Thursday, 23 May 2013

In Lille...

I took the 1804 train from St Pancras International to Lille. Not a bad journey, although the ride was totally different from when the train departed from Waterloo on the south bank of the Thames. What's so different? Quite a lot. It's almost as if you're constantly in tunnels, rather than out in the open countryside watching fields go by. As soon as the train departed the station it hit a tunnel and then we were in and out of them all the way to the Channel Tunnel – or Euro Tunnel as it's officially known. I was amazed at how quickly the train travelled from St Pancras to Stratford, in East London. It didn't stop, but it only seemed like five minutes and we'd gone from North London to East London.

If I'm honest, the journey was dull as I sat in seat 24, coach 16. It was a window seat that belonged to a woman who arrived shortly after the train had departed – or was she there before it left? I can't recall. Either way, I was sitting in her seat, seat 24 (mine was seat 23) but she officially had the window seat, although it wasn't a window seat, there was a wall. She let me stay put, which was good of her. Had it been me and had we been on an aeroplane, I'd have asked her to move, but she was pretty cool about it so I just sat there, trying to read, but giving up and thinking about a few private issues I've got at the moment. I won't bore you with them (unless, of course, you're one of the people I've already bored with them, like my brother, or my mum).
Room 309, the Carlton Hotel, Lille – very nice

The ride to Lille ain't far at all and soon the train arrived. I hadn't been here for a while, since around 2008, but I still kind of knew my way around. I left the station and crossed the vast expanse of concrete that runs underneath a road leading into town. I figured it would be easy to find the Carlton Hotel on the Rue de Paris, but it wasn't. Or rather it was. I jumped into a taxi and the driver told me it was just around the corner so I jumped out and went in search of it, eventually stopping and asking for directions from a shopkeeper. "Turn right, then right and then it's perpendicular," he said. I knew what he meant and soon I found it, turned right and followed a sign to the Carlton Hotel.

And very nice it was too. There's no restaurant, but who cares about that? The room was rather grandiose. Room 309 on the third floor. I took the lift and walked along the corridor, past a huge oil painting resting against a wall. The room was lovely in a Regency sort of way. Wooden floors – or are they laminate? A sofa, a flatscreen television, double bed, drapes, bathroom and toilet, very nice...but no restaurant. Not that I was complaining, I hate hotel restaurants (apart from Nobu in the Metropolitan, London or, oddly the one in the Holiday Inn, Essen, which I liked – great soup!).

Anyway, there was no restaurant so I was forced to go out. The receptionist recommended the Hippopotamus restaurant next door, but having worked as a foodservice journalist for some time, I knew it was a chain and went in search of something better. I found myself on the Place du General De Gaulle and a nice little place called Le Coq Hardi where I was guided upstairs by the waitress and sat at a table for one, twiddling my thumbs and wondering where to look – that's what you do when you don't have anybody to converse with or a book to read.

I ordered carbonnade of beef, a half bottle of Haut Gazeau St Emilion and a Tarte Tatin, which set me back EUR35.60 – not bad. The meal was good and I didn't want my carbonnade to end. The tarte tatin was good too, but the star of the show was the wine. I looked out on the square, it was getting dark, and just sat there enjoying the food and the wine – although I wasn't really enjoying myself: it was lonely and depressing sitting there without a companion.

My hotel room was wonderful and the view of the town below was fantastic. In the morning I've got to take a taxi to Ronchin, for my business appointment, but if I'm finished early and have some time to kill, I'll take a wander around town before hoofing it back to the railway station for the journey home.

In addition to the view, there was a towelling dressing gown and slippers on my bed, which was a nice touch, but I can't see myself having the time to make myself comfortable. There's free WiFi, of course, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to sit in the hotel room typing this post and guess what, there's bikes, ie Boris Bike equivalents, but I didn't get the time to use them, The hotel room was also the proud owner of a Corby trouser press! A nice touch for a French hotel, I thought.

In fact, I discovered from one of my French colleagues that the Carlton Hotel in Lille is well-known as the venue where the former head of the International Monetary Fund, Mr Strauss-Khan (I hope that's how you spell his name) used to (ahem) meet his lady friends. I wonder if he ever stayed in room 309?

It's an hour ahead in France, meaning that when I go home tomorrow, I'll benefit from the time difference. I should be home around 8pm, which is good, but I wonder if I'll return to an empty house as I have been all week. It's a long story, and I'm not at all happy about it.


  1. HI mate, sorry to hijack your post.. how do you feel about what happened in London? Seems to have raised the situation to a new level. frankly its not about race at all... its religion and the interpretation of it...

    cheers! keep riding mate!

  2. I think it's terrible as, indeed, do most people. In fact, for a while I was (actually, I still am) very angry about it. You're right, it's not about race, but that said, I can totally understand the anger of the EDF and those who went around damaging mosques. The trouble with the UK is that it's far too tolerant of extremists, although I'm hoping that both men, once fully recovered from their gunshot wounds, will spend an edgy future in Britain's jails where I wouldn't fancy their chances against some of the nutters that will be out to get them. While some call for the death penalty to be reinstated, personally, I think spending the rest of your life in prison, constantly looking over your shoulder, would be like hell on earth. I'm not normally outspoken like this, but this was a particularly nasty crime but a couple of complete idiots and I really hope they suffer bad.

  3. That last line should have read 'by a couple of complete idiots' and not 'but a couple of complete idiots'. Sorry about that. And just to clarify things, I'm not a supporter of the EDF.