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Displaying items by tag: Leah Eades

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Hay-on-Wye in Autumn

Hay-on-Wye is a small Welsh market-town that straddles the Welsh- Anglo border and sits huddled within the Brecon Beacons National Park. It is nothing out of the ordinary, except that it’s positively groaning with the weight of its many thousands of second-hand, specialist and collectors’ books. This is a town literally packed with words, and come June every year, the bibliophiles arrive in their droves for the annual Literary Festival, booking up the quaint B&Bs and draining the tearooms of Earl Grey as they pore over the multitude of bookshops and gather to hear the greatest literary minds of the year speak.


However, I went to Hay-on-Wye in mid- September, and not during the festival. The crowds were gone. The campsites were empty. And the books that are left still sit, waiting to be browsed by men with beards and backpacks and women in dusty velvet skirts; they are crammed into shelves, into piles, beneath tables and into boxes wherever you turn, as if desperate to prove right the sign that welcomes you as you cross the bridge above the River Wye: “Welcome to Hay-on-Wye: Town of Books”.


It was Richard Booth that created this concept of a town of books, when in 1977 he declared himself “King of the independent nation of Hay-on-Wye”, presumably with his three- story landmark bookshop, it’s fittingly quirky palace. In doing so, he transformed the tourist economy of this sleepy little town, and now you can find “040Towns of Books” in countries across Europe.  Indeed, Hay-on-Wye’s international influence can be seen in its recent successful bid to be twinned with Timbuktu in Mali, Africa- beating cities like York and Liverpool for the honor. A fitting twin when one considers that Timbuktu is the oldest home of the written word in all of Africa, and the two towns lie on exactly the same line of longitude- a fact Hay-on-Wye is keen to emphasise on its tourist maps, on which the numbered bookshops are intercepted with an emblazoned compass screaming “Timbuktu due south!”.

IHay-on-Wyet is not Hay-on-Wye’s world status or festival that upholds its reputation as a literary Mecca, rather, it’s the array of bookshops, and manifest love of literature. Its narrow streets are adorned with old- fashioned signs declaring “Books Bought and Sold Here”, and are only interrupted by little cafes and adorably kitsch shops full of floral bunting and wool. It would be too much, if it weren’t for the redeeming presence of the weight of thousands of books.

THay-on-Wyehe Hay Cinema Shop, for instance, one of the town’s oldest bookshops, opened 1965, houses over 20,000 volumes across the two floors of the converted cinema. At the base of Hay Castle, one finds a rather small, humble looking sign declaring the meagre courtyard area an “Honesty Bookshop”- one can find a number of these around Hay- in which the books are lined up around the crumbling walls, protected by awnings and plastic bags, and money is left in a small box- usually between 50p to £1. Bookends only stocks books under £3. Some shops overfill, and so have passageways and alleyways opposite, heaving with shelves, and with no one on duty- they just trust their customers to pay, and not cheat the system.

The Children’s Bookshop is a treasure trove of all your favourite childhood memories, whilst the magnificently n039amed and even more magnificently decorated Murder and Mayhem specialises only in detective fiction, crime and horror. There’s a poetry bookshop, a shop full of faded maps, junk shops and antique shops filled with wartime magazines. In short, there’s enough here to keep you browsing happily for several days, and to ensure your suitcase will return home considerably heavier.

©Leah Eades

Photos by Anna Broster. More of her work can be seen on her flickr.


Published in individual
Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Xian, China: More than you Bargained For

Xxiani’an, China is best known for being the central location from which one visits the famous Terracotta Army, but in fact, it’s so much more. One of the Four Great Ancient Capitals, the walled city offers enough delights on its own to satisfy the budget traveler needing a break from standard sightseeing.

To begin with, train travel in China is a good value. An overnight journey from Beijing will not put much more of a dent in your wallet than a pricier hostel or budget hotel and the long- distance trains are an experience in themselves! Upon arrival, the city is small enough to navigate with relative ease and the bus system is extremely easy to use -though be sure to secure directions and the location of your hostel beforehand.

