Braderie de Lille part 2 – mussels, market and more

This is a long overdue post but to recap…

First weekend of September is that time of the year again when the largest flea market in Europe, Braderie de Lille, takes place. Seeing as we enjoyed it so much last year, we hopped on the train again this year, especially taking advantage of any immigration chaos before Brexit.

It was very convenient from King’s Cross St Pancras station. We were in Lille within two hours. Crowne Plaza is a good hotel to stay in if you want to be right next to the train station.

The merchandises did not seem as interesting as last year; it could be because 1) the novelty has worn off and 2) it seems more crowded than last year. Anyhow, we still enjoyed walking around while the entire city centre was pedestrianised, browsing all the stalls, eating baguettes and taking photos. A very relaxing weekend with minimal planning required.

The highlight was probably dinner at L’Annexe which was one of the best meals we had in awhile. We loved the scandi style decor with wooden tables, leather seats and hanging lights. Instead of the typical mussels and fries that dominated every restaurant’s menu on this weekend, we had one of the most intensely flavoured mussels amuse bouche. Dinner was about €33 per person. The half hour walk to the restaurant was totally worth it.

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If this post has piqued your interest, the next Braderie de Lille will be on 5th – 6th September 2020.

An active and healthy way to explore Lisbon

Lisbon was a short getaway in between change of jobs. We wanted somewhere close and not too cold. In the cold of winter in February, Lisbon was a good choice.

Top things to do in Lisbon:

1. Join a running tour

Our favourite part of the trip was a running tour with Lisbon City Runners where we ran 12K around the city with the multiple Ironman participant. It was our first time joining a running tour and we thoroughly enjoyed it. A great and quick way to see the fabulous sites of this city, especially if you have limited time. The only thing is Lisbon is very hilly so be prepared!

Didn’t get to take many photos during the run but it’s essential to replenish with a tasty brunch and coffee afterwards! Here we are at The Mill, an Australian style cafe.

2. Rent an electric scooter to ride on the road circling the city centre

You will see scooters scattered all around the city centre. You could go up to over 20km/hour so it felt surprisingly fast especially when you’re riding along bumpy roads. Some of us were more risky than others!

3. Eat a pastel de nata

Belém Lisbon

No visit to Lisbon is complete without a pastel de nata. We tried both Pastéis de Belém and Manteigaria. We enjoyed the ones from Manteigaria so much that we bought half a dozen back to London!

4. Visit Sintra

 

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Spare one day to go to this colourful village where the royals used to go for their vacations. The colours make for beautiful photography. We enjoyed walking around the palace grounds, admiring the lush greenery, enjoying a coffee with such gorgeous views and listening to piano music played by a random passerby.

Thailand: from busy metropolis to quiet oasis

Thailand was one of our few mini/honey moons. It was a welcomed break after having a wedding for relatives abroad which we felt obliged to do as a dutiful son and daughter in law.

We were afraid Thailand would be too crowded and touristy so it was a pleasant surprise that we enjoyed it more than expected.

Top row: various shots on Long Beach. Middle left: beachside dining at Thai Cat. Middle right: curry from Uncle O. Bottom row: Snorkelling day trip; note the queue of people waiting to board other boats near the end of the day.

For our beach getaway, we picked Ko Lanta, a small island near Krabi which takes about 3 hours to get to in the car and via a car ferry. It’s a bit of a journey compared to other more accessible beaches but that is probably why the island wasn’t too crowded. In fact, there weren’t many tourists at all even though we went in early December.

We stayed near Long beach which was known for shallow waters and being family friendly. Whilst the beaches weren’t the most clear or turquoise we’ve ever seen, there is nothing more relaxing than swimming in the sea, beachside dining, followed by a massage on the beach and drifting to sleep listening to the sound of waves. The restaurants were fairly empty and we enjoyed dining at Thai Cat so much that we went there twice.

We booked a day trip on one of the more luxurious boats to take us out for snorkelling. The boat stopped about three times where guests can jump off and snorkel. Twice, the boat was quite far out from shore and the water was quite deep and a bit rough. We could see some tiny fish but nothing extraordinary. Certainly not compared to the last time I was in Phuket more than 15 years ago.

The last stop was at a remote beach where all the tour boats seem to stop so there is a bit of a crowd. The water has been sectioned off so there was only a limited area where we could snorkel. Sadly, the closer we were to the shore, the more coral bleaching we saw. Although we’ve watched the documentary “Chasing Coral” and understand what has been happening to coral reefs around the world, this was the first time that we saw it close up. The impact of climate change has never been more visible.

Top left: breakfast at Marriott Queen’s Park. Top right: fruit stall at Chatuchak market. Bottom left: durian stall at Or Tor Kor fruit market. Bottom right: beautiful book store in an upscale shopping mall.

We also stopped at Bangkok for a couple days. The city has a great combination of luxury and affordable hedonistic pleasures. We splurged to stay at Marriott Queen’s Park after a quick Google suggested that the hotel has one of the best buffet breakfasts in Bangkok. It did indeed live up to expectations. We were spoiled with choice – the buffet had everything including an egg station, waffle station, fresh juice station, fruit station, Indian food, dim sum, continental food, roasted meat. Though that didn’t stop some of us from consuming the cheap eats such as congee.

We did the usual touristy things in Bangkok. Chatuchak market was impressively massive; apparently it’s the biggest in Asia. We only spent a few hours there as it was extremely hot but we were happy with our purchase of an elephant painting from a local artist which now sits nicely in our new home. After visting Chatuchak market, we headed to Or Tor Kor fruit market nearby where we bought many packets of dried mango as souvenirs.

