Visit anywhere in France from mid-March onwards and you’ll see signs all over the place advertising local ‘Vide Grenier’. Literally translated as ‘Empty Attic’, these markets are usually held on Sundays, last all day and sell everything from seedlings to huge antique knife grinders, gorgeous 19th century bed linen to Lego, books, baskets and even car parts. Stalls are hired by the metre and it’s a bit of a free-for-all. But you can turn up some real finds if you look hard enough. If you’re thinking it sounds just like a French Car Boot Sale, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Vide Greniers are family events, everything stops for lunch at the Buvette, no one’s really expecting to make a fortune in sales – apart from a few omnipresent dealers. And Vide Grenier are part of an ancient European tradition that makes Car Boot Sales look like the callow newbies they really are.
Because there isn’t a town or city or village or hamlet in France that doesn’t have some kind of market at least once a week. From Nord Pas de Calais to the Côte d’Azur, getting out on the street and selling stuff is as big a part of French culture as déjeuner and indiscriminate overtaking. And if you want to see local life and the idiosyncratic differences that define France’s Régions and Départements, just visit a market, wander about and all will be revealed. Continue reading
Efficiency, discipline and determination are national characteristics that define many of Germany’s 38 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It’s not that they don’t have opulence and extravagance – nobody would call Cologne Cathedral restrained – or that the few factories, ironworks and fossil pits with UNESCO status set a universally sober and functional tone. It’s Germany’s response to a more recent history that marks it as a conservation leader, particularly when it comes to the built heritage.
WWII saw much of the country decimated by bombing, including a large number of historic buildings, entire towns and architectural masterpieces that were considered irreplaceable – by everyone except the Germans that is. Using original plans, impeccably sourced materials, traditional skills and legendary patience and attention to detail, the country restored almost everything that was damaged or partially destroyed. It’s taken decades, innumerable setbacks and enormous investment, but without a doubt this remarkable achievement adds an even more fascinating and impressive dimension to today’s World Heritage Germany. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading