Thursday, July 10, 2008

Main Square Festival in Arras

Day 3: Arras and the Main Square Festival
After breakfast at a civilised hour, we met at the station and took the 11:02 local train to Arras, about 45 minutes away. Suggestions were made that we could cycle. These were not taken up.

At Arras we had a few hours till the festival, so we visited the newly-opened Carriere Wellington (the Wellington Quarries),

a series of tunnels dug mostly by New Zealanders, in which a British force of 24000 hid during the First World War in order to launch a surprise offensive on the German front. The site also has a memorial to the many regiments who served here.

Access is down a long ramp, where one purchases tickets and can view a small area with background information whilst waiting for the next guided tour. There is also a fantastically well-stocked snack machine.

For the tour, one dons strange headphones which do not cover one’s ears, enabling one to listen to the human and pre-recorded guides simultaneously, although why one is required when the other exists, it is not clear.

A lift takes the group down another 20 metres to the tunnels, and we are slowly escorted on a loop in near darkness, with interesting elements such as painted sign-posts from both World Wars, art and graffiti, a chapel area, and other features pointed out.

It’s cold, and is sobering to consider the troops down here, who on a cold morning emerged at 5am to attack German positions. Many died freezing to death, as they were instructed to leave coats behind to be able to run faster in the snow. Most died.

Emerging into the sunshine, we headed to the Main Square, via a café that had decided to stop serving food just as we found a table for 8. What is it with French opening hours? It’s almost impossible to find a time slot when anything is open! Everything’s closed all morning, closed all afternoon, it’s like a piece of insider knowledge to be able to reach an outlet whilst it will actually serve you anything. “Psssst, I hear zat zee boulangerie iz opening for fifteen minutes at 2:45.” “Cheers mate, I’ll sneak round the back so they don’t see me coming.”

Never mind, methinks, we’re going to a music festival with 10,000 people or so in attendance, they’ll be plenty of food options there. Or so you would have thought. Attending Glasto spoils one in terms of facilities. Any time day or night one never queues for more than a minute at Glasto to get food. Not Main Square Festival. The first issue was toilets. There were about 30 portaloos – woefully insufficient for the number of attendees. Hence the typical queue was over an hour, people would be pushing in, and boys took to peeing everywhere. Because the loos were so inadequate, everyone actually stopped drinking beer! At a Festival!!

Then food.. one would have thought the food stalls had only been tipped off about this event the day before. The pancake vendor had a single hotplate, where he carefully crafted single pancake at a time, none pre-prepared. Lewis queued from before the Sigur Ros set until a few minutes before Radiohead – about an hour and half – to get us all food in the evening. Very unimpressive. Tip for anyone attending in future – take your own loo and take plenty of food. It seems strange that it’s so badly set up – this is an annual event and it had been running for the previous two days. Easily the worst-organised major event I’ve ever been to. If only they hadn’t pulled such fabulous bands!

First up was Vampire Weekend,

whom I’d seen at Glasto. I’m terrible at describing music, but let me just say they’re a guitar band from New York with a tinge of African rhythm in their tunes. Very good.

The Wombats,

from Liverpool, were slightly irritating in the statements they made – “we’re only here because of Radiohead” etc, but some of their tunes are good, in particular the one I’d heard before – Let’s Dance to Joy Division, a fabulous upbeat guitar-based dance track.

The d0,

apparently pronounced the “do”, were the token French band of the night – not a bad offering with their own style which Dad apparently liked, and the girls reported that the lead singer was pretty.

Next up.. the reason we’re here.. the band that led me to the festival, which led me to propose the ride… Sigur Ros!

An Icelandic band who sing partially in a made-up language, Sigur are musically divine, and they did not disappoint. Elaine had asked me earlier whether I was excited about Radiohead, and I truthfully responded that I was, but more so about Sigur. To be honest, I couldn’t believe it was real.. the songs they did were so faithful to the albums – I expected a much lighter sound on stage.




Plinky plonk

Tuuuu huuuuuu

Singing into guitar


Incredible… the highlight of the night for me.

And then.. Radiohead!

As the sun went down, Radiohead came on, and the crowd, which hadn’t been animated in any way, actually started to get slightly into the music. It still struck me as the most apathetic concert audience I’ve ever seen though. The French are just too cool to dance je suppose!

The beautiful Main Square venue

Radiohead worked their way through a variety of their catalogue, old to new, though we didn’t seem to know lots of the song, so the majority must be new. Towards the end we had Paranoid Android but to our horror.. no Karma Police!!! Ahh well, musically they were amazing, and the lighting was fabulous too, with lights playing over strips of poles hanging above the set. A good night, and we even bagged seats on the 00:30 train back to Lille. There was little enthusiasm for another night of clubbing!

Day 4: Lille and Home
Somehow on our last day in France we managed to achieve little. It was time-consuming getting the bikes accepted by Eurostar – it would seem that they are not used to many people using this service from here.

From check-out to cafes to lunch to cafes and shops, the day just whiled away! As usual it was a challenge finding anywhere serving lunch at 2pm, but we ended up at Omnia, a bizarre former brothel with a crazy entrance.

I enjoyed possibly the world’s most unhealthy lunch, a “Welsh”:

Although this did mean I skipped dessert, although the speed with which Herrington devoured it, one might almost say he skipped it too, surely no digestive processes could act on such unchewed food?

Hedge visited the local sweat-shop:

And Dad found a comfortable place to sit

We finished the day with a drink in our favourite café, the Golden Windmill, on the Grand Place:

Time for home…

In review - Lille is a fabulous place for a weekend away. Sitting on the border with Belgium, one has a quaint city with enough culture for a city break, Arras is also a short local train away. And all this an hour and 20 minutes or so from London and 45 quid return!

We stayed at the Carlton and Holiday Inn hotels, I’d recommend the former as long as you can book their weekend break tariff of 90 euros a night – the regular rates are too high. Or there’s a modern 2* just near the Eurostar terminal which I’m sure would suffice for a weekend.

Spare some time to visit at least one of the Commonwealth War Grave sites.. they are beautiful well-kept places as well as being educational and thought-provoking. Ypres is not far by train too should you wish to visit. And finally, don’t miss the “Nice Art” Museum, Palace des Beaux Arts, err, like we managed to.. I hear it’s very good!!

No comments: