I was reading an interview a few weeks ago with a young British folk singer transplanted to LA and living the kind of bohemian life you can if you’ve got aristocratic parents and Kew passes for ‘slumming it’. But it wasn’t the weekly delivery of Time’s Crosswords or her glamorous artisan cottage or even the nauseatingly winsome photography that stuck with me. It was a brief description of a Sunday morning spent at a favourite local LA bookshop where, ‘the books are arranged by colour.’ I’m a committed bibliophile and I’ll pretty much give any bookseller a go, but books arranged by colour? Stop me if I’m wrong here but that doesn’t say enthusiasm for the printed word, that says ‘Interior Design Decision’.
This got me thinking about what I love best about bookshops. Which naturally led me to muse on some tried and tested favourites and quite a few on my ‘to do’ list. Strangely LA didn’t come out tops for great places to browse and buy. New York on the other hand, now that’s a totally different shelf of well-thumbed paperbacks.
The city where everyone’s either writing a novel, thinking about writing a novel or planning to play a part in a novel someone else is writing, has the best bookshops in the world. With a few notable exceptions, most of them are independent. And no one arranges books by colour (at least as far as I know, and if they do, they should stop right now).
The closest any New York bookshop seems to get to a gimmick is printing and publishing their customers’ own books. And since the provider of this fine service is the sensationally good and hugely respected ‘McNally Jackson’, is it really a gimmick?
McNally Jackson (McJ Books)
52 Prince Street, Manhattan
Apart from their self-publishing ‘Espresso Book Machine’ – from a slim-volume of your kid’s poetry to a place on their shelves for a first novel – McNally Jackson is open late and serves excellent coffee. Here books are arranged by nation which gives you an idea of the size and diversity of their stock and if they don’t have it, they have some of New York’s best bookshop staff to find it for you. Great for quirky, exquisite and irresistible stationery too. www.mcnallyjackson.com
193 Court Street, Brooklyn
If you like your sofas squashy, your book choice vast and your staff passionate and insanely well-read, you might want to consider decamping permanently to BookCourt in Brooklyn – not least of all for the ridiculously cute building. BookCourt also has one of the US’s most exciting and starry literary event calendars and if some of the other customers look vaguely familiar it’s probably because you recognise them from their book jacket photo. There’s a fantastic children’s range for budding bibliophiles and plenty of space for them to spread out and enjoy. www.bookcourt.com
828 Broadway, Manhattan
When The Strand first opened in 1927 it had 48 bookselling neighbours, today it’s the last man standing and I don’t think it’s going too far to describe it as a ‘venerable New York institution’. Strand Tote Bags are the city’s only acceptable souvenirs but with over 18 miles of new, used and rare books to browse, you might want to save your cash for something a bit more interesting here. Have a look at the Rare Book Room, it feels positively hallowed as it should, considering its literary events past and present read like a hall of fame. Trawl for bargains in the book bins (some previous owners are quite surprising). And completely ignore anyone who tells you The Strand’s ‘too touristy’. So is The Statue of Liberty, but does that make it any less amazing? www.strandbooks.com
686 Fulton Street, Brooklyn
The mark of a true book lover is enthusiasm: get one of them fired up on a recent read and they’ll go for hours. That kind of passion is what makes Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn such a delight. It’s a real community effort (local residents helped fund its start-up) and in just four years has become one of the most exciting and innovative independent booksellers in the city. Loved by indie authors and Pulitzer prize winners, Greenlight’s great for just plunging in and getting lost in print for hours but it’s supremely well organised too, so if you know what you want you can find it fast. Justifiably famous for its children’s events, take young booklovers along to Greenlight for inspiration and a closer look at where all that legendary New York confidence gets started. www.greenlightbookstore.com
126 Franklin Street, Brooklyn
How could you not love a bookseller for appropriating ‘WORD’ as their name? This is a tiny gem (just 1000 sq ft) but packed with books (lots of paperback fiction, classics, cookbooks and kid’s books) and it’s another New York bookseller that believes in getting them young. If you’re a local and you’ve got children, chances are you’ll have hosted or been invited to at least one WORD Birthday Party. And the children’s events are always jammed full of small, excited and excitable readers. But the adult browse factor is high at WORD too and the undecided can fall back on ‘Staff Picks’ and book matchmaking or take some tips from one of the shop’s many and varied Book Groups. www.wordbookstores.com
A FEW WORKS OF NEW YORK INSPIRATION
credit: Drew Shannon
Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Truman Capote
Never to be confused with the great if a bit cheesy, happy ended movie, ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’ the book is poignant and funny and a little bit tragic. The real Holly Golightly was a lot more ruthless and tough than the Audrey Hepburn version. But for iconic New York glamour this is a must read.
