28 January 2020

Lille, Paris and East London

I'm forty this year (sob?) and my aim is to do a trip every month during 2020 (ambitious but in my opinion the source of happiness). In January I headed back to France, strangely enough not planning to visit Paris but Lille this time. I realised it was less than ninety minutes on the Eurostar and thought I'd check it out (even though right now I'm wondering why I didn't just book a beach holiday and get some much-needed sunlight). 

I stayed overnight in London before getting on the Eurostar (check out Eurostar Snap for £50 return tickets), and decided to check out the musical Waitress, playing at The Adelphi Theatre. It was totally joyous, charming and heart-warming with an epic soundtrack and a top-notch cast (I was singing 'What's Inside' for days). I opted for an inexpensive night at the Dictionary Hostel, as I wanted to have a nosy around Shoreditch (my sister lived there for five years and I miss East London, but not the hipsters). I thought there would be more books, but sadly not. I quite liked their cafe next door though. On my way back from the theatre I popped into Voodoo Rays at shipping container village Boxpark for NYC style pizza by the slice, which was not a bad choice. The slices are huge (the pizzas are 22") and my veggie option was delicious. The margaritas are worth writing home about too.

I always enjoy a bit of a look round St Pancras without rushing so I got myself there quite early and then spent an hour trying to resist buying Laduree macaroons (there was a pop up shop tempting me, and I managed to resist until I got back). £20 on macaroons! I must have been in three branches of Oliver Bonas before I actually got on the Eurostar (there's one in Kings Cross) and somehow avoided to blow all of my spending money on gin glasses, a colourful doormat and a light bulb. As usual the  'tunnel sous le mer' was a delight, and the journey went so fast (it's only eighty two minutes to Lille) - I spent the time researching where to go in Lille and skimming the in-train Metropolitan magazine, which I always take with me.

Lille France
The Romy statue, the scary big wheel, historical buildings and cake loveliness at Meert
I left the station in Lille and was immediately confronted with the most bizarre Crowne Plaza I have ever seen - all wood and post-modern. It was just a short walk from the station to my hotel Mama Shelter, and I knew what to expect from staying in their other hotels in Bordeaux and Paris. Even so, I hadn't seen video games in their entrance before, so props for that. You take a lift up to reception and the first thing that hits you is that delicious signature scent. I love how they write what's going on that week on the lift mirror, the masks in the room (Iron Man and a giraffe this time) and the many free films available on the widescreen TV. To be honest the room was so comfortable I was reluctant to leave it (the bed was so comfortable), but of course prised myself away and had a walk around the city.

My first stop was Betty's equivalent Meert, a charming chocolate shop and tearoom which has been serving customers since 1761. Famous for its waffles (gaufres),  expect queues to get into the tearoom but its worth it for the delicious hot chocolate (probably one of the best I've had) and beautiful cakes (I tried the the Printanier - a passion fruit flavoured dome on a coconut covered base).  I had dinner at the hotel - on Sunday night they do chicken and chips, but this isn't any ordinary chicken and chips. I don't know what they did to the chips but they were unreal, and the gravy was divine.

Mama Shelter Lille
Mama Shelter - video games, superior chicken & chips, the restaurants and cool room (bottom  two images by Mama Shelter)
I had the option of spending another two days in Lille but I wanted a bit more excitement, so I decided to get the train to Paris for two nights (it's only an hour away on the train). I checked back into St. Christophers Canal (my usual go to hostel which has private rooms) because I like the location - it's next to a canal which has two cinemas either side of it which is a really nice walk. It wasn't as easy to get around this time as the metro workers were on strike, so if you're heading to Paris soon be prepared to take the bus, walk or hire a bike or scooter (the metro is open in the morning for couple of hours and then again in the afternoon, but they shut off exits at random times and I nearly got stuck down there).

I ate some great food to make up for my blisters (I decided to walk which wasn't the best idea for someone who's ankle still swells up to the size of a balloon). I checked out the quirky and funky Italian restaurant Libertino in the 10th (on Rue de Paradis) - I got their in time for opening and there was already a queue forming at the door. Part of the Big Mamma Group founded by Victor Lugger and Tigrane Seydoux, Libertino definitely brings the Seventies kitsch (all of the toilets were Rod Stewart themed, and I definitely saw a neon penis) as well as a modern take on traditional Italian food. I'm obsessed with leeks so I had to try the burnt leek starter, all caramelised inside served with burrata heart, capers, wholegrain mustard and cornichon vinegarette. Heaven. It was really difficult choosing between the massive open lasagne, the super crispy Roman pizza and the squid, but after sitting right next to the pass and watching the food come out, I went for the squid which was delicious. I also sampled the Blue Magic Margarita (pretty cocktail menu here) before attacking the Choco Choco Clap, a milk and dark chocolate tart filled with salted caramel and praline. I had to have  a little rest before bussing it back the canal, stuffed but happy.

Libertino Paris
The joy that is Libertino - the welcoming door, my burnt leek, the neon penis and Rod Stewart themed loos
I did my usual pilgrimage to Shakespeare & Co, Paris's famed bookshop (decided to jump on the bandwagon and finally buy Sally Rooney's Normal People) before having a little walk around the heavily scaffolded Notre Dame nearby. I glimpsed a fondue restaurant and decided I needed melted cheese, and ended up in Le Vingt on the Rue Saint Severin. I filled my boots with the most delicious,  wine-infused three cheese fondue which came with a plate filled with potatoes, carrots, mortadella and crusty bread to dip into the cheesy goodness. I also managed to set my napkin on fire which ended up having to be stamped on by the surprised restaurant owner in the street. Cue many 'desoles.' I made a quick exit and got an early night to get ready to tackle the art galleries the day after.

I have to admit I didn't really have much of a plan when it came to Paris, more and more I like to just walk around and see what I stumble upon. I went up to Sacre Coeur (I always go there for the view) and came across the Dali Museum in Montmartre, and feeling the need for a bit of surrealism I paid the 12 euros and gave myself it. I was sure I'd been in here a good few years ago but it seemed completely different. Makes sense - since 2018 the museum's had a complete makeover and now features over 300 graphic artworks and sculptures from a private collection. I was blown away by both - I've always loved the melting clocks but now I'm partial to a space elephant (an elephant on spiders legs carrying an obelisk). It was also a joy to see his Alice in Wonderland illustrations, and two of the most enduring icons of the surrealist movement - the Mae West Lips Sofa and the legendary Lobster telephone. There's a gallery of prints for sale too, you can own your own Dali for the price of a small car.

Dali Museum Paris
The well-worth-a-look Dali Museum in Montmartre (photos from Dali Museum)
I'm not the tourist I used to be before I broke my ankle, so only managed one museum in the day I had left. As I said I mainly like to walk around and see what I find. By the end of the second day of walking I realised I had pushed it a bit and decided to us the bus, because the metro was still pretty unfathomable. Hopefully the strike will be over by the time I go back. I'd had my French fix for the time being, and I'm looking forward to my feet hitting French soil again in April - Eurodisney - here I come!!!!

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