Last week I got two very exciting invitations for press trips to Europe. The first was for the Eurostar Explorer Train, which would take me to one of six cities in either Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, or France. The second was for a business class flight to Berlin to celebrate the launch of an airline’s fifth daily flight from Heathrow to Berlin Tegel Airport.
The only problem was that the trips took place on the exact same dates. I was devastated to have to choose between the two. In the end I chose the Eurostar Explorer Train because they had asked me first and I had already said yes by the time I received the other invitation. It was an added bonus that they gave me two tickets so that I could bring my boyfriend.
At first I was under the impression that I would get to choose my destination. I put the question out to my friends on Facebook, and most respondents voted for Avignon. I was leaning toward that city anyway, as it and Cologne were the only two on the list that I had not yet visited. However, it turned out that Eurostar chose for me. They must have been mind readers, because they chose Avignon too.
The second added bonus was that my boyfriend and I won a camera by being the first ones in the Avignon group to fill out a Eurostar-themed crossword puzzle on the train. Not a bad way to start off the trip!
The third added bonus was that the train journey to Avignon involved a two-and-a-half hour layover in Lille, another city that I had yet to visit. When the train pulled into the Lille Europe station, my boyfriend and I quickly found the left luggage office, dropped off our bags, and set off to discover the city.
I’m not very girly, but the only analogy I could think of for Lille was my childhood jewelry box. On my fifth birthday I opened a present to find a white wooden box inside. The exterior of the box, with a few paisley designs, was nothing special. But the interior was all pink and gold and mirrors and ballerinas. It was magical.
So was Lille. When we first stepped out of the train station, we found ourselves in the midst of a business district. Boxy towers stood side by side with the Crowne Plaza hotel, which was followed by a giant shopping center. It was the plain exterior.
A short walk from the station brought us to the old town. This was the sparkling interior. Rue de la Monnaie alone was enough to evoke the pink, gold, and mirrors of my childhood with its fuchsia Antoine et Lili shop. The rest of the street was full of boutiques, wine bars, and restaurants that I could have spent days exploring.
Unfortunately I didn’t have days. With only two hours to see the city, my boyfriend and I had to hurry. Of course, ‘hurry’ in our terms meant eating quickly.
We first found ourselves a waffle at a cute shop called Honey & Pie. Then we made our way to a boulangerie-patisserie called Aux Merveilleux de Fred, where we purchased a loaf of sugar and raisin bread. Across the street was Le Barbier Lillois, a chic deli-butcher where we picked up some snacks and a bottle of wine for the TGV train from Lille to Avignon.
Moving on, we made our way to the main square. There we saw the stunning chamber of commerce tower and other beautiful buildings that were reminiscent of the Grand Place in Brussels and the main square in Antwerp.
By then it was time to head back to the Lille Europe train station. We said our good-byes to the historic city center and closed the lid on the jewel box we had discovered en route to Avignon. As we made our way back to the station, we strained our eyes to see the last of the magical interior until the lid was shut.
Back on the Eurostar Explorer Train, we hoped that Avignon would prove as jewel-box pretty as Lille. To be continued…