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
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