Only three weeks ago I sat by a roaring fire on a miserable day, enjoying the biggest, moistest slab of carrot cake I’ve ever rejoiced at. I was at Barter Books in Alnwick, one of Britain’s largest second hand book shops, situated in a restored Victorian railway station. After a prolonged browsing session, the old buffet and waiting rooms are the cosiest place imaginable for a light lunch or comprehensive tea. I was torn between scones, cupcakes, traybake, and various fresh home-made cakes including fruit cake made to a secret family recipe. My companion suggested we share the carrot cake but I scoffed mine to a background of rain hammering on the glass roof, then polished off his remaining flapjack. Cake and books – a sublime duo. Kindles to be parked at the door. (I wish!)
A bit of a nerd alert here ... the following post deals with a place many of us haven't visited since grade school - so feel free to fast-forward if you are not a fan of the literary arts. The rest of us will geek out at places like Bibliotheek Amsterdam - an architectural and bibliotheq-lical wonder located about five minutes walk from Amstedam's Centraal Station.
It's part of what might be called the "new" Amsterdam. "Old" Amsterdam buildings are the homes, bridges, and cobblestone streets from the past several centuries - beautiful, quaint, happily cramped, and the stuff that most of us see on postcards. What is less often seen is the really cool and modern interior/exterior design that also permeates the city.
Overlooking the water and the entire city to the south, the main central library cost 80 million Euros to build and is easily the coolest library you've ever seen, seemingly intended as much for the tourist as for the student.
The lighting and layout - seven floors in total - evokes an Apple store-ish feel, with several hundred Mac displays and hundreds of quiet corners to read or study.
Occasionally, you'll be able to catch a concert here, with a piano player or singer belting out tunes on a given afternoon, in addition to cultural events like art openings. If you're handy with it, you can simply sit down at the piano on the main floor and tickle the ivories.
Any time of day, you can head to the affordable chicness of Vapiano attached to the front of the building, or head to La Place on the 7th floor for all meals (tip: get the Thai stir-fry for lunch) or a dessert and a coffee, with sweet views and photo ops of the entire city.
I love mooching about in second-hand bookshops and London is packed full of them. I discovered a great place recently when sheltering from the summer rain after a lunch in Greenwich.
Halcyon Books is lined up to the high ceiling with shelves bursting with second-hand, out-of-print and new books on every subject under the sun.
It is possible to browse online and buy via email but there's really nothing like the smell of dusty old books to inspire and excite. It doesn't travel through the ether.
On my visit, all the second-hand books were selling for £1 each and I picked up some incredible bargains: a giant English-French-English dictionary and a massive Readers' Digest Complete Atlas of the British Isles. Two quid well spent!
If you're thoroughly exhausted from zorbing or jetboating or drinking the bars of Cuba Street dry, may I suggest the library for a bit of downtime?
Lovely staff, great cafe, and an amazing collection. It even stocks zines!
57 Victoria St, Wellington 6011 (five minutes' walk from Te Papa Tongarewa)
KaffeStugan is a family-run Swedish cafe in Chengdu. Conveniently located on a major road, near Chengdu's Sichuan University and Babi II, the cafe is a great place to hang out for an afternoon and catch up on emails/news/plan the next day over a cup of hand dripped coffee.
The cafe has a great atmosphere, wonderful owners, traditional Swedish food (and inspired vegetarian food), whisky, Wi-Fi, and is a great spot to find out local information. The owners stock English language magazines, and they appear to have lived there long enough that they know where to go and what to do.
Most information in the cafe is available in English, Korean, Swedish, and Chinese.
The food is fantastic and worth the few extra RMB. The chef is a former vegan and makes wonderful vegetarian dishes. The coffee is also fabulous, if a bit slow as it is hand dripped, and apparently carefully selected by the owner's wife.
Unfortunately, the cafe doesn't open until 11am, but it is open until at least 10pm.
2nd Floor (above WoWo 24 hour store), #9, First, South Section, First Ring Road (opposite Hongwasi)
Tel:+ 860 28 8544 3365
Google map: tinyurl.com/2uh8lq8
Leppin's "Blaugast" and "Severin's Journey into the dark" are the best books to accompany a journey to Prague. Both feature seedy, dubious characters wandering around the old town at the beginning of the 20th century. The books are thoroughly depraved, but very good indeed.
Best places to buy this book are Palac Knih on Vaclavske Nam (the English language section is downstairs) and Shakespeare and Sons on Krymska.
Beyond Q is an extraordinary second-hand book shop, cafe, and live music venue hidden in the Curtin Shops, Woden, Canberra.
It's inconspicously located downstairs from the central square, and has a vast collection of constantly changing books, antiques, ephemera, and old typewriters. The cafe and service is very friendly and the books are well-priced. They regularly feature exceptional items, making them well worth repeat visits!
Beyond Q (formerly Lawton's Antiquarian) is hidden downstairs from the public square in the Curtin Shops. Follow the sign outside the stairs. Open every day from 8am to 6pm, and sometimes even later.
44 Curtin Place, ACT 2605
Google map: tinyurl.com/yd9njrm
Tok Vanna is a Cambodian in his 40s supporting a wife and two children by selling books from a stall on the street in Siem Reap.
