Once a year, London Design Festival descends on my fair city. Installations are highlighted by red markers outside the doors of tiny shops, to world-famous museums. Best of all, most of it is free! So I made a point of making time to see world-class design for nothing.
A few weeks ago The London Parchment turned a year old. First and foremost thank you so much for sticking with me! I’d like to use this post to pick out a few brief thoughts I have of the year gone by and to revisit some of my favourite photographs. There are links dotted throughout for you to check out if you joined me somewhere throughout the last 12 months.
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.
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.
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.
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):
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.
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.
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.
The sea. The coastline is awesome. Lighthouses standing tall, waves crashing ashore, shades of deep blues, turquoise and white.
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.
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…
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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!