Bluestocking Books London Tour

On Saturday I went on a bookshop tour in Central London after being invited by the brilliant Lauren at Bluestocking Books. There are rarely tours on weekends, instead the tours are mostly during the week – as that’s when bookstores really need people coming into them – so this was a bit special as it featured five very different bookshops.

We started off in Cecil Court – home to many unique bookshops with rare and antiquarian books, maps, prints, and lots of other book/printing related items. I’ve been to Cecil Court before, but I’ve always been intimidated by the shops. The antique ones look super expensive and I always felt there’d be a Pretty Woman moment, with shopkeepers thinking I didn’t fit in – but I was pleasantly surprised that that was not the case. Lauren had arranged for us to have a talk with Tim Bryars at Bryars & Bryars and it was great to hear the history of both the shop and Cecil Court. He also talked about antique books, how they’re valued and how there are books that are hundreds of years old for sale for £30 so antique books don’t have to be as intimidating as we (or I) might think. There was a book of Persian poetry that looked gorgeous and I was tempted by it, but its price was closer to £350 which was just a bit out of my price range but it showed there’s definitely a wide range of books and prices to be found.

Also in Cecil Court we visited Watkins Books, a shop that focuses on the mind, body and soul with books on religion, spirituality and the occult. I had my Tarot read which was different. A friend of mine has done Tarot readings before but (no offence to her) the guy in the shop seemed much more knowledgeable about the whole thing. I’m not sure if I believe in Tarot readings and that sort of thing, though some of the cards I picked definitely had relevance to my life right now, but it was an interesting experience and I like to keep an open mind.

After Cecil Court we went across to the few bookshops still on Charring Cross into Any Amount of Books, a brilliant second-hand bookshop that I’d been to before. This is a really great value shop. All the books are in really good condition, and there’s such a wide range of genres and release dates. I went in the basement for the first time and this was the one and only place I bought a book – I was very restrained. The book I bought was Augustown by Kei Miller which will be my Jamaica read for my Read the World Project.

Then we had a short walk to Soho and to Gosh Comics. Now my personal favourite comic shop in London is Orbital Comics (because the staff are super friendly, and it feels like what you think a comic shop should be like in terms of its layout and atmosphere) but Gosh is a great shop. It’s much brighter with a more open-plan layout so it’s easy to find different comics and graphic novels with the single issues and all the Marvel and DC comics in the basement, and the staff are still awesome and friendly. I enjoyed talking to other people on the tour about comics and giving recommendations and finding new comics that I want to check out in the future.

The final stop on this tour was the most glamourous bookshop I have ever been to – Masion Assouline. It’s a bookshop with a bar and its focus is bespoke coffee table books (some of which are huge and all of them are beautiful) and vintage books and objects. There we had a tour from a woman who works there as she took around the three floors of the store, and explained what Maison Assouline was all about and showed us the different collections and what they print. It was a shop that I’d never normally go into, but I’m really pleased I did. I like the idea of a book being a focal point in a room so if I ever have the money I will one day buy a bookstand and a huge beautiful book from Maison Assouline and put it pride of place in my future house!

The best thing about this Bluestocking Books Tour was Lauren. She was really well-informed about the bookshops and the areas of London we were in and had clearly put in the time in to make connections with booksellers so both they and those of us on the tour got the most out of the experience.

The tour lasted about two and a half hours and that time flew by thanks to the company, interesting bookshops and a great tour guide. I’d recommend wearing trainers, or at least comfy shoes, as you’re on your feet for the whole tour, and maybe an umbrella because this is London and I was the one person on the tour who forgot you could never trust British weather! Still, a little rain never hurt anyone. It was a fun and informative few hours, visiting an eclectic mix of bookshops with a wonderful and friendly guide. I love going into bookshops but there’s something more special about visiting them with fellow booklovers, and going to bookshops I wouldn’t normally think of visiting. I will definitely be more confident and visit shops in Cecil Court more often.

