Paris to the past : traveling through French history by train

From Eileen Effrat

Author:  Ina Caro

Title:   Paris to the past : traveling through French history by train

Paris is the gateway to France’s well preserved past. The Paris metro or the high –speed TGV can take time travelers to historic sites in just a few hours. Caro describes 25 outings  that span 700 years of French history. Arranged chronologically, she visits everywhere from the Place de la Concorde, the Pantheon, and Saint-Denis in Paris, to Versailles, Chartres, Rouen, and Blois in the region. Filled with historical tidbits, this is a very enjoyable, well researched read for Francophiles and armchair travelers.

The telling room : a tale of love, betrayal, revenge, and the world’s greatest piece of cheese

From Margaret Mezzacapo
Author:  Michael Paterniti
Title:  The telling room : a tale of love, betrayal, revenge, and the world’s greatest piece of cheese
An entire book about a cheese? Really? Yes, and it’s interesting. This is the true story of how a humble man in Spain gained and lost a fortune that he made on an old family cheese. Was it poor business acumen, the souring of the global economy, or one man’s hubris that led to his losing it all? The author’s romance with Spain shines through and helps transport the reader to another world.

Bella Tuscany

From Francine Schwarz
author: Mayes, Frances
 Bella Tuscany
After reading Under the Tuscan Sky I wanted to read another book by Mayes about Italy. However, Bella Tuscany although written in Mayes’ illustrative style reads more like a travel-log.  I woudl recommend it for reading by some one who will be visiting the region as it contains information on sites to see.

A parrot in the pepper tree

From Jackie Cantwell
author: Stewart, Chris
 A parrot in the pepper tree
This is book two of the Driving over lemons trilogy. Now Chris and Ana are
the parents of a daughter named Chloe. Getting her to school every day is
an adventure in itself as they try different forms of transportation to
cross the river.  We follow the budding romance between Domingo, his
multi-talented neighbor, and a Dutch sculptress.  The author takes time to
smell the roses; sometimes he ditches his farm chores and goes on day-long
hikes. Picture the scene as he and Ana take a 6-hour, 5000 foot climb to
see a field of blue gentian flowers under a deep blue sky.  I enjoyed the
chapters where he reminisces about his past. We find out exactly how he
came to be a member of the band Genesis and how later he became a drummer for Sir Robert Fossett’s circus in Britain.  Read with astonishment as Chris drives over a frozen sea in Sweden to shear sheep on remote farms. Chris tries to learn flamenco guitar in Seville as a young man and is
still a novice when he goes to guitar school in Granada some twenty-plus
years later.  We fear for Chris’s safety when he interferes with a
friend’s domestic dispute, and the husband vows to come after him.  You’ll
laugh as Chris falls for the sales pitch of an “ecological engineer” who
builds him a swimming pool that is supposedly in harmony with nature.
Chris learns to love Ana’s green parrot, who steals all the cutlery and
attacks anyone who tries to use the bathroom.  For an update on where
everyone is now, read the interview with Chris at the end.  If you want to
read the third installment, The Almond Blossom Appreciation Society,
you’ll have to buy it from the UK, as it is not published in the U.S.

Driving over lemons: an optimist in Andalucia

From Jackie Cantwell
author: Stewart, Chris
Driving over lemons: an optimist in Andalucia
This is book one of the Driving over lemons trilogy.  Chris Stewart is now one of my favorite authors.  He was the original drummer for the band Genesis and has been a sheep shearer and circus musician.  He and his wife Ana decided to ditch England and buy a peasant farm called El Valero in rural southern Spain, about twenty years ago.  The seller of the farm, Pedro Romero, won’t leave and Chris has other problems:  clogged water channels, a leaky roof, a river in need of a bridge, hillsides that need terracing, outbuildings that need to be repaired, recalcitrant sheep, etc.  When Chris’ mother sees a photo of his newly purchased home, she is appalled.  “I had hoped that you might end up living in a Queen Anne house”, she lamented.  “I’ve always liked Queen Anne.  But here you are, living in what I can only describe as a stable”. They attempt to raise poultry but fail; it is thusly described: “The quails, the smallest of the menagerie, were frightened of the chickens; the chickens didn’t like the guinea-fowl or the pigeons, though they could live with the quails; the guinea-fowl were indifferent to the pigeons but were terrified of the quails and hated the chickens; the pigeons were affected by the guinea-fowls’ terror of the quails, nervous of the possibility of a chicken-quail alliance, piqued by the indifference of the guinea-fowl, and shared everybody else’s dislike of the chickens”.
Mr. Stewart is an amiable, humorous and humble host.  Chris’ descriptions of the mountains, rivers, valleys, flora and fauna are so vivid that you feel as though you are there.  I could almost smell the rosemary and lavender and taste the lemons.  Chris Stewart does for Andalucia what James Herriot did for Yorkshire.

