December 24, 2011

Noël Blanc

FBF played for me this French remake of the American classic, White Christmas, and I can't get enough.

Coeur de Priate - Noël Blanc

He said, "I think it sounds really American with all the trumpets."

I had no idea that trumpets were America, but there you have it.

I think it sounds really French as she is singing in français. Plus she's managed to make Christmas a lot sexier. I love how the French language can do that with just about anything.

Regardless of whether it's more French or more American, it's a great little tune to put you in the holiday spirit.

Joyeaux Noël!

December 20, 2011

Statue: Lille A Ses Fusilles

During La Grande Guerre (the “Great” War, aka the WWI), Lille was under German occupation. Some Lillois stayed loyal to the French Republic and started a resistance movement.

Unfortunately for the individuals who made up the resistance group called comité Jacquet, the German soldiers discovered them and had them executed. The same was true for Léon Trulin, an 18-year-old student, who was caught while attempting to pass on intelligence to England.

In order to honor these brave men who died for their country, France dedicated the monument entitled Lille À Ses Fusilles to them in 1929.

Lille à ses Fusilles. The five men represented are (from right to left): George Maertens, Eugène Deconynck, Sylvère Verhulst, Eugène Jacquet, and Léon Trulin.

The four men who are awaiting execution are the members of comité Jacquet. None of them are looking at the executioner, denying the German authority until the very end.

The man who is already shot and lying on the floor is Léon Trulin. All five were sculpted after numerous discussions with their friends and family in order to get their faces right.

But the story of this statue does not end there.

During La Seconde Guerre Mondiale (WWII), the Germans once again occupied Lille. Upon seeing the monument to those who defied them the first time around, they took at it with pickaxes until it was destroyed.

France didn’t let the statue die with the German occupation, however, and set about rebuilding it. In 1960, the new, identical monument was reinstalled and is still around today.

Check it out:
Square Daubenton
Lille 59800

December 13, 2011


My introduction to the cheese the North is famous for, Maroilles, was at the very beginning of my relationship with FBF. Because he’s French, I met pretty much his entire family (mom, sister, sister’s boyfriend, and aunt) within two weeks of meeting him.

It was a big family dinner, and as such I was served an appero (cocktail), an entré (appetizer), a plat (main dish), fromage (cheese), and then a dessert.

Wanting to impress, I made sure to taste everything that was served (as long as it was vegetarian).

When it came time to the cheese course, La Soeur asked me, “as-tu déjà gouté du maroilles?” (Have you already tried maroilles?)

I had not. After admitting to not having heard of it before, she raced off to the kitchen to find one of the smelliest cheeses I have still ever smelt. The rest of the family refused to try it, but hoping to make a good impression, I cut off a small slice.

I felt very much as Kad Merad’s character in Bienvenue Chez Les Ch’tis does after his first taste of the stuff when he says, “oh c’est aussi fort une fois que c’est dans l’interior?” (Oh, it’s still this strong once in the mouth?)

It was terrible. I said I didn’t like it more with my facial expression than with my words, and everybody had a good laugh. As it turned out, there was a reason no one in the family wanted a slice of the stuff.

What they had neglected to tell me is that to really enjoy maroilles, you’re supposed to cook it first. Melted maroilles is super delicious and tastes completely different from fresh-from-the-refrigerator maroilles.

I'm pretty sure La Soeur took advantage of my lack of Nordist knowledge to get me to eat cold maroilles in order to see how I took a joke. I think I took it pretty well.

A tarte au maroilles, complete with frites and a salad.
This one's from Les Compagnons de la Grappe, and it was heavenly.

I haven't let eating cold maroilles ruin this delicious cheese for me forever. I’ve now had many tartes au maroilles (a regional specialty of melted maroilles, pastry, and various other ingredients such as milk, eggs, cream, etc) with each one being a delight for my taste buds.

December 8, 2011

Bruges Christmas Market

After reading Lonely Planet’s article about 5 great cities for Christmas markets and seeing Bruges listed as #3, FBF and I decided to pay the city a visit in December.

Wrapped in scarves and warm winter coats, we spent a lovely evening in the medieval city turned Christmas village.

The actual marché (market) part was a bit disappointing. There was only one small square with cabins selling objects, where there were also carnival type rides (bumper cars for Christmas?), and then there was the central square where most of the cabins were selling only food and drink.

The central square also hosted an ice skating rink with a beautiful view of the city’s bell tower. FBF doesn’t like ice-skating, so instead we spent our evening wandering the city’s many charming streets.

All the already beautiful buildings became a winter wonderland transformed by garlands, lights, and Christmas trees. It was magical.

A Christmas tree at la place Burg.

Some buildings with Christmas decorations at La Grand Place.

View of the canal and the bell tower, plus lovely Christmas lights.

To top it all off, we found a small hidden courtyard decorated with giant light up swans, Bruges' symbol.

Me kissing the light-up swan.

We had a lovely dinner in the city, and after a last look at all the Christmas splendor we headed back to Lille.

I don't think that it should be #3 for the market, but instead for a romantic place to soak up the spirit of Christmas, as I was swept off my feet by the magical decorations of an already beautiful city.

