Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

French Flanders– part 1

Our little getaway to Northern France was a big success in spite of the somewhat too autumn-like weather. For once the weather people had it right when they predicted a sunny but freezing cold Thursday and a rainy Friday morning.

We met up with our friends around the planned time of 8.30 a.m. on the parking lot of a service station along the E19 motorway just South of Brussels. The drive down to Lille was uneventful, with us leading the way with the help of our ever faithful and almost always reliable friend ‘Mauricette’ (For those of you who have just discovered my blog: Mauricette is our GPS!).

We were making better progress than expected and therefore decided to have a coffee stop in the town of Bailleul, just West of Lille. I had read on the internet that the town had a nice belfry and an interesting church. Belfries are a typical Flemish feature. The huge bell tower that is part of the town or city hall very often accommodates a carillon. In his well-known song ‘Le Plat Pays, qui est le mien’ Jacques Brel, the famous Belgian singer (Yes, he was Belgian although the French like to think he was French) calls belfries and cathedrals ‘les uniques montagnes’ (the only hills) in Flandres’ plains.

The belfry of Bailleul
(the picture is slightly blurry as it was taken from behind the windshield of the car)

And he was right, because we found the Bailleul’s belfry quite easily as it was sticking out above the plains and other buildings. The belfry is situated on the ‘Place Charles de Gaulle’, the French general who, during World War II, led French resistance from London and who, on D-Day, landed on the beaches of Normandy leading an army of young Frenchmen who had managed to escape to England during the war. Later, Charles de Gaulle became president of France. No wonder that every self respecting French town and village has a square named after this national hero.

We had a coffee in a bar at the foot of the belfry before walking over to the nearby St. Vaast church. The door was open and some men were trying to get a small, yet very heavy solid marble altar up the steps. When we ventured in, a lady came towards us. ‘Do you want to visit the church?’ she asked. We said, yes please. ‘In that case you are very lucky,’ she continued ‘as usually the church is closed on weekdays during autumn and winter. But as they are putting in a new altar today, I invite you to come in and have a look around.’ Which we did, of course.

My colleague’s husband is a keen photographer and he was very happy to get the opportunity to shoot some excellent pictures of the church’s interior. I tried to follow his example, but my little hobby camera wasn’t quite up to the challenge of taking pictures in the dimly lit church. Here’s one of the solid stone pulpit. It’s about the only one that is worth posting as the others are far too dark … even when I ‘photoshop’ them.

Pulpit in the St. Vaast church in Bailleul

When we left the church, the men had almost managed to get the altar in its place. We said goodbye to the lady who was overviewing the work and continued our trip in the direction of the ‘Monts des Cats’, which - with its just over 170 metres - is the highest hill in the area, overlooking the village of our destination: Godewaersvelde.

(to be continued)


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