Lille; A short break.

Thursday 26 January 2023 – Lille, France

It was cold in Lille, much colder than London; the shock of the cold cutting through my open jacket as I got off the train. We stopped in the almost empty concrete wind tunnel that is Lille Europe Station to don the scarves and hats we pocketed when we got on the tube in Leytonstone almost four hours earlier. Eleanor wore gloves, I was map reading on my phone as we walked  the 20 or so minutes to the guest house.


It was Tuesday morning, Europe is in the grip of an air pattern generated by storms in America, the sky is a solid even block of grey and there’s a firm but gentle breeze that feels like it could cut through lead, its sharp. The light is weird, and would remain so until Thursday morning when the rain finally comes. Though we are six hours early the guest house owner shows us to our room and we can dump our bags; I change into a warmer jumper, then we head back out to explore Lille. Neither of us has been here before so everything is new. Other than some recommended places to visit over the next couple of days we have no plan. The best way to travel somewhere different; slow and at the whim of fancy.


We’ve come to Lille for a short break to celebrate the 25 of January, when, 10 years ago I met Eleanor for the first time over a drink or three in Camden’s famous rock and roll pub, the Hawley Arms. They’ve been a very happy 10 years and life without her would be a lot less bright. We chose Lille as it’s easy and quick to get to on the train, it’s not in the UK and we want to travel in Europe more than we have and, as I said earlier, we’ve not been here before, so there’s plenty to explore.


We spent Tuesday afternoon walking aimlessly around the old town, a lot of the shops were closed, early in a winter week I guess. nothing seemed permanently shutdown or derelict mind, a healthy sign for the city. I have the camera with me though don’t take a huge amount of photos.


Lille is in northern France, close to the Belgian border and architecturally is a mix of French and Flemish, a lot of the old houses would not be out of place if they were picked up and dropped into Ghent or Bruges. I like the mix of styles.


There’s a lots of churches; including a Notre Dame. The touches are so gothic (it is a famous gothic cathedral), but also a touch Gaudi-esque; though of course he was Spanish.






One of the things I like most about European towns, and it does seem to be unique to mainland Europe rather than the UK, is big old double doors, either as an entrance to a courtyard or directly into a house. I particularly like them when they are faded, grubby and time worn.





I also found the narrowest building ever, none of those big old double doors would have worked here.


We had an amazing run of finding great places to go for a drink or an evening meal during our short European break in September and I’m pleased to say that luck stayed with us on this trip as well. I found Soultrain bar online, I was looking for an ‘alternative’ bar and one that was preferably a few minutes walk from the guest house. Soultrain met those requirements and lived to up to expectations. We were the oldest people there, though we loved the vibe. The food was a choice of simple bar sharing plates, the cocktails were cheap and smooth and the bar staff were uber friendly. I didn’t expect that a bar playing a mix of American and French hip-hop would be my sort of place, but it was. Thanks internet. This was only our second drink, honest.


Anniversary night was Wednesday; Eleanor had been recommended a small local bistro by a friend of a friend who lives in Lille and made a reservation before we left London. I booked the guest house based on its close proximity to the bistro. Bistrot Brigand is small, maybe a dozen tables, the music was soul/funk/jazz, and like Soultrain the night before, it was unobtrusive. The food was fabulous, with combinations of things we hadn’t eaten before, mainly vegetarian, which seems unusual in Lille, and the staff were brilliant; this is a small inner suburban bistro, not a tourist place, and we were welcomed even though we have speak French.

There was no rush on Wednesday, breakfast in the guest house; coffee, cheese, bread, fruit and pastries, more coffee. It was cold again, grey, low clouds, we wrapped up and walked to the nearby Metro station and caught a train to nearby Roubaix, near the border with Belgium. Our destination is La Piscine Museum of Art and Industry, recommended to us by my cousin’s wife who is from Lille; she recommended a few places to us. The gallery was the day time highlight of the three days, not so much for its art, there was little that wowed me specifically, it’s the building that is the real highlight of the show.


