The Mole Diaries: Lille
Needless to say arriving in a new city engenders a mixed bag of emotions including excitement, anxiety, apprehension and in some cases absolute mayhem, hysteria and night sweats. One thing I have learnt is that a strong coffee and a glass of vino (or 600…thousand) smooth and sooth the dreaded process of uprooting and moving to a foreign culture. Fortunately Lille’s gastronomic reputation has been firmly consolidated having received the title of European Capital of Culture 2004; consequently good coffee, sumptuous champagne bubbles and even delightful dining is well within the scope of the average student’s budget. However, Lille’s reputation as the gateway to Europe, due to its excellent transport links and new found importance as a culturally dominant hub of Europe have made the property market a somewhat ominous and tricky minefield which even the most seasoned city slicker can struggle to manipulate. Finding a property can prove somewhat difficult; however, like most things in life, if a little perseverance is applied you will undoubtedly reap the rewards in this alluring city.
The perfect crashpad
I arrived at Lille Flandres station a mere month ago laden with 2 heavy suitcases and a laptop bag wearing a massive duffle coat during an unexpected Indian heat wave at the beginning of October. Thankfully, having been on a house hunting mission in August, I’d already found a place to live. For the next 8 months I would be experiencing life in a colocation, sharing a home with a French school nurse, her twenty something kids, an Essex boy and a Chihuahua in Roubaix, a former industrial city in the Lille Metropole. Whilst many shy away from the idea of a house share in pursuit of a trendy city pad in easy reach of the trendy shops and beautiful cobbled ruelles of Vieux Lille, I have been pleasantly surprised at how easily I’ve grown accustomed to sharing a home with another family. Initially I scoured estate agents after estate agents throughout the city and poured over listings in every paper, magazine and window I could find. I found property hunting an arduous task and after 2 full days of searching I was happy to sign a lease with a pleasant landlady for a reasonable sum which included all bills etc. However, this mode de vie is certainly not to everyone’s taste and I can assure you that patience and a degree of ruthlessness in tracking down that perfect pad do pay off. A crucial point which has become blatantly apparent in recent weeks is that France is perhaps one of the most bureaucratic nations on earth so arrive with as much paperwork as possible to help appease the clip board yielding cheese monkeys on a mission that is your average French estate agent. I would highly recommend building a small portfolio of everything from copies of your passport to your parents’ pay slips (trust me it will help.) Furthermore, it’s a no brainer but if you would rather live in a trendier part of town and be surrounded by beautiful boutiques and bars, be prepared to part with more of your student loan or meagre assistant’s pay check to finance it.
Getting Around Lille
For those of you familiar with the London underground network, the initial excitement of seeing a small, efficient underground network WITHOUT barriers might encourage you to save a few euro and take the metro for free. In a word, DON’T! Ticket inspectors regularly and unexpectedly crowd forebodingly at the top of the metro exit waiting eagerly to roll out 30 euro fines to those who cheated the system. It’s much simpler (if much less fun and more expensive) to abide by the rules. Apply for a Carte Viva ahead of your move to Lille. You will need to submit a passport photo, stamp addressed envelope, a short form, a photocopy of your passport and an admin fee of 2 euro will entitle you to unlimited journeys on the tramway and tube and bus networks for the month for the princely sum of just 27 euro! Furthermore, do take advantage of living in this conveniently central city to explore France and other mainland European cities which interest you. Paris is a mere hour away by train so you really have no excuse not to further your travelling experiences! I recommend booking in advance to take advantage of cheaper offers to ensure you’re getting the best possible deals.
Arts, Culture and History in Lille
There are museums, operas, theatres and galleries aplenty to cultivate the mind and transform your average Anglophone from a disinterested cretin to a sophisticate with a keen eye for regal architecture and an increasingly profound knowledge of local wine lists. Some touristic points of interest might include the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille, located in central Lille and Musée de la Piscine, in nearby Roubaix, which offer visually stunning collections of historical artefacts. Furthermore, the collections are housed in magnificent architecturally alluring buildings which merit a visit in themselves alone! There is always a fine array of beautiful churches which symbolise the importance of France’s religious history and offer an insight into a variety of unique architectural styles.
In terms of shopping, there is pretty much everything you could possible desire within the maze of cobbled streets which lead of from the huge square and popular rendezvous point, La Grande Place. Just come with a wallet that’s full to bursting. Shopping isn’t cheap in this city, but the wide array of high street stores, many of which unique to France and great department stores such as Galeries Lafayette ensure that all tastes are catered for.
Rue Soleferino and the beautiful cobbled stretch of Vieux Lille are where the pulse of the city’s nightlife beats strongest. There are restaurants aplenty to satiate even the most voracious appetite and a wide selection of food raging from bog standard (yet refined) French cuisine to the quintessential and mighty kebab house! I highly recommend eating alfresco in Vieux Lille where the streets are lined with outdoor tables. In sipping a glass of vin rouge whilst watching the world go by, you are reminded that your year abroad is a cultural education as well as being significant for that future job application. Most restaurants have signs outside listing their meals and prices so I highly recommended pounding the pavement with vigour till you find a restaurant suitable for your taste buds and budget!
For partygoers there are a handful of great, energetic clubs in Lille with an eclectic mix of club classics and your standard modern club anthems which keep going to the break of dawn. Just bear in mind that the Lille metro is closed between 12.00 and 07:30 on Sunday mornings and between 12:00 and 05:30 so if you don’t live in a central location plan ahead and have a taxi booked in advance. Furthermore, the great British tradition of tucking into a drunken snack from the chip van centrally located outside the club is simply non-existent in Lille so have the fridge stocked for your ravenous 6am binge!
At this stage in my year abroad I am learning more and more about this cool and vibrant city. Overall I would have to say that my top tip is simply to explore, get a good feel of the city, suss out the places that appeal to you and walk your poor feet into the ground by exploring, people spotting and trying out your French on the locals.