Around the World Stationery Hauls: Europe pt. 1

It’s been nearly two months since we left London and of course, for a snail mailer and stationery addict like me, I have been on the hunt for great stationery shops and post office fun in every place we’ve stopped along our trip around the world.

So I will dive right in to what goodies I found…

Slovenia, bless it, isn’t really there yet with cute letter writing sets and stationery design. I  didn’t manage to find any pattered envelopes or great quality paper, so for letter writing I stuck to the Paperchase writing sets I brought with me from the UK.

I was getting stationery shopping withdrawals over the six weeks we were in Ljubljana and really needed a fix, so with much adamance, I did manage to find a cute shop called Babushka right in the centre of town. Although Babushka sold shopping list pads and ‘to do’ list pads, they didn’t have any writing sets or stationery per se. But what I did find, was  a roll of awesome grid-patterned washi tape and a matching pencil case:

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Prism air-plant holders, grid washi tape and pencil case from Babushka

 

It is all about geometric shapes for me at the moment; both Norman and I have a thing for prisms so we treated ourselves to a pair of gorgeous prism air-plant holders for when we settle into a home.

I’m pretty chuffed with these small purchases, I’ve been using the grid washi tape loads since I bought it and the pencil case surprisingly fits ALL the pens I brought with me on the trip (which is a lot) plus my Tools to Live By scissors and my Koh-I-Noor eraser and a ruler. Even my Blackwing pencils get in (after a couple of sharpen downs), which is an absolute win.

Budapest unfortunately, was an absolute bust stationery and post office wise. I had a couple of places listed for Budapest after I googled ‘stationery shops Budapest’ and got excited to visit them, only to find that they didn’t stock anything of interest (think generic office cupboard at work type stuff). At the post office, which wasn’t very clear to navigate, I did manage to buy a beautiful Budapest Zoo commemorative stamp (photo isn’t featured – sorry!) but was rather disheartened when the clerk slapped plain white machined post labels onto my postcards.

But then I went to Prague and my spending suddenly spiked, and it was glorious. My first purchase was a new Kaweco fountain pen as my old one has a fault with its nib, so this was mainly a replacement purchase. I got this at Pen Co. an unassuming stationery shop tucked into a shopping court in District 1. Pen Co. has a huge selection of notebooks, pens, sketchpads and inks – featuring brands such as Lamy, Faber Castell, Diamine, Moleskine, Leuchtturm and of course, Kaweco. It’s a small shop and the owner is lovely, she was totally happy for me to try out any ink and any nib while I was there.

 

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Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth automatic pencil and Kaweco Sport

As Koh-I-Noor is a Czech Republic brand, it would have been rude not to stop off at the store in Prague. It’s a tiny store but has floor to ceiling artist pencils, and I am now kicking myself for not buying a beautiful selection of muted-colour pencils that comes in a wooden presentation box. It’s probably best I didn’t, for the sake of carrying luggage, but I haven’t been able to find them on their website – I will have to investigate further. But I did buy a beautiful and very cleverly designed mechanical pencil with a chunky tip that sketches like a dream. One great feature about this pencil is its built in sharpener in the clicker! It took me ages to decide on which colour to get. Koh-I-Noor does a gorgeous metallic rose finish, as well as brass, slate grey and brushed aluminium as well as the blue I bought (I may have to collect them all at some point). Apologies for the poor photo, I’m not getting great lighting or surfaces in my accommodations.

I then treated myself to a few bits and pieces from Papelote which is the place to go for modern stationery design in Prague. A very pretty shop selling minimalist-style wrapping paper, notebooks and pencils and even stocks a decent selection of MT washi tape. Again, because I haven’t been able to take a great photo, I cannot show the notebook and pencil snug I bought, but will do in another post in the future.

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Inside Papelote

Next, I bought something very special indeed. It isn’t stationery or philately, but a treat nonetheless. In an awesome analogue camera shop simply called, Analogue, I got myself the Diana Mini camera! I am just getting into Lomography, although it’s funny to say that because I grew up with analogue cameras when no one had any clue how a photo would turn out when taking it. But it’s the first time I’m learning the fun I can have with an analogue – a camera not just for function, but for play. I love it, and I can’t wait to see what my first set of pictures come out like!