Stuart Little, E. B. White
Cute mouse, cute house, cuter than cute family, Stuart Little is quite simply a classic. But it’s from the pen of E. B. White who also wrote the no-holds barred Charlotte’s Web, so Stuart Little’s cute is cut with some seriously harsh realities.
The Devil Wears Prada, Lauren Weisberger
Funny and undemanding, The Devil Wears Prada lifts the lid on the expensively coiffed and immaculately cut-throat world of fashion and the magazine editors who can make or break you in the most competitive city in the world. Once you know how long it takes a New York socialite to get party-prepped you’ll never slap on lippy in the back of a cab again.
The Catcher In The Rye, J. D. Salinger
The original New York ‘coming of age’ novel.
The Age Of Innocence
Edith Wharton’s exposé of New York Society’s black and unforgiving heart in the late 19th century.
Eloise, Kay Thompson
Eloise lives alone at The Plaza Hotel with her nanny. Naughty, resourceful and hilarious, this tiny illustrated style icon has inspired everyone from Sofia Coppola to American Vogue. This classic is definitely not just for children.
And on a final note: if you happen to come across any New York booksellers arranging volumes by colour or anything equally inappropriate in the pursuit of sales, I’d love to hear about it.
In 2013, Amsterdam spent an entire year celebrating the 400th Anniversary of the historic Canal Ring, the reign of Queen Beatrix, her abdication and then the inauguration of her son, King Willem-Alexander. Any city would be forgiven for patting themselves on the back, hanging up their dancing shoes and taking it easy for the next 12 months at least. But no one ever accused Amsterdam of being just ‘any city’.
Far from resting on last year’s laurels, Amsterdam’s planning to throw a 2014 party of all parties to celebrate its first ever King’s Day on April 26th. Although King’s Day is generally on April 27th. But since that’s a Sunday, this year it’s on the 26th and it’s really only the name ‘King’s Day’ that’s a first, because there’s been a traditional Queen’s Day in the Netherlands since 1885, normally on the 27th.
Confused? Don’t be. King’s Day is an immense celebration on April 26th 2014 all over the Netherlands, and Amsterdam is partying harder than anywhere – all day and all night – and everyone’s invited.
It’s a Dutch Royal Event so from cake frosting to clothes, pet costumes, hats, houses and faces, orange is the colour of the day – you don’t need to go all out, but even a tiny hint will get you into the King’s Day spirit. If you’re in Amsterdam you won’t see the Royal Family (they’re visiting Amstelveen and Graft-De-Rijp this year), but the city’s not short on action in every other aspect and as always the focus is on fine Dutch traditions like trading, sailing, eating, drinking and intense partying.
VRIJMARKT (King’s Day Citywide Free Market)
credit: Hindrik Sijens
Kicking off the King’s Day celebrations at 6am, the annual Vrijmarkt is the mother of all Flea Markets. Almost every inch of Amsterdam is commandeered by traders (basically anyone with something to sell) and the atmosphere is incredible; noisy and colourful with lots of friendly haggling, loud music, excellent street food and some amazing finds. It’s as if the entire city turned out its attic and put the contents up for sale. Vintage clothes, millions of books, home stuff, kitchen stuff, paintings, photographs, you name it and someone is selling it. But if you really want to see where the Dutch reputation for steely determination comes from, visit The Vondelpark on King’s Day. The biggest and most famous park in Amsterdam is given over to children from 9am on April 26th so they can sell their outgrown toys and clothes and make some cash to buy new ones. It’s very endearing no doubt about it, but the smaller citizens of Amsterdam drive a hard-bargain, so don’t be too fooled by the cute.
