The Trip that Almost Wasn’t: Lille, France
We had one of those days. We had plans for a local day trip, home for nap and then to hop on the Thalys and head to Lille, France for the weekend.
The day trip was quickly squashed when my four-year-old said he wasn’t feeling well and wanted to sleep. He is almost always raring to go, so we turned around and let him head to bed. We re-planned our day sending Jeff into work.
Later that afternoon with H well rested and happier, we headed to our local metro station, with free parking, with plenty of time to spare. We unloaded and waited on the platform while the sign showing the next train went from “2 min” to “16 min” without that metro arriving. The sign then did this weird flashy thing. At this point we knew we were not going to make the train. Jeff checked the 9292.nl app which showed some type of disturbance on the metro line.
Growing nervous Jeff and I decided to load up the kids as quickly as possible and try to drive to Rotterdam station, park and catch the train. We discussed several times the possibility of driving to Lille ourselves. But we had 29 minutes to get to the Thalys and it was a 22 minute drive to the Rotterdam station.
We pulled into the Rotterdam station park & ride and there was a lady who couldn’t figure out how to use the gate. Jeff honked (rude I know) and she backed out of the way, we scanned our credit card, pulled into the first available spot and made a dash for the station.
We got to the station gate and our Thalys tickets wouldn’t open the gates! Jeff ran to get a station employee who buzzed us through and we ran all the way to the far side to the Thalys platform. We were told that we would need to get all the way down the platform to board our coach because that day’s train was actually two trains linked together and ours was on the back!
Wouldn’t you know it – we made it! We got seated, ate our packed dinner and enjoyed our ride to Lille. We love taking the train because the boys are so relaxed with plenty of space to play games and color. We can eat, walk around and just in general relax. The drive from Delft to Lille can be 2.5-3 hours. The train takes 2, so it’s not a big time saver but if you have fun on the train it can be a better option.
Our hotel, The Best Western UP, was just a short walk over the bridge from the train station. The hotel is modern and could be amazing with a little touch up paint. Signs near the elevator did say that renovations were ongoing, but we did not see any signs of those happening. Our room was great with a pull-out sofa and king bed. There was an incredibly spacious bathroom complete with bath tub.
Unfortunately, the shower head was broken such that it couldn’t attach to the wall. You had to hold it to shower and with the half glass wall “shower curtain” that led to a total mess in the bathroom. They’ve also tried to crowd too many “speciality” items into the room. The Nespresso coffee maker is a nice touch but doesn’t fit on the ledge so it sits sideways. The modern round bedside tables are not quite large enough for the lamp and the iPhone charging clock radio (plus there wasn’t an outlet for both to plug in.) The beds were super comfortable and the air conditioning were amazing. I seriously find I’m harder on a place that is just a few little touches away from being amazing than on some sub-par places we’ve stayed.
We were up early and had the city to ourselves as we watched the bakeries open. I love being able to walk the city streets and window shop before anyone else is out and about.
We headed to Alex Croquet, which we read was the best bakery in town. We picked up a few pastries for a picnic in the square.
Unfortunately a few of our pastries were a bit dark on the bottom. They tasted fine, but certainly not the best we’ve ever had. (We contacted Alex Croquet after our trip and they offered to replace our pastries and provide a refund. They told us this is not the quality of pastry they typically put out.)
There is a Starbucks directly across the street from Alex Croquet, so we popped in there for some coffee for our breakfast picnic. H and I used some Starbucks wifi to check in on foursquare!
We set up our morning picnic on some benches near the Lille Opera House. Mid afternoon this plaza is full of people, but in the morning you will have it to yourself with just a few other people picking up their bread and coffee.
We explored the city a bit while it was quiet and the kids could run down the streets heading toward Parc John -Baptiste, which has a lovely playground with a variety of equipment. The kids spent an hour running off some morning (pastry) energy.
H even made it to the top of the climbing web!
