Ahvaz to Shush by taxi

by Jo 6. August 2014 10:04

by Caroline Sandes

A taxi-journey isn’t normally worth writing about, but my journey from Ahvaz to Shush, sometimes better known as Susa, in western Iran was more entertaining than most.

I’d caught the overnight bus from Shiraz to Ahvaz. The bus was clearly much loved by its owner as it was carefully decked out in red lights, inside and out, even round the windscreen. Together with its red seats and all the other things it was festooned with, I felt a little like I was getting into a mobile bordello. That journey was uneventful and I arrived at 5am in Ahvaz. I had forgotten, for some reason, that arriving long-distance buses were prey for eager taxi drivers looking for a fare and naturally I being the tourist on board was an immediate target. Being rather tired, my resistance wasn’t very high and I was soon haggling with a particularly tenacious driver over the cost of him taking me the 100km or so north to Shush. I had been intending to take another bus but the rial was so low against my euros that the cost was far too tempting. In the end we settled on the equivalent of 11 euro (see what I mean), though I knew that even then I’d paid too much, judging by the raised eyebrow of the man in the taxi office who took the payment.More...

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‘Around the World in 80 Days’ BookBench

by Jo 1. August 2014 11:45

Valerie Osment, the artist who created the wonderful ‘Around the World in 80 Days' BookBench we have in our Long acre store shares her inspiration with us and explains the process involved.

The BookBench’s design pays homage to Jules Verne’s colourful adventure novel of the same name, where Phileas Fogg of London and his French valet Passepatout attempt to circumnavigate the world in 80 days on a £20,000 wager. Inspired by a desire to create an eye-catching pictorial realisation true to the classic tale, I wanted to offer a tantalising story synopsis to the viewer whilst enticing those that hadn’t read the novel to do so.

Published in 1873, with Verne setting the story one year earlier, my design purposefully acknowledges the iconic symbol of the hot air balloon. Mention Phileas Fogg and you automatically think ‘hot air balloon’, the association is just so engrained within the character be it on a crisp packet, in a film or a cartoon. But whilst reading the original novel for design idea research, meticulously flipping pages back and forth to pinpoint exact ports of call, arrival/departure times and transport modes utilised, key plotline elements, no balloon was to be found. As I approached the end of the book with confusion and a little worry - I had decided early on that the balloon would be my dominant visual lynchpin - I decided to google it. And there appeared my answer. The hot air balloon was never actually used by but introduced by the popular 1956 film adaption and  has been repeatedly used by subsequent others ever since, hence becoming part of the mythology of the story. Finding this fact quite fascinating, I felt that this was in itself a significant enough reason for it still to be a central feature of my design.More...

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Life at Stanfords


by Jo 24. July 2014 09:45

by Gregor Swiderek

Since my visit to Nashville, a few years ago, I was also keen to visit its musical Tennessee twin, Memphis. Finally I managed to do that earlier this year.

We entered Memphis in the most spectacular fashion by driving from the west and crossing Mississippi on the impressive Hernando de Soto Bridge which offers great views of the downtown.

Apart from the grand entry into the city, that route also offers an easy access to the Tennessee State Welcome Center located at the first exit after the bridge. Unusually for that sort of institutions it not only stocks a wealth of maps and brochures but also it is home to a giant statues of Elvis Presley  and BB King. Located in walking distance to the downtown (actually right on its edge), it also offers free parking. Well, according to the website you shouldn't park there for more than 2 hours but the security guard on site told us that it was OK to stay for the most of the day. Although nothing comes free nowadays, it seems that parking sometimes does.More...


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Stanfords Award for Printed Mapping

by Jo 21. July 2014 17:49

We are delighted to have sponsored an award at the recent British Cartographic Awards 2014. 

The Stanfords Award for printed mapping was created to encourage any printed products to enter, from coffee table atlases to maps featured in leaflets or topical articles. 

Below are all the entries that received a Stanfords recognition:

Winner: Historical Map of York: Lovell Johns

Judges Comments: my favourite map, exceptionally well produced and designed, colours are clear, visual hierarchy is of a very high standard, a contemporary map style for an old map but I don’t mind that, a beautiful piece of design and cartography. Front cover design is great. More...