BOATS AND BRIDGES
If you live in Amsterdam and you aren’t selling your worldly possessions on April 26th, you’re probably sailing instead. This isn’t the day to take a Canal Cruise because every waterway in the city’s packed with barges and houseboats and motor boats and rowing boats and dinghies and anything else that floats. They’re all glammed up for the day and going nowhere fast. But that’s ok, because it’s not the point of being on the water on King’s Day. The point is just to party and because there are just about as many bridges as there are canals in the city you don’t even need a boat to be part of the spectacle. Just leave every shred of inhibition behind, find a vantage point, get dancing and go for it.
BREDEWEG AND BEYOND
credit: Charles Roffey
The traditional Bredeweg festival in Amsterdam’s Oost District is the city’s busiest and best known street party. It starts on King’s Night and doesn’t stop till King’s Day is done and dusted and there’s nowhere more family-friendly. Performance artists, face painters, story tellers, musicians, bands, theatre, a huge street market, rides, workshops and even a fair, make Bredeweg an event in itself and it’s free. Free, family-friendly and great fun can also be found at NDSM Vrijhaven 2014 in the city’s Noord District, an enormous party with the emphasis on food, drink, art and live music – plus another huge children’s Street Market.
FREE KING’S DAY PARTIES
Live music is one of the big King’s Day traditions and there are loads of ticketed parties in Amsterdam with everything from techno and house to hardstyle, jazz and about as many DJ’s as you’d ever want in any one city. But if you can’t get tickets (some parties were sold out months ago) or partying for free is just more satisfying, then you’re in luck. De Pijp’s famous Albert Cuypmarket is closed for King’s Day but open for ‘Arcade King’s Day’, a mammoth music event from midday to 8pm that’s madly busy and totally free. The Noord District’s NDSM Wharf is hosting ‘These Guys King’s Day’ with live electronic acts and dj’s doing their stuff surrounded by shipping containers. And local noise takes centre stage at the free ‘Kingsize Festival’ (added bonus of Kingsize XXL after-party at Club Underground from 11pm).
KONINGSNACHT (King’s Night 25th April)
If you’re looking to spend King’s Day in a pleasantly spacy, sleep-deprived haze, you want to hit King’s Night hard on April 25th. Be prepared for anything, as long as it’s loud, relentless and lasts all night because that’s what over a dozen music marathons city-wide have in store for King’s Night 2014. Not fussed about what or who you listen to and just want to party? Then visit www.lastminuteticketshop.nl on 25th April and take your chances.
LGBT KING’S DAY (AND NIGHT)
No party’s complete without a Mardi-Gras (at least as far as Amsterdam’s concerned). So don’t wait till the city’s Gay Pride carnival in August. Get some of King’s Day’s pink and orange spectacle on April 26th as well. There are LGBT events all over the city, music and dancing are the rule, the atmosphere is full-on party and the places to be are Reguliersdwarsstraat, Westermarkt, Wamoesstraat and Zeedijk. www.iamsterdam.com has regularly updated LGBT King’s Day party info.
If I missed someone or something, I’m sorry. But there’s a lot going for King’s Day this year and I am, but one lowly writer. All I can say by way of compensation is; go to Amsterdam for April 26th you’ll love it and all my oversights will be forgotten.
Already popular with solo travellers and couples who crave an inexpensive city break, Barcelona also has much to offer parents looking for some springtime sun and a rich variety of things to do for children of all ages. Here’s ten of my top picks for things to do in Barcelona a la família, in no particular order.
Telefèric de Montjuïc
credit: Heidi de Vries
Introduce your family to the city from above, with a ride on Montjuïc Cable Car. Gliding along from Barcelona Marina up to Montjuïc Castle. The views are impressive enough to keep the kids engrossed, quietly, while you get the lay of the land. If the historic military fortress of Castell de Montjuïc isn’t going to interest them much get off at Mirador on the way back down, and make the short walk down the hill where you’ll find yourselves just a few streets away from La Rambla, the city’s busiest street and gateway to the El Gòtic area – home to Barcelona’s oldest buildings and monuments.
