Shop here: Skoob Books, London, UK

Skoob Books
66, The Brunswick, off Marchmont Street, London
www.skoob.com/

Skoob Books was another one of those places that popped up on my Sygic Travel app while I was looking at other things in the area. It was described as a “second-hand bookshop boasting a huge selection of academic and art books.” Count me in – I was hoping there’d be more than just university text books in there.

Enter at street level and down the stairs you go, like Alice down the rabbit hole. I can see how some people might find the dingy, windowless basement vibe a bit claustrophobic and uncomfortable, but I instantly felt right at home in there. Because in that dimly lit basement, there are books everywhere. So many that the divine smell of musty old pages hits you before the sea of paper fills your vision.

This shop is filled to the brim with books. Crammed onto the shelves, piled on the floor, tucked under tables and falling out of boxes. They claim 55,000 books in a 186 square metre shop – that’s 295 books per square metre. That’s heaven. And it turns out they have a lot more than academic and art books – their range is probably the best I’ve ever seen in a used book store. Everything from philosophy and science to religion and history is covered in an atmosphere that can only be described as semi-organized chaos.

Possibly the best part is that the books are actually really reasonably priced, and they are constantly getting new books in (unlike some used bookstores that just have the same ones in stock for months on end because they’re too overpriced for anyone to purchase them…); they have a warehouse where they have over a million (!!!) books ready to replenish the shelves.

It’s a scary time for us bookworms; one day we read that book sales are up again, the next they’re closing bookstores as more people favour electronic devices to read from. But visiting Skoob gave me a bit of hope that maybe places like this can survive. Its the kind of place you immediately feel a kinship with the other patrons, where you get the feeling that the staff are there because they want to be and actually read, too. A bookshop where things are disordered enough that you feel comfortable being in there, but at the same time, the books are treated with the care and reverence by the types of people who understand that they’re not just books. This is the kind of bookshop that I really hope will never die out, because it’s a place that actually inspires you to pick up a book and read.

Shop here: Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice, Italy

Libreria Acqua Alta
Where? Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa, 5176/B, 30122 Venice
When? Open daily 09:00 – 20:00

If you’ve ever been to Venice in the colder months, you’ll have no doubt seen what looks like trestle tables stacked up in random corners of the city (go on, Google it – I’ll wait). The city is not perpetually prepared for a giant street party; it’s ready for acqua alta.

When the tide rises, the waters of the Adriatic Sea come roaring in, and poor little Venice dips even further under water for a while! Those trestle tables go up to be used as elevated walkways (called passarelle), and everyone tries to keep their belongings and merchandise dry.

Luigi found a novel solution for the bookshop he named after this natural inconvenience, which he opened in 2004 – he put his books in water proof bins, small boats, bathtubs, even a gondola, parked in the middle of the store. When you open a store full of books on an island that’s slowly sinking, you have to take some extreme precautions!

It’s a haphazardly arranged shop with both new and old tomes, a fire escape that leads to a canal, and a stairway to heaven made of old books with one hell of a view from the top. The staff member I spoke to, while not terribly friendly, did speak English and was able to point me in the right direction. There are some books in English, French, Spanish – mostly they’re in Italian, though. There’s really not much else to write about this place that other bloggers haven’t already So, here’s another set of photos from this little piece of heaven, because how could you possibly get sick of looking at these?!

5 Reasons To Renew Your Library Membership

Remember back in the day when you used to go to the library after school, pick up your books like it was the most exciting thing in the world, and head home to your juice box and teddy bears to read (chances are if you weren’t born in the 80s, you probably don’t)? Unsurprisingly, I had pretty high library attendance rates when I was a kid. I went through books like a pack-a-day smoker goes through cigarettes, and it wasn’t cheap for mum and dad to keep up with my habit. So I went to the library.

Many years later, not much has changed. I don’t smoke. I don’t really drink, other than the odd glass of wine. I don’t buy myself nice clothes, fancy shoes, new handbags or jewellery – my money goes towards books. That’s my guilty pleasure. But with my travel habit getting more and more expensive, something’s had to give. So I toddled on down to the local library, and signed myself up, expecting a half-decent collection of old books, at best. What I found instead, I was not expecting.

Libraries have upped their game since I was last a member back in the 1990s. They’ve got new books, old books, and so much more than books. I’m kicking myself for not having signed up earlier, because the easy access to books has meant I’ve been able to tear through 24 of them so far this year already! My habit is satisfied, and I’ve found a whole new world I didn’t know existed a few months ago. I’m really glad I went back to the library, and here’s why you should, too…

 

1. It’s not just access to your local library – it’s your whole council.
Say you live in the confines of the Whitehorse City Council. Say you live in the suburb of Blackburn. It’s not just Blackburn’s library you can borrow from; you can use your library card to borrow from Box Hill. Or Doncaster. Or Nunawading, Vermont, Bulleen or Warrandyte. You have no idea how nifty this is until you want to borrow a book on your way home and it’s way easier to drop into a different branch!