I really do highly recommend Bluestocking Books and if I was free during the week I’d definitely be going on the themed tours – I really like the sound of the Comics and Illustrated Books tour. You can find out more about Bluestocking Books and book your place on tours here and you can follow Bluestocking Books on Twitter.

T is for Travelling

I love travelling and seeing new places. For me, the holiday does indeed start in the airport – probably because I buy at least two books every time I’m in Duty Free! I like crossing off another country off my bucket list, or visiting a famous city. I’m not a fan of lying on the beach so I love holidays where I’m seeing new places, going to museums and getting the culture of a place.

I’ve been lucky enough to have visited a fair few countries over the years thanks to family holidays and school trips. I went to Moscow and Saint Petersburg when I was in college on a History trip, I went to Dubai over ten years ago as we had family friends living out there and the south of Spain is my home-from-home as my dad has lived there for fifteen years.

Recently I’ve come to love the idea of long weekends away, just three nights in a city and cram everything I want to see and do in that time. I’ve done that in Budapest and Prague with friends and the other weekend I was in Oxford for a friend’s wedding and then stayed a few days to see the city. My next few days away is going to be in May when I’m visiting a friend studying in the Netherlands. I think that’s where I’ve been lucky so far, I’ve had a lot of friends and family living around the world, or friends who also like travelling on a budget, so it’s not been too much of a hit on my bank balance any time I’ve been bitten by the travel bug.

I love to travel but it is always nice to come home to my own bed.

New York or Somewhere Different?

For my 21st birthday a few years ago, me and my mum went to New York for five days – I instantly fell in love with the city, my mum enjoyed herself way more than she thought she would (she’s not a big city kind of person) and we did loads of touristy things and saw a lot of shows.

This year my mum’s reaching a birthday milestone (I won’t say which because I’m nice like that) so she suggested we could go to New York again and do new things and the stuff we missed last time. So we’ve been looking at hotel prices and flights and that sort of thing when she said “Why go back to somewhere we’ve already been? We should try somewhere new.”

So now we’re thinking about other places in America we could go for a long weekend. So far we’re looking at Washington DC and San Francisco but more ideas would be welcome.

What city should we go to in the USA for 5 days and what should we do there? Big up your hometowns, give me your travel tips – I’m really liking this plan to explore somewhere new.

UPDATE: My mother has now suggested we stay in the UK and instead go spend a long weekend in a spa hotel and have epic chill time. So there’s now that idea to think about too. Dammnit mother! Stop having so many ideas!

Fernweh (n.) An ache for distant places; the craving for travel.

I am so very tempted to book myself a little weekend city break abroad. I’m not sure if it’s a bit of the New Year’s blues, or if I’m just looking for that next adventure but it’s something I am seriously considering.

I have figured out that the beginning of March would be good for me as I have no deadlines till the end of the month so three days away would hardly make me fall behind. Plus the way my Uni timetable works I’m generally free Saturday’s through to Wednesday’s.

I blame the fact that I live so close to Heathrow airport during term time and the British Airways adverts I saw all over Christmas. But I have been doing some research and have found that three days in Madrid would cost me around £160 for both flights and hotel, which sounds great to me. I’m that sort of traveller that doesn’t really care too much about the sort of place I stay at – as long as it has a bed and a shower I am quite happy. I’ll be out seeing the sights and exploring rather than spending time shut up in my room.

The reason why I’m looking at Madrid, or anywhere in Spain really, is that I have a basic understanding of the language. When I say basic – I do mean basic! I may have done Spanish for my A-Levels but I was never that great at the writing part of the exam but when it came to speaking I did do fairly well. After visiting my dad in Spain at least once a year for over ten years I do seem to pick it up easy every time I go out there and know enough to make myself understood even if it isn’t grammatically correct.

I just feel very bad when I go to a foreign country and can’t even try to speak their language. I feel like the stereotypical arrogant Englishman – not bothering to learn any other language because English is universal. While that is true I do at least want to be able to try.

So me and my basic Spanish skills may be going to Madrid for a few days. I’ve never been to Madrid before and some part of me would like to one day be able to say that I have been to every capital city in the world – or at least in Europe.