Lille – June 2018

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!

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London to Brussels, via Lille

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.

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Gorgeous church in sunny Lille

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.

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Cafe culture looking good in Lille!

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.

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Hideous cathedral in Lille

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.

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Beautiful interior!

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!

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The beautiful streets of Lille

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.

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The French love their football!

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.

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Exploring Lille whilst it’s quiet!

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.

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Beautiful place to browse for books in Lille!

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.

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Peace and quiet in the parks of Lille

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.

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Lille quickly won me over. Easy to see why!

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!

Jason

Luxembourg City – March 2016

Last time out on the blog I’d just returned to Köln following on from an enjoyable daytrip to Brühl and Bonn, I decided that the next day (Saturday) was going to be much the same and just had to ponder where to go.

Köln is one of Germany’s biggest cities so not only does it benefit from a location close to several countries, it also has really good transport links which makes a daytrip to most of them quite feasible. I’d narrowed down my preferred daytrips to either Koblenz or Luxembourg City. Koblenz is a picturesque German city that sits on the Rhine river, meanwhile Luxembourg City appeared to be equally picturesque and would mean a first visit to the country of Luxembourg.

My decision was pretty last minute, so much so that I was on the train and still didn’t know where I was going to spend the next few hours. There were no direct trains from Köln to Luxembourg, it seemed I’d have to change in Koblenz so I picked up a ticket to Koblenz and figured I’d make my mind up by the time I arrived. In the meantime I’d just sit back and admire the view.

The Rhine river flows through the heart of this part of Germany and the train travels alongside the Rhine for much of the journey to Koblenz (and beyond). I recently discovered that my grandparents plan to take a river cruise along the Rhine later this year so they’re in for a treat.

I passed by countless adorable looking towns and every so often we’d pass a castle sitting aloft a hilltop which made for an enjoyable train journey.

I’d hoped to have made my mind up by the time I reached Koblenz but I got off the train and still wasn’t sure whether to stay put or buy a ticket to go to Luxembourg. I was stood at the ticket machine and torn on whether to complete the transaction or just explore Koblenz, however with an hour between trains to Luxembourg I had to make a quick decision if I wanted to catch the next one.

The allure of visiting a new country was the only thing that really swayed it so I booked my trains and quickly found the platform I needed to catch the train.

One of the attractions, if you can call it that, in Koblenz is the ‘Deutsches Eck’ (Ecke, meaning corner in German). It’s here that you’ll find the Mosel River meet the Rhine river so I was bidding farewell to the latter and heading West along the Mosel towards Luxembourg.

Whilst the journey between Köln and Koblenz had been an enjoyable ride, the Mosel was arguably more scenic as you pass through more German towns on the way in to Luxembourg. I don’t think you see the best of the Rhine until you’ve passed Koblenz (which I did on another trip towards Mainz).

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Enjoying the train views!

Whilst the train journey was pretty, I knew that certain compartments of the train had a different end destination. It can be confusing enough in England when your train splits to know if you’re in the right carriage but more confusing when doing so in another country. Fortunately I managed to figure it out to ensure I was heading towards Luxembourg and not arriving elsewhere. Soon enough I’d arrived and was stepping foot in to the capital: Luxembourg City!

I had no idea I was coming to Luxembourg when I woke up so similarly had no real plans for my time in the city. I was just hoping for the best and a chance to explore. Fortunately, whilst not overly warm, it was a bright sunny day in Luxembourg and perfect weather for exploring.

As you come out of the station you immediately find yourself on a high street with various familiar brands which wasn’t quite what I’d expected, not that I’m entirely sure what I was expecting. However a short walk later you’re arriving in to the outskirts of the old town, built much like a fortress which I expect was designed to keep out potential neighbouring invaders Belgium, France and Germany (Luxembourg is a landlocked country).

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Luxembourg City!

Luxembourg is also a rich country so some of its architecture immediately stood out. I strolled towards a grand building to my right and began exploring, admiring the size and grandeur of each building, many of which were littered with gold. I popped my head in to a small little church to have a quick look around, I’m not religious but religious buildings are usually quite stunning and worth a visit and this was no different.

Shortly later I stumbled upon what appeared to be a Saturday market in this pretty square. The market itself wasn’t particularly huge but along the outskirts of the square were various restaurants and cafes with outdoor seating. There was a nice atmosphere to the square and with seating which offered views overlooking the square most of the restaurants were unsurprisingly pretty full.