2. Easy reservations online or with apps.
You know how frustrating it is when you finally get to the library and they don’t have the book you want? Well that’s a thing of the past, now. Councils like Darebin have introduced an app you can download; from there, you can search the library catalogue and make a reservation! And, to prove step one really is efficient, it doesn’t matter which library the book is currently residing in – they can bring it to your library of choice for collection! AND you’ll get a handy sms to let you know when it’s ready for you, so you don’t have to make the trip down for nothing. Amazing!

3. They look after the kids.
Libraries have seriously upped their game when it comes to activities for the small ones. The City of Moonee Valley are outstanding, providing not only sessions for kids of all ages (rhyme time for babies, a mix of singing and stories for the toddlers, a story time program for pre-schoolers, and even an after school program for the older kids), they also have a gorgeous initiative called “Begin With Books” that gives a free book bag to all babies born within their council 🙂

4. Free community events.
Did you know that most libraries actually hold a ton of free events?! Libraries like those in the City of Yarra host regular events, ranging from social (crafternoons, Lego clubs and kids’ reading clubs) to educational (digital coaching and how to create your own food gardens), and all you have to do is register online and turn up!

5. Free books – duh!
Sooooo many books! All yours! For free! For a time, anyway. Oh, and it’s not just physical books that libraries lend out anymore; you can also get eBooks to download to your favourite electronic reading device! And as you can see on Moreland City Council’s library page, you can also get eAudiobooks, And eMovies. And eMagazines. Libraries are keeping up with technology to stay relevant and accessible, and that can only come in handy!

Read this: Around The World (Without Counting The Pennies) by Vincent Adams Winter

Around The World (Without Counting The Pennies)
by Vincent Adams Winters

Considering the fact that I found this at an op shop, it contains absolutely no publication details, and a search online didn’t turn up any results other than a listing in the National Library of Australia catalog, this isn’t so much a “read this book” post as it is a “give your local op shop book shelves a proper look through” post.

Second hand book shops are my favourite places to pass the time. They are honest-to-goodness treasure troves, and some of my favourite are ones that I’ve found tucked away under dusty piles of random volumes. This one I discovered in an op shop in Healesville – the bright cover and title got my attention, but once I saw what it was all about, I knew I had to have it.

Written by Vince, it has all the hallmarks of being a written-for-fun book, recounting Vince and wife Betty’s adventures on their 18 months and over 20 country trip around the world in 1979-80. Vince introduces the book with a strong message that age, health and budget restrictions shouldn’t stop you from getting out there and seeing the world; both in their sixties at the time of the trip, Betty had club foot and hyper-tension, and Vince suffered from Parkinson’s disease. They visited doctors or hospitals every 6 weeks or so for treatment and medication, which was crazy to read about so many years later – imagine rolling up to a hospital in Barcelona with a letter from your doctor asking them to dispense some medication to you?!

Reading through this book was an incredible trip back in time; there was so much more freedom back then in how you could travel, few real restrictions on visas and border crossings like there are now, no real worries in finding accommodation, no serious concerns in talking to strangers. I’m a big fan of journalling as a bit of a time capsule, a way of capturing a piece of the world as it is right now, and that’s exactly what Vince and Betty’s book was.

It was also really entertaining to read about how they liked to travel – upon arriving in each new city, they had two requirements they liked to have met:
1. A bus tour of the city to get their bearings and see the general outlay, while learning a few facts about the place.
2. Accommodation that provided a good on-site restaurant, because a quality breakfast and dinner were paramount.

This second point I related to particularly well, as husband and I are particularly keen on being well fed on our travels (the main difference being that we like to get out and try as much local cuisine as possible, generally avoiding hotel restaurants like the plague). This passage in particular summed up their attitude for the bulk of their trip, and had me in stitches trying to picture it…

“Leaving Solvesborg, still through dairying and wheat country similar to that between Malmo and Solvesburg, we decided to stop at Vostervik for our customary pre-lunch drink. It is a fairly large town but an hour of investigating failed to find a bar or cafe selling beer. Leaving in disgust and finding out way to the main road with some difficulty we drove only five kilometres further where we got our drink.”

 

They also kindly added in an appendix first page below) tracking their spendings on accommodation and meals… googling inflation conversions of these rates today was a bit of an eye-opener!

