Last February I had the chance to explore Austria’s capital guided by my local friends. Having been there before, I was surprised to see how many different layers the city has. There’s something for nature lovers, something for classicists, something for alternative crews… and for all kinds of foodies and coffee lovers. Here are my top coffee places in Vienna, awesome to go to for a quick bite and a caffeine fix.
This is a wonderful place for breakfast or brunch. It is in Margareten (which is also a great area to stay, full of cafés and young people), and their manu is both simple and tasty. With its minimalistic decoration and great window panes, it is a cozy little place to have your first coffee or chat with friends. I had a wonderful sweet potato omelet there, and the hot coco is also very good.
A very chic place for dinner and drinks, dim lights, comfy chairs and really good food. It is a little expensive, but worth it. They have everything from burgers and pasta to gnocchi and curry (which I had and was very tasty). Specially good for large groups of people.
This place is cool because it’s on a boat on the Danube. Although the interior is very pretty (long, shared tables and glass ceiling and walls), it is better to go here when the weather is good, because the terrace overlooking the river is closed in Winter. However, as the prices are a bit expensive, you can just try it for coffee and cake, they have really good cakes (try the carrot cake!).
If you’re looking for a very Viennese coffee experience, this is the place. This “konditorei” has it all from coffee to fancy food and exuberant cakes, all in an elegant three-store store building that’ll take you back to the Imperial days. Whether you’re going by yourself of with a small group, this place will make you feel instantly at home with their cozy corners and cozy chairs. As it is in the centre, you might get pretty cool views of Kärntner Straße from the upper floors.
This place claims to have the best pastries in Vienna. They probably do. This place’s food is prepared by grandmas and grandpas and they have all sorts of cakes and hot beverages, and the decorations and atmosphere are both great. Walls full of pictures, large sofas and low tables. The only downside is that it is usually booked for brunch, so plan ahead.
This is a place not many people know about, because it’s on top of an official building. You’ll have to go through security check and then climb all the way up to the little terrace where government employees have their lunch. The coffee and food are alright, but hey highlight of the place is the view. On summer there are tables on the terrace and in Winter, if you can stand it, you can still look at the city from the balcony.
Throughout my life, and perhaps the more so because I’m a literature undergrad, I have read many kinds of books. And many of those books have changed me and shaped the ways in which I interact with the world.
Of all those ways in which books have changed me, this post is dedicated to those books that inspired me to travel, those which gave me itchy feet and to which I owe this never-ending desire to go to “faraway lands”, to get lost in big cities and found in quiet mountain tops or forgotten little towns. Some of these books just describe places in such a vivid way that I was compelled to visit them, but most are not about destinations about but journeys themselves.
Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman
Whitman’s poetry is hope, energy, youth. When I first read Leaves of Grass I started to understand things I had only guessed before about my place in the world. “Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you. /You must travel it by yourself. /It is not far. It is within reach. /Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know. / Perhaps it is everywhere – on water and land.”
To actually feel part of the world wherever I am, however distant it may seem, has been a big breakthrough for me: “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” I used to set too much store on destinations and possessions, to think that when I had this or when I were somewhere else I would be happy, but that was not only untrue, but also an unsustainable way of living. Now I’d rather be here and think of traveling in a broader sense, I want to be here as much as possible and when I’m somewhere else I want to be there with all my heart.
Villette, Charlotte Brontë
Though not Charlotte’s most famous novel, Villette is perhaps my favourite. A young woman with no money or family who embarks to Europe in search of a better life. She arrives in a little town in Belgium only to realise that the journey is not yet over. When she’s in she ship, uncertain of where she’s going but fully embracing her own adventure, she says: “So peril, loneliness, an uncertain future, are not oppressive evils, so long as the frame is healthy and the faculties are employed; so long especially, as Liberty lends us her wings, and Hope guides us by her star.“ And this quote has accompanied me since. Somehow that’s what traveling is about for me, the excitement of adventure, the fear and uncertainty that freedom can arouse, and ultimately the hopes for better things to come, and to each travel to show us things of ourselves we didn’t know before.
Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer
This is a recent read for me (no, I haven’t watched the movie yet), and I must say I was completely appalled and excited by the adventures of Chris McCandless (aka Alexander Supertramp) that Krakauer narrates. When talking about this book I found that many people think the author glorifies the stupidity of this young man who went to live by himself in the Alaskan wilderness. I really don’t think he does. I actually think Krakauer does an amazing job in setting apart his opinions from the facts, while also rendering a complex portrait of the 22-year-old. I don’t believe Chris McCandles was a hero, but I do believe he understood what he was up to and understood too the perils of modern society. If I learned something from this book, it was about self-reliance. This book made me so much more conscious of my dependance on material things as well of the implications of everything I do (from the food I eat to the clothes I wear), and I think we could all learn a bit from both Jon Krakauer, an amazing writer and adventurer, and Chris McCandless. I also can’t wait to travel to Alaska.
