28 July 2017

I couldn't possibly go to Paris AGAIN.

Full moon from Lille
The French school year is more of a year-round calendar than anything else with two-week breaks scattered throughout, so public schools are typically let out during the first week in July.  Universities finish earlier, depending on the program of studies; my last week of teaching was mid-June and I submitted the last of my students' exam grades during the first week of July.  Paperwork-free, I put my feet up for some relaxation in the north of France.

Summer is not my favorite time to go on major travels in Europe: prices skyrocket as the French scatter to the south and to other countries in July and August; the weather can get unbearably hot; and exploring new cities while swimming through floods of tourists is not my first choice.  Finally enjoying nice weather in Lille was a rare and refreshing experience; the 4th of July was spent on a terrace in Roubaix with some fellow American expats cooking out and playing cards.

Later that week, I went with Dana and Rashida on a small adventure in Lille's own backyard.  Dana had come across the cute small town of Wambrechies located just north on the canal of the Deûle, so we decided to check it out on a Sunday afternoon.  It takes about two hours to walk there, but we cut down on the time by taking city bikes halfway and walking the remainder.

We enjoyed the sunny afternoon sipping sangria on a bar boat, perusing the small artisan market along the canal, and visiting the church.  (Apparently you can also take a boat from the Lille Citadelle to Wambrechies and visit its gin distillery.)  On our way back, we found an old tram in business for the tourist season - you can flag them down, hop on anywhere, and ride up and down a portion of the canal near Wambrechies for 5€.

Montmartre art
There were a couple of events to celebrate the following weekend: one was, of course, le 14 juillet, France's equivalent of Independence Day.  Also, the 13th of July marked ten years since I landed in Paris for the first time as a tourist and new high school graduate.  I hadn't been back to Paris since for the 14th celebrations and decided it would be a fitting time to finally go back to the concert and fireworks at the Eiffel Tower, a longtime bucket list item.

Sinking house
I spent my first day in Montmartre, picnicking and enjoying the artists and street musicians near Sacré Cœur.  I believe this harp player has kept his spot on the steps of the basilica for several years; I have photos of him from my study abroad days.  Walking around to the left side steps of Sacré Cœur, I was tickled to find my all-time favorite street musicians again for the first time in three years (way back here, the September 19th, 2014 video) in the same exact spot; I had searched online but never figured out who they were.  It turns out, they're a trio called Presteej, and you can find their music online.  Here and here and a couple of clips from their street performance.  To top it off, I finally found and captured the infamous "sinking house" optical illusion in Montmartre.  I won't spoil it in case you'd like to go hunt it down yourself!

On my long walk down to the 7th arrondissement, I was less than thrilled to run smack dab into the Trump/Macron party getting off of their Seine boat tour.  I joined a throng of French people leaning off a bridge, all hoping to catch a glimpse of Macron, but he'd already climbed into a van; I did get the picture to the left of the motorcade and of Brigitte Macron on the right in white staying behind to wave to all of us on the bridge.

Place de la République
Once I'd moved on and gotten settled on the Champ de Mars for a picnic dinner, it was all worth it as the Orchestre Nationale de France was running the dress rehearsal and sound check for their 14 juillet concert.

On the 14th, I thought it might be appropriate to visit la Place de la République, the city square commonly used for protests; I'd never crossed it before but it wasn't far from my hostel.  I didn't make it over to the Champs-Elysées for the parade, but did arrive at the Louvre in time to see helicopters and other military aircraft fly over.
I got to the Champ de Mars around 3pm to try to get a good spot for that evening's concert and fireworks show.  Security was supposed to open up the grassy area around 4pm; we all stood shoulder to shoulder in a giant mob for not one but over two hours (and endured what I thought was going to be the next French revolution sparked by the impatient crowd) until they finally took down the gates and allowed people to flood in.  I was able to snag a small bit of grass to sit on fairly close up.  Hopefully you're not tired of music clips, because I've got more from that evening's incredible concert:  Bonne nuit by Kabalevsky, Chariots of Fire, and the beginning and end of Ravel's orchestral version of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, final movement.  I haven't heard a concert like that in a long time; if you're in the mood to kick back and watch all two hours, complete with a full Parisian sunset, it's all here.

Medieval structure of Vincennes
The following morning, I needed some time and breathing room away from crowds of people, so I took the Métro ligne 1 all the way to the end, just outside of the center of Paris, where you'll find le Château de Vincennes, a quaint castle with layers upon layers of history.  The original castle was built in the 1100s by Louis VII and used as a hunting lodge; there is still a large wooded area nearby.
Pavilion of the Queen
Additions were made by later kings; pavilions were built for Louis XIV and his mother, Anne of Austria.  A chapel, built in the 16th century, is normally probably the most eye-appealing part of the visit, but was under heavy construction and scaffolding when I was there.  The castle saw its fair share of prisoners over time, some brutally treated while others were even allowed to keep pets.  It was used as prison up until the revolution, stormed by Lafayette after the fall of the Bastille.

After a good night's sleep back at home in Lille, thinking my Paris adventures were over for awhile, I got a message from a friend who lives back in the Vendée - he was on his way to Paris with an extra ticket to the Coldplay concert at the Stade de France that evening, and did I want to go?  An hour later, I was back on the road to Paris to meet up and continue an already very musical weekend.  The concert was so worth it - do go see Coldplay live if you ever get a chance: A Sky Full of Stars.  Plus, it was my first time visiting the Stade de France - while I know next to nothing about soccer, I can attest that it's a fantastic concert venue!

The following weekend turned out to be another busy time in Lille.  As we get into full vacation swing and people begin leaving for the summer holiday, Lille has been slowly but surely emptying out (leaving a swarm of British tourists in the city center).  One of my roommates, Dimitri, is moving out of our house at the end of July, so we went out to le Vieux Basque for drinks and meat and cheese planches for a little send-off.

The next day, Matthew arrived in Lille for the weekend - he's a friend from high school who is currently living in Quedlinburg, Germany.  It was great to catch up; we had a relaxing weekend on the whole, trying cuisine specialties of northern France and exploring le Vieux Lille.  On Sunday, we braved the massive outdoor Wazemmes market, bought baguettes and way too much cheese, and enjoyed a sunny afternoon oh-so-French cheese-tasting picnic at the Citadelle.

That was July tied up in a neat little package.  On one last musical note, here is a taste of Chicago right in the center of Lille.

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