Sunday, October 08, 2006

Danziger's Travels - Beyond Forbidden Frontiers

Now this is serious travel by a seriously good writer.

"Danziger's Travels - Beyond Forbidden Frontiers" was Nick Danziger's first book. He wrote it after being awarded a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship in 1982 to follow ancient trade routes. He eventually travelled in 1984.

There are some people that make you laugh, some that bore you, some that make you uncomfortable, but this guy just left me slack-jawed in wonderment. Where do people like this come from? Where does their motivation come from? Who broke the mould?

He travels through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and through China (pre-tourist friendlier present) - overland. What sets this book apart for me, is that this is not just an observational account of someone's travels through sometimes (actually, mostly) difficult territory, but, that he gets very involved with the people he meets. So much so, that in Afghanistan and afterwards in China he passes for an Afghan and finds it difficult to let that part of his travels go. He gets very involved with the mujahideen in Afghanistan when they were fighting the Russians. As a side note it is very interesting to read about this period in Afghanistan, especially as we now know what came later.

Above all, it is beautifully written, in a considered, amusing, questioning way that makes it, for me, one of the best travel books I have ever read.

You can buy it from

Very Funny - Now Change Me Back Again

The notes at the start of the book say "Peter Biddlecombe is a travel hardened businessman". Well after reading this book, I would like to know what business he is in (I still haven't sussed that) and I hope they pay him a lot of money.

Anyway, first things first, don't be put off by the "businessman" thing. That is just something he does that allows him to travel around the world to some really dodgy places (Port au Prince, Haiti. Bogota, Colombia) as well as refined ones (not that many), and then write very funny stories about the places he has seen and the people he has encountered.

"Very Funny - Now Change Me Back Again" by Peter Biddlecombe was first published in 1997, but I think some of the stories go back further. However, what you realise when reading this book is that nothing changes. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose (The more things change, the more they stay the same). His writing, whilst being very funny is also spot on when describing some of the diabolical lives that people in some parts of the world call 'everyday life'.

What I really like about this book, is the obvious humanity of the writer and his ability to describe some very sad or serious situations, and, make some very good points. But I also liked the fact that he wasn't po-faced or preachy, and to be honest - that he made me laugh!

And this is from a "travel hardened businessman" (and I still don't know what he does for a living!)

You can buy it from

Friday, December 02, 2005

French Revolutions - Cycling the Tour de France

It's cold, it's windy and we need a laugh. So I thought I would tell you about French Revolutions by Tim Moore. This is probably the funniest book I have read in a long while. And by funny, I mean laugh out loud funny! So, if you do get this book, be careful where you read it otherwise you may get very odd looks.

Tim Moore decided that before he completely fell to pieces (He was in his mid-thirties), he should have a big adventure. And the thing he decided to do was cycle around the route of the Tour de France! He had been watching it for years on television and had been captivated by the event. He was horrendously unfit, but as he persuaded himself. "How difficult can it be? Anyone can ride a bike!".

What follows is superb reading. He has a great eye for detail and also a self-deprecating sense of humour and the story just rolls along. Don't think for one minute that this is a book about sport. Except for the fact that he is on a bicycle and following the Tour de France route for that year, that is about the nearest we get to professional sport. However, it could be construed as one mans attempt to triumph over adversity, an ailing body, an inbuilt impracticality and plain stupidity, and leads to situation after funny situation.

Did he triumph in the end? Can't tell you, but it will be fun finding out.

You can buy it from or

Monday, October 24, 2005

The Happy Isles of Oceania - Paddling the Pacific

By the master himself, Paul Theroux. I think this is my favourite book by Theroux. However, it doesn't get off to an auspicious start as he is having marital problems and is worried that he might have cancer. So he is really down in the dumps as well as down under. New Zealand and Australia to be precise. Then he is off across the Pacific with his collapsible kayak and his all-observing eye. Albeit a slightly jaundiced one at times.

I like Paul Theroux because there is a lot of himself in his books and especially this one. He is not afraid to reveal his emotions and motivation, especially when asking difficult questions. I also like the fact that he doesn't mind putting the boot in to a whole country (Australia) and can be scathing of inequality at times, like for instance the way that Japanese interests were mercilessly robbing Solomon Islanders with impunity.

He does, however, also get close to the people he meets on his travels and that is always the illuminating part of reading books by Paul Theroux. Some reviewers have said that Paul Theroux is happiest when he is as far away from humans as possible. I disagree, I think that he is perhaps happiest when he is as far as possible from so called 'civilisation' as possible, and that is a whole different thing. By the way - he didn't have cancer.

Read this book, it is well worth your time and you can get it from or

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Clear Waters Rising - A Mountain Walk Across Europe

"And first prize for sticking to your objectives! is.... Nicholas Crane"

The author of this beautifully written book is a real, real travel writer. This guy started at the coast in the Northwest of Spain and then walked across a continuous line of mountains including the Cantabrian Mountains, the Pyrenees, The CĂ©vennes, The Alps, The Carpathians and then the Balkans to... Istanbul!

It is an incredible journey, no cheating, and full of the most marvellous detail. He writes about his low points, his high points, his recklessness and, his silliness as well. He loses it at times, mentally and physically dragged down in the middle of winter in snow covered mountains, with very little food and money, for instance. He gets chased by a bear in the Carpathians. He meets people that help him, with their stories, illuminate whole regions that I knew nothing about. He also has a good eye for the absurd.

He looks like a mild mannered university professor and was only married for one year when he went off and made this journey which then took another year and a half. You would think then, that he was a bit of a self-centred oaf. Not at all, but he was driven (not by car) to make this journey and complete it, although it was a close call at times. I would recommend this book highly.

You can buy it at or

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The books that got away

I don't know about you, but I have read loads of books over the years that have disappeared for one reason or another. Maybe because I let someone else read them (number one cause of disappearing books), or they got lost in a move. Or, I borrowed them from a library and I just thought I owned them! I even remember when I was living at home (many moons ago) and coming back from a holiday to find that my mother had thrown out a couple of hundred books tucked away in a cupboard! ("Well, I thought you had read them already!")

So, now I hanker after books that I would like to re-read but can't remember the title. There are two old books in particular that I can describe but...

The first is the story of two guys who took an Austin A40 right the way down through the old Soviet Union in the fifities or sixties I think. I would love to get hold of that again.

And the other is a similar idea, but these two guys took a 1930's Ford or Austin over the Andes!

Both these books have stuck in my memory. If anyone knows who they are by or can give me a clue, then that would be great.

I would love to hear from anyone else who is looking for that elusive travel book to read again. You never know, someone may recognise it!

Saturday, October 08, 2005

A Fortune-Teller Told Me - Earthbound Travels in the Far East

This is a book by Tiziano Terzani. Great name - Great book!

This man is a hugely experienced correspondent in the Far East for Der Spiegel. He has lived for over 25 years there, travelling around from country to country. He was advised by a Hong Kong fortune teller not to fly for the whole of a particular year, and that is precisely what he tried to do!

This is the story of that year. How he carried on working but going overland, and also about his encounters with the many fortune tellers and shaman he visited during that year. I won't tell you whether he is a believer in this sort of thing or not. You can find out for yourself when you read it, which you surely must.

I never expected very much from this book as I had never heard of this man. I was so, so disappointed when I had finished it (you know how it is when you don't want a book to finish) and wanted to move to Asia straightaway. It is one of the best books (never mind travel books) that I have read. It is beautifully written, evocative and by someone who loves the Far East. It really is a quite extraordinary story.

You can buy this book from or