Lille

A Flem­ish snap­shot of par­adise in France.

Alive - - Con­tents - by Deepa Shailen­dra

There’s noth­ing as ther­a­peu­tic as an un­charted gal-pal hol­i­day to get over the blues of an Empty Nest syn­drome. My friend Shami and I took off on a three week trip to Paris-Lille-Lon­don-Stock­holm to cel­e­brate the de­par­ture of our youngest chil­dren from the Nest. The ba­sic idea was to set­tle her daugh­ter Man­isha in her Univer­sity of Ed­hec at Roubaix. The larger plan in­volved hav­ing a rol­lick­ing time in Europe on a shoe­string bud­get.

Trav­el­ling in Europe for the first time was an eye- opener. For one, lug­ging your own suit­cases around can be quite a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. It can ei­ther build your mus­cles or give you a her­nia. Since Lille was on the first leg of a three­week, three-na­tion tour of Europe, we had packed plenty of clothes and gifts for friends and fam­i­lies in all our stops. Once you have spent many ar­du­ous mo­ments, wheez­ing, cussing and ca­jol­ing com­modi­ous lug­gage up and down stairs, es­ca­la­tors and pave­ments, the lessons learnt are per­ma­nent. Next time round, we aim to travel light and carry only four sets of gar­ments and some snacks!

A piece of Par­adise

Af­ter a whirl­wind trip of Paris, we took the high­speed TGV train to Lille. It was my first train jour­ney into the Euro­pean coun­try­side; with its re­nais­sance paint­ing-like land­scape, bro­ken by lit­tle vil­lages that clus­tered around tall steeples that rose into the sky.

The beau­ti­ful lit­tle city of Lille is lo­cated in the north of France in French Flan­ders, on the Deûle River, close to the bor­der with Bel­gium. In the 1980s and ’90s, the open­ing of the VAL, the world's first au­to­mated rapid tran­sit un­der­ground net­work and the high-speed TGV train line be­tween Paris and Lille played a sig­nif­i­cant role in trans­form­ing a once grimy min­ing and tex­tile cen­tre into a thriv­ing ser­vicedriven econ­omy. The open­ing of the Chan­nel Tun­nel in 1994 put Lille bang at the cen­tre of a tri­an­gle con­nect­ing Paris, Lon­don and Brus­sels, mak­ing it the ideal week­end des­ti­na­tion for hol­i­day­mak­ers of three na­tions.

The prin­ci­pal city of Lille Métropole has a minis­cule eth­nic pop­u­la­tion of one lakh and a multi­na­tional stu­dent com­mu­nity of the same size. It is truly an

ar­chi­tec­tural de­light with its strong Flem­ish in­flu­ences: from the Basil­ica of Notre-Dame-de-la-Treille to the Grand Place (with Aus­trian can­non­balls em­bed­ded in the stone façade), to the beau­ti­ful cob­ble­stone al­ley­ways of Vieux Lille with its an­cient town houses and build­ings with sym­met­ri­cal fa­cades. The pop­u­la­tion is an eclec­tic blend of the

Gaul, Dutch, Flem­ish, Vik­ing and the French.

Our Ap­part'City LilleEu­ralille ser­vice apart­ment in the busi­ness dis­trict of La Madeleine over­looked a lovely park that was over­run by amorous young cou­ples and young fam­i­lies. The well ap­pointed ser­vice apart­ment was equipped with all the crea­ture com­forts — ca­ble TV, high­speed Wi-Fi, a well-stocked kitch­enette with a fridge and, most im­por­tant of all, a corkscrew for open­ing wine bot­tles.

The first item on our agenda was to check out the nearby Pe­tit Casino, a French re­tail chain with its wide range of le pain (breads), le from­mage (cheeses), cold cuts, fruit and le frozen din­ners. We quickly learnt that some brands of wine were far cheaper than a bot­tle of wa­ter. We yelped with de­light and filled our shop­ping bas­ket with sev­eral bot­tles of wine. It is only later that we re­alised that these cheap wine bot­tles with their invit­ing la­bels are corked with what is prob­a­bly re­cy­cled trac­tor tire rub­ber. It took the me­chan­i­cal in­ge­nu­ity of a Ger­man for­eign stu­dent to open the bot­tle with his boot!

A Lille bit of this ʼnʼ that

The best way to ex­plore Lille is by bus, metro and tram. As we rode the quaint tram­line from Lille

Flan­dres to Roubaix, we were mes­merised by the sheer ele­men­tal beauty of the lo­cal­i­ties, with their rich

Lille is a walk­ing city. Walk­ing through the cob­ble­stone path of the city, we dis­cov­ered some of the loveli­est churches and mu­se­ums. The Musee des Beaux Arts, the Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral His­tory and the Mu­seum of the Hos­pice Comtesse, the Lille Cathe­dral, the Basil­ica of Notre Dame de la Treille and the "Col­umn of the God­dess" at the Grand-Place are some of its chief at­trac­tions.

sub­ur­ban flavour of ivy­cov­ered brick homes, shady av­enues and hedged-in vil­las. It was a swatch of sub­ur­ban felic­ity. Lille is a city dot­ted with parks, flow­ing gar­dens and dashes of wild plants in at­trac­tive vats. The Botan­i­cal

Gar­dens, the English styled Vauban Gar­den and the mam­moth Citadel Park with the Lille Zoo are great places to check out.

