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The International Writers Magazine
: Bruges & Lille

Eurostar is great from St Pancras.  The cafés actually serve things you want to eat, although it is a shame you can’t take coffee onto the train.  (The catering on the Eurostar is ABYSMAL – the Lille Station cafe is AWFUL – so consider that in mind when travelling).  The trains are packed solid, people bring way too much luggage, but luckily the trip is very short, so it’s all over before you finish The Times basically. Bruges

I took my sister on holiday, as she hasn’t been away for years.  Eurostar breaks aren’t cheap but the journey is way better than Ryanair or Easyjet and more convenient, so you don’t mind the extra cost so much.  (In fact when flying to Biarritz last month the air fare and the cost of getting to Stansted turned out to be more than if I had gone by train all the way and only three hours shorter given the wait in airports and delays.  Add the sheer unpleasantness of flying Ryanair and the surly staff….  I can’t really think of a reason to fly to Europe with Ryanair.

Lille was flooded when we arrived.  The joy of finding the dreaded Comfort hotel whilst knee deep in rivers of water was not the best start.  I might add that Comfort is somewhat relative at the Comfort hotel.  For 90 Euros a night you get paper thin walls, people playing their TV’s at full volume next door, (no CNN or any other language TV at that) broken showers and if foolish enough to try breakfast at 9 Euros it’s a very expensive poor quality option.

  I guess just because I have never been to Lille there was no sensible reason to consider it a 'destination' city.  August is a bad time to visit France I guess with most things closed.  Visiting it during a downpour wearing only one pair of soggy Converse will not make it easier.  We went to the 2nd largest Museum in France Palais Beaux-Arts.  The sight of standing by a bucket next to two Monet’s as water dripped from the roof and pooled onto the polished wooden floor told us everything about how much pride they take in this museum.  Water was actually splashing up on the Bosch painting. Just these three paintings had to be worth maybe $20 million and they can’t be bothered to fix the roof? (Sell the paintings and fix the roof and then open the bloody coffee bar whilst you are at it Lille).  Pools of water were all over the place and in the end the well preserved brick cellar offered the most intriguing sight: 3D relief maps that occupy almost all the huge basement area constructed around 1600 plus to plan sieges of Lille, Namur and other cities in the region.  Extraordinary. 

Rue de Monnai (Rue St Andre) attracted my sister the most, with chic boutiques offering little dresses and skirts for fantastic prices.  We stood and gawped at the prices.  Indeed we stood bemused at the prices of everything.  The pound is worthless.  How can people afford to live in Europe?  We asked where we could actually get pastry and coffee and we were recommended Café Meert. The line–up should have told us to stay away.  Rather like Betty’s in York but classier, they charged £19 quid for a small cup of tea, hot chocolate and two rather dull pastries dropped on the table like a lump of ….

I hesitate to recommend the best place to eat in Lille because they must pay Google something not to be listed on the map so tourists won't find it, but here goes - the best kept secret in Lille is the Basilic Café at 10, rue du Pont Neuf.

The best place for wine is a wine bar on the tourist trap of Rue Louis Bettignies. The market in Wazemmes in Nouvelle Aventure is well worth a visit on Thursdays and Sundays 7am-1pm. Plenty of fantastic vegetables, flowers and breads. Some interesting junk too. The population here is quite different to the rest of the city too. At least here one can afford to eat. Lille is one of those cities you tick off on a list of places you have been to but probably won’t return.  (Like Brussels). Fate would make you live in Lille of course, but there is a big Catholic University there with an arts and fashion emphasis with Agnes B as patron - so that can't be bad.


Pump and Post We did a side trip to Bruges and this was great. (Pre-book your tickets, it is cheaper). We arrived after just an hour’s trip and whilst most people went to the buses and lined- up, we strolled into the city.  A lovely walk and although we were taken aback by the sheer volume of people in the town square wondering where Colin Farrell met the girl or looking for the spot where Brendan Gleeson met his death at the base of the tower, just go a little way on any of the side streets and wander, it is a sheer delight.  Take lunch by the canal, then supper at the other big secret of Bruges (the Lumiere cinema Sint-Jakobsstraat 36) which plays VO movies (Version Original) has a terrific reasonably priced restaurant attached and a great big courtyard and somehow I got sunburned drinking a coke there.   Do not order the groot sized Spaghetti you will EXPLODE.
Photo: @ Sam North 2010
Bruges I really liked Bruges, it was clean, wonderful to meander the streets and discover architectural gems, the little cafés are excellent and everyone was really friendly.  There are new developments being built in old industrial areas but nothing brutish or out of style. Modern and old sit well together. I guess it must be annoying to live on a canal and have these boats filled with tourists go by with a loudspeaker blaring out everything of interest. Horrid actually.
Photo: @ Sam North 2010
Bruges' second burst of glory days must have been from 1600 to 1700 and the Dutch influence is incredibly strong. 1000 years ago Bruges was actually on the coast but silting up closed that off until the Zwin canal access was formally dug. It's wealth was based around textiles and I believe the very first stock exchange was built here in the 13th century. Printing started here with William Caxton who had moved there from London. The city began a decline when the canal silted up and in fact declined for centuries until it was discovered by 19th century tourists and from there began a long climb back up to becoming the European 'Capital of Culture' in 2002. The dog in the photo posed elegantly from his window ledge - enjoying a moment in the sun.

Flemish is a lot like Afrikaans we discovered to our surprise.  Bruges is one of those places you go to and think, yes I could live here. A perfect place for an artist or writer.

We were very upset to discover we could have stayed in the fantastic Relais Ravestein - one the most stylish hotels in the city for the same amount as the crappy Comfort in Lille. Eat at 'The Sixties' restaurant on the canal and enjoy the elegant rooms there. (Around 97 Euros a night)
Photo: @ Sam North 2010
dog bruges
The Sixties

Basically I came away from both places thinking that I’d like to open a Café Nero empire across Europe just for tourists who want a decent café latte and a pastry at the same time.  (You’ll be surprised how hard it is to find a place that sells both). I met a Canadian woman who’d just started a coffee shop in Bruges using Bean Around the World coffee and she told me you have to have a degree in accountancy to start a coffee shop by law there.  I kind of hope not, but suspect it is true. Oh well…. Another dream gone.
Photo: @ Sam North 2010

Back in blighty one realises that life here is around 40% cheaper – something to hold onto in the cold nights of the coming autumn.

Mean Tide by Sam North
'Extraordinary novel about a child's psychic awakening'

Lulu Press - ISBN: 978-1-4092-0354-4
Review: 'An engaging, unusual and completely engrossing read'
- Beverly Birch author of 'Rift'

His father has disappeared, his mother is sick. Oliver, recovering from chemo, is sent to live with his psychic Grandma by the river in Greenwich. Oliver quickly discovers he is living with a world of strange people. When he finds a dog with its throat cut on the riverside, everything changes. Oliver wants to find the people who did this terrible thing. (Young Adult Mystery)

Mean Tide

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