I’m not entirely sure why it is that I decided that I would stop by in Lille on my trek through Europe – maybe it was because it was a half decent sized city that happened to be on the route that I was taking. Well, whatever the reason, it really didn’t take all that long to get there (namely because I was staying in Ghent) and one of the great things about traveling by Eurail Pass is that, generally, you don’t need to book your seats, especially if you are only traveling by the regional trains. Then again, it also comes down to whether the train that you want to catch is actually running, and running multiple times, though when we are talking about short distances, like between Ghent and Lille, then there are likely to be multiple trains, though I would just rock up at the station and hope that one came along soon, though there are actually some pretty cool apps that you can use to actually work out how to get from one place to another, but I’ll talk about that another time.
Oh, did I mention that everybody smokes in Europe? Well, not everybody smokes, but they are certainly much more liberal towards smokers on the continent than they are in England or Australia. In fact there are some bars that I have visited, namely in Frankfurt, where you can still actually smoke inside. Hey, they even have cigarette machines, but you like need your identity card to use them – oh, yeah, everybody has an identity card as well, which they have to carry around with them, yet Europe is considered to be much more liberal and progressive than the Anglosphere.
Enough of that rambling though because I probably should be talking about Lille, and my adventures therein. Like, I have already mentioned that it doesn’t take all that long to travel from Ghent to Lille – in fact it took us longer to get to our hotel than it did to travel by train, though apparently it is nowhere near as ridiculous as it is in Japan, not that I am ever going to be traveling there anytime soon.
Yeah, about the hotel, it turned out that it was quite a distance from the station. Well, I won’t necessarily say that it was a bad hotel, it just took quite a while to get there, which can be annoying at times. Then again Lille is probably a bigger city that normal, and I do tend to be somewhat stingy when it comes to booking hotel rooms, so I guess that was one of the reasons why I ended up booking this one. The other problem turned out to be that we had arrived a little too early, which meant dumping our bags and then going out for a wander around the town. Once again, I probably shouldn’t be all that surprised, considering that check-out time in Europe tends to be around 12:00 pm as opposed to Australia which is usually around 10:00 am.
Anyway, it was basically time to go for a walk, which is generally what we end up doing when our room is yet to be prepared, and I remembered walking past a rather large church on the way here, so that was the first place I decided to check out. Actually, it was the Sacre Coeur, and it was quite a magnificent church. I’m not sure whether you can call it a cathedral or not, but then again in France the churches do seem to be a little different than they do in other countries – for instance I was under the impression that the Cathedrals were the Notre Dammes, but the thing is that ‘Notre Damme’ means ‘our lady’ which suggests that the church is dedicated to Mary, while ‘Sacre Coeur’ means ‘sacred heart’.
Well, this church of the Sacred Heart was, like a lot of other churches that I have visited, absolutely gorgeous. The funny thing is that I remember somebody suggesting that if you go to too many churches, you end up feeling that they are basically all the same. Yet, other people that I have encountered that seem to work in repetitive office jobs, suggest that every call, and every file, is different. I guess the second lot do have a point, because every human being is unique, so when your job is interacting with human beings, then the challenges are going to be endless.
When it comes to churches though, especially these medieval churches then there is a uniqueness to all of them. Sure, there are many similarities, but back then, back before the days of the assembly line, and the endless aisles of similarly looking objects, things were made by hand, and as such there was a uniqueness about all of them – once again we can see Marx’s estrangement of labour at work. Anyway, I’ll be looking at the churches specifically in another post at another time, so I guess we’ll move on to our next stop.
That turned out to be the town square, which once again we had passed through on our way to the hotel. Actually, we ended up going a different direction, namely because Lille has a metro system, and I wanted to catch one of the trains back to the station. Well, the station is actually quite a large station, one of the reasons being that the Eurostar stops here on its way through to London (and Brussels). Actually, the Eurostar station is completely separate station from the main railway station, except that the metro terminus (which felt more like an underground tram) connects both of them. Oh, and they don’t have driver’s either, which makes me wonder how the French actually got away with that considering the power of the unions over there. We also went to the art gallery, but I decided that maybe it would be best to leave it for another time.