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Diana Mini analogue camera

And speaking of Philately, Czech Republic has an insane commemorative stamp archive. I thought British stamps and USA stamps were beautiful, but Czech Republic take their stamp collecting seriously and do not fall short on delivering great postal service. The main branch of the post office in District 1 is huge – there are even painted murals all over the ceiling of this gigantic, pretty building. The service was swift and friendly and I got some pretty stamps placed carefully onto my handful of postcards this time. But then I spotted the Philately store and my world went all blurry because there were hundreds of special issues to buy. What was handy about the stamp display cabinets, was the catalogue number under each stamp or set. So naturally, I whipped out a pad and pen and went to work! I had to curb the budget so I spent the equivalent of about £12 but I could have gone nuts. Again, the pictures are poor, but here are some of the ones I bought:
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And naturally, there were some stamps I wished I had bought but I was trying to be ‘sensible’ and then I kept thinking about them after. So I looked them up online and low and behold, Czech Republic’s postal website has an online shop and a stamp archive! Stamp dreams realised. Enjoy shopping for them here.

The final little haul I have to show, consists of a few debossed notecards by Bohemia Art, a fine quality paper and card shop right in the Old Town Square. I picked up these pretties:

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Notecards from Bohemia Art

Shopping in Prague has been the most fun by far, but of course, I’m going to have to watch the pennies. But in my next post, I will show what I’ve picked up here in Vienna (including a beautiful set of Van Gogh stamps) and anything else I may find in the next few places.

 

 

Blessings

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough” – Melody Beattie

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A birthday card sent to me, from a dear kindred sister

The end of April was a time to be thankful for the doors that opened as well as the ones that closed. To be thankful for friendship and love. Thankful for the ones who recognise you for what you are, thankful for those that allow your growth. To be thankful for dreams made manifest, thankful for memories to be stored in the heart. Thankful for reasons to celebrate, thankful for moments of quiet. Thankful for being honoured, and thankful to be made humble.

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Flowers I bought for Beltane

But most of all,

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A faery mound I came across in Cannizzaro Park

I am thankful for never being without magic.

In Bloom

April, as it usually is for me, has been a time of fruition; the blooming of things – things coming into full form. I have gotten to witness blossom trees decorate my street with petal-confetti and bluebells have popped up in little clusters along my morning-run route. Getting myself into running has also been another way of me ‘coming into full form’. I am, (for want of a better way of putting it) trying to improve myself – in health, in focus, and mindfulness.

It seems that my pen pals have been tapping into the abundant and vibrant energies of springtime too and have been sending me beautiful mail, celebrating sunshine, faeries, flowers and bunnies. I adore everything I receive, but what was unexpected, was a beautiful bundle of mail sent to me by the wonderful Rhea of @devoteddiarist (Instagram), who wanted to reach out to me because she had connected with my previous post, Letters From My Wiser Self #2 .

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Beautiful Springtime mail from Rhea

It is humbling to think that something I had written in self-reflection, had given her some insight and in some ways, comfort. I’m always surprised when I have given a voice to something someone else has been feeling, when I was merely reminding myself of what I need to address. But, that’s why I’m a writer, isn’t it? Aside from telling a good story, there is intention to connect with other people, and to put words to what is occurring deep within us – I’ve said it time and time again: it’s all about AWARENESS. It’s my ultimate keyword and Rhea was experiencing awareness when she read my post, she gained a sense of me and of herself, and honoured that connection with an act of kindness. Now let’s just take a look at this gorgeous mail art for a moment. Beatrix Potter for both of us is a childhood nostalgia that brings such joy to our hearts (I’ve seen her express enthusiasm for Peter and his friends on her lovely feed before). I am instantly taken back to a clay model set I had when I was about nine years old. I spent a whole weekend making multiple Peters, Mrs Tiggy-Winkles and Jemimas, then painting them once they were set; I handed them out as ornament gifts to relatives – sheer creativity and happiness!  The card with the rabbit wearing a garland is too cute, and that envelope is just pure eye-candy! The way she’s written my name, the colours, the stamps…(the outer one with my address isn’t pictured here but I can assure you it’s just as beautiful). Rhea definitely has her own style and it’s stunning. Just as the energy of spring bursts out in colours all around us, her kind and generous personality radiates from her letters.