December 1, 2011

Un Souvenir Du Grand Roue

It's december, which means that the Marché de Nöel is in full swing, the city is sparkling in beautiful lights, les sapins de nöel (Christmas trees) are abundant, and I'm drinking christmas-flavored Belgian beer.

While I have already visited the Marché de Nöel to stuff my face with delicious vanilla gauffres (waffles), drink vin chaud (hot spiced wine), and look at all the goods for sale in the cabins, I am not tempted by the Ferris wheel. I learned my lesson last year.

(originally posted December 22, 2010 here)

FBF and I thought it would be ever so romantic for us to ride le grand roue (the giant Ferris wheel) at the Marché de Nöel. La Soeur told us that the view from the top is beautiful, but extremely cold. We dressed accordingly.

Le Grand Roue

We had the choice between four little carriages, which were unlike any Ferris wheel seating area I have ever seen. Instead of being for two people, it could've held 6 adults, and instead of facing forward, it was a circle with a pole in the middle holding it up to the wheel.

Because this was supposed to be a romantic date, FBF and I sat on the same side.

This was a mistake. As soon as we were sky-bound, the carriage started leaning dangerously due to our combined weight on just one side.

This was doubly dangerous as there was not any protective fencing. It would not have been hard to tumble out. To make matters worse, there was no safety restraint of any kind. We were not buckled in.

FBF and I, while enjoying the view, were not enjoying a romantic, quiet moment alone in the sky, because j'avais peur (I was scared). Instead of holding on to my boyfriend, I had my arms wrapped around the middle pole, trying desperately not to fall off.

November 28, 2011

Statue: Au Pigeon Voyageur

Au Pigeon Voyageur.

During WWI a major line of communication used by the French army was pigeons voyageurs (carrier pigeons).

Once the Germans occupied the North of France, they outlawed the use of pigeons voyageurs.

To be caught releasing pigeons was punishable by death, and to be in possession was punishable with three years in prison. All citizens who had pigeons voyageurs were supposed to turn them over to German authorities.

These anti-pigeon laws didn't stop certain Nordist from using their pigeons voyageurs, however. Many pigeons and colombophilies (pigeon raisers) were killed during the war.

Translation: "To the pigeon raisers who died for France, shot by the enemy for having sent pigeons voyageurs."

In 1936, France built a monument dedicated to the French pigeons that died and the French colombophilies who were killed.

Not only do these carrier pigeons have a monument dedicated to them, but those who survived the war were often decorated as soldiers.

La colombophile, le bouclier, et le serpant (The pigeon raiser, the shield, and the snake).

In the statue, the colombophiles are represented by a woman surrounded by pigeons. The strength of the French pigeons is shown by the circular shield decorated with a single piegon, protecting the colombophile from the enemy, here in the form of a snake.

Check it out:
At the Entrance to the Citadel,
At the end of Le Point de la Citadel,

Sources: Newsletter de Verdun-Meuse, and wikipedia.

November 23, 2011

Being Thankful

When I celebrated Thanksgiving last year with La Maman and FBF I explained to them a family tradition. Every year before my family digs in to the delicious Thanksgiving feast, we go around the table and say 5 things we are thankful for.

I was not prepared for how difficult it would be to explain to French people what “to be thankful for” means.

Despite using words like bonheur (happiness), apprécier (to appreciate), and aimer (to like/love), the message wasn’t getting across.

Eventually they did come up with 5 things they wanted to say merci for having in their lives, even if they didn't fully grasp the concept.

Thanksgiving classics Frenchified: La Purée Americaine, Le Stuffing, and Les Hauricots Verts. Recipes here.

I’m going to make Thanksgiving dinner again this year (check out my France friendly recipes), and thought I’d share with you 5 things I’m thankful for in my French life.

1. FBF. Without him so much of France’s culture would have stayed a mystery, and I would have felt even more of an outsider. I’m also grateful that he’s able to listen to me complain about France sans arrêt, be my translator, endlessly explain cultural quirks, and still love me. It’s amazing.

2. La Belle Famille (FBF's family). They are my family in France. I’m so thankful that they invite me to all family gatherings (birthdays and holidays) not just for the exclusive access to real French family life it gives me, but especially because they are all so nice, welcoming, and generous.

3. Mes amis. One of my goals when I came out here as an assistant was to make French friends. I feel like I have accomplished that goal with flying colors, and am so thankful for the French friends in my life. But my life out here wouldn’t be complete without my fellow American expat friends who share my love-hate relationship with this beautiful, yet frustrating country.

4. Tigrou. FBF’s cat has filled the pet-less void I was living in before meeting him. I love cuddling le chaton (kitten, but he doesn't really qualify anymore as he's 11. We still call him that, though) and am so thankful that I can have a cat without actually having a cat.

Me with Tigrou. He's named after Winnie the Pooh's companion, Tigger, only en français.

5. Lille. I’m so glad I got placed in this city. It has opened my eyes to just how diverse a country France is and helped me realize that Paris isn’t France, it’s in France. There are many things that differentiate each region from one another, and I love all the things that are particular to les ch’tis: une culture de la bière, les grands places, les baraques à frites, l’accent, les beffrois, et les briques rouges (the beer culture, the big squares, the French fry caravans, the accent, the bell towers, and the red bricks) among other things.