If you’re interested in self-reliance, I highly recommend you read Emerson’s text of the same name. It might change your life. Also, if you’re on Goodreads, I made a list of all the books that appear in Into the Wild, most of which McCandless read. So add me here, and the list is called “Into-the-wild”.
A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway
I’m a big fan of Hemingway (my favourite novel is definitely A Farewell to Arms) and so I had to read this memoir. Apart from it being the best memoir I’ve read, it is also one of the best books about Paris ever. I love this book because it combines my two passions: literature and travel writing. Hemingway’s descriptions of Paris are astounding, he describes the parties and the itineraries he followed when living there, all the alcohol and tobacco and all the artists he met there. He also tells some funny and heartbreaking anecdotes and talks of Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso and James Joyce. When I read it I had already been to Paris, but the way in which he describes the cafés in the Latin Quartier, all the gardens and the boulangeries, just made me want to go again. From this book you’ll get a ton of places to see in Paris, including Shakespeare & Co., as well as some of the most interesting reflections on what it means to be a writer and what it takes to write.
On the Road, Jack Kerouac
Of course, I had to include this one, and you’ve probably read it already. Although Kerouac might not be my favourite beatnik, this book is special. I must confess I found it poorly written and boring at some points (and I don’t think I hate any fictional character more than I hate Dean Moriarty), but there’s some raw stuff in here that is so important for me, the love of experience for the sake of experience. The book is about a road trip, perhaps The Road Trip, across North America, and Kerouac was clearly not gonna let grammar interfere in his rendering of this experience. The book has many great moments of clarity that made me jump of excitement and recognition, and I think any fellow traveler, or any young person really, will feel the same.
I’ll just leave some cool quotes here:
“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
“… the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”
“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”
The Call of the Wild, Jack London
This is one of the books mentioned in Into the Wild. It is about a house dog from California that is sold to be a sleigh dog in Alaska and how this drastic change forces him to go back to his nature. What I like about this book is that it does not idealize nature as something good, but it represents it with all its violence, as a merciless force, and yet a majestic one. This book made me think so much about our relationship to nature and it made me change the ways in which I interact with it, so if you’re a nature lover, I recommend this book.
Have you read any of these?
If so, what did you think of them? I’d love to hear from you on the comments.
Wether you are or not interested in politics, D.C. is a city that offers charms to everybody. From beautiful parks and wide avenues to quirky bookshops and blues, this city can be a perfect weekend escape. If you don’t know where to begin, here’s a one-day itinerary for a short visit to the political capital of the world.
Running or biking along the National Mall and the Reflecting Pool
Morning or night are the best times to take this long walk from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, passing the Washington Monument (the big obelisk) because it is not yet too hot. The National Mall is a huge park that borders on many of the Smithsonian museums and you’ll get to see some of the most famous landmarks of the city while they’re not yet too crowded and you’ll get a good workout done. The National Mall ends where the obelisk starts, and then you can keep going straight along the Reflecting Pool towards Lincoln Memorial.D.C. has those bikes you can pick up and drop at several points in the city, they’re comfortable and really useful (for only $8 the day) so you could bike instead of running.
This is a very nice place that offers organic, plant-based food. Of all the places in which I had breakfast this was my favourite because of their WAFFLES. I love waffles and almond butter, and their ABC waffles were all that. They also offer very good juices, oatmeal and other healthy, high energy meals that will set you up for the rest of the day. They have many locations, but I recommend the one on Palmer Street, so you can take a look at this beautifully decorated, high fashion street in the centre of DC.
The Smithsonian Institute has 18 museums in DC. Eighteen! Among the most popular there are the National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of Natural History. I recommend the Smithsonian American Art Museum, in which you can find many interesting and contemporary pieces as well as more traditional art. There are also the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which you could take a look at too, your pick!
This place is another one of my findings (I wanted to eat as healthy as possible). It is located also in the city centre, a 20 minute walk away from Georgetown, a very nice and old neighbourhood in D.C.
A walk along the Potomac River to Georgetown, shopping and coffee
After picking up a juice, shake or a wrap, you can start walking East towards the Potomac River, where you’ll find many water related activities going on. Following the river will get you to the Georgetown Waterfront Park and many coffee places like Baked & Wired and Sprinkles Cupcakes, or the amazing Chinese tea house Ching Ching Cha.
Blues (and cocktails) in Georgetown
When you’re done wandering around Georgetown’s colourful streets, you can head to Blues Alley Club, which is next to Ching Ching Cha. It’s a really cool, cozy place for live jazz music and drinks.
Late dinner at The Hamilton
This is my only non-healthy recommendation, but is definitely worth it. Both the burgers and the fried chicken are really good (and those sweet potato fries). They also have a very wide selection of wine and beer, and very friendly and approachable staff to recommend you something if, like me, you’re indecisive. The Hamilton is back at the city centre of D.C., so afterwards you can easily go anywhere.
