There are certain things every visitor to Ireland has to do: try a pint of Guinness, drink a shot of whiskey, explore the beautiful surroundings and – in my opinion – visit a local bookshop.
The latter is important because to my mind a bookshop is the heart of a community, where people can meet and talk, where the books can help reveal their interests, and quite simply one of the easiest places I've ever found where you can safely strike up a conversation with a stranger.
A bookshop is therefore the perfect place to find out about the place you are visiting. Which this week happened to be Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland.
My destination of choice was the secondhand and antiquarian Foyle Books, which although in the middle of the city, was tucked away behind a historic(?) wall and part-way up a slight hill. Located within a craft village, this was a lovely little area away from the hustle and bustle of the modern world and therefore the perfect place to pause and relax in friendly surroundings.
Unfortunately, upon stepping through the welcoming red door, my first reaction was surprise at how quiet the bookshop was. Not empty quiet, the place was packed. But no one was saying anything. It's a long time since I'd been to a bookshop so cloaked in silence, and I admit that as a first impression it made me nervous – where was the Irish friendliness I'd heard so much about?
Fortunately, the silence was momentary and I soon got to experience the welcome I'd hoped for when I introduced myself to the bookseller and our conversation inspired the other browsers. While we talked books, bookshops, Ireland and everything in between, conversations got started, the silence was broken and the whole atmosphere lightened. Which, in my mind, can only be a good thing. Especially in such a bright and interesting bookshop.
On entering the bookshop I'd been impressed by the sci-fi selection sprawling by the door, followed by a large crime section nearby, but as I was on holiday it was the general fiction that captured my attention this time, with Jenny Colgan's The Little Beach Street Bakery a happy reminder that secondhand and antiquarian doesn't have to scare off everyday browsers.
Which is equally true for silence – next time you step into a silent bookshop strike up a conversation, you never know who you might get talking to.
12 Magazine Street, Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland, BT48 6HH
Tel: 028 7137 2530