What about you? What are you thankful for this year? Are you going to use my awesome Thanksgiving-in-France recipes?

November 18, 2011

"..." ou «...»

I had been hearing, and using, the expression “entre gemey” without ever seeing it written or knowing what it literally meant. To me, people used it when expressing doubt, similar to how Americans use supposedly. Since I wasn’t 100% confident about its meaning, I didn’t use it all the time, but I did feel like I understood it enough to not have to ask what it meant when used in context.

This summer a revelation happened between me and this phrase.

La Soeur’s step kids (11 & 9) were camping with us, and were being forced to do dictées. A dictée is when the students are read a small paragraph, and are expected to copy it down without any spelling or grammatical errors.

FBF wanted to be the one to read to them in order to gloat about no longer being in elementary school and having his dictée-days behind him. He read the paper out loud and I followed along. It soon became apparent that FBF was not a very good dictée reader, as he would forget to tell them when a sentence was finished, or what type of punctuation to write. After being scolded a couple of times by the 9 year old, he finally got it together. On the third reading, he was telling them all the punctuation a person could need; point (period), virgule (comma), point d’interogation (question mark), etc.

Part of the dictée was a quotation, and I was eager to learn what this particular punctuation is called in French. FBF said it, and suddenly a light bulb went off in my head.

Ladies and Gentlemen, quotation marks are called “gemeys,” spelled guillemets, in French.

Comme entre guillemets!” I exclaimed, barely able to contain my excitement of figuring out another piece of the puzzle which is the French language.

I’ve now added a very American action to when I say entre guillemets. I make quotation mark signs with my pointer and middle finger, regardless of the fact that while American quotation marks look like this “ “, French ones look like this « ». Maybe I should be turning my hands sideways instead?

What should be France's version of air quotes.

November 14, 2011

Metz: Prémières Impressions

My first impressions of Metz:

The city is yellow, both buildings and boulders alike.

The buildings stand multiple stories tall, and have turrets to give them additional height.

I've never seen archetecture like this in France, probably because of its heavy German influence. Metz, like Lille, hasn't always been French, and there are several buildings to remind us of when it belonged to the German Empire.

Metz is surrounded by rolling hills. Nature is abundant in the form of would-be leafy trees, and beautiful parks in the heart of it all.

November 8, 2011

What What in the Butt

While talking about anal sex may still be a taboo back in the States, there don’t seem to be any taboo sexual topics in France, including anal.

In my extended group of French friends everybody seems to know who’s done it, how many times, and with whom. And nobody is afraid to talk about it. Most people have at least given it a try, if not discovered that they enjoy it and continue to have it in their sexual repertoire.

At first I thought this might just be because the French are open-minded, sexually free beings and Americans are Puritan prudes.

Now I know better. I think they’re so open to anal sex because they are used to sticking things in their butts from a very young age.

Somehow the topic of suppositories came up in conversation one day with FBF. I was prescribed suppositories once in my life, when I lived in America, and it was for a butt related problem (yes, I had hemorrhoids). When FBF talked about having taken suppositories, I assumed it was for the same reason. Why else stick medicine up there?

Fast forward a month or so later, FBF and I were talking about pregnant women suffering from hemorrhoids. FBF was going on about how horrible they must be, when I had to interrupt him. “Mais, je croyais que tu les as eu?” (But I thought you already had them?) I asked.

Quoi? Les hémorroïdes? Moi? Non, jamais. Pourquoi tu croyais ça?” (What? Hemorrhoids? Me? No. Never. Why’d you think that?)

Bah quand on a parlé des suppositoires tu as dit que tu les avais déjà pris” (well when we talked about suppositories you said you’d already had them).

Oui, mais je les ai prit pour les autres maladies.” (Yes, but I had them for different problems).

This is when I learned that in France, suppositories aren’t just for butt problems. They are for all types of problems. Especially for kids.

It turns out that FBF was given suppositories to fight against fevers when he got them as a child.

Kids getting stuff stuck up their butt doesn’t stop there. Not only is their medicine shoved where the sun don’t shine, but French children have a third option when getting their temperature taken at home.

They have the two we’re familiar with in America, under the armpit or under the tongue, but they also have the option of sticking a thermometer somewhere Americans don’t.

The French stick their thermometers in their children’s behinds. So you might want to think twice before taking one out of a French medicine cabinet and sticking it in your mouth.

November 4, 2011


When I studied abroad in Paris back in 2007 it was the highlight of my trip, the proof beyond all else that I had managed to fool everybody and seem French, when somebody would ask me for directions. This happened a total of three times and I was elated after each instance.

Even if I never knew the way, I still felt in. I was being confused for a Parisienne. All my hard work had paid off. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t memorized everything in city in 4 months. I was being asked for directions.

Living in the heart of Lille and walking everywhere these past two years means that I know my way around town even better than FBF (in all fairness, he does live in the suburbs).

So when an elderly lady stopped me in the middle of the street to ask me for directions, I was feeling pretty confident. She asked me if I knew how to get to Aux Merveilleux, a pastry shop famous for it’s own creation called a merveilleux.

