North America Part 4: NYC

It was a spectacular drive to New York. We crossed the border straight from Canada into New York state and drove through another stretch of forest without hardly seeing another soul. We were so deep in the great outdoors that we actually lost phone signal for about 2 hours on the drive. Driving into Manhattan is an experience in itself. (Practical real-life tip: if you’re dropping off a hire car in Manhattan, don’t agree to return the tank full. There are no petrol stations anywhere!) Within 100m of emerging from the Lincoln Tunnel I was honking like a local.

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North America Part 3: Montreal

Montreal, what can I say. It took all of about three hours for Montreal to become my new favourite city in the world. High praise, I know, but it is well deserved. The picture below is a shot I took of Habitat 67, a housing complex originally designed by an architecture student, designed to amalgamate urban apartment living with having the qualities of suburban life, such as open space. I spent quite a lot of time walking around it and it was so interesting. Just one of the things that makes Montreal unique.

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North America Part 2: Quebec City

How tasty does this smoked meat look? It was as delicious as you imagine and was one of the defining moments of my few days in Quebec City!

The drive there was strange in that there was the most amazing scenery on the stateside leg – forests, lakes, empty roads, blue skies, fluffy clouds, yes all very awe inspiring. Then we crossed into Canada and strangely it seemed to be very flat! Anyway, after a five hour drive we arrived in the walled city.

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North America Part 1: Maine

I’m going to distil my recent trip to North America into 5 posts because there’s so much so them. Then there’s all the stationery I brought back. I feel like I have enough to keep The London Parchment going for a year! Here’s a little map I drew of my trip, starting and finishing in Boston at the bottom of the right page (apologies for my scrawl):

Sketch map of my trip in a Field Notes Pitch Black
Sketch map of my trip in a Field Notes Pitch Black

We had such an amazing time. Such a diverse holiday with so much to do and so much to see. To help in communicating it to you without writing a full on essay, I’ve drawn a little brainstorm of my impressions of each place.

Thoughts on Maine
Thoughts on Maine in a ruled Calepino

In America Maine is known as Vacationland and I couldn’t put it better myself. It’s a vast state, America’s most north-easterly and is full of juxtaposition, from coastline to mountains, forests to rocky outcrops, winters skiing to summers doing watersports. We’re very lucky because my fiance’s family live in Maine in a great, cavernous, wooden house overlooking a lovely town on Maine’s interior called Norway so we got to spend a few days taking in the best of it all.

How to sum a couple of days in Maine up?

The views. You seem to be able to find the most unexpected and unbelievable view on any drive you go on. We barely saw a car in front of us or passing us on several of our drives. Just us and the landscapes.

We found an enormous frozen lake on one of our drives.
We found an enormous frozen lake on our way north, we glimpsed white through some trees, got out to explore, and found this in front of us.
Viewpoint across the Appalachian mountains and into Canada.
Viewpoint across the Appalachian mountains and into Canada.

Beer. I love American Pale Ale and I didn’t really know that until this trip. Maine has an enormous range of microbreweries and local craft breweries, the variety on offer is endless and the cans are all bright and colourful.

Just a few of the beers we could choose from on one of our evenings out.
Just a few of the beers we could choose from on one of our evenings out.
My favourite of the beers we tried. That's our family's house in the background (see the British flag flying in the breeze?)
My favourite of the beers we tried. That’s our family’s house in the background (see the British flag flying in the breeze?)

The sea. The coastline is awesome. Lighthouses standing tall, waves crashing ashore, shades of deep blues, turquoise and white.

We stopped at the Nubble Lighthouse on our drive north.
We stopped at the Nubble Lighthouse on our drive north. Gorgeous eh?
The sea provideth some amazing food. We didn't try these oysters in Portland, but we did have a fresh lobster roll just down the road.
The sea provideth some amazing food. We didn’t try these oysters in Portland, but we did have a fresh lobster roll just down the road.

Trees, trees and more trees. I would love to come back here in the autumn. We spent a day in a state park an hour or so away from Norway and saw a waterfall full of meltwater, the start of the famous Appalachian Trail, rivers… all within an endless stretch of forest.

Grafton Notch State Park. Apparently in the summer everyone comes out to play in the water.
Grafton Notch State Park. Apparently in the summer everyone comes out to play in the water.
This tree was bright white and had bark like paper.
This tree was bright white and had bark as fine as paper.

