19 April 2018

Books and More Books - Oxford Inspiration

It is clear that the books owned the shop rather than the other way about. Everywhere they had run wild and taken possession of their habitat, breeding and multiplying, and clearly lacking any strong hand to keep them down.
- Agatha Christie

Every time I go to Oxford, I browse bookshops, countless bookshops, sometimes a few times. Old bookshops have stacks of books piled high in every nook. Shelves full, and overflowing. I am always inspired by the books I find, to read books by authors I love, and also to venture out to new genres and authors. This, of course, means I tend to buy a lot of books, which leads to a very packed and heavy luggage, but it is so worth it. 

Do I need to buy every book there? No, I could scour the internet and find it on Amazon, which I do sometimes. When I buy at used bookstores, there is no delay in the purchase, for that book may not be there tomorrow. If it's a new book (at Blackwell's for instance) I might wait and put it on my "to order later" list, but I always end up buying a good armful because that is supporting the local bookshop that has been family owned and is a source for so much good, inspiring reading for Oxford and beyond. I will gladly support that.

I will also gladly support the Oxford Literary Festival. We caught the last four days of the festival this time, and I had booked two talks to attend (with authors about their books), which were so enjoyable, and we stopped in to listen to a few more talks in the festival marquee. I browsed books by the 350+ authors in attendance for the festival. I grabbed inspiration from tables filled with classics, or modern books that I should read. I overheard other folks talking about a book or an author's talk they just attended. I know I am surrounded by bookworms and authors when I am there and it's inspiring. 

17 April 2018

Oxford Smiling

The city never ceases to make me smile and breathe deeply the presence of literary history, a place where words and faith have important developments. It is in every building and cobbled street. Every sky-reaching spire is filled with it. And I try to soak it in as much as I can while I am there.

Oxford is an academic city, of course, so ancient walled colleges fill every block. Therein lays part of the charm - especially when I get to step inside said colleges to explore and feel as if I am part of the place.

Every time I go back to Oxford, I feel the city smiling upon me, as if to say, welcome back. You've been missed. I am not sure if a city can miss a person, but a person can certainly miss a city. Those streets might not miss my footsteps, but I'd like to think that Oxford holds some charm to release for me when I am there.

Every nook of Oxford, from the narrow lanes, golden stone buildings, bookshops, numerous coffee shops, cafes, to the atmosphere that oozes study and learning is waiting for me.

Oxford is where I slow down a bit and let myself linger in a coffee shop and bookshop. I am not trying to rush around to see all the sights. My pace slows down even as I do walk to different places to enjoy - such as the northern neighbourhood of Jericho, the pub down on the river for lunch, the natural history museum, or the art museum. The only time I think I was walking a wee bit fast was to church at St. Ebbe's because we were running a few minutes late. 

I know Oxford isn't actually a slow place, especially for people who live there and have to go to work and study. The hustle and bustle of High Street is real. The stress of the students is abundant, I am sure. I can see them in the coffee shops perched at tables with their laptops and earbuds, and they don't move their eyes from the screen the whole time I am there. I know it's a holiday for me, and that I get to slow down in that time while others do not.

And I feel thankful for that. Every time I think about it I feel utterly thankful. That I can be in such a place, and know it like a good friend, is truly astonishing.

13 April 2018

Dean Village

I stumbled into the dwam,
following the river's ramble,
past old millstones, remnants
of lives before mine ever began,
greener than I could have known.

-Jane Yolen

Tucked away, just outside the Edinburgh city centre, down into the valley along the waters of Leith, is Dean Village. While it is about one and a half miles outside the centre, you feel like you are out in the country. It was one of the most charming little villages I've seen. You walk down cobbled lanes, and it makes you feel like you've gone back in time to a simpler place. But one that is oozing with loveliness.

The waters of Leith stream through the village, creating a sound of soothing ripples as the waters flow over rocks and down a small fall. A path follows the waters for miles to the village of Leith. We took to the path and followed it to St.Bernard's Well. What a lovely walk that was! It was like we were in the middle of a forest, mystical and shaded. In the valley, it was quiet, and you felt so far from a large city. The sounds of birds and the water made up the atmosphere.

The textures ,shapes, and the colours were inspiring. Mossy stone-lined walls and greenery greeted every step. The sights, sounds, and visual delights made me wish I could spend a whole afternoon there, writing all the feelings, atmosphere, and thoughts in my journal. The book I had in my bag was my newly purchased The Observer's Book of Architecture, which seemed appropriate with the well in front of me (what type of columns does it have? Doric), as well as the city just beyond with a plethora of architecture spanning centuries. 

What a serene place Dean Village is. It is a perfect example of why I love to get off the beaten path.

11 April 2018

Bookish Edinburgh


Here the small press, the untold story
The hesitant pen- can all jostle in and find
A space to breathe

And bask beneath the delighted gaze
Of avid browsers gleaning the shelves
To claim the power of words.

