We had the greatest pleasure to speak with founder of Nicoletta Parodi, Nour Toubia. A distinctive handmade handbag line created and confectioned in Beirut. Inspired by her grandmother, Nicoletta Parodi was known as one of the biggest Italian actresses in the 40s. Passionate about acting, she also loved handbags and transmitted her passion to her grandchild, Nour. Nicoletta Parodi was “reborn” in 2012.
When we spoke to Nour and ask of her most inspiring travel destination, she quickly had a smile on her face. It was a smile that only love can see it, a smile that took her flashing back to the time that changed her.
Here is her diary…
Destination North of England, a small old English town called Durham
After stopping in London for few days, I decided to visit my boyfriend that lived in Durham to pursue his studies and discover this beautiful destination that surprised me by its charm. I fell in love with: city, people, surroundings; everything. One of my bags is named in homage of this beautiful town.
Stayed at Radisson Blu Hotel.
The hotel is located next to the River Wear. My room had an amazing view on the river, overlooking on Durham Cathedral and Durham Castle. The hotel has elegant spacious rooms with big windows allowing you to stay in contact with both the river and castle. Room service was very good. I had breakfast almost every morning at the hotel which offered a variety for all tastes, as well as a lovely selection of English breakfast. During my stay, we always started our nights with pre drinking at the hotel bar and were served by the staff in a very professional and friendly manner
Month January/ February
In your suitcase When I visited Durham, the weather was nice compared to other months of the year. As people are known in the North, they are used to the freezing weather (mostly at night) and barely wear some jackets over their dresses. As I am not used to that at all, winter sweater and coats are a must, hat, gloves and scarves as well. Although you have some sun during the day, the wind is very cold. High heels are a must for your night escapades and dinners, as well as short dresses since the heater is on everywhere you go. Day outfit is mostly jeans and sneakers or ankle boots with a nice pullover.
As for the handbags, I will advise to wear small and light funky and colored cross bags day and night; so you can enjoy your day freely when you have a walk around the city and shop. And during night, clubs are mainly open spaces with dance floors, so not much space and not so safe to leave your stuff behind on tables or couches.
People from all ages are always dressed at their top up to the latest trend, always adding a funky touch whether with accessories, hairstyle etc.
Dined at Some memorable restaurants are Zizzi, an Italian restaurant that capture history featuring the illustrations of Lizzie Mary-Cullen (who paid homage to the beautiful cathedral by painting onto a glass frame). As an Interior Architect I really enjoyed the interior as well. LED rods illuminating the roof, wooden wall paneling and grand chandeliers make sure to make the space both historical and cutting edge. We ordered different shared meals; among: a bufala mozzarella with roasted peppers, aubergines, artichokes and tomatoes; calamari rings, some skinny pizzas, a steak salad with mushrooms, onions and tomatoes, the classic delicious diavola pizza, and pasta pollo e funghi.
The Central Thai Restaurant, located on the River has an amazing view of Durham Cathedral and is located next to Radisson Blu Hotel where I was staying. My first time of eating Thai Food, was a memorable experience with great taste. We also had sharing meals (my favorite to taste everything): for starters we had: thai soup with vegetables, deep fried minced chicken wrapped with wonton pastry, steamed scallop with garlic and coriander sauce and a mix of appetizers. We also had sweat and sour duck and beef with oyster sauce and fresh lobsters baked in a special way with red curry and coconut milk (they are the only restaurant that serve lobsters in Durham).
The third restaurant, Bella Italia, an Italian restaurant located along the river as well, was my favorite spot, mostly the diner on its balcony with the illuminated view at night had a magical touch added to the tasty food. Very romantic dinner I had there with my man. We had the Bruschetta, and a baked large field mushrooms in a creamy mascarpone garlic and spinach sauce with mozzarella on top. Main course was an oven baked pasta, with sliced chicken breast, red onions, roasted peppers, smoked pancetta and casarecci pasta tubes in white wine sauce with Parmesan and a Portobello mushroom burger.
Finally, the brunch we had at The Café on the Green, a restaurant dated from 1983, was a great experience. The homemade food and baking prepared were yummy! Their menu changes daily making the experience even more unique. I had a cheese and ham omelet with a salad on the side; and a chocolate pancakes with nuts at the end.