The Lincoln Memorial by night
If you’re still up for it after dinner, I highly recommend you take a walk alongside the Reflecting Pool at night. The monument’s illumination is gorgeous against a pitch dark background.
Going from the WWII Memorial to the Lincoln Memorial will surely be a good experience, since there are many people about, walking or sitting around chatting. It’s a perfect goodbye to the city and a perfect meet-up point if you’re clubbing.
“And yet [Edinburgh] establishes an interest in people’s hearts; go where they will, they find no city of the same distinction.”
–Robert Louis Stevenson
If I had to choose a place where it rains more than half of the year to live in, it would be Edinburgh. The clouds there seem to be heavier, immune to the strong winds, forever set upon every turret and tower in the city. Edinburgh’s Old Town just be one of the most mysterious and enigmatic places in the world. Great part of the city is built on mass graves and ancient graveyards, so it is no wonder that the city is still the centre of many urban legends and the “most haunted place in Europe”. However, it is also an astoundingly beautiful city, and it’s no surprise many writers have found inspiration while living there. I have been in Edinburgh two times now, during winter and Spring, and have visited some places that I’m sure any fellow book lover would love to hear about, so here we go:
The Elephant House
This is a big, comfortable café in which J.K. Rowling spent many hours writing and imagining the world of Harry Potter. There’s usually a queue to order and have a table, but if you’re a fellow potterhead, you just can’t miss it. Coffee and food are okay (the macchiato is really good), but it’s the vibe that is amazing. There are some locals there getting coffee or reading the table, but mostly there are HP fans looking around. The walls are covered in fan art (and elephants, hence the name) and the toilets are completely covered in quotes and messages from the fans. If you have some time to spare, it is a good idea to wait for a table, have coffee or breakfast and take a look around.
This graveyard is both creepy and amazing. It is amazing because of all the centuries of history buried there and because its connection with Harry Potter. J. K. Rowling took some of the names for her characters from some graves here. You can actually see Thomas Riddell’s stone and the place from where Sirius Black’s one was stolen (presumably by a fan). To go during the day I recommend taking a free walking tour of the city offered by Kick Ass Hostels, that’s the one I took and it was amazing (and staying there is a good idea if you’re on a budget). There are many legends about the graveyard, my favourites include (and read at your own risk) grave-robbing and the Mackenzie poltergeist.
And if you’re a bit more daring, Greyfriars Kirk is also open for midnight tours. When I was there I took a tour with City of the Dead tours, which also included a night visit to the South Bridge Vaults. Needless to say, I was scared out of my wits. But hey, it’s fun if you don’t have a heart condition.
The most famous landmark of the city. A 12th century castle built on top of an extinct volcano, Castle Rock.
The view you get from Castle Rock is pretty amazing too, so it’s worth the walk.
The Royal Mile, Victoria Street, the Grassmarket
These are the most picturesque and chic streets of Edinburgh. Rowling is said to have been inspired by the colorful and cramped houses and shops of Victoria Street to create Diagon Alley. Also, Princes Street has beautiful gardens and some of the finest architecture of the city, including Sir Walter Scott’s Monument.
All in all, Edinburgh is an amazing city, a vibrant mix of the old and the new (see, for example, The Frankenstein, an old church converted into a nightclub). It is also city with a huge literary history and you can visit the birthplaces of Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle, or recognize some of the iconic places from Welsh’s Trainspotting.
On April 2017 I took a bus to Cork from Victoria Coach Station in London. It was a fifteen-hour journey, leaving at dawn and arriving almost at noon the next day. It was my first trip completely alone—no friends to stay with, no acquaintances to meet once I was there, and a pretty tight budget—. When I got on the bus I was excited, but excitement soon gave way to tiredness when I realized the bus would stop almost every hour, we’d have to wait for new passengers or wait while there was a driver change. Nevertheless, I had two whole seats to myself, some food, music and a book with me. After ten days I would be leaving Cork to join some friends in Dublin, so I took Joyce’s Dubliners with me.
The bus would take a ferry from Fishguard, Wales, to Rosslare, Ireland, instead of going from Holyhead, near Liverpool, to Dublin, which I’ve been told is much faster, although more expensive. The way to Fishguard was about five hours and before we arrived there, almost half of the passengers had gotten off. At one stop we got to take a break outside the bus for some minutes and the few of us who were left, tired and hungry, started talking. An elderly lady who was sitting in front of me asked if that was going to be my first time in Ireland and, when I said yes, she told me she was from Cork. She’d been living for almost thirty years in England though, and now she was going to visit her nephew during the Easter holiday, in some small city near Cork. She looked happy to be going back.
