Most people form certain traditions through the years, especially when they travel. For me, it’s bookworming while traveling!
Since 2009, I’ve made it a point to visit bookstores, drool all over the merchandise (not literally, of course), and purchase a couple of titles. I remember hoarding paperbacks in Langkawi and Kuala Lumpur and worrying if the new books will fit in my small wheeled luggage, or meet the check-in quota. Sadly, some of them remain untouched on my shelf, but that’ll change eventually − of course, these titles will make an appearance here on The Reading Spree.
I arrived in Manila early yesterday morning from a three-day holiday in Taipei, Taiwan, with two longtime friends. On our last day in the city (Monday), and in keeping with my short list of “non-negotiables”, Tintin and I visited two beautiful bookstores that have been featured in print and online magazines, and are well-known among Taiwanese bibliophiles and in-the-know travelers: the quirky and unique VVG Something, and the behemoth known as Eslite. Tradition sustained; books bought; wallet drained. 😉️
(If you think those bookstores’ names sound familiar, here are two links that would help refresh your memory. VVG Something was included in Flavorwire’s “The 20 Most Beautiful Bookstores in the World” list and was featured in Planet Slate, while Eslite’s flagship store in Taipei’s Xinyi district is #10 in Salon.com’s slideshow for “The World’s Most Inspiring Bookstores”.)
We spent around four hours (from lunchtime to 4ish) looking for and exploring these two lovely bookstores, and no matter how hard I try, I cannot wipe this stupid smile off my face (and it’s been two days already!). And since we all love stories, let me tell you about what happened before, during and after setting foot in VVG Something and Eslite Xinyi.
I found out about this bookstore through that January 2012 Flavorwire article, and during the planning stages for our Taipei trip, it was one of the first destinations to make our list. Too bad we were missing one bookworm; Jen had to return to Manila a day early for work.
A day before she left, Jen was kind enough to look for the address and figure out which MRT station we need to disembark from. We had Ximending as our temporary base, so we were just five stops away from Zhongxiao Dunhua Station (Blue Line or Bannan Line); we’ll need to walk along Zhongxiao East Road the rest of the way.
Sounds easy, right? Nope.
Tin and I got to Zhongxiao East Road and, after checking with some attendants at a Cosmed branch, walked on toward a series of lanes and alleys. We kept marveling at all the stores we passed; the neighborhood’s streets were lined with little boutiques, restaurants and salons. It was quite similar to what we saw over at Zhongshan Station (MRT Red Line) − it reminded us of New York, or in my case, my hometown in the “Dirty South”.
After 10 minutes, we got to the end of Zhongxiao East Road and close to another main thoroughfare, and we still haven’t found VVG Something. Uh-oh. Tin tried to ask for directions from a young Taiwanese man, who nonchalantly brushed her off. She then stopped an equally young couple walking a few steps behind the first person. Unlike the Taiwanese boy, this couple went the extra mile to help us out. We showed them VVG Something’s address written in English, and they actually got their phones out and called the listed number to ask for directions − despite our objections. But they didn’t stop there. They told us to follow them back to Zhongxiao East Road, and on to a street that we missed. From the main road, we turned right onto a small alley. VVG Something is on the right side, close to another alley.
When we got there, it turned out that the couple’s destination was nowhere near VVG Something; they just led us to our destination and will go back to Zhongxiao East. The silent street was then filled with laughter, thank yous and xie xies, and Tin actually hugged the young lady; she was that happy we found it. 😀 The boyfriend jokingly asked if he can get a hug too, but no dice. (Throughout our holiday, the majority of the locals we’ve met were very nice, accommodating, and eager to help. Their hospitality and kindness have made our trip very, very memorable. 😁️)
The couple then left (but kept smiling and laughing at us as we started to take photos from the outside). Once we’ve had our fill of the visuals (and the unbearable humidity and schizo weather), we opened the big red sliding doors and entered the bookstore.
(We really should’ve familiarized ourselves with Taiwan’s street name system before we left Manila.)
It may be a small store, but it’s filled with heavily curated Taiwanese and English titles; as well as antique decor, tools for paper crafts, kitchenware, odds and ends, signage, paintings, illustrations, notebooks, and other products that would make hard copy lovers, antique collectors and interior decorators squee with delight. Every pocket of space is utilized; it was a real visual feast. Flavorwire was right. The place is so gorgeous!
