Book Title: The Valley of the Assassins And Other Persian Travels
Author: Freya Stark
Promotional Blurb: Hailed as a classic upon its first publication in 1934, The Valleys of the Assassins firmly established Freya Stark as one of her generation’s most intrepid explorers. The book chronicles her travels into Luristan, the mountainous terrain nestled between Iraq and present-day Iran, often with only a single guide and on a shoestring budget.
Stark writes engagingly of the nomadic peoples who inhabit the region’s valleys and brings to life the stories of the ancient kingdoms of the Middle East, including that of the Lords of Alamut, a band of hashish-eating terrorists whose stronghold in the Elburz Mountains Stark was the first to document for the Royal Geographical Society.
Her account is at once a highly readable travel narrative and a richly drawn, sympathetic portrait of a people told from their own compelling point of view. Source Continue reading →
Book Title: Eight Feet in the Andes: Travels with a Mule in Unknown Peru
Author: Dervla Murphy
Promotional Blurb: The eight feet belong to Dervla Murphy, her nine-year-old daughter Rachel and Juana, an elegant mule, who together clambered the length of Peru, from Cajamarca near the border with Ecuador, to Cuzco, the ancient Inca capital, over 1300 miles to the south.
With only the most basic necessities to sustain them and spending most of their time above 10,000 feet, their journey was marked by extreme discomfort, occasional danger and even the temporary loss of Juana over a precipice. Yet mother and daughter, a formidable duo, were unflagging in their sympathetic response to the perilous beauty and impoverished people of the Andes.
In this extraordinary adventure, Dervla Murphy is at her intrepid best, facing up to the terrors, horrors and joys of her journey along the mountain paths. Source
My Thoughts: To date, I have not travelled anywhere in South America and have read very little about this continent. Spotting this book in a second hand bookstore was the perfect opportunity to remedy this situation. The fact that the book was about a walking adventure made it even more appealing!
This is an eye-opening read. Their bravery or downright foolhardiness is as breathtaking as the scenery they scramble through. I do not know if I am more in awe of Dervla for her unquestioning belief that walking 1300 miles through the Andes is an interesting and enjoyable way to spend ten weeks of your life OR her daughter Rachel who merrily and uncomplainingly traipsed along after her mother. The adventurous spirit must be a genetic thing and I suspect you could count on one hand the number of other nine year olds in the World who would willingly follow a parent through such terrain and under such conditions.
Murphy is quoted as saying, “the hardships and poverty of my youth had been a good apprenticeship for this form of travel. I had been brought up to understand that material possessions and physical comfort should never be confused with success, achievement and security”. Wise words.
Amidst all the blood, sweat and tears, Murphy waxes lyrical about the breathtaking natural scenery and at times, struggles to find enough superlatives to describe what she is seeing. Luckily for the reader she knows to check herself and balances much of the floral prose with snippets of historical information as they follow the path of the early Spanish conquistadores.
A really enjoyable read that is a good mix of adventure, stunning landscape, human mishaps, history and reflections about colonial invasion. I gave it 8/10.
Author bio: Dervla Murphy was born on 28 November 1931 of parents whose families were both settled in Dublin as far back as can be traced. Her grandfather and most of his family were involved in the Irish Republican movement. Her father was appointed Waterford County Librarian in 1930 after three years internment in Wormwood Scrubs prison and seven years at the Sorbonne. Her mother was invalided by arthritis when Dervla was one year old.
She was educated at the Ursuline Convent in Waterford until she was fourteen, when, because of the wartime shortage of servants, she left to keep house for her father and to nurse her mother. Dervla did this for sixteen years with occasional breaks bicycling on the Continent.
Her mother’s death left her free to go farther afield and in 1963 she cycled to India. There she worked with Tibetan refugee children before returning home after a year to write her first two books.
Dervla Murphy’s first book, Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle, was published in 1965. Over 20 other titles have followed. Dervla has won worldwide praise for her writing and has been described as a ‘travel legend’ and ‘the first lady of Irish cycling’. Now in her 80s, she continues to travel around the world and remains passionate about politics, conservation, bicycling and beer. Source
Book Title: On The Trail of Genghis Khan – An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomads
Author: Tim Cope
Promotional Blurb: The relationship between man and horse on the Eurasian steppe gave rise to a succession of rich nomadic cultures. Among them were the Mongols of the thirteenth century – a small tribe, which, under the charismatic leadership of Genghis Khan, created the largest contiguous land empire in history. Inspired by the extraordinary life nomads still lead today, Tim Cope embarked on a journey that hadn’t been successfully completed since those times: to travel on horseback across the entire length of the Eurasian steppe, from Karakorum, the ancient capital of Mongolia, through Kazakhstan, Russia, Crimea and the Ukraine to the Danube River in Hungary.
From horse-riding novice to travelling three years and 10 000 kilometres on horseback, accompanied by his dog Tigon, Tim learnt to fend off wolves and would-be horse-thieves, and grapple with the extremes of the steppe as he crossed sub-zero plateaus, the scorching deserts of Kazakhstan and the high-mountain passes of the Carpathians. Along the way, he was taken in by people who taught him the traditional ways and told him their recent history: Stalin’s push for industrialisation brought calamity to the steepe and forced collectivism that in Kazakhstan alone led to the loss of several million livestock and the starvation of more than a million nomads. Today Cope bears witness to how the traditional ways hang precariously in the balance in the post-Soviet world. Source
My Thoughts: I had heard about this book many, many years ago and it sat in my To Be Read pile for the same amount of years. I had to get my mind ready for an epic journey – ready to tackle an adventure of this size and scale.
This IS an adventure to beat ALL adventures!
Throughout the book I was boggled by Cope’s ability to withstand the searing or freezing temperatures, the constant threats to personal safety and his ability to survive on a diet heavily laced with camel’s head and pig fat, and all washed down with a never-ending stream of vodka.
I like to think I am a fairly adventurous soul, but I am positively pedestrian when compared to Cope. His journey from Mongolia to Hungary was an exercise in pure resilience. I was blown away by Cope’s passion for the journey and the history of the regions he passed through and its people, and his sheer stamina to do it day after day even under constant threat to his safety.
Cope’s passion for adventure is balanced by his love of history and his book is littered with background information on the Mongols, Cossacks, Russians and Tatars. It was the impact of the Russians which really opened my eyes. Their systematic programme of ethnic cleansing all but wiped out the individual cultures and replaced it with bland and severe Soviet architecture, social and political systems, Russian language and a seemingly limitless stream of vodka. It has just broken the identity of so many countries and it makes me wonder if they will ever recover. Amidst all the desolation and cultural devastation there were small pockets of resistance and I hope they can find a foothold and eventually blossom.
I must admit that I did lose track of some of the history and it all got a bit confusing at times, but that is more of a comment about me than Cope’s writing.
Another thing I have been wondering is whether this sort of adventure is still possible today. We live in such an incredibly connected world these days, is it possible to truly go ‘off grid’ like Cope did?
Also, with so much political tension in the World, would it be possible to move from country to country like Cope did, although I acknowledge that this was not straight forward for him either 15 years ago.
It has certainly tweaked my interest to travel to some of these little known countries.
If you like an adventurous read that makes you think AND opens your eyes to both history and ancient cultures, then make sure you track down a copy of Cope’s epic.
Author bio: Born in 1978, Tim Cope, F.R.G.S., is an award-winning adventurer, author and film-maker with a special interest in the traditional cultures of Central Asia and Russia. He has studied as a wilderness guide in the Finnish and Russian subarctic, ridden a bicycle across Russia to China, and rowed a boat along the Yenisey River through Siberia to the Arctic Ocean. Tim’s most renowned journey was a three year journey by horse from Mongolia to Hungary on the trail of Genghis Khan. He is also the creator of several documentary films, including the award winning series “The Trail of Genghis Khan,” (commissioned by ABC Australia and ZDF/Arte in Europe). Tim lives in Victoria, Australia, and annually guides trekking journeys to remote western Mongolia for World Expeditions.Source
Promotional Blurb: It was the late night Tai Bo fitness commercial warning him that life comes to an end after 40 that prompted Peter Moore to chase a boyhood dream. To go to Italy and seek out its celebrated dolce vita from the back of a Vespa.
But it couldn’t be just any old Vespa. Peter wanted a bike as old as he was and in the same sort of condition: a little rough round the edges, a bit slow in the mornings perhaps, but basically still OK. And it had to have saddle seats. And temperamental electrics. And a little too much chrome. The sort of scooter you’d imagine a sharp-suited, Ray Ban-wearing young Marcello Mastroianni riding. Her name was Sophia.
From picnicking in the Italian alps and rattling through cobbled hilltop to gate-crashing Frances Mayes’s villa and re-enacting ‘Roman Holiday’, Vroom with a View is as much a romance as a travel adventure. For not only does Peter win the woman of his dreams, he falls for a side of Italy others rarely see. Along with Sophia, of course… Source: Book Depository
My Thoughts: This is a wonderful, quirky travel read, especially enjoyable for those of us with a soft spot for all things Italian.
It really resonated with me so soon after my return from my latest walk, this time in Italy. I was pleased to see he traveled to a few of the same places that I visited. He even mentioned the Via Francigena a couple of times and I do admit to often looking longingly at Vespas and other small motor bikes. How much easier and quicker would it have been to jump on one of those machines, even an old one like Sophia, and putter up some of the %$#@! hills?
He has a very easy and entertaining style. His voice is informal and relaxed, but interesting at the same time. He has a good eye and ear, and captures the sights, smells and sounds of Italy. Most importantly, he captures the warmth of the Italian people.
Author bio: Peter is an author who writes about travel. He is always searching for places that are authentic and a little bit different. No floaty sundresses or hipster beards here. Born in Sydney. Living in London. Author of six best-selling travel narratives. Travelled through 105 countries. Always looking for the next dodgy lane to wander down.Source
In this post I will share our home-based adventure as an AirBnB host. In reality it is a pretty tame adventure, but hopefully this post will be useful if you have ever considered signing up as an AirBnB host.
Over the years we have stayed in a few AirBnBs ourselves. As my work was very quiet at the beginning of 2017 and because the kids have now left home, The Brave Man* thought becoming a host on AirBnB would be a good thing for us to be part of. Needless to say, since we joined AirBnB my work has gone ballistic, but we are still managing to keep all the balls in the air.
Promotional Blurb:Without Reservations is about a woman’s dream come true – taking a year off to travel the world and rediscover what it is like to be an independent woman, without ties and without reservations. ‘In many ways, I was an independent woman,’ writes Alice Steinbach, single working mother and Pulitzer prize-winning journalist. ‘For years I’d made my own choices, paid my own bills, shovelled my own snow, and had relationships that allowed for a lot of freedom on both sides.’ Slowly, however, she saw that she had become quite dependent in another way. ‘I had fallen into the habit of defining myself in terms of who I was to other people and what they expected of me.’ Who am I, she wanted to know, away from the things that define me – my family, children, job, friends? Steinbach searches for the answer in some of the most exciting places in the world – Paris, where she finds a soulmate in a Japanese man; Oxford, where she learns more from a ballroom dancing lesson than any of her studies; Milan, where she befriends a young woman about to be married. Beautifully illustrated with postcards Steinbach wrote home to herself, this is an unforgettable voyage of discovery. Source:Book Depository
My Thoughts: Although I read this book many years ago, it still resonates with me today. I was struck by her courage to cast off the expectations of other people, as well as the limitations that she placed on herself. She wondered what happened to her old self, the missing woman, who was adventurous, curious and more of a risk-taker? Of course it helped that she had the financial wherewithal to afford her very own brand of international irresponsibility, but what a way to pursue a journey of self-discovery.
I use the word ‘courage’ because I believe she was pretty brave to step away from the comfort of her routine life, but also because she stepped out into the world on her own, with no real plans. How liberating would that be? She ticks off her personal highlights – Paris, London, Oxford and Italy, and throughout the book she includes copies of postcards that she sent herself, capturing a snapshot of what she was experiencing that day. Note to self: time to start sending postcards to self!
I have included, at the end of this review, an interesting Q&A session she completed on the release of Without Reservations.
A light and enjoyable read, especially if you have visited any of Alice’s destinations, or if you also hanker to cast off the bow lines and sail out into the world.