To think this little gem ended up in an op shop in regional Victoria, selling for only $3.50, and ending up in my hands is incredible; it also has to make you wonder how many other little treasures are floating around out there in the world with so much information and so many beautiful stories to offer… next time you’re at a second hand bookshop, take a bit of time to trawl through the stacks; you never know what you might find 🙂

 

Eat & drink here: Buck Mulligan’s, Melbourne (whiskey & bar food)

Buck Mulligan’s
217 High St, Northcote
http://www.buckmulligans.com.au/

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!! I thought today might be a good day to let you know about a special little place that’s managed to stay under the radar for the past few months. When we walked past Buck Mulligan’s a few weeks ago, we had a pretty strong inkling that it was going to be our new favourite place – whiskey bar AND bookshop? Why yes, I think so!

Following an afternoon movie at Westgarth (and a large bucket of popcorn ), we made our way up High Street to Buck’s, and immediately fell completely in love. Exposed brick fireplace, wooden bookshelves, comfy couches and dusk light pouring in through the windows, we knew this was our place.

Husband wanted to sample some whiskey, and they have a great list to choose from – including a huge selection of Irish whiskeys. Husband went with the Teeling Flight, a selection of whiskeys from the first new distillery in Dublin in over 125 years: Small Batch, Single Grain, and Single Malt. They all got glowing reviews, and there’s a very good chance we may be visiting them in Dublin when we’re there in November…

They have wine and beer and cocktails, too, if whiskey isn’t your jam. And food – when you gorge on popcorn, you only need a light dinner, so we picked a few plates from their menu of nibbles:
– Clonakilty Bites (black pudding, fennel bread and relish), $6
– Traditional Ploughman’s for one (ham, cheese, pickled onions and relish, with Irish brown bread), $14
– Continental Ploughman’s for one (cold meats, cheese, olives mix with white crusty white bread), $15


Perfect. Simple, quality food is all you need, and this is it. The black pudding isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but we love it if it’s done right, and this was. We were also super impressed by the serving sizes – for $15 and the quality of ingredients,  they were VERY good value for money.

And don’t forget thr books – a great selection of new and used books by Irish authors, a few from local writers and small publishers, and regular book reading and launch events. We’re already planning on spending many more hours tucked away at Buck’s,  sipping on whiskey and reading books… you might want to drop in, too 🙂

From my travel journal: Washington, D.C., 2015

When I find things getting hectic, I tend to crave more time in my book nook; time to read or write, to just generally be in a quiet, comforting place filled with books…

 

IMG_6427

“THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS (Jefferson Building).
This was a gorgeous building, as they all were, really. The upper level was beautifully decorated, with quotes lining the walls. I quite liked “Books will speak plain when counsellors blanch.” The ornate columns and ceiling were really magnificent, and seeing Thomas Jefferson’s library was brilliant. To have a lifetime of being around all of those books…”

Read this: The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux

The Great Railway Bazaar 
by Paul Theroux

Only 280 sleeps to go until the big adventure! Sounds a bit ridiculous, I know, but actually 280 sleeps isn’t all that many… 9 months… and still so much to do before then!

Anyway, it’s never too early for me to start getting excited about my next adventure, and a lot of my reading reflects that. I love to read older travel books, written by proper adventurers, before the advent of technology came and changed travel. I love to read about how travel was before everyone was in a hurry to just get to a place and see the tourist attractions and get their photo and tick it off the list, when it was just as much about the journey as it was the destination.

I’ve finally gotten around to reading The Great Railway Bazaar, and I couldn’t agree more with the commendation on the cover – it was truly entertaining, from start to finish. Paul Theroux’s travelogue takes us from London through the Middle East, India, Asia and Siberia. He was travelling for the sake of travelling, all by rail (well, as much as was possible by rail), back in the mid 1970s. Just on the road because he wanted to be. Experiencing rail travel in country after country, watching the world go by, and writing about it all as it went.

“But he does not know – how could he? – that the scenes changing in the train window from Victoria Station to Tokyo Central are nothing compares to the change in himself.”

It mesmerised me. Every page. I fell in love with train back in 2013 when we caught a few trains around Europe. That’s the way travel should be; slow. Time to think. Time to take it in. Not running around airports like headless chooks – I hate that. I’m even more looking forward to all of the train trips we’ll have in this next big trip after reading this one.

The other thing that really got me about this book was how incredibly descriptive it was. I’ve read plenty of books that paint a lovely picture, but not terribly realistic; with so many passages in this book, I actually felt like I was there…

“It was a single-line track, but squatters had moved their huts so close to it, I could look into their windows and across rooms where children sat playing on the floor; I could smell the cooking food – fish and blistering meat – and see people waking and dressing; at one window a man in a hammock swung inches from my nose. There was fruit on the window sills, and it stirred – an orange beginning to roll – as the train sped by. I have never had a stronger feeling of being in the houses I was passing, and I had a continuous sense of interrupting with my face some domestic routine. But I was imagining the intrusion: the people in those poor houses seemed not to notice the strangers at their windows.”

 

Anyway, I got my copy at a second hand bookstore, but you can also get one here. Happy reading 🙂