It did leave me feeling a bit peckish so I decided I needed to find somewhere for lunch, none of the cafes in my square took my fancy and looked a little pricy so I wandered through some of the side streets before finding somewhere that was tempting enough.

Luxembourg’s a small country and with France and Germany as neighbours it’s perhaps of little surprise that French and German are both official languages of Luxembourg (in addition to Luxembourgish). The problem is you require a bit of good fortune as to which places lean towards French culture and which lean towards German.

I knew I could get by on my German so typically I only seemed to find French speaking places whilst in Luxembourg. On the plus side, it did make me appreciate how good my German had become.

I was comfortable in Germany, here I was floundering and reverting back to English. Beyond bonjour (Good day), Je voudrais (I would like), S’il vous plait (please) and Merci (thanks) my French was atrocious. Ironically a fellow blogger wrote of her own Luxembourg language woes (here) in which she struggled with the regularity of businesses leaning more towards the German language.

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Nice day for exploring!

Having navigated my way through a delicious lunch I was back out on to the streets to explore. Much of Luxembourg’s city centre is built on higher ground, overlooking a valley. I was keen to discover what was hidden in the lower reach of the city referred to as ‘Grund’ (meaning floor / ground in German).

It turns out you don’t have to climb up and down the city steps, there is actually a lift somewhere but that wasn’t knowledge I was privy to at the time so I gave my legs a bit of a workout. Going down wasn’t so bad but I suppose as the Luxembourg locals might say – “what goes down, must go up?” in some sort of anti-gravity type logic.

The Grund area is really pretty. I quickly stumbled upon a small palace-like building which is now used as the national museum of natural history. Just beyond that you’ll find a tiny little village with adorable and colourful little buildings made up of houses and small businesses.

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The ‘Grund’ area in all of its beauty!

Crossing over the valley was a large hill above with what I understood to be a variety of caves and things so I was intrigued to take a look, it did mean another uphill climb though which I was less enthused about. Once at the top you do get some cool views looking across the valley back towards the old town, however the sun was shining directly on me with no cover so I couldn’t get any decent photos to do the view justice. A little hidden treasure was a castle-looking building, I didn’t go in but it’s home to the Grand Duke Jean Museum Of Art. The building itself was impressive enough for me.

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Cool looking museum, right?

Content I’d explored enough it was another downward journey to make the subsequent uphill journey back up into the old town. Whilst Luxembourg City is relatively small and theoretically an easy ‘daytrip;, it’s not a daytrip that is quite so forgiving on your feet. After one last look around the old town I made a stroll back towards the train station, I had to catch a specific train but I’d slightly overestimated how long it would take me to get back and had a bit of time to kill.

There was a restaurant opposite the station so I decided it was an opportunity to get myself a drink, I’m always keen to try a local beer so made sure I picked up a Luxembourgish beer on tap. It was a nice way to round off my time in Luxembourg.

Personally I’d recommend a weekend trip if you want to visit. It is a small place but I would have preferred to have taken my time exploring, similarly I hear its nightlife is really good so it would have been nice to have experienced an evening in the city. Nevertheless I left with fond memories and began my journey back to Köln via Koblenz.

I had to stop in Koblenz and I didn’t have to catch any specific train back to Köln so I figured I’d make the most of the opportunity and grab dinner here and take a quick look around. Unfortunately it gets dark pretty early in March so by the time I’d arrived it was already dark, not the greatest time to be exploring a new city but I figured I’d see a little in an hour or so.

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Koblenz, home to the world’s best White House?

Some of the architecture looked great, the most interesting thing for me was the White-House esque looking building that was shining brightly. Arguably more impressive than the White House too which I actually thought was quite underwhelming alongside DC’s other stunning architecture. Koblenz’ own “White House” would be more fitting and deserving of the name. It was all closed off though so I couldn’t actually get close enough to see what the purpose of it was.

I found myself a place to grab some food, a welcome opportunity to speak German again after a day in Luxembourg. I was and perhaps I still am quite critical of my German but it’s somewhat comforting knowing you can sit down in a restaurant and get through your meal without speaking a word of English.

I waved “Tschüss” to my waiter and made the walk back to the train station to return to the ever-familiar Köln which is where I spent my final day of this particular trip.

I didn’t envisage I’d be back in Köln before the end of 2016, you can get a little preview on that story here but the full thing will have to wait a little longer. Next up on the blog?

New York City! Stay tuned!

Jason