Winning tip: Spain and Portugal ahead of tourism
Fabled Shore is Rose Macaulay’s account of her journey in 1949, alone and by car, around the Iberian coast from Catalonia to the Algarve. She has known extreme poverty and the Spain she describes, still reeling from the civil war, is now unrecognizable to us. Today’s tourist hotspots were empty then, pristine beaches with dilapidated houses, sometimes only with a barn to sleep in, and curious children who clustered around this strange creature – an alien woman traveling alone in a car . The prose is full of beautiful descriptions, with a very funny account of what she found in Gibraltar. Strange to think that there are people still alive who remember this time. Read this and cry.
Bedouin and expatriates, Middle East
Arabia: Through the Looking Glass by Jonathan Raban was published in 1979. The author visited the Middle East before the great wealth of the 1970s oil boom damaged Arab culture and traditions. Raban’s gregarious nature and the chatty eloquence of his writing reveal the hidden depths of the people he meets. You are drawn into conversations with expatriates and Bedouins with the same intensity. As a child, I lived in Saudi Arabia for two years at the exact time of Raban’s research. This book allowed me to explore the entire region with the insight, wit, and observations of an adult.
Portrait of Scotland
I promised my eldest I wouldn’t book another Scotland vacation this year … but that was before I read Helen Ochyra’s Beyond the Bagpipes and now it’s going to take all of my willpower not to book us one another distant Scottish cottage. Beyond the Bagpipes traces the author’s journey to Scotland after his mother’s death and is an evocative and uncluttered portrait of the country. I have found my own experiences of places like Uig Sands’ ‘cast seascape’ reflected in Ochyra’s descriptions, while folding page after page to mark all the places I still have to visit.
A place for vagrants, Italy
The incomparable Venice of Jan Morris is a love letter to a city that still exists behind the superficial hustle and bustle of mass tourism: a place of uniqueness, breathtaking contrasts and the indomitable spirit of a great heritage. Venice transports me to the serene twilight of calm alleys and the always surprising emergence of bright and lively squares. It reminds me that the ancient city is a place for wanderers, rewarding those willing to stray from the well-worn tourist trails. Less a travel diary, more a book that urges you to stay and take the time to get to know a place, a people and its history.
Butter bike trip, France
One More Croissant for the Road by Felicity Cloake made me want to go to a Parisian bakery as soon as I read it. A woman cycles through France in search of the perfect croissant while tasting many French specialties along the way. There are recipes, great mouthwatering descriptions of the food, fabulous descriptions of France experienced on two wheels and just a general love of travel and France on every page. Wonderful and truly evocative of the taste, sights and smells of this diverse country. Fabulous.
A stay in Paris
Vintage travel books hold a special place in my heart. Le Flaneur: A Walk in the Paradoxes of Paris by Edmund White is one such book. White draws on his 16 years of living experience between 1983 and 1998 and shows us a Paris full of contradictions. He guides us through an intoxicating mix of stylish literary characters sharing ideas in bohemian cafes, while bringing to life the lives and experiences of some of the marginalized groups who live in Paris. Le Flaneur leaves you feeling entertained, just a little smarter, and eager to learn more.
Can I have the note please?
I love Bill Bryson’s Down Under because the author never seems to use the same approach for each of his books. Is this book going to be sarcastic Bill? Is this gonna be funny Bill? Is it going to be funny, but informative Bill? Is this going to be sarcastic, but informative, Bill? I could go on, but my hands were starting to cramp with the unlimited combinations. While many of the scientific findings described in the book were a bit beyond me, I really enjoyed Bryson’s descriptions of the larger-than-life personalities behind the findings, who really brought the science described to life. Bill Bryson loves Australia too, and it shows.
Cycling from Ireland to India
Reading Dervla Murphy’s Full Tilt showed me how far you can go just by turning the pedals of a bicycle (in her case, from Ireland to India). An open mind, a bucket of resilience, and a deep respect for everyone she met only added to the joy of the adventure. It took me a while from reading the book in my twenties to pedaling east to west and north to south through America in my fifties, but she’s been with me all along, even laughing on my shoulder whenever it felt a bit difficult, to encourage me.
Wonderful New Zealand Getaway
Anna McNuff’s adventure books, especially The Pants of Perspective: One Woman’s 3,000 Kilometer Running Adventure Through the Wilds of New Zealand, were the most wonderful escape for me in the first (and the endless second) locking. Her bouncy voice and humor, and thirst for adventure, were honey to my hurt and quarantined soul. I felt like I was there with her on the Te Araroa Trail, feeling able to handle it all and have that precious escape from the stress of WFH and pandemic anxiety.
Romance and war, Italy
Love and War in the Apennines by Eric Newby is one of the books that inspired me to travel to Italy. It is about the kindness of strangers to strangers based on the help Newby himself received from local families and peasants as an escaped prisoner during WWII. Struggling with a broken ankle, Newby was hidden in a hayloft for months and eventually met his future wife, Wanda. They exchange Italian and English lessons, learn about each other’s cultures and backgrounds while avoiding enemy soldiers. Newby is moved from house to house, works on an isolated farm, and is hidden in a cave. You can smell the log fires – and share the sunsets, fears and hopes. A great read.