The Café is the best in Calais for lunch or for a wee drink. The staff are friendly and professional - it is not sloppy student service. Okay, Calais is definitely not the most beautiful place in the world but this place makes you really feel that you are in old France. It is simple and unpretentious.
Fantastic mussels and chips (and the chips are hand cut, none of the frozen crap), excellent steak tartare and plat de jour/ grillade.
The square in front of the café was partly destroyed twice in the two world wars and they threw up bits of concrete, but the café is an original - benches and wood panelling. We go every time we visit our journalist friend who works for the local tele.
The staff try their best to speak English, although a svp and a merci goes a long way.
They have a simple kids' menu but I really advise mussels. They might find it strange, but they will always remember it. My kids eat anything, at least once without force - then it gets more complicated.
I'm sort of regretting this as it has almost been an English free zone.
Watch out for the lovely old girl who drinks a coffee and then sings a chanson or two on Sundays - she loves Scots.
All in all, if you have an afternoon or a booze cruise - this is the best of Calais. And you can walk along the front after and see the White Cliffs of Dover on most days. Go up to the lighthouse!
Place Armes. Walk down from the station towards the sea and after the "grey" tower (not the townhall)on your left.
This is a small Thai restaurant in the heart of the city. The decoration is less than great but it gives great value for money.
Run by two brothers the welcome is very friendly - the older brother speaks ten languages but not English. There is however a menu in English that explains all.
Lunch menu is good at about 12 euros but even at night it is not expensive. Better than all the options for the price. We go once a week.
Try one of the house cocktails to get you in the mood and if you like chilli just ask. It gets very busy at weekends with locals and the gay set so it may be better to reserve if you want to go on a Friday or Saturday evening. At lunch it is nearly always possible to get a place (even if it is up the stairs). Very small entrance but it is beside the Catholic bookshop.
Just off the Grande Place on rue Esquermois in the old town. Metro Rihour but better just to walk.
This museum is just the right size for an afternoon visit and includes some of the best Flemish 'primitives' I've seen. It includes a fabulous Eve by Cranach (better than the version in Florence) and a spectacular Judith.
For a drink return to the Grote Markt and look at the Town Hall. To your right on the corner of Wisselstraat there is a wooden floor and benches bar that is the best and friendliest in Antwerp.
Avoid the port at night unless you like a fight. Don't even think about the red light district. It is divided into sections according to race/nationality and is extremely violent - it makes Amsterdam's look like a children's playground.
The Sunday market is a must. Get off the Metro at Gambetta and go straight, you're there. Otherwise walk from the centre across Place de Republique down rue Gambetta and get more of the atmosphere. If you walk take a break at Le Stout for a coffee and cognac - it is the café on the corner with a bike suspended in the window. Then twenty yards later you are in the flower market and behind that the covered market. In the covered market there are plenty of treats.
A Polish stall which does the best smoked filet mignon in the world although a bit expensive at 27 euros per kilo. We call it 'baby' at home because it is so tender.
There is also a cheese stand that is good value and massive - so they always cut more than you want.
The other side of the covered is the open market. A mix of farmers' and bulk buy, but both are good value. Olives beside endives. The spice stands used to be good but they have doubled their prices recently. There is also haberdashery and second hand clothes and a fine selection of elephant-shaped underpants.
There is plenty to eat - banks of roast chicken, ribs, Chinese noodles and pies (try the cheese maroilles on a pie or traditionally dunked in coffee). All the cafés on the square are fine but I prefer those on the street on the side of the covered market as they are where all the stall holders go. In front of the church it is more trendy, very people-watching and people who have not been to bed.
There is a great family restaurant on the square but I'm not telling as they refuse to be in guidebooks. It serves a fixed menu of what is fresh and cheap. Fantastic veal liver, fish and chips (French style, no batter) and if the kidneys don't appeal there is a tender rump steak as standard. All this with a starter and a cheese plate or a dessert for 25 euros. Find it!
The market is on Sunday morning from 7am to about 2pm depending on the weather. If it isn't raining it is packed - the Lillois don't mind the cold, only the rain. France is very kid-friendly, but don't take a pushchair as all your kid will see are bums and you get stuck in pram jams.
Lots of other stuff to see in Lille: museums, medieval buildings, general Flemish architecture. A very under-rated place to visit.
or walk through the town across Republique and down rue Gambetta
The Voorhuit is a Ghent institution. A Artdeco/socialist building, it has not lost its roots.
The huge café area plays host to multiple activities from quiet union meetings to cinema and concerts. Most of the latter are free. The French and Flemish press are available.
Sit down at any of the tables and you can be left alone or join in on the conversations. Nearly everyone talks English. The bar is good and very cheap and the food is wholesome. Homemade soup and bread for 2.60 euros which is great and pasta for about 8. Mostly fair trade and not bad for veggies.
For the stay over there my favourite in an ex-convent called Geertje Henckens on Zwartezusterstraat in the centre of town. There are only two bedrooms so book. A breakfast to die for and the second day it gets better.
If it is full try Faja Lobi in Tarbotstraat, a little further from the centre but with a lovely garden and (if possible) an even better welcome from the gay couple that run the place. Both are about 60 euros for a couple.
Then take a wander. Everything is within 30mins walk but take one of the river tours if you haven't done any research. The Cathedral is a must.
For light refreshment I recommend The Pink Flamingo in Onderstraat as possibly the most kitsch bar in the world. I go at least twice a year with my wife to Ghent and we are never disappointed.
The thing about the chip shop is true - it is the best.
Although under renovation, this hostel is an excellent place to stay in the centre of town.
The rooms for two offer ensuite facilities and are impeccably clean if basic.
If a couple of chairs were provided they would be even better!
The price might seem expensive for some (70 euros a night for two if booked over the net) but try to find better at a seven minutes walk from the Spire.
There is a kitchen and a minimalist breakfast is included if you want to share it with the school groups.
There is a Thai restaurant across the street and the pub on the corner's public bar (Molloy's) will take you straight back to pre-tourism Dublin - especially at the 11am rush.
A couple of caffs just round the corner on Talbot St offer all-day breakfasts at a very good prices if you can face the cholesterol, yum.
Just reopened after a great job of renovation. There is plenty to see for children of any age and the layout allows a space where younger children can run around while browsing. The park is large and on the other side of Argyle Steet there are a couple of pubs that serve reasonable food at midday. My kids - aged 6 and 9 - loved it. Taking the Glasgow underground (if you never have) is an event in itself. Across the road is the Transport Museum which is also a good free visit, and the ice cream van outside is a must.
Kelvingrover Art Gallery and Museum: Argyll Street, Glasgow;
tel: 0141 276 9515;
Museum of Transport: 1 Bunhouse St, Glasgow;
tel: 0141 287 2720;
Directions: Get off at Kelvingrove underground after Partick train station or direct from Buchanan St underground
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