Anyone who has been keeping up with me knows that my schedule has been more than hectic. Tonight, I am writing from Philadelphia but wrapping up all my time in London with a final look at one of London’s overlooked treasures…. especially for anyone who loves a good story, a good play, and a good mystery.
For anyone who isn’t aware, London’s Saint Martin’s Theatre, located between the Covent Garden and Leicester Square stations, holds the record breaking run for the longest running production of Agetha Christie’s “The Mousetrap.”
In fact, this is the only place you can watch this play and discover the ending to the mystery.
The play is a fun labyrinthe of twists and turns set against the backdrop of a newly opend boarding house and a sudden murder spree. My favorite part is the fact that after 60+ years of near constant showings, audiences still agree to not share the ending.
This theatre holds the rights to put on the production which means that you can only access it within the theatre. Apparently, the contract states that until the theatre stops it’s production, they hold all the rights, meaning no print or film version may be made.
Still, this is a play that – at least in my circles – was little known. For those who did know about it, most hadn’t been able to go and see it. But you should!
Saint Martins is a small, easily accessed theatre. The tickets can be a bit pricey for those on student budgets – this is London after all – but you can usually get last minute tickets, especially for weeknights.
I really do recommend this show as it’s something only London can offer you and is a true historical staple in the world of London theatre. It also helps that this thriller is immensely entertaining.
But this wraps up my London life, at least for the present, but it’s onward and upward from here – or at least that’s the hope!
Don’t forget to check out my lifestyle blog every Thursday – a month in and I’m sticking to it – but until then:
Not really (or not yet and hopefully it won’t be) but isn’t that a catchy name?
This past weekend my dad (FINALLY!) drove us down into the city to visit one of the most amazing bookstores I have ever seen (and I’ve gone to quite a few): The Last Bookstore.
This bookstore, located at 5th and Spring in downtown LA, is a large two story building which, beyond just selling books, houses small art boutiques and other varied nooks.
What I loved about this building’s construction is it’s not built like a regular two story shop. Rather, you have a first story which for the most part looks like your average bookstore – there are books lined up on rows of bookcases, but the second floor has a balcony view down to the shopping floor. This second floor houses the boutiques as well as a book section called “The Labyrinth”.
The Labyrinth is made up of sci-fi and fantasy books (as well as other related genres), then the “decorative books” which are colorful books which you wouldn’t read but look fun on the shelves. This floor made me feel like Alice lost in a wonderful Wonderland of books. They were configured in an enclosed hallway as well as a looking glass (aka a nice book frame perfect for getting your picture taken through). The stacks on this level a staggered rather than organized rows which leads the search for your next read to fell like an adventure all your own, wandering through this labyrinth.
Within the labyrinth is also one of the stores many themed nooks—the horror nook. The door to this section is a vault door!
There are a range of book nooks organized by genre with fun labels done up in creative ways, making these sections so much fun. A few of these include the graphic novel and rare book sections. The main stacks also have fun shelf labels (though I can’t name any for the life of me) as well as great section signs which are hung from pipe rails. I loved the industrial designs contrast with the Grecian/Roman pillars.
The stairs up to the second floor, as well as a few other places throughout, have book and paper themed art littering the walls and almost everything is free for you to photograph (some of the galleries ask you not to for obvious reasons). I love the large Mammoth head mounted on one wall off set by twinkle lights hanging above on the second store railing. Let’s not forget the checkout desk which is designed to look like a huge stack of books!
This whole store is so eclectic! I just wanted to live here!
There are also couches and armchairs on both levels which you can stop and take a break at, however, they ask that you don’t take a nap or use the space as a library, again for obvious reasons (it’s still a store!).
This is another cool bookstore which offers to purchase your good condition, used books so you can come prepared! You will also have to check bags and show your receipt when leaving but it’s all worth the hours you can spend here.
This is an amazing store which brings in a lot of people both interested in shopping and in exploring and taking pictures, and both are accepted. My final plea if you do get the chance to visit is to purchase at least on book and help keep The Last Bookstore running—it really is a treasure worth keeping around!
All in all, I’m a happy book nerd!
This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.
Ps. here’s a gallery of pictures from our adventure!
WARNING: MAJOR FANGIRL ALERT AHEAD! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
A few weeks back, I was once again so lucky to hit the Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter Studio Tour, which is amazing. I talked about this once before back in June 2014 (after my first visit), but it was a brief mention hidden in my nerd/fandom post about traveling around the fandom-centric sites of the UK.
This post is going to get more specific, but I won’t tell too much and give anything too big away—you’ll have to visit and experience it for yourself!
