The August Chronicles

It’s hard to believe that the summer holidays are almost at an end and that the children will be going back to school next week.

The month started incredibly well with the amazing news that Suitcases and Sandcastles has made it into Vuelio’s Top 10 UK Family Travel Blogs. I’m really excited about this and looking forward to sharing more of our family adventures with you.

Our August has been filled with fun days out, lazy days in the sunshine and long evenings spent watching sunsets and eating delicious Greek food in local tavernas.

After a brief stop in Santorini, we spent two fabulous weeks exploring the picture-perfect Greek island of Folegandros and fell in love with its easygoing charm, stunning views and secret beaches.

Back in the UK we discovered some of the fascinating secrets and stories on a Houses of Parliament tour in London. We watched knights jousting and let the boys get soaking wet in the water maze at Hever Castle in Kent and had a picnic on the beach at Durdle Door on the Dorset coast.

For me, one of the joys of a summer holiday is the chance to indulge in some reading time. My suitcase is always packed with books and this month I spent many happy hours reading while basking in the Greek sunshine. I travelled to 18th-century Australia in Kate Grenville’s ‘The Lieutenant’, to Detroit in the wonderful ‘Middlesex’ by Jeffrey Eugenides and relived the horrors of London during the Blitz in Kate Atkinson’s ‘Life after Life’. All three books were fantastic reads and I thoroughly recommend them.

I’ve also enjoyed reading about other people’s travels in some of my favourite blogs. As a travel writer I’m always thinking about the next trip and looking for inspiration for where to travel next. These are the blog posts that have really given me itchy feet this month:

Pretty Towns of the Italian Riviera – Untold Morsels

Top Family Beaches in Nantucket – Fifi + Hop

Do Denmark in the Fall – Oregon Girl Around The World

Must See Scotland – the North East Coast – The Smalls Abroad

In September I’ll be writing about Greece: the wonderful island of Folegandros and the more well-known Santorini. My boys remain as obsessed as ever with royal palaces so we’ll be visiting Windsor Castle and a couple of London’s museums as well as exploring more of the English countryside.

And finally, here are this month’s blog posts in case you missed them:

The Best Things to do with Kids in Paris



The Best Things to do with Kids in Paris



Best UK Castles for Families      The UK’s Best Castles for Families


Nine Reasons you should visit the Lisbon Oceanário       Nine Reasons You Should Visit The Lisbon Oceanário


A Photo Tour of Folegandros       A Photo Tour of Folegandros


Eleven Things to Spot on the Houses of Parliament Tour        Eleven Things to spot on the Houses of Parliament Tour


The Best Things to do with Kids at Hever Castle       The Best Things to do with Kids at Hever Castle


Thanks so much for reading. What have been your best trips and reads over the last month?





The Ten Best Bookshops in the World

I love a good bookshop. The kind where you can spend ages browsing the shelves and then curl up in an armchair with a pile of interesting looking reads before deciding which to buy. I’ll always find an excuse to pop into a bookshop when I’m travelling.

But some bookshops are worth the journey alone. Some bookshops are so beautiful or unusual that they have become destinations in their own right.  These are the bookshops in gothic churches and theatres, the bookshops where the books are piled into gondolas and the bookshops where you can climb into the shelves or sleep in the beds.

Here are the ten bookshops in the world that I’ll make a special trip for. What do you think? Let me know in the comments section which you would add to the list.

Livraria Lello in Porto


Photo: diegoperez74/Flickr

This stunning bookshop in Portugal has the most extraordinary curvaceous staircase which twists and turns its way to the upper floor. It’s no wonder that it is said to have inspired J.K.Rowling when she was writing about the grand staircase at Hogwarts – Harry Potter’s creator used to come here when she was working as an English teacher in Porto.

The art nouveau bookshop has stained-glass ceilings, beautiful wooden walls and glass enclosed bookcases on the top floors. The coffee shop even serves port and cigars.

Livraria Lello, Rua das Carmelitas 144, Porto.

Libreria Acqua Alta in Venice

The Ten Best Bookshops in the World

Photo: Ronald Menti/Flickr

Quirky doesn’t even begin to describe this bookshop overlooking one of Venice’s many canals, just a few steps from St. Mark’s Square. It is decorated with mannequins, gondola poles, oars – and the owner’s four cats. Books cover every possible surface of the rambling rooms. Out-of-date encyclopaedias have become steps and there are books in gondolas and bathtubs, in canoes and rowing boats (all very handy in the aptly named ‘Library of High Water’ because when Venice floods, the books are protected from the water).

Libreria Acqua Alta, Calle Santa Maria Formosa, Venice.

El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires

The Ten Best Bookshops in the World

Photo: Ryan Poole/Flickr

This bookshop in Argentina more than lives up to its name. Originally a theatre which opened in 1919 and hosted many of the great tango legends, it’s now one of the world’s most splendid bookshops with its spectacular domed ceiling and ornate balconies. All the original parts of the theatre have been used to stunning effect: the theatre boxes have become reading rooms and the stage complete with red curtains has been turned into a café where you can hear live piano music.

El Ateneo Grand Splendid, Avenida Santa Fe 1860, Barrio Recoleta, Buenos Aires.

Boekhandel Dominicanen in Maastricht

One of the world’s grandest places to buy books has to be this 13th-century former Dominican church in the Netherlands. The new and second-hand books share space with vaulted ceilings, chandeliers, stained-glass windows and decorative frescoes. The cafe is in the choir stalls and the gothic architecture has been enhanced with a modern three-storey bookshelf complete with walkways, staircases and elevators.

Boekhandel Dominicanen, Dominicanenkerkstraat 1, Maastricht.

The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles

The Ten Best Bookshops in the World

Photo: Rach/Flickr

California’s largest used and new bookshop is in a downtown LA loft with marble pillars, exuberant red and gold walls and magnifying glasses and darts boards dangling from the ceilings. And there are books everywhere. Books hanging like art installations along the tops of the walls, books piled in arches above your head as you walk down the corridor, books layered like bricks to create window frames. Some of the books are shelved by colour so you pass shelves of red and yellow or blue and green. The effect is that of a surreal fantasy. Crazy yet utterly wonderful.

The Last Bookstore, 453 S Spring Street, Los Angeles.

Shakespeare and Company in Paris

In the 1920s this was the meeting place for writers like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and James Joyce and aspiring writers are still welcome to sleep in the beds among the bookshelves on the condition that they read a book a day.

The English-language bookshop beside the Seine, just across from Notre Dame, is still a sanctuary for bookworms. You’ll get pleasantly lost among the myriad nooks and crannies downstairs. Make your way up the winding stairs to find more books lining the pleasant reading rooms stuffed with sofas and cushions, a piano and the odd cat sleeping on one of the beds.

Shakespeare and Company, 37, rue de la Bûcherie, Paris.

El Pendulo, Mexico City

The Ten Best Bookshops in the World

®Cafebrería El Péndulo 2016

You’ll find plants growing throughout this bookshop in Mexico City and winding staircases leading up to balconies filled with books and armchairs. In the bar, you can listen to stand-up comedy, live music and poetry readings and at weekends, breakfast is accompanied by live classical music.

El Pendulo, Alejandro Dumas 81, Polanco, Mexico City.

Daunt Books, London

The 10 Best Bookshops in the WorldThis is a dream of a bookshop for those of us with constant wanderlust. All the books, whether fiction, non-fiction, poetry, biography, novels or travel guides, are arranged by country so you can wander from destination to destination as you browse the shelves.

The Edwardian premises of the Marylebone branch were built as a bookshop in 1910 and boast a long oak gallery, with a stunning arched window, skylights and William Morris prints.

Daunt Books, 83 Marylebone High Street, London.

Corso Como, Milan

The Ten Best Bookshops in the World

10 Corso Como, Milan

This bookshop is as stylish as the books it sells. The books on art, design, fashion and photography adorn beautiful glass tables in the inner courtyard of a traditional Milanese palazzo. The bookshop is part of a complex with an art gallery, design and fashion store and a garden café filled with flowers.

10 Corso Como, 10, Corso Como, Milan.

Poplar Kids Republic, Beijing

Climbing into the bookshelves is positively encouraged at this children’s bookshop in China. The playground-inspired shop specialises in children’s picture books and children can curl up in the reading cubby holes in the shelves.

It’s a child’s imagination run riot, with an explosion of colour in every shade of the rainbow.  A ribbon of rainbow colours lead up the stairs, curve around the bookshelves and twist in shapes from the ceiling.

Poplar Kids Republic, 39 E 3rd Ring Road Middle, Beijing.

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Let’s Talk About Books: How Reading Makes us Sociable

Let's Talk about BooksReading is a solitary activity. It’s no surprise that so many avid readers are introverts. You’re far more likely to find us curled up on our own with a good book than being the life and soul of the party. We’ve got our noses in our books every opportunity we get and sometimes we get so involved in what we’re reading that we don’t realise that we’re being spoken to.

We’re the ones sat in the waiting room who pull a novel out of our bag rather than start a conversation with someone else. You might even find us sneaking a few lines in while we’re queuing for the supermarket or – if the book’s a real page turner – while we’re walking down the street. But I wouldn’t advise that.