So in the spirit of spring and creativity, here are some washi tapes I’ve dug out from the bottom of my tapes basket that I’m in the mood to use at the moment:

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Left to right: Jungle print by Maste, Vintage Flower by MT ex, Plant Encyclopaedia by MT ex, Watercolour Flower by MT ex, Kikusui story tape and Bonsai by Yano Design

Do you have any favourite Spring-style art, creations or adornments?

How are you blooming right now?

 

Words From Long Ago

On Tuesday 5th April, to mark 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare, a set of 1st class stamps was released by Royal Mail. Not only am I a fan of stamps, and Shakespeare, I am ultimately a fan of words.  And how wonderful that these stamps are just that: Shakespeare’s words – some of his best, actually. I got myself a set as soon as they were issued:

FullSizeRenderI’m excited to see my favourite play, Much Ado About Nothing featured – such a gorgeous line: “There was a star danced, and under that was I born”, (spoken by the exuberant Beatrice). Look at the different fonts too! Well done, Royal Mail. This has definitely made it to my ‘Favourites’ list.

This has also been a week of celebrating my words. As most of you know, I was announced by Salt Publishing as a debut author, and my collection of short stories, The Other World, It Whispers, will be out later this year.

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Photo taken by Salt Publishing

For the last 18 months, I’ve been a hermit and it has paid off. But this is not just the product of 18months of pure, available time after quitting other  full-time work. This book is the product of years and years of learning and hoping and believing and building. Years of awful jobs and an empty purse. Years of daydreams and wondering. Years of critiquing, assessing, reflecting. Years of battling to remain optimistic. All this time, words have been forming and taking shape. They didn’t just begin when I handed in my notice for the final time, this has been a process for 20 years, and will continue to be, hopefully for the rest of my life.

So there are of course, more books on the way. One that I’ve been working on for a long time now is very dear to me, and will be the next release, and I’m hoping I can do it justice. But it isn’t easy being at home on your own all day long, and my craft is stubborn and won’t always give me the goods. But at least I have Insta-grammers, pen pals, and my cat for company. And on days when I really can’t write, I’m thinking of places where I could write – these same walls and this same view is not the right world for me to write in anymore. But there’s nothing I can do about that for now. Until the novel is complete, I’ll just have to keep on learning, building, and believing.

But for now, I’ll at least write some letters to friends, perhaps reread some Shakespeare and other favourites, and remember that words are always forming and taking shape.

Letters From My Wiser Self #2

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A Room with a View

For the first time in months, we found a little corner of quiet and solitude. A place to put pieces back together, and to throw some of them away – a sorting of ourselves.

And in this safety – this supportive space – I gave myself some words. In this tiny village of Castle Combe, I posted myself the gift of a letter…and it followed me back to London, via its own course.

It begins:

Dear Stephanie, 

Here you sit amongst the gentle, nurturing countryside and it took you hours to let go of London. You didn’t know how at first, everything around you was too quiet, and too beautiful. And when you’re not hiding in the camouflage of dirt-caked buildings, in the palette of greys and browns, you’re suddenly very there – for anyone to see. You even feel watched by the trees. But that’s ok, you’re just not sure how to really do that: be out there, be really alive… 

It reminds you of what you want. You just have to learn how to be brave in the dark and in the silence. Don’t panic in the woods, it is your friend, more than the chaotic streets of the city are.”

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I need more of this stillness in my city home, until I find my real one, so I can hear my own truths more clearly.

Creative Parcels

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Recently I had a burst of inspiration and made a few parcels a bit more creative than I usually would with my snail mail letters. I often only show just the envelopes on Instagram because I like to show pen pals what they are looking out for, and also, I personally think it’s just as important to make the packaging beautiful – it’s the first thing they see when it arrives, after all.

Pictured above, is a gift I wrapped up for a friend, who is also my stationery shopping buddy, @rehanu, and her creativity always floors me. So when I bought an 1800s Jubilee notecard at the Stampex Fair (see previous post), I wanted it to be presented to her in a way she’d marvel at it first before unwrapping it. The wrapping paper, is by Japanese brand, Classiky (I haven’t been able to find it anywhere since I got this, but I was lucky enough to buy a piece from Tabiyo as a one-off pre-order). The vintage theme envelope is part of a pack I got for Christmas as a gift from my sister. I embellished it with a few Tim Holtz rubber stamps and parcel string and here we are. It was Rehana who was actually brave enough to post a metal tin, full of gorgeous gifts and mail for one of her pen pals,which inspired me. The tin made it safely to the recipient.