Author bio: Alice Steinbach, whose work at the Baltimore Sun was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 1985, was a freelance writer until 1999. She was appointed the 1998-1999 McGraw Professor of Writing at Princeton University and was the Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow. She lived in Baltimore, Maryland and passed away in March 2012 from cancer. (Source)
Promotional Blurb:When A.J. Mackinnon quits his job in Australia, he knows only that he longs to travel to the Well at the World’s End, a mysterious pool on a remote Scottish island whose waters, legend has it, hold the secret to eternal youth. Determined not to fly (‘It would feel like cheating’), he sets out with a rucksack, some fireworks and a map of the world and trusts chance to take care of the rest. By land and by sea, by train, truck, horse and yacht, he makes his way across the globe – and through a series of hilarious adventures. He survives a bus crash in Australia, marries a princess in Laos, is attacked by Komodo dragons and does time in a Chinese jail. The next lift – or the next near-miss – is always just a happy accident away. This is the astonishing true story of a remarkable voyage, an old-fashioned quest by a modern-day adventurer. (Source)
My Thoughts: I love a good adventure, and even more than that, an adventure that turns into a comedy of errors. I give Mackinnon full marks for audacity, vision and perhaps a fair dose of stupidity thrown in there. He was lucky to get out alive!
How is it that some people can dream up these journeys, and rationalise in their own minds that such trips are perfectly acceptable, and perfectly achievable? I guess that is what sets us apart – true adventurers and absolute novices.
He seems to lurch from one disaster to the next, meeting ever more fantastical characters, and brushing ever nearer to death. He gets arrested, jailed, deported, married, kidnapped, becalmed, and continuously re-routed on his two-step-forward-one-step-back progress, battling to get out of the Southern Hemisphere, let alone to a remote island off Scotland. In fact, over 230 pages of the book are devoted to lurching around Australia, New Zealand and Asia, before racing through the Mediterranean, Europe and finally to England in the last handful of pages.
Similar to his debut novel, he travels and writes quoting great swathes of poetry, and in this book, playing his tin whistle to earn his keep.
No wonder he travels solo!
It is hard to read Mackinnon’s story and not wonder how much is true and how much is simply wishful thinking. After all, this book covers a year of adventure in 1990, and this book was not released until 2011. Surely the lapse of 21 years has polished the tales to a golden hue?
Regardless, it is an enjoyable read and I look forward to him packing his bags, or at least putting pen to paper, again soon.
Author bio: A. J. (Sandy) Mackinnon was born in Australia in 1963 and spent his childhood between England and Australia, travelling with his family on the last P&O liners to sail between the two countries. His interests include painting, philosophy, writing, conjuring and home-made fireworks. He is currently a teacher of English, Drama, Mathematics and Philosophy in the Victorian High Country. He is the author of The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow and The Well at the World’s End. (Source)
Promotional Blurb: Nearly 900 years ago, Duke Godfrey de Bouillon set out on the First Crusade– and in our own time, author Tim Severin retraced his steps. The destination: Jerusalem, city of gold. For more than eight years, Severin followed the historic trail, riding through northern Europe’s green countryside and into the heat of the Near East. In the process, he covered more than 2 500 miles by horse, past ruined Crusader settlements and ancient battlefields, over arduous mountain passes, and across Anatolian steppes. A dazzling synthesis of adventure, practical history, and exploration, told by one of our finest and most respected travel writers – illustrated with his own photographs.
Yes, I am a child of the 70s and 80s, flares, ponchos and Farrah-Fawcett-flick hairdos, but this song and its cutting edge film clip (for its day) does capture the essence of my South African adventure.
1983 was the year I grew up, had my mind opened (no drugs involved), and experienced the great outdoors of the Africa you see featured in postcards and travel brochures. I feel that, in some ways, I got to know Southern Africa better than many people because I lived there for 12 months, eventually learned the language, and travelled extensively. Continue reading →
Book Title: The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow. A Mirror Odyssey from North Wales to the Black Sea
Author: AJ Mackinnon
Promotional Blurb: A couple of quiet weeks sailing the River Severn was the intention. Somehow things got out of hand – a year later I had reached Romania and was still going…
Truly hilarious books are rare. Even rarer are those based on real events. Join A.J. Mackinnon, your charming and eccentric guide, on an amazing voyage in a boat called Jack de Crow.
Equipped with his cheerful optimism and a pith helmet, this Australian Odysseus in a dinghy travels from the borders of North Wales to the Black Sea – 4,900 kilometres over salt and fresh water, under sail, at the oars, or at the end of a tow-rope – through twelve countries, 282 locks and numerous trials and adventures, including an encounter with Balkan pirates. Along the way he experiences the kindness of strangers, gets very lost, and perfects the art of slow travel.