Tuesday, October 11, 2011

even in the rain..

so this past weekend my sweet sister, cari, came to visit me alllll the way from carentan. the weekend had an eventful start. there was a train strike on friday and all the trains throughout the country were off schedule. the train stations were disasters everywhere, people with luggage all over the place.

i spent the day in lille friday with luli, joe, and melissa. we took care of some very important paperwork then did some very important shopping at h&m. we went to meet cari at lille-europe and it was a mad house. we had a café while we waited--her train was delayed only about 20 minutes. so glad it wasn't longer than that (we were starving). when they posted her platform we walked down and for the first time in my life i saw two trains attached together to make one train. lots of people apparently wanted to come to lille for the weekend from paris. i can't blame them.

we decided on crêpes for dinner again..which is never a bad idea. i branched out of my usual crêpe box and had a savory one rather than sweet. cheese, mushrooms, ham and an easy over egg. it was incredible. i can't believe i almost went 25 years without having had a savory crêpe.

we took the train back to armentières and went to bed early--we had a big day ahead of us on saturday. we went to brugge, belgium. we wanted to leave early from armentières to catch the train at 9:05 from lille across the border. we of course missed our train. here's why:

ever since i can remember, before my family would go on a trip, my dad would do a 'roll call' of sorts. call out things to be sure we remembered to pack them. cell phone. cell phone charger. computer. computer charger. drivers license. plane tickets. underwear. socks. pants. you know..the usual. as a joke i did this in the hall way before we all headed out the door. "does everyone have their passports? train tickets? shoes?" we laughed. ha. ha. ha. of course we have all of those things! we get to the train station with just enough time for people to buy their tickets for the 8:21 train to lille who don't have passes. one person was running a bit behind and missed my 'roll call'. she didn't have their train ticket to belgium. i said to myself 'well, it's kind of pushing it, but there's another train that leaves at 8:36 to get to lille.' so then i said to her 'we can just take the next train. run back home and get it, we'll wait here with your stuff.' it was early. 8:15ish. i hadn't had coffee. what day was it again? oh, that's right, it was saturday and all the train times are different on the weekends than they are during the week. when was the next train again? 8:36? nope. 9:38. so our hopes to catch the 9:05 train to brugge flew right out the window. the next train to brugge was at 13:05.

on the bright side, i got to show cari around lille. we walked around vieux lille, had croissants for breakfast, and got sandwiches from 'paul' for lunch. and we played outside of the opera:

we got on the train at 13:00 and were in brugge by 14:45. another surprise of the weekend: the national language in belgium is not french. i don't know how i didn't know this. i thought they were one of those countries (like canada) that has two national languages. i thought it was dutch AND french. in canada, every sign has to be in both english and french. i figured it'd be the same thing in belgium. wrong. (i really should start doing a bit of research before i travel places.) dutch is not easy to understand. it's a strange mixture between english and german, so i can read it easily enough, but can not even come close to understanding the spoken language.

we took a rocky (understatement) bus ride to our hostel and got everything settled in our rooms then headed out to the center of town. we walked the wrong direction (of course) but finally made it. we were on the hunt to find 3 things: waffles, chocolate, and beer. it was the easiest thing i've ever done. there were all three all over the place. my personal heaven--chocolate everywhere. practically every other shop we walked past was a chocolatier. and in case you were wondering, belgian chocolate is everything everyone has ever said it is. it. is. amazing. we found a tiny place to have waffles for dinner. since i had a savory crêpe for dinner on friday, i convinced myself it was just fine to have a waffle covered in hot chocolate syrup, bananas, and whipped cream for dinner on saturday. i threw in a cup of hot chocolate just to make sure i got my fill of all things chocolate while i was there. it was melt in your mouth delicious.

we finished with our wonderful meal then walked to the main square. this is what took my breath away:

there were horse drawn carriages everywhere. we walked down so many charming, gorgeous streets i could look at my pictures every single day and never get tired of them. the only thing i wish was that it hadn't rained practically the whole time we were there. but even in the rain the town had this sort of romantic charm to it that i've never noticed a town having before. we were walking down streets and came across canal after canal, it was gorgeous. we heard it was 'the venice of the north' and i was certain it couldn't compare. it did. in its own way.

we went out to a tiny place called 'bar des amis' we met so many different people, it's incredible how friendly people are here. it's so easy to talk to people. also i can add a new beer to my list of favorites: leffe blonde. if you can find it back home, try it. it's yummy.

while we were walking through the square on saturday we noticed a big sign with salvidor dali's name on it. it was an exhibit. it was closed by the time we got there, but when we walked up we saw that you could by a combination ticket for the dali exhibit AND a picasso exhibit for 11 euros. so amazing. the picasso exhibit was from a private collection of picasso, matisse, braque, miro, and others. it was the most incredible thing i've ever seen. we spent hours walking through hall after hall and room after room of original sketches and paintings. a few favorites:


it was the perfect way to spend a rainy day. after the exhibits we had lunch at the most amazing restaurant. really the only thing amazing about it was the food. a "petit" spaghetti that could have fed 3 people. it was warm and perfect. we had to head back a bit early, cari had trains to catch from lille to head back to carentan. we all fell asleep on the train back, we were exhausted.

next weekend: carentan to visit cari.

Monday, October 3, 2011

the day i fell in love with vieux lille

i can't decide if i'm used to the daily struggle of living in the high school or if things really are getting easier. i do know that my french is getting much better. all of the assistants living at the high school have arrived. there are 4 americans now, 2 argentinians, and 2 germans. one of the german girls just arrived tonight so i'm not sure if she speaks english or not, but sabine (the one who arrived on friday) doesn't speak any english, so we all try to speak french when we're together.

yesterday we decided to take a day trip to lille. one of the teachers at gustave eiffel (the high school) invited joe to spend the day there with him and he would give him a tour and show him around, and he extended the invitation to us all which was so kind. we took the train from armentières to lille a bit before 11:45 and got to lille-flandres just before noon.

we ate lunch..i don't really know if i would call it that though. a few of us ordered the same thing--le welsh--it sounded so appealing. here's what i pictured in my head: bread topped with ham and a piece of cheese nicely melted/browned on top. what i got: stale bread topped with gross ham swimming in thick cheese soup. the first few bites were manageable. then it turned heavy and kind of gross. maybe it'd be a good dish to have in the dead of winter. we'll see..i don't know if i'll be able to bring myself to eat it again. it was also served with a side of fries. so healthy. they love fries in the north. it's so strange, they're not even that good. usually when a place is famous for something, or everyone always eats something it's the most amazing version of whatever that thing is. i have had better fries before. many many times.

after we finished lunch, we started walking around. i could have walked for days. it was so absolutely beautiful. we went to the town center then walked to an area of the city called 'vieux lille' (old lille). all of  the streets are cobblestone, all of the architecture is heavily dutch influenced. there are flower boxes from almost every window, cafes on almost every street, chocolatiers and pattisiers everywhere. it's so charming. it also helps that the weather was utterly perfect. not a cloud in the sky and 75 degrees.

we went to the zoo (which is free) and saw tons of birds, rhino's, snakes, the cutest little monkeys that did tricks when they saw it got a reaction from the people watching, zebras, and the sweetest looking red panda sleeping in a tree. we walked all over the place. we mapped it out later and walked 7.5 miles. we had dinner at a chinese place and then went to see our first french film. l'apollonide: souvenire d'une maison close.

it was the perfect day. lille is such a wonderful place and i am so thankful to be living somewhere so great.