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?

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