Most of the books sold that day at VVG Something centered on interior design, culinary arts/cooking, photography, travel and children’s literature (pop-up books); you should take the time to analyze every book in each pile and on the many shelves around the space. There’s a limited selection of books, so what you see in there one day may not be there the next time you come back. Tin and I were the only customers around that Monday morning, so we had all the time and room we wanted to move around, take photos and rummage through piles. There were so many things I wanted to bring back to Manila (like the metal briefcases and the small framed illustrations of food), but settled for two titles (Books Do Furnish A Room by Leslie Geddes-Brown, and The I Hate To Cook Book by Peg Bracken), plus two really cute lead letters for my nickname (KC). A word of caution: if you’re used to buying cheap secondhand books online or from neighborhood stores, you might think the prices at VVG Something are a bit high. Good thing they accept credit card payments, because I was a bit short on cash.
While we were there, we wound up having a chat with a Japanese woman who consigns her friends’ merchandise at VVG Something. Her girl friend makes the notebooks and handmade travel books, while the husband does the illustrations I wanted to buy. This nice Japanese woman also does workshops at the store; I saw her photos on the VVG blog, so I guess she’s a mainstay.
VVG Something is just one of the properties of the VVG Group; besides the bookstore, there’s also a restaurant, bed & breakfast, catering service, and pastry shop bearing the VVG name. We said our goodbyes to the Japanese woman and shop attendant, and spotted a pink VW van across the street. Well, that merits a visit.
VVG Bistro has no outdoor signage; I think the pink van is the only landmark visitors will have. (If there was a sign outside, I didn’t see it.) Tin and I just had brunch so we weren’t that hungry, but we did want to check out their menu and try something out. We were assisted by a tall (and cute!) English-speaking local who turned out to be a restaurant trainee; he was on day 7 of his 9-day assignment in VVG Bistro. He’s also the person who told us about the brunch set menu that wasn’t limited to brunch. 😛️
A morning spent looking at books called for a cheese platter with milk tea and iced coffee. The place’s ambiance and food/drink presentation was quite nice: homey, with mismatched furniture, white walls and familiar English-language music. I recommend going here to relax after book shopping, or visiting the other cafes along Zhongxiao East Road.
#13, Alley 40, Lane 181, Section 4, Zhongxiao East Road, Taipei, Taiwan
+886 2 2917 9220
Directions: From MRT Zhongxiao Dunhua station (Blue/Bannan Line), take Exit #2 and walk along Zhongxiao East Road. Turn left at Section 4 Alley 40; VVG Something will be on the right side of the street.
Eslite Bookstore (Xinyi Flagship Store)
After having our fill at VVG Bistro, we walked back to the Zhongxiao Dunhua station and boarded the Blue Line once again, disembarking at the Taipei City Hall Station (yes, the same MRT station for Taipei 101). But instead of following the instructions in our Taipei Pass tourist booklet (this came with our individual purchase of the 3-Day Taipei MRT Pass), we passed through the Taipei City Hall Bus Station and wound up at Eslite’s side entrance (the one with a tree-lined walkway fronting it).
Tin and I didn’t get to explore the entire building, too. We just went around the third floor, but we still had our fill of books. In contrast to our VVG Something visit, I didn’t take a lot of photos at Eslite Xinyi; there were too many people, and I didn’t want any privacy issues. The interiors also reminded me of Fully Booked.
In terms of size, Fully Booked has nothing on Eslite Xinyi; this bookstore chain occupies an entire building (yep, it’s the largest bookstore in the country!), and has a wider layout. English and Taiwanese titles are distributed all over the floors, with specific areas for specific purposes. On the third floor, we spotted a forum area where readers sat on chairs facing a wall. There was also an art area at the other end of the floor, with sculptures and installations on display.
Eslite encourages everyone to spend time inside to read, without any pressure to purchase − this explains the deluge of people in the premises. And the Xinyi branch may be the largest, but unlike other Eslite branches, it’s not open 24 hours. (Yes, Taipei has 24-hour bookstores. I want to migrate now.) It can be difficult for foreigners to explore Eslite; as I said before, English titles are mixed in with Chinese/Taiwanese titles, and they can be difficult to spot with all the visual distractions around. But Eslite’s goal of being “Taiwan’s cultural window to the world” has been met − there are so many book sections, with topics and genres that few people know about.
We found a tea room on the third floor, and off we went to foodtrip again (as if we didn’t eat just an hour before at VVG Bistro!). This time, we tried out the truffle fries, a strange but tasty orange chocolate drink, and vanilla milk tea. The Tea Room offers a great view of Taipei 101, and has a wide food/drink/dessert selection, perfect for exhausted bookworms.
Eslite Bookstore (Xinyi)
#11 Songgao Road, Xinyi District, Taipei, Taiwan
+886 2 8789 3388 ext. 3001
Directions: From MRT Taipei City Hall Station (Blue/Brannan Line), take Exit #2 and walk along Zhongxiao East Road to get to Songgao. You can also pass through the Taipei City Hall Bus Station.