Armchair Traveler - Travel Book Reviews

By Jane E. Meckwood-Yazdpour.
Sometimes the best way to travel is through the pages of a book. Other times you might need more information on a place you're thinking of visiting. Either way, books are the key.

Jane E. Meckwood-Yazdpour, our dedicated book reviewer searches for the books to both enjoy, and help you plan your trip. Jane is a public relations and marketing specialist and a freelance writer. She is also a public information officer, a contributing author and poet as well as a restaurant reviewer. You can reach her at Jane @

June, 2008 -- "The Family Sabbatical Handbook" (The Intrepid Traveler, $15.95), a guide to living abroad with your children, has been named a Silver winner of ForeWord Magazine's Book of the Year Award for 2007. The book, by St. Paul, Minnesota, writer Elisa Bernick, shows how ordinary, everyday families can finance and orchestrate an extended stay abroad for anywhere from six months to several years. Read our review below.

The Family Sabbatical Handbook

by Elisa Benick; The Intrepid Traveler; Branford, CT.; 2007; Soft cover $15.95.
Sometimes when you read a book it spurs your imagination. This is one of those books. This book helps families make dreams into reality. Who would ever think of just putting their house out for rent and taking off to a faraway land with their family for an unspecified period of time? This book tells you about fifteen families that did just that and provides the details of how they did it.

Filled with specifics and enfolded in humor, the book is a fun read even if you don’t think you could actually pull this kind of thing off … but if you are even thinking about something like this, then this book is a “must-read” for you. I especially loved the part about getting along with and living in close quarters with kids for an extended period of time.

If you want to do this or just live vicariously through the book, buy this one and you are in for a “ride” you won’t forget … and one caution, this book will make you start dreaming and that can be dangerous!

More Roaring Forties Fabulous ArtPlace Books

A Journey Into Ireland’s Literary Revival

by R. Todd Felton; Roaring Forties Press (part of the ArtPlace Series); Berkeley, CA; 2007; Softcover $21.95.
Another in the ArtPlace Series of books, A Journey Into Ireland’s Literary Revival takes you on a guided tour of the places and times of some of Ireland’s most famous and prolific writers at the turn of the 20th century. As in the other books in this series you are taken on a journey - this time though Ireland - that provides “texture” and a sense of the struggle for independence of that country during the period from 1890 through 1920.

The book is quite beautiful - filled with both color and black and white photos. One of the lovely aspects of these books is that they take you to a place and then give you information about exactly who would have been standing (in another era) right where you stand today. It tells you what they would have been dong, seeing, wearing, and maybe even thinking. There is something almost magical about how this series of books “takes“ you to these places. If you never go to Ireland you will still want to read this book. It is lovely and lyrical. And if you want to go there, then you must read this book. It will make your trip enchanted and poetic.

A Journey Into Flaubert’s Normandy

by Susannah Patton; Roaring Forties Press (part of the ArtPlace Series), Berkeley, CA; 2007; Softcover $21.95.
Flaubert was, and his work probably still is, controversial on many levels. He lived in 19th century Normandy and had a strong connection to the place that figured in so much of his work. Normandy appears almost as a character in much of his writing and he reveals in his work a kind love and hate feeling for the area.

This book takes us on a tour of some of the most memorable places in his life. I was especially touched by the part that describes Croisset, a country village on the banks of the Seine - where he escaped with his mother after a number of deaths of close family members. The black and white pictures and paintings of Croisset just are so evocative and push your thoughts and imagination so strongly to those days. And, of course, let’s not forget that we get a guided tour of where the real life Madame Bovary lived and died. That alone is worth the price of the book many times over.

I loved this charming book and I know that every sensitive and discerning reader will love it as well. It certainly lives up to the high standards of the entire ArtPlace Series of books. I can recommend it highly.

Eat Smart Series

Ginkgo Press, Inc. has come out with a series of books called Eat Smart In …. So many travel books give you tips on hotels, rental cars, sights to see but not many give you the inside scoop on the food and cuisine of a particular place. More and more people are traveling in order to sample foods and cooking styles of exotic places. These books help travelers on that journey. All of the books offer some common components: the history of the food and cuisine; outlines of regional specialties; a survey tour of the local food markets; recipes for many dishes; and finally, a menu guide and glossary of utensils, ingredients, and cooking methods. Best of all, the books offer a resource guide for where you can purchase foods, spices, and specialty utensils. All of the terms are given in the native language and then translated into English with detailed explanations.

