Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Lille and present danger

Day 2

Up moderately early we headed out for a general wander in the direction of the art gallery, supposedly second only to the Louvre in France for its collection.
The place is pretty impressive, on a wide boulevard with magnificent grand buildings like the Prefecture to admire en route. The museum itself is housed in a pretty impressive building and certainly doesn’t look out of place in the area. The main entrance is in front of a heavy red velvet curtain, strangely enough. Trust the French to make coming into their art gallery like entering a brothel. Entrance is a massive chamber with not much in it apart from a couple of desks. We paid our entrance fee, but there was no English guides or leaflets to tell you anything about the place or its works. Not very tourist friendly. Heading into the collection, which wasn’ t too clearly indicated, since it transpired that we had started at the wrong end, we did see some fantastic pieces including works by Manet, Seurrat, Rubens, Velazquez and Hals. The best pieces (IMHO) were a couple of Goyas and a Bosch. Thing is, none of the pieces had English captions, the lighting was dreadful and they were hung in a fairly haphazard fashion with some near eye-level, then others hung above this. Overall, as a collection it is world class, but the organisation was very poor. On ground level they also have a fair collection of sculpture, and interestingly, in the basement they have a collection of relief maps of the towns in the area from the 17th century which give historical perspective of the region Unfortunately they were behind glass so I wasn't able recreate Godzilla Attacks Belgium

Following our sojourn about the exhibits, we went back into Lille town to wander about a bit before heading towards the cathedral by way of the Grand Place. Here we located another good area for somewhere to eat and drink. We settled on a place called Le Part d'Anges to stop for a drink, but decided to eat as well with a selection of charcuterie and cheeses which were delicious, accompanied by some rather good red wines. Considering the size of our breakfast, we ate an enormous amount. Worst thing of all, however was that later on that day we were both seriously thirsty due to the massive salt content of this plate. It was a price worth paying though.

That evening we headed back to the same area for some drinks, though it is weird how quiet the streets of Lille are on a Sunday. Some of the bars we had drunk in the previous day were shut as well. It was like going back to the 1980s in the UK before the licensing laws were relaxed. I had drank some lovely Chimay on tap, (8%, not really what you might call a session ale), before we ended up in a restaurant recommended in guidebooks. Here they had a lot of tarts. I mean quiche type of things, obviously, not loose women. These were rather good, where I had a bacon, mushroom and spinach one and a basil and tomato one. The thing was I actually wanted a fairly light meal, but they didn’t do this in a Sunday believe it or not! They were sold as set meals and they had a one course, two course, three course, where you selected any tart sweet or savoury) as a single course. For some reason you aren’t allowed to eat lighlt of a Sunday as the single course one was not available on the Sabbath. Why? Jane had the local speciality of steak in red wine which was supposed to be medium, but was definitely well done, in much the same way that you need material to resole your shoes as well done. These came with wine so they were a good deal, although the tarts may have been responsible for me suffering some urgent trips to le toilettes when we got back to the room (not “eye of a needle” per se, but more fairly coarse colander certainly) .

We made it to yet another bar for a few drinks afterwards, a place we had enjoyed a drink at after we had arrived called L’Illustration which was open late. They were certainly still serving when we left as it approached 1am. It had a typically Gallic feel, with the barman actually enjoying a fag outside when we came in and was there for a good few minutes while customers were waiting for a bevie. Vive la France
I was on more of the same, Belgian beer, sticking to the wonderful Leffe once again. Then it was time for bed. Funny how the town was pretty dead on a Sunday, yet you can still get a drink at 1am, unlike Britain mostly. The hotel was trussed up like Fort Knox we discovered. THe heavy metal gates were shut and we had to buzz to get in, when the guy on the desk needed to know our room and our names before he'd let us in. What was he ex[ecting in this quiet town at that time of night?

Monday, 26 October 2009

Lille, Mighty Real

We’ve been in Lille now for just under a full day. We’ve encountered a new time zone that was then changed back to BST thanks to daylight saving, so we haven’t lost any time at all in the overall melee of temporal jiggery-pokery. We will, however, get an hour back when we return to Blighty.

Eurostar is a great way to travel. Train from Wakefield to London, walk over to St Pancras and pick up the sexy, high-speed train to France and you’re there in about 5 hours all-in. We arrive at a dull and vaguely drizzly Lille at about 3pm local time and walked to our hotel. We arrived and checked in to a very attractive former convent with a glass covered cloister where their restaurant was situated, then went to our well maintained, reasonably sized room complete with plasma TV. It's called Couvent des Minimes, and I was disappointed not to find the place teeming with Vern Troyer clones. Well, at least until I discovered that Minimes is French for junior and also referes to some Caatholic sect and didn't actually mean the Austin Powers character. At £65 a night including breakfast this is actually quite a bargain, it being 4*, apparently. Saying that, star ratings refer to the facilities in each room , including a Corby trouser press which is something I hardly imagine anyone actually using so it’s a bit redundant. The minibar is a bit crap too: no beer, but soft drinks that the hotel want €4 for. Yes, just shy of £4 for a can of Coke. Now that is taking the piss. I’d expect to pay less than that for the non-capitalised version of coke, its Columbian namesake.

We headed out to the local area to sample a couple of bars which were quite good, very French, and I sampled a couple of Bieres Belgique: Leffe and Tripel Karmeliet. I’ve had both in bottles at home, though the latter I remember tasting a whole lot better when it came from Morrisons, as the draught version here tasted a little like dishwater.

We returned to the hotel to freshen up before heading out for dinner. We made it to a restaurant near the main square called Flore. Starters were fantastic. We both had paté, though Jane’s was a coarse, rustic variety, while mine was a duck foie gras. I know foie gras is cruel, but to be honest, if I thought my liver would taste that good once it exploded through over-eating I would certainly consider it a worthy career choice. Main courses were a little disappointing. Jane’s carbonnade flandre was a little odd-flavoured, and my rump steak was tough, though wasn’t overdone. Chips weren’t up to much either, being of the frozen variety.

We headed to a student area which was a little disappointing being full of Irish and Scottish themed pubs. Really naff looking ones at that. We did settle on a place called Bar Atomic which had some nice atmosphere and was playing some great rock music. Again I had more Belgian beer, finishing on a Kwak, which was good, but I was disappointed not to receive in a yard of ale style glass in a wooden holder. We then took a fairly circuitous route home but got there in the end before getting to bed.