It’s over a month since we arrived in France, landing in a drizzly, overcast Dunkerque around midday on 12 June. After spending a few hours in the town we drove south east to Lille, the main city of Lille Métropole, the fourth largest metropolitan area in France (after Paris, Lyon and Marseilles). Approximately a quarter of the population of Lille Métropole live in Lille itself, which is a lovely and very liveable city in the Nord-Pas de Calais region of France that borders on Belgium.
We stayed in Lille for only six days, but in that short time we saw much of the city, getting to know our way around quite well using the Metro as well as our feet. One of our favourite spots for sipping coffee and watching the world go by was Place du Général de Gaulle, known locally as Grand Place. And during one of the many rain showers we took up residence inside the Notting Hill Coffee shop (not very French but they did make good lattès!), where we sat in a couple of window seats watching the raindrops bouncing hard as the people crossed the square as quickly as possible, umbrellas up, shoulders hunched.
A short walk north west of the Grand Place and you find yourself in Vieux Lille, the old town, with its narrow streets and cobblestones, fashionable cafés and restaurants, artisan boulangeries and pâtisseries aplenty. I think my head was turned more often by the beckoning delights of strawberry tarts and suchlike than it was by the beautiful buildings. Perhaps that’s why I took so few photographs?
Roughly south of the old town is the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille, an impressive building that houses the largest museum collection outside of Paris. Although we didn’t get around to visiting the museum (aside from going in to use the loo once or twice) we spent a few lunchtimes sitting on the grass outside, tucking into simple French fare of Comté cheese, olives and baguette, accompanied by a slug or two of Bordeaux. Given the mix of sunshine and showers the skies were constantly changing, and on one occasion we also saw an alien hot air balloon fly across the sky and over the museum.
After a couple of days we began to notice a curious phenomenon — six coloured spots randomly placed on various pavements. As we were taking pictures of them a Lille woman, who must have assumed we knew the significance of what we were photographing, stopped to ask us if we knew what they were. Unfortunately, we never did find out and so they remain a mystery.
One of the best things we did in Lille was to visit the Marché de Wazemmes in the Place de la Nouvelle Aventure. A buzzing and vibrant market, it takes up the entire square plus the surrounding side streets and is both a visual and gastronomic feast. We have Apolline, our lovely CouchSurfing host, to thank for taking us there with her family on Sunday morning; as well as introducing us to a delicious Moroccan food stall that was attached to a restaurant, which meant we could buy our food inexpensively at the stall and eat at a table outside the restaurant. And for desert we shared a box of even more delicious pastries that Apolline’s mother had bought from a busy Moroccan pâtisserie in the square. Whenever we return to Lille, which we’d both very much like to do, I’d like to spend more time walking around and getting to know the Wazemmes area — and, of course, sampling yet more pâtisserie delights!