Not having been to Paris since my early teens, I was in the situation of an overnight layover in the city of romance on my way back home. Instead of just staying in an airport hotel decided to take advantage of my solo travelling nature and check the place out. The usual spots of Notre, Louvre, Eiffel bores me so much I can’t even type their full names. As a result I decided to stay in the East side of the river and city in the decidedly untouristy Bagnolet district. Sorry to disappoint but this post won’t be about the beauty of Parisian monuments!
This part of the city for my tastes was just perfect and reinvigorated my interest in Paris. The Uber drive from the airport to my hotel made me smile as we wove in and out of the the inner city areas. The similarities to how the UK roads, houses, apartments was uncanny. Seeing a diverse community going about their day was a joy to watch. Snapshots of a chilled out Arabic cafe’s with elders gossiping outside sipping tea, a family in Islamic attire walking to the local mosque, a group of North Africans relaxing on a bench dancing to music smiling away. Ahhh now these views are far more enjoyable to me then looking at a rust filled ugly metal tower. This is humanity.
As always I took a careful choice with my hotel, and picked the trendy Mama Shelter. Designed by obviously some known, unknown to me, guy and situated along a disused old railway line, Mama Shelter has and elegant yet laid back vibe going for it. With its relative low cost, it reminded me of the Moxy / Penta brand but better in almost every way. From the warmest of warmest welcomes, the buzzing lounge, bar, restaurant and even rooftop terrace, the vibrant decor adorning every crevice, right to the inclusion of a microwave in your hotel room. This place rocked. Definitely want to check them out in other cities. The only small issue was the apparent lack of wall socket next to the bed, however I noticed when I was leaving all the sockets were under the headboard. Weird but okay, at least saves unplugging the bedside lamp. Room size a bit small for the entry room, but comfortable and cool enough for the solo traveller.
Before my dinner reservation the lovely receptionist made for me at the restaurant, I had a few hours to explore the local area. Couple of places I wanted to see; Belleville and Rue de Ménilmontant. Reason being because I heard this was a great way to experience the local Paris vibe. And it wasn’t too far off at all. Walking around was such a joy watching families resting in the parks, after work patrons occupying every single free seat and table outside the numerous restaurants, cafes and bars. The buildings were typically french in design with curvaceous iron fenced balconies, little potted plants hanging away, the sand yellow coloured walls, right next to graffiti covered disused (or used) place. It is known I am in love with these contradictions.
The highlight for me was Rue de Ménilmontant, this long street on a gradual inclined slope is lined with such character and hustle, you just want to sit on a bench, watch and soak it up. At the top of the road, you see a beautiful view of the city, pretty sure if I could find a high enough place you could see the Eiffel Tower in the distance, what a wonderful shot that would be as the sun sets.
Belleville on the other hand was a cool neighbourhood, touching the Chinese quarter. Again the atmosphere was truly touching, no frills eateries, street art abound, alongside contemporary art galleries. Time was short along with the heat prevented me from exploring as much as I’d like. Especially not being able to experience some of the establishments, but it was clear middle eastern cuisine here was popular around these areas. I mean lines of queues popular! Thought only the British liked to wait in line. Definitely on my list to return and while away an afternoon and evening.
Returning back to the hotel, I weaved in and out the side streets, catching little glimpses of even narrower alleyways, vape vending machines, small cafes and bustling tiny restaurants. Dinner at the hotel was yummytastic and clearly popular as I would estimate the majority were not residents of the hotel. I can see why, the ambience was trendy and ecstatic. Service was so friendly and nothing seemed an issue despite being crazy busy. Soon a live DJ appears knocking out some cool disco funk, while sipping away at my coffee and drinks. The smoking area was so tiny outside and a bit too cosy for my liking. The only advantage was the beautiful people around you.
Retiring for the night wearing one of the funny masks adorning each bedside lamp, I set my alarm, 4am for a lovely early morning flight. I closed my eyes smiling, extremely glad I spent time here and knowing I’ll be back to explore properly. Just another place to add to my ever growing list, a city that really did not appeal to me at all. Granted I may have been lucky, the weather was great, only had a few hours and the hotel is known for its service. I would argue that’s the point. When you spend little time in a place and smile, then you know you’ll smile again when you return. Thanks Paris! Peace&Love.
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