Not so belle Reims
Reims has two things going for it. Its the center of the Champagne region and its on the way to Paris.
When we stopped at a map of the city, armed with no more than the address of the youth hostel, we halted an elderly local, apparently just returning from his daily champagne binge, asking for directions.
Of course, the poor man couldn't help us out. But lucky for us, very loudly, he was able to stop a youth strolling by (HEY YOUNG MAN!) who gave us directions. The directions he gave, however, where wrong.
No, Reims is not the most interesting city in France. Industrialist and dirty, the old town of Reims did not survive the first world war. Luckily, (one of) the most famous gothic French cathedrals can be found in Reims, so a visit to Reims, albeit for a few hours, can be worthwhile after all.
Restored after the Great War, the cathedral used to hold the ceremony for crowning the new king of France during the middle ages.
So after taking a peek in the cathedral and a stroll around the square in front of it, you can while away the next couple of hours before your train or bus leaves with enjoying some sparkling champagne, originating from the region.
We spent the first hours following the signs supposedly pointing us to the tourist office. Moving through Reims in a spirally motion, we saw almost everything thrice, before coming across the last sign pointing us to the tourist office, with no tourist office in site.
Resuming our quest after accidentally stumbling into the tourist office, now armed with a map and directions to the local youth hostel, it turned out that all its 42 beds where already taken. Not only that, all low budget hotels where fully booked as well. Bummer. But hey, who would want to stay in Reims anyway?
Lille; night in the city
Founded around 900 AD, Lille got its name from its location. In between the rivers Deule and Leie, the settlement was called 'the Island', or L'isle in French. Later, this was shortened to Lille.
When driving in to town, we where expecting a similar tour as we experienced in Reims in trying to find the youth hostel. So, mere seconds after entering the city and encountering two youth hostel signs and the youth hostel itself, we simply couldn't believe our eyes.
We weren't fully disappointed though. The owner of the hostel repeatedly warned us not to mix with locals. According to him, this dangerous city consisted purely of blowers, junks and criminals. We, of course, happily turned on by the obviously exciting evening laying ahead of us, prepared for a night on the town.
Lille is the industrial center for the North of France and also houses an impressive range of universities and schools and thus a very large number of students.
Because of this, Lille has a myriad of bars and restaurants, also catering for the less wealthy (read: students). For under FF50 you can get a decent meal in one of the many budget restaurants scattered around town. Afterwards you can top it off in any one of the bars or pubs mainly located in the North of the city center.
We had dinner at a Moroccan place, serving good tajins, fine wine and lovely service. Encouraged by the hostel owners frank remarks on the local youths, we had no choice but to vigorously enjoy the challenges posed by the babes on offer. Encouraged by four darlings, constantly looking our way (and us looking their way) in the restaurant, we sought suave contact but where verbally bounced out of any discussion possible. We moved on.
The world famous architect Rem Koolhaas also contributed to the metropolitan atmosphere of the city, by designing the exposition center Euralille. Don't, however, be tempted going to Lille for that. The building is a sight for sore eyes. Not interesting at all.