The gallery first opened in Roubaix in 1835 with an emphasis on textiles, a key industry in the city. Like many museums and galleries across France and western Europe it was closed during the Second World War and the artworks secure elsewhere. What is somewhat ironic is the gallery had just finished an exhibition of textiles by the great Victorian socialist and craftsman William Morris, who’s home and now museum is a five minute walk from our old house in Walthamstow. You can take the girl out of Walthamstow…


The museum had trouble finding a new base until 1990 when the city council agreed the 1932 municipal swimming pool building, closed in 1985, would make a good home for the collections. No-one who has visited since it reopened could argue that this was not an inspired, if very brave decision. The place looks fabulous and I particularly liked the way the old dressing cubicles are being used to show art works. The tiling is beautiful though, stupidly I didn’t take any photos of it. I did take a photo of this bath though.


We had lunch, I had a very nice 4 Euro glass of red wine to wash it down, in a nearby café. We hen took in the town square before catching the tube back to central Lille.



An afternoon nap was in order, but it was slightly too early so we wandered about the old town a bit more. I finally found a few narrow streets with not too many cars in to take some photos. I love these cobbled lanes as much as I hate there being cars in my photos.





I was a bit gutted that the book, record and print  market wasn’t properly open on either of the days we walked through it.


This is a holiday, so we picked up a bottle of cheap wine before climbing the three flights of stairs to our room then slobbing on the bed with books for a couple of hours before dinner. Note to self, next time you go to France take a cork screw as virtually no wine comes in a screw top bottle.

Thursday, today, our last day, dawned wet, though much warmer than the last two days. We’d planned to walk to a nearby market for a look and maybe pick up some cheese to take home, but decided in the end to just hang out in the guest house room, enjoy another leisurely breakfast then walk to the station when the rain abated; stopping for a decent coffee on the way.


I’d booked us seats on the 13:35, giving us time for a last walk if we’d wanted to get wet, but early enough for us to be back home by mid-afternoon, leaving time to unpack and get ready for work the next day (Boo hiss).


It was a very enjoyable 10th anniversary trip and I’m looking forward to more visits to Europe this year and of course 10 more years plus with the lovely Eleanor. xx

Being nothing

Day 193, Sunday 15 July 2012, Paris

Today is the last full day in Paris, so I made the best use of the time and did sod all for the entire morning. After a huge amount of procrastination I did book myself some accommodation in Barcelona for three nights from tomorrow, hopefully it is not too bad. Everything is so damn expensive – Ok I will try and not go on about that any more, must be getting boring.

The rest of the morning was spent running between showers to the laundrette, editing photos and reading an Economist magazine I found in said laundrette, nice to read some decent current affairs, I am so out of touch with what is going on in the real world, outside of brief checks of NZ news on line.

In the middle of the afternoon we set off for Montparnasse and the cemetery there. It was an easy ride on the train, now I am getting used to working out the signs and lines it is almost time to go! After a showery start to the day the sun finally came out and was beating down on Cimetiere de Montparnesse when we arrived. We had kinda not done any proper research and assumed that this was where Jim Morrison (of The Doors) was buried, but that was an incorrect assumption ! However there are numerous other well known personages here, some with remarkably unadorned grave stones. The poet Samuel Beckett was one of these, and the sun was at such an angle a photo was not worth the pixels it would have used. My favourite was the incredibly phallic looking piece dedicated to James Dumont d’Urville who was (one of ?) the first to map the south island of New Zealand in the 1820’s in this ship Astrolabe.



We also saw Serge Gainsbourg – adorned in fag ends.


And Jean Paul Sarte and Simone De Beauvour


There were a couple of headstones that I really liked, my favourite being this large fish!



I was also quite taken by the variety of crosses on the doors of the sepulchres and posted a selection prior to this post.


We left the cemetery when it closed at 6:00 and went and found a cafe to sit and drink beer in until we met for dinner with Jean and Ettiene, the sons of Emily’s French friends. Both spoke perfect English (of course) and have been to and love New Zealand it was a good evening.

Two days in Paris and two links to old favourite New Zealand record label Flying Nun bands.

John Paul Sartre Experience.