And as luck would have it, I did know where it was. I could have easily walked there from where she had stopped me. Feeling very French, I started to respond, only to realize that despite being able to get there myself, I was not going to be any help to a lost stranger. I do not know any street names.

In the panic of not being able to be any help whatsoever, I answered her, “hien… bon tu vas par là, et je suis desolée mais je ne connais pas les noms des rues, alors…. Tu continues par cette rue là et puis… en fait, est-ce que tu connais la rue de la monnaie?” (Umm.. well you take this road, and I’m sorry but I don’t know street names, so….. you continue down this street and then.. actually do you know rue de la monnaie?)

While she answered that she did in fact know where rue de la monnaie is, I realized a second huge mistake I had made when talking to a stranger, especially one who is older than me. I had been tu-ing her.

I corrected my mistake and vous-ed her for the rest of our short interaction, saying simply, “Alors vous vont aller jusqu’au rue de la monnai et puis vous prendrez à gauche. Après un moment, vous allez y arriver” (So go until you hit rue de la monnai and then turn left. After walking a bit you’ll get there).

She thanked me and went on her merry way.

Before when I got asked for directions I was on cloud nine, even if all I could mumble back in reply was “Je ne sais pas… desolée” with a very American accent.

This time getting asked for directions crushed my sense of Frenchness. After being here for two years I still couldn’t tell somebody how to get somewhere? And even worse, I didn’t remember to use vous?

I continued my day disappointed in my abilities. But my embarrassment served a greater purpose.

A few weeks later a woman who looked to be in her thirties stopped me on the street to ask me for directions to an Indian restaurant. To my surprise, not only did I know how to get there, but it was close enough to describe it without using street names. After remembering my mistake with the old lady, I made sure to use vous.

She thanked me while starting to follow my directions, and I continued on my original path feeling ever so Lilloise this time around.

November 2, 2011

La Légende de Lille

In the olden days, when justice was carried out with swords and mysterious creatures still lingered in the forests, begins the legend of our fair city, Lille.

Salvaert, the Prince of Dijon, and his beautiful wife, Ermengaert, were expecting their first-born child when the King of England summoned them to his court.

It was to be a long, slow journey as they were traveling with the prince’s many men, and Ermengaert, being pregnant, was in no shape to ride a horse.

Unfortunately, the only road to England took them through the Bois-sans-Mercy, the Merciless Forest, where many a man had perished at the hands of the ruler of Flandres, for he was no ordinary man.

Phinaert Lord of Flandres was a giant, known throughout France for his cruelty.

When word arrived that the Prince of Dijon was traveling in the Merciless Forest, Phinaert would have none of it. Wanting Ermengaert for his own, he attacked the prince’s party, killing first the knights and then finally dueling the Prince himself.

Despite a valiant effort on the Prince’s part, he was no match for the giant’s brute strength and mighty ax, and quickly perished.

He held the giant off long enough for Ermengaert to flee from the battle.

Running aimlessly in the forest, she went into labor. Not being able to go any further, she stopped by a stream, and gave birth to a baby boy. Afraid of being discovered, she quickly hid her newborn baby in the bushes. When Phinaert arrived moments later, he knew not of the baby, and took Ermengaert as his prisoner.

But Ermengaert was not able to overcome the grief of loosing both her husband and her child, and died shortly thereafter.

The baby should have also perished alone in the woods, but fate had other plans.

A religious hermit, who lived in a cabin in the woods and went to the stream for his drinking water, discovered the crying child. Not one to let a baby die alone in the woods, he took the child in and feed him with sheep’s milk. The hermit named the boy Lydéric.

Years later, upon learning what Phinaert had done to his parents, Lydéric swore to avenge them.

He taught himself the ways of the sword, and in his 20th year, set out to find Phinaert.

Lydéric discovered that Phinaert had been living in Dagobert King of France’s palace and so he traveled to Soissons.

Once there he challenged Phinaert to a duel in front of the King’s court, stating his desire to avenge his parents’ deaths.

The King sanctioned the duel, citing the Bois-sans-Mercy as the location where the duel would take place.

Phinaert thought he would be able to crush Lydéric as he had his father, due to his inhuman size and penchant for cruelty, but what he hadn’t counted on was Lydéric’s desire for vengeance enhancing his abilities.

Phinaert swung his mighty ax with all his strength, but was unable to hit the agile Lydéric.

The battle waged on until suddenly Lydéric saw his chance. Quick as lightening, he brushed the giant’s stomach with the sharp edge of his sword. The giant collapsed; life spilling out of him.

Lydéric had won.

Dagobert King of France awarded Lydéric Phinaert’s old lands, naming him the new Lord of Flandres.

Lydéric established a new city where he had defeated Phinaert, which would come to be known as Lille.

A statue of Lyderic and Phineart holds up Lille's beffoi.

My version of Lille's founding legend is based off of wikipedia, the Lille Office of Tourism, and my imagination.

October 26, 2011

La Braderie de Lille

My fellow Lillois told me that La Braderie de Lille is a giant flee market taking over the entire city. The first weekend in September people come from all over Europe to buy other people’s junk at really reasonable prices, and to sell their own unwanted items.

La Braderie as seen from my window.

Thinking that this would be a great opportunity to buy some small stuff that I didn’t really need but had been wanting for a while, I made a list and was looking forward to getting some really great deals.