The Joan Antoni Samaranch Olympic and Sports Museum
If you choose to make a day of it on top of Montjuïc Hill, head north to the old Olympic Stadium. Here you’ll find a very family-friendly museum about the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 which transformed the city. Not only does this offer a journey down memory lane for those who can remember the event, but the little ones who didn’t hear the absolute wonder that was Freddy Mercury crooning alongside Montserrat Caballé will enjoy seeing several rooms full of sports memorabilia and games to play.
Parc Montjuïc’s Magic Fountain
Not far from the Olympic Stadium on the edge of Parc Montjuïc in front of the Palau Nacional is the ‘Magic Fountain’, one of Barcelona’s most-loved family attractions. After 9 at night on spring and summer evenings, this huge fountain comes to life with water displays arranged to music and changing lights. A must-see if your kids are old enough to stay up for it.
Back at sea level and closer to the water’s edge at the end of the winding Avenida Diagonal, you’ll find the Bosc Urbà. Meaning urban jungle in Catalan, this outdoor adventure playground set within a large urban structure lives up to its name with a wild combination of climbing, crawling, balancing and zip-lining activities for the whole family. Ticket price and access are according to ability, but even if you’re not feeling adventurous enough it’s worth a visit just to watch people climbing around with the beach and sea in the background.
L’Aquàrium de Barcelona
Also close to Barcelona’s waterfront – of course – is L’Aquàrium de Barcelona, home to over 11,000 marine animals in over 35 individual aquariums. The highlight for children and adults is most certainly the 80 metre long aquarium tunnel that lets you surround yourself with marine life. Enjoy a few hours in Explora, an area designed just for children to learn about local marine species and characteristics through over 50 different interactive activities.
Parc d’Atraccions Tibidabo
If the Bosc Urbà wasn’t thrill enough for your family, head out of the city to spend a day at Parc d’Attraccions Tibidabo, sitting pretty next to the beautiful Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus within Serra de Collserola, a small mountain range that overlooks the sprawl of Barcelona. One of the oldest theme parks in the world, there are the usual theme park suspects including rollercoasters and log flumes. There’s also the Tibidabo Sky Walk if your kids prefer a more natural buzz. If they’re into robots or machinery you should make time for the the curious Museu dels Autòmats, a museum dedicated to the history of automated machines.
credit: Wojtek Gurak
Not far from Tibidabo is another museum, but one that kids will definitely enjoy. Some years ago CosmoCaixa changed its name from Science Museum of Barcelona to emphasise its focus on interactive learning rather than 2D displays. Housed in a beautiful modernist building, CosmoCaixa has a planetarium and a wide range of hands-on exhibits for children all aimed at enhancing and embracing science and the environment.
Museu de la Xocolata
Use your kids as an excuse to find out about one of Catalonia’s least celebrated but sweetest histories: chocolate. The Museu de la Xocolata, on Carrer Comerç, gives visitors the opportunity to learn about the history of chocolate and how the port of Barcelona was used to welcome it to Europe’s shores way back in the 15th century. With various group activities just for kids – like the brilliantly messy sounding ‘Painting with Chocolate’ – adults can also take part in organised group activities or just overindulge in treats from the museum shop while they wait for their kids to get sticky beyond all reason.
Museu del Mammot
Another museum that not enough people know about when they visit Barcelona is the Museum of the Mammoth. Hugely popular with kids (grown up ones too) who love the Ice Age films, this museum fills in some of the knowledge gaps and is the result of a number of paleontological excavations that helped us understand more about the mammoth and other animals that roamed the world at the time of the neanderthal. Unlike other history museums, visitors of all ages are encouraged to touch and hold mammoth tusks and teeth.
Jardins de la Torre de Les Aigües
Once Barcelona’s long hot summer kicks in, you’ll find that all you can think about is cooling down. If that’s the case, Jardins de la Torre de Les Aigües in the Eixample district is where you need to go. This oversized paddling pool can be found at the foot of an old 19th century water tower and now serves as an urban oasis where visitors cool off in shallow water or enjoy a picnic in the surrounding parkland, all for just a couple of euros.
