Lille

We’d chosen Lille for two reasons really: We haven’t been here before and it’s close to Dunkirk so we wouldn’t have far to travel after the ferry.

Not the best reasons to choose a destination, we know, nevertheless Lille was a good choice and we had a great time here!

After nearly 10 hours of travelling it felt so good to arrive at our host’s place. Jake was probably more tired, riding that far is pretty hard work – I mean, at the back I’m pretty sheltered and protected from the wind. Jake on the other hand has to take all of it as well as concentrate on riding.

That evening our host Vince prepared us a lovely meal and we just chatted and listened to music which was perfect. I don’t think either of us had the energy to go out again.

Next day, refreshed after a good night’s sleep, we took a walk into the city – well I walked but Jake cycled slowly as it’s less impacting on his knee. Lille is only small but still has its fair share of beautiful buildings. Place de la République which hosts the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lille was our first stop. From here we had a great view, down an avenue lined with trees, to Théâtre Sebastopol.

In the center of the city is the Grand Place which, with its beautiful ornate buildings reminded us of the Grand Place in Brussels. Given that we’re only a few kilometers from the Belgian border this isn’t so surprising.

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Beyond this square was the old town; made up of much older stone buildings this area was full of quaint bars, restaurants and shops.

Hidden among this was Lille’s strange cathedral… I suppose the picture speaks for itself here. Later I want inside and it was surprisingly beautiful. The old church has been preserved and restored very well, it was only the front which was in that unusual style. Inside also were several art installations all linked to the refugee crisis. Some of them were very moving.

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Lunch was in a little local restaurant. We realized quickly that we’d forgotten our school French and went back to just pointing at something on the menu – as we did when we first arrived in Asia. It worked out though – lunch was lovely.

Jake’s knee wasn’t really up to much more walking around (he’d done a lot already) so we made our way home after lunch. Safely deposited, Jake continued with some blog writing while I took the bike back out for another explore.

I didn’t go much further than we had in the morning but it didn’t matter – it was lovely to be cycling again. On my travels I did find the pretty Quai du Wault though – it used to be connected to the canal but now is isolated from the waterways so is just a kind of fancy man made lake.

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I also found the Paroisse Saint Maurice. An ornate Gothic church hidden among the shops and modern buildings.

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Vince, as it happens, often goes climbing and invited us to join him that evening. Jake – because of his fear of heights – said no but I was more than willing to go. I’ve not been climbing in a center like this for a few years now so wasn’t as good as I used to be but it was still great fun! The climbing walls in centers like this are graded so that each colour marks out a route for certain ability. I was climbing only one grade lower than Vince which, since I’ve not been for a while wasn’t too bad I thought!!

Vince was able to join us for most of our second day in Lille – our first stop being Gare Saint Sauveur; a disused railway station now used as an exhibition center and music venue. Vince tells us that there is always an exhibition on display here, usually for around 3 months at a time. As Lille is in a poorer area of France the local government subsidizes these exhibitions, providing a free alternative to sitting at home for the city’s inhabitants (as well as visitors).

For this period the exhibition centre was split into 2 sections; Football and home Cinema. We visited the Football section first which was really quite interesting. Out of our little group of three, I think I was the only one who could be described as a football fan, and even then quite loosely. Louise and Vince had never taken an interest in the sport however I was an avid follower in my early teenage years.

At first we came across the exhibition of how the gaming industry has portrayed football games over the decades. Starting with the earliest games of the 1980’s continuing up until the current generation of games. A series of consoles had been set up using large projectors onto one of the old action walls, each with controllers so you could have a quick go with each game. I could’ve possibly spent the entire afternoon playing each one but Louise and Vince were less interested.

We moved onto some art installations showing the reasons I stopped spending so much time playing and watching football; the darker violent side of the sport. Even as a young child (and of course through to today) I could never understand why supporters would get so emotional about a sport that they would organised brutal fights between each other.

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In the U.K we use to (and to a lesser extent still do) have what are known as “firms”. These are groups of avid supporters that are created to carry out violent attacks of rival teams’ firms. I believe the same was in many European if not global cities. These “firms” would organise brutal and often fatal fights between dozens and dozens of supporters under the pretense of support for their specific football teams. Watch the British film “Green Street” or “Football Factory” if you want a dramatized insight.

The home cinema section for the exhibition was far less controversial, at least on a violence point of view. The different exhibitions showed how cinematography has and is changing through the years. We had displays of illegal downloading, the most watched films of the decades and differing technology of the era.

There were two that I think enthralled all of us the most; the virtual reality (VR) headsets and the facial recognition robot.

The VR headsets are something I think we’d all wanted to try for a while. After seeing them on the T.V. and various other places I had wanted to see what it was like. Again I think I could have spent the rest of the afternoon trying out each “story”. The one I watched though was amazing, I was some sort of scientist drifting through the blood vessels of a patient, examining blood clots and other anomalies before being pulled into the consciousness of the patient. From here I flew through the subconscious thoughts into this dream world. The resolution of the video was OK but what was really interesting was the three dimensional aspect of the video. As it was played out I was able to look in all directions and different parts of the “world”. The transition was seamless giving a feeling of really being part of the story.

As I said there was a second interesting exhibition, an automated facial recognition camera mounted on a camera rail. This machine was able to pick pout a human’s face and then compare it to a database for a graphical comparison. Watching it from a distance gave the impression of a silly machine trundling around a small track pointing itself at passers by. However, becoming the target changed the perspective entirely. As the machine jerked in recognition of your human face it would very slowly come closer to “examine” your features. It was incredibly surreal, giving the impression the machine had its own consciousness.

We weren’t too sure what the purpose of the final room was but it made for some great photographs.

After our look around the exhibition, Vince set up his slack line in the nearby park. Louise again was the only one of us to have a go. She was pretty wobbly at first but after a few minutes she was able to keep her balance for a good few seconds and even take a few steps. If we hadn’t other plans I think she would of made it the whole way after an hour or so.

Vince had some appointments that afternoon so Louise and I jumped on the bike and headed north out of the city. Vince had suggested visiting the little village of Wambrechies which is really quite pretty. On our way out there we decided to just have a blast into the countryside. In doing so we accidentally came across this German war cemetery. It was very moving just happening across this place, I think it impacted us more as we weren’t expecting to see something like this.

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For our final evening in we returned to Gare Saint Sauveur for a concert; the description of which didn’t do the reality justice. We stayed for a few hour watching some really great bands, kind of psychedelic rock.

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