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.
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.
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.
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.
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.