On Celtic tides : one man’s journey around Ireland by sea kayak

From Alicja Feitzinger
author: Duff, Chris
On Celtic tides : one man’s journey around Ireland by sea kayak
Chris Duff describes his solo circumnavigation of Ireland by sea kayak in the summer of 1996. Beginning and ending in Dublin, Duff paddled  1,200 miles over the course of three months. His descriptions of many dangerous crossings and beautiful but harsh and dangerous sea and not always hospitable shoreline are vivid and passionate. His daily hardships, rewards and encounters are interesting for anyone who likes to  spend time on the water and who is interested in Irish culture and history.

Three ways to capsize a boat: an optimist afloat

From Jackie Cantwell
author: Stewart, Chris
Three ways to capsize a boat: an optimist afloat 
Chris Stewart is one of the funniest travel writers you’ve never heard of.
He was the original drummer for the band Genesis (he played on their
first album); he’s also been a sheep shearer and circus performer.  He
jumped at the opportunity to skipper a small sailboat, even though he’d
never been sailing before.  We start our adventure on a 21-foot craft,
which Chris is learning to sail in Littlehampton, England, with the help
of an acquaintance.  It is not an auspicious beginning.  Then he’s off to
Greece, to deliver a sailboat, a Cornish Crabber, to the owners in
Spetses.  The boat has been in dry dock in Kalamaki all winter and is in
terrible shape; it doesn’t even have a motor.  Chris finds two men to help
repair it; they’re both named Nikos and they drive a three-wheeled tin
van.  Then Chris enlists the aid of another neophyte, and they sail the
Aegean Sea to Spetses, accidentally setting the boat on fire more than
once along the way.  His greatest adventure is joining the crew of an
expert sailor and teacher, Tom Cunliffe, aboard his vintage sailboat from
Brighton, England to Newfoundland, retracing Leif Eriksson’s journey
across the Atlantic.  There are ice floes, icebergs and a ferocious storm.
 One of my favorite passages: “And then I saw something I don’t ever want
to see again as long as I live: a colossal wall of gray water bearing down
on us. It obscured the very sky; it stood half as high as the mast.  There
was no way we could avoid being swamped.  My legs went weak and I
whimpered inwardly.” By turns, the book is a lesson in sailing,
history and geography.  Combine those with humor, and you have a winning combination.

The city of falling angels

From Eileen Effrat
author: Berendt, John
The city of falling angels
Berendt, bestselling author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,
leaves Savannah, Georgia  behind with its scandals, secrets and hilarious
eccentrics, and  now travels to Venice, Italy.  Days before his arrival,
Venice’s historic Fenice Opera House goes up  in flames.  Is it arson?
The subsequent investigation provides the background  as he delves into
the people, politics, and city lore that  the average tourist  never
encounters.  With a keen eye for detail and his ability to ingratiate
himself  into the upper echelons of Venetian society, he uncovers unsavory
tales of greed , hate, and corruption.  Armchair travelers and those who
love Venice, will enjoy this book for its setting, as well as some very
memorable   characters.

On the water : discovering America in a rowboat

From Alicja Feitzinger
author: Stone, Nathaniel
On the water : discovering America in a rowboat
Nathaniel Stone completed his 6,000-mile, 10 months-long adventure in 17-foot scull. He began his journey in Brooklyn, traveled up the Hudson, passed through the Erie Canal, portaged his craft to the Allegheny, and then headed on to the Ohio and down the Mississippi. At New Orleans, he took a break, got a larger boat, and continued rowing around Key West, along the coastline of the Atlantic to Maine.  The account of his journey is captivating.  His observations of places he visits and people he meets are interesting and insightful.
If you like to follow real life rowing or kayaking adventures, you might also enjoy reading Jake Stachovak’s blog who is traveling in his kayak along a similar route and visiting New York and Long Island in early June 2010.