Oxiannce settled, your first port of call must be to make a circuit above the rooftops along the 8 ½ miles of wall that encompass the Old Town. If your legs are tired out from the train ride, there are regular and tandem bicycles as well as golf carts available for hire. The Drum and Bell Towers are also worth a visit, but on your way, don’t forget to take in the sometimes baffling but always delicious street food - from sweet potatoes freshly baked to a glutinous sweet rice pudding, you’ll never go hungry in Xi’an. Though you may not expect to find hijab and halal in China, another gastronomic gem is the city’s Muslim Quarter.

For budget backpackers I recommend the Xi’an Shuyuan International Youth Hostel . Nestled up against the city wall, they offer a free pick-up service, boast relaxing courtyards (complete with a pet terrapin), a pleasant cafe with one of the best cups of tea I had in Asia, and a lively bar decorated with an array of Terracotta Warriors. The owners clearly understand their clientele for should you go during St. Patrick’s Day, you will find the bar and hostel bedecked with shamrocks and all-round Irish cheer. They put on a celebration with any excuse, and attract an engaging mix of travelers, expats and locals. In addition to making you feel at home, the hostel will also happily organize day trips to nearby panda sanctuaries and, of course, the Warriors themselves.

Sxianhould you want to save your money and go it alone, a short bus ride from the East Square, opposite Xi’an’s central station, will take you to the Terracotta Warriors. Be sure to stop off en route at the Huaquing Springs where the Emperor Xuanzong caused outrage by “frolicking” around with his saucy concubine Yang Guifei back in the Tang Dynasty. Today the gardens are a place of quiet beauty which one can admire from the heights above by taking a reasonably-priced cable car. The coolness and calm will be much appreciated afterwards in the hectic tourist bustle you’ll find shuffling between the three pits containing over 7,000 life-size models of warriors and horses arranged in battle formation, one of the most astounding archaeological discoveries of all time. Though enjoyable, the gardens were not, however, the highlight of my visit to Xi’an.

We'd been to see the army in a painfully hung-over state and after the Warriors we were feeling a bit flat. It was nearing night time when we returned to get the sleep we'd missed out on. We were in that dazed and bleary mindset that follows an unexpected nap when someone mentioned that if we headed outside the city walls and found the Big Goose Pagoda there would be a music and fountain show. Without hesitation, we were on the bus looking for signs of large deified poultry.

Wxiane did not find oversized Geese, but the pagoda was hard to miss. It was giant, and floodlit so that it shone ethereally in the darkness, reminding us of just how far from home we were. The base was surrounded by locals and it seemed that a fairground had been set up for the show. Young families hooked ducks and children screamed over candyfloss. Hunched old women pushed trolleys around selling unrecognizable delicacies which we bought by indicating the size we wanted with our hands, and the price in Yuan with our fingers. The vendors smiled at us with a benign twinkle in their eyes: O! Poor ignorant foreigners! Look how they try! As we struggled to pronounce “Thank you” in Mandarin they laughed outright, and we joined in: Yes! We are hopeless! We know!

As we wandered around one corner, we come across a male choir practicing. The lined faces of wizened old men, who looked like they could have stepped straight out of a folk tale, were dwarfed by those of the taller, concentrating youths. All had the same identical look, eyes shut, mouths spread into wide “O”s.  The women watched proudly, gossiping amongst themselves and giggling. The melody was incomprehensible to us, but rose and fell in a way that one never hears in English churches or glee choirs.

Around another corner we stumbled across some sort of mass exercise dance workout. It seemed as if the whole town filled the square, children with their parents and old biddies together, stretching and turning as music blasted out all around. Who leads and who follows? We couldn’t tell.

Despite the festivities and grandeur, this still wasn’t the fountain show that we were looking for. We continued on our way through the crowds and eventually we heard it: strains of classical music carrying on the breeze. We followed the sounds and as the crowds became thicker, we were swept forward to the main event. Fountains embedded at the base of the pagoda shot illuminated jets of water high into the velvety sky. As the music swelled, the jets followed and both hung together in the air, lightly dancing on the breeze. We were no longer recognized as foreigners as we fell into the same hushed trance as the crowd around us.