A block away is the small, but entertaining Museum of Natural History. The museum is not very large, but was perfect for exploration by my two littles. There are so many taxidermies, and my kids are weirdly fascinated by them all. They are working on updating their displays and the new ones are well done. There is a kids hunt-and-find activity sheet at the entrance too. The price was right for the small museum, just 3.60 Euros per adult.
We walked back toward the center of town to grab lunch. Since we eat a bit earlier than most Europeans we popped into So Good where they heat prepared foods for you. The food was fast, good and fit the bill. They say they have a wifi network but neither Jeff or I were able to get online, despite registering our e-mail addresses.
Lille is full of small city parks. We made our walking route such that it passed through several of them, letting the kids run around, on the way to our next destination.
Small playgrounds are dotted amongst the city’s green spaces. Some are more exciting than others, but our kids are always up for trying them all out.
Citadel Park & Zoo is perfect for families. We played on the large playground for 45 min. The playground is huge with a wide variety of play options to suit all ages. Several of the play structures are only reached by difficult climbing apparatuses, so be prepared to help your kids up and over so they can ride the great slides.
The Citadel Zoo is free and located adjacent to Citadel Park. It is small but the animals were all active and in great enclosures. Our favorites were the red pandas who were so cute, peaking out of their house. We also got to watch the Rhino play in the water for a bit. There is not a lot of seating available, which keeps everyone moving but was a bit difficult for me at 34 weeks pregnant.
After the zoo we stopped at the park snack area. There is a small collection of vendors with a range of seating. I had a beignet filled with chocolate, Jeff got a chocolate waffle and the boys got an ice cream. Yummy!
Freshly sugared up, we headed to the small amusement park. You purchase tokens at a central booth and then can ride the rides. Tokens are 2 Euros each, or 10 for 17 Euros. You should note that if an adult is required to ride with the child, it will cost you a second token. Rider heights are well marked. I was unable to ride anything given my pregnant state. O needed to ride assisted on each ride and H on several of them. The boys had a blast. Our favorite ride was the horses that went on a rail while bouncing back and forth.
There were also cars to “drive,” a family favorite.
And even a small train. Most of the rides make several rounds for each “ride” so the kids felt the value of each ride was good, despite their small size. As we walked back toward the hotel at 2pm, we noticed so many more people in town flooding into Citadel Park.
The boys were still amazingly in a great mood so we stopped by Paul for some treats.
H picked a macaroon, O an eclair and Jeff sampled a few pastries he had never heard of. They were all delicious!
We took a much needed break back in the hotel and threw the boys in the giant tub before heading to Buffalo Burger for dinner. This was a perfect pick with the boys. It was quick, close to the hotel and good. Plus, after a day of light meals something heavy was what we all needed. There are several vegetarian burger options as well.
Once the boys were settled Jeff headed out on his own to explore the city in the evening. He headed over to walk the Citadel grounds on his own.
The next morning we decided to each take one kid for some morning fun, something we won’t be able to do once #3 arrives. Jeff took little O and they headed off to the big market in Lille. They also found two more playgrounds for O to enjoy.
H and I went to tea at the Meert Tea Room. There is often a line out the door, but if you arrive just as it opens at 9am you won’t have any problems. When we left at 10 the place was full. Note: the tea room doesn’t take reservations, but the attached restaurant does. H got a hot chocolate and I had a latte plus we shared a few cakes. They also have a coffee/tea/OJ, baguette and croissant morning meal that seems to be popular.
After having a treat at Paul yesterday I had to go back and get some bread to take home. Plus I may have let H pick out another giant macaroon for the train home! H and I walked around town a bit more. It is quiet on Sundays with most places closed. We did peek into a few churches that were open before returning to meet up with Jeff and O at the hotel.
The train ride home was quick – well, just as quick as you’d expect a high-speed Thalys train to be. We once again picked up some food for the ride home and enjoyed some quiet family time playing on the train.
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