The weekend after Christmas, Will and I packed a small duffle bag into his car and drove two hours north of Paris to Lille ("Leel-eh"), a small city on the border of Belgium.
After two hours of driving past fields after fields of lush green farmland, we finally entered the northern French city. As we drove through the outskirts towards the town center, concrete roads and modern cement buildings slowly transformed into cobble-stoned pathways and grand, intricately carved stone architecture.
There was something distinctive about these buildings that made Lille feel so different from other French cities. Perhaps it was the enduring small-town feel despite the city's extraordinary growth over the last two centuries, or maybe it was the distinctive windows and yellow-beige-orangy-red color scheme reminiscent of its Belgium traditions.
But Lille had also been the site of many wars, and the remnants of the Citadel served as ghostly reminders. Walls within walls, the Citadel was constructed in a star-like design such that no wall could be approached without being under attack by a neighboring wall. Genius, right?
In December, Lille was full of Christmas festivities with decorations on every street. We walked past delicious boulangeries, filled with baguettes and other freshly baked delicacies.
And of course, there were the patisseries with delightful sweets in various colors and shapes.
But my favorite part of Lille was undoubtedly the boutiques. From art to furniture, hand bags to clothing, chocolates to stationary, tea salons to jewelry, you could find a specialized store for anything and everything.
There was even a shop that sold only paper lamps and another that sold just paper. Products were so cleverly designed with such superb quality that I was tempted to buy up everything (if only we had an apartment *wink*).
The possibilities were endless.
At night fall, we left the town center, and after two roundabouts (the French love roundabouts), we drove down a dark alleyway, at the end of which stood a beautiful castle.
Le Chateau des Ormes, having once been a private retreat for the city's wealthy after the World Wars, was purchased and renovated by the owner and her husband in 2004. Since 2006, hundreds of visitors around the world have stayed in one of their five distinctively themed bedrooms. Charming would be the one word to describe this extraordinary home.
After settling in at 7pm, we huddled around the fireplace for a welcome drink with red wine and cheese. We met an older grey-haired couple from Brussels and chatted about the history of the castle, the world wars, the city's relationship with Belgium, as well as stories of our travels around the world.
until next time ;)