10 BOOKS AND MEMOIRS FOR ARMCHAIR TRAVEL

10 BOOKS AND MEMOIRS FOR ARMCHAIR TRAVEL

These ten travel books and memoirs will make you laugh, cry, fuel your wanderlust and take you to some known and unknown places.

ANTARCTICA: AN INTIMATE PORTRAIT OF THE WORLD'S MOST MYSTERIOUS CONTINENT BY GABRIELLE WALKER

The author, who has a PhD in chemistry from Cambridge University and is a former staff writer on Nature magazine, gives a vivid portrait of what it is really like to live with -60C temperatures and six months of darkness. It is a thrilling armchair trip to take with her to the most alien place on earth, Antarctica.

The Antarctic Peninsula is the northernmost part of the continent. It is also the most conventionally beautiful place in Antarctica. Take the Alps and cross them with the Grand Canyon. Stretch them both so that the mountains are higher, the cliffs sheerer, the glaciers wider and longer and bluer. Now put this glorious mix beside the sea, next to icebergs and penguins and seals and whales and, all within just two days sail from civilization.

ESCAPE FROM THE ORDINARY BY JULIE BRADLEY

The author, a former U.S. Army officer and her husband Glen decided to retire early from their careers to follow their dream and sail around the world. The memoir takes readers from the start of the couple's trip form the coast of France to the seas of Fiji. During their voyage that lasted nearly a decade from 1997-2005, Julie and Glen were living the life of total independence on a sailboat, having cast aside worldly possessions, and traveling from one epic adventure to the next. The sequel, Crossing Pirate Waters, is as good as the first one.

Imagine beaches with pristine white sands as fine as flour, deserted islands with waving palm trees, crystal clear blue water inhabited by countless fish, and a primitive culture and people who make you feel like you have traveled back in time. That kind of place doesn't exist anywhere in the world except the San Blas Islands.

A WALK ACROSS FRANCE BY MILES MORLAND

This is a humorous memoir by a husband and wife who backpacked across France from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, enjoying the beautiful scenery and local cuisine, as well as a jovial account of their relationship and a mid-life crisis.

Madame shrugged and gave is a well-you-know-how-children-are smile. Now that Jean-Claude had been taken care of, breakfast could begin. Would we like madame's petit déjeuner pour eekaires?

"Oui, oui," I said. It did not sound as if we there was a choice.

"Oui, oui," said Guislaine.

"Psst. What the hell are eekaires?" I asked Guislane.

"Hikers.


ROMANCING THE VINE: IN THE VINEYARDS OF BAROLO BY ALAN TARDI

In 2001, Alan Tardi, the chef proprietor of a restaurant in Manhattan, decided to close his business and move to a tiny hilltop village in the Piedmont region in Italy. In his book, he chronicles his first year in Italy where he learned to cultivate the famous vine that makes Barolo. It is a perfect book for travelers and foodies where you learn about wine making, truffle hinting, cheeses and other things Piemontese.

When people are not talking, they're often eating or drinking, and in this too the Piemontese are quite different from other Italians. If it's true that you are what you eat, then these people are four-legged beasts walking around on their hind legs. Through only a generation or two ago, many struggled just to get by and meat was something of a luxury, today the generally well-to-do Piemontese are meat-eaters, confirmed carnivores. Vegetarianism is practically unheard of here, and most consider it some sort of strange disease. It is not that fruit and vegetables don't exist...but vegetables and fruits are mostly relegated to the beginning and end of a meal, like bookends on a library shelf.

NOTES FROM A SMALL ISLAND BY BILL BRYSON

The sly humor and razor-sharp wit of this bestselling American author is known to many who like travel writing. Bill Bryson spent two decades on British soil, and Notes from a Small Island is his grand farewell tour of Britain before resettling in America. His books about America, such as A Walk in the Woods and I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After Twenty Years Away are as good as the one about Britain.

There is something awfully exhilarating about riding on the top of a double-decker. You can see into upstair windows and peer down on the tops of people's heads at bus-stops (and when they come up the stairs a moment later you can look at them with a knowing look that says: 'I've just seen the top of your head') and there's the frisson of excitement that comes with careering round a corner or roundabout on the brink of catastrophe. You get an entirely fresh perspective on the world.