Even before I arrived in Ireland, I noticed a distinctive nature among the Irish people on the bus, a kind of closeness and introverted warmth, a discreet friendliness. My new friend kept asking me things about Mexico and once the bus entered the ferry and we finally got off, she told me that het mother had served as a nurse during WWII. That’s why she had decided to become a nurse too. I made many fleeting friendships during my time in Ireland, all of the with very interesting stories to tell, but this one I still remember clearly. This lady also told me to go to Cobh and spoke for a long time about the Titanic.
Once in Cork, neck aching and a bit confused, I decided to walk all the way to the place that would be my home for the next ten days, just to get familiar with the city. The bus station is right in front of the River Lee, which crosses the city and flows to the East, into the Celtic Sea. So the first thing I did in Cork was to cross the Lee, with a giant backpack on my shoulders, to go north, towards Dillons Cross. From there, passing through St Luke’s, I directed my steps towards down to the river everyday. The city centre is literally embraced by two thin arms of the Lee, right before they unite again, running West, towards the limits of the county Cork.
The centre, at first sight, did not look very appealing. But the more I went through its wide streets and narrow, crooked alleys, gardens and decks, the more I realized that it was really quite different from other European cities I’d visited. There was some weird irreverence about it. The nickname of the city, I learned later, is “the rebel city” because of its support for the House of York during the War of the Roses. And this defiance is notorious, like an effort to set itself aside both from Dublin and Britain. Cork is what we call now “alternative”, with walls filled with street art and stickers everywhere, bars and pubs that promote indie bands, a great diversity of urban characters in outfits that range from punk and goth to quirky. It is as if a second city, a grunge one, positioned itself on top of the religious, gothic architecture, as if a coat of colour covered the grey vestiges of the middle ages. And the city is vibrant, even under the ever-cloudy, almost-always-rainy sky.
Not very far, following the river east, there is Blackrock Castle, a military fortress that later became an observatory, looking northwards. The castle has been modified and reconstructed plenty of times since its construction in the 17th century and, more than a majestic structure, it simply looks like a part of the landscape, with its grey, almost black, bricks agains the grayish blue of the river and the even grayer blue of the sky. Close to the castle (and inside the castle itself) there are many restaurants, cafés and tea rooms from where one can get a nice view of the castle and the river, which is bursting with life during spring.
Going further to the West, still following the river, there is Cobh (pronounced, I was told, like Cov), a little port town, the last place in which the Titanic called before sinking. I arrived there by train and it took like 20 minutes or so. Cobh looks like a little mountain, and on its top stands a spectacular gothic cathedral, the kind you only see in Ireland, and around it lie hundreds of little colourful houses. Here the river flows into the Celtic Sea and hundreds of boats and ships crowd the docks. When I visited Cobh, the sky was clear and the sun shined, although the wind didn’t stop blowing. Cobh’s beaches are of large stones that the sea strikes furiously, there is little sand and walking there is a bit tricky since there are many broken glass bottles among the rocks. But the view makes it worth it. After walking for a while, I went back the centre of the town, full of children and their parents buying ice cream at the many colorful stands near the beach. Only a few minutes from the city of Cork, Cobh seemed to me a very different place, calmer and, despite the vocational atmosphere, more formal (or perhaps just a bit less rebellious) than Cork.
Time after, very far away from Ireland and the cold seas, I read Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. In the book, there is a part in which Stephen Dedalus and his father walk through Cork, among pubs, restaurants and theaters. The impressions of the city that Stephen gets are always related to blooming trees and sun streets, and he ponders over his father’s rebellious youth. Certainly I cannot think of Cork as a sunny place— while I was there the weather changed constantly and almost always the wind blew with playful strength. However I do remember it as rebellious, filled with laughter and people drinking wine in the park. A city of carefree beauty, careless and almost defiant.
When I left Cork to go north, I realized it was a unique place, even in Ireland. It was different from all the places I visited near Killarney, near the beaches of Bantry and Kenmare, different too from Dublin, which beats to a different tempo. And different too were the people I met in Cork, friendly, just rightly extroverted, always looking for things we had in common, with a national pride that didn’t seem to impose barriers between us and, with a particular talent to tell stories or, rather, to tell of any event as if it was the most interesting thing in the world (and some of them were, too).
While I stayed in Cork I also visited some other parts of the centre and south of Ireland, but apart from a long trip along the coast towards Killarney National Park and back, I preferred to stay in Cork, get familiar with it and save money for the next adventure, a road trip around Scotland with five friends and a complete stranger. While I was in Cork I though that the worst that could happen would be that we’d end up hating each other. I did not think of the dangers of going north in early spring without a clear plan or no phone signal, or of the frightening freedom of not knowing exactly where we’d end up next, or that my sneakers might not be appropriate for the weather and the roughness of the Highlands.
However, my time in Cork gave me a discreet confidence in traveling alone, as well as it taught me, quite cruelly, about the disadvantages of traveling heavy. I arrived there with a 20 kilogram backpack and left with around 13 kilograms, having had to get rid of uncomfortable shoes, books and shampoo bottles to board the train being able to carry my backpack. Since then I believe I am more careful with shopping, although not as much as I’d like. So I took a train from Cork to Dublin, the meeting point and last stop in Ireland, to then go north in search of some mountains and some more adventures.
