So last week I returned from my first press trip ever. And it was in France!
I mean, come on! Isn’t that everybody’s dream. Riding on a French bicycle with garlands of onions strewn across, a beret on one’s head, and a basket of wine tucked away ready to be drunk next to that certain someone, on a French field, with French cows in the background.
Or is that just me!
OK. Cut to reality.
The Press Trip that I went on last week was completely awesome, and more than I ever imagined it would be.
I was sooooo anxious. Excited. But anxious.
I needn’t have worried.
In my last post, which you can find right here. I told you why I was picked to go to Northern France or Nord-Pas de Calais, and what the trip was all about. Basically, it was a way to introduce the delights of the Northern Region. I mean, everyone knows Paris, the French Rivera, Champagne, the Loire Valley, Brittany, and Normandy. I’ve been to many of these places but I had never been to Nord-Pas de Calais. I’d never even heard of this part of Northern France. I thought that I was going to Normandy. Ooops!
Suffice to say, in 3.5 days, I learnt a lot about Northern France and now it’s time for you to follow my footsteps and see what I discovered, and what you missed!
So let’s break it down.
10 (ten) reasons why Nord-Pas de Calais otherwise known as Northern France, is more than just stinky cheese and a paté made from goose!
1. Northern France is awfully near: In fact, you can take a plane, take a car, take the train, or take a bus. You can probably cycle too. It’s that close! On this press trip, we got to experience travelling by bus and travelling by train.
We had a 5:00 wake-up call (that was eeeugh!), and we took a long-distance bus or coach that took us through Germany, Belgium and France. Breakfast was provided by the Northern France team and free tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and water was also available whenever we wanted. This bus was privately hired for our group but on commercial buses you can also buy beer AND you CAN drink it and eat snacks on the bus, as long as you take your litter with you.
On the way back to Germany, we took the train. The Thalys train and in First Class. Wow! These guys want you to know that you don’t have to fly to France to have comfort, and guess what? They’re right. You don’t have to fly. Magnifique!
Hurrah for Europe!
2. Northern France is near the sea: If you’re looking for brisk walks in fresh air then this region is pretty good. The French Rivera it is not, but you can’t have everything! You can go sand yachting and experience local history by the port and harbour in Boulogne. In fact, we watched a film on the bus about what other French people think about Nord-Pas de Calais, quite frankly, they think it’s like England. Weather-wise.
And was it?
Pretty much. I was the only person who took off my jacket and strolled along in the wind and drizzly rain, whilst the French and German participants huddled under jumpers, scarfs, and water-proof jackets! Ah, dear old England! Ye olde Englande of yesteryears, of vinegar, fish and chips, and digestive biscuits and….
Oh sorry, we’re talking about France!
3. Yes, in Northern France you can go to a sort of seaworld place. French-style called Nausicaa or the National Sea Centre. We didn’t have a huge amount of time there but they have:
- 36,000 fresh water, land, and marine animals.
- 1,000 species in 4.5 million litres of water.
- 50 aquariums, large pools, and terrariums.
- More than 60 sharks.
- An oceanographic expedition.
- 6 Sea Lions.
It’s pretty good for underwater observations of sharks, huge fish, giant turtles, jellyfish, and seals. You know my feelings about responsible tourism, but as far as I could see, the seals seemed to be well looked after, and there was no painting, writing, or jumping through hoops of fire, or anything, but if you’ve got a few hours to kill. Why not?
4. It’s full of history: Northern France is definitely in France. France is in Europe. Europe is thousands of years old, so it’s absolutely chock-a-block with memorial sites, churches, stately homes, buildings, gardens, museums, markets, town squares and the like, with a rich and varied heritage. It’s true that a lot of them were destroyed in WWI but the Northern French people were determined to carry on regardless, and built most of it back again!
We were able to see some of these historical places. We went to an old town called Bethune or Béthune. In fact, it’s origins are celtic in nature and flourished due to clothing, trading, and coal. And it’s main glory? A UNESCO World Heritage property called The Belfry which we were lucky enough to go up in so that we could get really close to the bells and the clock, so that we could get panoramic views of the town from the roof! The Belfry was originally built during the Middle Ages and managed to survive.
