A whirlwind visit from Stratford to Paris, this year’s host of Olympic Games

The Olympics regenerated a London city. What will the games do the same for the sporting spirit of the Parisians?

The rock band ABBA has made a comeback. Sure it’s holographic, but it’s a damn good show staged at ABBA Arena located at a purpose-built state-of-the-art arena at Pudding Mill in Stratford in East London.
That’s significant because the once wayward city of Stratford, too, has made a comeback and there’s nothing holographic about it. Stratford is a rock solid, shining example of an exceptional £9 billion gentrification of a city kick-started by the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games. You can still see the icons for both games in the park.
The Olympic Rings in the north of the Park
The Olympic Rings in the north of the Park
I recently spent the night at the newly built quirky Gantry Hotel (a Hilton Curio hotel) as a base to explore Stratford before heading to Paris – this year’s (2024) home to the Olympic Games.
Sauntering around the city on a sunny spring day gave no hint that this was once a downtrodden city, mainly industrial and certainly not in any way a leisure destination.
Twelve years after the Olympics, it’s trendy, sporty and much sought after as a place to live. Who wouldn’t want a home in the tree-lined East Village chic housing estate and have views over 560 acres of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park?
On its doorstep Westfield Stratford shopping centre bulges with 280 shops and 70 eateries, making it the largest shopping mall in Europe, let alone the capital. Away from retail pleasures, there are green spaces, tree-canopied walkways and gentile waterways, beautifying a burgeoning cultural scene and, of course, the free-to-visit Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
Aquatics centre
River Lea
It’s a pleasurable amble that passes the incredible Aquatics Centre whose wavy architecture was designed by Zaha Hadid – a piece of work that earned her a Damehood. Just behind is the ArcelorMittal Orbit, the UK’s tallest structure. Get to the top for the view (12 minutes to climb or 34 seconds in the lift). And come down via it’s a hair-raising slide.
The Olympic Stadium now called the London Stadium state-of-the-art events and sports area hosts all sorts of events and is also West Ham United’s home ground.
A new section of the city called East Bank is home to V&A, Sadlers Well, the Smithsonian Institute and the BBC. I took a moment to walk along Tessa Jowell Boulevard, named after the woman who spearheaded the bid for London to host the Olympic Games.
East Bank, Stratford
East Bank, Stratford
Access via the Elizabeth line is the cherry on this very fruitful cake of endeavour. It’s just six minutes to St Pancras International to pick up the Eurostar at Kings Cross St Pancras to Gare du Nord Paris.
Departing Eurostar in London
Arrived in Paris Gare du Nord
After breakfast at The Gantry I boarded the 10 am and got to Gare du Nord in Paris in time for lunch. The Olympic torch is being relayed through France just now and will end in Paris for the start of the Games on 26 July.
Unlike London, these games are being held all over Paris. No city will be regenerated in the same way. Instead, this is all about inspiring a more health-forging sporting mindset for the city’s residents and a step forward to sustainability. Organisers say these will be “greenest ever Games”. Lofty aims.
As a matter of curiosity, my whirlwind trip found me in the lesser-visited Montparnasse on the left bank of the river Seine. I stayed in the Niepce Hotel (another Curio hotel) owned by acclaimed feminist photographer Janine Niepce. Her amazing photographs are displayed throughout this boutique hotel and even on bedroom ceilings.
Montparnasse is an attractive town with a dark side. It is home to the underground catacombs, pretty gory stuff but compelling. This region is also home to the Tour Montparnasse observatory, which is 210-metre (689 ft) high.
The 360-degree views over the French capital are heady and taking in the Eiffel Tower and watching planes take off in the distance should most definitely be enjoyed while sipping a glass of champagne.
As ABBA would sing “Voulez-vous”?

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