Sunday, 13 April 2014

Vintage fair at Victoria Baths

A five minute walk off Manchester's Oxford Road is the beautiful former swimming pool, Victoria Baths.

Opened in 1906 and described as a water palace, it's a far cry from modern pools. Glossy tiles line the stairways and halls, and grand glass ceilings and huge stained glass windows make it really bright and airy. Wandering around looking at the cute fish mosaics, not-very-private changing stalls, Turkish baths, and the caretaker's rooms make for a really fun afternoon.

The place was partially restored back in 2003, and there is a campaign for the baths to be reopened fully. It really would be a lovely place to swim.

The pools themselves are currently empty, with kids running about in two of them, while the third is floored over. On this particular Sunday there was a great vintage home fair in this room, so I was in my element. There were loads of stalls to look round, and we came away with a little clock, an expanding sewing box, and a wooden letterpress block. I just wish I had space in the flat for some more furniture!

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Sightseeing and flea markets in Amsterdam

Amsterdam must be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, but is especially pretty in springtime.

Wandering around its canals and squares, you're surrounded by tall townhouses, each one completely different to the next, with some lovely colour combinations. The streets are lined with trees and parked bikes, the canals dotted with houseboats, and every cafe and bar had people outside. I was so busy looking around I had a few near misses with bicycles.

There are a million things to see and do, without even venturing into the sex museums and coffee shops. Some of our sightseeing included a canal boat tour, the Heineken Experience (stained glass windows pictured), the cat museum, and the Rijksmuseum, where I was a bit more taken with these beautifully designed copies of Wendingen magazine than I was with all the Rembrandts.

As for the food, we had some great cheese sandwiches - 'old cheese' (which I think means mature), served with pickles and zingy mustard, and of course a small beer. Apple tart and cream is of course a must, and we also found a place called Village Bagel on Vijzelstraat doing the best bagels with fig jam, must buy some. We also enjoyed Cafe Katoen and Cafe Langereis for chilled drinks and lovely atmosphere.

We also had a chance to go shopping a bit. We did try the Nine Streets (9 Straatjes) which we heard had a few vintage shops, but it seems most of them are only open from 12ish and some only on a Friday and Saturday. Thankfully the flea markets we discovered more than made up for it.

IJ Hallen
IJ Hallen is a flea market held all weekend, each month, in a shipyard in north Amsterdam. But it’s not just any old flea market. It’s absolutely huge.

There are hundreds of stalls laid out in a maze in the massive warehouse when you first walk in, and then you wander over the car park and find another warehouse of a similar size. It's overwhelming. According to their website there are 750 stalls in total. You pay about four euros to get in, but fortunately the ferry to get there is free, and zipping over the waves is a pretty nice experience on a sunny day.

In amongst all the second hand clothes and random crap, there was a lot of lovely kitchenware (especially the red enamel, wanted this so badly), kitsch stuff, old Dutch books, gadgets, furniture and prints. Meanwhile someone's blaring out the Beatles, you can smell pancakes from a nearby stall, and there's generally a really chilled vibe. Lovely. It was all a couple of euros over what I'd pay, but perhaps you're meant to haggle - or maybe I was spoilt by my adventure touring the Kringloopwinkels a couple of years ago.

Disappointed by the nine streets on a quiet Monday morning, we headed north up Prinsengracht and came across the Noordermarkt.

This is another big flea market, mainly in a churchyard but spilling out onto the surrounding streets. This one had a bit more of a British market feel in some places, with canopies over the stalls, 3-for-2 deals on cleaning products and a shouty fruit and veg section. But the pottery, stamps, vintage postcards and taxidermy were well worth a rummage.

Due to luggage limitations and hangovers I managed to go to both these lovely markets and not buy anything - it was still a cool experience and I came away with some interesting ideas of things to look for over here (been scouring eBay for classroom style anatomical or botanical diagrams, so cool).

As a cheap and portable souvenir, I ended up getting a couple of bits from Hema - it's like a cross between Woolworths and Ikea, but you can't argue with cute and simple crockery for two or three euros a pop. We need one here!

Saturday, 25 January 2014

John Rylands Library

John Rylands library books
The perfect place to wander round on a cold afternoon. So many beautiful books and stunning architecture. And chairs.

Opened in 1900, the library was built by the widow of John Rylands, a Manchester self-made millionaire. You really get the feeling no expense was spared. Highlights include books from the 1500s, a Welsh bible, exhibitions, the huge grand reading room, the stained glass windows, and erm... the toilets. Honest, they're pretty cool.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

I have an antler

Well, I got my antler! A friend living in Scotland found it on a hillside and posted it to me in a really strangely-shaped package. It's weird and wonderful and so beautiful.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Vintage meets ethics

I've been contemplating quite a dilemma recently, namely vintage and antique furs and other animal products.

I love animals, I've been a passionate vegetarian for nearly ten years, I get creeped out by people having bones on their plate... but just look how lovely this reindeer skin throw is. So cosy! It's not mine, but I'd love something similar for my place.

How can a veggie want bits of dead animal for decoration? I have stirred controversy in the past by taking admiring photos of taxidermy, especially stag heads. And I could spend hours in the stuffed animals bit at Manchester museum.

But then, I suppose on the one hand, you've got proper educational antique taxidermy like the museum stuff, and on the other, there's trophies of a blood sport, so ethically I definitely shouldn't be looking longingly at those stag heads. Meanwhile if something is antique, do today's morals really still apply to it? Look at stuff like tortoiseshell or ivory - can it still be valued and beautiful if the material has since become the height of bad taste? Should we go round destroying these horrible things, now the damage has been done so to speak? Is it the 21st century buyer or collector who has to take responsibility for what were very commonplace crimes a hundred years ago? It's like asking whether you should never ever watch Breakfast at Tiffany's because of the casual racism.

As for furs that you wear, I'm similarly conflicted - I'd seriously consider a black vintage fur coat that smells historic and looks proper glam and Russian, but shy away from a brand new, freshly killed one, turning my nose up and feeling a bit sick. Once it becomes an antique, the object sort of takes on a life of its own, it's more than just a bit of skin.

This probably makes me not a very good vegetarian, but luckily I don't face this dilemma just yet (vintage furs are £££!). For now, I'll just look for a fake fur throw on eBay, and keep looking for a lovely antler (without the dead head attached to it).

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Vintage radios

Vintage radio collection
If I had space in my flat I would collect these massive old vintage radios. We've got a slimline Bush one, but these wooden beasts are just lovely. The amount of music and news that has come out of those speakers doesn't bear thinking about. Picture taken at Perry Higgins in North Wales, I was right in my element exploring.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Berlin U-Bahn Stations

There are lots of brilliant things about Berlin – the parties, the music, the graffiti, the history, the little Ampelmannchen – but one of its unlikely stars is the U-Bahn.

Living in Manchester and putting up with buses and trams, it’s hard to believe quite how efficient the U-Bahn is. If you live in London with an extortionate Oyster card and unbearable overcrowding, you’ll still find it pretty unbelievable. The city is yours for a few euros per day, and it would be pretty easy to avoid paying even that. Along with the S-Bahn, the Berlin public transport network makes it so easy and fast to get around a sprawling city, usually with a seat and no pushing and shoving.

Practicality aside, the U-Bahn stations also have a certain modernist charm. Anything this efficient should surely be ugly, but the colourful tiling and jugendstil fonts really do it for me – Senefelderplatz is the nearest to the hostel I stayed in, but there are lots of better examples, like Wedding, Unter den Linden and Alexanderplatz. Stations like Rathaus Spandau, Heidelbergerplatz and Residenzstrasse are resplendently art nouveau, you can just imagine the 1920s & 30s bohemians heading home after a night of decadence. Then there’s the Zoologisher Garten, with its animal mural; I’ve yet to check out the zoo, its station or its fabled toilets, but with Berlin there’s always a next time.

But what intrigues me most about the U-Bahn is its history. When Berlin was divided by the wall, the U-Bahn was divided too. The line that ran from east to west had to be cut in half, with trains reaching the half way point and turning back. Meanwhile some lines were permitted to run through the Eastern sector, but not stop at any stations along the way. This resulted in U-Bahn ghost stations (Geisterbahnhofe) like Jannowitzbrucke and Potsdamer Platz; when they were reopened after the wall fell, they were perfect little time capsules from the 1960s. The thought of a whole station being sealed off and entombed underground for 30 years is pretty spine tingling – imagine shooting past on a rumbling train on the way to work, and catching a glimpse of the past. Update: awesome video