The next day, of course, it rained. Nonetheless, intrepid explorers that we are, we decided to go out and See The Sights. Well, see Roubaix, anyway. Roubaix is part of the Lille Metropolitan area, and whilst a town in its own right, acts a bit like a suburb of Lille itself. (I can't imagine living there and never visiting the big city, though I'm sure there are those that do.) It's on a metro line from Lille, so off we went.
It's not the prettiest town in the world. Not without its charms, to be sure - though the cafe we stopped in wasn't really one of them. Possibly the only place left in France where people are allowed to smoke inside (fine enforcement clearly isn't a priority in Roubaix), and run by a very nice woman who nonetheless looked like a meth addict. Still, they served coffee, which was all we needed. They even served it twice, when I knocked the first lot all over the table, the floor, and myself. Who knew there was so much liquid in an expresso?
The Mairie is a very imposing building, looming above the square where the metro stops
We walked, in the rain, around Roubaix. Roubaix is famous for its art galleries and textile heritage, and it is the site of not one, but two outlet villages for buying designer clothes cheaply. It also has a museum in the site of an old workers' swimming pool - water has been left in - which has a glorious stained glass window.
You can see it from the outside here - but sadly, it was closed when we went, so no photos from the inside. (People finding this post through Google, you may wish to note that La Piscine museum in Roubaix is only open in the afternoon.) We'll go back one day...
The sticky labels left by visitors outside formed a pretty collage:
This was spray painted onto a wall near the museum, and appears to be the last photo I took that day. This is presumably because the rain got much worse as the day went on.
We did call in at the outlet village to see if there was anything we wanted to buy - aside from a new pair of jeans that I needed, there wasn't. Disappointing. The rain was getting heavier at this point, so we decided to call it a day and get the tram back to Lille for lunch.
By the time we arrived in Lille, the rain was horrendous. We walked around getting soaked while we found somewhere to eat - we ended up at the lovely Arriere Pays, which serve a huge variety of tartines (open-faced sandwiches, I think they might be called elsewhere), and salted-butter caramel crepes. Which were awesome. Paul, in a fit of insanity, decided to try the local liqueur, genievre. There is a reason that this particular drink hasn't achieved national or international success; it's fucking horrendous. Tastes like anti-freeze, on a good day. I'm unconvinced that you could mix it with anything that would disguise the horror that is this drink. Don't be fooled by its harmless appearance, it is Evil Incarnate.
Having managed to survive the horror, we went back to the hotel to drink champagne and wait for the rain to stop.
The rain, being Lille, steadfastly refused to stop. So we bravely set out, regardless. We sheltered in The Northern Ferret (Le Furet du Nord, I think it sounds better in English) and bought a couple of DVDs and a notebook. We also saw some fine examples of Northern cookbooks (30 ways to cook with carambars, 30 recipes featuring biscuits...)
Following this, we traipsed through the rain til we found somewhere for dinner. It was an estaminet, a traditional Northern French/Belgian cafe, basically, which definitely played up the traditional aspect. It served all sorts of iconic Northern French food, mostly featuring marouilles, beer, or a combination of the two. I had Welsh, which is cheese on toast with beer, cheese and cream. And chips, obviously. (I managed about a quarter of it before feeling like I might die.) Paul had carbonnade, which is meat in a beer stew sauce thing (which was much nicer than my cheesey heart-attack on a plate).
It is, however, in desserts that the North really came into its own. Despite the rain, we both decided on icecreams - a unique combination of speculoos/chicoree/condensed milk flavours for me, and a similarly unusual licorice/carambar/glacier mint (Betisse de Cambrai) mix for Paul (his came with sweeties on top. Still slightly jealous.) There was a pleasing variety of speculoos flavoured options - not only speculoos icecream (which haagen daas also sell, by the way - awesome in a box), but speculoos mousse, and speculoos creme brulee (which I very, very nearly went for). There is also a speculoos flavoured liqueur, which in my mind is sort of like speculoos flavoured baileys - how amazing would that be? You can apparently buy it online. (Speculoos, for those foreign people who haven't had the pleasure, is originally a biscuit - kind of a mix between ginger and cinnamon flavoured. It is brilliant. Often served with coffees here. I think it's Belgian.)
After this, we rolled back to the hotel, through the rain that hadn't let up at all. My clothes still hadn't dried by the time we left Lille the next day.
Day 3 continues in another post...