Sunday, 4 January 2015


By the end of October, Angela and I had been travelling for eight months straight, rarely stopping in one place for more than a week or two. Asia was far behind us, and we were quickly edging our way back to England via pit-stops in Sweden and France. Our very last stop before crossing the Channel would be Valenciennes, a town in northern France, close to the Belgian border. Angela lived and worked there for nine months back in 2012, not long before coming to Korea, so there were fond memories and lasting friendships drawing her back. In fact, one of her old friends, Libby, still lived in Valenciennes, and when she found out we'd be doing some travelling in France, she invited us to come and stay at her place for two nights.

Most of the town was reconstructed after World War 2, so it's somewhat lacking in historical sights compared to other towns in the region. The main square is pleasant enough though, and there's a town hall with pretty Neo-Renaissance façades. Regardless of its relative mediocrity, we were happy to be exploring a quiet French town away from the grime and frenzy of Paris. Libby also took us to the small neighbouring town of Le Quesnoy, a uniquely charming place filled with moss-coated bastions and New Zealand-themed street names (Libby is originally from New Zealand, and once taught in Le Quesnoy as part of an exchange programme). She also invited us to partake in one of her English lessons at the university where she works, and made us some delicious home-cooked French meals in the evenings.

Playing Candy Crush on the train ride from Paris to Valenciennes.

We arrived at Valenciennes in the early evening. Libby met us there along with her boyfriend, Romain, and her Kiwi friend, Kymberly, who was also visiting.
The five of us drove to nearby Belgium for some beer and kebabs. Couldn't resist taking our picture at the border sign.
The border town of Quiévrain is famous for its casinos and cheap lager.
Enjoying some tasty Belgian kebabs with our friendly hosts.
Back at the house, Angela pets Libby and Romain's hamster, Chocolat.
The next morning, Libby took us to the college where she works, to participate in one of her classes.
Since the class revolved around improving conversational English, Libby split the students into three groups, so that they had the opportunity to converse, turn-by-turn, with Kymberly, Angela and me. It seemed a lot different to teaching back in Korea, particularly the completely different age group (most of the students were in their early 20s)!
After class was finished, we explored Valenciennes on foot. Along the way, we ate some delicious Belgian chocolat (not Libby and Romain's hamster).

Hanging out at La Marie (the town hall).

Angela points to her old apartment.
Back on the gaufres.
We took a train for 10 minutes and stopped in Le Quesnoy, where Libby used to work.
The town is surrounded by forts and bastions lined with waterways.

ANZAC troops from New Zealand liberated the town during World War 1, so many of its street names include Kiwi references, much to Kymberly's excitement.
Walking around the pretty bastions.

While waiting at the train station we took a silly photobooth pic together.
Back on the rails.
On the way home we stopped at the supermarket to buy some ingredients, then enjoyed some raclette for dinner. It involved melting slices of cheese whilst simultaneously heating slices of lunch meat, then pouring them over some boiled potatoes. Add some salad and French wine and it makes for a sumptuous autumn feast!
The next morning, we said our goodbyes to Libby, Kymberly and Romain, thanking them for being such great hosts and showing us this quiet corner of France, then hopped on the train towards London.
Along the way we made a brief stop in the city of Lille. This would be our last stop before Calais.

After two years of living and blogging abroad, I was finally returning to England with a beautiful American wife and lots of travel stories under my belt. There was a time back when I was slogging through Korean teaching life that my return to England seemed aeons away. Now, it's strange to think I'll be writing a blogpost about it!

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