April 5, 2012

Armchair Traveller Goes to Europe

There is a certain charm in exploring a country through someone else’s words, but using your own imagination. Nothing beats the real deal, of course, but if you can’t travel it doesn’t hurt to get the most out of life’s lemons. 
Here are some fantastic books that have taken me all over Europe.

1. Extra Virgin: A Young Woman Discovers the Italian Riviera, Where Every Month Is EnchantedAnnie Hawes
Annie Hawes and her sister leave grey, foggy London for the sun-drenched olive groves of Liguria in Italy. They buy a dilapidated old house with an olive grove and proceed to renovate it, slowly falling in love with their new home, the quirky locals, the divine food and the Italian way of life. I could not put this book down and read it constantly over three days. Annie Hawes has a hilarious way of describing people and situations, so that you feel like you’re right there with her in her favourite San Pietro bar, knocking back espressos as the ‘locals’ read their newspapers and discuss football. If you love coastal Italy and are missing it, or even if you’ve never been there, this is the perfect book.

2. A Year in Provence – Peter Mayle
Peter Mayle realizes a long-cherished dream and moves into a 200 year-old farmhouse at the base of the Luberon mountains along with his wife and two dogs. This memoir traces their first year in the farmhouse, dealing with the harsh weather and what it does to an old, rickety house as well as adventures in adapting to life in Provence. Mayle’s writing is poignant and telling, and always extremely funny. He paints les Provencals expertly, vividly describing their outlooks and personalities, and his stunning descriptions of the gastronomic feasts he enjoys (essential for the locals, and the only thing they agree on) are enough to make you drool.

3. Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe – Bill Bryson
This book was my introduction to the writing of Bill Bryson, and has rendered me a complete fan. In the book Bryson retraces a backpacking trip he did across Europe twenty years ago. Full of laugh-out-loud incidents and insightful, seethingly honest takes on various countries and people, this memoir has got a fair amount of criticism but I found it thoroughly charming. It’s well written, humourous, and detailed, which really is all one needs from travel writing.

4. A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway
While this isn’t exactly travel writing, this memoir from one of America’s greatest writers is brilliant and just as transportive. It describes Hemingway’s time in Paris as a newly married struggling writer. His portrayals of 1920s Paris, the circle of artists and writers he associated with (many of whom achieved great fame and success), and his recollections of the role the city played in his writing, make this a beautiful read for anyone interested in the charms of Paris. It is from this book that he is famously quoted saying ‘If you were lucky enough to be in Paris as a young man, it will stay with you forever, for Paris is a moveable feast . . .’

5. Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes – Elizabeth Bard
This title covers some of my favourite things: Paris, travelling, love stories and food. The book did not disappoint either. American journalist Bard falls in love with a Frenchman and proceeds to get married and make Paris her home. Peppered with recipes the author loves and her clear affection for France, the book also has some honest and sharp critiques of Parisian culture. Bard falls in love, learns to cook, is inspired by the ways of the French, and learns to live fully. It’s a light read but most enjoyable.

 So, don’t worry if you’re not (physically) going anywhere this summer - settle down with a drink and a good travel memoir, and you can be exactly where you want.

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