I wanted to try this myself but I started with something less daring, but nevertheless, creative enough, and decided I would send it to a good friend in Scotland (aiming for somewhere not so far away). I took a small box, wrapped it in collage paper, addressed it (as clear as I could) and put the correct postage on the top of the box. I made sure to stick “First Class”, “This Side Up”, “Handle with Care” etc so that I would be taken seriously. It’s easy to work out your correct postage, to be honest, I think if it fails to get sent, it’s usually because the right cost was not paid. I went to Royal Mail’s website, and typed in all the details in the “Get a Price” section. I weigh all my mail on my kitchen scales to make sure I’ve got it spot on!

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A box of love, sent to Glasgow, before it was tied up with airmail parcel string

I was nervous sending it out, but the will to send it outweighed the risk, and the very next day she received it! This opens up so many possibilities for me, although there are some countries where this may not be acceptable, I’ve come to learn, from just letters going missing or being sent back. If you’re going to try something other than an envelope, try it with somewhere you’ve never had an issue posting to, and somewhere not terribly far, preferably to a main city.

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An extra touch of creativity inside the lid

I’m thinking of other creative parcels I might send, perhaps something cylinder – I’ve yet to work on that. In the mean time, here are a few things I’ve sent off to pen pals recently; I’ve been making more of an effort to tart things up on the inside so that the inner packaging is just as exciting as the outer…

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Pocket envelope made from tracing paper, stamped with Chamil Garden rubber stamp and decorated with Classiky washi tape.
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Classiky glassine paper used as wrapping, sealed with Chamil Garden washi tape and tied with airmail parcel string.

I’d love for you to share with me any creative parcels you have sent out to pen pals and loved ones and what unique packaging you’ve used, or success stories of unusual mail making it to the recipient. It’s nice to know that no mater what the mail is wrapped up in, it will make its way to its rightful owner.

Happy Snail Mailing!

Stampex – Spring 2016

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Just a few days ago, I went to my very first stamp fair, Stampex, which is held biannually at the Business Design Centre in Angel, Islington. I found out about it through the lovely Suzanne of ArtStamped (check out her wonderful stamp creations here).

I started getting into stamps about a year ago when I joined the snail mail community. Growing tired of taking my envelopes to the post office every couple of days, only to have an unenthused clerk slap an ugly printed label haphazardly over my carefully decorated envelope, I began searching on ways to get the right postage and keep it attractive.

I combed the Royal Mail website for the rules and figured out that I could use any old unused stamps I wanted, as long as they made the correct cost of postage by today’s prices. The philately world opened, and I trawled eBay for mint GB stamps. Once I saw the pretty/arty/themed stamps that were available to me, I realised why collecting/using/sharing vintage stamps is fun. Tiny little pieces of paper art with cultural references to a particular country, I mean, how is this not cool?

Going to Stampex, I kept an open mind. If I came away with nothing, that didn’t matter, but it would be nice to just see what sort of things people displayed at their stands. I’m also a massive fan of vintage ephemera – especially the kind that falls under the category of ‘correspondence’. Telegrams, postcards, old letters – especially Victorian letters – they inspire me very much; stories told between two people, that have lived beyond them. It is a precious thing to me.

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Walking through the doors, my eyes fell to the very first stand. Mark Bloxham specialise in  vintage postcards, envelopes and first day covers and I decided to get over my shyness and rifle through the boxes. Within my first fifteen minutes of being in the place, I had already bought a bundle of collectibles.

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A few of the beauties I re-homed.

And then I was on a roll.

I found BB Stamps who had crates of presentation packs on their stand, listed by year of issue. These I am familiar with. I went to town on the boxes, pulling out the presentation packs I know and love, and thought it was good to stock up whilst there. Spending only £6, I came away with six packs of mint stamps I could use for penpal letters, including: British Film Stars, London Heritage Buildings, and British Authoresses. The more I looked through them all, the more series I found that I hadn’t ever seen before, they would have to go on a list. And this was my rookie mistake, everyone at Stampex had a wish list! Next time I go to a stamp fair, I’ll have a list of the stamps and the year they were issued at the ready. But at least now I know what I’m going to get when I do my next eBay sweep to replenish my stock.

