Stille in Lille

Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Lille campsite

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Friday, August 25, 2006

I found dinner.

Left Lille at about seven-thirty and stopped in the bar/bookie at Fretin again where a monumentous thing happened. I had my First Conversation With A Random In A Foreign Language! I was hailed from accross the room (a distance of at least 2 feet) by Maxsine C., "tu est cycliste?". I can't be sure, but I suspect the helmet, cycle shorts, gloves and pimped-up ride may have given me away. "Oui!" There didn't seem much mileage in denial. We conversed, in a limited way, he asking about my trip, me asking him about his work (he's retired, so that part of the conversation was brief). I've taken to describing the trip as London to Prague- it elicits much the same level of whistling and eyebrow raising, but seems to have more credibility than England to Australia. Don't know why. Apart from this, there was a three way exchange between me, Maxine and his friend Greg about the merits of the beer that they had just bought me- "oui, c'est bon! C'est moins sucre que l'autre, n'est-ce pas?" Perhaps not the stuff of legend, but a great leap forward from "ou est la gare?". Returning to le camping to find all my belongings present and unmolested, Thurs 24th August 2006 was officially concluded a Good Day.

On Friday I had bold plans for Lille. Having got my bearings yesterday, and arranged the necessary injections, I had swathes of free time in which to buy the things I'd been missing since leaving and check out the sights of Lille. I checked the train times from Fretin and found that I could either leave at 0955 or 1213. 0955 it is, that gives me 30mins to get up and 25mins to get there and buy a ticket. No probs.

I get to the station at 0940, but the automatic barriers are blocking the road, so I can't get to the Lille platform. I can see a freight train approaching, so I'm not overly concerned. After all, I'm 15mins early for the train. The freight train passes, but the barriers do not raise. A passenger train approaches from the other direction, heading for Lille. This is Not Good. Maybe its a fast train that doesn't stop, I reason, as the train slows to a halt at the platform. The barriers raise behind it and I dash accross the tracks, hollering to the guard "Monsieur! Attend! Vous allez a Lille? Attend!" Bless his cotton socks and all French bureaucracy, he waited for me to haul my bike on board and never asked to see a ticket. I defy anyone to translate 'jobsworth' into French using fewer than two sentences. The train arrives in Lille, on time, at 0955.

Having shopped in the morning, I investigate the old Bourse and the Cathedral in the early afternoon. The former made me wish I wasn't on the bike as, quite apart from being an arresting building, it contained a flea-market of beautiful second-hand books. Huge illustrated hard-backs about great painters, or the history of Flanders, or the development of the loom or (I swear this was really there) an illustrated history of blood, books for looking at, not reading. A book on Modigliani caught my eye, as I'd been taken to see an exhibition of his portraits the day before I left. It would have made a good present. The Cathedral is very strange, composed of an old cathedral which has been extended with, it seems, absolutely no regard for consistency of style. Stone carvings are squatted on by slate-coloured tiles.

At 1600 I picked up my drugs from the pharmacie and took them to the medecin who administered them free of charge. Yesterday he'd charged me 20 Euros, and when I'd repeated the price, to make sure I'd heard correctly, he'd looked ready to haggle. I left the doctor feeling invinsible, as I always do after inoculations, and went in search of a proper local delicacy- moules mariniere. Delicious.

These few days have revealed an important fact. I like spending time in big towns where there are tourist attractions, bars, restaurants and other people. Following my planned itinerary, tracing the France/Belgium border but staying always on the French side, crossing into Germany at Alsace, would mean that the next big town I'd have to look forward to would be Frankfurt. If you ever find yourself looking forward to Frankfurt, something has gone wrong, somewhere along the line. So, now the plan is- due east, to Brussels, the capital of Europe and scene of... stuff. I'll find out what when I get there. The internet tells me it is a mere 911km by road from Brussels to Prague. This trifling distance I will then sprint, with brief stops in Cologne, Bonn and, yes, Frankfurt, arriving in Prague in three weeks- just in time for a romantic rendezvous with my beloved. There is, it would seem, no downside.

After writing that last paragraph, I received this e-mail, responding to one I sent when I realised I was heading for Frankfurt. Suddenly it seems a fine place.

Hi, Tim!

I tried to contact you many times! last year i wrote you a christmascard..and at the easternholidays it came back with a sign "wrong adress"! I was really sat, i thougth i will never see or hear you again!
Now I read this E-mail and I'm really really happy!
Why are you in Frankfurt?! I want to meet you there!!!! My job is there! That means, i'm every day in Frankfurt!

If you want to call phonenumber is: ###-###-#######

Nice greetings to your family!

I'm really happy you contakt me..!!!!!
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