Xi’an, although a hugely popular tourist destination, retains a sense of authenticity that seems unaffected by the endless traffic of sightseers on a pilgrimage to see the Terracotta Warriors. If you go to Xi’an, stay for a few days. Relax and walk around, try the food, look at the shops, and you’ll only spend a pittance! You never know what you might find just around the corner.


©Leah Eades



Published in inexpensive

Rio3Rio de Janeiro was the city where I ended my seven month trip, and perhaps that is why I feel I have unfinished business with the place: I didn’t feel like it was really time to leave. Or, maybe it was any of these reasons:

1. When booking our ticket we thought “Great! August! Summer!”.... This was in the Southern Hemisphere; it was winter when we got there.

Yes, we didn’t really think about that whole tricky hemisphere thing. I mean, you’d just assume Brazil would be warm, wouldn’t you? Well, it’s not. We had two days of sun during which we sat on the beach sipping coconuts and praying we’d get tans (we didn’t) so that we wouldn’t have the embarrassment of returning home after our epic journey with the same pasty skin we left with (we did). Also most of the major sights in Rio (going up Sugarloaf Mountain, seeing Christ the Redeemer, paragliding onto Copacabana Beach) require sunlight and clear skies. Hence, we slipped into living a life of luxury...

2. I didn’t get a full Brazilian Wax.

So, instead of being cultural, we thought “When in Brazil...” and went to a nearby salon. But then... it just looked painful. So I wimped out and didn’t go the whole hog. This trip to the salon marked the beginning of...

3. We finally snapped from months of tight budgeting and, with the end in sight, went mad.

Not only did we spend all our remaining money at Ipenema market and on far too much food (we not only returned home pale, but also fat). Feeling depressed, we decided to treat ourselves. And that’s how we found ourselves sipping drinks Rio2inside the iconic Copacabana Palace Hotel with the rich and famous. Not only this, but after hours of demanding to be brought more complimentary snacks by the disgruntled-looking waiters, we snuck into the hotel to look around. Upon leaving, we decided to visit the next door H. Stern jewelery shop. Here we were promptly mistaken for guests and offered a free transfer to and tour of the H. Stern diamond headquarters, which we accepted.

The next day we got all dressed up and accepted our chauffeured taxi to the HQ, where we got shown around and then allowed to try on diamonds in a private consultation before being asked if there was anything we’d like to have put aside (there wasn’t). Then we were offered a free transfer to anywhere we liked, and so...



4.  We stooped to new lows.


Rio4We took the free transfer to the posh Leblon Shopping Centre and watched the new Harry Potter film. Also, we snuck into another hotel, where we had a friend staying waiting for her family to arrive the following day, and not only abused their room service and spa facilities but also stole leftover room service deliveries people had left in the corridors to have taken away. I wish I was lying.

Sadly the extent to our traveling failure does not end here.

5. Our crazy nights out on the Rio party scene didn’t go... as planned.

When we went to the infamous Lapa Street Party, it rained. And then street children tried to mug us. Also, we didn’t visit Rio at Carnival time, so instead Rio1we went to a practice which was cool, expect one friend got so drunk I had to escort her home in a taxi. To make matters worse, she passed out and couldn’t tell us the apartment she was staying in with a friend, so we got to her road, the non-English speaking taxi driver asked where we’d like to stop, and all I could do was give him a helpless look.

This is the point where I very easily could have been unceremoniously dumped half an hour away from my hostel in an empty street with an unconscious girl, but luckily my driver was lovely and asked where my hostel was. At this point I realized I already didn’t have enough money on me to pay him what was on the meter. He waved this aside. I couldn’t remember my exact hostel address. He handed me the satnav and helped me find it. He drove us the extra twenty minutes, then helped me carry her safely out the taxi, and watched us safely inside. This man was a saint. Unfortunately my hostel had a strict “no guests allowed” policy so I had to sneak Unconscious Friend in by pretending she was my other friend, and giving her Other Friend’s bed. Never mind sneaking her out again in the morning...

So there you have it. I need to go back to Rio, and do it right this time!

©Leah Eades

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