Eat Smart in Mexico

by Joan and David Peterson, illustrated by Susie V. Medaris; Ginkgo Press, Inc.; Madison, Wisc.; 1998; Softcover $12.95.
Eat Smart in Mexico is a nice, compact book that tells you everything you will want to know about eating well in Mexico. When traveling through Mexico many years ago, I only wish I had had this book as my companion. I realize now, when reading this book, that there was so much I missed when it came to mealtime and food. Mexican food today has become a part of the American culture. We make and eat dishes such as tacos and burritos as a common part of our diet. But these are not the real and only foods that come from Mexico. Mexican cuisine has a rich and varied provenance and this book helps us mine the treasure trove of Mexican food. A truly user friendly book, it has a gorgeous section of color photographs of foods, people, and places.

Eat Smart in India

by Joan Peterson and Indu Menon, illustrated by Susan Chwae; Ginkgo Press, Inc.; Madison, Wisc.; 2004; Softcover $13.95.
India – exotic and beautiful India. How lucky we are to be able to travel there. And what could be a better companion than this lovely book – easy to carry with you – chock full of tips and information – everything the traveler needs to find good food and interesting knowledge about this mysterious and ancient country. Eat Smart in India takes you on a journey not to be missed. Once again incorporating all of the essential components of the “Eat Smart In …” books, this one has recipes that I am going to try immediately and the one for Murgh Tikka Butter Masala (barbequed chicken in a buttery tomato cream sauce) will be the first item on my menu come summer barbeque season. As you read this book, you can almost smell the Indian marketplaces, the slow simmering curries, and the steaming Basmati rice. You can go to India right there between the covers of the book and soon, I guarantee, you will be making reservations for New Delhi!

Eat Smart in Peru

by Joan Peterson and Brook Soltvedt, illustrated by Susan Chwae; Ginkgo Press, Inc.; Madison, Wisc.; 2006; Softcover.
My daughter and son-in-law returned from a journey to Peru recently. After seeing this book, she commented on how amazingly accurate it is and how enchanting. So much of what they found magical about the people and places of Peru are in this book and are covered beautifully. We get to the very heart and soul of a culture by sampling the food of the people. How better to do that than to sit in the sidewalk cafes, small restaurants, and markets of the cities themselves? In Eat Smart in Peru we are there. The descriptions and stories are vivid and engrossing. Whether we are eating the anticuchos (a late night street food of marinated meat or fish) or just reading about it, we can almost feel the beauty and pathos of these ancient people. Once again there are so many recipes that you will want to try. What a treasure to be able to see the authentic recipes and then be able to find where to buy the actual ingredients. Whether you climb Machu Pichu in reality or only in your heart, you can eat as if you are there.

Eat Smart in Morocco

by Joan Peterson, illustrated by S.V. Medaris; Ginkgo Press, Inc.; Madison, Wisc.; 2002; Softcover $12.95.
Ahhh … Morocco – I just love Morocco and you will too. Whether you are sitting in a caftan in the late afternoon sipping fragrant tea, a sugar cube between your teeth, or lounging on a low-slung couch eating a lamb and eggplant tagine, you will be a happy camper. AND, before you go, you must check out Eat Smart in Morocco. Perhaps there is no country in which the food and cuisine will matter as much in your experience of the people, place, and times. There is just something about the Middle East and the food that will be forever mingled in your memories. Thoughts of Casablanca, Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart in your mind, you will be overwhelmed by the flavors of Djaj bil Assal wa Romman wa Luz which is an amazingly succulent Cornish hen cooked with honey, pomegranate juice, and toasted almonds. And you can have it right in your own kitchen when you get back home because this book will help you find everything you will need to replicate it and that includes the detailed recipe. Go to Morocco – even if it is just in making the many recipes in this book. The spices, the smells, and the magnificent tastes are right there in the book and they will be right there on your table. Just close your eyes and watch the camels walk slowly across the sand dunes at sunset, sip your tea and sigh. You are there - in gorgeous Morocco!

Eat Smart in Brazil

by Joan Peterson, illustrated by S.V. Medaris; Ginkgo Press, Inc.; Madison, Wisc.; 2006; Softcover.
Brazil! Coochee – coochee! baby! Not only is Brazil an exciting, sensuous place, it is also an exquisite mingling of the Spanish, African, Bahian cultures and influenced by so many other cultures as well. This means an exquisite mingling of food too. There were so many recipes in this book that I wanted to sample, that I have decided to make a dinner party that features only Brazilian dishes. From the tasty shrimp appetizers all the way to the heavenly desserts of egg yolks, sugar and coconut, I am ready to cook and eat and entertain in the Brazilian style.

Take a look at this series of books. They are lovely, unique, and easy to use. See … these “East Smart In …” books do something extraordinary – they make you want to try things and go places and be a part of this amazing world. And what could be better than that?

Roaring Forties Press has just come out with a wonderful series of travel books.

These books are not just great for the "armchair traveler," because, after you finish reading them, you will be up and packing, making reservations, and gathering together your maps. It's called the ArtPlace Series and I really loved it. Here are some thumbnail sketches of the three books in the series. I recommend all of them. They are filled with stories, anecdotes, pictures, maps, and everything you will need to completely enjoy the places described whether you just opt for reading about them or actually decide to go and visit them in person.

A Journey Into Dorothy Parker's New York

by Kevin C. Fitzpatrick; Roaring Forties Press, Berkeley, California; 2005; Paperback $19.95.

You are in for a treat, especially if you are a fan of Dorothy Parker. This book takes you back to the New York City of her time and you will never be the same after reading this book.

The longing to have lived then overtakes you almost from the first page. The excitement, the insanity, the brilliance of Dorothy Parker and her cohorts comes alive right before your eyes. The author, Kevin Fitzpatrick, is the founder of the Dorothy Parker Society and he leads walking tours of the Algonquin Round Table homes and haunts in Manhattan. He knows all of the stories good and bad, happy and sad and he tells those stories to you, showing you the places and archival photos from the time and place of each one.

The book is creatively illustrated not only with photos but also with pictures of the artwork, posters, and design of the period. And the very best part is that so many of these places actually still exist. The book provides you with street maps and diagrams and makes everything you are dreaming of doing possible. I am a Dorothy Parker fan and I loved this book.

A Journey Into the Transcendentalists' New England

by R. Todd Felton; Roaring Forties Press, Berkeley, California; 2006; Paperback $19.95.

America's writers, philosophers, and artists came into a kind of renaissance around New England's cultural centers of Boston, Concord, Amherst, and Salem. Names such as Thoreau, Emerson, Dickinson, Hawthorne, and Fuller, to name only a few, created their own revolution about thought and art and life.

This book takes us on a physical and spiritual journey into the New England of those famous thinkers, writers, and artists. Exploring the lives, actions, and idiosyncratic behaviors of these men and women makes not only for fascinating reading but will absolutely have you planning your next trip to New England to accommodate visits to all of these places.

This book also offer rich and wonderful illustrations, photographs, and maps. And it does something else that is quite wonderful. It gives you side by side looks at places as they were in old illustrations and photographs and then as those same places look today. A nice example is Amherst. During Emily Dickinson's time the town literally had no trees. From Emily's window she could see the entire town. Today that same window has no view, the grounds around the house as well as the town now covered with rich verdant trees. Fascinating and worthwhile reading.

A Journey Into Steinbeck's California

by Susan Shillinglaw, Roaring Forties Press, Berkeley, California; 2006; Paperback $19.95.

Who has ever read Grapes of Wrath or Of Mice and Men and not wanted to trace the places and see for oneself what John Steinbeck so poignantly chronicled? This book will help you do that and more.

This amazing book explores Steinbeck's relationship with the area he both loved and hated. The book offers discussion about how people of the time and places such as Monterey, Salinas, and Carmel influenced his world view and his writing.

The book also examines Steinbeck himself in a deep and meaningful way. Filled with pictures from the days of the Great Depression and the people fleeing the horrors of the dustbowl, it also provides the reader, and ultimately the traveler, with the maps and tools to go and explore the place for oneself. I also liked the fact that the book followed Steinbeck physically as he wrote his masterpieces. As he was caught in the intensity of his writing, the book describes his everyday life during those same moments.

This series of books are, simply put, treasures. Get them, buy them (you will absolutely want to own them), and enjoy every page.

Their Other Side by Helen Barolini

Reviewed by Jane E Meckwood-Yazdpour
Helen Barolini lived in Rome as a student after WWII. Because of her own very transformative experience there, she became fascinated by the effect that Italy had on other women.

Their Other Side is essentially an exploration of the influence of the Italian experience. Barolini looks at the lives of six women whose life pathways and artistic development were influenced by Italy. She profiles Margaret Fuller who lived in Italy as the first woman foreign correspondent. Emily Dickinson was also a woman influenced by Italy, but only in her dreams. Other women whose portraits appear here are Marguerite Chapin, Constance Fenimore Woolson, Mabel Dodge Luhan, and Iris Cutting Origo.

A caveat when approaching this book is that it contains much exposition. We find, right at the beginning, an 18 page Prologue that takes us on a voyage from Barolini’s apartment in Rome and the cost of her rent all the way to Susan Sontag’s postmodern novels set in Italy. The exposition continued throughout the book. Having to plow through myriad odd tidbits and historical background sometimes made the essential stories difficult to access in a smooth-flowing way.

But there is also gold to be mined from the book. Little known things such as the fact of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s both love and hate relationships with Margaret Fuller give texture and interest to her story. Her life as a foreign correspondent – under the employ of Horace Greeley, during the revolution in Italy - makes for fascinating reading. Fuller ended up married to an Italian nobleman, bore and out-of-wedlock child, and lived through and chronicled the revolutions that resulted in the Italian Republic only to die tragically with both her husband and child in a shipwreck only miles from the shores of America.