Oh yeah, Bethune is also known for it’s history of giants. I’ve seen two (2) of them about 7 years ago passing through Berlin on the riverside. We all came out and were awfully impressed!
5. Northern France is actually Belgian! :Northern France has history with Belgium and although distinctly French, is enormously proud of it’s Flemish heritage. We visited a lovely little town called Arras which has a wealth of Flemish history, architecture, and lifestyle. We went to the Town Hall that is amazingly Gothic in style with wonderful Flemish buildings surrounding the Square. In fact, it reminded me of Krakow. In Poland!
We were also told that in the winter, the famous Grand’ Place holds a huge German-style Christmas Market with 70 stalls filled with French chefs, craftsmen, and choirs, catering to local goods and products. Consider the image of horses parading, soldiers clattering, and the glitter of a German Xmas Market. These German Christmas Markets are everywhere!
6. The First World War or The Great War: Northern France was heavily involved as the region is steeped in history and charged with emotion. During The Great War between 1914-1918, Northern France suffered and was practically razed to the ground. The region is surrounded by traces of WWI. More so, that The Great War is now 100 years old. Arras in particular was at the heart of the torment of the First World War and so we were shown the Wellington Quarry that was taken over by the British Army in the memorial of The Battle of Arras on the 9th of April, in 1917…. We were shown the scarred countryside in Arras and Cambrai, and the many cemeteries and memorials necessary and important to keep alive the awfulness, and utter wretchedness, of war.
Visiting the cemeteries of The Fallen in the British, Canadian, French, and German sites was painful. I found that I was more emotionally affected than I expected, surrounded by the silence of trenches, gunshots and screams of an utterly, bloody war. It brought home to me how many young men, women, and children, were really involved and died for the cause of a “Great War.” Nobody could even imagine that less than 20 years later, an even more horrific war would take place, yet again.
7. Traditional Art and Culture: Northern France has a clothing, trading, and coal background. Located at the heart of a coal-pit is one of the world’s largest museums – The Louvre-Lens Museum. Yes, the sister of that most marvellous French icon – The Louvre! This museum only opened in 2012 and in a contemporary building of glass and light, has now become a must-see attraction so of course, we went along too. You know how I like to go to museums as I like old art. I was salivating when I heard that we would get to see “the other Louvre.” However, The Louvre-Lens Museums goes through a lot of effort to let you know that it isn’t THE Louvre but “another Louvre” with pieces that have never ever seen the light of day. I was so excited! The Museum is free (except for temporary exhibitions) until the end of 2014, so go now!
Another museum to note is The Museum Matisee in Cambrai. Founded by Matisee himself. It’s recognised throughout Northern France for the quality of it’s collections, and it’s exceptional works by major modern artists.
8. French food and drink: OMG! The nosh and booze of Northern France is glorious to behold. I mean, it’s French! Forget your supermarket croissants, and your cheap hams and salamis. On this press trip we were sooooo looked after. This is what we had:
- Networking glasses of French beer, a blue and green non-alcoholic drink of some sort, and slices of French flan.
- The first night was a buffet and I was so hungry, and everything was so new, that I just gobbled everything up and didn’t take any photos at all! I remember that we had crepes with meat sauce, crispy potato balls, white fish in parsley sauce, ratatouille (of course!), rice, beef bourguignon (how French!), soup with Croûtons, a variety of salads, baguette, butter (thank goodness!), ice-cream, white chocolate mousse, crème brûlée, fruit salad and red and white French wine. This was while we were still in Cologne LOL!
- Our 5 a.m. breakfast was a white paper bag of goodies filled with a huge croissant, an apple, a pear, a chocolate wafer, a carton of iced lemon tea, a bottle of water, and as much tea, coffee, or hot chocolate, as we wanted!
- Our lunch in Boulogne was at the Nausicca restaurant and I had….Well, you can see what I had. Chicken! For dessert, we had that lovely crème brûlée which I put on my previous post!