It’s just, well, such a cool state and I have barely even scratched the surface of Maine so far. It’s a state for all seasons and has a great character to it. Here are some of the many little eccentricities I found…

On fire hydrants...
On bright yellow fire hydrants…
The street signs are pretty comprehensive...
The street signs are pretty comprehensive…
Look carefully on the side of high-speed roads and you might see a big orange house full of books...
Look carefully on the side of high-speed roads and you might just see a big orange house full of books…
You might spot a rare bird...
The wildlife is not to be missed…
The architecture is as colourful as Christmas...
Mainers aren’t afraid of colour…
There are mini railroads...
The railroads are weeny…
You might even see a chunk of the Berlin Wall.
You might even see a chunk of world history in a car park.

My next post: Quebec City, Canada. 

Parchment Pause: Holiday Time

The next couple of weeks will see a break from posts on The London Parchment as I’m off on an adventure. My fiancé and I are off to spend a couple of weeks taking in the springtime Maine countryside, Quebec City, Montreal, New York City and Boston. I’m really looking forward to it!

I'm bringing three pocket notebooks all wrapped up in my beautiful new fauxdori. Yellow and green - I can't get enough of these colours.
I’m bringing three pocket notebooks all wrapped up in my beautiful new fauxdori. Yellow and green – I can’t get enough of these colours.

I’m going to be travelling very light on the stationery front on this trip because I plan on stocking up big time.  I’ve already had a few treats delivered to the friends we’re staying with in Boston to pick up tonight when we land! But much more on that after I return. Suffice it to say I’m travelling with a singular everything: my trusty Staedtler Mars Lumograph B grade, my Kaweco Sport F nib with Diamine teal, my Ballograf Chrome Epoca, my Milan eraser, Uni Jetstream and a yellow Muji double ended pen. I’m also bringing my Hobonichi Techo to keep up with journaling, and my Polaroid ZIP because I really want to include a daily photo from this trip. I’ve realised that a daily photo from “normal” life isn’t sustainable with the Techo because it would just become too big over the year. But daily photos during holidays are essential, as I’m sure you’ll agree. Finally this is all topped off by three pocket notebooks full of travel tips that I’ve been amassing for each of the places we’re visiting, all cosied up in leather and elastic in my gorgeous green fauxdori. That’s it! We’ll see what I return with!

If you have any tips, stationery related or otherwise, for any of the places I’m heading to, I’d love to hear them!

Some hand lettering I've been doing on thank you cards to friends and family we're staying with.
Some hand lettering I’ve been doing on thank you cards to friends and family we’re staying with.

Polaroid ZIP Photo Printer

Today on The London Parchment I’m venturing into a technology review! I take a lot of photographs on my DSLR cameras and iPhone. I love looking back on them digitally but I wanted to find a way to make them more tangible in my everyday stationery pursuits. Adding them into my scrapbooks, preserving a certain moment in my Hobonichi Techo or giving out as little mementos to friends.

There were two options for doing this:

  1. Saving up my photos to print in batches and add retrospectively to journal entries, my scrapbook, etc.
  2. Buying some kind of photo printer to print pictures out as and when I needed.

There are lots of good, convenient options to batch print photos out there where you can turn up and use a machine or have them sent right to your door. Sometimes on daily deal sites there are super cheap options for doing this if you have a keen eye. I have the patience of a saint to create scrapbook layouts, write letters, make envelopes and various other crafty pursuits but for some reason printing out photos is something I wanted to have the convenience to do right now if I wanted to.

I did a lot of research on the various photo printers out there and I settled on the Polaroid ZIP photo printer (and then started saving my pennies). Polaroid is obviously synonymous with instant photos. I decided on the ZIP for two main reasons:

  1. It prints 2×3 inch photos which is perfect for my needs. It fits in all the notebooks I use from pocket to full-sized A4s, into my Hobonichi Techo, into my Oyster card wallet, into the little see-through pocket of my purse.
  2. The photo paper used is sticky backed! No gluing, washi taping or otherwise adhesion required to add photos into your creations.

Size, look and feel

The ZIP is a little thing. It’s pocket-sized and is very light (I’ve read 186g to be specific) which means you can slip it into your pocket or bag very easily. It feels solid though and I wouldn’t feel worried letting it jumble around with other items in my bag if I took it out with me for a day. There are four colour options for the ZIP and I went for black as I tend to err on the side of black with gadgets, particularly between black and white electronic items.

Comparison of the Polaroid ZIP size with some other (coincidentally black) items - a Field Notes Pitch Black and my Hobonichi Techo.
Comparison of the Polaroid ZIP size with some other (coincidentally black) items – a Field Notes Pitch Black and my Hobonichi Techo.
Simple interfaces: branding, indicator light and charging point, as well as a little rainbow touch.
Simple interfaces: branding, indicator light and charging point, as well as a little rainbow touch.

How it works and how I use the ZIP

It’s been really convenient using the ZIP. I’ve downloaded an app on my iPhone where you have several different options and I always choose the “Edit Print” option to make sure my photo is sized exactly how I want it. Honestly I have not explored the full capability of the Polaroid ZIP iPhone app. There are a multitude of different options for photo editing – filters, collages and even a business card printing option. My main use for the ZIP is to choose the photo I want to print, make sure it looks right with a frame or that it’s properly zoomed to fill the whole frame, and then print it.

Technologically speaking though, I think the cleverest thing about it is that it’s heat-activated (Polaroid call this ZINK, i.e. Zero Ink). This means no ink is ever required and there are no uncertain seconds post-print that you can’t touch the photo for fear of smudges; it’s touchable as soon as it’s printed. Inside the printer there is a chemical reaction which creates your photo image on the paper. I connect my iPhone to the ZIP via Bluetooth which is very reliable – sending a picture to the printer takes about 20 seconds worth of transfer and about 20 seconds of printing.

Examples showing how the ZIP prints. Can you see what I mean about the colours being slightly distorted?
Examples showing how the ZIP prints. Can you see what I mean about colours being slightly distorted?

Photo quality

I don’t think that the ZIP prints photos true to the colour that you see on other screens. I’m listing this as a point all on its own because this could be enough to put someone off buying the ZIP. I find it “flattens” colour, gives a slightly faded look to photos, and the sharpness is slightly compromised. Having said that – I really quite like this effect so I haven’t thought of this as a disbenefit. I find that bright colours come out well on it, especially blues and greens. Darker colours have a more muted tone to them and it is slightly more difficult to make out the contrast between darker colours. For photos that I’m printing from my iPhone, I’m careful of what (if any) filters I apply before printing. The paper is glossy and thick and feels really high-quality. Also I think a good sign is that photos I printed nearly three months ago now look exactly the same as when they were printed. For what it is, I think the ZIP photo quality is good.

Bright colours work best with the ZIP photo printer.
Bright colours work best with the ZIP photo printer. (The writing you can see is with a TWSBI 580 AL EF nib in Diamine meadow for a springtime zing)
Examples of ZIP prints. Bright colours work best - I think the floral shot at the bottom of this Hobonichi Techo entry looks great.
Examples of ZIP prints. Again this shows how well brighter shades come up – I think the floral shot at the bottom of this Hobonichi Techo entry looks great.

The Upsides

I think the main benefit is how speedy and convenient the ZIP makes photo printing. I love the size of the pictures and it really is instant gratification. I would, and do, take the ZIP along with me to many places I go whether it’s for a morning or afternoon, or a weekend visit somewhere.

Instant gratification: today's Hobonichi entry.
Instant gratification: today’s Hobonichi entry.

Also I think it looks really smart. It’s got a really clean, glossy, rounded finish and looks solid. It’s easy to use too, refilling the photo printer is done by sliding the top off the printer, popping the paper in and replacing the top. It’s simple in design – there’s an on/off button and a light which lets you know its connection status, whether its receiving a picture or whether it needs charging. It has the printing slot and a charging slot and that’s it. Another technological point – I love that it charges via micro-USB. The ZIP does come with a charger but most people have a micro-USB lying around whether it’s from using an Android device, Kindle, etc. I always begrudge products that tie you into one particular charger no matter how great the product is because it could ultimately cause you inconvenience. It doesn’t take long to charge either, about half an hour and I get at least 30 prints out of the ZIP.

Example of an outdoor shot printed with the ZIP.

The Downsides

I buy packets of 3 packs of printer paper at a time (there are 10 per pack) for £15 making the cost of printing a photo 50p. Compared to the batch printing photo option using the ZIP could be considerably more expensive, especially when you take in the initial outlay of buying the ZIP itself and the usual option of photo printing becoming increasingly cheap online the more prints you order in any one session. This cost puts me off the reckless urge to print any old photo out. It does make me consider what I want to print out and use as a keepsake. The printer paper isn’t readily available in shops and you are tied to the Polaroid paper so if you run out you have to be prepared to wait a few days for the next lot of paper to arrive in the post. A risk for the future obviously, as with any gadget and associated accessories, is that Polaroid will retire the photo paper packs that the ZIP uses.

Example of an indoors photo printed on the ZIP.

Obviously when I’m taking photos on any camera other than my iPhone I have to transfer pictures to a Bluetooth device. This means I’ve used it mainly for direct iPad or iPhone to ZIP printing and I do end up doing a bit of batch printing when I settle down to transfer photos from my other cameras.

The ZIP and its photo paper packs: 3 pack box and a single pack (which includes 10 sheets).
The ZIP and its photo paper packs: 3 pack box and a single pack (which includes 10 sheets).

As with all gadgets there are little quirks of using it. When you reload your paper you have to do it a certain way to make sure it all works properly – there’s a blue sheet at the bottom of each paper cartridge which has to be face down and which has to process through the printer each time you reload. It’s not a biggie, just something to bear in mind and something which could potentially catch you out.

As a sidenote, I would recommend that with any gadget you buy that you check its compatibility with the other devices you use. It works perfectly with my iPhone but I’ve heard it’s incompatible with Windows Phones for example. Also, this is my first foray into portable photo printing and I’m expecting it to be my last for a while as it’s not a cheap hobby. I’d love to hear your experiences of other photo printers too.

This photo makes me really happy. I took a shot of my fiancé Tim on Kingston Bridge, printed it out on the ZIP straight away and snapped this picture while he was still looking out at the Thames.
This photo makes me really happy. I took a shot of my fiancé Tim on Kingston Bridge, printed it out on the ZIP straight away and snapped this picture while he was still looking out at the Thames.

In Summary

I’m sure I’m not the first person to point out that the Polaroid ZIP is a nice-to-have and not an essential gadget. Having said that, I’ve so enjoyed having the Polaroid ZIP in my toolbox because it gives me immense satisfaction being able to print out mementos to add to journal entries, scrapbooks, notebooks, to give them to friends. I’ve found it a very reliable device that is well-designed and adds a lot of value to my many interactions with stationery. It makes me so happy being able to print out that perfect shot of my day, however mundane it may be, and have it to look back on – in my Hobonichi Techo particularly, which is evolving as the year continues – using these photos is literally illustrating my life.

If photo printing via more traditional means is for you and you’re not fussed by the kick of instant gratification, then just for this satisfaction alone I would urge you to stick with photo printing. However if you want the flexibility and opportunity to print your own mini-pictures then I think the ZIP is a good choice – it’s built for my uses with its size and sticky backs. Hopefully you can tell that I’ve peppered this post with pictures I’ve printed so that you can judge the photo quality for yourself. If you don’t mind saving your pennies to buy the device and commit to the photo paper packs then I would recommend the ZIP; I’m very glad I invested in it and can see myself using it regularly for a long time to come.

I bought the Polaroid ZIP Photo Printer from Amazon for £109.99. It came with 10 sheets of photo paper and I buy 3 pack of 10 refills at a time from Amazon for £14.99.

Nataraj HB Marble Pencil

My favourite continent for stationery products is Asia, particularly because of the wonderful Japanese and South Korean products I regularly use. (Shameless plug: I mentioned this during my question and answer session on the Pocket Notebooks blog). The Nataraj HB Marble pencil also hails from Asia but is one of the first Indian products I’ve tried.

Barrel with printed branding.
Barrel with printed branding. This side of the pencil has more of a vibrant yellow and red marble.
Reverse of the pencil so you can see the differences in the marble effect.
Reverse of the pencil so you can see the differences in the marble effect. There’s more pink and white on the reverse!

I was drawn to this pencil because it was affordable (I picked it up for £1.50 from Choosing Keeping) and a unique, colourful object. I also favour HB wood cased pencils because I mostly use pencils for writing and the occasional drawing.

Close up of the pencil cap and contrast between white cap, black branding and marble lacquer.
Close up of the pencil cap and contrast between white cap, black branding and marble lacquer.

Look and feel

The Nataraj Marble comes pre-sharpened and is about 7 inches long. It’s eraserless and in place of the usual ferrule and eraser there is a long white tip, ever so slightly glossy. The remainder of the pencil is a delightfully colourful marbled lacquer, blending reds, yellows, pinks, greens and blues. It reminds me of a psychedelic art project or the colourful swirls found in a pool of petrol. A bit of research on the Nataraj Marble indicates that each pencil is actually unique. The most noticeable colours in mine are reds, oranges and yellows but I’ve seen images on the internet with dominant blues, whites and pinks. I think this uniqueness is a nice element to buying this pencil and adds a little bit of surprise particularly if ordering it online.

Close up of the pencil cap and contrast between white cap, black branding and marble lacquer.
Close up of the pencil cap and contrast between white cap, black branding and marble lacquer.

 

The Nataraj branding is stamped simply and effectively in black along a single side of the barrel. As I’ve mentioned before I’m not too averse to a printed barcode but those of you among us who are will be pleased to know that there is no barcode and only one barrel side with any printing on. The lovely marble lacquer is the star of the show on the rest of the hexagonal barrel. The Nataraj Marble measures up in width similarly to my trusty Staedtler Mars Lumograph.

