Same country, different world

Who hasn’t owned Flanders? From the Vikings on, this area of the world has been a ping-pong ball, passing from one country to another. Must have been difficult at times to remember what flag to salute.

But French Flanders is now safely carved out, and the city of Lille is the center of life in the North. They think of it as its own world, and that’s probably how best to cope with so many shifting alliances.

We had a full day here, and a hot one it was. Our hotel is a bit out of the city center, very near to the main stadium. We are very thankful that no event was scheduled during our visit. Bet this is a manic sports city.

We took a walking tour of the old city, which was probably a mistake, given the heat. But we did get to see the main square and admire the Flemish/French architecture. Louis XIV brought Lille back into the French fold, and many buildings were designed during his reign.

There is great stress here on the fact that Lille is a working-class city, known for centuries for its mines, textile industry and lace-making. Since the late 19th century, it has been led by the Socialist Party. This city feels different from others we have experienced. While there is lots of retail commerce, there is not the heavy concentration of luxury brands that appear in other towns of its size. It is also not so much a tourist city. This was the first place we have visited where English is not widely spoken. (But I managed a pedicure and hair cut despite a few language barriers.)

The town is exuberant and pretty in many areas, and we enjoyed seeing the Flemish influences on the menu. Despite the heat, Don headed right for the Carbonade flamande, joined by a local beer, of course. For dessert, we stopped into the wonderful Méert confectioner and tea room. Founded in 1761, it seems to have been drawing crowds ever since. Impossible to get a reservation for tea! But we survived…


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