Spent the day walking around Lille. Like many other places in Europe, this has a small and charming old town which is the touristy part and the rest is largely industrial and commercial. Geographically Lille is very close to Belgium and the Low Countries and being linked to England by the Chunnel it’s become a big transport/logistics hub with the attendant infrastructure.
The weather was overcast with a bit of spitting rain, very humid and cool at about 4-6 degrees. Good weather to walk around which we did. The snow was melting so the sidewalks were slushy and black snow is not that pleasant.
The Christmas market that we had primarily come for was not very big, fairly pretty and, all in all, silly. A disappointment. Lots of stalls selling kitsch and lots of stalls selling waffles, pancakes, crepes and mulled wine. I guess it was like a Diwali fair might have been (if we had such a concept) with diyas, lanterns, rangoli’s, garlands, nankhatai and khus sherbet. The main square did have a children’s fair with a large Ferris wheel that had a great atmosphere and fabulous Christmassy music playing through a very good PA system.
The old town itself was very nice. I kept feeling that we were in Belgium. Everywhere there is beer and people selling crepes and waffles. I even saw a Frites stall on the way to the station. The buildings all seemed to be this mix of art deco and ornate, more than shades of Brussels with lashings of 1920s art deco. Very attractive. We stopped at a bar and had a coffee and continued walking about. The town seemed far more busy and active than both Dijon and Lyon. Lots of shops and one very attractive street with upmarket furniture shops.
Lunch was a small tart for Arti and a single [thank God] what they call croque mouiseure – which to me looked like a simple ham and cheese grilled sandwich. I thought a croque mouiseure had a sort of a béchamel or cheese sauce on top of a sandwich. But, I am not complaining it was a perfect light lunch washed down for both of us with a small beer, ice cold. Drinking at lunch is unusual for us but the small beer was thankfully not a problem.
Arti had seen a review of a restaurant and we decided to go and have a look at it. It was most attractive. So we booked a table. It was a lovely old Brassiere. Wooden panelling, brass rails, hanging lights, white suited waiters, each at least 55 years old. Warm welcoming and holding much promise. This was a restaurant like the ginormous Cez Georges I wrote about some emails ago, like what the Woolsey in London wants to be like. Almost a mans club feel to it. Waiters who are capable to doing lots of tableside work an art that is totally missing in India. All the brassieres you see in movies on France look like this one. The waiters were old, fat and very very efficient. They knew everything and had been there years. I just love this formal style. We started with the Aperitif which was Gin, cherry brandy and some vermouth. Delicious. Then we got a half bottle of Poully Fumet. For starters HRH Arti ordered sardines. Boy this put her in a foul mood. They gave her a tin of sardines [mercifully opened] and a spoon to eat them with. This was not Royal food. This was camping in America Yellowstone National Park for Gods sake!!! This was Boy Scout stuff. It’s true. See the photo. I chose an assortment of Terrines. So French, so efficient so delicious and always with at least 25% fat. I got a large pot of Cornichons to accompany my Terrines. Delicious.
For mains HRH had Kharghosh i.e. Rabbit. Quite nice. It pleased her. I tossed between the various steaks on offer as well as Chicken with morels, Trunedous with various toppings, Onglets etc but decided no steak and stuck with my absolute favourite Choucoutrie, Lovely, 3 types of sausage, one pork belly and some pork loin all with Sauerkraut and sharp mustard to slather on. Superb. For desert we had on offer all the bistro classics, crème caramel, crème Brule, tarte tatin and Profiteroles. I had profiteroles. Such a simple desert. Choux pastry filled with ice cream topped with hot chocolate sauce. All good quality. So perfectly delicious. We have been smashed by vegetarianism in Mumbai. All you get are disgusting brownies made without egg without butter [with cheap oil or margarine and cheaper chocolate in them] topped with ice cream that often has no milk and never has any egg. Brownies and ice cream is the ultimate desert. A perfect end to a good meal in an extremely pleasant restaurant with competent staff who spoke broken English.
Today we get into London. The trains have generally returned to schedule. We are told that they are running up to 60 minutes late due to speed restrictions. Let’s see.
We have a whole lot of work and things to do once we get back to London. London will shut down on 24 evening thru till 27. So we need to get things done in a short time. So long as it’s not raining we should be fine.