Let there be more balloons

She isn't with me All you need for a birthday The bank will look like this The old Bourse and new Belfry The Art Gallery reflected Monkeys Looks like it's carved The rose window
Click on the thumbnails for a larger picture In the old town Le Quesnoy in the rain The ramparts Town square at Mons Rubbing the monkey's head Now that is a door lock The zoo
 

Debbie stays the same age (again)

09 August 2008

Napoleon

Napoleon

The saying goes that if Anton and Debbie come to France it rains. This year has seen an exception but for the birthday trip to Lille it didn't look too promising.

They had managed to get a good price on the Eurostar from Kent with a room at the Ibis a few minutes walk from Lille Europe Station. I received a summer discount for the hotel and as it has secure parking decided to take the car rather than the train.

They arrived on the Friday morning and I drove up on the Saturday. Anton had given me reasonable directions (It's next to Flunch at the station) but Lille with the centre closed off for the summer is a pain and it took me a wee while of driving round to finally find my way into the hotel car park.

All settled in, we set off for the nearest bar for something to eat and drink. With the hotel only a matter of minutes from the stations and town centre there is a good choice of eating places close at hand.

Anton was already reciting by heart from his guide book as to where we could go and what there was to see - and there is a lot to do in France's fourth largest city.

Having refreshed ourselves we walked off towards the Grand' Place and then the Gallery of Fine Arts. Lille does have a metro and tram system but for the most part, it is like Paris, a place that can be done on foot. No more than ten minutes from the main square is the second largest art gallery in France.

They were having an exhibition of Goya's caprices which proved to be interesting. I know some of his paintings but had never realised that he was also noted for these moralistic sketches. They reminded me of some of the cartoons that you used to see in Punch.

In the basement we were impressed by a group of plan reliefs of the fortified towns of Flanders and Wallonia constructed to a scale of 1:600. Looking at them you realise just how flat most of the ground around here is - with the exception of the citadelle at Namur perched high on its peak at the confluence of the Sambre and Meuse. Vauban had obviously been a very busy man.

 
Notre Dame de la treille

Notre Dame de la treille

We stopped for a coffee in the courtyard café which provides an interesting reflection of the main building before setting off once again.

Anton was already pretty deft at wending his way around the streets and soon had us into the old part of the town. The Cathedral of Notre Dame de la treille is highly unusual in that it was begun in 1854 but only finished in 1999. All due to the finances running out.

Around the back it is pretty dingy and looks in need of a good clean up and the modern entrance with its rose window definitely looks unfinished. The result from the outside is a neo-gothic church that seems to have had a concrete 20th Century wall slapped on the end as the builders made off in haste.

The inside though is stunning with its mix of old and modern blending together well. In the older section the stained glass windows are much as you would expect, though in double panels, the myriad colours adding to the mosaics which adorn the walls and floors.

The whole interior is illuminated by the oranges of the modern rose window which is far more stunning from the inside than you could ever have guessed from the exterior.

Enough culture for one day and we dandered back to the Eurolille shopping centre to pick up comestibles for the following day's trip to Belgium. The evening was spent eating too much and partaking of the odd bottle of wine.

 

Off to Mons

Mons Belfry

Mons Belfry

The day started with cards and balloons as Debs celebrated her birthday. To add to the excitement of it all - it was raining.

As I had the car with us I had proposed going for a drive out towards Le Quesnoy and then on to Mons. You can never get too far from the battlefields with me and neither Anton or Debs had ever been to Mons which will be back in the news in a few months time for the 90th anniversary of the Armistice in 1918.

Getting out of Lille turned out to be remarkably easy and with little traffic on the autoroutes we were soon on our way out into the country side and the Mormal Forest.

Sadly the rain refused to ease up and so we just slowly motored through the area looking at the villages and making sure that we did not buy any cheese from Maroilles. It is edible cooked but not the sort of thing that you would want to have alongside you in a confined space.

Le Quesnoy is not far from the Belgian border and is one of the fortified towns of France with the Vauban walls still very much in evidence right the way around the old town centre. Inside the walls it is all cobbled and was very dug up. I presume that they are getting things ready for the 90th anniversary of the liberation of the town by the New Zealanders in 1918.

There is a strong connection with the Kiwis and apart from the memorial itself you have a Rue Aotearoa, a Place All Blacks and a number of references to Cambridge - the one on North Island.

Sadly we got wet as we wandered through the park to the Kiwi memorial and then in and around the battlements. It all looks very well in the sunshine but the constant mizzle of rain was annoying. If you were looking to walk right the way around the town you would be there for the best part of a couple of hours. The battlements are all well preserved and there are tunnels that take you through from one section to another. Lots of fun - Anton as ever insisting on looking inside anything that might be a cave.

We had a coffee in the local sports bar, packed with locals taking their midday aperitif, before heading towards the frontier. A shame it was Sunday so all the breweries that we passed were closed. We got slightly lost trying to get across the border as the road had been dug up at Malplaquet. Sounded a bit Duke of Marlborough to me and I was right for there was a monument, that we couldn't get up to (100 metres on the other side of the road works).

It commemorates the bloodiest battle that Marlborough fought and although he won he lost 20 000 men and the French General Boufflers less than half that.

 

As the anniversary of the Armistice was approaching I had suggested that we go via St Symphorien where the German cemetery contains our first and last soldiers killed during the First World War - the British starting and finishing in nearby Mons. From there we cut across country to Havré where we parked up on the side of the canal and eat lunch whilst watching the fishermen.

Right behind us was a footbridge, and on 11 November 1918 a Canadian soldier called George Price was one of a small party of scouts who crossed by the old bridge into the village of Ville sur Haine on the far bank. At 1058 hours he stepped out into the street from the end house and was shot by a sniper. He is considered to be the last British Empire soldier to have been killed during the war.

The sun came out and we followed in his footsteps to the small monument made from the bricks of the house he had been in (the row was later demolished). Along the street there is a row of maple trees.

A short drive took us into Mons which lives up to its name - it is well hilly. I was certain that there was a museum here but if so it was either not well indicated or was just shut. Outside the town hall Debs and Anton did make sure that they rubbed the monkey's head for good luck.

We walked up and over the hill via the belfry to St Waudru's church where we visited the treasury. They hold quite a large collection or reliquaries containing small pieces of bone or other items associated with one saint or another. There were a number of items connected to Saint Waudru herself. She had been beheaded by the local lord after she refused to marry him on religious grounds.

We just about managed to get back to the car as the rain came on again and we set off on the return journey to Lille. I took my time going down the autoroute but it still only took us about an hour before we were parked at the hotel and thinking about food again.

We tried one place near the main square which had plaques up saying that it was recommended by one of the guide books. They obviously had received better service - in fact they must have had service, full stop, because we were far from the only people to get up and walk away after fifteen minutes of inaction by the one member of staff allocated to the terrace.

We ended up in the Trois Brasseurs near the station. They brew their own beer and the meals are good value - fabulous puddings. Chocolate Mousse a-go-go (Well, that was Debbie, Anton and I restrained ourselves with a small bowl of ice-cream each).

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See also

Simon's Birthday

The Dubliners: July 2008