We usually avoid travelling on bank holidays like the plague. Extra long queues at airports, super busy UK trains and hiked up prices – bleurgh, we’d rather cruise around London on a self-styled staycation. Check out a few weird gems, stake out a brunch table and possibly catch up on a TV box set or two – that’s usually our favorite way to spend 3 days (more often than not with bank holiday rain hosing down).
However, these August bank holidays, wanderlust got the better of me.
With the soles of my shoes itching and my fingers dancing across my
keyboard, we decided that a quick trip over the Channel wouldn’t be too
stressful. Our requirements were simple; sunshine, good beer, a touching
of relaxation and a bit of wandering. Thanks to the recommendation of
my favourite London tour guide and a little internet magic, Lille was booked in an evening.
The Gare de Lille Flandres – the entire station imported from Paris
You could more than easily ‘do’ Lille in a day. Hop on the Eurostar early morning,
take a walking tour for the historical highlights, meander through a
couple of the compact museums and buy supper for the return journey. You
could. But we wanted a proper chill-out weekend, one full of sunshine
on patios and leisurely meals. And we got them.
We had three (or so) days of 30°C+ temperatures, a charged camera, blue blue skies plus a guide book, with no places to be. (Be warned, serious photo-age ahead…)
With an incredibly colourful history, Lille is located right on the
border of France and Belgium where the building facades wear each period
of occupation like badges of honour. Invaded at various points by the
Vikings, the Belgians, the French, the Germans, and allegedly the
Spanish, Lille now claims her wealthy merchant town allegiance to the
French, but with strong Flemish overtones.
We began with a walking tour organised by the information centre (craftily tucked off the main square…) and learnt all about the fascinating buildings that line the main square…
Gilded statues of pigeons any one?
Spotted the cannonball embedded in a restaurant facade and painted as a nipple…
Discovered the afternoon secret of the intriguingly modern Lille Cathedral;
A floating marble visage so thin the sun shines through the beautiful rose hued marble into the Cathedral hall…
Took a few shoefies amidst the glorious columns…
Browsed through the book market, spiderman style…
We spent a few hours meandering in the sunshine, skirting the edges of the star-shaped Citadine de Lille and pottering through the zoo…
Pottered through one of the most curious museums I’ve discovered in a while (and that’s saying something when we’ve visited Amsterdam’s Cat and Handbag musuems)…
Housed in a former swimming pool, Las Piscine has what can only described as a collection of curios. Beautious oil paintings, statues of house cats, a dress collection, human organs immortalized in porcelain – they seemed to have it all.
We found ourselves in one of the most decorated train station halls we’ve probably ever seen…
Explored the amazing history of the Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse (the Museum of the Hospice of the Countess), where nuns and monks tended to ailing members of the community from the 13th century until 1939…
and admired a cannon ball or two.
For meals we just ate as the whimsy took us. A modern coffee shop that wouldn’t be out of place on instagram, a family run restaurant where we spoke no French, they spoke no English but we all belted out the chorus of Black Eye Peas songs, a local boulangerie or two (seriously, pain au chocolat fresh from the oven are worth any money, 10 minutes of pointing and a gluten-intolerant stomach ache – worth it)…
…and of course we popped into the beautiful confection that is Meert. Famous for their drool worthy waffles, we picked up a few, but not before we were lured in with their heat beating ice-cream sundaes.
We made friends with a couple of locals…
And simply got lost (well, as lost as you can get with a working GPS).
I’m told the shopping in Lille is fantastic (we didn’t really fancy it), we accidentally discovered the fascinating graffiti running along the train station and concurred with the writer of the only travel book we found (kindly lent to me) that the first 5 minutes walk from the station is pretty grim but if you pace yourself with coffee and croissants along the walking tours, everything will work out perfectly.
Slow travel, the very best way to discover a city like Lille.