My sister-in-law and I have been friends since university days, married brothers, and therefore always had an ally in the family, even though we’re not usually living in the same country, let alone nearby. After she left New Zealand, we had often daydreamed (via email or on the phone) about escaping for a few days together somewhere exotic, and husband/child-free. Finally, a work trip to Canada subsidising a round-the-world air ticket meant that I could visit her in Europe, and better, that we could get away for a long weekend. My brother-in-law was cooperative and agreed to look after my niece and nephew, my sister-in-law planned the trip. She likes driving (which was good as it was of course the wrong side of the road from me) and I am a good navigator. Conditions were perfect.
I had never thought of visiting Lille. It sounded like a large, industrial city, and indeed is so. But it has a small and charming historical centre which kept us busy and happy for the next couple of days. We drove south through rain, but the weather obligingly started clearing up almost as soon as we arrived, allowing us to walk and sit outside cafes freely.
The shopping is good in Lille, and we indulged in handbags (me) and shoes and leather jackets (her). When we got tired, there was always a therapeutic chocolaterie. Or a bar or cafe later in the day. To enjoy both is practically compulsory in France, which makes it a welcome and guilt-free indulgence. Of course, we talked and talked and talked. And couldn’t resist sending gleeful and gloating text messages to another sister-in-law in Melbourne, and my poor husband home in wintry New Zealand.
I love visiting art galleries, but it’s not something my sister-in-law does very much. So the Lille Art Gallery turned out to be perfect for her. It has an excellent collection of the old masters, one of the best in France outside Paris, and is a manageable size. It also has an excellent series of paintings giving a real insight into the creative processes an artist would go through before the final, complete work of art. The artist’s sketches showed the initial concepts, and the smaller practice paintings showed the various options being explored – to include the dog or not (yes), the guy with the beard (no) – and finally the huge, grand finished work of art. We spent hours there.
The Michelin recommended restaurants in and around the square also provided us with some excellent and reasonably priced French food, and we bought bread and cheese at the nearby market to nibble on in our hotel room when resting our feet and catching the early rounds of the French Open.
Lille can be reached easily from London or Paris, as it is a stop on the Eurostar (Chunnel) train, and is well worth a couple of days. We drove home to Amsterdam via Brugge (Bruges), star of the recent movie and sure to be the subject of an entry under B, next time around the alphabet.