The story of Mabel Dodge Luhan is another that finds the reader mesmerized. Born in Buffalo, New York she transformed herself into a glamorous “Mistress of the Grand Salon” becoming famous as one of the first sexually emancipated New Women of the 20th century. After numerous marriages and many “transformations” she emerged as one of the first people who became famous for being famous – the precursor of so many “famous” people today who do nothing in their lives but be "seen" in newspapers, magazines, and on television.

Perhaps the saddest and most poignant portrait in the book is that of Emily Dickinson, probably most famously known as the “Recluse of Amherst, Massachusetts.” She traveled to Italy only through dreams portrayed in her art and verse. But still the influence of Italy was real and profound. Her work is unique. She certainly was not as reticent in her poetry and her art as she was in her life. Her work contains quite bold and often shocking references to an Italy that she knew only in her fantasies. Part of the, once again, startling portrait of Emily Dickinson as genius, however, is the hints that surround the story told in this book, about the supposed love affair between Emily and Susan Gilbert. To establish that they loved each other with girlhood crushes is fact – their letters to each other prove this – to prove an adult love affair is not sustainable. Nevertheless, it was always gossiped at and hinted at. These are the textures that give the book the surprising element. Dickinson used her poetry, full of passionate references to Italy, as a way of "fleeing" for a time her constrained and confined life. For her, the fantasy of Italy was as real and concrete as if she had been there herself. A sad and sometimes very lonely existence, she used Italy to take her out of herself and to give herself “wings.”

The book offers Italy as a metaphor for transformation, as a chrysalis for the emerging “butterfly” in all of its permutations. The book takes us to people and places we have heard of and thought we knew. But, in fact, they were deeper and more fascinating than we ever imagined.

Previous Reviews

Eccentric America by Jan Friedman

Drive I-95 by Stan Posner and Sandra Phillips-Posner

Along Interstate 75 by Dave Hunter

Gullible's Travels: The Adventures of a Bad Taste Tourist by Cash Peters

Honey, Let's Get a Boat... by Ron and Eva Stob

Dream Sleeps: Castle & Palace Hotels of Europe by Pamela L. Barrus

Italy: Three Cities - Venice Padua Verona by Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls

Great Gothic Cathedrals of France by Stan Parry

Honeymoon in Purdah: An Iranian Journey by Alison Wearing

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman by Alice Steinbach

Roads by Larry McMurtry

House of Windows: Portraits from a Jerusalem neighborhood
by Adina Hoffman

Eccentric America by Jan Friedman

We adore this book. It's everything Offbeat, okay, it's everything Eccentric, and it is our kind of book.

We found some of our favorite places listed (e.g. Swetsville Zoo in Colorado and the Ave Maria Grotto in Alabama), and wonderful places we hope to visit, to eat in, and to sleep in. And, of course, America's quirkiest festivals. Jan's Rooms with a Skew alert you to oddball places to sleep, including bedding down in a cave (Dugout Dick Zimmerman's in Elk Bend Idaho). Then, there's the strange museum and collections category including Historical Burlesque Museum and Hall of Fame in Helendale California -- gowns, boas, panties and other memorabilia from the golden age of strippers. Festivals? How about the US Watermelon Seed-Spitting & Speed Eating Championship in Wisconsin. Or this innovative event -- Fools Rules Regatta in Rhode Island where you get two hours to build you boat from non-marine items (at last a use for that old doghouse). If you prefer your oddities in tour form, there are listings for that as well. Perhaps the See Chicago With a Cop would be the tour of choice. And where could you be safer? And if you're more interested in those who have already shuffled off to a better place, there is the Cities of the Dead Cemetery Tours in New Orleans. Have we whetted your interest? We're certainly ready to take this book and hit the road.

Drive I-95 by Stan Posner and Sandra Phillips-Posner

Once upon a time I was going to write a book all about journeying up and down I-95, the monster highway running along the east coast. I was going to talk about the history of the highway, a bit of trivia, but mostly I was going to tell people what offbeat, interesting things they could see along the way. It's a good thing I didn't actually try, because the Posners' book is all that and more. It's the book I would have loved to have written, but I am quite happy someone else did all that research and work.

This excellent book covers I-95 from Boston, MA to the southern tip of Georgia. It includes such thoughtful information as: a list of radio stations playing everything from soft rock to sports, a summary highway map listing every exit and the services available (food, gas, and lodging). A little further on, the book takes you through the states exit by exit. You'll read about a 90-year-old chocolate store at exit 10 in Massachusetts. At exit 44 in Connecticut you can eat at Nick's Luncheonette instead of fast food. Exit 15 in Maryland is for a soul vegetarian restaurant started by African Hebrew Israelites. Let's not forget the the Ava Gardner Museum at exit 95 in North Carolina, or the shopping opportunity at Exit 38 in South Carolina at the Le Creuset Factory Store.

If you drive I-95, you'll find this book delightful reading, and touring.

