Voyage au Nord

At the end of January, I packed a weekend bag, got up early on a Saturday, and hopped on a train from the Gare du Nord to le département du Nord. My destination was the town of Valenciennes, the temporary home of my francophile partner in crime, Anne, as well as her lovely housemates and fellow bloggers Dana and Laura.

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Hôtel de Ville, Valenciennes

As its name suggests, le Nord is France’s northernmost department. It also touches Belgium, which makes it the perfect place to feast your eyes on Flemish architecture and to treat your taste buds to gauffres (a.k.a. waffles) and Belgian beer.

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Unsurprisingly, le Nord in winter is le cold. As snow-dotted landscapes blurred past my window on the TGV, I was glad I’d brought along wools sweaters, tights, and socks as well as a hat, gloves, a scarf, boots, and a warm coat.

Though the weather was glacial, my hosts were extremely chaleureuses. Meeting Dana and Laura was wonderful—and also mildly surreal—because we felt like we all already knew each other, because in a way we did. This was partly because we’d long been stalking each other’s blogs, and partly because there’s a sort of strangely magical instant bond that forms between people who have shared a common experience—in our case living and teaching in France. And people who build new lives and thus a significant part of their identity abroad often share a certain sense of openness and inquisitiveness about the world and a desire to meet and genuinely connect with others.

Saturday was spent wandering around Valenciennes, making and then eating tartiflette (probably my favorite wintertime French dish: potatoes, reblochon, lardons, onions, and white wine all baked together into a hot, carb-y, cheesy masterpiece), and going out with a bunch of Anne’s assistant/lecteur friends.

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Wandering around Valenciennes with my indefatigable tour guide, Anne.

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Sunday we slept late and then hopped on the train to Lille to cure our lingering hangovers with lunch (I had moules marinières au maroilles a.k.a steamed mussels drowned in a delicious cheese sauce—another Nord specialty) and some exploring.

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Place du Général-de-Gaulle, Lille

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La Vieille Bourse and its marché aux livres

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Musty old leather-bound books are my weakness.

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15th-century cobblestones (left) juxtaposed with their modern counterparts (right).

Before I knew it, my short trip was over and I was back on the train to Paris (and doing my homework #procrastination).

Being so warmly—if only briefly—welcomed into Anne’s TAPIF life dans le Nord made me want to go back for another visit (but maybe not in the dead of winter). It also made me extremely nostalgic for my time in le Gers, and especially for the tight-knit community of expats friends I had there.

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8 comments

  1. Loved this!! Miss you so much fille! Also I am on the train home and the thought of gauffres and tartiflette right now is making me sooooo hungry haha x

    1. I miss you too! When are you coming to visit? Or we could go on another of our amazing travel adventures.

  2. Looooove to you and this!!

  3. Wow, this is great! (I think Flemish architecture is similar to Dutch architecture; that square looks a lot like I remember the square in Harlem, the Netherlands, for example. Such fond memories….) I’m wondering whether you bought any of those old books.

    1. The architecture had me remembering Amsterdam’s, and when I googled “Flemish architecture,” Wikipedia told me that it may refer to the architecture of Belgium or the Netherlands.

      I (shockingly) didn’t buy any of the old books. I spent a long time pondering old maps, and then once I’d decided on one, didn’t like the price when I asked the merchant—15 euros for a mungy piece of paper…

  4. it was such a joy to meet you in person! please come back soon, before anne leaves, and then come visit in Lille (and maybe, hopefully, anne will be in france too 😀 )

    1. Dana, I will definitely take you up on those offers!

  5. Sounds like a fantastic, albeit short, trip. I’ll be in that part of the world real soon (look out Gondecourt!) and am looking forward to a similar weekend! Glad you enjoyed.

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