Places to visit in Cork City:
St Finn Barre’s Cathedral
Cork City Gaol
Crawford Art Gallery
The English Market
If you’re in Cork you could also do day trips to:
The Ring of Kerry
Have you been in Ireland?
What did I miss? Would love to hear from you on the comments!
Things that come to mind when thinking of London: Westminster, The Houses of Parliament in the fog, double-decker buses under the rain, the grey, trembling waters of the Thames. Ben Aaronovitch said once that there are some people who feel like Londoners the minute they set a foot out of the plane at Heathrow, I don’t think I know what it is like to feel like a Londoner. The first time I set foot in the city I had with me a really long list of places I had to visit. Too many for the time I was staying. As the night fell the city had already set its own rhythms on me, and I realized I was mistaken to think all those places I wanted to see were in the same city. The rythms of that vast mass of stone and fog were like those of the waves, and Shelley’s words then made sense to me: London, a great sea with its roaring waves, each of them as different from the others as majestic.
Because there are many Londons; there is the London of Picadilly and Oxford Circus, of displays and consumerism, a European Times Square; there is the London of Soho, alternative and boheme, ; the London of Westminster, a palimpsest of cities; the West End and the East End; layers of city on top of each other, and the underground moves between spaces but also between times.
The city is eclectic not only in its freneticism, but also in the way in which its history actualizes itself on the present in every building, in every park and street. Trying to imagine everything that has happened there, on the pages of innumerable books, what happened in life but also in imagination, is enough to get dizzy, it feels like being on board of a little boat afloat in a raging sea.
There is, in Southwark, one of the places that give account of the immense history of the city and its very intricate links with literature: The George Inn, a vaulted pub, founded in the Middle Ages and restored after the great fire in 1677. The place was used for theatre during the Elizabethan time, its yard and big rooms were enough to entertain a considerable number of people. Later on the inn still worked as a coaching pub and looking at it I couldn’t stop thinking of the place where Austen’s Elizabet Bennet receives the news of her sister’s elopement, or where the characters from Dicken’s Bleak House discuss the mysterious past of a young lady in a private chamber.
The inn actually appears in Little Dorrit and it is known that Dickens was a frequent client. The place is also a vestige of an industrial London, dirty and dangerous during the Victorian time, a time of beautiful dresses, top-hats and oiled mustaches as much of crime and violence; Sherlock Holmes’ time, Jack the Ripper’s time. How many cities can overlap over a simple stone structure? Almost everything has changed around it, but the George Inn still stands.
Places like these are like anchors. Or perhaps like the remains of a shipwreck that inhabitant the depths of a sea that violently yet gracefully agitates itself towards the shores of the future, Another one of these is, undoubtedly, The Globe, where one can’t help but wonder if Shakespeare’s contemporaries felt the same things when they witnessed Juliet or Ophelia’s sufferings. it is a curious feeling, to feel surrounded by a fictional past, déjà vu like reminiscences, like feeling we have seen somebody’s face before, perhaps in a dream, when we have only read about it. A feeling, too, that Londoners seem to share, for they surrounds themselves with plaques and statues of poets, bringing back all those past wanderings of the city.
In Westminster Abbey, the poet’s corner hoards hundreds of tombs and tributes. To think that under one same building lie the remains of Browning, Chaucer, Dickens, Dryden, Hardy, Johnson, Kipling and Tennyson. There also are, on stone carved letters, the names of Austen and the Brontës— enough, anyway, to make someone want to go to church.The poet’s corner is rarely empty, people wander about looking down to make out the names, some completely foreign. Every footstep is light, every moment soft, as if not to wake up someone.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that “the best bribe which London offers to-day to the imagination, is, that, ins such a vast variety of people and conditions, one can believe there is room for persons of romantic character to exist, and that the poet, the mystic, and the hero may hope to confront their counterparts”. And London’s charm could not be better described; there is an East End at night for the contemporary Poètes maudits, surrounded by cafés and curry places; a Hyde Park for the romantic and, next to it, the Kensington Gardens, crowned by a Peter Pan statue, for the nostalgic; there is also Bloomsbury for the disenchanted; Camden Town for the rebels; and even a Platform 9 3/4, inside King’s Cross Station, for those who still believe in utopias.
Great admiration for Jane Austen took me to Bath in the first place. After London, it was the first city I visited in England and my favourite until I went to Cambridge. The city keeps much of its original Roman architecture that half shows like a partly unveiled coliseum surrounded by modern buildings, all enclosed in a Georgian aura, as if the city was the last vestige of a preindustrial England, before the coal mines, the vapour ships, before the cinder-covered North and the foggy South that appeared in Dickens novels. Bath was founded there by the romans because of the thermal waters, and these gave origin to its actual name. Later on, during the Elizabethan epoch, Bath became once again a holiday centre and by the times in which Jane Austen lived, the last part of the 18th century and the beginnings of the 19th, people from all across the country fled to Bath because of the supposedly beneficial properties of the thermal baths.