Order from Amazon:
Drive I-95 by Stan Posner and Sandra Phillips-Posner; TravelSmart; Roxboro, Quebec, Canada. Phone:514-684-4020

Along Interstate 75 by Dave Hunter

Road trip lovers (and lovers of the road) planning a trip will find this book as important as filling their car up with gas. A warning -- it's not only helpful and fun to read, it may have you adding stops along the way, just to try out some of places Hunter has described.

Although a different author and publishing company Along Interstate 75 (between Detroit and the Florida border) is laid out much like I-95. There's a list of radio stations along the way featuring different kinds of music. There's a similar highway summary map with the exits and exit information. Hunter does include a little handwritten-type notes keying you into some of the treats described further on. And there are many of those.

Information on exit 14 in Michigan includes a bit of history, the War of 1812. One of the battles, the Battle of the Raisin River, took place there. Yes, you can visit the site, and it's also described and mapped in an innovative section called Off The Beaten Path.

A 1940s era Texaco gas station turned museum is at exit 179 in Ohio, complete with vintage cars and memorabilia. Trivia fans will enjoy Mile 182 in Florence Kentucky for the Florence Y'all tower, and the story behind it. Exit 373 in Tennesse is the place to get off the road for Apple Cake Tea Room -- one of Hunter's fav restaurants -- and in a log cabin. Getting into Marietta, Georgia too late for a meal? No, not if you know that the Marietta Diner never closes.

I can't be sure, but I think the urge for a road trip is coming on...

Order this book from Amazon
Along Interstate 75 (13th edition)

by Dave Hunter; Mile Oak Publishing, Mississauga, Ontario Canada; Phone:905-274-4356

Gullible's Travels: The Adventures of a Bad Taste Tourist by Cash Peters

He's funny, and he's merciless, to himself, and to whole cities (not to mention tourist attractions). And he's found weird offbeat places we never even imagined. You'll laugh, and say "ouch" as you enjoy this book.
From the Lizzie Borden House in Boston he reports that it is also a B&B and you can stay in the room where 69-year-old Andrew Borden was murdered. Peters turns down this offer.
"Yet, oddly, the idea of spending eight hours in a space once occupied by a butchered corpse held only minimal appeal. Besides, I was already settled in my own B&B, and since this would only mean exchanging one set of fairly horrific circumstances for another, I returned a polite no, opting for something altogether less nerve-jangling: a guided tour."

A visit to Salem comes with historical background information

"In truth, there's probably never a really good time to be accused of being a witch, but the late 1600s were the very worst. Women suspected of practicing witchcraft were reviled, spat at, set upon by mobs, and stoned; some were even pulled off their broomsticks as they flew by. That, or rerouted to Kennedy. It all got pretty ugly, and continued for a long while; that is until the governor's wife was herself mistaken for a witch. After that, you won't be surprised to learn, things took an immediate turn for the better. ... Minutes before the governor's wife was due to be dragged to the lake and drowned, the townsfolk had a change of heart. They decided that the practice of goading witches, although heaps of fun, was wrong on principle and didn't work, and it was promptly discontinued."

Peters is as likely to poke fun at himself as any and all of the sights and sites of his visits. For example, there's the Bloomingotn Minnesota farm tour. Intrigued, and wondering what a farm tour might offer, Cash signs on. However, he's taken to the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices (fondly described in the book), tours of the city, the Mall of America If shopping malls were cakes, the mall of America would be a three-tier double-chocolate fudge with chocolate cream filling and chocolate icing. Oh, and chocolate sprinkles too. And extra chocolate wedged in wherever there's a space. And a fancy message on the top written in piped chocolate, saying "Jeez, have you seen the size of this frickin' place."

Finally, however, Peters gets on the bus for The Tour. But it's for Minneapolis-St. Paul.

"Oh my God!" I grabbed John's arm. "We're on the wrong bus!"
He turned and looked at me as if I was insane. "No, it's the right bus."
"But this is a city tour. We want the farm tour."
"Farm tour? What farm tour? What is this farm tour you keep talking about?"
Just as I'd expected all along, a terrible, terrible mistake had been made.
When the Bloomington Convention and Visitors Bureau had invited me to come to Minnesota for a farm tour, apparently they hadn't meant a farm tour at all. There was a typo in the fax. What they were offering was a famtour, fam being short for familiarization.

Precious Moments, Branson, American International Rattlesnake Museum (Albuquerque), Sun Studio in Memphis (where Elvis Presley recorded), National Bird Dog Museum, March of the Peabody Ducks. It's all here, and more. America the way you've never seen it.

Honey, Let's Get a Boat...A Cruising Adventure of America's Great Loop by Ron and Eva Stob

Who hasn't at least thought to themselves, "wouldn't it be great to buy a boat and cruise around the country?" The Stobs actually did it. Bought the boat, spent a year cruising and living on it, and came back to tell the tale of what can go right, and wrong.
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The Dream O' Genie was (they've since sold it) a Kha Shing Spindrift 40 -- double cabin, sundeck trawler with twin diesel engines.