So, we wandered through the town square, after having lunch of course, namely because I hadn’t really eaten anything since breakfast, and my brother was also starting to get a bit peckish (not that he actually says anything, or if he does, it has absolutely nothing about the fact that he is hungry and wants something to eat). As it turned out, we had our lunch at a place called the Napoleon Tavern (or something like that). Yeah, despite the fact that he conquered pretty much all of continental Europe, and was then beaten soundly by a coalition, the French still love the guy – I guess it had something to do with there not being anywhere near as much baggage attached to his name as some other conquerer that we all know.
The town square was, well, big, but that is not really all that surprising, considering that it was the centre of public life, and was generally where you also found the town hall, usually marked out by the Belfry. Actually, in this little courtyard in a building in the middle of the square, I found a book shop. Well, not so much a book shop but more like a book market, or at least a market that was selling arty type stuff. I was actually pretty cool, though I did resist the temptation to actually buy anything.
Our little wander through the back blocks of Lille, or at least through the old town, first of all brought me to a rather nice little bar, and then to the Notre Dame. Well, I have to admit that the Notre Dame was quite a shock. Personally, I was expecting your typical old style church, and when I stepped out from the houses I suddenly discovered that I was starring face to face with some sort of post-modern construct. Well, I decided to go inside anyway (and my brother, of course, followed along behind) and sure enough, inside the church it was once again some repugnant work of post-modernist art. In fact the Stations of the Cross pretty much looked as if they had been drawn by children.
Our next stop was the Mother of Citadels – basically it was an old star fortress that is actually still in use today, namely by the special forces (I believe). You can sort of walk up to the entrance, and they even have tours of the place, though it turns out only once a month on a Sunday, and you have to book ahead as well. That was a bit of a shame, considering it would have been nice to have checked out the citadel, but as I mentioned, since it is actually an army base, you can sort of understand why they really don’t want tourists walking all over the place.
Fortunately, the citadel happened to be near the zoo, and even better, the zoo was actually free. Okay, that was pretty cool, but it actually isn’t a particularly big zoo. In fact, as far as zoos go, it is really small. Still, they do have some rather interesting animals there, including, I believe, a rhinoceros. However, considering that it is Northern France, I do sometimes wonder how these animals who are used to the hot African savannah manage to acclimatise themselves to the fact that it snows.
Anyway, it was time to head back to the hotel, if only to check in, but as it turned out, we had pretty much seen everything that Lille had to offer. Well, not quite because there also happened to be the art gallery that I forget to go and check out. Then again, we were only spending one night in Lille before heading on to our next destination, so there does happen to be that, and we were planning on catching a reasonably early train to our next destination, which was actually Arras.
However, as I have mentioned a few times, Lille does happen to be a university town (did I mentioned that – I’m not entirely sure, though Lille is probably a lot more than just a University town, considering that the Eurostar does happen to stop here for some reason) which means that there are going to be some pretty cool bars here. So, that was what I decided to go and check out, after going and grabbing something to eat for dinner that is.
Yeah, the bars did turn out to be pretty cool, or at least the ones I visited. I did visit one on the way back from the zoo, where somebody sat out the front and started singing cabaret, though she wasn’t doing any of the dancing that generally accompanies it. The other bars I found near the hotel seemed to be in a somewhat more rundown area of the inner city, though it really wasn’t all that bad. It turns out that these particular bars were actually what one would expect from university students. In fact, one of them had decided to dispense with the chore of going up to the bar and ordering drinks, and simply had the beer taps at the table. Then again, I am still trying to work out how they charged for the beer that would come out of these taps, and whether they could actually change what beer comes out, or whether it was just any old rubbish.
Hey, it could have actually been wine, and I have definitely seen wine starting to migrate to the beer taps of late.
Oh, and there was also the pretty cool grunge bar that I couldn’t help but going back and visiting a second time because, well, I just really love grunge bars. Though, one thing that I still find pretty odd is that everybody seems to prefer to sit outside and smoke than sit inside and listen to the really cool music, but then again, most people that end up going to bars with their friends do so for the social aspect.
Well, that was Lille. Time to move on to our next destination, but I’ll probably be returning another time, even if it is just to write about churches, the zoo, or even the bars.