Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Lille, June 24-July 1

After lightening our bank account with 400 liters of diesel at the Captain Neptunia fuel barge in Wervick, off we went for France. The French/Belgian border follows the river for several kilometers so it wasn’t until a little after noon that we officially entered French territory. Our first stop would be Lille, the largest city in northern France. We had been told that the mooring facilities in the city were not the greatest so we decided to stay in the northern suburb of Wambrechies which has a nice halte along the busy commercial canal. As it turned out, there is a marina in Lille but we don’t like marinas much and they usually don’t like us because we’re pretty heavy for their pontoons. There is a very nice tie up just above the Grande Carre lock in a park that we might use if we come back. 
About 1:30 pm we rounded the corner into the very small space and tied up just next to the Ginguette de la Marine, one of thousands of similarly named establishments in France. A sort of waterside bar/restaurant that typically features music, this one dispensed with the music and stuck to the drinks and food. Luckily for us, it shut down around 11 pm and the crowd wasn’t really rowdy so we weren’t disturbed…much. We could have moored out on the main canal but with the large barges going by the wash put a pretty big strain on the lines. We decided inside was better.
A gentleman with his child in his arms watched us tie up and noticed our US and California flags. He took an opportunity to practice his English and when we learned he was a local, we were able to find out how to properly pronounce the name of the town. VOM-bruh-shees, we learned.

The Wambrechies halte is in an old disused lock.

The Wambrechies Marie (city hall) is pretty elaborate!

A very nice suburb, there was a boulangerie, butcher and greengrocer within a couple of hundred feet, a big grocery store a 5 minute bike ride away and the stop for the frequent bus to central Lille was about 2 minutes walk away.  The village is also features a distillery that produces genever (gin) and a very fine 8 year old single malt. We tasted and immediately bought a bottle of the whisky. The marina offered a deal for a weeks stay so we signed up.
Sunday we took care of some chores and then Monday morning took the 15 minute bus ride into the city.
After our usual first stop at the tourist office to pick up a city map and an armload of brochures, off we went.
The first mention of Lille in the French archives was a charter of 1066 and the city became one of the capital cities of the State of Burgundy, which acquired Flanders by the marriage of Marguerite of Flanders and Charles the Bold, in the mid 1300’s. Hapsburg and Spanish rule followed, all the results of royal marriages. Claiming his right to Flanders after marrying the Spanish Maria-Theresa, Louis XIV captured Lille in 1667 and it became part of France, but the Flemish influences are still everywhere.
One of our first walks took us around the old city, Vielle Lille, With the old belfry and the major squares, Place Rihour and Place General de Gaulle or the Grand Place. De Gaulle was born in Lille in 1890.

The old belfry.

Buildings on the Grand Place.

We also visited the  Cathedral Notre-Dame de la Trille. Building began in 1854 in true gothic style but the facade with it’s unusual rose window wasn’t completed until 1990.

The facade with it’s translucent marble skin supported by wires. 
It’s beautiful with the light shining through.

Wednesday it was time to climb the new, 104 meter tall belfry for a panoramic look at the city. It was built between 1924 and 1932 as part of the new town hall after the old one burned down in 1916.

From the top is a great view of the Port du Paris, built in honor of Louis XIV for his victory in 1667.

There’s also great views of Euralille, a late 20th century melding of housing, commerce and two railway stations, the Gare Lille-Europe TGV station and the Gare Lille-Flanders, which was originally Paris Gare du Nord, brought here brick-by-brick in 1865. The district features works of world renowned architects Rem Koolhaus, Jean Nouvel and Christian de Portzamparc.

These building on the left has been nicknamed “Ski boot” or “Pinball Machine”.

It was really nice to visit a large vibrant city. Lots of cafes and shops, a varied architecture and plenty of culture.

Three days in the city sandwiched around boat chores and shopping; by Saturday we were ready to be off further into France.

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