Life at Stanfords | Mad About Maps

Persepolis, Iran

by Jo 16. July 2014 12:06

by Caroline Sandes

Persepolis rises up on its plateau – tall classical columns keeping sentry above the walls. Up you go, trying to resist the urge to take two at a time of the shallow steps that lead up to Xerxes’ magnificent Gate of All Lands; the two colossal mythical guardian bulls between which you must pass making you feel insignificant. And then there it spreads out before you in all its ruined glory, the site of Persepolis, watched over by Artaxerxes II and III’s tombs cut into the rock above the site. And if you turn around, you can look down the long straight avenue and out to the mountains beyond with the blue sky behind, your fellow tourists looking some-what antlike below.

The earliest remains of Persepolis date to 518 BC, just four years after Darius the Great came to power. He is responsible for much of the building of Persepolis, one of the capitals of the Persian empire. Building continued on the site until the defeat of the Achaemenid dynasty by Alexander the Great in 331 BC. Whether Alexander ordered Persepolis to be burnt or it was an accident remains a mystery. Herodotus doesn’t mention Persepolis in his Histories, but he does detail all that history and mention all the people you come across depicted in the reliefs of the surviving ruins. So there on the Apadana Staircase you come face to face with all the peoples of the empire, including the Ethiopians, Greeks, Cappadocians, Bactrians with a two-humped camel, Elamites with a lioness and cubs, Indians, and the wonderfully unpronounceable Orthocorybantians with their pointy hats, to name just a few. In March every year, Iranians celebrate their national new year holiday, Na Ruz. This procession of stately people carved onto the Apadana Staircase had come from all parts of the Persian empire, stretching from East Africa to India, bearing gifts for the emperor to celebrate the same Na Ruz some 2500 years ago.More...


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Côte d’Azur, Camping, 1989

by Jo 15. July 2014 16:49

by Tim Cleary

The late 80s were my formative years in terms of travel and holidays. In late July, six weeks of school holidays would begin and - like many other fortunate British families who had the opportunity to do such things - we would pack the boot of the car, load the roof rack and set out on a voyage of discovery to the Continent. 

“Are we there yet?”

Although this was over 25 years ago, I remember quite distinctly what was involved with our annual camping holidays in France. First, there was an early-morning wake-up call for a quick breakfast and a drive to Dover for the ferry to Calais, where car sickness or the ferry's swaying from side to side might result in said breakfast rising again to where it came from. My siblings and I would irk our parents by repeating the inevitable “Are we there yet?” at various points along the way, ad nauseum.

My father would then attempt to drive us as far as possible along the French autoroutes before tiredness got the better of him somewhere in central France. Here, we would pitch our tent for the night, usually on a municipal campsite, and hunt for the nearest Géant Casino supermarket restaurant for its cheap, Gallic equivalent of Little Chef fare. My favourite was steak haché - cooked rare - with frites, an assortment of vegetables to make it seem slightly more healthy than it actually was, and some sort of chocolate mousse for pudding. My parents would also have a glass or two of French red table wine.

Songs for the middle of the road 

No road trip would be worth it if you didn't have some tunes to keep the wheels turning. Thus began one of my enduring passions: music. During several hundred miles of travel through France, some time around 1988 or 1989, we would listen to French radio or the latest cassette albums purchased at home in England. The Gipsy Kings, Chris Rea (my favourite and most appropriate being On The Beach, the Travelling Wilburys supergroup, and the late-80s reincarnations of The Moody Blues (the Sur La Mer album in particular) and Fleetwood Mac became the soundtrack of these summer holidays. Middle-of-the-road music, in more ways than one. Occasionally, my more clued-up older teenage sister would get her way and my parents would reluctantly allow her to play albums by Morrissey, The Cure and other British alternative artists of the time. My tastes have changed, however, but my interest in music still remains. Whenever I travel now, I always try to use it as an opportunity to learn a bit more about the musical traditions around the world.More...

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Mughuls and markets in India’s capital

by Jo 14. July 2014 16:33

by Debbie Valentine

Delhi is an assault on your senses. However you arrive in the city, it smacks you around the face with its intensity. The flavours and smells of the markets and food stalls; the sounds of a bustling, busy city; the sights of the completely contrasting old and new cites sitting next to each other: there is nowhere in the world quite like it.

Delhi is probably the most popular destination for visitors to India. It’s an easy gateway to the country, and the capital is a fascinating, bustling place to visit. Whether jumping in a rickshaw or on the surprisingly comfortable Metro, Delhi is a city easily traversed, although I would recommend taking a rickshaw at least once and experience the idiosyncrasies of Delhi’s traffic: where there are two lanes marked, expect four; traffic lights don’t necessarily mean stop; honking is just a suggestion the driver is about to do something; and being a pedestrian can be quite terrifying.

The main road of Old Delhi, Chandni Chowk, is the best place from which to explore the old city. With the Red Fort at one end, and the peaceful Fatehpuri Masjid at the other, the street is packed with shops, stalls, people and the occasional cow. Stop at one of the many stalls selling chai and, for about 10p, indulge in a cup of the sweet, aromatic tea. You can buy pretty much anything in the market, from fabric and shoes to food and homewares, it’s an astonishing selection of goods and a great place to collect a souvenir.More...

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Sir Richard Burton's Mausoleum

by Jo 8. July 2014 13:48

by Annabel Barber, Editor of Blue Guides

Sir Richard Burton packed a lot into his relatively brief life. He died in 1890 at the age of 69 having been variously an explorer, soldier, diplomat and writer; a pilgrim (in Islamic disguise) to Mecca and Medina; the first European to see Lake Tanganyika; translator of the Arabian Nights; and above all a loose cannon “ill-fitted,” according to one source, “to run in official harness”. It is true that he never rose particularly high in the diplomatic service. And he was frowned on in certain circles for his interest in sex and sexual practices and for his penchant for noting down the vital statistics of the tribesmen he encountered on his travels. He was fiercely defended by his wife Isabel in a two-volume biography written shortly after his death. She dedicated it “To my earthly master, who is waiting for me on Heaven’s frontiers. Meet me soon—I wait the signal!” Isabel was herself a devout Catholic. Her earthly master was not. He dabbled in many religions, including Sufism, and is credited with the aphorism, “The more I study religions the more I am convinced that man never worshipped anything but himself.” More...


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Istanbul - The Historic Centre

by Jo 2. July 2014 13:04

by Brian Finch

Istanbul is a city of views and surprises. The views arise firstly from its location on the hilly banks of two great bodies of water - the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus - and secondly from the elegant domes, minarets, spires and towers  throughout the historic centre . The surprises result from our misconceptions. I always thought of it as a Middle Eastern city, albeit spanning the border between Asia and Europe but found it a real synthesis and far more European than I expected.

We stayed in the historic centre which was ideal for walking to the main tourist sites whilst we took fast and reliable buses and trams to other areas. We did not try the underground system but it looks pretty impressive.  There are plentiful and pretty cheap taxis but the drivers do not always know the way and may not always speak English. Two other things to beware of, they may try to negotiate a fare rather than using  the meter, and the roads are pretty gridlocked during rush hour.More...


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Geeks' Day Out – Imperial War Museum, Duxford

by Jo 27. June 2014 12:53

Gregor Swiderek visits the Imperial War Museum at Duxford with some fellow military history enthusiasts from Stanfords.

The idea of a day trip to the Imperial War Museum at Duxford was floating amongst a few of us for a while. We decided to take a train to Whittlesford Parkway station which is located less than two miles from the museum, and walk from there. Otherwise there is a bus route from Cambridge serving the museums on Sunday. If you drive, Duxford is located just beside junction 10 on the M11.

What struck me first was the size of the museum. There is number of hangars, some of them quite enormous, located next to grass and hard runways. It was all bigger and more than I expected.

We started our tour from the largest hangar of the complex, the AirSpace. It displays mostly British and Commonwealth-built aircraft and the absolute highlight is of course Concorde. It was one of the first to be built and it was used for the test flights. In fact it has the distinction of having flown the fastest of any Concorde during the flight trials in which it was involved. What's most amazing is  how low-tech everything looks, especially the cockpit, and how tiny the windows are. Still it is a spectacular machine, the only supersonic passenger jet ever.

Other great machines in this section include such icons as the Spitfire, Hurricane or Harrier as well as lesser known but impressive beasts like an Avro Vulcan strategic bomber (a huge delta-shaped plane which was used to carry the UK's atomic warheads), an Avro Lancaster heavy bomber from  WWII and a Short Sunderland flying boat (used for hunting U-boats). There are many smaller or less known aircraft in this huge space, we could have probably spent a few hours in this one hangar alone but we decided to move on as there was so much more to see.More...


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