The joys are clear. Evenings on the deck sipping a cocktail and enjoying the water and the view. Interesting people, intriguing sights, and unexpected vistas. But there were also perils which threatened their bank account, and frightened them for their lives.

The Stobs are honest about their experiences and the lessons they learned. It's expensive. Valves, water heaters, generators suddenly need replacing. Welds on water tanks rust and turned drinking water an unhealthy (and undrinkable) orange. And more. At one point Ron renamed himself Grumpy to match his mood. They recall being trenched in storms and navigating through a tangle of sand bars. Not to mention being knocked around by other larger boats.

Yet the one thing that never faltered was their sense of adventure, and their devotion and respect for one another. Strained sometimes, but game throughout. One particularly harrowing docking was described by Ron as: athletic event worthy of Olympic status - run, jump, throw the rope over a piling, yell "stop," break a nail; run, jump, throw the rope over a piling, shout "STop," break a nail; run, jump, throw the rope over a piling, scream "STOP," break a na... Well, you get the idea.

There are also the joys of being on the water.

We were in a place we loved - rested, sated, happy, the lake as quiet as a reflective pond, a full panorama of the lake and a picturesque town on the hill. Sailboats reflected off the water at their moorings and we painted in our minds another portrait of life at sea.

They were also tourists, and they describe the sights.

Smith Falls [Ontario] is the location of the Rideau Canal Museum, a centerpiece for historic memorabilia preserved from the time when Scottish stonemasons and Irish laborers hacked a waterway through stone, ice and swamps. The five-story museum includes working models of the locks and views of the countrywide and waterway from its multi-storied observation deck

You can enjoy this book as a fun and interesting narrative of two articulate, resourceful people, as well as a how-to manual. In fact, the Stobs take this part so seriously that they have include a "potpourri" of information. The Great Loop is the route they took, but there are choice points along the way. They include these other possibilities, and the factors to consider when making decisions. There's a day-by-day itinerary with mileage, a listing of all the charts and guidebooks they used, and other resource information, including considerations in choosing a boat, necessary equipment, and generally helpful bits and pieces of wisdom.

And, if you're really serious (or just very intrigued with the whole idea), you can visit the website of the association they founded, America's Great Loop Cruisers' Association at

Order from Amazon:
Honey, Let's Get a Boat...A Cruising Adventure of America's Great Loop

by Ron and Eva Stob; Raven Cove Publishing; P O Box 168; Greenback, TN 37742-0168;865-856-7888

Dream Sleeps: Castle & Palace Hotels of Europe by Pamela L. Barrus

The danger is that you may want to visit all of them
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Italy: Three cities - Venice Padua Verona by Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls

Complete information with a touch of attitude

When traveling to Italy most people think Rome, then perhaps Florence and Venice. But sharing the lovely countryside with Venice are Verona and Padua. In fact, they have conveniently arranged themselves along a straight line across the heart of the Veneto region of Italy. And all are worth visiting, even if you hadn't thought about it before.

If you read a conventional guidebook on Italian cities you'll find a few pages on many different towns. Or you can buy a book that focuses on one of the big three (as I usually think of them). But if you want to visit Padua, or even Verona, you're pretty much on your own.

Italy: three cities fills the need for substantial information on the wonderful but lesser known city-states. It certainly contains the basic (but often crucial) information on how to get to Italy, how to get around inside Italy but it does so with the air of a seasoned traveler. So, it has a section on what to do if there's a strike (the answer, by the way, is pretty much to keep your eyes open to see one coming and then shrug and be flexible). The section of postal service in Italy is priceless (it's bad, expect problems and slow service).

There are sections on the major festivals, regional food specialties, wines, national holidays. There's engagingly written summaries of the country's colorful history, art and architecture, even a listing of the major artists.

Then comes the main courses, an in-depth look at each city -- history, transportation, the major areas, what to see and do, where to eat, where to stay, entertainment and finally, day trips from that city as home base.

If this review sounds very positive, it's because we wish we had read this book before we had toured these cities. But, we'll know for next time. And we'll take the book with us for both its concrete and useful information as well as it's entertaining style of writing.

Order from Amazon:
Italy: Three cities Venice Padua Verona

by Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls, Cadogan Guides (London) and Globe Pequot Press (Guilford, CT), 2000, softcover, $14.95.

Great Gothic Cathedrals of France by Stan Parry

A crash course on gothic cathedrals, and travel suggestions

I never knew much about cathedrals, or how one style differed from another, despite being shepherded through countless European churches by earnest guides. Now, I do. Although few of us have opportunities to sprinkle words like transverse ribs into a conversation, or even work in flying buttresses, the author, Stan Parry is an earnest and thorough teacher, and knowledge is its own reward. Of course, the other reward will come when I next find myself in a gothic cathedral able to understand the magnitude of the engineering achievement and appreciate the grandeur of the design.