He lost both his hands as a result of a landmine after which he became a beggar in Phnom Penh.
However through the help of an aid worker he got back on his feet.
We got some interesting books on Pol Pot from him for $5- $6 each which will help towards his medical expenses and his children's education.
Pokambor Avenue which runs parallel to the river. Near Old Market Bridge outside Shadow of Angkor guesthouse.
Google map: tinyurl.com/yg9ewkw
If you are interested in books have a trip to Hay. You will find over 30 bookshops selling secondhand books. There are some great places to visit or stay. Try the Three Tuns or The Baskerville - I have stayed at both and they are excellent.
A second-hand bookshop hidden in the basement of Brunswick shopping centre in Russell Square - Skoob has an expanse of books from all corners of the earth, on all topics, and arguably the best Everyman's and Penguin collection I have seen in London to date. Friendly staff and impromptu piano recitals to boot!
Most people have heard of the Free Fringe festival, and the line-up of comedy is superb. But there are loads of other lesser known free festivals and events going on in August.
Here are just a couple...
The International Book Festival has loads of free events - from the daily free poetry reading at 10am to the free live music in the Spiegelbar. There's also loads of free stuff for children, a daily storytime, nursery rhyme time for babies and free workshops.
The Festival Calvacade is a free parade of 3,000 performers from all the Edinburgh festivals - this year it kicks off in Holyrood Park on 9th August.
The Edinburgh Interactive Festival is a free video game festival, where budding gamers can road test and watch screenings of new games.
Great Guide to free events:
Livraria Lello is a bookshop-lovers fantasy. Even if you are not a reader, this 19th century shop is worth a visit for its gorgeous interior centred around a curving carved wood and red treaded staircase which could have stepped (ha ha) out of a Dali painting. Oh and there are quite a lot of books too. With a handful of comfy chairs around a coffee bar on the first floor it’s an ideal place to take a breather after climbing the Clerigos Tower opposite.
Livraria Lello, Rua das Carmelitas 144
A small bookshop and cafe with wonderful coffee, biscuits and cake, a clean loo and friendly staff. You can sit undisturbed and gaze out of the open door or sit outside if fine. Located on a very attractive street close to the main centre.
Ul. Kanonicka, Krakow. Opposite Mary Magdalene Square.
Powell's is a Portland landmark - though there are several outlets around Portland, the main attraction is the mother ship located at 10th and Burnside - it takes up an entire city block and five floors to house its beautifully eclectic and sometimes chaotic collection of literary beasts and local ephemera.
There is a genre to suit every taste, from Science Fiction (take a moment to gawk at the walls - you'll find some famous autographs scrawled there) to Gardening to Graphic Novels and even a Rare Books Room on the top floor that smells almost as antiquarian as it looks.
Powell's also boasts a small art gallery and cafe with the best local coffee. If you want a seat in the crowded cafe though, get there early.
A typical visit to Powells will set you back at least two hours. Wear your best walking shoes. Bring a backpack too - you'll need it to carry all the heavy second-hand tomes you find.
People watching is encouraged: if you want to know what real Portlanders are like, this is the place to go.
10th & Burnside
Toll Free: 800-878-7323
One of the world's great independent book shops. Acres of new and second hand books. Great place to come when it's raining, which it probably is. Pick up a map and browse all day.
1005 W Burnside
Portland, OR 97209 USA
(at the corner of 10th Ave and W. Burnside)
Just back from a visit at the end of October, after the kronor had crashed and this made things cheaper, though still about the same as the UK.
We loved a second hand bookshop off the main drag and just down from Cafe Rosenberg and near the old Cirkus club. It was piled high with books, with a fair few in English. It has a vibe of total happy chaos.
Our favourite cafe was the one on the corner of Laugeamur and the street where Cafe Rosenberg is - it's a yellow house. Very good coffee, cakes and atmosphere.
We ate at two very good places down at the harbour. One is called "The Baron" and is a fish market. The owner takes his leftover fish and makes the most delicious crayfish soup you can imagine. You sit on old barrels and
drink beer while sipping your soup from a cup which is very atmospheric. If you get fed up with fish just by it is a very good hamburger joint with terrific burgers and fries. Even cheaper is the hot dog stand round the corner from it selling Icelandic sausages in a roll. Very reasonable.
Best bargain for shopping were the Red Cross
charity shops on Laugeamur. I got a beautiful
Icelandic wool jumper there for about five pounds.
And do try the public thermal pools of the city. They are more "real" than the Blue Lagoon, which though fabulous, is rather touristy in feel.
Café Rosenberg, Lækjargata 2, 101 Reykjavík
The Baron, Geirsgata 101
The Hyde Park area (used to be an independent town a hundred or so years ago) is an urban village with the University of Chicago as a hub and, incidentally, near Obamaville. Especially see the Rockefeller Chapel, a lovely Gothic building with a magnificent organ and a bell tower that has free summer concerts. On their website you can check out events held there, too.
Hyde Park has a number of bookstores - the most interesting to me are the Seminary Coop Bookstore at 5757 South University (new books and other locations) and Powell & O’Gara’s, 1501 East 57th Street (used books to get lost in).
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