I think one of the loveliest things about this pencil though is the colour of the wood casing. It has a natural grain left to see when sharpened and is a great, vibrant pink-red hue. I read on the CW Pencil Enterprise blog that the pencil is made from Indian vetta wood. I can’t find much out there on vetta wood so I’d love to know more if anyone has any information. The Hindustan Pencils website which manufactures the Nataraj brand clearly have a strong sense of corporate social responsibility and only use wood from their own plantations which they replenish to ensure they aren’t deforesting, which is a really admirable statement to make. Anyway – the vetta wood used looks gorgeous in this pencil.

Look at that gorgeous pink-red woodcasing.
Look at that gorgeous pink-red wood casing. I really like that the natural woodgrain can be seen too.

Performance

Firstly I would say that the Nataraj Marble is more of a B grade, or possibly even 2B, than the HBs I usually use. It smudges fairly easily and produces a smooth black line. I think this would make it a good pencil for drawing and outlining. It’s also good for writing and doesn’t require sharpening too often – rotating the pencil provides the good sharpness required for writing. When I have sharpened it though it sharpens very well – very smooth with no breakages.

Writing sample with the Nataraj Marble on a Rhodia dotpad.
Writing sample with the Nataraj Marble on a Rhodia dotpad. Can you see the smudging in the second paragraph?
Close of up of graphite smudging. You've got to be careful if you're left handed or if you like to brush any residue off the page.
Close of up of graphite smudging. You’ve got to be careful if you’re left handed or if you like to brush any residue off the page.

I really like writing with the Nataraj Marble. It’s smooth without blunting too easily although the smudging issue may be something to note if you’re a leftie. There isn’t any scratchiness or strong resistance on the page when writing (although I have to admit sometimes I find a bit of scratchiness quite pleasing). It erases well with my Milan synthetic eraser – which is rapidly becoming my favourite eraser – and can be layered to produce a really black effect.

Eraser and smudge test.
Eraser and smudge test.
Close up of eraser test with a Milan synthetic eraser.
Close up of eraser test with a Milan synthetic eraser.

In summary

This has been a really easy and simple review for me to write. The Nataraj Marble looks lovely and unique. I love the lacquer, reddish pink hued woodcasing and the fact that it has no eraser. I find pencil erasers generally rubbish to use a technical term and sometimes I wonder why anyone really bothers adding them! I think it really stands out on my desk and in my pencilcase. I’m also really pleased with the blackness and smoothness of the pencil to write with and I think it may be an even better companion for someone who draws more often with pencils. Be warned if you’re a leftie because of the smudging issue, but otherwise for approximately £1.50 in the UK and even cheaper in the US I would definitely recommend that you add this to your toolbox.

Ballograf Chrome Epoca

On my recent trip to Amsterdam I discovered the lovely Ballograf Chrome Epoca pen. I had never heard of Ballograf before and I’ve learned a lot about the brand since buying my first product.

Ballograf is a Swedish producer of ballpoint pens and mechanical pencils and is based in Gothenburg – set up in 1945 by a lone Austrian. Apparently Ballograf employ thirty employees but produce four million writing implements a year. That’s 133333.3 pens per employee! Its main market appears to be Scandinavia and western Europe although I haven’t come across this brand during my usual stationery jaunts, neither online nor in person.

Look and feel

This pen features a simple push button mechanism and is refillable with Ballograf refills. Pushing the button has a nice resistance to it which kicks in about halfway down.

The pen has several simple details which really make the look and feel of this writing implement. The pen clip features the Ballgraf symbol, the silver barrel is lined on each hexagonal face, the join between the barrel and the grip section features, very very finely, the words Ballograf Epoca Sweden. I’ve seen a few websites where you can have your Epoca engraved and sure enough, there is a short section of barrel which is waiting for your name. There’s an overriding historical vintage feeling about this pen – like it’s something that hasn’t changed since the 50s – even though it’s brand new and looks brand new. Its design is timeless, simple and honest.

Can you make out the writing between the barrel and the grip section? It's there!
Can you make out the writing between the barrel and the grip section? It’s there! This section says “Sweden”.
Close up of the lined barrel.
Close up of the lined barrel.

I love the cornflour, lavender blue of the grip section. It’s untextured and has a softly rounded taper towards the end which suits me just fine, and really complements the surrounding silver. It also adds a touch of brightness and femininity to the pen, which is a good contrast against the straight sides of the barrel. The only downside of an untextured grip section might be that it could get uncomfortable writing for long periods of time particularly if, like me, you don’t hold your pen close to the nib or ballpoint.

Lovely blue grip section.
Lovely blue grip section.

The ink in my pen is archival blue. I rarely choose a blue ink, particularly with ballpoints as they tend to be a very obvious blue, if that makes any sense. Luckily the pen is refillable: there are medium and fine refills in blue, black, red and green. I don’t find this blue offensive at all though. Apparently early in the brand’s history, the ink used in their Epocas was certified as archival, meaning that it could be used widely for official purposes in Sweden and this increased its popularity in offices.