First to explain where I’m coming from (because, no, Harry Potter is not just for kids, DA’s honor! too far? too far…) :
I’ve grown up with these books, these characters, and this world. We listened to them on cross-country road trips narrated by Jim Dale, I’ve gone to book and film midnight releases dressed in Potter-bound apparel (I’m not a full out costume person), slept curled around the seventh book during my mid read nap so no one in the house could steal it, been to the Los Angeles’ WB Harry Potter/Costume/Lot museum, the London tour twice now, the theme park in Florida and can’t wait for the opening in LA. There are probably more—including the Ravenclaw cardigan I am currently sporting and its Slytherine double hanging back at my flat which have begun to grace my work and everyday wardrobe—but this list feels sufficiently long enough.
I’m technically a Ravenclaw (through and through—thank you, Pottermore), but I have a not so secret desire to fall a bit more on the green side, and that streak is strong. There is a whole theory I have behind this (which doesn’t even touch on my high school feminism and Harry Potter thesis), but alas, I digress (feel free to ask me about it, however!).
Anyway, as one of the cast members explained to a nearby group, where Florida is a theme park, The lot tour in London is a giant museum—and I emphasis giant.
Filling two large sound stages and some of the outdoor space between them, this is really The Harry Potter museum. Each of these sound stages is filled with the real costumes, props, hair pieces, and sets used to film the film adaptations. While you can’t walk onto (most of the sets) you can take as many pictures as you want of everything you see and a few bigger sets even have small interactive aspects.
You are led through the tour by videos playing across screens throughout the tour as well as large information signs, but you can buy (either with your ticket or before entering the tour) a personal media tour guide which will give you more digital commentary on what you are seeing, behind the scenes stories, and image galleries you wouldn’t see otherwise.
My suggestion: if you are a big fan, you’ll want to get the earliest entry time available. We went in at 10 am and left the lot at around 5-5:30 pm; they announced the last tour entry when we still had a few rooms left to go—rooms where we spent the most amount of time as well! This being said, we listened and read absolutely everything, stopped for a quick bite at the midway point, and spent more time than I’d ever considered in the wand room (which I’ll get to in just a minute).
The second half of the tour is great for anyone interested in the design aspects of film making from prosthetic work to models while CGI falls near the end of the first soundstage. This second half also showcases artists’ renderings and concept art which are so beautiful you’ll want them for your house—again, you can take pictures of all of this!
Before we get to the wand room, as promised, I want to touch on the food situation. This was updated from the first time I’d gone on the tour three years ago, so it’s a fully enclosed area. There are two areas you order from: one is everything (food and drinks) and the other is the Butterbeer stand. The set up gets crowded so if you have a few people, after ordering, leave one or two to grab the food (party size depending), a few to pick up the drinks, and anyone else to grab a table.
This is one of only three places in the world that carry Butterbeer and, if I may say, the taste has definitely improved from my first try. There are different variations depending on where you go—Florida had warm, cold, and frozen when we visited—and here in London the Butterbeer is served cold or in ice cream form. If you just go to the drink stand, you won’t see the ice cream option so be aware it’s there because it is absolutely worth it! (I can’t say the same for the Mac’n’cheese, however, just so you know.)
But onto the Wand room.
My other post touched on the beauty and awe of the large scale castle model—again, I almost burst into tears and probably spent a good hour in this particular room on each of my visits—but I never even considered until this last trip, how long a person could find themselves wandering the wand room—the last room you enter before hitting the gift shop.
This room looks—at a simple glance—like a neater version on Ollivander’s Wand Shop. These wand boxes, however, are not real props and do not contain wands—instead, each box end has a name of a person who worked on the film in some way over the course of the 8 films. this rangers from actors and directors, to prop designers and camera crews; if a person was listed on the workers books, they have a box.
Most visitors fly through this room without a second thought, however, inside this room, there is always a robe employee who you can ask to point out anyone whose box you’d like to see. We spent probably the same amount of time in this room as we did with the castle model, asking the employee about everyone we could possibly think of and she pointed out a few extras we hadn’t even thought to ask about (don’t forget, J.K. Rowling has her own box as well!).
If you are lucky and really give the employee some tough things to remember, they may even give you some extra stories they’ve learned for the sets and about people named in the room. This room was truly so much fun!
Once you are out of the wand room, you enter the most dangerous room in the whole tour: the gift shop. A neat tip we got from the girl in the wand room: You can try on and take pictures with anything without buying it—robes, sorting hat, ect—though I’d note, within reason! This is great if you can’t afford to buy these items but want to instagrm a picture souvenir.