Let's Talk About BooksBut there’s something about books that makes you want to share. When you’ve read a book, you want to talk to someone about it. Sometimes you have to talk about it. So this is when people who usually keep their heads down among strangers suddenly find themselves compelled to go up to people they’ve never met in their lives and talk about books.

A while ago, in a post on travelling with books, I wrote about finishing my copy of Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch’ on the plane home from Kefalonia. There was a woman on the same flight, two rows in front, 50 pages ahead. The moment I finished, I had to go up to her, a complete stranger who’d been inhabiting the same world as me for the last two hours, and talk to her about the book.

Because no matter what your everyday life might be, when you’re reading you’re inhabiting a different world, getting to know different people, and when you close the book you’re often desperate to talk to someone who has been in that same world and met those same characters.

Let's Talk about BooksThis is why book clubs are so popular. You get together with a group of people to talk about a book you’ve all read, often over a glass of wine or some food. Like it or loathe it, everyone has something to say. It’s why so many people read book blogs and there are some great bloggers out there, sharing their favourite reads and writing about their reading habits. It means that even the most introverted bookworm can be social online.

If you’re a keen reader, chances are that you’ve got an ongoing and ever-changing list of ‘Books To Be Read’ in your head. They could be the books you always meant to read but never got round to, the ones on those ‘100 best books of all time’ lists; the books that look enticing in bookshops and libraries; the books your friends recommend; the books you read about on a blog or in the newspaper. The list gets longer and longer.

So when you see someone reading a book that looks interesting, you want to ask them about it. Over the summer the woman next to me on a crowded train was reading ‘Waiting for Sunrise’ by William Boyd. I had to ask what she thought about it – it was already on the pile of books I was planning on taking on holiday with me.

Let's Talk about BooksYou don’t always feel like accosting the person sat next to you on the train and asking them about what they’re reading. But when you do, you never regret it. People who love books usually love talking about them.

Sometimes the other person in the carriage, that person by the window, hunched over their book, will look up and smile to themselves. You don’t know whether they’re smiling because they’ve also read the book or whether they just appreciate that people are talking about books.

People who love books are always interested in seeing what other people are reading. Even if you don’t feel like starting a conversation you can’t help yourself having a nose at what the people around you are reading. You crane your neck on the train, on the tube, on the sun lounger on holiday, in waiting rooms and cafés, trying to see what it is that someone is reading.

That’s why it’s so annoying when people are reading on Kindles or iPads. You can’t see what the book is! Where’s the sociability in that?

So come on, let’s talk about books.

On Travelling With Books


I love to read and I love to read on holiday when, despite the children, there is so much more time for it. On the plane, on the beach, beside the pool where the children can easily spend a happy afternoon swimming, or on the balcony in the evenings, a glass of local wine by my side.

I always pack far too many books and I can spend hours deciding which to take with me. Big books that I haven’t the time to read at home, books that have languished forgotten on my bookshelves for years and books that just have to be read at once, like that hardback copy of Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch’ I hauled out to Kefalonia last summer.

There were three of us at various stages of the book around the hotel pool and a woman on the flight home, two rows in front, 50 pages ahead. The moment I finished, I had to go up to her, a complete stranger who’d been inhabiting the same world as me for the last two hours, and talk to her about the book. foggy-read

Because of course, that’s what novels do. They transport us to other worlds so that you can travel to another country without even being on holiday. I’ve never been much of a one for travel books (with the exception of guide books and the wonderful ‘Travels on my Elephant’, Mark Shand’s account of travelling across India on the back of an elephant) but I love novels that truly transport me to another place: the Mexico of Barbara Kingsolver’s ‘The Lacuna’, the Cairo of Ahdaf Souief’s ‘Map of Love’ and the Japan of Arthur Golden’s ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’.

I’ve visited Kabul in ‘The Kite Runner’ by Khaled Hosseini, Mississippi in ‘The Help’ by Kathryn Stockett and wartime Berlin in ‘Alone in Berlin’ by Hans Fallada. I’ve been to Thomas Hardy’s Dorset and Hilary Mantel and Thomas Cromwell have taken me on a tour of Tudor England in ‘Wolf Hall’. alejandroescamilla-book I can be on the beach in Greece yet in another world entirely.

My memories of books are always intertwined with the memories of the place in which I read them – the battered copy of ‘Anna Karenina’ that I read in the third class compartment of an Indian railway carriage, the intricacies of 19th-century Russia forever mixed up with the loud cries of “Chai! Chai!”, hard mattresses and searing heat.

This summer I will be in Turkey. I’ve already been to Istanbul with Orhan Pamuk’s ‘My Name is Red’. When I’m not having fun with my children on the beach I’ll be travelling to Vienna, Nigeria and occupied France in my head. I’ll let you know what I read.

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