Performance

Ever since reflecting on what I want from a 0.4mm gel pen in this post, I have thought about what I expect from several different stationery items. The things I expect from a ballpoint are a smooth writing experience without any ink stickiness, an ink that writes dry on the page and also no ink skipping – this is a common expectation among all pens for me. I think a stationery mantra everywhere should be “every touch has to leave a mark” because it’s so true among all writing implements for me. Finally I really dislike ballpoints where the refill “wobbles” inside the pen casing. I think you’d have to experience this one to understand what I mean but I think it’s caused when the refill isn’t supported properly by any mechanism inside the pen casing or barrel leaving it free to move depending on the pressure you apply.

So on those expectations. Every touch of the pen leaves a mark! Even the dot of an i. You don’t need to apply much pressure to achieve this. I’ve used this pen in a Word notebook, Rhodia dotpad, Field Notes notebook and my Tsunami Fools notebook and I haven’t experienced any pressure marks on the reverse of pages I’ve written on. I’m not sure I would ever risk a ballpoint pen with my Hobonichi though or on paper any lighter than found in your business as usual notebooks.

Close up of writing and so you can better see the archival blue ink.
Close up of writing and so you can better see the archival blue ink.

This pen gives you a really smooth writing experience even on cheap copy paper and whether you’re writing on a single sheet directly on a hard surface or whether you’re writing in a notebook. This is so important for a ballpoint because I think this is one of the main things that makes them compete with gel and fountain pens. Thankfully there’s no wobble either. There is, very infrequently, a pleasing squeak of ballpoint on paper.

Obviously you can’t post a push button pen. It is comfortable to write with but I personally wouldn’t want to write with a much shorter pen. Overall it comes up at a slightly shorter length than my faithful Uni SXN 150-38 and about a centimetre shorter than my Uni Signo .38. Unless it’s a mini-sized fountain pen, I notice the pen’s length much more with push button ballpoint and gel pens because of the clip – I generally only hold a clipped pen in one position with the clip facing upwards rather than rotating it in my hand if necessary.

Length comparison against some of my other push button pens.
Length comparison against some of my other push button pens. As you can see it’s the shortest of the lot.

In summary

I’m really glad I chose the Epoca as my first foray into this brand. Ballograf don’t produce a huge selection of products and are confined to pens and mechanical pencils. I think I’m happy with having this as my Ballograf toolbox addition rather than trying out a range of their other products as I may normally do when discovering a new brand; my impression is their products are likely to perform similarly. In all honesty I think investing in the Epoca and sticking with it without needing to collect the rest of their products is a testament to the brand and pen in this case. It’s timeless in appearance, refillable and writes smoothly and comfortably. It’s also clearly designed to be reliable, apparently each Epoca Chrome will give you 8000m worth of writing. I’d love to know how many Field Notes this equates to!

I am generally shy of ballpoints because I find them to be similar writing experiences whatever the pen is that you’re using. The design, weight and smoothness of the Epoca make for a really enjoyable writing experience. It’s not a standout revelation moment for me with ballpoints, I didn’t expect it to be, but I’ve come away with a product that is unexpectedly high performing, is lovely to look at and use and is a great reflection of a brand I’ve never experienced before. Although four million of them are produced a year I feel it is a unique addition to my toolbox and one that I’m going to keep in my regular collection for the near future.

I can’t find many UK retailers of Ballgraf products but if you’re interested in buying one I suggest you do a bit of googling and find a retailer which suits your requirement best. I bought mine at Like Stationery in Amsterdam where there were a few different colour options including one with a pale pink grip section, and a gold version with a black grip section. 

Amsterdam Part 2: Stationery Haul and Stores

A remarkable quality about Amsterdam is its glaring absence of garish brands repeating themselves every five hundred metres or so. I saw one Starbucks the whole time I was there. This is a city and country that cares deeply about design integrity. I could have spent my whole trip popping in and out of little independent stores full of high-quality, well thought-out products that say something about how they came to be.

Before I went away I faithfully gathered tips on the best bookshops and stationery shops to visit, should I get the opportunity. These are the ones that I managed to visit during my trip.

Athenaeum Bookshop and News

Athenaeum Boekhandel, Spui 14-16, 1012 XA Amsterdam, https://www.athenaeum.nl 

What a wonderful store. I mostly perused the magazine section of Athenaeum as I particularly love browsing magazine stores and this is one of the best I’ve been to anywhere. It’s actually a separate shop to its bookstore brother, is simple, cosy and set over a couple of levels. There is an amazing collection of magazines on every subject – the best to browse when in Amsterdam are obviously the design publications – but there are sections about music, film, travel, fashion… the list goes on.

