Back in September, the BBC reported that the UK is heading towards its coffee shop saturation point. Even in small towns, you’ll find several different coffee chains and some independent cafes within 100 yards of each other. As for London, you can barely move for baristas, but finding independent London cafes is trickier.
We all like a trip to Costa (the UK’s most visible coffee chain) now and again, yet independent cafes are far more fun to explore: the mystery of a new menu, a different blend of coffee or tea, and finding out if there are books, board games or artwork to enjoy. This is definitely the case in London, though I do realise some independents can take the biscuit when it comes to prices and pretentiousness. With this in mind, here are the best unpretentious and independent London cafes you should try.read more
As we approach the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death, two things strike me: firstly, I feel old (I was eight when she died, and vividly remember listening to the announcement on the radio in my parents’ room, then – in true ‘overly serious child’ mode, telling myself I would always remember where I was when I heard this monumental news. At the time, I also had a habit of standing up whenever I heard the National Anthem, believing it was an unwritten rule to do so, but that’s another story).read more
If you remove the modern political context, the name ‘Guantánamo Bay’ could be just another holiday resort. It’s in the Caribbean Sea, an American enclave on the edge of Cuba. There’s a branch of McDonald’s, and ‘over 6,000 species of flora and fauna’. Perfect package holiday material, right? That’s what 2Magpies, the makers of Last Resort, thought when they applied an all-inclusive tourist lens to the notorious American naval detention camp for suspected terrorists. They’ve created an immersive theatre piece that, for all the surface jollity of deckchairs, sand and Cuba Libre cocktails, successfully chills audiences to the bone.read more
One of your greatest holiday reads for 2017 doesn’t have many words, and the pictures are dated, but I promise it’s a work of utter genius: enter Postcard from the Past, extracts from genuine postcards sent by British holidaymakers in the 1960s and 1970s. Yes, decades full of cramped car journeys, discovering Spanish resorts, and trying to get a tan by covering yourself in cooking oil.
Holidays were still expensive, and there was no such thing as a budget airline or a Megabus, so getting a postcard from someone’s travels must have been pretty exciting. Imagine, for a second, how you’d react when this came through their letterbox from a friend or relative: ‘I can’t explain what it’s like here. So I won’t bother.’ Hopefully the sender didn’t go on to present travel documentaries…read more
Before I read Vietnam Eye, I didn’t really know or understand Vietnamese art. It wasn’t covered in my History of Art A-Level, or the Fine & Applied Arts section of my undergrad degree (both were unfairly weighted towards Western art, except for a token glance at Japanese woodblock prints), and I’d never knowingly learned about a Vietnamese art movement in galleries around the world.
However, the coffee table book Vietnam Eye (published by Skira) is a chance to understand contemporary Vietnamese artists, and the enduring themes they deal with. Many of the artists are graduates from the Vietnam University of Fine Arts, and their work now sits in galleries around the world. Here are some of my favourite discoveries from this new coffee table book.read more
There are plenty of #firstworldproblems travellers encounter, but one of the most frustrating once you’ve returned from your trip is the case of the missing photos. Our digital dependency means we upload these images, maybe back them up to an external device or cloud, then return to them at will, rarely holding a physical copy.
Such was the case with my New York city break last year: four nights of exploring one of my all-time favourite cities, with my parents and former NY resident sister. My photos, spread across two cameras and a smartphone (yes, I’m that gadget-dependent), captured the key moments from our visit: taking in the disturbing but unmissable 9/11 Museum; stumbling upon the Brooklyn Historical Society on Pierrepont Street, and its heart-breaking slavery exhibition. Browsing cute little shops like The Fountain Pen Hospital and Fishs Eddy [sic], and trying out cool restaurants, like Bareburger; walking the High Line and the Brooklyn Bridge.read more
There’s something ethereal about the bog in Lahemaa National Park, and its many colours: red spongey plants in the water, weird grey-green lichen and moss growing everywhere, and total silence. No wonder Estonians revere the bogs, which cover a fifth of the country.
I arrived with a group at about 5am, hoping to see the sunrise, but it wasn’t to be – cloud cover got the better of us, resolutely refusing to let the sun skim the trees. Nevertheless, we ploughed on, with our guide pointing out the different types of plants and trees surrounding us as the rain tapped out a rhythm on our collection of plastic macs in various sludgy hues.read more
It’s British Beer Day (or #BeerDayBritain) today, which means it would be disrespectful not to crack open a bottle of something brewed right here.
If you’ve done the Guinness Tour in Dublin – which I highly recommend, even for those of you daft enough to hate the black stuff – and you’ve been to the Heineken Experience in Amsterdam or the Domus Brewery in Leuven, you might fancy a British equivalent. That’s why all the beers I recommend here come with brewery tour options. Cheers!
The Craft Beer Success Story: Bristol Beer Factory Milk Stout
This creamy milk stout (4.5% ABV) has won more awards than you’ve had hot dinners, and it’s quite a healthy choice, as milk stouts tend to contain Vitamin B6, Niacin and flavonoids (antioxidants). Bristol Beer Factory Milk Stout has hints of chocolate, coffee and fruit, and I find it’s a must-have when I’m in Bristol. Awkwardly, I first discovered it during a family wake at the Tobacco Factory, but let’s just gloss over that…read more
What does it mean to belong? Yep, that’s a very philosophical question for a Wednesday afternoon, but it’s worth asking – especially with the General Election looming.
Last night, I border-hopped from West to East Sussex for the second BelongCon event, to find out what belonging is all about: to belong in your community, in your tribe of like-minded people (something that’s big for those of us with mental health issues), in your industry, in your environment. BelongCon began as ‘Belong Conference’, with the first event held in March, but as it took shape, founder Alice Reeves realised ‘Conference’ didn’t really define her aim. It’s now become ‘Belong Conversation’, starting discussions about sharing, empathy, friendship and self-esteem, as captured by photographer Seb Lee-Delisle, above.read more
When you think of Vienna, you think of palaces, Orson Welles and sharp architecture, accompanied by apfelstrudel. You perhaps don’t put Vienna in the same price bracket as Reykjavik or Copenhagen, which draw as many worried glances as jealous stares when you tell people you’re going there.
Brace yourselves, kids, because Vienna is more expensive and demanding than you think – I found Reykjavik and Copenhagen much cheaper and friendlier for city breaks overall, and with more food choices, despite their pricier reputations. This makes it difficult when you’re a solo traveller in Vienna, or you’re a first-time visitor trying to see the city minus a hefty credit card bill.read more