- During our afternoon walking tour we went into an underground cave in the Wellington Quarry and we had a tasting session of trays of Nord-Pas de Calais regional cheese with slices of baguette, and a wide variety of French beer ranging from white beer, dark beer to Rhubarb beer. Yes, rhubarb beer. That was my favourite! Nobody bothered with the juice that was on offer, and the beers went down pretty well I can tell you!
- Our dinner at the Amarine Restaurant was predominantly seafood so I had white fish, creamy mashed potatoes with bread-sticks stuck in, and sliced carrots covered with parsley.
- Dessert was some sort of ice-cream pudding with raspberry dribble, chocolate sticks, and crushed biscuit at the bottom of the glass. So yum!
- Breakfast at all our hotels were fully continental in style and some even had bacon and sausages too. I was very pleased!
- Lunch in Lens was at Le Pain de La Bouche. It was a really lovely place and one of my favourites as it was packed with French people. Always a good sign LOL! I had rabbit (I think), pork, chicory, and roast potatoes, and a type of pudding covered with biscuit crumble.
- I had a bit of a scare as somebody said they thought there were hazelnuts in the pudding. I went pale and almost had a panic attack as I had already taken a spoonful. After investigating the chef, the manager, the waiter, and the organisers, they all assured me that there were no nuts in my dessert. Phew!
- In Lille, we went to a restaurant called the Basillic Cafe. We were very tired as we were 1.5 hours late due to an incident on the motorway. We had baskets of crunchy bread, thinly sliced ham, pickled baby onions and cucumbers and bizarrely, spring rolls with sweet-sour sauce! I also had lamb chops with creamy mashed potatoes and a lovely buttery sauce, and after much deliberation I had lemon cheese cake.
9. Yes. Lille!
I. Loved. It!
I loved the fact that the Northern France city of Lille is young, vibrant, bold, innovative, exciting, re-inventing itself, and yet able to retain it’s traditional French flair and exceptional heritage.
I can’t begin to describe the old town with it’s charming cobbled streets that make Europe so lovely, the hidden little squares, the architecture and history of it’s colourful buildings, it’s slim buildings with a flair for drama, it’s festivals of culture, music and art, it’s avant-garde buildings, and wealthy Flemish houses. The richly endowed streets overflowing with boutique shops, French knickers and bodices in respectable front windows, Haute couture, and rudely delightful French cakes and pastries.
10. Because Nord-Pas de Calais otherwise known as, Northern France is worth it. If you’re in France, Germany, Belgium, or in the UK, go visit.
I didn’t want to leave. In fact, I want to go to Northern France again. Hint! Hint!
WERE WE OVERWHELMED BY CRUSTY FRENCH BREAD AND FRENCH RHUBARB BEER?
WHAT IF NORTHERN FRANCE ISN’T MY CUP OF TEA?
Keep reading my blog. There is more to come!
This article is not sponsored and even though I was invited on this trip as a guest of Atout France Deutschland, Comité Régional de Tourisme Nord-Pas de Calais, and Hotels Indépendents Francais, all opinions and the stinky cheese and paté made from goose, that I had for breakfast, are my very own!
I have so much to share with you so I will be returning to our adventures in Indonesia, and Qatar, in November.
Next week, I will be writing about the Eat-the-world food Kreuzberg walking tour that I went to yesterday! Enticing!
In October, I will be writing about the British National Theatre LIVE production. The next production coming up at Cinestar Berlin – Original is:
Skylight on: 30.10.14.
Frankenstein – Original Cast on: 13.11.14.
Frankenstein – Reversed Cast on: 27.11.14.
DANIEL SLOSS – Live! with very special guest Jack Woodhead – is going to take place on 21.10.14 at the Quatsch Comedy Club in Berlin.
In October & November, Berlin will be celebrating and marking the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall.
Following a smash-hit tour of the UK and Ireland, LET IT BE will descend on Berlin with a six (6) day exclusive showing of a celebration of The Beatles from 11.11.14 – 16.11.14 at the Admirals Palast.
October is going to be smashing!
Would you go to Northern France on a break? Have you ever seen giants? Do you like French food?
See you in Berlin.
If you like this post.
Share it! Tweet it! Like it!