These magazines aren’t your disposable rags but they are published and designed beautifully, meant to last and have enough to keep you going for the length of any normal book. They’re laid out over shelves from ceiling to floor, and you must navigate your way around eager stacks of magazines laid out like islands in the sea throughout the shop. Luckily Athenaeum is in a very central and accessible part of town; Het Spui near Kalverstraat has several bookstores and literary-looking cafes to keep you interested.

I could have picked up a copy of most magazines in there but I dutifully came away with my all time favourite, the Frankie magazine (you can read my review of the 2015 Frankie Diary here). I keep all of my Frankie magazines because they are so beautiful and full of stories, letters and crafty tips and tricks for me to return to in the future, should I so wish. Now I know that my March edition from 2016 came from Amsterdam.

Even if you come away empty-handed from Athenaeum, I guarantee you will enjoy your browsing experience and leave with a bit of inspiration, whether it’s wanting to look at more photographs, needing a travel book in the future, looking up a publisher or writer you’ve never heard of, wanting to read more poems… it’s a store that just got me really excited. Oh, and their website is great too.

Like Stationery

Prinsenstraat 24II, 1015 DD Amsterdam, http://www.likestationery.com

This recurred on my searches for the best stationery shops in Amsterdam and it did not disappoint. It’s a bright, neat and subtle store on a street lined with independent retailers with huge windows to peer at all of the treasure inside.

On entering the shop you’re faced with a long central table covered with a rainbow array of short stacks of notebooks, jars of pens and erasers, paper goods and planners. The shop also uses lovely props such as an old whitewashed piano, pigeon hole unit for their cards and a chalkboard bearing the name Like Stationery.

The owner, Sanne Dirkzwager, has a large collection of magazines and paper goods proudly lining the inner depths of the shop. It’s a gorgeous store, incredibly well thought out – I noticed a little bit of colour coding on the main table! Sanne is a Dutch graphic designer who is a creative soul that you can discover more about through her website http://www.strawberryblonde.nl; Like Stationery is just one of her many beautiful projects.

I spent a long time looking at Like Stationery’s products, flicking through notebooks and testing out pens. They have a large collection of ballpoints, notably Hightide Penco, and a wide selection of cards, all of which are handmade at the store and feature a range of colourful, fun and minimalist designs. I also discovered a brand I hadn’t heard of before; Y Studio which feature simple and timeless design mostly using metals in deep blacks and brushed brass.

On looking at Like Stationery’s website post-visit, they also do a themed stationery subscription box which looks stunning. Some of the previous themes have included “connecting the dots”, “untainted” which included a range of cream and white stationery, and “shades of marble” including some gorgeous marbled and multicolour products. It looks to be a very considered and thoughtfully curated box. If I could I definitely would.

I would really recommend popping in to Like Stationery for so many reasons: the area it’s in is beautiful and you’ll have a great time exploring all the lovely shops; the paper products on offer are great and varied – you’ll find notebooks, letter-writing sets, thick and creamy wrapping paper, journals and planners; there are lots of recognisable and not-so-recognisable brands to peruse and the store itself is a delight, full of fun and personality. The products I came away with are a Ballograf Epoca Chrome ballpoint pen with archival blue ink, a flexible synthetic Milan eraser and a homemade card.

Would you just look at the branding on this bag?
Would you just look at the branding on this bag? It’s got a bicycle on, a Dutch style building and proudly bears the symbol of being a stationery store. Could it be more perfect?!
My goodies from Like Stationery, card from Koko Coffee and Design and the few tools I went out with (Word. notebook, Mars Lumograph B grade and Muji yellow double sided pen)
My goodies from Like Stationery, card from Koko Coffee and Design and the few tools I went out with (Word. notebook, Mars Lumograph B grade and Muji yellow double sided pen)

Property Of…

Herenstraat 2, 1015 CA Amsterdam, http://thepropertyof.com

This is actually primarily a bag shop but uncovered a theme of Amsterdam shopping for me that, once I became aware of it, I suddenly noticed everywhere. It’s amazing how many shops in Amsterdam specialise in something, but also happen to have a corner dedicated to something completely different but complementary. So Property Of… specialises in bags of all sorts, but has a small but effective stationery section full of Midori goodies, polished brass writing implements and Kaweco classics, a selection of high-quality travel books, oh and it sells coffee too. It just works in Amsterdam.

This experience will have its own future dedicated post because I took the plunge and bought myself a Midori Travelers Notebook. Full sized, black leather. And the reason I just had to have it here is because the shop is equipped with its very own leather embossing machine which the kind assistant patiently showed me how to use. I came away with my very own monogrammed Travelers Notebook.

