Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Window Shopping

This last weekend, we made a brief excursion into northern France, a region I love. Unlike most people, I have no real desire to make for the south despite the very clear attraction of sunnier climes. I have discovered that on a miserable day, everywhere looks drab - even the beautiful cities of the south west - but when the sun shines as it did for me, the north is lovely too. And it's still France with all those cultural attributes that I find so appealing about the country of my grandfather's birth: the colourful exuberance of the French language; the enticing smells of early morning bakeries; the long, relaxed lunch breaks; and the way whole families go out together even quite late in the evenings.

Our overnight stop was in Maubeuge, a town many might avoid as its architecture is predominantly fifties to seventies. I, however, like it immensely as here it has many features that are almost Art Nouveau, and having learnt to appreciate this era from my architect father, I am intrigued by the quirky disregard for standard proportions and perspective.

Banking by design

Lauding the Lord in concrete and glass
This aside, I was fascinated by the High Street shops. As quirky as the town itself, I spent some time peering into shop windows and wondering how such businesses keep afloat with their somewhat unusual stock. First up was a shop that seemed to trade in shoe repairs, keys and second hand buckles. The first two I could understand, but the buckles were something else. Everything in the window seemed a little old, in fact, but inviting all the same. Had it not been Easter, I would certainly have gone inside to have a sort through their shelves.

Buckling up in Maubeuge
Then there was the furniture shop with rather classical and ornate chairs at odds with the post war architecture. And the dress shop where the clothes on display did not seem suited to the trends favoured by the local populace.

Classical satin stripes

Modish Maubeuge

But the best shop window of all was the local patisserie, whose bakery was busy even on Easter Sunday morning.  I stood with my nose pressed to the window watching the (tasty) young baker mix dough and form rolls ready for the morning rush to buy petit dejeuner. The smell was divine and it all looked so wholesome. And so French.

The bakery at the patisserie in full swing
 on Easter Sunday


I am an unashamed Francophile, so this was food for my soul, but for all that, I did not miss out on a few of Maubeuge's more obviously charming nooks and crannies. The town is not most people's choice of a place to visit, but I'll leave you with this lovely arrangement of steps, walls and rooftops and the obligatory lock on the river Sambre. 

An appealing hidden stairway

The Sambre as it cuts through the town


12 comments:

  1. Hi Val - what a lovely trip that must have been .. the weather wasn't great - well it wasn't here ... but this week it's glorious. Still your photos look sunny! Would love a canal trip just now .. a saunter along ... cheers Hilary

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    1. Thanks, Hilary. We were lucky, I know! The weather was very beautiful, albeit pretty cold! I'm looking forward to being on the water again too :)

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  2. Oh those steps - I'd not be able to resist those - and imagine all the stories they could tell. The lad racing away from the baker after stealing a bun. A young women on the arm of her lover. The children falling and blaming the stones ... there are stories here!

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    1. There are indeed, Jo! Forgotten corners often evoke tales of adventure and romance!

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  3. How lovely to visit Northern France for the weekend, Val! I love all things French too - there is always something to feast the eye upon. I really like the little circular Bank building, and a French art deco town would be something special to see. I have never heard of Maubeuge, but it does look good. Hope you had a great Easter.

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    1. It was lovely, thank you, Patricia. A change is as good as a rest and France is always a special change! I hope your Easter was good too!

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  4. Northern France has a character of its own. I love the way the villages look almost flemish. We used to spend vacations at Hardelot. I want to visit Lille next. I have a friend who comes from there and she has promised to show us around!

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    1. Oh yes, Jenny, I agree! I love the north, and Lille is special. I hope you get to see it soon.

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  5. I confess that I have never walked around Northern France and have only ever passed swiftly through a few times, on my way south when someone else was doing the driving. It looks to be a delightful area to browse around Val. I did a big smile when I read that you were ogling the dough maker er' hem!
    Be warned that I shall return to read more of your anecdotes.

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    1. How lovely to see you here, Mel! I've missed you! And yes, it was a very special day…the tasty dough maker was the figurative cherry on the top ;) I hope you have the chance to browse through the area one of these days. It's different from the south, so not always appreciated, but I love it!

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  6. Lovely to read about your adventure! I lived in Northern France for a while and loved the area too. And I miss the patisserie with its scent of fresh croissants and baguettes every morning.

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    1. Ah Jane, so happy to see you too. I've missed you as well and am glad to hear you are also a fan of the north :) xx

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