I was disappointed. I wanted a cool, old book to turn into a jewelry box, but all the tables with old books were selling them for 15euros or more. I was also hoping to find somebody’s old regular mirror for cheap, but again there were only fancy antique mirrors being sold expensively.

The streets were not filled with other Lillois’ junk as promised.

Les Bradeurs (people who shop at La Braderie) on rue Nationale, with La Grand Place in the background.

Les Bradeurs and the Palais des Beaux Arts.

After extensive searching, I did manage to find booths set up by real Lillois selling things for next to nothing.

I bought a beautiful old book for 1.50euro. At another stand there were old books for .30 centimes, so I bought four. I also managed to buy a really cool German beer glass for 1.50euro. Despite not finding a mirror to my liking (read: inexpensive), I am quite happy with my purchases.

The good news is that there is more to the Braderie than other people’s junk so having the place over run with pricey, albeit cool, things didn’t destroy the spirit of it all.

I saw at least 6 different stands with this set of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

Beer is cheap and readily available from street venders and I might have drunk over 2 liters of beer throughout the day.

And while it wasn’t in Bergues when FBF and I paid the city made famous by Bienvenue Chez Les Ch’tis a visit, I have now enjoyed frites (fries) from Friterie Momo. The baraque à frites was at La Braderie in all its movie glory. I enjoyed a small frites, and FBF got a fricadelle. Both surpassed expectations.

Chez Momo!

During the Braderie most of the restaurants serve a regional specialty, moules-frites (muscles and fries). They participate in a concours (competition) to see who serves the most moules. While I don’t eat seafood, it was quite enjoyable to walk down the streets and see giant piles of mussels out on display. The restaurant with the biggest pile of moules wins.

A giant pile of moules.

There are also lots of different spectacles put on for free during La Braderie. While it was beautiful and sunny during the day, come night rain started falling like buckets and the events got cancelled.

It wasn’t a total waste, however, as when I was lurking inside the entryway to my apartment building waiting for the rain to stop, the parents of one of my fellow tenants invited me and all my friends into their daughter's place. We had a great time mingling and meeting the neighbors.

While La Braderie has lost some of it's authenticity as a place of one-man's-trash-is-another-man's-teasure, I enjoyed spending the day drinking beer and oogling some of the weirder things people were selling (like, would anyone pay good money for a glass coffee table with a stuffed crocodile as it's base?).

October 21, 2011

Notting Hill Coffee

I know many an American expat who is woe to live so far from a certain coffee establishment called Starbucks. Not being a coffee drinker myself, I didn’t miss it.

But I did miss chai tea lattes. And while one can go up to any tabac, bar, or restaurant and order a café, I’ve found it to be a lot more difficult to track down chai tea in the Hexagon.

Starbucks, despite being on nearly every corner in Paris, has yet to infiltrate Lille. Paris is only an hour-long train ride away if one is really addicted to the American coffee giant, but if looking for a place to pick up one-the-go cups (in 3 different sizes) of frappés, mocha lattés, and different flavored coffee drinks, Lille has it’s own.

It’s called Notting Hill Coffee.

Notting Hill Coffee on rue Esquermoise.

Not only do they have American style coffee drinks, but they also have muffins.

And, most importantly, they have chai tea.

There are three different locations in Lille, and my favorite one is on rue Esquermoise. Beautiful views of the old city streets and buildings can be seen from the large glass windowpanes, fitting nicely into the old wood and stone work.

The view.

On the inside, the red brick walls add charm to the upstairs seating areas, providing an atmosphere befitting of the region.

The inside with its lovely brick walls.

The small tables and benches are a nice spot to sit sipping a warm drink; either chatting with a friend or people watching.

Check it out:
94 Rue Esquermoise
59000 Lille
Tél: 03 20 31 74 15

October 18, 2011

La Vieille Bourse

One of the most beautiful buildings in Lille can be found in the Grand Place. It’s intricately sculpted façade stands out in bright red and yellow. The coherency of the Vielle Bourse gives it the appearance of a single structure, yet it is actually 24 separate, identical houses.

La Vieille Bourse.

The houses form a square around an open-air courtyard. They were built to give protection from the elements to merchants, who up till then had to work outside. There are arcades, which provided protection from rain, and the houses themselves blocked the wind.

The courtyard.

It was built during the Spanish rule and with King Philippe IV’s consent, in 1651.

Today the building is still used for commercial purposes. Different stores, cafés, chocolate shops, and ice cream parlors are found on the ground floor facing the outside.

Pick any one of the four arches, one on each side of the building, leading into the courtyard to discover a used book market. While there are plenty of old books worth perusing, don’t miss the old postcards and old franc coins.

One of the four arches.

I spent a good two hours there once enjoying looking at old photographs of Lille and the other cities in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais.

People checking out cool, old books, postcards, and coins.

If you’re lucky, you may even witness some chess games, as there are a game boards available. Or perhaps you can even play, but I’m not good enough.

Check it out:
La Vieille Bourse
Place du Général de Gaulle
Open afternoons on Tuesday – Sunday

October 13, 2011

Le Chopp’ing

When one thinks of France and alcoholic beverages, usually the first drink to come to mind is wine, followed closely by champagne. But here in the North we think beer.