Ding Dong Vintage: The coolest place I discovered one morning, while walking in the city, was this Vintage shop. It had its own character, and is like souvenirs brought from the entire world regrouped in one place. The two old ladies, owners of the shop, travels to so many places during the year, to get these treasures, whether dresses in every style of lace, silks and sequin, ultra funky coats of all hues, furs, gloves, handbags, shoes, jewelry and items from the WW2 (hats from captains in the army, pins, accessories), art pieces. I got myself vintage bags (my addiction), binoculars dated from the 70s and a small gun that I placed in my saloon.
Market Place: Sunday market place is a nice experience, although their market place is open every day; the activities and shopping tents are mostly there on Sunday. If you enjoy live shows, vintage stuff, wallpapers, paintings etc then you’ll love it. Got myself around 6 posters and a vintage leather bag I am in love with, along with some fresh food made by locals.
Newcastle Mall: Known as the biggest mall in Europe, I couldn’t miss a chance not to visit this Mall that was only 10 minutes away from Durham Train Station. What is great about it is that the Train stops at the Mall directly. Went there very early in the morning and did not leave before 6pm. If you are a shopping addict you must go there, shops for every taste with a British twist.
To start with, Durham is mostly known for its Cathedral where the movie Harry Potter was filmed. During my stay, and as the town had a lot of pedestrian areas, I used to have breakfast at the hotel and start my day by a walk around. I discovered some beautiful vintage shops, small cafes where I used to grab a bite and drink a coffee. My days were mostly relaxing as Durham is known to be a very calm area mostly filled with students and old people.
My days resumed to visiting the Castle which was an amazing experience, mostly when we had drinks at the Castle pub. Also, visiting the Durham Cathedral was a great experience for me as an Architect and Designer, the amount of work in this Cathedral whether in the glass or the finesse and respect of the English culture is beautiful. Although we couldn’t take any interior shots, I only “stole” two pictures which were my favorite part of the Cathedral, a detailed work on glass and the architectural work of the ceiling. I used to walk along the Prince Bishop River after a quick lunch not to miss any moment of my day discovering the small shops and vintage beauties.
On Sunday, the outdoor Market Place, with the famous statue of The Man on the Horse, that is the Marquess of Londoner, was a new experience for me. From vintage bags to fresh vegetables/fruits and other tasty baked cakes or fresh jam prepared by locals were not to be missed. Live shows, animals’ shows were also on the schedule. Posters, wallpapers, home articles were also sold by artisans at the market.
I once visited Durham Business School renowned institution over the world, with a beautiful architecture and an amazing library next to it which I had some quiet time in. Durham University, one of the top universities in Europe, known as one of the oldest in the UK welcomes a lot of international students. I met a lot of people who later became friends from all nationalities. (Slovakian, Thai, Italian, English, Venezuelan, German, Greek, American, Swiss etc..) which I had great time with and also made me discover their culture and cuisine.
Pre-drinking was mostly known in this city as well, students use to throw parties at “Fisher House” known as one of the most popular College bars. I had a great time discovering the national beers and attending closed parties. The Boathouse, situated on the banks of the river in Durham’s city center is also great for drinks with an amazing view. I visited during the bar crawl, Studio Nightclub situated over 2 floors, which is a good nightclub plus situated below another nightclub called Loft. I also passed Klute and Loveshack which are the 4 best clubs for a small town like Durham, in my opinion.
I couldn’t but leave without attending a National football game, and visit Newcastle 10 minutes away from Durham by train. I had a great adventure at the football game watching Newcastle play home against Arsenal in the VIP section (thanks to my VIP member boyfriend). Not being a huge fan of football, I think this experience made me like it more feeling the powerful attachment of fans to their team and visa-verse (which is definitely different from being seated behind your television ladies!)
The Newcastle Mall (one of the biggest in Europe) was something I would have never missed! Durham train gets you to the mall directly which was great on my way back home with all the bags in hand.
Newcastle by night was also a very nice experience. People were very friendly and welcoming although the queue to get to nightclubs was very long in the freezing weather.
Tips The English accent of people in the North is not always easy to understand but with time you get used to it and fall in love with it as well. Durham city is great for a weekend escape or a maximum of 4 to 5 days. Be careful if out at night in Newcastle/Durham drunken locals (not students) might be aggressive.
Mode of travel As I was in London, I took an internal train to Durham, which is on one of England main lines with no connections and travel time is approximately 2h45min. Flying from Beirut to London with British Airways was a great experience.
“Durham has changed me, inspired me, not only have I discovered a new meaning to love and culture, I have found then my new talents and my pursuit of happiness in my life.”