Post yourself around the world

Simon Calder reveals one way of pushing the envelope of your global horizons

Every traveller begins to explore the world with a trip to the post office, and these hubs of communication keep cropping up along the way. You collect the form for your first passport from your local one, and thereafter post offices remain hugely important.

Like railway stations and frontier posts, post offices comprise a necessary part of any journey. And whether you pop in to buy a postcard stamp, or stand in line for hours while you wait for your chance to find that no one has bothered to send you a poste restante missive, some are attractions in their own right.

Dublin

That jaunty little figure, frozen in the act of wheeling from Earl Street North into O'Connell Street, is James Joyce. The author's statue stands just across the road from the symbolic heart of Irish nationalism: the General Post Office. Around 1816, when the stout Doric columns were hoisted from the drudge of what was then Sackville Street, Dublin was just another British provincial city. A century later, in the Easter Rising of 1916, the proclamation of the Republic of Ireland was read from the steps of the well-proportioned neo-classical facade.

The interior was wrecked in the subsequent siege. Today, it comfortably combines the status of nationalist icon and purveyor of postal products. The nation's largest tricolour flutters above it, splashing green, orange and white into the sky above the street which has since taken the name of the liberation hero Daniel O'Connell.

Washington DC

The American capital is home to two fine ex-post offices, each of them a fully fledged tourist attraction - and, like most things in Washington, offering free admission.

The Old Post Office presides over Pennsylvania Avenue, a 399ft granite fortress whose innards have been scooped out and replaced with a vast, airy atrium and a dozen places to eat, including Chinese, Indian and Japanese. The building is in the care of the National Parks Service, and a be-Stetsoned ranger will take you in the glass-sided, vertigo-pumping lift to the belltower at the top, for the second-best vista in Washington (the first being from the slender needle of the Washington Monument, piercing the western sky).

Look in the opposite direction and you see an overbearing hunk of a building perched beside Union Station. This Beaux Arts palace took over from the Old Post Office as the capital's main mailroom, but itself fell victim to federal budget cuts and the notion that Americans did not need to send letters in style. After many years of abandonment, it has now re-opened as the latest addition to the Smithsonian repertoire of museums.

The National Postal Museum traces, with a degree of levity, the tale of the US Mail from Pony Express to automated sorting. But as the hands- on computer prints out your pre-addressed postcards, you can't help thinking that while the 20th century was the preserve of the post, electronic communications in the 21st century will consign mail to the museum permanently.

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Until 1975, the staff at the US Embassy in Saigon had it easy. They could just nip two blocks south to South Vietnam's finest post office, which stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the city's cathedral. Unlike the Embassy (a concrete jumble of defences, abandoned on the last day of April 1975) and South Vietnam (ditto), the Post Office is thriving. The French took control of Saigon in 1861 and the post office shows the regime at its prime, a Poste that would not look out of place in Lyon. Inside, a map of "Indochine" shows how the old colonial order held sway over the entire region. Dominating every transaction these days, however, is a huge, beaming portrait of Ho Chi Minh.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsSchool leaver's pic YouTube video features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain