Due to the Barcelona mishap, I found myself in a car on the way to Lille for the weekend. After being dropped off at one of the train stations, I realized I had about an hour before Michel got off of work. I decided to wander through Lille Europe, a huge shopping center in between the two train stations. It was just like an American mall, although I had to pay to use the bathroom – definitely not American! Once I found my way to the other train station where we were supposed to meet, I just hung around near a big fountain out front until it started to rain. Luckily, Michel showed up pretty soon after and we hopped on a train to Hazebrouck, a town just outside of Lille where Michel lives.
We arrived at Michel’s house, where I dropped off my things and freshened up before we headed to dinner in Cassel, another small town. It was actually on my list of places to see after Michel had told me about it a few weeks ago. The restaurant where we were going to eat at was basically on top of a hill with a gorgeous panoramic view. After briefly appreciating the nighttime scene of all the cities below (it was cold outside!) we went in and settled down. It was a small place that served typical Flemish food; since Lille is in the very north of France and right next to Belgium, one can easily find delicious Flemish food. And that it was! We had a little appetizer of pâté, cheese, sausage, vegetables, and bread. Yum. Then we moved onto the main course: Michel had a Welsh (you’ll hear about my Welsh experience later in this post) and I had a carbonad flamand. Yummier. To top it all off, the meal was complimented with delicious Belgian beer. After dinner we met up with some of Michel’s friends at one of their favorite local bars – Shaka Laka. Not only does the bar have an awesome name, but it has an awesome atmosphere too. Michel and all his friends know the bartenders well, and there was even a live show going on that night.
The next day, we woke up, got ready, and headed to the Walmart of France: Carrefour. Michel was planning on having some friends over for dinner, where he’d be cooking Welshes for us all. He had told me the previous night that I wasn’t allowed to have a Welsh at the restaurant because then I wouldn’t be impressed by his. Ha! We also went to a patisserie for some treats (apparently the best one in Hazebrouck, according to Michel) and walked around the little square where city hall was. Once it started to rain, we dropped the goods off at his house.
Next we took his car to Lille which was only about a 30 minute drive. Parking wasn’t the easiest thing to find, but eventually we found a spot and began our afternoon promenade. Once again, Lille was unlike any other city that I had been to in Europe. Sure, there were similarities, but it had its own charm and culture. Once hunger struck, we managed to find a crêperie that Michel had visited before. Can I just say that crêpes never get old? Butter and sugar, nutella and banana, you name it, it’s all good. This time around we went with a butter and sugar crêpe along with some coffee on the side, and it definitely hit the spot. We wandered along a little longer, when I finally asked Michel if we were going to go to the old part of the city, Vieux Lille. He laughed and told me, “We are in Vieux Lille!” What a revelation!
We tried to go into the art museum but it was closing just as we walked in. Therefore, we used Michel’s amazing iPhone to guide us to our next desired location: Gare Saint Sauveur. The gare is an old train station that was eventually shut down and later renovated to be a strange sort of museum. As we entered into the area, we saw that the whole courtyard in front was full of metal exercise equipment, racquetball courts, and tetherball poles. What the what? After making fools of ourselves and playing on the equipment, we went inside to the gare where more weird things were going on. The first area we walked through was a small art exhibition which was followed by a larger exhibit on Africa. When we walked the other way, there were, can you believe it, even MORE weird things going on! For example, we saw: dancing umbrellas, an igloo made out of amps and speakers, lots of random images being projected onto the walls, motorized dancing shoes and robots, a single mirrored room with a dance instruction video playing in the corner, a tall glass cylinder with a couch inside that one would sit on in peace while high-speed winds would blow tons of little white balls around the walls, etc. Very strange, yet very interesting.
It was getting a little late, so we started walking back in the direction of Michel’s car. We walked into a building, took the elevator up to the garage, and then realized that we definitely parked the car underground. Hmm. We tried again and about 20 minutes later, we finally successfully found it and drove back home. Michel’s friends were over within the hour and we all enjoyed some more lovely Belgian beer (it really is the best in the world) while Michel prepared the Welshes. In short, a Welsh is made up of 3 layers: beer-soaked sliced bread, sliced ham, and to top it off, cheddar-ish cheese. Once assembled, you stick it in the oven until the cheese is fantastically melted and bubbly. You can bet that I’m going to be making this next semester when I actually have an oven in my actual apartment! All of us made it about halfway through the epic-ness that is the Welsh and found ourselves exhibiting multiple symptoms of a heart attack. We couldn’t continue on, it was just too deliciously dangerous! One of Michel’s friends, Tom, managed to finish his and we were all impressed and slightly worried for his health. After digesting (and playing with Michel’s bunny… yes, there is a BUNNY in his house! If you can’t tell why I’m so excited please reference my post about Bruges when Jed and I were bombarded by the cuteness that is 15 bunnies playing in a little garden next to a river), we all went to another friend’s house for a little soirée.