My go to purchases are the house sweaters and cardigans, and this is the place I’d go to buy them because, unlike the shop you will find in King’s Cross station (another thing I missed from fandom locations I’ve visited), these sweaters do not have house logos!
There are pros and cons to this fact, however, both dealing with the fact that they look like normal clothing. This means you can get away with going Potter-bound anywhere and no one is the wiser. It also means that your cosplay is closer to the films where they aren’t patched. Unfortunately, this means that the sweaters look like your everyday, inexpensive sweater, but with a fandom price tag which (at least) doubles the cost.
With that in mind, it’s a tossup. Since I’m not growing anymore, I’m fine with what I have now, but I’d be wary about buying for kids.
Also, make sure you get the washing instructions from the checkout; the sweaters shrink up a lot in the wash so the directions are very important since you are paying so much you don’t want to ruin them!
For all the other logistics from prices to how to get to the lot (plan well ahead for this; if you are late and miss your window, they say you may not be allowed in), check out the site. And a final note from me: be aware of the season and times you are going. Tourist season has heavy traffic through the tour as do various times through the school year (like in September!) when school trips come through!
And with that, I think this post has gone on long enough. If you have anything to add, questions to ask, whatever, comment below!
Since September, I’ve been feeling a bit lost in Wonderland—or, in my case, London. It’s a place so much like home and yet so strangely different in its details that I find myself feeling a bit like a wandering Alice in a new mad world where I’m never quite sure if I’ve slipped through the looking glass forever or if I’m just searching for the best path home.
And then, within my wanderings, I began to notice that London has developed its own Alice fever… the girl is everywhere from emerging patters and silhouettes and color themes in fashion to afternoon teas (1,2,3,4), to advertised events across the city (1,2,3,4,5), even stamps! It’s only recently that I discovered why:
2015 is the 150th Anniversary of Alice and Wonderland’s first publication.
The celebrations are bigger than any un-birthday the Hatter and Hare could ever come up with, but many are probably just as mad.
Of all these events, the maddest of them all would have to be the interactive experience worth visiting again and again: Alice’s Adventures Underground.
I was able to attend this event a few weeks back, in what one website led me to believe was the last weekend, and it was an amazing evening. And, luckier still, the event is NOT over. In fact, it’s running through August, which means I’ll be lining up to go at least one more time-seriously, I’ve booked the tickets!
This event has multiple parts from a children’s show, a literary talk series, the interactive experience for the more grown up folk and a club area that stays open later, each of which has a separate ticket and therefore price—make sure you’re buying for the right thing! (The children show is for children; no adult permitted without child—check that ticket!)
In this post, I’ll be focusing on the Interactive show.
Since this is ongoing and who knows which of you might be gearing to go out, I don’t want to give too much away, but I’ll tell you a little more about what you are in for than the main website does:
So, what you’ll learn from the website is that this is an interactive show based on the works by Lewis Carroll. You’ll get to explore a unique version of Wonderland by being part of it, all located within the bowels of The Vaults under Waterloo station.
When you pick your time, you should be aware that you MUST arrive 15 minutes before that allotted time (again, this is on the site), however, if you want to have something to drink when you get to the in-world tea party (you must prepay and pre-order before going into the show), get in the right mind set, have a pre-show drink, go to the bathroom, check your coats and bags (it costs 1 pound for each checked item), or anything else you feel you need to do, get there even earlier. It’s also a little bit crazy trying to find the entrance so set out earlier than you think you need to; you’ll thank me later.
There is also a dress code: you are in the land of the Queen of Hearts so it’s all red and black here.
Please, guys, for me (yes, this is begging) stick to the dress code! One thing I hadn’t realized before this adventure was that I’m an Alice. My wardrobe would be fit for playing the character, all blues and collars and, with my blond hair and petite frame, even the actors played with the resemblance! Still, there were a few blues popping in and out of groups and it was the biggest pain as someone who was embracing the whole experience. Seriously, enjoy the night and go all in—it’s more fun that way!
Like I said, you have to check your coat and bag, but I encourage you to keep cash on you. You are let out into a great club space where you can get more drinks and some food, and while you can go back and get your stuff and return to eat, it’s just easier if you have the cash stashed on your person. And it’s hot down there, so keep your layers light.
Now, onto the stuff they don’t tell you:
The set is amazing and you will have choices as you interact within it. You enter in through this maze of boxes which let out into a room full of artifacts; pictures hanging from the ceiling, book shelves climbing the walls at impossible angles, mirrors and toys. Take a wander and explore—it’s not exactly a museum so you can touch, just don’t disrupt anything. Beware: don’t get too close to the walls as the doors are hidden and spring open to let you down the next passage ways.