So if you want to be a good Lillois, you better get yourself to a beer bar ASAP, and I know of just the one.

A great beer bar can be found in Vieux Lille, called Le Chopp’ing.

The beer bar.

It has 18 different beers on tap, most of which come from Belgium (and are, therefore, delicious). Not only are they on tap, but they are also reasonably priced. It’s only 5euros for a pinte (pint or 50 cl) or 3.50euros for 25cl.

When I say pinte, I mean it for the size alone. The beer wont be coming in a generic pint glass like they have in the States. These beers come in their own special glasses, as is required by all great Belgian beers.

While I often vary my drink choice in order to experience as many Belgian beers as possible, I highly recommend trying the Rince Cochon for two reasons. First, and most important, it tastes good. Second, there is a tiny cute glass pig on the stem of the glass.

The bar has two big flat screen TVs for watching football (soccer) and rugby games, lots of high, round tables with bar stools, as well as some sidewalk tables for when it isn’t raining. If going on the night of a big game, be sure to get there early, as the place is small and fills up fast.

Check it out:
Le Chopp’ing
16 bis, rue Royale
59800 Lille

October 11, 2011

Lille et Ses Portes

Although most of the ancient walls that once enclosed Lille were destroyed, a few of the large city gates (portes) remain, telling the city’s history.

While Lille was a walled-in city starting in the Middle Ages, both la porte de Gand and la porte de Roubaix were built while Lille was under Spanish rule, in 1620.

La Porte de Gand.

La Porte de Roubaix

Once Lille became French in 1667, the Marquis de Vauban, under orders from King Louis XIV, set about making Lille more French. He also wanted to show the strength of the French monarchy through doubling the ramparts surrounding the porte de Gand. These ramparts can be seen in the park in front of the Ghent Gate.

La Porte de Gand and some of the ramparts in the surrounding park.

La Porte de Roubaix was built to protect the 75 acres the Spanish added to the city. In 1792, during the French Revolutionary Wars (wars that took place after the French Revolution between the newly formed First Republic of France and coalitions of other European states) a general from the Austrian Netherlands came to la porte de Roubaix with an ultimatum from the Duke of Saxe-Teschen demanding that the city surrender. The city did not surrender, withstood several days of cannon fire, and won the battle, remaining loyal to the new democratic France.

La Porte de Roubaix.

Although taken down in 1920s during the major dismantlement of the city’s ramparts, a piece of the porte de Tournai can be found in the square de reduit.

The remains of la Porte de Tournai.

In 1667, after France's victory over the Spanish Netherlands, King Louis XIV entered the city of Lille through the porte des malades in order to accept the keys to the city. In 1685 work started to transform the gate into an Arche du Triomphe celebrating King Louis XIV’s victory. The arch was finished in 1692 and named La Porte de Paris.

La Porte de Paris and le beffroi.

In order to glorify King Louis XIV, the architect decided to add sculptures to the gate. On the left there is a statue of Mars, the Roman god of war, and on the right there is a statue of Hercules, symbolizing the strength of Louis XIV. At the top two angels can be seen with golden trumpets, announcing the victory to the world, and in the middle is Victory herself, ready to crown the King.

La Porte de Paris and its statues.

Check it out:
La Porte de Gand - rue de Gand
La Porte de Roubaix - where the rue de Roubaix meets park Henri Matisse
La Porte de Tournai - rue de reduit, in the square du reduit
La Porte de Paris - Place Simon Vollant

October 6, 2011

Les Compagnons de la Grappe

Down a tiny, unsuspecting alleyway you will find my favorite restaurant for regional specialties, Les Compagnons de la Grappe.

The alleyway opens up into a lovely courtyard. Outdoor tables are available for when there is, on occasion, nice weather. But if it’s rainy and gray, which it probably is, then there’s even more reason to eat there.

The décor makes you feel like you’re inside somebody’s cozy, funky living room. There are bookshelves full of books, a fireplace with knick-knacks on the mantel, an armoire to store the silverware and plates, and a really cool rainbow colored chandelier.

The inside.

The chandelier.

Of course, no matter how cool the interior of a restaurant is, it makes no difference if the food isn’t good. And let me tell you, the food is better than good. It’s amazing.

My favorite item on the menu is their salade au chèvre chaud (salad with melted goat cheese). However, calling it a salade au chèvre chaud is not fair. The menu calls it chèvre affiné rôti sur toast, gratin, salade (melted goat cheese, gratin, and salad) and they have got it right. The main feature is the chèvre. It comes with a giant hunk of goat cheese melted perfectly over a piece of toast, a salad, and a gratin de pomme de terre (potatoes cooked in the oven with cream and other deliciousness).

Admittedly, a salade au chevre chaud belongs to all of France, not just us Nordists (even if it is the best one I’ve ever tasted).

Chèvre affiné rôti sur toast, gratin, et salade.

FBF enjoys the regional specialty carbonnade flamande (beef stewed in beer), which can also be found in the Nordist plate. It has four small servings of different regional specalties. It comes with a carbonnade flamande, a welsh (cheddar cheese melted in beer with bacon bits and often times a fried egg on top), a Potsje vlesche (poutlry or fish in gelatin, served cold) and a forth meat filled dish.

