Lille - Lens; Back in the saddle again


It feels good to be out on the road again. The past five days in Lille were fine and I had a good time with the people I met at the Oz, but with this pace I will never make it. In the Netherlands we have a saying that 'fish and guests both stay fresh for three days max'. I stayed two nights with Aaron and Louise and three at Colm's. Now I won't say I was starting to smell, but it was time to go.

As is often the case the first few kilometres to get out of town are not very interesting. Suburbs are often not much to look at. When the inhabitants are rich, the houses are mostly surrounded by high fences and, unless they are old mansions, often of questionable architecture. When poor, like in the southern part of Lille, they are built besides old or abandoned industries, with their garbage put outside on display.To get away from the traffic finding a river to follow is a good solution. La Deule passes through Lille and brings me almost all the way to Lens. It is no disappointment as it is quiet and birds are flying all around.

Lens is an old mining town of which the artificial black coal hills of up to three-hundred metres still testify. Since coal was substituted by gas to warm houses the mining companies went out of business. A lot of people in Lens lost their jobs. The consequence can be seen in every mining town alike. Just one block from the main street signs on abandoned houses warn for danger of collapsing. It is clear that Lens was never a rich city, but today it is still struggling to find other means for it's inhabitants to make a living.

Pierre, one of my hosts this evening, explains that some of the remains of the once so important mining industry are now put to other use. The black coal mountains are the highest lookouts in the province of Pas-de-Calais and are preserved for tourists. Some of the tunnels are turned into theaters. Although the weather isn't very inviting I am sorry that I don't have the time to climb one of them. It is clear that Pierre is proud of his city's history. His grandfather used to work in the mines and I am sure Pierre would make a great guide if we would have the time to walk around.

Pierre is a nurse in Lille and offers me some advise for my left leg, the newest injury that has been bothering me for two days now. I wonder when my body will finally get used to the walking. Pierre leaves me at the computer because he has a soccer match to play with some friends. He apologises but I am glad that I have some time to find some places to sleep for the coming days. He returns with two team mates and a couple of burgers. I get a big burger with unions, the 'Love burger' I am told. Well, I'm loving it. At twelve it is time for bed. Tomorrow I am going to visit the Canadian World War I monument in Vimy. Pierre assures me it is worth the detour. After that it is on to Arras.

Wijnand Boon