In short, ...Gothic architecture, as it arose in the twelfth century, was the result of great technical innovation: the bringing together of the ribbed vault, the pointed arch, and finally the flying buttress."

Parry is aware of the tendency of visitors to these magnificent creations to be overwhelmed. The sheer size of the principal Gothic cathedrals can overpower us in a single moment. The kaleidoscopic effect of the stained glass, the sculpture, the arcades, and vaults opening up in every direction can startle us to such a degree that it is hard to gain our bearings. We can end up wandering aimlessly about, gazing blankly at one feature or another and leave both stunned and defeated." I can only conclude Parry has watched me as I've toured some of the world-famous cathedrals. Happily, his book goes a long way to explaining what we see and why it was so ground-breaking.

He describes over a dozen of France's most beautiful gothic cathedrals as well as other related buildings and what makes each unique in some ways and yet similar to its cousins in other ways. The text is complemented by color and black & white photographs.

There's also a chapter on how to "read" stain glass windows. Yes, they do tell a story, if you know what you're seeing.

If you are planning on visiting any of these edifices, take the book with you. It is chock full of information you didn't even know you wanted to know.

Order from Amazon:
Great Gothic Cathedrals of France

by Stan Parry, Viking Studio (Penguin Putnam Inc.), New York, 2001. softcover, $19.95

Honeymoon in Purdah by Alison Wearing

The kindnesses, and the costs of living and visiting Iran


Alison Wearing and her male traveling companion, who posed as her husband, covered not only the physical but also the emotional and religious landscape of Iran. Wearing is an excellent writer who brings the people and the country to life. The people are consistently kind, helpful, and sincere. But if the people fare well in this book, the religion that requires her to wear dark pants, black manteau, head covering and the chaador on top of that, comes across as repressive. Alison passes the test for women's modesty because she has agreed to wear this restrictive clothing in the heat and the sun of Iran. The reader will suspect that if she had dressed modestly but without all these garments her experiences would have been far less pleasant. It should also be noted that she is Canadian, and not American. And this fact must also make an important difference in her reception

I relax into my chair and flap the front of my scarf to try to point some fresh air in the direction of my skin. This prompts Turtle Man to speak for the second time all day:
"You like hejab?"
Do I like wearing this?" I ask with what must be a strained expression.
"Yes. Is it joyful?"
I shift in my seat, now a full-blown pool of perspiration. "Uh, I'm not sure about joyful, but it's certainly warmful."
He doesn't understand.
"Hot," I explain.

In a very short amount of time Alison is off an another mini-adventure, this time to a cool place in the country and an evening with the hosts and their families. What about her husband? They thought of everything, including a call to let him know his wife was okay. Unfortunately their English was not quite up to the occasion and they ended up telling Ian that "We take your wife. We make her cold." It is finally cleared up, a car is immediately dispatched to find Ian and reassure him, and evening continues.

Of course, there is more than portraits of the people, although they make up the heart of the book. Few of us will go to Iran. Even fewer will live with the people and as the people live. This is truly the book for armchair travel and vicarious experience, written by an even-handed author with a sympathetic eye.

Order from Amazon:
Honeymoon in Purdah: An Iranian Journey

by Alison Wearing, Picador USA, New York, 2000. Hardcover, $24.00

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

Hiking in the woods demystified but still glorious

Hiking for hours a day, days on end through forests is not inherently fascinating. There's only so much a person can say about trees. Yet Bryson manages to infuse his account with a sense of humor, and humanity. Of course, there's Stephen Katz, his hiking companion. A bit overweight. Too fond of junk food. And certainly not a hiker. But clearly tenacious and game for the whole adventure. Then, we meet Mary Ellen, seeming clueless and infuriating.

"Ten miles? Is that all? You guys must be like really out of shape. I did fourteen-two."
"How many have your lips done?" said Katz, looking up from his noodles.
She fixed him with one of her more severe squints. "Same as the rest of me, of course." She gave me a private look as if to say, "Is your friend like seriously weird or something?" She cleared her ears. "I started at Gooch Gap."
"So did we. That's only eight point four miles."
She shook her head sharply, as if shooing a particularly tenacious fly. "Fourteen-two."
"No, really, it's only eight point four."
"Excuse me, but I just walked it. I think I ought to know." And then suddenly: "God, are those Timberland boots? Mega mistake. "How much did you pay for them?"
And so it went.

Not only are there the folks they meet along the way that make the book, it's also Bryson's emotional reaction to his experiences. All described with gentle humor. "So I was happy. We were doing fifteen or sixteen miles a day, nothing like the twenty-five miles we had been promised we would do, but still a perfectly respectable distance by our lights. I felt springy and fit and for the first time in years had a stomach that didn't look like a ball bag." There are scares about bears, about Katz going missing, snowstorms springing up suddenly.