Another regional specialty that they have is the tarte au maroilles (a tarte made with a strong, regional cheese called maroille). Although it, too, is a vegetarian option, I cannot say whether or not the one they make is any good. While I do like them in general, I can’t seem to resist the chèvre affiné rôti sur toast.

Of course a French meal isn’t a meal without some wine, and with a restaurant name of Les Compagnons de la Grappe (Friends (or comrades in arms) of a "bunch" of any kind of fruit, but most commonly associated with grapes) has a lot to live up to. Luckily it doesn’t disappoint. The wine menu is multiple pages long.

Be sure to call ahead and get a reservation if planning to go during the weekend, as it is usually crowded (especially on sunny days)!

Check it out:
Les Compagnons de la Grappe
26, rue Lepelletier
59000 Lille
Open daily for lunch and dinner.

October 5, 2011

Page de Tourisme

Blog Update:

I've received many emails lately asking me for advice on places to visit and things to do in Lille. I have heard your cries for knowledge and have created a new page on my blog dedicated to visiting Lille!

Check it out: Lille Tourisme.

I am also going to dedicate the month of October to sharing with my dear readers the places and things I enjoy about le ch'nord.

The page is a work in progress and I will update it as I continue to write about all the hidden gems I've discovered over these past two years.

Be sure to stay tuned.

October 4, 2011

Le Beffroi

Lille’s beffroi (bell tower/belfry) is, along with 22 other bell towers in the north of France, a UNESCO world heritage site.

Le Beffroi de Lille

Often times these bell towers get confused with church bell towers, but as Anabelle from Beinvenue Chez les Ch’tis explains,

ça sert à rien de religieux. C’est notre beffroi. Au moyan age ça a servi aussi à faire la geurre où pour prevenir les invahisseur.”
(it doesn’t have anything to do with religion. It’s our bell tower. In the middle ages it was used for war and to announce when invaders were coming).

This particular beffroi, however, was not around during the Middle Ages. It was built between 1929 and 1931, becoming France’s first building to be built with reinforced concrete. At 104 meters tall, it was comparable to a New York skyscraper at its construction, and today remains the tallest belfry in the North.

While using modern building techniques, the architect also wanted to pay homage to Lille’s history and so the bell tower is composed of both concrete and the traditional red brick.

Le beffroi is open to the public, and would be worth a visit for the view alone. You can see the entire city, plus a fair amount of Belgium from up there.

La vue (the view) with some city landmarks pointed out.
Yes, my apartment counts.

La Porte de Paris as seen from le beffroi.

But what really makes the visit worth the 6 euros (4 euros for students, or go for free the 1st and 3rd Wendesday of the month), is the audio guide. The audio guide as well as jumelles (binoculars) come with the ticket price. I opted for the English speaking audio guide, and you should too.

The tour is given by a British man and his French colleague, each with very strong accents.

The introductory dialogue went something like this:

“Ouh, ‘ello. Sorreee I am laTE. ‘ave you beeeen waiting longuh?” – the Frenchie.
“Oh, it’s quite alright. I was running a bit late myself.” – the Brit.

It basically continues like this for 10 wonderfully amusing yet informative tracks.

I learned how the beffroi was built, which cities Lille is twined with, why the beffroi was home to Eurovision (plus what Eurovision is...), and much more, all with a smile on my face due to my guides.

If the 400 steps seem daunting, not to worry. There is an elevator to take you up, but be sure to walk down the steps to fully experience the audio guide (or you can be crazy like me and do it in the other order… don’t ask me why).

Check it out:
Le Beffroi de Lille
21 Place du Théatre
59000 Lille
Tuesday - Sunday (except Friday mornings)
10h - 13h, and 14h - 18h (17h from November to March)
Ticket prices:
6 euros normal
4 euros reduced
Free the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of the month
Ticket comes with an audio guide and bionoculars
Audio guides available in the following languages:
French, English, German, and Dutch

September 29, 2011

Meurtre, elle a ecrit.

Almost a year ago, back in October 2010, a young man of 33 disappeared in the middle of the night after leaving a party at a friend’s house by himself. His body was found 4 days later in La Deûle (a canal/small river that encircles the citadel of Lille).

Since his wallet, with his credit and id cards, was still with him, and his body didn’t show any signs of aggression, the police believe he was drunk, fell in the Deûle, and, being unable to climb back out as there are not very many access points to the canal, drowned.

Four months later, in the beginning of February, a young man of 26 was partying with some friends on rue Royale (a street a five minute walk from my own), and then disappeared around 3am. 18 days later, they find his body in the Deûle.

Police say that he drowned because, just as before, there were no signs of aggression and the wallet was still with the body.

At the end of February, two friends are leaving a party in the Vauban quarter together, but their paths diverge next to l’Esplanade. The 22 year old student’s body is found five days after he disappeared, once again in the Deûle, a mere two days after the discovery of the second body.

Once again, the police say that he drowned.

These three deaths of young French men disappearing in the middle of the night and their bodies being found a few days later already seemed a bit suspicious to me. During the winter, whenever FBF would leave my house I would always watch him from my window to make sure he made it safely into his car, as I was afraid he’d get snatched away and become the next body found in the Deûle.

