Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Bonjour Lille!

I may have already mentioned this, but The Wig and I love Christmas. So to get us (more) in the Christmas mood than we are already, we booked a small trip away to French Lille on the Eurostar to visit the Christmas Market. 

Goodbye St Pancras...

...Bonjour Lille!

Before we left London, as I am ignorant of all things geographical, I actually had no idea where Lille was, but I was very pleasantly surprised when I discovered our journey on the Eurostar was only going to take 1 and a half hours! It takes longer to get to Norwich, should anyone be thinking of going to Norwich on the train.

On arrival though it became glaringly obvious that unlike Norwich, Lille does not really speak Anglais. And The March Hare speaks virtually no Francais, German having been the language of choice at school for a teenage Hare. I am not very familiar with France but I think Lille is not a particularly touristy place which is great on one hand as it felt very traditional but bad if your knowledge of the local lingo is limited to Bonjour, Je Voudrais, Merde, Coiffeur, Au Revoir. Obviously not spoken all at once. However, we muddled through at the Station and managed to get a taxi to the hotel after some serious finger pointing at our map and a menagerie of rather peculiar facial expressions. 

The hotel we stayed at was called L'Hermitage Gantois and was booked as part of our Eurostar package through Railbookers. It was built in an old Hospice from the 1500's but sadly had no ghosts, although it did have a rather terrifying sculpture of some nuns in the foyer which more than made up for the lack of paranormal activity.

Very spacious corridors.

Fancy toiletries in the bathroom.

Curious French treats, which I did not eat having taken the liberty of bringing my own Patisserie Valerie Macaroon with me from London. However, someone did eat these French treats the next day after they had been in our room all night naming no names, MAID!

Utterly terrifying sculpture that will take some time to recover from.

The hotel staff were very pleasant during our 2 night stay and the room was very quiet and dark, which was heaven compared to the noisy road we live on in Hackney, however, I would not say it was a 5 star Hotel. Unfortunately for the Hotel, and pretty much all hotels I stay in, I have been very spoilt over the years with all the travelling I have been fortunate enough to do with my job. I've been to LA, San Francisco, New York, Austin, Portland, Buenos Aires, Cape Town twice, Turefa, Barcelona, Milan, Prague and Dublin and we always travelled Business Class and stayed in very swanky hotels. So I'm basically rather a hotel snoot. The hotel did have very many positive points (dressing gowns, slippers and the Clarins etc) but unfortunately it also had a few negative points:

* No complimentary water (7 Euros for a bottle...).
* No re-stocking of expensive water if you drank it.
* Broken light bulb in one of the bedside lamps.
* No facilities for making your own hot drink.
* The curious incident of the missing French Treats from the tea tray...

In conclusion, I would give the hotel 4 stars if I were a Hotel Inspector.

Having said all that, the hotel was very well located for sniffing around Lille. It was about a ten minute trot to the Old Town and Town Centre which is where we spent the day on Saturday. And Monday. Since we soon discovered there isn't really very much to do in Lille. 

St Maurice Cathedral on the way into town where I lit a candle for my Dad. It's a little tradition of ours that whenever The Wig and I go away we light a candle in a church or Cathedral and have a little chat with loved ones who are no longer with us. I had a very good chat with my Dad as I told him about the exciting news in my tummy. I'm sure he knew anyway but he pretended he didn't ;)

Shop windows of Lille.

In the evening we geared ourselves for the intended highlight of the trip. The Christmas Market. The town looked very beautiful but it was rammed. So we didn't really get a chance to look around the stalls properly, but I am beginning to come to the conclusion that once you have been to one Christmas Market, you have probably been to them all. There's only so much fake snow and German Sausage one can take in a lifetime.

On the Sunday, our second day, Lille was closed. Annoying. So the only thing we could do was go for a walk and visit Wazammes Market which is apparently the only thing to do on a Sunday in Lille. It was a 20 minute walk from the hotel and took us past some very beautiful buildings en route to our destination.  

Sadly our destination was not quite as spectacular. Wazammes Market is a local Market for local people which roughly translated equalled the French equivalent of Romford Market. Or Ridley Road in Dalston without the Cows heads but with a cut in half shark instead.

White China Robin in ear muffs purchased at Wazammes. (1.5 Euros, bargain)

Pine cone and jingle bell garland also Purchased at Wazammes. (10 Euros, not such a bargain).

That evening, as the weather was cold and wet (rather like the poor unfortunate cut in half shark), we decided to have dinner at the hotel. I knew that this would be an expensive option but didn't realise how limiting it would be in terms of food options. French cuisine is not really very accommodating for one what has a bun in the oven. Everything seems to consist of un-pasteurised cheese, or some sort of liver or a shell fish. France seems to be void of any type of vegetable.

The only thing I could eat from the hotel restaurant menu, was a well done steak, some sort of fried potato ring with a pickled onion in the middle and a brown smear. I have no idea what the smear consisted of and was quite frankly relieved at my lack of French at this moment. Sometimes its best not to know certain things.

The Wigs pink Pork Belly with Pumpkin mole hills. No, that's not a euphamism although it should be.

Viva le Chocolate Mille Feuille.

On our third and final day in Lille, we were ready to come home. We had exhausted the shops which didn't open until 2pm that day and seemed to consist mainly of Children's clothes and toy shops. It was a little bit like the town in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang where Benny Hill lived. So to make up for the lack of things to do we treated ourselves to a delicious lunch at Aux Moules.

Aux Moules first opened in 1930 and apparently is THE place to go for authentic local food in Lille. The decor is like something out of Amelie and it gets very busy. Luckily we sat down just before the rush but within 15 minutes of our arrival there were no seats left and a long queue at the door. The Wig had Moules and I had pretty much the only thing I could eat on this menu too, Chicken and Frites. And it was delicious. It was far superior to the chicken that The poor Wig had eaten on our first day in Lille which resembled the Griswold's Christmas Turkey from National Lampoons Christmas Vacation.

So, all in all, it was a nice break away from London but we were both ready and happy to be home again last night. I think a trip to Lille would be great just for the day, 3 days was really too much, not only from the point of view of things to do and sights to see but also from a digestion point of view. The French diet seems to be based around incredibly rich food and in my current condition, 3 days sans vegetables is a dangerous situation to be in. Now, where's that Syrup of Figs . . . 

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