Death and the Maiden

Day 192, Saturday 14 July 2012 – Paris – Bastille Day

The morning was all about planning, made difficult through lack of a good guide book, hopeless internet, a lack of knowledge about where I can go for a few days and the fact it is peak season in Europe and everything is really expensive !

Add to this the fact I am feeling rather vague at the moment and I have no idea where I want to go or what I want to do next. I think going to my cousins place in Spain for some down time is a good thing. Recharge the holidaying batteries, read up on Europe and get a good list of things to see and places to go. I know I want to see everything, but I am not sure what everything is – and I have no idea how much “everything” will cost.

After hours of internet faffing and indecision I have decided to fly to Barcelona and spend a few days there before heading south. Flying was not my first choice, but given intermittent internet (which stopped completely soon after I booked the flight – and I have no accommodation!) trying to find a land option was getting complex, the train to Marseilles was more expensive than the basic flight – adding bags pushed the flight cost up of course.

Once the internet was dead we headed our separate ways for the day, Emily to return to Gallarie Lafayette and the shopping district, hoping things were going to be open on a public holiday weekend, and I was going to enjoy a brief splash of sunshine and walk around the Latin Quarter. We went our separate ways at the St Michel station and I wandered off down the left bank of the Seine, overlooking Notre Dame.


All along the bank there are these long green lock ups across the tops of the walls, they contain little pop-up stalls, mainly selling old books and magazines, prints of paintings and some tourist knick knacks. They are quite cool.


At some random point I headed away from the river towards St Nicholas du Chardonnet where I popped in for a brief look. This church is not marked on the (rather vague) tourist map I am using, so is obviously not overly important to the history of France or Paris. But I enjoyed my visit all the same, each chamber had a small statue and a large painting on an opposing wall. The paintings varied in age from the 1500 to the 1800’s and were by artists completely unknown to me, what I found quite remarkable was the wonderful condition of these ancient works. Great pipe organ as well.


I also really like the wicker chairs, high side for sitting and low side for kneeling to pray. These are very common in the churches in Paris, so much better than those horrible wooden pews.


I wandered on up some reasonably deserted side streets, till I came across the centre of the Latin Quarter, which was fairly busy with tourists, most of which seemed to be French, the area is a small next of cobble stone streets packed with cafes, bistros, tabacs and restaurants.




I was getting peckish and had my stomach set on some pizza until I wandered by this maison – in the house were the poet Paul Verlaine passed away in 1896 – and Ernest Hemingway lived from 1921 – 1925. If you are of a certain age and musical taste, you of course have THAT chorus in your head right now ! I had to stop for a small vin rouge and a bowl of onion soup, both of which were average. but I did avoid a passing rain shower.


After lunch and with the sun out again I headed over to the Pantheon for a look around.



The Pantheon was designed by Soufflot under the instructions of King Louis XV and completed in 1791, In the crypt it now holds the remains of some of France’s more famous name’s Hugo, Curie, Moulin, Zola



and Rousseau.


The building is massive and the main hall way is very impressive.




As it is Bastille Day (France’s national day) there was a military band out the front of the Pantheon playing some modern pop tunes to the appreciation of the crowd. I snapped this shot as I walked away and then found the guys and girl removing their helmets, moved to the front of the band and some synchronised dancing for a couple of seconds, a mix of line dance/disco. One of them was glowing red, it was hilarious. Join the army !



After the light relief of disco dancing soldiers I meandered back to the hotel round the corner and dozed and blogged for a few hours – while waiting for the internet to come back to life and Emily to return from shopping. The internet did not come back to life until the next day, but Emily did return from shopping.

We took a walk down to the Seine at St Michel, pass the Sorbonne, which was glowing in the early evening sunlight. We stopped for dinner at Tabac De Le Sorbonne again but the experience was a real let down compared to last time, the waiter was obviously trying to set the example for how rude a Parisian waiter could be.


The sunset over the Seine was very cool – not up to Karekare beach standards of course, but then Karekare does not have Notre Dame either !


We watched some young guys tumbling in the square at St Michel.


