With GB sticker attached, headlight deflectors and first aid kit on board, 5 HAWOG members set off from Harrow at 9:00 on Friday 7th November heading for Dover. The route took us clockwise on the M25, through the Dartford Tunnel where we got into the feel of being in France by paying the toll. Arrived at Dover in plenty of time so parked up and went to look around the shops. I rejoined the car early only to find that we were being waved onto the ferry! A quick call to Jonathan, Jackie, Abde and Sadia and the Hawog party was one again and we were safely on board. The crossing took 1 hour 15 minutes and we spent the time both on deck enjoying the crisp November day and looking at the shops.
When the ferry arrived in Calais we rejoined our car and began the drive to Lille. Abde suggested we head to the town centre and look for the tourist information centre before checking into the hotel. The tourist office took some time to find, the locals giving us quite vague directions. It was becoming apparent quite early what a benefit it was having Abde and Sadia along to ask locals where things were and to help translate menus for us. Once at the tourist office we purchased a ticket for the following day which entitled us to use all forms of public transport, free entry into many museums and a 2 hour guided walking tour in English! Before returning to the car Abde and Sadia bought some pancakes, Jonathan opted for the doughnuts. It was then time to try and find our hotel, a branch of the budget chain Formule 1. The hotel was in a district of Lille known as Mons-En-Baroeul, 2 or 3 kms east of the centre. A hotel room cost 26.00 EUR with breakfast costing an extra 3.50 EUR. Each room could sleep up to 3 people and contained a hand basin. The showers and toilets were on the corridor. In some ways it had a portacabin feel about it but for the price you could not complain, especially since their bread and coffee were first rate.
Once settled in we decided to head back into the centre for our evening meal, which meant our first chance to use the driverless metro system. The metro in Lille only has 2 lines but added to the buses and trams it's certainly easy to get around the city. We ate in the Brasserie La Chicoree, good food though the service might have been better, something Abde marked them down on when he completed the comments card. Jackie tried some of Abde's snails but somehow I don't think she was that keen on them. After our meal we gravitated to a pub for coffee, Abde and myself plumping for the one containing calvados. Finally left the pub with just enough time to catch the last metro home.
Awoke Saturday to another clear day. Once the showers and breakfasts were completed we headed for the town centre to arrive at the Palais Des Beaux Arts before it opened at 10:00 AM. This art museum is considered second in France only to the Louvre in Paris. A journalism student wanted to interview Abde about Lille and the European City of Culture 2004. Adbe sounded like a politician, laying on the bullshit really heavy saying what a wonderful effort Lille had made and how he was sure they would be successful in their bid for the award. Only later that day did we all realise that Lille had actually already won the award to be European City of Culture! Took some photographs from Place de la Republique while we were waiting for the museum to open.
Report by Malcolm
Jackie, Sadia and Abde on deck
Satyr and Bacchante - Palais des Beaux-Arts
View from Place de la Republique
Another view from Place de la Republique