The Iambics of Newfoundland – Robert Finch

158243154x.01._sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_I added this book to my Amazon wishlist many years ago – not sure where I happened upon it, but I’ve long found the idea of Newfoundland interesting – it’s just so far away.

The book is a series of vignettes of the author’s trips to Newfoundland in the late 1980s to 1990s, so the source material, which aged quite a bit over the course of the time the book covers, is even more aged now. But it’s still a worthy read – it’s capturing a very traditional land’s changes as it moves into the more modern world. I can certainly see the parallels with the changes here in my home state of Maine – but they’re amplified there by Newfoundland’s distance. It’s an interesting portrait of a bygone age in a fascinating place.

Dark Lands – Tony Wheeler

174321846x.01._sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_Tony Wheeler is one of the co-founders of Lonely Planet – one of my favorite guide book publishers. This book is vignettes of his travels to a number of countries that most people are not going to travel to, because they’re not the safest places in the world to travel.

It’s an interesting mix, because some places are not as bad as the used to be- like Colombia, but others just seem to be getting worse as time goes on.

I found the inclusion Nauru personally interesting – I knew absolutely nothing about it, so would not have known to include it on any list of this sort. The other countries in the book, running the gamut from Papua New Guinea, to Israel, to Haiti, are more expected.

What kind of sticks out is there is still an ordinariness of traveling to these places – they may be hard to get to, and there may be wars or other crises in the area, but there are regular people too, and places they are proud to show off to visitors. This was an interesting diversion from normal travel literature.

The Sweet Life in Paris – David Lebovitz

This is the story of David Lebovitz’s decision to start his life completely anew and move to Paris.      There’s a lot to read here about culture shock, and some of the things you can expect if you wanted to move there.    Actually, it’s probably good reading for anyone wanting to just travel to Paris – there were some good points that I had come across in my research before I went to Paris a few years ago.

This book also has recipes – which are weirdly not necessarily in synch with the chapters they’re in, but are made with Americans and the way they cook in mind, so I’m excited by those.

This is a good travel log on steroids – great reading while traveling.

A Moveable Feast – ed. Don George

This is a Lonely Planet book, so it’s all about food and travel.   There are a wide variety of writers: chefs, food critics, and regular people.      And there are a wide variety of stories, usually about a particularly memorable meal while traveling, but that could range from a simple meal shared with a family in a Himalayan hut after a hiker was trapped by a snowstorm, to a food critic managing to get a reservation at Ferran Adria’s El Bulli, not long before that restaurant closed for good.

I think my favorite story was “Peanut Butter Summer”.   It’s a story of the author’s first trip to Europe, with her first love, where she discovered that people can have very different ways of looking at life.    What she encapsulated was how I see travel – going with the flow and hoping you’ll serendipitously find new and exciting things.     And I even say that as someone that has to plan the ever loving bejesus out of a trip before I go.    But, I happened to realize, due to a separate conversation I was having, while in CA, while reading this book, that I do this planning as grounding.    I do still hope to find those little surprises that make travel special – I just try to put myself in the best possible position to catch them.

The Hidden Gardens of Paris – Susan Cahill

I don’t normally review guidebooks, even though I do often read them more or less cover to cover, but I made an exception in this case, because this book really seemed to be written for me.    It’s all about gardens – public squares, larger gardens, or even gardens attached to houses that you would never know were there and that you could visit.    And, it turns out the author and I are on similar wave lengths, because she includes nearby sites to the gardens, which almost always includes a book store.   So I now have several more English book stores I can add to my “to visit” list.

What I also like is that even in the larger, more well known places, like the Jardin des Plantes, she features a part of that garden that you might overlook if you just followed the crowds.    I really enjoyed the book – it’s got interesting little historical tidbits, and I would have enjoyed it even if I weren’t planning a trip to Paris.

Under the Tuscan Sun – Frances Mayes

I’d picked this book out of the pile because it was one of the ones that had been sitting there the longest.   In hindsight, I wish I’d saved it until winter.    I say that because it’s filled with glorious descriptions of Tuscany in the summer, and the author is a gardener, so it’s written right up my alley with plant descriptions, food descriptions, and interesting places to visit descriptions.   I may have to keep this book around just so I can pull it out in the depths of the Maine winter, to remember that it can indeed be lovely outside.

