Sunday, October 5, 2008

If It's Sunday

My voyage to the north has been so full of events and discoveries that I could fill a blog twice daily with my tales. But I won’t. I’ll trust in a few words, and a good handful of pictures.

Saturday, after an early shopping trip to the Carrefour supermarket (ah! memories of my days in the sun!), Jean-Baptiste and I ‘did’ the heart of Lille, with a special accent on the old town, on foot. Summer was decidedly in the air and spring in our heels, and after reasonably dignified photographs of the impressive Chamber of Commerce, the ‘Voix du Nord’ newspaper building, the Opera House, and the wonderfully variegated buildings of the Grande Place, the sight of the city’s operetta theatre, the Théâtre Sebastopol, provoked (with the encouragement of the photographer) a moment of mild madness in yours truly

The evening, too, was an event. I had mentioned, a propos of something, my thwarted penchant for a taste of rabbit, and Didier – a masterful chef – was quick off the mark. That night we dined deliciously on the most wonderful rabbit I have ever eaten. Look at it! Can’t you just taste that?

All in all, a tremendously happy evening.

Sunday it was Belgium. I had never been to Belgium and it was the Flandrian city of Gand (better known to Anglophones as Ghent), not too far over the border from Lille/Torcouing/Roubaix, that was chosen for my debut.

In the middle ages, Flanders was one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and Gand was its capital, so the artistic and architectural heritage of the city is something amazing. I don’t think I have ever seen a church as richly endowed and sculpted as the Cathedral of Gand. Nor one with so many lavishly entombed ex-archbishops. As an example of church building and decoration, it must be one of the wonders of the world.
Gand has a less spectacular castle, too (8 euros to go in), and. less expensively – like so many northern towns and cities -- a magnificent Beffroi or Belfry. A fanciful antique tower with bells on top. We opted for the Beffroi.

Cities do not look better from a bird’s eye angle. And I suffer from vertigo. One step out on to that narrow balcony under the clock-face and my knees went, my stomach somersaulted, and Jean-Baptiste had to lead me slowly back inside, where I sombered miserably onto a seat, trying not to be physically sick. Why did I even attempt it? Because it’s hell to be a sissy. But I’m afraid the ‘coup de beffroi’ will remain one of my memories of Gand.

The best cure for what ailed me seemed to be a glass of one of the famous Flemish beers, so we betook ourselves from the beastly beffroi to a café by the picturesque canal. That’s the picturesque canal, above. Two minutes later, it was hit by a violent wind and pounding rain, and the canvas of our café terrace threatened for several moments to take off. But, by the time we had finished our drinks, the sky was dry, and it was time to head back across the border.

Once again, we came home to a treat. This time Ali was in charge of the kitchen, and the meal was – oh, yes! – couscous. A real Tunisian (that’s where he comes from) couscous. I think the couscous will linger in my memory even longer than the beffroi. Certainly much more pleasantly.

Monday started badly, with the news that the Boularibank had been, for the umpteenth time, further delayed, and as a result our plans were somewhat flung in the air. However, in the end, we decided just to go ahead as planned. I would simply sit out the delay time in the quiet of the Hotel Borel and at my beloved La Vague Restaurant, Dunkerque.
We made a ‘dress rehearsal’ run up the motorway from Lille to Dunkerque, during the afternoon, and chucked in a quick visit to the seaside resort of Bray Dune where I partook of an excellent ten-degree Maredsous beer, made by trappist monks, on a very pleasant promenade.
In the evening, it being my turn for doing the food … we went out. Didier is largely knowledgeable about the local restaurants, so we visited Le Compostelle, a pretty, elegantly set-up establishment in a little ruelle not far from the Grande Place, which I assume is the best restaurant in town. Well, it’s hard to imagine one better. Cocquilles St Jacques, ris de veau, a bottle of Santerny and, to finish with, what has to be the house speciality: when you order a digestif (and we chose Oban whisky) they bring, and leave with you … the entire bottle. Help yourself.
We lingered, on the way home, for a Kwak beer in one of the rare open bars (it was only 11pm), but finally the day had to end.
And now the voyage is over, too. Not only our voyage to the north of France, but my time in Europe. This morning, early, I said a rather damp goodbye to Didier and Ali in the shadow of St Catherine’s Church and, an hour later, a determinedly chaste but disastrously churning one to Jean-Baptiste on the quayside at Dunkerque…
Then the Golf turned back towards Paris, and I over the water to the Hotel Borel to sit out three days until – hopefully – the Boularibank finally comes to get me.
It’s over.
Except, of course, it isn’t. In not too many months I shall be back. Hopefully, to pick up right where I have left off… after all this is only year two of my ‘around the world in twenty years’!

STOP PRESS: Anguish… the La Vague Restaurant has gone!

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