Three Days in Lille: Day 3 – A Bit of Culture

Our last day started off a bit grey, slightly damp, but surprisingly mild.  Our train didn’t leave until 20:30, so we had one whole day left to explore.  After breakfast we packed our bag and left it with the hotel, to be collected later on the way to the station.

The Place de la République is a beautiful square with the Palais des Beaux Arts (1892) on one side of the square and the Préfecture (1865) directly opposite on the other.  There is a fountain in the middle in front of the Palais and a modern sunken garden with seating opposite the Préfecture.

We had passed by or through this square many times to and from our hotel.  I thought as the weather was not so great, we should at least go into the Palais to look at the art collection.  There is an entrance to the front of the museum.  In this instance, there was a red velvet curtain covering the doorway which made us think this was not the case.  It is there to keep the draft out.  The museum was very quiet and fairly empty, which I found unusual compared to other art museums I had visited.  We paid our money and checked our coats to look at the collection.  The building is quite grand without being over the top.  On the main floor there is an interesting collection of ceramics from the area and other parts of Europe.  There is also an amazing collection of sculptures.  There were a few little pieces by Rodin that I wouldn’t have minded taking home with me.  After viewing everything on this floor, Amor and I had a break and ordered some coffee from the bar.  It is also possible to order alcoholic drinks and they also serve lunch.  Our coffee was excellent, very strong.

Upstairs is where you will find the painting collections.  There is everything from Dutch Masters, Medieval and religious paintings, Renaissance and some modern.  We made an effort to look at everything, some we liked and others not.  Even if I didn’t like a painting, I could appreciate its’ place in history and the talent and work behind it.  Every once in awhile, I would come across a piece that was truly amazing and inspiring.  Oh, the joy when that happens!

Downstairs, in the basement, there is an incredible of collection of scale models of the former French Netherlands from the 17th – 19th Centuries.  These are truly amazing masterpieces of miniaturization and we spent a lot of time here viewing them all.

A visit to any museum is not complete without a visit to the museum shop.  I purchased a copy the English version of The Palais des Beaux-Arts, Lille.  It is a wonderful reminder of the beautiful works we had spent the past few hours viewing.  I am looking forward to reading more about the museum and the collection.  The shop also has the typical tourist items such as pens, notebooks, pencil sharpeners, plus some more expensive items such as silk scarves, china cups, jewellery and sculptures.  If the rate of exchange had been better, I might have been tempted to buy one of the scarves as they were very beautiful.  The website listed at the end of this post is very informative thereby making it easier to plan a visit in advance.

When we went outside we were pleased to note that the weather had brightened up.  Where to next?  I wanted to go back to The Old Town.  I am a sucker for bright colours, plasterwork cherubs and wrought iron railings!  We went back to Grand Place in search of food before going to The Old Town.  Being on the constant lookout for sustenance in a country where you don’t speak the language and are on a budget can be tiresome after a few days.  We went into the nearest establishment, The Hippopotamus Restaurant Grill, a chain restaurant.   The prices on the fixed menus were reasonable and I ordered a steak, with salad and chips.  Amor had Thai kebabs to start and a steak with baked potato.  For a chain restaurant, the food was cooked very well and the portions were reasonable.  We skipped coffee and dessert. This was to be our last meal of the day.  If we had wine instead of beer (€5 per bottle of Kronenbourg white beer) the bill would have been more reasonable as the drinks cost almost as much as a meal.

After lunch, we walked towards The Old Town.  We ended up on streets we hadn’t been on before, which is what I had hoped we would do.  I was still searching for another café/patisserie for coffee and cake, but no luck there.  After a nice long walk and to kill some time before we went back to the hotel to collect our bag, we went into a bar, for a beer, and a pit stop (another pissoire).  That is where I got the news of my exchange.  Hallelujah!  We had another beer to celebrate the good news!

On the way back to the hotel I took these photos of the Chambre de Commerce, at night.  They are not that great, but it gives you an idea of how lovely the place is, even in the dark.

We also stopped into a supermarché as I wanted to see if there was anything interesting to bring back home since we had some room in our bag.  Amor found some of the local beer that was on offer at our last restaurant for €9 and being sold in the train station for €12.  We paid €2.50!  We bought a bottle each of Les 3 Monts and Ch’ti, both of which were very good and is recommended if you like blonde beer.

We collected our bag and walked back to the station.  I was a little bit sad to leave as we were just really getting to know and love Lille.  The journey back was a Disneyland nightmare and full of kids making a racket.  Who in their right mind takes kids under the age of 10 to a theme park!  Having a little snooze was out of the question.  Fortunately the rest of the journey, once we got off the Eurostar, was uneventful.

What I have learned from my trip to Lille: Lille is a walking city and is very compact.  The city map makes everything seem further away than it actually is.  Exploring the city in sections was a sensible idea as it gave us an opportunity to take our time and wander at our own pace.  Until the last day, we didn’t go into any of the museums or tourist sites as we wanted to take advantage of the good weather.  By going down a street that is not on the tourist route, one might discover something interesting.   It is very difficult to get lost in Lille.  Wear comfy shoes for walking as some of the older sections of town are cobblestoned, which can make walking difficult in heels.  Unless you have issues with mobility, or are just plain lazy, forget about purchasing a City Pass.  It may let you into most museums for free with unlimited access to public transportation, but how much of it are you actually going to utilise before you realise that it was easier (and cheaper) to walk, and you were only able to go to one museum per day?  I can’t see it being economical unless one is on a strict and regimented schedule to cram in as many museums in one day as possible, or unless the weather is particularly hideous that it is better to be under cover at all costs.  We were fortunate with the weather and walked everywhere.  A three day trip was just enough time to explore and visit a few attractions and to get the feel of the city.

Most Essential Items: The two guide books in my first post were invaluable.  Compared to the MapGuide, The AA guide had more detailed information on the history of Lille, the top ten sights, shopping, eating out, and a couple of walks.  The MapGuide was really useful as the city was divided into sections, with fold out maps of each section, and with basic information about the tourist sites in the area as well as shopping and restaurants.  My camera goes everywhere with me.

What I would do differently next time: The next time I go to Lille I would most likely start my day earlier.  Depending on the weather, I would make an effort to visit more of the attractions such as the Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse, the Befroi de l’Hotel de Ville (Town Hall Belfry) and the many parks and green spaces.  I would eat less food, or eat different food.  I enjoy eating potatoes in any shape or style and am particularly partial to chips, which are served with everything, but there was a bit of over kill on the carb front.  I normally don’t eat wheat and didn’t think a  baguette or piece of cake would an issue, but my digestion can’t handle it and I would really need to be selective with my meals.  As the Euro is almost on par with Sterling, budgeting meals better can mean that there would be more money for shopping!  I would drink wine instead of beer – it’s cheaper and isn’t made of wheat.  I would also pack fewer clothes.  If I needed anything, I could always go into one of the many shops or markets and pick something up!

Palais des Beaux Arts, Place de la République – http://www.pba-lille.fr

Hippopotamus Restaurant Grill, 2, rue Faidherbe – http://www.hippopotamus.fr/

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