A RIVER IN DARKNESS: ONE MAN'S ESCAPE FROM NORTH KOREA BY MASAJI ISHIKAWA

This is a story of a place that most cannot travel and probably don't even want to travel to, North Korea. In this harrowing memoir, describes the author's life and, subsequently escape from, North Korea. Born in Japan to a Japanese-Korean family, Ishikawa moved to North Korea with his family when he was thirteen. His father had been lured there by promises of abundant work and education for his children. Of course, this was not the reality that faced them when they got there.

Language gets turned on its head. Serfdom is freedom. Repression is liberation. A police state is a democratic republic. And we were "masters of our destiny." And if we begged to differ, we were dead.

Even as people faced incredible hardship and deprivation of both the physical and mental variety and wasted away under food shortages, we weren't allowed to think for ourselves or take any initiative. The penalty for thinking was death. I can never forgive Kim Il-sung for taking away our right to think.

CATFISH AND MANDALA: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam by Andrew X. Pham

This is the moving and engaging memoir of a solo bicycle voyage around the Pacific Rim to Vietnam—made by a young Vietnamese-American, Andrew X. Pham, whose father had been a POW of the Vietcong. The year-long bicycle journey took the author through the Mexican desert, around a thousand-mile loop from Narita to Kyoto in Japan; and, after five months and 2,357 miles, to Saigon.

Nobody gives way to anybody. Everyone just angles, points, dives directly toward his destination, pretending it is an all-or-nothing gamble. People glare at one another and fight for maneuvering space. All parties are equally determined to get the right-of-way--insist on it. They swerve away at the last possible moment, giving scant inches to spare. The victor goes forwards, no time for a victory grin, already engaging in another contest of will. Saigon traffic is Vietnamese life, a continuous charade of posturing, bluffing, fast moves, tenacity and surrenders.

DARK STAR SAFARI: OVERLAND FROM CAIRO TO CAPE TOWN BY PAUL THEROUX

Planes, swanky trains, smelly minivans packed to the roof with people, taxis, canoes, and a cattle truck take Paul Theraux from Egypt to South Africa. Thirty-five years after Theroux lived in Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer and teacher, he returns to find the continent worse off than when he left it, describing the backwardness and fundamentalism of Egypt, the poverty in war-struck Sudan, the despair of Malawi, the politics of Zimbabwe.

The wish to disappear sends many travelers away. If you are thoroughly sick of being kept waiting at home or at work, travel is perfect: let other people wait for a change. Travel is a sort of revenge for having been put on hold, or having to leave messages on answering machines, not knowing your party's extension, being kept waiting all your working life - the homebound writer's irritants. But also being kept waiting is the human condition.


Rice, Noodle, Fish: Deep Travels Through Japan's Food Culture by Matt Goulding

This one, and the other books by Matt Goulding, is for foodies. Not the usual travel guide, the book takes the reader through Japan exploring its extraordinary food culture. The author of the enormously popular Eat This, Not That! book series goes on a 5,000-mile journey through noodle shops, tempura temples, and teahouses of Japan, and navigates the intersection between food, history, and culture.

Like any great and good country, Japan has a culture of gathering- weddings, holidays, seasonal celebrations- with food at the core. In the fall, harvest celebrations mark the changing of the guard with roasted chestnuts, sweet potatoes, and skewers of grilled gingko nuts. As the cherry blossoms bloom, festive picnics called hanami usher in the spring with elaborate spreads of miso salmon, mountain vegetables, colorful bento, and fresh mochi turned pink with sakura petals.

COCKPIT CONFIDENTIAL: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT AIR TRAVEL BY PATRICK SMITH

Last but not least, this book is not a memoir but a useful guide of everything flying--what is crosscheck, why do planes leave the the trails in the sky, what happens when lightning hits the plane, etc, etc. Written by an airline pilot in a thoughtful, funny and at times deeply personal way, it's  a well written and brilliant book that any air traveller who is not an expert should read.

Air travel is a complicated, inconvenient, and often scary affair for millions of people, and at the same time it’s cloaked in secrecy. Its mysteries are concealed behind a wall of specialized jargon, corporate reticence, and an irresponsible media.

 


PIN IT FOR LATER
travel books