One morn­ing, as we walked aim­lessly to­wards the city cen­tre, we hap­pened upon the Jardin des Geants, a whacky park with lovely wa­ter fea­tures and un­usual mod­ern metal sculp­tures of gi­ant heads. An old-fash­ioned glass house cov­ered in green ivy in the midst of this un­usual land­scape pro­vided the per­fect pic­nic spot for an im­promptu pic­nic for two.

Ours was a lazy un­charted hol­i­day. We would rus­tle up break­fast in our kitch­enette; that would con­sist of fresh crois­sant and from­mage (cheese) with a lovely va­ri­ety of cold­cuts and rounded off with cof­fee. We would carry our own sand­wiches and wa­ter and head out for a spot of sight­see­ing. We had no agenda, no tourist map and ab­so­lutely no clue what we wanted to do next. We would get out of our apart­ment and head ei­ther for a steeple on the hori­zon or for the near­est shop­ping dis­trict to ogle at what was

haute in French cou­ture. We spent a good amount of time shop­ping at the City cen­tre that had some lovely sales on! We just missed at­tend­ing Lille’s fa­mous an­nual braderie, one of Europe’s largest flea mar­kets by a cou­ple of days. Dat­ing back to the twelfth cen­tury, this un­usual fair is held on the first Sun­day in Septem­ber and at­tracts nearly three mil­lion vis­i­tors from around the world.

Lille for the cul­ture-vul­ture

Lille is a walk­ing city. Walk­ing through the cob­ble­stones path of the city, we dis­cov­ered some of the loveli­est churches and mu­se­ums. The Musee des Beaux Arts, the Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral His­tory and the Mu­seum of the Hos­pice Comtesse, the Lille Cathe­dral, the Basil­ica of Notre Dame de la Treille and the “Col­umn of the God­dess” at the GrandPlace are some of its chief at­trac­tions.

We spent a lovely af­ter­noon at the Musee des Beaux Art, a mu­seum noted for its great works of art, strolling through its beau­ti­ful grounds and ad­mir­ing the ad­join­ing build­ings with their Gothic style ar­chi­tec­ture. The heav­enly croque-monsieur served at the mu­seum cafe­te­ria, with its ham and em­men­tal or gruyère cheesy awe­some­ness was a DTH (direct to hip) snack that we later, walked off at Vieux Lille.

Vieux Lille

For me, Vieux Lille, the old city was prob­a­bly the most charm­ing part of my stay at Lille. Nar­row, cob­ble­stone al­ley­ways opened into pic­turesque squares with wooden crates of wild grasses and over­flow­ing hang­ing

bas­kets with an ex­u­ber­ant rush of flo­ral splen­dour. So much beauty! As we ex­plored this an­cient part of the city with its fas­ci­nat­ing ar­chi­tec­ture, we ad­mired the 17th and 18th cen­tury town­houses and sym­met­ri­cal fa­cades of stone build­ings, with shops cater­ing pri­mar­ily to tourists. We came upon a spec­tac­u­lar church that sud­denly loomed up in front of us at the end of a lit­tle lane. It was the Eglise Saint Mau­rice, a 14th cen­tury Ro­man Catholic Church that had some im­pres­sive stained glass win­dows. The Basil­ica of Notre-Dame-de-la-Treil was an­other glo­ri­ous church that took my breath away! One of the things that I ad­mired about the churches here in France was the thought­ful de­sign of the can­dles that the de­vout can light at the al­tar. A neat groove at the bot­tom of each can­dle al­lows one to place the can­dle

Lille has a de­light­ful va­ri­ety of cui­sine that caters to the multi­na­tional stu­dent com­mu­nity, from the es­o­teric Flem­ish and French to ex­otic Turk­ish doner

ke­babs and some of the best ham­burg­ers that we have tasted. One day, af­ter hours of walk­ing we hap­pened upon the fa­mous Au Vieux de le Vieille, a cu­ri­ous bistro sit­u­ated in The Onion Place.

com­fort­ably into deco­rous can­dle stands, placed thought­fully at dif­fer­ent al­coves.

Lille has a de­light­ful va­ri­ety of cui­sine that caters to the multi­na­tional stu­dent com­mu­nity, from the es­o­teric Flem­ish and

French to ex­otic Turk­ish

doner ke­babs and some of the best ham­burg­ers that we have tasted. One day, af­ter hours of walk­ing down wind­ing al­leys, soak­ing in the beauty of the city, we hap­pened upon the fa­mous Au Vieux de le Vieille, a cu­ri­ous bistro sit­u­ated in an equally cu­ri­ous lit­tle Square called The Onion Place. The restau­rant is famed for its authen­tic Flem­ish cui­sine. What we en­joyed best, apart from the ex­cel­lent food, was some good beer that was served in fire-en­gine red cans!

The nightlife in Lille is sup­pos­edly fab­u­lous too. Lille needs to be ex­pe­ri­enced like we did — with­out an agenda. It is per­haps one of the prettiest places that I have ever been to! Or was it mag­i­cal be­cause I al­lowed the city to show me its charm, with­out any pre­con­ceived no­tions? I won­der!

Jardin des Geants in La Madeleine.

An al­ley­way close to La Madeleine.

A glimpse of the Saint Mau­rice Church through an al­ley.

Au Vieux de le Vieille.

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