- Bashabi Fraser

You probably know that when I travel, the first thing I look for is used bookstores to browse. There is something different about every place, every city, every selection of books. Every store displays and focuses on different books and has a different feel. I love that. It's like discovery, wherein you never know what you will find on those shelves. It's a treasure hunt.

When I find used bookstores, usually coffee shops and charming neighborhoods easily follow. In Edinburgh, a walk down the famous and beautifully curved Victoria Street lined with colourful shops on the lower level, and tall historic stone on the upper levels, leads to the Grassmarket, which in Medieval days was a grassy, open space where the farmers would bring their livestock to sell. This area is lower in elevation than all the neighbourhoods around, so you feel surrounded by views. This is where my favourite view of the castle can be seen (details forthcoming in next section). The dominating stone castle perched on top of the ancient rock.

Along the way to the bookshops, walking through Grassmarket, you come to a set of stairs. It's not unusual to see stairs leading up somewhere mysterious in Edinburgh, but if you take these stairs (called the Vennel), you will get to the best views of the castle, in my opinion. And best of all, it is not touristy. There were a couple of young girls up there taking photos, but that was it. All the views, and no crowds. 

Back down the stairs, and onto the bookshops, a few blocks away. A perfect accompaniment to book browsing is of course some cake and tea. The perfect spot for that was Lovecrumbs, a coffee/tea shop that had delightful Victoria sponge cake with rose, and violet petal tea. This was a local spot, filled with students and friends meeting up with each other to catch up.

After tea and cake, you see, you have the energy to browse two lovely bookshops, and come away with a tote bag heavy with old books. Actually, I had purchased so many books from Edinburgh Books that the owner saw how many I had, and brought the tote bag over for free. I am one grateful booklover. 

09 April 2018

Scottish Charms



Each stroll is singular.
Paved with autumn, crisped with frost or squelched
with an excess of rain. Today the path and its companion
snake unruly.

But there is a melting in this March-bound air that irrigates
the city's breath. Catches sun-shafts, the flicker-dance
of rising light which
etches pale shadows.
Celandines are stirring.

- Anne Connolly

If you have been to Scotland, you will know this already. The charms of Scotland are numerous, but the ones that stand out to a visitor I think the most are the people, the buildings (history and story), and the natural beauty.

On our last day in Iceland, we had lunch at Café Paris, and sitting next to us at lunch was a Scottish couple, who had grown children and were on holiday for a week in Iceland. They engaged us in easy, friendly conversion, and we came to find out that they were on the same flight as us, later that night into Edinburgh. They were so easy-going and friendly, it was fun to talk with them. When they left the café, we all said maybe we will see each other on the flight that night. Later that night, mum and I were sitting at the gate waiting for our plane to arrive, and sure enough, our new Scottish friends came right up to us, and sat with us. We all talked as if we had known each other for years. about travel, their children, our travels, where they live (in Fife, about 20 minutes from Edinburgh), and Edinburgh itself. 

I feel this was a perfect re-introduction back into Scotland, as I haven't been to Scotland since 2010. I have missed it very much, and I forgot how friendly and lovely the people are. This was a perfect reminder. 

The last time I was in Scotland, with my brother, we traveled the country by car, so it was full of nature and dramatic scenes of mountains and lochs. This time, we would be in the city of Edinburgh, which I did not get to explore too much on my last trip. 

It felt so great to be back in Scotland, and back in Edinburgh for a deeper exploration. We stayed on the Royal Mile, which is the main attraction street in the city. A lot of sights, restaurants, museums, and attractions are along this street, which goes from the Edinburgh Castle at the top of the hill, down a mile to the Royal Palace of Holyrood. Along the way, you have to pay attention to tiny narrow paths that lead off perpendicular to the Royal Mile, called closes. These tiny narrow closes sometimes lead downhill to the next street, some lead to a garden, or a view of New Town, or a courtyard where people live. They are really fun to explore.

One thing I love about Edinburgh is that you can walk everywhere. Yes, there are a lot of hills and stairs, so be prepared to climb, but that also leads to another thing I love about Edinburgh, is the views. Everywhere you go, just look around you and the views are breathtaking. Whether it is of the church steeples, the castle, the extinct volcano (Arthur's Seat), New College's towers, or the large monument to Sir Walter Scott, you can hardly take it all in. Along with the the ability to walk everywhere, it is all fairly close that you can get out of the city streets easily to a park or climb a hill for a view and nature. It's all right there, easy to get to. 

While I love to do some of the main attractions of a city (in this case the Edinburgh Castle was what we toured) which is touristy and busy, my goal is also always to get out of the main area to side streets and neighbourhoods where locals spend time. I want to see the daily pace, the bookshops, the coffee shops off the main trail. We got to do that, and I will share more later on.

As with English weather, Scottish weather is apt to change within a few minutes. I actually felt colder in Edinburgh than I did in Iceland. The wind and chill of Edinburgh was deeper. Good thing we did have some hills to climb to warm up. Also, a good selection of coffee shops that we could warm up in. But when you are at the top of a hill, it sure is windy and freezing cold, but I wasn't complaining as the city captured me. And yet, Spring was beginning to show up in the daffodils and snowdrops.