Wandering the back streets of St Michel we stopped at this cafe for a coffee and drink.


This is now my most favourite of coffees, cafe noisette, espresso with a dash of milk, lovely.


The Verlaines – Death and the maiden.

Mona madness !

Day 191, Friday 13 July 2012 – Paris

Again it was another big day planned, there is so much to see and do in central Paris, even in a week I will only barely touch I want I want to see and some of those visits will only be short as well. Today we had three things to cover, Arc de Triomphe, Avenue des Champs-Elysees and the Louvre, an iconic (and big) list.

After a bit confusion in the Gare D’ Nord (again) we did find the right train to take us to the Arc de Triomphe (AdT). It was a wee bit wet when we left, which was great as it seemed to have put off the worst of the seething masses and we had a relatively pain free hike to the top of the Arc. The views over the city were just awesome.

Over the Avenue des Champs-Elysees


The Eiffel Tower (obviously)


Sacre Cour


We also had a good view down on to that most famous of Parisian roundabouts. I have no idea how cars get out, or why they would choose to go in, there were not many cars when we were there, but you can see the chaos – can you spot the cyclist in the middle ?



After AdT we took a walk down the Avenue des Champs-Elysees (ACE), which has to be one of the worlds more famous streets. It is a couple of kilometres long and seems to have all the major brand name stores, including a few low-brow ones as well !
The whole of ACE is covered in pedestrian barriers, assuming in preparation for the formalities and parties happening during Bastille Day tomorrow. Sadly most of Place de la Concorde is closed off to the public and seating and army vehicles have surrounded it.


We stopped for lunch in a cafe in Jardin des Tuileries, just outside of the Louvre. It was an entertaining meal, the waiters were constantly arguing, I think over tips as one of them pulled out a wad of cash and thrust into the hand of one of the others – ah the French !


The queue for the massive art gallery that is the Louvre was surprisingly small, under thirty minutes, which was fabbo as we missed the rain entirely during the wait. We entered the museum through the glass pyramid and the ticket counters and entrance point for the three main wings are all underground.


We started off with the ancient Egyptian collection and then worked our way around through the various painting and sculpture collections.



I loved this beautiful little wood carving, gorgeous.


The biggest tourist attraction at the Louvre has to be the Mona Lisa, as everyone who has seen it has said, it is surprisingly small. I could not be bothered fighting my way through the hoards to see it.


I am not big on painting, especially the classical, romantic and renaissance periods. My tastes tend to be from the impressionists onward, so the art collections at the Louvre, amazing as they are, were not studied at length. Though there were of course, many pieces I did like, especially this one by Luis de Morales from 1565.


One of the things that did impress me about the museum was the ornateness, detail and beauty just contained in the room construction, of course most of the rooms were bare gallery, but some were stunning to look at.




And of course there are the Napoleon III apartments, he must really have suffered !


I also quite liked this piece from Henri Bellechose from 1415 (man that is a long time ago!)


And I really liked these too, but forgot to write the atist details down, they are some of the very few paintings behind glass.


And minute compared to these bad boys.


It was drizzling again when we left the Louvre and started a slow walk back to the hotel, my feet were knackered after another few hours of tromping around and I was looking forward to shoes off and a lie down…


Looking over the Pont des Arts to the Institute de France.


We crossed the Pont Des Arts over the Seine, with its thousands of padlocks that young (and I guess not so young) lovers leave on the wire.



Walked along the side of the Seine, looking at the house boats, I liked these letter boxes on the river bank for the houseboats.





Pont Neuf



Dinner was trusty old bread, cheese and wine in the hotel room, it was raining again and my feet went out on strike !

I would loved to have spent more time in the Louvre, but it is a huge day…

Gallery – faces from the Louvre

Awesome visit to the Louvre today,  did not see it all, but saw most. It is so big and an exhausting few hours wandering around. It is not necessarily my artistic cup of tea as my interests are more modern, but it is certainly an amazing collection.

If you have followed my blog for a while you will know I like close up shots of the faces on statues – There was way too many to choose from at the Louvre ! These are from the Egyptian and European collections.

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