Travel Carry for a North American January

I’ve been working in North America for most of January (Washington DC, New York and Vancouver to be exact) doing a variety of things – attending a conference, meetings and fieldwork. Mother Nature placed the US East Coast in a state of deep freeze just in time for the start of my visit, but I’ve been enjoying it. Anyway, a few weeks away means a fairly substantive travel carry. Here’s what’s in my pencilcase for this chilly trip.

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Photo Diary: Streets of Japan

We returned recently from a couple of weeks in the country of my dreams, Japan. Japan is such a photogenic country. Everything is interesting. It’s been fun, albeit hard work, sorting through the thousands of photos we brought back with us, although it is joyful to relive it. I’ll be publishing a photo diary of our trip, starting with the theme of Streets of Japan, the first places that any new visitor to a country really sees.

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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.

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!


I have had a short hiatus from London and recently spent a few days in Rome. I had never been to Rome before, and found that whenever I mentioned it to other people, they responded with adoring but vague comments such as “I love Rome” or “Ohhhhh Rome”. On questioning why they love Rome, so I could do similar things and hopefully come away with a similar appreciation, I found that very few people could articulate any particular reasons. Categories were spoken about wistfully – “the food… the buildings… the squares…”. So I decided that there was some kind of Rome bug that I would catch there and which would presumably render me babbling whenever anyone asks why I loved Rome in the future.

For the record, I really did love Rome. I found it incredibly relaxed, civilised, full of beauty and history. We stayed in the Trastevere neighbourhood, which I would highly recommend for its winding streets, ochre coloured buildings, hidden piazzas and lively atmosphere. Although I love to walk in London and definitely believe it is a city where you come across hidden gems, I feel that London is also an easy place to nip from place to place in a very nodal fashion, rather than taking the time to discover the “in-between” places and spaces. Rome is a highly walkable city and I felt that every journey on foot was more than just a journey, that everywhere seemed to be a destination in itself. It would be a shame to hide yourself underground travelling between sites with all these Roman treasures everywhere. We did hop on a couple of buses purely for practicality (one day upon deciding to go to the Colosseum we walked quite a long way in the wrong direction) which weren’t too crowded, were welcomingly cool and inexpensive.


Here was my whistlestop itinerary:

Day 1) Trastevere walk, Passeggiata del Giancolo park, walk along the Tiber, inadvertent walking into a Greece austerity protest, Aperol Spritzes and dinner in Trastevere.

Day 2) Out by 6.30am, Vatican Museums, walk and lunch in Centro Storico, Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain (under restoration!), Spanish Steps, Villa Borghese, dinner at Campo di Fiori, walk around Trastevere at night with caramel cream gelato.

Day 3) Lie in, Porto Portese flea market, walk around Testaccio neighbourhood, Victor Emmanuel Monument, walk around the Colosseum (outside only), Aventine Hill for sunset, late dinner in Trastevere.

Day 4) Out by 7am for St Peter’s Basilica, Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, late lunch in Trastevere of panini and arancini.

I’m going to make some of the most memorable parts of my trip the subject of their own posts in the near future. Particularly a review of a restaurant we tried in Trastevere, discovering my love of Aperol Spritzes (I’ve since made these since returning to Greenwich and I have officially adopted these as my Summer Drink 2015), my Rome menus, and my top few experiences.