Mapping the Trip of Your Dreams (or Nightmares)
At this London travel emporium, you can find satellite images of Mongolian glaciers -- or things stranger still
"Exactly what I was looking for," Deo Persaud repeated as he tossed a canvas bag on the counter. The small Indiana bag was perfect, he said, for maps, a mobile phone, the basics. He spread his new map of South America across the table, and explained his plan to drive from his native Georgetown, Guyana through the Amazon to São Paulo, Brazil.
He'd found his supplies at Stanfords, a central London emporium that claims to be the world's largest map and travel bookshop. It seems to live up to its slogan, with three floors of everything you might need to go journeying: maps and travel guides, mosquito nets and jigsaw puzzles.
Edward Stanford established the company in 1853, and in 1862 the firm created Stanfords Library Map of London, said to be the city's first accurate map.
Though the main store in Covent Garden is housed in a 1900 building (there are smaller shops in Bristol and Manchester) it's a thoroughly modern operation, offering digital maps and a comprehensive website via which it ships its products around the globe. The adventurer in Peru who needs a satellite image of Baltoro Glacier in Karakoram, Mongolia, complete with identification of trekking routes, can be as well served as the Brit looking for a road map.
But the true adventure is walking around the mammoth store, where globes wait to be spun and novels are organized by destination. Toward the back, behind the magazines and the tidy map-spreading table, sit rows of guidebooks and maps in Spanish, Polish and other languages.
The lower floor is devoted almost entirely to the United Kingdom and Ireland. There are mainstream guidebooks like Lonely Planet and Frommer's as well as unusual titles, like "The Organic Directory: 2006."
Upstairs are Africa, Asia and the Americas. Mosquito nets hang on hooks and Swiss Army knives spread their razor and corkscrew fingers behind glass cases.
Many staffers are temporarily sidetracked travelers in search of a bit of work to supplement their journeys. As citizens of EU countries can work in London without special permits, Stanfords tends to attract an international staff.
"There are quite a few people from Eastern Europe now; last year it was a lot of Spanish and Italian," said John Sayer, an Englishman who has worked at Stanfords for several years.
Sales advisor Goran Gacic, a Slovenian, traveled three continents before starting work here.
"I don't know how long I'm going to stay," Gacic said. "I'm just saving some money to continue traveling."
Browsers in hiking boots or dress shirts dominate the aisles, or sit in cushioned chairs reading stacks of guidebooks.
As he tucked his new map of South America into his new travel bag, Persaud said with a grin: "You can come here; you can get maps. And have your dreams. Or nightmares."
Visiting Stanfords [Box]
Stanfords Covent Garden
12-14 Long Acre
Open 7 days, generally M-F from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m-7 p.m., Sun. noon to 6 p.m.
Going Places. At Stanfords, travelers -- whether the practical or the armchair kind -- can research journeying to the ends of the earth.
Photo by Andrea Libelo
Stanfords has an exhaustive collection of maps & other travel gadgets.
Photo by Andrea Libelo