What are Sundays for?
Shopping? Spending time with family and friends? Sleeping or something else?
Each country I have had a chance to spend time in seems to have somehow differing attitudes to the Seventh Day. In Bulgaria, where I am from, Sundays were for family get-togethers. In England, where I spent 14 years, Sundays seemed to be perfect for shopping and catching up with stuff to do around the house – from DIY projects to keeping the washing machine busy with a load or two. After ten months in Italy, I can tell you that our neighbours dedicated Sunday mornings to church and we dedicated Sunday afternoons to trips around Veneto.
So, now that we were travelling across France on our way from Italy to England, I was curious to see what the French got up to on Sundays.
The streets and squares around town were buzzing with people.
The atmosphere was relaxed though with whole families and large groups of friends enjoying the rays of sun over a light lunch, a drink or a tasty picnic.
The outside tables of cafes and bars were invariably busy.
We walked around for a little while, just taking it all in and loving the splendid architecture and the richly ornate buildings.
Then we asked for directions to Lille’s main square – La Grand Place – and for a few minutes walked through some small gently curving streets.
I loved looking up every now and then and glimpsing the splendid clock tower and the many mansard windows along the way.
The details on the Old Stock Exchange façade caught our eye.
Eager to see more, we walked through one of its arches…
… and found ourselves in a large patio where a vintage fair was taking place.
Stalls with bric-a-brac were set up in the shadow of the large arcades. I was drawn to the shelves bent beneath the weight of countless old books.
After leafing through some of the yellowing tomes, we walked out into the blazing sun and straight onto La Grand Place. An old gentleman was playing a chanson on his accordion making it all very atmospheric.
In the middle of the square a large fountain provided a bit of freshness in the hot and stifling air. In the middle of it stood up a long and proud pillar – the famous Column of the Goddess. This is the popular name given by the citizens of Lille to the Memorial of the Siege of 1792 when the Austrian army surrounded the city and bombarded it relentlessly for nine days before retreating defeated.
Right behind the Column of the Goddess stood the building housing the offices of the local newspaper – La Voix du Nord. I loved its triangular roof, which in architectural terms is called ‘a crow-stepped gable.’ No, I didn’t know that either and I found the term online. You have to admit that it sounds fab!
I had been to Lille once before on a Eurostar day trip from London. I had gone there with a friend seduced by the idea of spending only one day in France thanks to the very short train journey across the Channel.
While there my friend spent her whole time shopping and, feeling too shy to tell her that I, actually, wanted to go sightseeing, I traipsed round town with her going in and out of shops like there was no tomorrow. In the end we almost missed the return train back home, as she had insisted on popping into the local hypermarket at the last minute to stock on French cheeses.
The highlight of the day was a mussels and chips traditional local lunch, but my general feeling was that I had missed on so much.
Let’s say that since then I have grown wiser in terms of choosing the right travelling buddy, so this time, apart from going on a leisurely walk round Lille and observing the locals whilst they enjoyed their Sunday, we also squeezed in some sightseeing.
We visited Lille Cathedral and spent some quiet time in its cavernous insides taking in its beautiful stained glass windows, intricate mosaic floors and amazing altars.
Choir music was being played and listening to it a feeling of calmness and of being present came over me.
So, if you ask me now what are Sundays for in France, I will not hesitate to tell you that they are for enjoying the sun with your family and friends and indulge in a little spot of sightseeing.
In the afternoon we proceeded from Lille to Dunkirk – our last stop in France before crossing the Channel the morning after.
Having read for weeks about the unrest at Calais ferry port, I had asked my husband that we travel trough Dunkirk instead. Still, not knowing what to expect, my heart was tied in a little knot thinking about us boarding the ferry.
In a day or two I will tell you all about it how we crossed the English Channel, so check the blog soon to find out how it went.