Waterstones (Piccadilly) and Foyles (Charing Cross Road) may be the largest bookshops in London, but, when it comes to bookstores, I prefer smaller, cosier places, where the customer approach is more personable and one feels almost at home. Here is the list of my 3 favourite bookshops in London, UK:
Hatchards is supposed to be the oldest bookshop in London, established in 1797. It has a rich history and royalty connections (it currently has “three royal warrants”). It may appear relatively small on the outside, but inside it has five floors full of books, with special sections and bookcases dedicated to classics, history, science fiction, rare editions and foreign literature. Despite its grand reputation, it is very cosy and welcoming inside, and feels almost like one’s friendly shop-around-the-corner with armchairs for reading on some floors and readers’ privacy guaranteed for simple browsing at one’s leisure. The staff is always very knowledgeable, friendly and helpful, and those Hatchards shopping bags look absolutely amazing.
Address: 187 Piccadilly, London, W1J 9LE, UK (they also have another store at St. Pancras International). Continue reading “My 3 Favourite Bookshops in London”
A Visit to Don Otavio: A Mexican Odyssey  – ★★★★1/2
“The first impact of Mexico City is physical, immensely physical. Sun, Altitude, Movement, Smells, Noise. And it is inescapable. There is no taking refuge in one more insulating shell, no use sitting in the hotel bedroom fumbling with guide books: it is here, one is in it” [Bedford, 1953: 39].
Sybille Bedford wrote about her year-long adventure in Mexico in 1953, and her book, initially titled The Sudden View: A Mexican Journey, became a classic in travel writing. In it, Bedford portrays colourfully her stay with her friend E. all over Mexico, taking journeys from Mexico City to Morelia and Guadalajara, and then to Oaxaca. At one point, Bedford visits a hacienda of one Don Otavio, situated near Lake Chapala, a place of both natural beauty and local intrigue. This is no ordinary travel writing, however – the book is written with humour and certain pathos, and Bedford ensures that there are many insightful observations on the history, geography and social conditions of the area. Even though now dated, A Visit to Don Otavio is still a very pleasurable read, not least because it often reads like an exciting adventure novel set in Mexico, rather than one’s usual travel log. Continue reading “Review: A Visit to Don Otavio: A Mexican Odyssey by Sybille Bedford”
Awhile ago I wrote a post on Florence, Italy, one of the most culturally and historically rich cities in the world, and I thought I would follow it up now with a post on Siena, a medieval town in Tuscany that is situated some seventy kilometres away by car or one and a half hour ride by train from Florence. One of the reasons I love Siena is that it retained its medieval landscape; it is rich in history and its citizens still practice traditions dating to the twelve century. One legend says that Siena was founded by Remus’s sons Senius and Aschius, who hid there from their uncle Romulus (Remus and Romulus are infamous twin brothers that are characters in the legend on the founding of Rome). Even Siena’s symbol is a she-wolf, that is often pictured caring for Romulus and Remus. One other piece of information is that Siena was founded by Emperor Augustus in the 1st century BC as Sena Julia. In this post, I will briefly describe Siena’s main sights, and comment on the culture of the place. Apart from the header photo, all photos in this post are mine (again, excuse my phone camera). Continue reading “Siena, Tuscany”
I was lucky enough to live for three months in Florence (or Firenze), Italy a couple of years previously and every time it is middle of April I keep thinking about this beautiful, wonderful city, my favourite in the whole world. The city is really the cradle of the Renaissance, and it has practically remained unchanged from the Middle Ages, ensuring that each visit is one of a kind cultural and historical experience. Dante Alighieri (poet), Leonardo da Vinci (painter), Niccolò Machiavelli (philosopher), Galileo Galilei (physicist), Giovanni Boccaccio (writer), Filippo Brunelleschi (architect) and Donatello (sculptor) were all born in Florence or in its environs, among many other famous people. It is also a city of beautiful Catholic churches: Santa Maria Novella, Santa Croce and San Lorenzo, to name just a few, and the sites of natural beauty around the city (such as Fiesole hills) are also worth visiting and appreciating. Everybody knows about the landmark sites of the city – The Duomo, Piazza della Signoria, Palazzo Vecchio, The Uffizi, Ponte Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti, and, in this post, I would like to share some of my favourite, slightly off-the-beaten-path locations in Florence. All photos on this post are mine (though, at that time, I had a very terrible camera). Continue reading “Florence, Tuscany”
Brussels may not have the immediate “cool” appeal of Paris or London, but it has its own, irresistible quirky and charming side. From the beautiful architecture of the centre (be it Gothic or Art Nouveau) to comic strip murals (from Tintin to Corto Maltese), Brussels will please many, especially fans of all kinds of art and history (there are close to 100 museums in Brussels alone). Those who are into gourmet food, will also enjoy speciality waffles, Belgian chocolate and the best selection of beer. For literature lovers, there are also things to discover, and below are three of my favourite bookstores in the city.
I. Cook & Book
This place is situated some metro rides away from the city centre, but the travel is worth it. Despite “cook” in the title of this shop, there are all kinds of books available in this store, and not only those on culinary delights. There are plenty of bande dessinees, books on art and travel, as well as fiction books. More importantly, there is a nice section of English-language books. The store is very beautiful (sometimes considered one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world!), with inventive art design (books hanging from the ceiling, Union Jack decorations) and lit lamps, providing this cosy, literary and unusual atmosphere. The great thing about this atmospheric place (which is also divided into nine thematic zones) is that there is an onsite restaurant too, and one can enjoy the books while eating and drinking; address: Place du Temps Libre 1, 1200 Woluwe-Saint-Lambert, Brussels. Continue reading “My 3 Favourite Bookshops in Brussels”
I. The Innocent Anthropologist: Notes from a Mud Hut  by Nigel Barley – ★★★★
In the late 1970s, Nigel Barley went to North Cameroon to study the Dowayos, and choosing those that represent the most “ferocious” mountain tribe existing at that time. This is his debut non-fiction account of his travels and exploration in Africa as he embarks on his fieldwork. In this book, Barley is really an “innocent” anthropologist, an idealistic young man who is a bit ignorant about what to expect in the real world outside the academia. Barley tells us how he encountered the mind-boggling bureaucracy, got lost in “the vast range of loose kingship” in the country, overcame malaria, as well as survived a horror-trip to a local dentist, among his other stories. Barley’s style of writing is appealingly laid-back, and this concise book turns out to be funny and engaging as a result. It may not be the book on the Dowayos, but part of the charm is that the account is surprisingly honest and humorous. Continue reading “Recent Travel Non-Fiction Reads: The Innocent Anthropologist, and Magic & Mystery in Tibet”
I. Sir John Soane’s Museum
This museum was a home to the eccentric architect and collector Sir John Soane, who asked to preserve his house after his death, which happened in 1837. This house museum is a real marvel and full of wonders and curiosities. On display are various artefacts from ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, as well as objects from ancient Egypt, including Pharaoh Seti’s sarcophagus. It also has art works by Canaletto, paintings by Hogarth, interesting architectural drawings and various fascinating sculptures. The cosiness and the mysterious nature of museum make it even more appealing. The owner definitely had a taste for the macabre, and the newly restored catacombs area is also on display. What is great is that this museum is free to the public, and it hosts various exciting candlelit nights throughout the year where you can see and admire the wondrous objects by candlelight; address: 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London. Continue reading “3 Quirky Museums of London”