I love the irony of memories that stick like fresh, white bread that bonds itself to the roof of your mouth. Perhaps, that’s not quite the romantic image one would attach to prized memories, but it seems to be the nature of those little moments that somehow edge out the more grandiose, well-planned adventures.
And so it was, when we arrived in Lille at the end of France meanderings to turn in our car and escape for three days of train travel to Bruges, Amsterdam and Luxembourg. Somehow we managed to find a parking space close to the bustling city center of Place du Général de Gaulle. For a moment we thought we should take an umbrella, as we set out in search of the Tourism Office.
“No. No need.” You know how that goes.
Fifty feet into our trek, the rain started; so we ducked into a place my husband already knew quite well – the Vieille Bourse, the old stock exchange. I was instantly enthralled with this courtyard protected by buildings dating to the mid-17th century.
In 1653, Julien Destrée accepted the challenge to build a stock exchange that not only would contend with that of any great city but would offer protection to the ever-ill Lillois bankers and merchants. Prior to the new stock exchange, trading took place – rain or shine – in open air at the Fontaine-au-Change.
Finally fed up with constant illness, they sought the sympathy of the Magistrate. Thanks to his efforts and the go-ahead from Philip IV, King of Spain, this gorgeous quadrangle of 24 ornately decorated, identical houses was built around an interior courtyard.
So the precise spot, where we entered the courtyard through one of four arches, was where trading took place.While I always appreciate the historic background of interesting places, I was immediately taken with the hushed life that now absorbs the courtyard and surrounding loges. Residents and visitors mill about a small number of second-hand book stalls and florists, quietly picking their way through the offerings.
But the real attraction is the chess players. We’ve seen them by the Seine and Eiffel Tower. We even have been stopped by a pair of German men looking for a chess game in Paris. Here, they say, any passer-by or tourist is welcome to play, but beware. The current champion is one of the booksellers and no doubt has plenty of practice.
Unfortunately the rain and preparations for our whirlwind train trip prevented our seeing a great deal of Lille, so I am delighted this one spot stands clearly in my memory. We’ll simply have to return again, so my husband can offer me the grand tour.
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