The city was also a famous social centre and, even when it wasn’t London, it had numerous ballrooms and tea rooms, all kinds of shops and a warmer weather than the capital. For me, Bath is mercilessly humid, hot during the summer, windy and rainy the rest of the year, but undoubtedly charming. Despite what one might think and in spite of the many events in Bath related to Jane Austen (see the bottom), the portrait of the Southern city portrayed by the author in her novels seems to point out that she didn’t fancy it very much.
Austen lived in Bath from 1801 to 1806 and the city is the main setting for two of her novels, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, although it is also mentioned constantly throughout all her work. Being from Hertfordshire, the Austen family moved to Bath for health issues, giving the young writer the chance to depict the chic sceneries and the eclectic way of life of the city in her work.
In the Austenian imaginary, Bath was a beacon to well-off young ladies that wanted to socialize (and to young men in possession of fortunes of course, who were in want of a wife), some kind of small-scale London in which life went by between thermal baths, tea rooms, dinners and balls. It is in Bath were Anne, form Persuasion, and Catherine, from Northanger Abbey, meet their future husbands, but it is also living in Bath that leads the young heroines to make poor choices: Anne, persuaded to try and find a better match, rejects Captain Wentworth’s affection even when she loves him, and Catherine gets carried away by her new socialité friend, Isabella, which almost costs her her happiness.
Bath is portrayed in both novels, with the subtlest irony, as the embodiment of the superficiality that surrounded the well-off families of regency England, the superficiality that Austen criticizes in all her novels. The ballrooms with their music, canapes and drinks; huge chandeliers and candle-lit, hazy atmospheres; crowded streets filled with people rushing to buy ribbons and dresses; the frequent arrival of single soldiers— all of this seemed to plunge Austen’s heroines into a moral stupor from which they recovered just in time. In Northanger Abbey, Catherine arrives in Bath to stay with some better-off friends of her family and immediately becomes friends with Isabella Thorpe, a young lady who shows her the ways of the city and who also happens to incarnate all social vices.
Northanger Abbey is a critique of many things —including mansplaining— and a fervent defense of the novel as a worthy literary genre, and as such it couldn’t have a better setting than Bath. The superficiality and mannerism considered fashionable by urban societies are a complete mystery to Catherine, who is more of a tomboy and a country girl, and her inicial enchantment transforms into disappointment. Catherine is also a somewhat quixotic figure, suffering from latent bovarism, who is obsessed with gothic novels— deemed as low literature and read mainly by women— and who begins believing she lives in a novel by Anne Radcliffe.
Austen’s intertextual game is clever, being her work a parody of the popular gothic novel in which, as in all of her novels, it is easier to detect irony by the psychology of the character than by looking for the author’s own voice. There are no negative words about Bath (that is, in the novels, but we could find some in Austen’s personal correspondence), but all the praise for the city is spoken by the most naive and superficial characters. What made Bath such an unattractive place for a woman who dedicated her work to the criticism of imperialism and the political position of women? Perhaps Bath was the equivalent of the actual touristic complexes that pollute natural reserves and whose luxuries are really paid off via exploitation. And nevertheless, it seems like Bath never experienced the decadence of such places. It would seem that the industrial age never set foot in the city and, if it were not for the expensive cars parked on every driveway, Bath could seem stuck in the regency, an almost aristocratic town still filled with tea rooms, galleries and expensive restaurants; a brick fortress traversed by the Avon river, where one feels it would be perfectly likely to see Austen herself round the corner, coming out of a ribbon shop, or peering out of a window, behind a pile of paper and ink. Bath is, I think, the perfect city to write a novel.
Jane Austen’s family live in 4 Sydney Place, although the Jane Austen Centre is now in Gay Street. There is also the Regency Tea Room, where you can have lunch or a cuppa in true Austenian style. You can check opening times and the address here.
In Bath you can also visit the Assembly Rooms, the beautiful ballrooms where Austen probably danced (Catherine and Isabella certainly did) See that here, and feel like a true Georgian heroine. Also, the Pump Rooms, where the Northanger Abbey ladies reunited for tea during the day and which belong to the Roman Baths, are a fancy place for lunch, check that out here.
“They say the sky is the same everywhere […] But above Cambridge—anyhow above the roof of King’s College Chapel—there is a difference. Out at sea a great city will cast brightness into the night. Is it fanciful to suppose the sky, washed into the crevices of King’s College Chapel, li-ghter, thinner, more sparkling than the sky elsewhere? Does Cambridge burn not only into the night, but into the day?”
