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Part 3 of the SameSky Christmas trips: Lille, northern France

Right now I’m in Lille station, with way too much time before my train departs, but that’s OK. I’ve seen all I want to see here (love it!), and as long as I have my laptop, wifi, good coffee, I’d be happy anywhere!

So, a chance to reflect on my time here, especially in Lille. In my state of post-covid fatigue, I really fancied just heading home, but was really glad that I continued with Plan A – to visit Lille. It feels like I’m practically home anyway; the main reason for choosing this city is its location: just 1 hour 20 mins from St Pancras.

I woke up yesterday morning (in the low-rent city-centre hostel) to shots being fired, or that's what I thought. As it turned out, it was just someone opening their rusty old garage door, right next door. In ten quick seconds I went from “Oh, maybe this isn’t the best city to bring my well-heeled Berkshire students” to “Silly me!”

 Down to breakfast on the stroke of 8am, and I planned to sit and graze until it shut at 11, to get my 12 euros’ worth. That’s my Scottish blood!

Gradually others joined me in the dining room. They were all of a similar age: very young! ...and demeanour: nervous! In fact they looked so nervous that they were not even talking to each other, let alone eating. I had a moment of panic that I’d committed a huge faux pas, having already made some hefty inroads into the all-you-can-eat, but then the hostel receptionist came in and asked who was here for the “Tour Feule”. That’s what it sounded like anyway.


Everyone else stood up and filed out through a door I hadn’t previously noticed, looking even more nervy, making me wonder what on earth kind of "tour" a “feule” might be.

Could it be the local dialect way of pronouncing “folle” (crazy), but then “tour” in that sense* is a masculine word, so that can’t be it.

Did I mishear him saying “Tour* Eiffel”? Vaguely plausible, but what on earth does that have to do with a bunch of young adults in Lille?


In the end I had to ask. All became clear when the most clean-cut looking of the teenagers (yes, they all look even younger now) pronounced it more carefully for me, with a knowing smile: TOEFL – an English language exam for anyone who wants to study abroad. The hostel has a conference room that they use as an examination centre


*Le tour de France

La tour Eiffel.

Same word, different gender, depending on meaning


Right now I’m sitting in Lille station, with way too much time before my train departs, but that’s OK. I’ve seen all I want to see here (love it!), and as long as I have my laptop, wifi, good coffee, I’d be happy anywhere!

So, a chance to catch up quickly…


So, thanks again for the birthday wishes. Despite it being the first time in all my 54 years to be on my Jack Jones for the 23rd, that soon faded into the background of what became a wonderfully memorable day.

Exploring new cities (even on my own) is one of my great pleasures, as long as I have plenty of time and have remembered to wear appropriate clothing and footwear, and most importantly, as long as I have a specific reason for being there. All the boxes were ticked yesterday and so I set off with a checklist of sights to see.

As well as being struck by the architecture – there are little delights around every corner – Lille has the X Factor of just feeling warm, at least in the figurative sense of the word. I thanked my 8am self for deciding on the extra layer!

I won’t bore you with too many details, but fast-forward to the evening. By lucky chance, my trip coincided with a Christmas concert at Lille’s magnificent cathedral “Notre Dame de la Treille” (pron: “tray”).

The setting was stunning. The lighting was beautifully designed, with tastefully chosen colours for different parts of the building. They even had an array of patio heaters, which at first irked my green-leaning sensibilities, but I had to admit that we would all have been shivering wrecks without them.

And then the music started. The information on the poster had been patchy, or maybe I had missed something, but I wasn’t even sure whether it was going to be a congregational belt-along, or a performance. As it turned out, definitely the latter! The foremost place of worship in one of France’s most historic cities, it was always going to be bravissimo stuff, and from the opening strains of Healey Wilan’s 'Hodie Christus', it was clear we were in for a treat. Even the cramped pew space didn’t detract from the enjoyment, and by the end of the ninety minutes running time, I didn’t want it to end! Having said that, as the warm applause was starting to die down, I took that as my cue to stand up and stretch my stiff legs… inadvertently initiating a standing ovation, which went on for another 2 minutes.

I’m now conscious that I haven’t really told you very much detail about Lille itself, and what you can expect to see if/when you sign up for the trip. Please let me know if you’d like to be included on that mailing list, and we can talk in more detail…

in the meantime, it is always possible to sign up for language-learning courses. We are gradually expanding our team to include native-speaker experts, who are well set up to take higher-level group classes, or individual students of whatever level.

Please let me know if you would like to find out more about joining a group, by using the contact form here.


My kind of town


Best wishes for the Christmas and New Year season


Andrew Wenger

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