Storytelling wise, you are entering Wonderland after Alice has come and gone, her name and person is a banned subject. The black cards (the clubs and spades) are part of an uprising in Wonderland, fighting to take down the King and Queen of Hearts. The reds (Hearts and Diamonds), on the other hand, are solving the conspiracy against said royals. Each suit will follow its own adventure—even coming in a group won’t guarantee you’ll all stay together, so you should choose if you want to try sticking together as much as you can or all meet up at the end of the line.
If you are anxious about talking to characters or being approached, you should be aware that it’s possible that this is going to happen. You can either fight through or, if you are struggling, an actor will help you out. Even then, you very rarely have to do anything completely on your own. Don’t not go because you don’t want to be singled out—it’s worth it, I promise.
When you do get to the end, don’t think this is just a room with a band. Besides the wandering characters (who are definitely worth having a chat with), live music, and food, there is a maze that leads through to a second bar as well as the makings of a royal flamingo croquet course for you to play with some friends (through the “PIES” door and up the stairs). This is also the only space besides the pre-show room that you are allowed to take pictures in—yes, of and with the wandering characters as well.
That’s all you’re getting from me, at least, for now. Let me know with a comment if you have any questions and I’m sure to answer what I can. Also, here’s a master list I found with other Wonderland inspired events going on in and around London, so check your local listings.
Remember: It’s a mad world and we’re all mad here, but the best people usually are…
The first to visit, the last to post… for a little while, at least.
If you guys have been tracking, I announced this Book nerd adventure back in January and since then I’ve definitely been in and out of a lot of book sellers—and I’ve loved it. But in my haste to get everything else done for my travels and keeping you up to date on other things, I skipped the first store that actually got me started on this –now global—adventure: Hatchard’s in Piccadilly.
The Piccadilly store front’s claim to fame comes down to being the UK’s oldest book shop (established in 1797), but wandering inside, you would never know that this space was anywhere near that age.
Growing up in LA, the only bookstores I had really available to run around in were chains like Borders and Barnes & Nobles that were attached to malls—and even those numbers are dwindling. These major retailers housed their wares in open plan spaces where the only divisions of the room—except for floors—were the book cases breaking things down by genre. These were not interesting architectural places or mazes to lose yourself in, in a nod to Alice wandering the expanding world of wonderland; they were simply spaces you went to get the books you needed before continuing along with your shopping needs.
So, while I am now quite used to the world of creative book spaces and aesthetic draw of the booksellers I’ve looked at so far, walking into Hatchard’s was my first real experience of a bookstore as more than a building to buy a book or two.
I’d chosen this shop as my first for a few reasons: I was in need of books to read on the trains and such before heading out to France for reading week; it’s the oldest bookshop in the UK (!); I knew the general area and it wasn’t too far from where I live; and, finally, I had a class assignment where I had to go and observe a space and the way people interacted with it—a bookstore seemed like just the place to get everything I needed in one go.
Like I said, this was my first trip, so (after a few minutes of searching for the shop and getting turned around in the little streets surrounding it on the way) when I walked in and began to wander, I was pretty much floored.
This store is pretty much the opposite of open planned. Rather, each of the 5 floors (3 up from the ground floor and one below) is made up of rooms and passageways for customers to wander through.
And, boy, did I wander.
I found myself loving the feel of this store with its great central staircase and the quality it held, less like a maze (like Shakespeare and Co in Paris or the mammoth which is the Strand in New York) andmore like a labyrinth, where each room falls into a path which has a clear pattern to wander through.
It’s been a while since I visited the shop so you’ll have to excuse some of my lack of details, but one thing still stands out to me: there were a few areas that had chairs and even a couch where shoppers had set themselves up to work. Unlike most establishments where people congregate, this wasn’t a café setting one would see in any other bookshop. Rather these were small niches throughout the store where people were working on various project, none of which had anything to do with being in a bookshop. Again, coming from the dwindling market of Los Angeles, this was a completely foreign sight to behold.
But to wrap this up: Hatchard’s is a great space with a lovely and large range of books as well as an easy air which makes you understand wanting to sit down and stay for a while. Although—as my teacher felt compelled to remind—this is not a discount bookstore and, for where it’s located, you can definitely see why keeping the aesthetics at top marks would be so important.
Still, if you are in the area, this is a stop I’d recommend to you fellow bookies, there is an atmosphere, books, and some history in these walls—what else do you need?
This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.
ps. As I said, this’ll be the last book nerd post for a little while, but we’re not closing the book on this chapter forever. So, next week we’ll get back to other travel stuff. But for now: Love you, awesome book nerds.
The McNally Jackson bookstore is probably one of the most interesting set ups I’ve seen and, I for one, have fallen in love with the store.