The book follows the trials and travails of buying an old house in Tuscany, which the author and her partner are only occupying in the summer, so restoration work is done in fits and spurts, or over long distances.

There’s also a great deal of exploration of the surrounding countryside, with some history thrown in.   Definitely comparable to A Year in Provence, but with an Italian accent.

Paris, My Sweet – Amy Thomas

Read for LibraryThing EarlyReviewers.

Do not read this book on an empty stomach.

The author was given the chance of a lifetime when her advertising agency offered to send her to the Paris branch to work on the Louis Vuitton contract. She’d been pretty much obsessed with Paris since she spent a semester there in college, so jumped at the chance to go.

Now, contrary to the title, this book is actually a sweet-foodie’s love story of both Paris and New York. Hence the don’t read on an empty stomach warning – each chapter is centered on a particular food item, contrasting American and French cuisine. After a couple of chapters, I was ready to throw the book aside and hop a jet to either city just to get my hands on some of the food she described.

There’s a personal component to the book as well, with the author finding it difficult to fit in in Paris, and also finding that life in New York is moving on while she’s gone. I’ll admit that that struggle got a bit old by the end of the book, but I was so focused on the food, I was ready to overlook that.

I’m probably not going to be moving to Paris anytime soon, but I may be able to visit in a year, and I’ve definitely gained some most visit places to add to my list from this book.

Off the Tourist Trail – Eyewitness Travel

LibraryThing Early Reviewer Books

I have to admit that I requested this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer’s selection list because I saw the name Bill Bryson on the cover, and I’ve always enjoyed his books. I figured a new Bill Bryson book was worth checking out, and something about places off the regular tourist trail sounded interesting. Imagine my surprise when I received a rather large package that turned out to hold a coffee table sized book with only the forward by Bill Bryson. The rest of the book is chock full of pictures and suggestions for unusual places to see.

I was immediately intrigued by the structure of this book: identifying a popular tourist destination, pointing out its highlights and warts, and then giving a few other ideas of places to go that are similar to this famous location, but that you may never have heard of before.

There are sections for Ancient and Historical Sights, Festivals and Parties, Great Journeys, Architectural Marvels, Natural Wonders, Beaches, Sports and Activities, Art and Culture and Cities. Each chapter is filled with photos of the various destinations. (I’ll admit I wanted more photos of most of the locations, but this book is really more about whetting your appetite. I now have several ideas of places to seek out I hadn’t known about before.)

This book isn’t going to tell you where to stay, or where to eat, but it is going to give you some new ideas about interesting places to visit. And if you’re not into traveling, this is a great survey of some really interesting places thorough the world, a number of which I’d never heard of before.

I’m pretty sure I’ve found one of my go-to gifts for the impossible to buy for on my list. I can’t think of anyone that wouldn’t enjoy this book.

Armchair Traveler Reading Challenge

I’m done with the Armchair Traveler Reading Challenge!

For the challenge, I read the following books:

I’d made a point of picking books from different parts of the world (though the Sahara and Yemen are probably a bit too close, even if they are in different continents, but oh well.) I really enjoyed reading about these different places, and I’d totally sign up for round two and pick a whole new list of new locations.

Sahara – Michael Palin

0e29ac003f6e4c25970396a6d41434f414f4141Read for the Armchair Traveler’s Reading Challenge

This book is the companion to the Sahara travel series that Michael Palin filmed in 2001. I’ve seen the last half of the series, so I had a certain visual frame of reference for some of the book that I didn’t have for the rest. (Though there were a number of photos included in the book that served to fill in a number blanks.)

The book follows a vaguely circular journey beginning in Gibraltar and moving through Morocco, the Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Niger, Algeria, Libya and Tunisia before returning through Morocco to Gibraltar.

Anyone familiar with Michael Palin from his Monty Python days will expect a degree of humor in this book, and it’s definitely there, in understated form. His observations of the local cultures are pointed and interesting. I’ve enjoyed all of the travel shows he’s done, and definitely recommend them to anyone. This is the only companion book I’ve seen for any of the shows, but I’d definitely consider picking up any others if I saw them.

I think I enjoyed the inclusion of Libya in this journey the most of any section of this book, not because it’s necessarily the most interesting part of the journey, but because he makes a point to go there and describe it, and I seriously doubt any American in his position would have done so. Secondarily likewise for the Western Sahara. I doubt many people would have given a second glance to such a political no man’s land.