It’s the 500 year anniversary of Royal Mail, so there have been some very cool special issues released including a miniature sheet of GPO Posters (see first picture above) which look quite retro. There was a lot of buzz around the numbered editions of these that came with a Stampex limited edition pack. I of course had to have one, and these I will never use. I’ve now become one of those collectors. Also released on Thursday were the Penny Red 1st class stamps, which were first released 175 years ago – these, I particularly admire.

Then before I left, I had one last go around and took in a few more interesting pieces in the display.

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2016 seems to be an exciting year for themes and special issues, I myself am anticipating the release of the Shakespeare series (5th April) to mark the anniversary of his death, plus a Music Giants series will be released as well as a Beatrix Potter set in August (Peter Rabbit fans, mark your calendars!).

I’d actually love to talk about stamps further and show you more pretties, so I’ll be doing future posts on U.S. Stamps – which I find to be some of the best in the world – plus my personal favourites and my growing collection.

Happy Stamping!

A Scrap.

 

Pages

When I first set up this blog, I promised you some pieces of my own writing as well as posts on stationery, snail mail, and travel. The only problem is, I’ve been experiencing a bit of a writing slump the last couple of months. My mind has been on other things. Whilst I’m trying to work on my novel, I’m not really producing new short pieces that I could post up. But while I was searching through an old blog, I found a piece of prose I wrote two years ago.

It is something that is still very much true…

“Here’s to Our Nirvana”

I can’t wait for us to die in the lives we live now and become those ghosts we ought to be. Two tendrils of smoke that twirl together in dark hours, two souls that only exist in the consciousness of each other – against bare brick walls and on cotton sheets;  perhaps flower beds, plucking gifts from the places that keep us a secret.

Cracks in the vinyl for only our ears, steel strings only for mine, and the soft quiet words of midnight, only for yours.

Two entities, sweeping over the mountains that we said would show us ourselves; carrying with us the history of the trees and pondering over all that we know – in husky, tangerine mornings, fuelling ourselves with the dawn that we summon in each other’s gaze.

Fearless then, we sail over the oceans we said would strengthen our dreams. Two spirits, licking at the early fresh waves, replicating the way your tongue seeks mine – kisses that are celestial, break through walls, and ripple across all spaces, all dimensions.

Two energies that reverberate together, untouched by the faces we watch of those stuck behind thick glass – we gently wish them the divine infinity we ourselves have managed to find.

Euphoric on long dusty roads and hot white sand; we jump forward into the world that wasn’t the same to us before. But what we are blessed to keep is what we’ve always had: a shared transcendence over the death of all things that insists on existing around us – amongst the living, two untouchable ghosts we’ll be.

– Stephanie Victoire

(January 3rd, 2014)

The Love Letter Project

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Upon coming across More Love Letters just before Christmas, I felt inspired to start a love letter project of my own. There are so many people out there who are feeling blue, lonely, going through some difficult times, or are just in need of some love. And I thought at what better time to send some letters out to people like this, than around Valentine’s Day.

I personally have never celebrated Valentine’s Day. My boyfriend and I believe in showing one another how much we love each other everyday, and not just for one day of the year – but I am very much pro-love. There are also many types and levels of love, and it all begins with kindness. I aim to spread whatever good energy I have to offer people, by cheering them up with a bit of mail.

Being a storyteller myself, I’m intrigued by people’s stories: who they are, what they are experiencing, where they have been and what they hope for – anything they have to tell me about themselves, I’ll listen to it with an open heart and mind. And so, on Instagram, I asked followers to nominate themselves or a friend, to receive a love letter from me, by sending me a message about why they’d like one.

And so the ten recipients were chosen, and these love letters have now been sent off to their new homes.

If you feel that you wish to send some love out there into the world, do check More Love Letter’s website to see how you can participate and perhaps start your project small by sending a letter out to someone nominated on their “Mail Letters” page.

Let’s make people feel loved and show them that someone out there cares.