June 15, 2014- This date was significant to me, in two respects. One, it was the first Father’s Day on which I could neither converse with my son nor listen to the homespun wisdom of my father-in-law. Two, it was my last day in the northwest of France, at least for a few years.
After the obligatory run-back to Paris from Amiens, given me at a discount rate because of the ongoing train strike, I boarded a train for Lille. At least I only used Gare du Nord this time. It was pleasant, actually, in that there was a string section in the station, playing for all the fathers who were passing through.
The ride to Lille, France’s resilient northern gateway, was quite brief, with only one stop, at Arras. We debarked at Gare Lille-Europe, the more modern of the city’s two train stations, seen above.
My hotel, Balladins, was close to the other station, Gare Lille-Flandres.
Hotel Balladins turned out to be another very welcoming hostelry, and with Le Morand and Hotel de France, one of my three favourites in the northwest of France. Perhaps it was that the diligent desk clerk seemed like one of my nieces, or that she went out of her way to find a Cyber Cafe- Laundry, but my settling in here was the smoothest thus far.
I spent a very pleasant evening, after doing laundry and getting messages at the launderette, dining sumptuously at a brasserie a block east of Balladins and then taking a walkabout around the clean and very proud centre of Lille.
The first stop was at the city’s modern marvel, Zenith-Grand Palais, the performance hall.
Between this magnificent center and Vieux Lille lies a lovely greenspace. Even the industrial towns pay a mind to their gardens, across France.
In the center of town, I came first to Noble Tour, the city’s memorial to the fallen of all wars, from the Franco-Prussian War, through World War II and the Algerian Conflict. It is a bedraggled sight, but all the more poignant a reminder of war’s toll, because of its rough condition.
Vieux Lille has several apartment complexes, with large immigrant populations. One of these housed the cyber launderette which I used. Another fronts Noble Tour. At no time during my stay in the west of France, however, was I accosted or made to feel intimidated. I went on, quietly, to Chapelle Reduit, with its fine gardens. The redoubt and its church were built by the great Vauban, in the 17th Century, to bolster French defenses against England- and Spain, which ruled most of Flanders at that time. The panel at the bottom of this triptych honours Vauban.
Across the street from Fort de Reduit is the immense Hotel de Ville, with its magnificent belfry.
This grand structure served as a customs centre for French Flanders, during the 19th Century, as well, thus requiring much more space than the average French city hall.
Between Hotel de Ville and the southern gate of Lille, La Porte de Paris, is a small flower bed.
La Porte de Paris (below) is one of two gates to Lille. The northern gate, which I did not visit, is La Porte de Roubaix.
I ran out of time on that Sunday night, before getting to see Cathedrale Notre Dame de Lille. I did, however, get a glimpse of it the next morning. For simplicity’s sake, I include it here.
This great church was under total renovation at the time of my visit, so going inside would have been problematic, regardless.
Lille was fairly quiet on that Sunday night, almost a counterpoint to raucous Amiens. Still, the people I met here seemed happy and relaxed, glad to be in the commercial hub of French Flanders.
So, my time in northwest France was drawing to a close. There was nowhere where I felt unwelcome, and nowhere I would refrain from visiting again. My French home is Rouen, and its good neighbours are Rennes, Mont St, Michel, Brest, Amiens, Lille-and Le Cite Lumiere, Paris. I am glad for each day, each place I had the pleasure of seeing and each person who graced my path.
NEXT: Brugge, Parent of Commerce
Lille seems less modernized, and perhaps even less repaired after the wars. I hope you were able to hear from Aram at the cyber-laundry (what a fun image, of sending one’s laundry off to space to be cleaned!).
For the most part, the downtrodden appearance seems confined to the area around City Hall, which struck me as odd. The districts around Gare Lille-Europe and Zenith have a distinctly modern feel.
That does seem odd — but I guess they wanted to present a good front for incoming travellers.
I enjoyed the realness of even the down-at-the-heels areas.