New York Shopping: The Fountain Pen Hospital & Fishs Eddy

traditional American fountain pen ink sold in famous Tribeca New York stationery store, lined up on shelves

There’s more to the Big Apple’s retail scene than Macy’s, Bloomingdales and the designer haunts loved by Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City. In fact, New York shopping should be on your agenda even if you’re not a fashion fan, because there are some excellent specialist shops to discover on your travels. I’ve picked two of my new favourite niche stores not to be missed.

The Fountain Pen Hospital

With sixty years of pen repairs under its belt, this is a thriving business and a fascinating place to explore. It has survived relocation and the ups and downs of the economy, and is now run by the third generation of the Wiederlight family, brothers Terry and Steve. Inside its doors you can pick up a posh rollerball, browse the latest pen catalogue and check out limited edition fountain pens at well over the $1000 mark. As the ‘hospital’ name indicates, your pens can be repaired in store, and the staff really do know their stuff.

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Manus x Machina at the Metropolitan Museum, New York

Delphos dress at Metropolitan Museum exhibition 'Manus x Machina' with mushroom silk pleats

‘The hand and the machine’ is the vague-sounding inspiration for Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, at the Metropolitan Museum. It’s about the high levels of craftsmanship involved in making fashion since 1900, either by hand-sewing and embellishing or using sewing machines and 3D printers in the process. Kind of dry until you realise how important the fashion industry is around the world, how it reflects society, and how many economies it supports. It seems we could all learn from this show.

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Bethlem Museum of the Mind: A Unique Attraction

Raving and melancholy infamous allegorical statues at front of Bethlem Hospital now used in museum entrance

Amid last year’s mental health scandals – including spending cuts, insensitive comments from politicians, and crisis care failures – there was a big step forward in tackling the stigma of psychological illness. It came from a newly-opened museum and charity: Bethlem Museum of the Mind, in Beckenham, Kent, recently nominated for the 2016 Museum of the Year award.

Yes, the name might sound familiar. Bethlem is the fourth site of the notorious hospital better known as Bedlam. You won’t find power-crazed doctors leaving patients in chains – a stereotypical mental image associated with the ‘madhouse’ of earlier centuries – but you will find a place where modern mental illness is explained. What’s more, entry is free, and it’s open to everyone.

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Tracing the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin

Crowds around the General Post Office in Ireland in the wake of the Easter Rising

Sick of living under British rule, and tired of being asked to support their British oppressors in WWI, a faction of Irish citizens planned to take action in Dublin on the Easter weekend of 1916. 100 years later, the world remembers the Easter Rising, and Dublin still bears the scars.

Though many rebels got cold feet and one leader actually called off the Rising on 23rd April 1916, the remaining fighters dug trenches and took strongholds as arranged on 24th April, in the name of the Free Irish Republic. Their proclamation was issued from the General Post Office, which became their command hub from Easter Monday and was left gutted by the end of the fighting on 29th April.

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Quinoa: A Well-Travelled Andean Superfood

Quinoa Peruvian superfood slogan written on grey t-shirt and sweater

They say travel broadens your horizons, but it also broadens your palate. Though I’m a fairly fussy eater at home, as soon as I’m away I find there’s something irresistible about tasting local delicacies – stoemp in Belgium, a shot of throat-burning Brennivin in Iceland, Butlers chocolate in Ireland, you name it.

But trying quinoa in Peru was a revelation because it was already making waves around the world. So what was the fuss about, and why are superfoods like this making such an impact?

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Is it Worth Getting a Lisboa Card?

Boy chases hat blown by summer breeze along Lisbon waterfront with warehouse building in the background; black and white street scene

Most major cities have their own tourist cards, promising discounts on sightseeing and transport, but it’s not always easy to tell which ones are worth paying for. However, when it comes to the Lisboa Card, Lisbon’s equivalent, the benefits are certainly tempting enough…

How much does it cost?

There are 24, 48 or 72 hour cards available, priced at €18.50, €31.50 or €39.00 for adults, or €11.50, €17.50 and €22.50 for children. Bear in mind there’s hardly any price increase from 48 to 72 hours, so you might as well pick the longer option, especially as this gives you access to exclusive restaurant discounts (not available on shorter options).

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Planning a Trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau: Independent or Guided?

Last remains of outlined Birkenau concentration camp blocks with brick block in foreground

You don’t decide to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau on a whim, so it’s crucial to make the most of your time there. In my last post I covered the emotional impact of visiting the two camps, but now I’m focusing on the practical side.

Do you want to take the bus, the train, a pre-booked coach trip (with or without a tour included), or would you rather hire a driver? When you arrive, would you prefer to wander alone or join a group? If you’re indecisive, or a bit confused by conflicting opinions from other travellers, take a deep breath, grab a cuppa and we’ll go through the options.

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Visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau

Haunting camp sign Arbeit Macht Frei with group entering concentration camp on tour

There’s so much to tell you about visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau that I’ve split this into two posts: first the emotional side of things, then the practical side. It’s important not to let logistics overtake the reasons you’d want to visit: to learn, to pay respects, to remember, and to pass on what you’ve seen.

My mum and I arrived on a cold but sunny March morning and joined a group tour with an official guide. This was what we discovered under bright blue skies.

What to Expect

Auschwitz I looks less like a traditional camp and more like a forlorn housing estate, because it used to be an army barracks, whereas Birkenau’s low wooden buildings were stables for horses before they housed people, and the brick buildings came later. Life goes on around the camps, with houses and businesses on their very fringes, and signs directing you to KFC. Monowitz-Buna, one of the satellite camps, was based further away and doesn’t exist anymore, but our guide pointed it out from Birkenau as laying beyond the two industrial towers in the distance.

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Is Papersmiths the Best Shop in Bristol?

Foreground HB pencils in aqua with pink rubber erasers, against background of magazines from Britain, Europe and America

Writing longhand seems like a guilty pleasure these days, but one stationery shop in Bristol makes it unashamedly cool again: Papersmiths.

This Clifton store offers a carefully curated selection of pens, notebooks, cards and accessories, not to mention a vast range of fashion and lifestyle magazines to rival those stocked by London’s best newsagents. I popped in during a quick trip to the city and, being a self-confessed stationery addict, I was quickly won over by most of the stock.

Brands in store range from the minimalist design-centric (Hay) to the infinitely quirky (Herb Lester travel guides). Visual merchandising is simple but effective, with pencils arranged in colour order, and copies of The Gentlewoman slotted between thick woollen rugs and bowls full of chunky erasers in the window, so you start to picture your own home gradually being transformed into a Papersmiths palace.

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Travelling Solo in Tokyo: Know Before You Go

Traditional Washi paper shop in Tokyo street, shot in black and white, with calligraphy on display. Credit Soranyan via Flickr

You might remember me naming Japan as one of the hot destinations for Spring/Summer 2016, as it’s loved by fashion designers right now, not to mention travel magazines and websites.

Well, guest blogger June has captured the mood and is here to inspire you with tips for travelling solo in Tokyo, so you can see what all the fuss is about…

Solo travel can be daunting, let alone when you want to see the most populated metropolis in the world. Tokyo, the capital of Japan, is a massive city with a population of more than 13.3 million people, and it’s known worldwide for great food, trendsetting fashions, shopping areas and a stark contrast of tradition and modernity. There’s something for everyone, especially solo travellers.

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Calavera (Span. feminine noun) = skull. A travel blog with a love of culture, dark tourism and the unconventional.

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