While it may not have the volume of a book catacomb seen at the The Strand, this small independent really stands out as a place to explore and get a little lost in the world of literature—in some ways literally. On the top floor, most of the store’s collection is organized by country of the origin rather than by subject and author—a truly unique notion. (There’s a reason other bookshop listings mention asking for help if looking for a specific title!)
This set up speaks to the kind of books that can be found housed on the shelves and tables around the store as well. Most titles and covers I hadn’t seen in my explorations elsewhere and each book I picked up covered a new range of topics which seemed to come back to the independent identity.
This isn’t to say that the store ignores popular books and publications, but by walking into McNally Jackson’s and wandering through the titles, you get access to much more of the world and all its great variety.
The top floor also houses the café with the fantastic book ceiling décor, as well as other great aesthetic features which gives the place an easy yet quirky energy that will make me want to drop back in.
The lower level houses the sections that are more common in every bookstore—young adult, poetry, fiction, ect—but even here there is an interesting twist to your browsing. This floor seemed set up to effortlessly move you from genre to genre; moving from mystery and thriller to science fiction and political writings to historic works to mythology, winding you throughout the level without you really having to wonder how any one piece fit. It was unlike any set up I’ve seen in pretty much any of my previous wanderings.
This shop is more than just your run of the mill bookshop and café duos, however. It’s also a working book press totaling 50,004 prints as of my visit. The website has more information of this aspect of the store if anyone is interested, but for simple browsers it’s one more interesting quirk of this truly remarkable shop, thriving in Manhattan.
One thing I will mention, however. If you want to visit—like this is a must on your list (which I completely understand)—don’t leave this to your last day. This was actually our second trip to the store front because the first time we went the store was closed for the day. I’m not sure why this was the case but if you are worried—as with all things—you can always call the store before heading down.
Anyway, if you are interested in exploring titles that you’d otherwise never see, by authors from around the world, talking about topics that others aren’t writing about, and from perspectives as unique as you’ll ever see—this is the shop you should definitely not miss out on.
If you end up in New York City, there really isn’t a shortage of sights to see and things to do. But as a book nerd, you are also spoiled for choice when it comes to really interesting bookshops to check out (and there are tons of lists to check out for ideas).
When it comes to beauty (at least form the outside), the Strand won’t stick out much, but if you have an afternoon to wander the stacks, you won’t be disappointed.
Upon walking in, the atmosphere makes me feel almost as if I’m walking into a book version of Ollivanders—a magical place where you could wander for hours waiting for the right book to find you. However, I also felt a bit like Belle walking into the Beast’s library—I could wander here forever and never run out of new worlds to explore.
What makes the Strand really unique is that it’s more than just a book store for the new, but a place you can go to buy or give used books a chance to be discovered and turned into someone else’s favorites through the Book exchange on the first floor; this supplies the cheap and used book carts that surround the store on the outside.
If you are looking to get in and out of a store with exactly what you want quickly, efficiently, and without much fuss, this is probably not the store for you. This isn’t to say you couldn’t manage the task, but you’d probably have to go directly to one of the help stations and have them find and retrieve the book for you. Why?
The stacks of the Strand are so tall and close, at times it was hard to see what books lied along the very top shops, let alone get to those books if the one you want is up there (and unlike the Parisian stores I’ve been to, there aren’t any public access ladders to make use of).
However, even though the store sometimes feels like an overwhelmingly large maze, everything is pretty neatly laid out with a clear and handy map next to the stair case. With four floors (more like three and a half nook) of books to wander, it’s a good thing too.
As we’ve talked about, there are tons of different kind of book nerd nirvanas and if you are a wanderer with a taste for in a mix of new prints and books with character and storied pasts and no shortage of time and a desire to wander and explore, the Strand is the place for you, my book nerd.
I’ll be honest, I had originally not planned to visit The Strand—my trip was so busy, time wasn’t really my own with the amount of people with us, and the store didn’t really stick out among any of the lists I was looking at.
But thank goodness it ended up along our path between destinations on a relatively empty afternoon (as I’ve mentioned, the people I was with weren’t really seasoned for the long walking/exploring days needed to get the feel of a city that never sleeps—most ended up sitting around as my sister and I explored the shelves only to hop in a taxi to the hotel to call it a night—in the middle of the afternoon!)
Anyway, despite what you may see in the picture lists that talk about the NYC bookstores ‘you must see when you have the chance’, the Strand is a great stop to go and explore the world of new and old books—and unlike the library, you get to keep the books! So go for it, Book hoarders, and explore. I highly doubt you’ll be disappointed in your afternoon among the shelves.