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.
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).
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.
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.
Thailand is one of those rare places that looks just as good as the postcards would have you believe. Bright turquoise sea, colourful markets and those beautiful green forests – it’s basically like stepping into an HDR photo.
The three main islands on the Samui archipelago, Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Pha Ngan, all have their own merits, so I suggest you don’t get picky. Enjoy all three in their own right.
This is the most famous of the eastern Thai islands. It’s a really fashionable destination, and not just for those of us on a shoestring budget – you could rock up to the Six Senses, or The Library, which TripAdvisor called ‘the trendiest hotel in Thailand’. If you’re lucky, you might catch the likes of Mick Jagger performing at the Secret Garden Sunday Sessions on Big Buddha Beach.
Even if you’re not that interested in make-up in everyday life, travelling can change that. For one thing, any combination of jet lag, rough ferry crossings, late night road trips and weird eating patterns can play havoc with your skin, and that’s before sizzling heat or bitterly cold winds come into the equation too. Suddenly a slick of colour or a soothing skin cream seems like a very good idea, and it’s the perfect time to invest in travel beauty products.
With a slew of special offers running in high street stores all year round, World Duty Free isn’t always the cheapest place to shop. Rather than pinning your hopes on airport bargains, I suggest you stock up on basics before you travel, and save some room in your suitcase to bring home new and distinctive beauty products – either for yourself or to use as souvenirs. And if you go to South Korea, expect beauty-savvy friends to be insanely jealous, as it’s a mecca for cosmetics.
I recently blogged about the Freedom Pass from Dublin Sightseeing, but my city break also involved another sightseeing card (yes, I like to spread my favours): the Dublin Pass, which gives tourists free entry to 33 leading attractions.
Adult prices vary from €39 (£29) for one day or €61 (£45) for six days’ access. My three day option cost €71 (£52), which worked out at €23.66 (£17.33) per day, and I was determined to see as much as possible during that time.
So what sealed the deal? As with my Freedom Pass experience, the convenience factor is one big incentive: carrying less cash saves time. With the Dublin Pass you get a free one-way Aircoach transfer, and you can skip the line at some of the city’s most popular sights. To get your attraction tickets, the staff scan your pass using a mobile app. Here’s my verdict…
Dublin is mostly a walkable city and, though you can navigate it easily, there are always extra things to be seen from the road and from the experts. When I visited last week for a short break with my parents, I knew a bus tour would be on our agenda, but we wanted to get the best value for our Euro.
I chose Dublin Sightseeing’s Freedom Pass as it seemed like good value for money: €33 (or £24) provides three days’ unlimited hop-on hop-off bus travel on two sightseeing routes, plus public bus travel (the blue and yellow buses you see everywhere), a free Pat Liddy walking tour and free entry to the Little Museum of Dublin, alongside a range of attraction discounts. Not bad for the equivalent of €11 (£8) per day. But would it be useful in reality?
Whether you’re travelling en famille or you’re flying solo, you know there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all city break. As there are far too many existing Paris guides aimed at couples, I’ve aimed to redress the balance for the rest of us with these tips, following on from my guide for first-time visitors.
Paris with Kids
I recently compiled a city break itinerary for a family of five, so I can promise you this city is child-friendly. It’s just a case of finding what will keep everyone entertained…
The city of light can be dazzling, which may explain why it’s on so many travel bucket lists. Paris seems maze-like and full-on at first, with its different arrondissements (neighbourhoods) and its constant trendsetting, but once you start wandering you’ll see it’s not so daunting after all. Are you ready to explore?
Your First Trip to Paris: The Basics
Start as you mean to go on…
If you’re travelling from the UK, choose the Eurostar over planes. Charles De Gaulle airport is nowhere near where you want to be, and it’ll cost €10 for a train ticket to the city centre, whereas the Eurostar takes you straight to the Gare du Nord.
The Mayor of Paris’ website has a ‘First time in Paris’ guide full of tips – I like the sound of the helium balloon tour in the André Citroën Park (weather-permitting).
Using the Metro is pretty straightforward, and the ticket machines have an English language option. Buy a carnet which gives you 10 tickets – much easier than buying a single or return each time. Try to avoid travelling at rush hour (09:00-10:00 and 18:00-19:30).
Read the free Metropolitan magazine on the Eurostar for up-to-date events listings and more ideas of what to see. Text is in English (phew!).
The big Tourist Office is at 25 Rue des Pyramides, near the Opera metro station.
Find out which local markets are on during your stay – useful for buying fresh food or souvenirs.
Safety tips are as standard for any European city; keep an eye on your valuables, be wary of walking alone at night in quiet areas, and don’t react to tourist scams (e.g. someone asks if you’ve dropped a gold ring, in the hope of distracting you).
We all know the French are a stylish bunch, but save your Louboutins if you’re seeing Paris on foot. Swap them for a pair of unisex Stan Smith trainers by Adidas – loved by the ever-chic Phoebe Philo of Celine, seen in a 2013 issue of Vogue Paris and sold at hot designer boutique Colette, where Pharrell Williams even issued a limited edition customised Stan Smiths range.
You don’t have to do these, but you’ve heard about the hype…
I won’t big up the Eiffel Tower – you’re either desperate to visit or you’re not bothered, let’s be honest – but get alternative city views from the top of the Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame. The Arc de Triomphe is open from 10am-11pm, with free entry for under 18s. Adult tickets cost €9.50. Notre Dame is open 10:30-18:30 Mon-Fri and 10:00-23:00 Sat-Sun. Tickets are €8.50, and queues move quickly.
Montmartre’s famous Sacré Coeur church is open daily from 6am-10:30pm. The nearby Muséede Montmartre (2/14, Rue Cortot) is on a side street, and it’s open every day from 10am-6pm. There’s also Paris’ last working vineyard, Clos de Montmartre, opposite.
If you won’t rest until you’ve seen the tiny Mona Lisa, pre-book your Louvre tickets to cut down some queuing time. The Paris City Pass gives you free entry here, and to many other museums and galleries.
Desperate for a Seine cruise? High-end evening trips can cost up to €180pp, which isn’t good value in anyone’s books. Instead, the Paris Tourist Board has a range of daytime cruises from €6pp. Bateaux Parisiens has lunchtime trips from €33pp, including a one hour tour; if you get a Paris City Pass you’re entitled to a one hour Bateaux Parisiens Seine cruise (without food) for free.
The Musée des Arts et Métiers (60 Rue Réaumur) is a bit like London’s Science Museum, with exhibits covering science, technology, energy and communication, including Foucault’s pendulum. Visit from Tues-Sun, 10am-6pm, and late night on Thurs until 9:30pm. Tickets are €8 for adults and €5.50 for children.
Food and Drink
Not every meal is baguette-based or best consumed with wine…