Lille Fri 20/1/2012

The weather looked a little ominous as I arrived in Lille but after only the lightest sprinkling of rain in Paris yesterday, I wasn’t concerned. I’m growing accustomed to the wintery conditions despite knowing it is warm and sunny back in Melbourne. An hour after I stepped off the train, I was cursing a little. I was soaked through. What had appeared to be drizzle was actually a decent rain shower but I hadn’t really noticed as my beanie, gloves, scarf and jacket were protecting me from the elements. It was only as I opened the map to get my bearings that I realised how wet I was. The map didn’t escape the rain either but luckily it was intact enough to serve its purpose for the day.

I like Lille. There aren’t as many beggars – or sleazy dudes – as there are in Paris. A council worker tried it on by using ‘tu’ to say hi and ask if I was alone. I raised an unimpressed eyebrow, said nothing and kept walking. I can’t decide if it’s confidence or arrogance but these approaches aren’t something I’ve experienced in Australia and I wasn’t subjected to it in London either. I find it quite uncomfortable and certainly not complimentary.

I momentarily lost my sense of direction… again! I should keep it on a short leash, I know. I was standing in a square (Place de Louise Bettignies as I soon learnt) and turned around to check the street name on the corner building. As I turned, something caught my eye. I rotated slightly more to the right and there, directly in front of me, was The Australian Bar! I guess the English, Irish and Australians have quite a reputation for their pubs as they seem to be represented rather fervently in far flung places.

After five and a half hours of non-stop walking, I figured lunch might be a good idea so decided to eat at the first place I could find. That turned out to be McDo, as they say in these parts. I must be getting better at feigning Frenchness as both the girl who served me at Maccas and the woman serving at FNAC – where I’d earlier done a touch of shopping – didn’t even blink… although the FNAC cashier had thought it odd that I had an ‘English’ bankcard (the EFTPOS machine automatically switches to the official language of the country where the card was issued).

I’m beginning to understand why the occasional person asks me if I’m English. It’s very difficult to discern between Australian and English accents against the smooth speech of the French. A few times this week, I’ve thought there was an Aussie nearby, just to listen a little harder and discover it was an Englishman. Yet tonight, I heard it clear as can be – an Aussie voice from a guy who looked as if he were on his way home from work. I wonder how many Australians live in Lille?

It’s a very nice city that’s less in-your-face than Paris but still has character. There is a lovely balance of the old and the new: Older, historic buildings are clearly being restored – or have been already – whilst modern architecture is also evident, particularly to the east of the city centre. Interestingly, the Cathedral Notre Dame de la Treille combines the two. Building plans were agreed upon in the mid 18th Century but construction didn’t begin until around 100 years later. It was then gradually constructed in the neogothic style of years gone by, but the façade design took a twist and was finally unveiled in 1999, revealing a very modern style of architecture. It’s very unusual, kind of quirky I would say, but I like it.

I’m a touch disappointed to have missed the ‘free zoo’ as Maddie puts it, but I didn’t come across it, nor did I see any signs for it. I did however have a nice little surprise in the form of two gorgeous ginger tabbies. One was a little shy but the other was so friendly, ‘speaking’ to me and even giving me a gentle head-butt kiss when I suggested it in French. I miss my babies. Big snuggles when mum gets home, my beautiful puss kittens.

I take back what I said in a Maastricht post about the trains running on time. Twice now I’ve missed going swimming and today it was courtesy of train delays. Given I left my togs back in Melbourne (I didn’t think we’d be swimming in winter) so bought some earlier this week, I really hope I get to use them here. Anyway, the important thing is that I finally returned to Leuven then my awesome sister and her awesome boyfriend brought home kebabs and frites for dinner. They were delicious!

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