little bar decked out in flags in preparation of the game. There was a sea of red, white and blue filling the place up and I could feel the atmosphere building.
I’d been in two minds about watching the game, because I wasn’t in the city for long, but the fans were already singing and the atmosphere drew me in. Better yet, Lille’s Flemish influences means that the city is home to some great beer so I ordered a delicious sounding beer at the bar and found myself a spot to stand and watch the game and enjoy the atmosphere.
It was a small bar so was already standing room only but as the minutes passed and we got closer to kickoff the crowd of people soon spilled over in to the streets trying to peek any glimpse of the TV. The songs kept coming and soon enough the players were walking out on to the pitch.
Shortly after La Marseillaise (France’s national anthem) was belting out of the TV and the rest of the room joined in unison. I’m sure I’ve heard the French national anthem countless times before on TV but hearing passionate French locals singing at the top of their lungs was a special moment to witness and one that will stick with me for some time. Have a listen below!
The game kicked off and the noise settled a little bit, although some of the inhabitants regularly attempted to get some songs going. “Messi, Ciao, Messi, Ciao, Messi, Ciao, Ciao, Ciao..” was ringing in my head all afternoon with the locals offering an optimistic outlook that Lionel Messi and his colleagues would soon be heading home following defeat.
There was a huge part of me that wanted nothing more than to stay there all afternoon. A bit like my desire to do the same earlier this morning, there’s something about French culture that is slow. You’ve just got to sit back and enjoy the experience and what was the rush to leave this blissful little bar?
However my view of the game was actually quite minimal, trying to squeeze a glimpse between multiple backs of heads of French people wasn’t easy and I felt a little guilty that there were probably locals behind me having their view blocked by someone (me!) with no real passion for either team.
Similarly I knew my time in Lille was pretty limited and what better time to go and explore, safe in the knowledge that the majority of locals were preoccupied with the football.
The streets were certainly a bit quieter, up until I passed any bar anyway. Every one seemed to have hordes of people trying to get a glimpse of the action. I continued to stroll through the streets, not looking for anything in particular but happily wandering. Every now and then I’d hear a huge roar and a loud groan and pondered what was happening throughout the game.
As I continued to wander my eyes drifted towards this little passageway that had caught my eye and led me in to this beautiful little plaza-like place that was currently home to a book market. It was such a pretty setting and had a handful of people browsing the collection.
With time going by far too quickly, I walked through another passage which led me back to one of Lille’s main squares and I wanted to take some souvenirs home with me – a handful of postcards and I was also tempted to take a couple of local beers home with me to try (proved to be delicious!).
Having bought a few bits, I made my way over to some little park which was rather peaceful. There wasn’t really anyone around and it was a nice shaded spot to escape the sun bearing down on me. It was far away from the noise of some of the bars and showed me a small glimpse in to a different side of the city.
Unfortunately my afternoon was disappearing far quicker than I would have liked and I had to keep one eye on the clock to ensure I made my train home.
In all honesty I wasn’t ready to leave. I’ve never had a huge fascination with France but my winter trip to Paris in 2016 had won me over a little bit. However despite the Flemish/Belgian influence, Lille felt like a France I’d always heard a fuss about but yet to actually experience. In the glorious summer sunshine this felt like the “real France” and one I’ve quickly begun to appreciate.
Perhaps the bonus of a football-fanatic city and good beer helped sway me but even prior to that Lille was pretty on the eye and had left an impression on me.
I slowly started drifting back towards the train station, keen to find a good dinner spot en route and it quickly became apparent who had won the football. I needn’t have seen the game to know France had won. The French were celebrating deliriously in the street and you could hear cars honking in the streets for miles. France had clearly been successful.
Bitterly it turned out to actually be probably the most exciting game of the entire tournament. France had beaten Argentina 4-3 and I’d, unforgivably, decided to give it a miss – in France of all places!
I grabbed a quick meal before saying my goodbyes with a heavy heart. It was perhaps fitting that I was leaving a happy and celebratory city behind, I’d really enjoyed Lille after all, but I also felt a little bittersweet. I didn’t want to be saying goodbye, I wanted to be staying one night at the very least.
After visiting the city myself I then read about a fellow blogger, Dylan at Shoot From The Trip, who visited Lille for a little longer and it just added to my regret that I hadn’t stayed for longer.
It was a wonderful place to visit for a daytrip and if you get the opportunity to visit I’d fully recommend it – just visit for longer if you can! It’s somewhere I’ll definitely return to.
Anyway, that wraps this one up! What’s coming up on the blog? Lots of USA content including that incredible 30 day trip! Stay tuned!