We enjoyed the combination of beaches, Thai food and affordable luxuries so much that we joke about moving there. But until then, we will certainly be back!

Where to go for your mini moon in November

November in London could be rainy and dreary so Seville was a quick and sunny getaway, perfect as our first “mini moon” trip. It did not require significant planning either as the city was very walkable. We more of less followed this 3-day itinerary from Tripadvisor and adapted it as we like.

Seville central

The highlights of Seville were definitely:

Biking tour with See by Bike – We did both a ‘free’ walking tour and biking tour but we much preferred the biking tour, partly because we couldn’t fully understand our guide’s heavily accented English on the walking tour. We lucked out with a private biking tour as we were the only people joining the English tour. Our friendly guide took us around the city and we saw many of the landmarks. It was a good way to get oriented with the city and later revisit the places that we like to spend more time at. Bike tour was reasonable at €50 for two of us.

Real Alcazar – This must-see attraction lived up to its name. It was a very impressive architecture which reminded us of the ones in Marrakech, e.g. Bahia Palace, Ben Youssef Madrasa. Besides the architecture, our favourite part was the orange trees in the courtyard which made for excellent photo opportunities.

General admission is €11.50 per person but we managed to book ahead for Monday 4pm tickets that allowed us to enter at €1 per person. The latest update from the official website seems to have an even better deal: Monday from 18:00 to 19:00. from April to September, and from 16:00 to 17:00 from October to March: Free. Whatever you go for, our main advice is to book ahead because there were long queues for tickets when we were there.

Barrio Santa Cruz – Located near Real Alcazar, this is the city’s Jewish quarter filled with colourful houses and lively plazas which again, made for excellent photo opportunities.

Parque de Maria Luisa – We came upon this park via the bike tour. While the grass wasn’t maintained like a Royal Park in London, there was the most gorgeous architecture that was picture perfect, i.e. the architecture reflected symmetrically in the water set in front of it. We took a break at the cafe in the park and had some tortilla and jamon. We enjoyed it so much that we went back again the next day! Highly recommended.

Parque de Maria Luisa

Parque de Maria Luisa

Plaza de Espana – The postcard shot of Plaza de Espana was probably one of the things that put Seville on our list of ‘must visit’ cities. We loved the mosaics in the tiled walls and benches. Each alcove has its own unique mosaics and represents a province in Spain. Plaza de Espana is located inside Parque de Maria Luisa so you can head there on the same day.

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We tried to take the postcard shot, still a long way off!

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One of the many alcoves along the half circle.

Flamenco show – We watched a traditional flamenco show at the Museo del baile flamenco. We are probably not the best people to be able to appreciate it but the intricate costumes and the super fast tempo to which the dancers danced were highly impressive. Best to arrive early if you want front row seats as there was no allocated seating with tickets.

Metropol Parasol – This is a wooden structure that looks like a giant mushroom. Makes for some beautiful photography especially at dusk. Interesting fact: this structure was built at a cost of €100 million. I am guessing it will take them forever to break even as it costed a few euros to ride the elevator to the top.

Metropol Parasol

Delicious food – There’s no shortage of food options when in Seville or Spain in general. Among all the tortilla, fried fish and pulpo we ate, our favourite restaurant of all was ConTenedor, a ‘slow food’ restaurant which uses organic produce sourced from the Andalusia region. We had the most tasty rice dish with the most succulent prawn ever. And that was all I remember from this meal. We were lucky to score a table for lunch when we walked in.

ConTendor Seville

This was probably the best prawn we’ve ever had.

Wet shoes

It was worth trekking all the way in the rain and getting our shoes wet just to eat the rice with prawn dish.

The largest flea market in Europe: Braderie de Lille

I always used to say, “why would I go back to the same place when I could go somewhere I haven’t been before?” I’ve now officially found a city that I would happily return to same time next year. And that is to visit the Braderie de Lille which is 1 hr 30 mins away from London on the Eurostar.

Taking place on the first weekend of every September, the flea market is the largest in Europe. There are over 100km of sidewalks occupied by stallholders, ranging from professional ones selling vintage furniture to your neighbour selling their bric-a-brac. We enjoyed the convivial atmosphere while browsing the goods. Having seen our fair share of antique shops in U.K., we were impressed with the sheer amount and variety of goods on offer. It seemed like the whole city is out on the streets browsing or eating ‘moules frites’ (mussels with fries). We particularly liked that the event was not full of drunken people that you might see in a city-wide event. Just music on the streets and people out and about enjoying themselves!

Some seriously talented musicians could be found at the square!

No shortage of friteries 😉

The first day (Saturday) is the busiest and probably the best day to be there if you’re hoping to find some hidden gems. As the market is very big, the key is to get a map of the market and identify the zone that you’re interested in and head there straight away.

It was fascinating to see all the goods on offer, even though we didn’t particular appreciate taxidermy.

Finally, we found our own hidden gem – this beautiful stool which is now multi-functional in our new home. After a few eyebrow raises from security as it was X-rayed, we breathed a sign of relief when we brought it safely onboard the Eurostar and finally home!

This stool served as a handy mobile rest stop after miles of exploring all the wares. Well worth it.

The food was nothing to write home about since every restaurant (even a Thai restaurant) was serving mussels and fries. The food was also not particularly vegetarian friendly. However, we did enjoy our fair share of pastries and patisseries!

We thoroughly enjoyed our first Braderie and we will most certainly be coming back. Hopefully the stall selling industrial pieces from dismantled Hungarian factories is still there!