As I think I’ve said before, French people don’t party like Americans… they party better. So I was once again pleasantly surprised to see some people on one side of the room playing around with drums/guitars/basses/microphones providing live music for all while the others socialized on the couches. I was also pleasantly surprised with the amount of French that I spoke. Furthermore, I was even more so pleasantly surprised when at the end of the party the Frenchies started chanting “IN HALEY WE TRUST! IN HALEY WE TRUST!” To be frank, it was just wonderful.
The next day, Michel’s friend Tom came over (luckily he was still alive after the previous Welsh consumption) to pick us up to go… somewhere. To be honest, I had been speaking French all weekend and at times when I don’t understand things I just let it slide. With that being said, I didn’t really have a clue as to where we were going so I just got in the car. The next thing I knew, I saw a sign that would’ve said “Welcome to Belgium” if it were in English and I was like “Whaaaaat?!” About ten minutes later we parked the car near a big building with a sign that said “EXPO” on the outside. At this point I remembered that Michel had talked about going to see a design exposition, so everything came together. We all bought our tickets and began exploring the tens of showrooms with some of the most interesting furniture I’ve seen! Tom wandered off with Michel’s camera and so the two of us sat down for some coffee. After we took in all that we could of the bourgeois furniture (yes, you could find a chair that cost $2000), we went outside to wait for Tom. For some reason he wasn’t answering his phone so Michel and I sat down on a little concrete thing in the parking lot. I told him, “It looks like a chair that you could find in that expo but it probably cost a lot less to put here!” He loved it, and was even more proud of me that I was becoming more comfortable in French that I could even make little jokes. Finally, after two months of being here, I’m starting to have a personality in French! At times I feel so boring since I basically speak like a five-year-old but things seemed to be improving.
The next day, it was time to head back to Caen. We got up way too early so I could make my 6:30 am train from Lille to Rouen. Once I got to Rouen, I found out that my connection from Rouen to Caen was canceled due to the strikes. I also had a slight panic attack when I realized that my journal was not in my backpack. I knew I had taken it out on the train, but it was nowhere to be found. I came to the depressing conclusion that it was indeed gone for good and there was nothing I could do about it. It was the journal that I had been keeping since the very first day I was in Europe (which was also the very first day that I met Michel), the journal that had tons of little papers from my travels tucked inside it, the journal that had an awesome old-school Polaroid picture of me and Michel from our day in Belgium, the journal that I had tucked my original Barcelona train tickets into (which would make being reimbursed for the canceled train much more easier). I was slightly devastated and discouraged at this point.
Furthermore, I had to pay 18 extra Euro to take a train from Rouen to Paris and then from Paris to Caen… what a nightmare. Once I finally made it back to Caen, my grammar class was halfway finished and I just didn’t have the energy or motivation to go. Oh, how some of the wonderful experiences in life can be stuck in the middle of some of the worst. After a terrible day Thursday, a great Friday through Sunday, and a not-so-enjoyable day Monday, I was still content that I was able to go somewhere, see someone awesome, and enjoy some amazing things. As the first of one of my multiple trips to Lille during the semester, it was great.
pictures: (1) me in Hazebrouck (2) little street in Hazebrouck (3) me with a BUNNY (4) center of Lille (5) at the creperie (6) Lille opera (7) a little alleyway with shadows of me and Michel (8) pretty building (9) the art museum (10) another pretty building (11) outside Gare Saint Sauveur (12) playing around (13) inside the gare: “soyez les bienvenues” – be the welcomes (14) dancing umbrellas (15) speaker igloo (16) Simon and Tom digesting after dinner (17) Michel, Kiko, and me (18) Kiko and Michel (19) a little party (20) Tom rocking out (21) me at the design expo in front of a big cardboard dog