If you’re still stuck for things to do, you can also check out my recommendations for Barcelona’s best beaches and some of the city’s secret sights. I also had a chat with one of HouseTrip’s Hosts in Barcelona and she gave some great tips to exploring the city like a local.
Last year we brought you colourful scenes from the Ferias de Andalucia in the south of Spain. Now that the weather’s finally turning and the sun’s been switched back on, we’re taking a look at perhaps the region’s most famous festival: the Feria de Abril de Sevilla, when reining in the syllables also called Feria de Abril or Feria de Sevilla.
With its origins dating back to the mid 19th century, Feria de Abril began life as a livestock meet in 1847 and was held in the Prado de San Sebastian area of Seville‘s suburbs, a part of the city now home to the University and a large bus station. The popularity and size of the Feria grew quickly and it became as much a social occasion for neighbouring families and communities to meet as it was an opportunity for livestock dealings. By the early twentieth century it was well-established as one of the highlights of southern Spain’s calendar and a place to be and be seen.
The fact that the Feria de Abril traditionally begins at midnight exactly two weeks after Easter Monday goes a long way to set the party precedent it is famous for. Due to Easter’s late arrival in 2014, this will mean that the Feria de Abril will actually fall in May, starting on Monday 5 May. There will follow six very loud days of music, dancing, decorations, eating and drinking until finally the locals and visitors decide they need a rest on Sunday 11 May.
Nowadays, the Feria de Abril de Sevilla is considered the country’s largest and most famous fair and is held in the southern district of Los Remedios where it spreads across an area of many square miles, allowing for livestock tents, live entertainment stages, a theme park and rows and rows of casetas. These traditional marquees are set up by local families and businesses for their eating, drinking and socialising though many are open to the public too. Getting there is easy with special busses from the city centre, and in many ways it’s recommended that you don’t stay too close to the Feria just so you have the option to leave the party and recover if needed!
Feria de Abril still keeps a focus on its roots in livestock and is widely recognised as the official start to Spain’s bullfighting season. The bullfighting at Feria de Abril is held across the Canal de Alfonso XIII at the magnificent Maestranza arena. While the sport remains a contentious matter in Spain and abroad, there is no holding back on the pomp and ceremony of the tradition, with matadors parading in their finest traje de luces outfits - translated aptly as ‘suit of lights’.
Clothes are a crucial part of the Feria, with many visitors coming just to see the colour and frills of flamenco dresses donned through six days of celebrations. You’ll almost certainly see the dresses in action as men and women take to the floor to perform organised and impromptu Sevillanas dancing, a type of flamenco music and dance specific to the Seville region.
For the full authentic experience ensure your Feria is fuelled with a glass or more of rebujito, a sweet but powerful drink made by mixing sherry and lemonade and when it’s time to eat, among the feast of tapas available make sure you try pescaito frito, a regional dish of assorted fried seafood, and a plate of solomillo al whiskey, pork cooked in whiskey!
While the Feria de Abril is reason enough to go to Seville, there are other advantages to visiting the city in spring, not least the famously sweet sight and smell of the orange trees scattered around this beautiful city. May is also one of the better months for weather as the summer in Seville can prove too hot for some. For this reason, May is a great time to explore the many miles of bike lanes that have made Seville one of Spain’s best cycling cities; hop on a Sevici bike, the public bike scheme that visitors can use too with trips of under 30 minutes being free. Enjoy the calm of a lazy bike ride along the banks of the GuadalquivirRiver before heading to the Feria for an evening overdose of colour, light and music.
Have you ever been to the Feria de Abril in Seville?
When Scotland introduced the smoking ban there was a bit of an attempt to make smokers feel less pariah-like. City businesses set up little outdoor booths for their unrepentant staff, sandboxes appeared on streets and Glasgow Airport planted a hedge. I mention this, not to alert you to the kindly ways of Airport Authorities, but because that hedge was also home to one of the most feeble warning signs I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing – ‘Don’t Pick The Hedge’. Sadly I don’t have a pick, but it was there and it was printed and laminated and mounted on a small stick. And although I have never in my life, ever, wanted to pick a hedge, when I saw that sign there was nothing I wanted to do more.
