Contes d’Opale – Adventures in Lille

Having spent a week or so in Boulogne, we decided, for a change of pace, to visit the sizeable metropolis of Lille, which is in the far north of France, inland, not far from the Belgian line.

We have a warm remembrance of the city of Lille from about 30 years ago, where we hooked up with Michael Jackson, the famous beer writer (not the rock star, although our Michael Jackson was a rock star in his own right, albeit to the beer world, being responsible to a large degree for the present-day interest in craft beer). Lille holds, for us, fond memories of that rendezvous with Michael, at the then almost-fledgling Les Trois Brasseurs, when the three of us set out on a tour of the artisan breweries making the traditional “biere de garde”, an old specialty of the region.

We had been to Lille several times before that (from Paris) to enjoy the carbonnade a la Flamande, or beef cooked with beer and onions, the pungent Maroilles cheese, Flemish-inflected genever gins, and the breathtaking architecture of the Grande Place and Vielle Ville. Those charms still exist, but, sadly, Michael is no longer with us.

The trip of 2019 started tentatively; it poured heavily as we walked from our apartment in Boulogne-sur-Mer to the SNCF train station, just a 15 minute walk, but which seemed an eternity in the heavy rains. We both got soaked.

The train ride was only a hour and by the time we got to Lille and had lunch, the weather had dramatically changed and the sun shone brilliantly. A notable aspect of this part of the world is the changeability of the weather. One minute it rains; the next, it is sunny and bright. It is not a warm climate and, I have found, a jacket is always needed. As George Bernard Shaw said, the coldest winter I ever spent was summer in San Francisco. Same thing here.

We stayed in a hotel close to the Lille Europe train station where we arrived – Lille Europe is a stopping off point for the Eurostar from St. Pancras station in London on its way to Paris, and just on the edge of the Vielle Ville. That train station is next to a huge modern-day shopping centre called Euralille and to the old train station called Lille Flandres.

By contrast, the old town has cobble-stoned streets and multitudes of independent and high-end clothing and accessories and food stores and many restaurants and bars. I liked, in particular, Gerard Darrel, Satellite, and Un Jours Ailleurs (UJA) there.

Gary enjoyed a craft beer bar called La Capsule in the old town. This is part of their very with-it beer list:

I am told there are three reasons to go to Lille, the food and beer, for business, and for the art collection at the Musee de Beaux Arts.

I would add to that listing, the beautiful architecture of its oldest buildings. The belfry attached to the city’s town hall, the Grande Theatre, and the Nouvelle Bourse are some of the finest examples.

Our short weekend culminated in a day at the Sunday morning Wazemmes Market, a bustling outdoor and covered market with vibrant colours and a wide diversity of clothes, household products, and food.

All in all, a lovely time in Lille. We highly recommend it.

A bientot!

Contes d’Opale – Becoming Boulonnais

Bonjour, mes amis,

Gary and I are settling into the Boulonnais way of life – cooking chez nous and setting up house at our aptly-named apartment-hotel called “Comme a la Maison”. We have a small, but very efficient, kitchen/living-room, bedroom and bathroom. The apartment is spotless and the kitchen has microwave, toaster, a 2-element stove, coffee maker, dishes and utensils – everything you need to feel at home.

We are located in la Vielle Ville on a cobble-stoned street with plenty of restaurants and bars. We are told that our apartment building, dating from the 1500’s, is the oldest edifice in Boulogne.

 

To set ourselves up, we acquired some basic provisions at the local Casino supermarket – it was fun in and of itself to compare French products with Canadian ones. For example, while searching for 0% fat content Greek plain yogurt, we came across “fromage blanc”. While apparently different in fabrication, they are similar in appearance. We found the fromage blanc a delightful alternative and less acid than yogurt.

Even better then the traditional supermarkets, we joined the throngs of locals for the colourful Saturday farmers’ market centrally situated in Boulogne’s Place Dalton.

Here the vendors offer fresh vegetables right from the nearby fields, regional cheeses, roasted chickens (sur place), honey, jams, olives, roasted garlic (a local specialty) and other regional products as well as all kinds of prepared foods, like paella, couscous and cassoulet.

 

There is a market at Place d’Alton on Wednesday’s as well and we hope to visit it soon.

We did, however, make our way to the Sunday fish market where there were all kinds of weird and wonderful super fresh fish and seafood we rarely see in Canada, if at all. Right out of the ocean, these fish glimmered in the sunshine.