Of all the cities I’ve visited, Cambridge is still one of my favourites, and a place very close to my heart. Its colleges, its trees, going punting in river Cam, the orchards, the sheep, the libraries, the bikes, the markets— Cambridge is just as soothing as it is inspiring for any fellow lover of literature or art. Its streets and alleyways are poetic in themselves; bricks and chimneys on one side, monumental gothic structures on the other.
Cambridge is one of the oldest cities in Europe and the University of Cambridge was founded in 1209. The University includes 31 colleges with different buildings all over the city: King’s College, Queen’s College, St. John’s College, Trinity College and Clare College among them.
The city is both vibrant and mysterious, full of life and yet strangely whimsical. It seems to go back in time a century every morning, with its traditional cafés and shops, its stone streets, old willows and wooden bridges—and then to come back to the present at night, its main streets filled with music and laughter, kebab places, international students everywhere. Some people say Cambridge is very similar to Oxford, both very old university towns, both undoubtedly pretty — but I think there are some things you can only see and feel in Cambridge.
Having been before in many cities that became books, I was amazed to see in Cambridge a book made into a city. Although perhaps it was just a city that made me feel I was in a book. Thomas Hardy said about Cambridge, “What institution is more majestic than Trinity College? […] There are towers and battlements and statues, and beside these things there are cloisters and gardens and bridges”. And certainly, towers, turrets, battlements and green extensions of grass compose the landscape surrounding river Cam. The cobbled streets almost always shine under the rain, and the yellow reflections of the street lamps and the chapels baths almost every building in its glow, even in the mist.
The heart of the city seems to be King’s College Chapel, gathering all the light around itself. A few blocks away, buried in bikes tied to every surface, there is The Eagle, the famous pub where Crick and Watson discovered the DNA structure in 1953. The whole city guardes important memories for knowledge and science; it was here where Stephen Hawking studied, worked and wrote his most important theories on relativity and the cosmos. And it is not hard to imagine it, with the amount of unkempt students that wander about the pubs, or that spend hours in Costa with no more company than a laptop and a pile of papers.
Cambridge is a good place to look around. People watching here turns almost always into a contemplative experience. The people, the tea rooms with fogged windows that cast an eerie glow on the street, the yellowish grey of the buildings, brick by brick, only interrupted by the sudden green of the trees and the grass. Every few streets there is a park, wide extensions of grass maintained in a perfect balance between neglect and artifice, or some shrubbery with eternally damp little flowers, trees that seem older than the colleges.
The University of Cambridge was founded in 1209, being the fourth oldest university in the world. In its many colleges studied some of the most brilliant minds, like Newton, Darwin, Hausman, Keynes, Stern, Thackeray, E.M. Forster, Nabokob, Malcolm Lowrt, Sylvia Plath and Terry Eagleton. Many times, specially when punting, I wondered about what it must feel like to study in a university like this— are there any vestiges, any aura or atmosphere, around places where art has happened, where so much poetry has been written? There must be. However, the whole city seemed submerged in this kind of atmosphere for me, a timeless bubble where people were safe to contemplate and write and learn.
Not far from the centre, 20 or 30 minutes by bike, there is a place called The Orchard. It is a little cabin with outside seating where they bake the best scones in England. There, it is said, between apple trees and tall grass, Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster sat to write. And it is hard to think of a better place to write, although Cambridge is full of them: riverside cafés, underground coffee shops, little tea rooms in every corner, giant trees perfect for reclining, comfortable benches in front of beautiful buildings, semi deserted pubs with thick wooden tables and huge chimneys.
Much of the time I spent in Cambridge, I spent in places like that. The rest of the time I was probably around Market Square. Old Market Square, where dozens of stands appeared every morning; fish, fruits, baked potatoes, kebabs and, above all, second-hand books. Two big stands had my attention, offering treasures buried beneath hundreds of best-sellers and paperbacks of all kinds. This is where my Agatha Christie collection started. Before, I had read Sparkling Cyanide and so the first book I bought in Cambridge was The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, where I met Hercule Poirot. Later I bought At Bertrams Hotel, where I found the best detective of all times, Miss Marple. Almost every week I would buy a paperback for one pound, which resulted in tremendous difficulties when going back to Mexico.
Apart from my Christies, in Market Square I found a beautiful edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass from 1971. A beautiful brown book with golden letters on its back and yellow pages. Later I also found a sixties edition of The Italian, a gothic novel by Ann Radcliffe, basically unknown now but very famous in its time, a red book with its title almost unintelligible. Radcliffe is one of the authors mention in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, one of the books I read before arriving in Cambridge. Some weeks after finding The Italian among piles of old Grisham’s novels, I decided to look for The Mysteries of Udolpho, the novel which Austen’s heroine reads. I spent many months hunting for it among second-hands books, and I finally found it in Waterstones, a new Penguin edition, around a thousand pages long in tiny letters. This literary founding only increased my love for both the city and literature, so much I decided to get my degree on literature. Some other loves were also found, among them afternoon tea with lemon and milk, Chelsea buns and cycling.