Getting my new Travelers Notebook monogrammed. I spent far too long deciding whether to have dots in between my initials or not. I decided not!
Getting my new Travelers Notebook monogrammed. I spent far too long deciding whether to have dots in between my initials or not. I decided not!

If you get a chance to pop in this is a lovely and curious shop. All of the products on offer are very high-quality, timeless and stylish. The stationery offer is small but effective; if you’re going to dedicate a little portion of your store to something different, dedicate it to products that you know work wonderfully. This seems to be the ethos amongst all of Property Of…’s added bonus products.

Koko Coffee and Design

Oudezijds Achterburgwal 145, 1012 DG Amsterdam, http://ilovekoko.com 

Another mainly non-stationery store, Koko Coffee and Design has a vintage cabinet stocked with classic stationery products including Kaweco pens and pencils, a wooden draw overflowing with washi tapes, beautiful little leather goods and marbled notebooks. I enjoyed their selection of one-sided cards and decided to pick one up; the paper is thick and textured and I love the fun pattern. I’m so into yellow at the moment. Again, the products on offer are very well thought-out and make the most of their little corner within a shop full of design beauties.

The stationery cabinet.
The stationery cabinet.

If you walk a little further into the store, offbeat tables and chairs are set up amongst the pristine and colourful racks of clothes. It’s very comfortable and relaxed.

So concludes my whirlwind trip of Amsterdam and the stationery and bookstores I encountered within it. Every impression I’ve had of the way stationery and books are considered within the shops I went into is an overwhelming feeling of respect for great design and longevity. All of the shops whether specialist or with a little outpost of stationery offer products meant to last and offer them within an environment that is design-conscious and personal. They all feel luxury without making you feel out of place. These aren’t “office supply” stores. I really enjoyed the experiences within each store and would heartily recommend them as fantastic shops in their own right but also wonderful, honest reflections of the city of Amsterdam.

(On my list I also had Misc-Store which I’ve heard great things about but sadly I didn’t get the chance to pop in here. Next time!)

Amsterdam Part 1: My Trip

I spent the weekend just gone in Amsterdam and I loved it. I’d heard universally positive reviews of the city. In fact, I’m going to publish two posts in quick succession; this one about my trip and a second specifically about some of the stationery encounters I had. I thought it was best to separate them for fear of writing an essay!

Amsterdam has a very compact city centre but it is unlike any other I’ve ever been in. Gone is the pollution, haste and noise of zone ones everywhere. Somehow it manages to be quiet, slow and human. There’s a beautiful symmetry to the buildings because of their heights, window style and spacing, continuity and colour palette. They frame the low canals but looking a little closer at them shows that each building has its own individuality. A red shutter here, a bell gable there, a little plaque with a sword on to identify the building before street numbers were used, a shiny green door. Not only that but people live on the canal too, whether in traditional houseboats or sturdier canal house units made of wood. Public art dotted throughout the city also marks the territory of the young and creative.

We stayed a little outside the main centre at Mercatorplein and hopped on the tram when we needed to. I always think that trams add a sense of vibrancy to a city because they are integrated amongst the people and are a visible part of its movement and sounds. You are able to see and still experience the places around you while travelling somewhere comfortably and reliably. I always think that they also have a great continental European urbanism to them. And of course, intertwined with the people and trams are swathes of upright cyclists going about their business. Looking around them, taking time and care, parking their bike on a canal rail that is already buried by three layers of resting bicycles. In London we suffer a little from cycling being seen as the realm of the Cyclist with a capital C, someone who moves quickly, has the equipment, knows where they’re going and is well acquainted with roads of all kinds (at work this has been referred to as “lycrafication”… I’m sorry.) and this isn’t the dynamic in Amsterdam in the slightest. It’s a small and pedantic point but I believe there really is a difference between a “road” and a “street”. Amsterdam is made up of streets.

Our days were spent mostly languishing around the canals. I had a great list of tips compiled before going; places to pop into should the weather not be so friendly, museums, shops etc. I found that such structure didn’t work for Amsterdam. It’s more of a stroll and see what’s around kind of place. During our couple of days we hopped on a canal boat tour which was lovely, visited the Foodhallen which is an indoor food market housed in an old cavernous tramshed, had long brunches, stopped off for half pints of witbier whenever possible, and perused several street markets full of food, flowers and crafts. Flowers are everywhere. I’ve heard before that the Netherlands are the cut flower capital of the world. It’s good to see that they’re keeping some for themselves.

Although our days were long with walking, it was such a relaxing weekend and I would love to return in the summer when all European cities seem to be at their absolute best. Next up, the stationery and bookstores that I sought out and stumbled across!