You'll learn about the history of the Appalachian Trail -- how it has changed over the years and what it's like now. You'll learn about the hikers who do the Trail from start to finish, even though it starts in Georgia and finishes in Maine. And about Bryson's views on the environment and environmental catastrophes that somehow faded from public view - like Centralia a ghost town sitting on smoldering underground coal fires.

Book jackets have been known to overstate and oversell. That's kinda their job. But I'll read anything and everything Bryson writes. And when the jacket says "An adventure, a comedy, a lament, and a celebration, A Walk in the Wood is destined to become a modern classic of travel literature," we can only concur.

Order from Amazon:
A Walk in the Woods

by Bill Bryson, Broadway Books, New York, 1998. Hardcover, $25.00

Without Reservations: The travels of an independent woman
by Alice Steinbach

How many of us dream of renouncing our responsibilities and going to Europe? How many of us do it? Alice Steinbach really did. She left her job and, from April to January, toured Europe. Paris, London. She took trips through the Cotswolds and the Amalfi Coast, and courses in Oxford. This is a record of her thoughts and experiences.

Roads by Larry McMurtry

The best travel books must reflect something about the author if they are to hold our interest. After all, nonfiction books are rarely populated by quirky characters, and unexpected plot twists. They have to rely on the internal life of the writer, so they tell us as much about the traveler as the travels.

McMurtry's book is about his trips. He drives for the sheer joy of driving these roads, and that's what he describes. His adventures are of the mind and spirit. He discovers his favorite road, U.S. 2. "For connoisseurs of prairie travel, U.S. 2 is the perfect road - the road into the spacious heart of the plains." He tells us of the roads he travels and the cities he drives through (or avoids driving through). Nashville is avoided, as is the Long Island Expressway on Long Island, New York. As he drives he reflects on his life - the operation which saved his life but lost him his personality, and the effort it took to recover. We learn about life growing up in Texas.

As a writer and book agent, many of his comments are sparked by books and authors, which he shares with the reader. No one can travel the roads of the country without a sense of history, and the book includes much about the life and the wars and skirmishes. The Lolo Trail and the Nez Perce who crossed it in 1877 during their ill-fated flight to freedom. His discomfort crossing Idaho. His observation that Arkansas drivers don't yield the fast lane. "They just won't let you by." Odd facts pop up. John Mellencamp, a native of the small town of Seymour, Indiana who once met McMurtry at the airport barefoot although driving a brand-new gray Jaguar. There are comments on immigration across the Mexican border, the treatment of the environment, a kind of stream-of-consciousness as McMurtry drives along the roads of America.

At the end of the book, we know something about the roads of America, but we know more about the way one man sees those roads and the country that borders those roads. And both are surprisingly interesting.

Roads by Larry McMurtry (Simon & Schuster, 2000). Hardcover $25.00.

House of Windows: Portraits from a Jerusalem neighborhood
by Adina Hoffman

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We're not sure what we expected when we started reading House of Windows, but what we found were tantalizing glimpses of people, and bits of perspective on Arab-Israeli relationships. A little like paintings by Hopper capturing moments in time, leaving the viewer wondering what might have happened before and after.

Despite covering a span of several years, the main characters (Hoffman and her husband) are not the center of the book at all. Neither are their friends, or professional colleagues. The book is a series of snap shots, fascinating, often sympathetic, and carefully composed of the people in the neighborhood.

The people all seem somewhat eccentric, whether because we are seeing people from a different culture or because Hoffman finds the offbeat ones more interesting. There are her neighbors like Jacko, less-than-happy retired store owner, Amram who shepherds them through the intricacies of a Moroccan wedding, and the store-owner Meir and their visit to his apartment. An Arab cab driver, Mahmud, who lived in a refugee camp, ends up inviting them to his home for dinner. There's Ahmed who seems to be a homeless man with a magic touch when it comes to plants and growing things.

The people who don't fare well, oddly enough, are the Orthodox students in a nearby yeshiva.

"It was a study house for the newly religious, and most of the men who lived and learned the fundamentals of Jewish law there had a distractedly unkempt and tentative look about them, as if they were in hiding."

We learn about less than admirable policies and practices of Israel, and Hoffman's own reaction as an American Jew who now makes her home in Jerusalem. Her quest to learn more about the Arab family who might once have owned her apartment, and might also have lost it when Israel declared itself an independent country. The book describes a side of Jerusalem that tourists probably won't see, or if they do, walk by somewhat quickly. But it makes for very interesting reading.

Order from Amazon:
House of Windows : Portraits from a Jerusalem neighborhood

by Adina Hoffman (Steerforth Press, South Royalton, Vermont) Hardcover $22.00.