Because Cambridge is a city to cycle. The place where I lived was about two miles away from King’s Parade, where I went almost every day, so a bike seemed to me the best transport. The city centre is completely covered in parked bikes and the number of cyclist is by far bigger than that of the car drivers, two facts that make me think of Cambridge with nostalgia now that I live in Mexico City. And having a bike there was a good idea… until November, where I started reconsidering after falling a couple of times due to the frozen streets. But my budget would not allow other types of transport, so reconsideration didn’t last long. I have always thought one can get used to anything, from two pairs of socks (the second over my jeans to avoid trapping in the wheels), to carrying a chain and lock and remembering where among that vast sea of bikes I had parked mine.
Still now I remember what it felt like to ride a bike from Parkers Piece to Hills Road, then through Cherry Hinton Road and Coleridge Road… even when much time passed until I knew who Coleridge was and how important his poetry would be for me. Much time passed, too, until I had to say goodbye to that grey bike that kept me company and whose little front basket carried my books so many times.
I arrived in Nottingham not knowing what to expect. Before this trip I had spent some time in England—in Cambridge, London and some other places north and south—,but the Midlands remained unknown to me. I had heard of the city only in relation with Robin Hood, Richard the Lionheart and Sherwood Forest. When I arrived, on a bus from London in the middle of the night, my first glimpses of the city were not quite the best. A dirty bus stop and an empty street. And damp cold. However, my first morning there made me realise that Nottingham is one of those cities that transform from day to night and from weekdays to weekends.
On Market Square, a modern explanada with fountains and a few slender trees in front of the City Hall, a big ferries wheel occupied most of the space and that’s now one of the first things that comes to mind when I think of Notts. Even though it’s there for just one season, the wheel against the grey skies and the white building behind is a charming sight. During my stay, the wheel was my friend’s meeting point when exploring the many cafés and tea rooms in the city centre. Though the streets that encircle around Market Square are filled with fast food chains and phone repair shacks, a short walk in any direction will lead to more colorful, narrow streets where pubs, little cafés and handicrafts shops abound. My favorite street is Pelham street, even when it’s dangerously close to Primark.
Boy, did I spend time here. It’s a small and cosy coffee shop that also offers cakes, breakfast and lunch. The service is great. This is the perfect spot to have lunch with friends or a quiet time by yourself with a book, some tea and banana bread (which I specially recommend). It is also a great spot to look around; one of my favourite things about Nottingham was the variety of people that live there and that walk past Pelham Street (where Fox is) every day! Guys in black leather outfits, girls with corsettes and piercings, tattoos everywhere, guys with cardigans that looked out of the Hamptons, girls that look Instagram-famous, elderly couples in the most British jumpers, loud children, young couples with several Primark bags, slender cyclist and lots of university alumni in jumpers.
It’s a little bakery almost in front of Fox Café, which serves some of te finest cakes I’ve tasted in my life. They have a huge variety of cakes (even vegan and so on) and they’re all really good. I used to go there with two or three friends and each one of us would ask for a different cake, then we’d share. The place is small and a bit crowded during weekends though. You can also have a good brunch here.
I wish I had spent more time here, it’s a fancy bar beautifully decorated and with a cool terrace. It’s good to start a night out (though a bit expensive) or play some board games over drinks, if you’re in a quieter mood.
There are plenty of traditional pubs in the city centre and close to the Castle (like Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, supposed to be the oldest pub in England, or The Pit & Pendulum, named after Poe’s short story, an eerie kind of place).
Okay, so this place is famous because of Batman. This Elizabethan country house was featured in The Dark Knight Rises as Bruce Wayne’s mansion. But apart from that, it’s a magnificent piece of architecture and currently a creepy taxidermy museum. There’s a gift-shop and a restaurant where you can hang around once you’ve walked around one of my favorite jogging and reading spots in Notts: Wollaton Park. There are plenty of trees, a trail and a lake. It is beautiful during Winter and Summer, and there are red deer hanging around. In a sunny day, this is the perfect place for a picnic and even during the colder months you could walk around or sit on the benches and do some deer-watching. I had never been so close to deer in my life and they are such beautiful, graceful creatures. So yes, this is a must.
This is the famous forest where Robin Hood and his Merry Men lived, as the story goes. It is also the home of the Major Oak! A very huge and very old tree where Robin Hood supposedly slept. Legend aside, the tree is like 10 meters high and between 800 and 1000 years old. Nowadays it is supported by some metallic structure, but it’s still majestic. The forest in general is a quiet, nice place. There are many species of birds flying around, as well as rabbits and squirrels. There are also camping and dining areas with tables and a gift shop at the entrance.
You can also take a look around the University of Nottingham, University Park Campus, a vast extension of land around period buildings, cafeterias and cafés where you can get very good chicken curry (at Portland Building), or head to the Lakeside Arts Club to see a play or listen to some live music.