That’s the thing about signs, they’re either stupid and bring out the worst in people or they’re pathetic and completely fail to alert you to imminent and alarming danger.
The worst signs for bringing out our less admirable qualities have to be Place Names. For some of us it’s not enough to take a selfie next to the amusing (usually only in translation) name, we have to take the sign itself. There are cities and towns all over the world where sign stealing is such an issue deterrents have been set up to catch light-fingered visitors in the act. ‘Condom’ in SW France is a top spot for sign stealers (in fairness most visitors do restrict themselves to the traditional awkward snap). The residents of the pretty town may affect nonchalance over its name – it’s not called le préservatif after all – but it hasn’t stopped them installing cameras over any and every official sign.
The tiny village of ‘Dull’ in Scotland suffers too, as does ‘Ogre’ in Latvia, ‘Pity Me’ in Co. Durham and ‘Bastard’ in Norway. But the woes of replacing a few bits of metal and ticking off tourists seem trivial compared to the major crisis faced by the Mayor of Batman, Turkey in 2008. Whipped into a frenzy of outrage by the use of his city’s name in the Batman movie franchise, Mayor Huseyin Kalkan threatened to sue director Christopher Nolan and Warner Bros blaming ‘Batman Begins’ et al for a rise in suicides in the city.
Perhaps Batman movies should carry a hazard sign when they’re screened in Batman. My money would be on the style of sign favoured on popular Australian surfing beaches, the one with the pictogram of the shark and the cautionary legend ‘Surfing At Your Risk’.
Really, you need to be told there might be sharks swimming about in open Australian water? This is the country that gives us Stone Fish: fish that look like stones and kill you stone dead in 4 minutes. If I heard that Pterodactyls had been sighted in Australia I wouldn’t even be slightly surprised.
Shark Hazard signs pale into insignificance compared to the Alligator Warnings posted in Florida swamps. ‘Alligators – Swim With Caution’ …. Swim only in designated areas ……Be watchful for alligators….Report approaching alligators to a Lifeguard ….. Never feed alligators. To be honest anyone who needs those warnings about alligators should probably just dive right in and get it over with. It’s a swamp and alligators have many teeth and one thing on their mind – eating, anything edible. But I’d be delighted to hear from anyone whose first thought on being approached by an alligator in a Florida swamp was ‘must report that to a Lifeguard’.
King Continent for understated ‘careful now’ hazard signs has to be Europe. Sometime in the mid-20th century, the Vienna Convention standardised all road signs to make them slightly less threatening than Church Coffee Morning posters. So, although there are hundreds of deer related road deaths and accidents every year and upwards of 40,000 deer are killed annually in the UK alone, the merry leaping and prancing pictogram beasts designed to warn us of this, are clearly not the ones involved in the carnage.
Give me Canada’s stomping, enraged moose facing down a crumpled car of cowering motorists any day.
European level crossings without barriers or warning lights are quietly suggested by the pictogram of a sleepy, ambling locomotive with a cheery plume of smoke and an average speed of 3km per hour, so nothing to worry about really. And grounding hazards for lorries get a deconstructed ‘Very Hungry Caterpillar’ – how those stranded drivers must chuckle.
But take away the restrictions and all bets are off when it comes to expressing cultural nuances in the medium of signs. The gentle island of South Uist politely informs you ‘Otter’s Crossing’. France peppers its hard shoulders with large, black cut-outs of coffin shaped people and fatality statistics. America puts you on guard with warnings of ‘Wild Hogs’ (not mid-life crisis bikers on Harleys I don’t think). And in Spain, because an accident victim has to stay by the side of the road till a coroner arrives, they don’t even need signs.
Let’s end on a cheerier note. This washroom sign at Sydney University, Australia advises students on the hazards of misusing the toilet. Makes you think: if you’re cowering on a toilet in a locked cubicle you’ve probably got more to worry you than a potential plumbing crisis.
Featured image from juiceboxdotcom