Lille – As close to perfect as France gets

Lille – As close to perfect as France gets

Wet cobblestone streets of Lille

Yes, I am probably going to suffer some outraged feedback on calling little Lille (l’il Lille) more perfect than say…the city of lights…Pareeee… but I am going with it. Bear in mind that I am not a city person. I dislike crowds, cars and any place that does not outnumber its residents with trees. Alas, Lille does not meet the last criterium (where does Europe put its trees? Do NOT say Jardin Luxembourg, I was there and no).

Ah, Lille. One hour by fast train (TGV…”tay jay vay,” too much fun to say) from the international airport and from Gare du Nord, one of Pareeee’s train stations. Assigned seats. Electronic tickets. Lordy, this place is so civilized that it makes the Boston metro system hang its head in shame. I hear Boston’s system defended all the time because it was the US’ first metro system…ummm…Paris and Boston actually started the same year…1897…so well, just leaving that there. I have other things to talk about.

So, why Lille? Because 20 years ago, a good friend from business school who I will call Guillaume, until he sues me for non-permission, married a nice British girl named Tracey in the lovely town of Lille (with a reception in a Belgian castle-!) We went with a bunch of other b-school friends and though I remember little except for Britishers wearing fancy hats and drinking waaaay too much champagne (me, not the Britishers, who seem to be bottomless)…and the moules et frites (mussels and fries). I have to control myself here to put things in order but know that it is worth going to any wedding or anniversary party that has a Friday night mussels and fries party. Unless you hate seafood and then, well, sorry for you. Not really–pass your bowl.

So this was an anniversary party and a joint birthday party for Guillaume and Tracey who recently turned 29 again. Or something like that–probably you can’t get married at 9 years old, even in France). My husband, who I shall call BH, and I asked my wonderful parents to come to Boston and babysit our 10 year olds and our Brazilian exchange student and then we were off across the world. Through Iceland. All roads should pass through Iceland. Super beer and the best salmon sandwich EVER at the airport. Also some folks saw the northern lights when we landed there Thursday night–I was too busy singing along with Beauty and the Beast. I am very popular on planes.

The only issue, to be frank, about stopping in Iceland is the fact that the next flight to Charles de Gaulle/Paris left at 1 am. And lasted only 3 hours. So basically you don’t sleep at all. Yes, it was only $440 to fly to Europe (awesome!) but you will pay for it later (as in, I completely missed Saturday morning. But more on that later).

So, land in CDG, Tay Jay Vay to Lille and then what? Misty rainy bleh. Honestly I always think of Europe sans Italy and Spain as misty rainy bleh. I don’t care about it. You have to go weather-independent to Europe or find yourself whinging (Britishism!) the whole time. Seriously. Put up your umbrella and go. Also put on your dark rain gear because NO ONE believes in red or yellow or anything other than black or grey as an outergarment in cold or rainy Europe. I was wearing electric blue rain gear  so I stood out like the American I am.  Whatever.

Lovely in grey: Lille

This is a long post. I just realized that. I haven’t even STARTED on the food. So let me jump to the point here. We arrived in France at 6 am on Friday and did not stop eating until we left at 2:30 pm on Monday. I could never live in France–I would have to pay for two train tickets so I could fit in the seats. Let’s talk food, shall we?

We met two grad school friends, Corrado and Eduardo, at a restaurant called O! Concert for lunch at 1 pm. Small, intimate, warm and dry (wait, did I just complain about the rain?)…menu on a chalkboard, a patient friendly waitress, and fortunately a friend who speaks a lot more French than I do. I tried, I really did, but high school french is gone….

Now if you didn’t know, all meals in France seem to start with an aperitif. Champagne, fancy drink, whatever. If you don’t order one, you are not French. Or maybe not European as our Italian friend was in the know. Then the serious stuff began…terrine  and bone marrow (avec bone!) served on heavy slate plates…what? Bone marrow? Yeah, okay so not a vegetarian. This stuff is insane. Put it on French bread, have a sip of red wine. Have more. No one cares.

Bone marrow. Yum. Terrine and arugula salad just out of view.

Seriously, no one cares. We were there for three hours. No one tossed us out when our time was up (a la americaine) and the restaurant closed at 3. At 3:30 pm our very nice and undoubtedly-exhausted-by-crazy-foreigners waitress said goodbye and left the restaurant. Then one of the back-up waiters said “see you soon” and also left. Behind us the owners, or chefs or both, just pulled up chairs at another table and did whatever they do when people don’t leave. Probably started an aperitif. Love. When we left at 4ish, I felt like they might even miss us. Well, no. But I love, truly love this facet of the French.

Charles de Gaulle’s birthplace. I can almost hear the Americans saying “who?”

So we were off into the rainy mist. We looked at Charles de Gaulle’s birthplace. Seemed nice. It had a saint on the wall (to upper left in photo). We walked around some more, thought about visiting the citadel but it was pretty far. Nice little park along the river. Grubby little bar for a shot of espresso and bathroom visit. Oh, okay, it was a tiny bit creepy. But still friendly.

Time for tea! Okay so here is where Lille is amazing. The shops along the street (EVERY street) go like this: fancy children’s shop (seriously do those kids ever wear a t-shirt? No, all fancy), chocolate shop, shoe shop, tea shop, fancy shop, tea shop, chocolate shop… Tea. Tea is everywhere. Did the Brits get in here at some point? Must check my history book. Maybe it’s the misty weather. Kusmi…Meert…

Classy Meert

ah, Meert. As my friend Corrado just posted on his tripadvisor review, this place is CLASSY. In spite of that, they let us bedraggled folks in and gave us menus with about 4000000000000 types of tea, all with descriptions (I got the floral Earl Grey, wow) and gaufres. If you don’t know what a gaufre is, there is no chance I can do it justice. But here we go: it’s a waffle cookie with cream inside. Forget it,  I can’t describe it but it is JUST RIGHT. Please get me some and bring back with you on your next trip. Why, oh why, did I eat only one?

Tea Menu at Meert. Third page of 40000000

In case you didn’t get the feeling yet, we were close to food coma at 6 pm–and realize that dinner was scheduled at 8:30 pm. We went back to the hotel to beach ourselves a bit, but then the call came in that Guillaume, the anniversary boy, needed a beer. Kellogg grads to the rescue…out we went again…beer…yummy beer. Oh, all right, I admit it, I had white wine. Remember, I am classy.

So clearly I am not getting to my whole weekend in one fell swoop/blog. It’s 11 am here in metro Boston and this blog has made me so hungry I cannot finish it. Well, okay, I’ll write it up through dinner. Because it is MOULES ET FRITES and really that’s the whole reason we went to Guillaume’s party. No, we actually like him too.


So off we went from the bar (cannot remember the name but had a very nice patio looking at the back of the cathedral…would have been nice on a non-misty day) to L’Ecume des Mers…which GoogleTranslate hilariously shows as “The scum of the seas”. I am guessing they meant it more as “Sea Foam”. This is exactly the same restaurant we went for a Friday night party 20 years ago. Still owned by Guillaume’s friend Antoine (which has to be my favorite french name). The decor has changed (I know it’s because I am old, but I liked it before when it was dark and Frenchy…now too light and Floridian). The mussels and fries have not–delicious and plentiful and seriously, French butter. Let’s talk about the butter–I don’t know what French cows eat but it is better. I could eat just butter.

Lots of wine, beer and funny French and English friends.  A damp cobblestoned walk home to our pretty hotel. Sleep, glorious sleep… to be continued, Lille. You deserve two days of blogs.

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