Thursday, 16 July 2015

Lille, et cetera: Les jeunes in the North of France

Our short time in London spent, the next morning we caught a train through the Chunnel to Lille in northern France. The trip was much quicker than I thought it would be - I was expecting to be able to get more reading time in!

Returning to Lille after a couple of years away filled me with a pleasant sense of familiarity. We joined up with Yannick's sister Fabienne, who will be accompanying us on our road trip for a time. 
We also met up with his brother Christophe who is travelling for about a month with his girlfriend around France and Italy. 
One of our first stops was Méert for the mouth watering gaufres filled with Madagascar vanilla paste. Established in 1761, Méert is a popular patisserie that now operates out of Paris, Roubaix and Brussels. 
We badly wanted to eat galettes and crepes at Creperie Beaurepaire as we had before, but the one day we had time to it was closed. However, I don't regret being unable to go as we enjoyed meals with Yannick's generous family. (His grandmother and aunt put us all up at a gîte for our time in Lille - a fancy house to ourselves with electric shutters. Unfortunately it had been damaged somewhat by a horde of unruly Poles who had been the visitors before us. The owner was a bit suspicious of five young people staying alone, saying "cinq jeunes, eh?" with raised eyebrows.)
On a sun drenched terrace we dined on carpaccio and rosé, listening to stories being told and watching women with tiny dogs smoke the night away. 

From Lille we picked up our car in Paris (post to follow) and aimed to get to Belgium. Along the way, we drove to Amiens where we sampled macarons d'Amiens: a confection made from almonds like the more popular macarons, but coarser and more like an Italian macaroon (or if you're more familiar with it, the macaroons made with desiccated coconut from England). 
The cathedral (purportedly the largest gothic cathedral in France though I have my doubts) is unusual in that there are civilian buildings that stretch almost right up to its walls. 
That certainly did endow it with a grandness sometimes lost on large buildings standing by themselves. 

Le Touquet-Paris-Plage
Further along the coast, we stopped at a town known mainly as a holiday destination for the French (though it was drizzling during our short visit and the beach was quite dreary). Irrespective of the beachside location, Le Touquet is famous in my eyes for being where Le Chat Bleu originated - a special chocolatier for me as on my first visit to France (and Europe) in 2008, it was at the Lille branch that I learned how wonderful French chocolate is. 
I would go on to sample Swiss and Belgian, but the tiny blue shop would never be forgotten. We got a small pack of the crunchy caramel chocolates with the blue dot on top that dance like sugarplums before my sleeping eyes. 

On a blustery day, it's a good idea to visit a museum. We entered the impressive-looking building where a collection of artefacts from all over the would were housed. I got the impression that it was one eccentric man's collection from galavanting around the world stealing bits and pieces. (As it was the first Sunday of the month we were elated to find out that entrance was free.) Most interesting for me were the wakas from New Zealand (represent!), the harpoons from Alaska, and the Egyptian mummy on whom you could still see remnants of coppery beard hair. The basement levels with repurposed Roman stones was also a highlight, but we had to zoom around them for lack of time, as in France many places close for lunch. 
Upon being kicked out, we discovered it was pouring down. We huddled with other evicted museum-goers under the shelter of the gatehouse until the deluge abated somewhat, whereby we aquaplaned our way back to the car in treadless sandals over slippery ancient cobblestones. Cheery banners did not reflect the gloom of the weather.