Some vendors at the Sunday market also offer salads and olive and artichoke tapenades as well as home-prepared baked goods. We remembered the “financiers” (golden brick-shaped cakes) we used to buy in Paris years ago and were delighted to find them here.

 

Today, we visited the Auchan store on the suburbs of Boulogne. Gary was in seventh heaven as he perused the extremely comprehensive beers of this northern French region (which is traditionally a beer region, ie. too far north to grow grapes) and nearby Belgium.

I’ll leave you with a glimpse of just part of the acreage devoted to beer at Auchan!

A bientot!

Libby

A la Recherche du Temps Perdu – Paris

Hi, again. I wanted to reprise the time we spent in Paris, a short 4 days, getting accustomed to the time zone and settling in to the French way of life.

We arrived at Charles de Gaulle via Air France, on a quiet Sunday morning and took the RER B to the Gare du Nord, a short 10 stops from the airport. We were most impressed with Air France – it was very efficient and smooth – once airborne, it was as if you were sitting in your own living room.

This trip, we decided to stay near the Gare du Nord as it is a stop on the RER from the airport and also because it is the train station from which we would depart for the north of France. It’s not the usual touristic area, but it has a lot of good restaurants and bars and is proximate, on foot, to a variety of sites such as Place du Republique,  the Canal St. Martin covered market, Rue Maubeuge, the Marais and Galeries Lafayettes.

In fact, it is only a 20 minute walk from 2 spinning clubs which I attended, Dynamo and Kiwill, which had Soulcycle-style classes, but in French. The classes were good but with with the music blaring at ear-piercing volume, it was difficult for me to hear and understand the instructor’s instructions, en francais, of course, except for the occasional “let’s go”.

While waiting for one of the classes to begin, I resolved to canvass the various modes of transportation used by Parisians to get around their beautiful city. These include the obvious cars, metro and taxis, but now include bikes (regular and e-bikes- see the bike below) as well as something called a “trottinette electrique”.

 

These trottinettes electriques are driven on the roads or on specially designated bike paths reserved for bikes, but strictly speaking, they are not permitted on the roads, sidewalks or bike paths. We witnessed one rider wipe-out on the trottoir in front of us as he skidded on some damp leaves and lost control. Nevertheless, they are hugely popular. See https://www.bienpublic.com/actualite/2019/02/27/trottinette-electrique-attention-aux-failles-de-securite.

Paris is one of the best cities in the world and each time we are there, we marvel at its beauty, diversity, food and drink and culture. We ate out as we did not have cooking or refrigeration facilities, and in spite of my WeightWatchers regime, could not resist a lemon tart and a couple of buttery croissants.

 

Paris is relatively calm these days as it is the time of the traditional summer vacances. Even our favourite Canal St. Martin covered market was closed. Dommage. Most businesses appear to re-open mid-month as people come back to the city to resume their business and school lives. We will be back in Paris at the beginning of September, so we hope to visit our usual haunts then.

Today, in Boulogne-sur-Mer, we visited the lively Saturday market, held between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m., in the town square, full of vegetables, fruits, meat, roasted chicken, jams and honey, but more about that tomorrow, so stay tuned.

A bientot!

Libby

Contes d’Opale


Hi,

This is Libby, Gary’s wife, guest blogging about our trip to the Côte d’Opale in France. We decided to call this series of blog posts, Contes d’Opale, a play on the words, Côte d’Opale which is the region of northern France, on the English Channel, where we are visiting for the next month.

We have rented a flat with a fully equipped kitchen in a 16th century building right in the old town of Boulogne-sur-Mer on a cobble-stoned street called Rue de Lille. Surrounded by a centuries old fortress, this old town is replete with charming restaurants and cute shops. Our landlord, a good-looking Frenchman who also happens to own the delightful tiny bar across the street called the “Vole Hole”, kindly picked us up at the train station yesterday and schlepped our heavy bags up three flights of our 16th century accommodation.

This is our base for the next month as we travel hither and yon in this  friendliest corner of France. Known primarily by British and Belgian tourists, Boulogne is best known for having the largest fishing port in all of Europe. It’s from here that the best tables in Paris get their fish and seafood. This morning, we visited the Boulognais port where we saw a multitude of fishing vessels bringing in their daily catch. Today’s catch seemed to focus on cockles, mackerel and crab. On the way back to our flat, many restaurants were busy serving mounds of mussels with frites. We haven’t tried out the mussels yet, but had some terrific frites (served with mayonnaise and vinegar) out of a chip wagon situated at the port.

Anyways, I’ll do my best to keep you posted as our trip progresses and promise to include some photos taken by my personal photographer, Gary.

A bientot!