I’ve previously written about how Paris isn’t a city of love, it’s a city of death. After reading that piece, an editor from an airline magazine got in touch and asked me to write a response to a debate article they were commissioning, continuing the backlash against Parisian romance, but also suggesting where else one might look for romance in a travel destination. And so, in response, I wrote this …

View of cityscape, mostly in shadow. The sun is setting to the right.
View of cityscape, mostly in shadow. The sun is setting to the right.
Sunset over Istanbul

The idea that one city can be the go-to romantic destination is overrated. As I wander the banks of the Seine, dodging the aggressive street hawkers and the piles…

I had a dream about libraries the other night. Yeah, it took me by surprise as well.

A double-page opening of a large book with faded cream paper. On the right side is an image of William Shakespeare.
A double-page opening of a large book with faded cream paper. On the right side is an image of William Shakespeare.
First folio of William Shakespeare (thanks to Ben Sutherland)

It started strangely when, like all good dreams, the world had been taken over by aliens. The invading forces informed the human race that one of their first acts was going to be vaporising all the national libraries and archives on the planet. How unfair?! I hear you gasp.

The generous aliens did, however, allow us to remove and keep just five items from all of the libraries in all the world. Five items in total to sum up humanity.

I flattered myself…

As the reality of Brexit hits home, I don’t feel like celebrating this year. But I am trying to summon up something of an ode to joy.

Can you face a celebration right now?

Image: sgoldswo

The UK left European Union nearly a year ago (Brexit officially kicked in on 31 January 2019). For the last 11 months, we have been in a transition period in which most things remain the same and a future trading deal with the EU has been negotiated. This New Year’s Eve, at the stroke of midnight, Britain’s time is up. …

Jan Morris has died at the age of 94.

In many ways she is my writing muse.

As she’s written over 40 books, I almost always have one on the go. I read something of hers most nights before I go to bed. Her tone, her tempo, her style and her ways of looking at the world, describing it, all resonate with me. It’s as if she sings to me.

Image: Steve Slack

Jan’s portraits of cities are, she admits, personal reflections on places, rather than conventional ‘travel’ writing and her snippets of dialogue are often crafted into well-judged observations, adding to and…

We found ourselves sat in the office of the Chief of Police, waiting for him to arrive. Not so that we could be incarcerated, but so that we could go to lunch.

Image: Thomas Fabian

My travelling companion and I had received our instructions from our friend, the police chief’s son.

“Take the minibus to the town centre and head to the police station. If you get lost, just ask anyone the way,” he’d said.

Of course, nobody knew the way. Ghana, despite being dubbed the friendliest country in West Africa, is rarely knowingly straightforward. But we found it.

It’s not clear whether the police staff were expecting us or not, but either way they escorted us into the Chief of Police’s office and told us that he’d be along. Nobody seemed bothered by our…

How Chatsworth House played a part of the history of one of our favourite fruits.

I’m standing in one of the grandest historic country mansions in the north of England, surrounded by splendour and opulence of ages past. The long corridors, the sumptuous interiors, the huge windows.

A large country house with grand steps and two long rows of high windows, set against a blue sky with light clouds.
A large country house with grand steps and two long rows of high windows, set against a blue sky with light clouds.
Chatworth House, Derbyshire
Image: Howard Steed

And as I gaze out of one of those windows, I am considering the various things I’ve heard about on my tour. The interpretation at Chatsworth is ticking all the boxes that I would expect in a British country house like this:

Heritage significance — the grandest property in this part of the…

Promenading the banks of the Seine, taking in the romance of the city vista I came to realise, as I stood in a pile of dog mess, that Paris is not a romantic city at all.

Elegant, yes. Handsome, of course.

But it’s not in the least bit adoring or amorous. Many things we might perceive as charming are, in fact, providing a thin veil over a city that has darkness at its heart.

Paris is a city obsessed with death. Look closely and it’s noticeably a macabre place. Its boulevards and alleys surround us with reminders of those who…

Lockdown means I haven’t left Manchester city centre in months and I was starting to feel like a prisoner. I needed to walk it differently. And so I started walking round in circles.

While in the UK we were told to stay apart and keep our distance, we were also encouraged to still take plenty of exercise in our permitted daily outings. The nation will not recover from the pandemic if we are all unhealthy by the end of it.

In fact, this has been a perfect time to walk in the city centre. With offices and businesses largely closed…

Germans love eating and drinking together — flickr

One reason I am so fond of the Germans is that they’re delighted when we try and converse in their language. When my stumbling attempts to speak their language in schoolboy German fail, they don’t take over and force me to switch to English. The majority listen patiently and politely, reply slowly and let me get my words out. And when I reach my linguistic limits, then they kindly reply in English with humility and kindness.

Once, in a busy Nuremberg restaurant I was shown a large loud table of diners, already seating at least a dozen. I was forced…

Bishop Auckland station — the end of the line, flickr

The train pulls into the station, the driver gets out of the cab and switches ends to take it back to Darlington. It’s only then that I realise we’ve been travelling on a single track railway. Bishop Auckland is the end of the line in so many ways.

This small town in the north of England was once a thriving place, built on the successes of railways and the mining industry. Rich seams of coal run deep under the land here — dark, cold and silent. …

Steve Slack

Writing about places

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