But as winter turned into summer, and summer into fall, these mysterious drownings had wandered far from my mind.

Two days ago, yet another body was found in the canal. A 19-year-old student was partying on rue Solferino, and he disappeared in the night. 6 days later, his body was found in the canal, once again with his wallet and no signs of aggression. However, this time the Deûle wasn’t on his route home.

A map of where the four bodies were found in Lille.
Source: La Voix du Nord

I have once again started to survey FBF on his walks to his car to make sure he gets home safe. All these bodies ending up the canal seem very suspicious to me and I don't want FBF to be the 5th young adult male to be found drowned in the Deûle.

What do you think? Serial killer or simply drunk men falling into the canal? I'm leaning towards serial killer.

News source: La Voix du Nord

September 23, 2011

Disneyland Paris

If planning a visit to Disneyland Paris, one might expect it to be a similar experience to visiting the original Disneyland. And while there are lots of similarities between the parks, with a few changes in layout and ride styles, Disneyland Paris is a very different cultural experience from that which I am accustomed.

Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant in Disneyland Paris.

Growing up in Southern California, about a 40-minute drive from Disneyland, I have had an annual passport for more of my life than I haven’t had one, and I know the park comme ma poche (like the back of my hand). I have never needed a map.

The layout of the two parks is basically the same. You start off on Main Street, which leads you to Sleeping Beauty’s castle, beyond which lies Fantasyland. If you veer off to the right you find yourself in Discoveryland/Tomorrowland (Paris/Anaheim). On the left you can enter either Fronteirland or Adventureland.

Le plan (the map) of Disneyland Paris.

The first and most obvious difference between the parks is that there is no Toon Town in Disneyland Paris. The next one is that the Matterhorn is conspicuously absent. The last major landscape difference is that there is no Critter Country in Paris, either.

Then there are all the small differences that make each park unique, such as different tracks for Space Mountain, the placement of rides (for example, Star Tours is in the back of Discoveryland, but in the front of Tomorrowland), different restaurants, and of course different weather. Despite going in the middle of July, it rained during FBF and my visit. This explains why more of the lines are found under a roof in Paris.

The physical differences aren’t the only things distinguishing the two parks, however.

I was surprised by how much French was spoken. Instead of being in English and then Spanish, the announcements of how to behave properly before and after a ride start with French, are followed with English, and then continue in other languages I don’t speak.

Even the animatronics speak French! Imagine my surprise to find C3P0 speaking in French with R2D2 (who speaks in beeps, even in French).

C3PO talking in French to his buddy, R2D2 at Star Tours, Paris.

I realize it was silly to think that Disneyland Paris would be in English, but finding myself in a Disneyland remarkably similar to that which I came to know as a child, I kept forgetting I was in France.

But language wasn’t the only reminder that I was in France. Even if the buildings and attractions look similar, the people do not act the same.

When at Disneyland at home, I know which hours to avoid going to the restaurants if I don’t want to wait in lines, as most Americans eat meals around the same time. This is not possible at Disneyland Paris. People come from all over Europe and have such different cultural norms for when to eat that there are always people at the restaurants.

When meeting a character, instead of people forming a line based on who got there first, it's a mad dash to greet, take pictures with, and receive autographs from Disneyland Paris’s various inhabitants.

Although it happened less often in my experience, people even try to cut in the lines for attractions. An Italian family just up and walked past at least 7 people before deciding that was where they would be waiting for the ride.

Despite linguistic and cultural differences, I had a great time visiting Disneyland Paris. The most important thing stayed the same. It still felt like the Happiest Place on Earth.

September 20, 2011

Mon Anniv'

I turned 24 on Sunday!

Me and the number twenty-four in a super secret location! Hint: location disclosed in the next two paragraphs.

To celebrate this momentous occasion FBF surprised me with a weekend trip to Reims, the city where champagne comes from.

He took me to Taittinger champagne house, where we took a tour of their caves (cellars) and got to learn how champagne is made. At the end of it we got a taste of the delicious stuff.

The wall surrounding the Taittinger champagne house.

We then proceeded to drink more champagne. We found a café right in front of the Cathédral Notre-Dame de Reims, where the kings of France were crowned, and sipped on our glasses while enjoying the beautiful view.

The perfect view for enjoying a glass of champagne: the Cathédral Notre-Dame de Reims.

Then we went to yet another café to drink yet another glass of bubbly. This time our drinks came with a surprise aperitif of French fries.

For my birthday dinner we went to a delicious fondue restaurant, where I proceeded to eat more than my weight in melted cheese. It was heaven.

The next morning I woke up and opened a birthday package from my best friend. It came with a tiara (complete with rhinestones and a fuzzy, purple feather boa-type lining) and a hot pink birthday girl pin/ribbon. I proudly sported both while FBF and I hit up Reims’ monuments and received all sorts of funny looks from the French.

Me and my tiara being tourists all over the city of Reims!

Lunch in the city came with, of course, a glass of champagne, and after seeing all the sites we headed back home for little ol’ Lille.

All in all, it was the perfect way to turn twenty-four. Can it get any better than lots of champagne, tiaras, and travel? I think not.
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