Now for something completely different

Cheatham's Library, Manchester UK

Cheatham’s Library, Manchester UK

I love to travel. That’s no news, of course, this is a travel blog. My other passion is reading, a lifelong love of words and stories. Books take me to other worlds, other lives, other destinations. I thought it was about time I started a blog focussed on reading and books. If you are interested, it’s called Reader at Large, here.

It’s early days but I hope to fill the screens with reviews, discussions, and other chat about the written word. Drop buy and join me!

 

Travel Theme: Books

Where’s My Backpack’s travel theme this week is Books. Reading is close to my heart. I’ve been a reader all my life. While I don’t use the library as much as I used to, I’m a fan of them. I have switched over to ebooks mainly since an ereader is much more convenient to carry about in my bag but I still read paper books as well. On our travels, we’ve been to libraries and museums where there are old books. Here are a few:

An illuminated version of Canterbury Tales. John Ryland Library, Manchester

 

Ledger in the Tower of London Armoury

The Morrin Centre, a Victorian English library in the French city of Quebec

Chetham’s Library, a medieval library at the Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester

Camden Lock bookshop, London

Book review – We’ll Always Have Paris

17586505As you know, I love watching movies filmed in great locations that make me want to visit that spot. I also like reading travel magazines and sometimes travel books, too. I recently finished one  called “We’ll Always Have Paris: A Mother/Daughter Memoir” by Jennifer Coburn. Here’s the premise:

The author of the book lost her father when she was only 19 and since then always assumes she’ll die young as well. There’s no reason to think it, there’s no genetic marker that will doom her. Her father had lung cancer after a lifetime of heavy smoking. Never mind. She’s now married and has a daughter of her own and is afraid she’ll die while her daughter is young, too, and decides to start traveling with her to make memories. She and Katie start with Paris, when Katie is just 8 or 9, just the two of them. Katie is much more pragmatic and easy going than her mother and takes the highs and lows of travel much more in her stride, and over the course of about 10 years and 4 trips  Jennifer learns that she can focus on living instead of being afraid of dying. The book is also as much her remembering her father as it is describing the journeys so there’s a lot of flashbacks.

I think I’d have preferred mostly travelogue because that’s what I love to read, more detail on your experiences, please! It’s probably about 50/50 flashback and current but it gives you the background on why Jennifer is the way she is, too.  They visit Paris, Spain, Italy and then back to Paris for the last journey of the book. There are about 3 years between trips so the little girl is a high school graduate by the end and we see her grow up.

It’s a lovely book about mom-daughter time. I’ve taken a couple of trips with my mother though not as a child. (I should probably post the travelogue of our trip to London sometime!)

I think no matter how old you are, that one on one time experiencing new things is special. It doesn’t have to be an exotic European location, it can just be a long weekend away somewhere closer to home.

Mom and me in London

Travel Theme: Illuminated

Travel theme from Where’s My Backpack this week is Illuminated.

Now I could post photos from some of the many buildings and monuments that  are lit up at night. But everyone else will probably do that. Instead, an alternative, the illuminated manuscript. This is a late 15th century Canterbury Tales which we saw in the John Ryland Library in Manchester, UK. While it isn’t as exquisite as, say, the Book of Kells in Dublin (which I’ve also seen) or other similar illuminated gospels, it is one of the only ones I have seen that I could photograph (no flash, of course!).

Canterbury Tales above a non-illuminated copy, both from the late 15th century

Traveling through books: London and the UK

You’ve probably noted my series of posts about movies shot in locations that are great for armchair traveling. I’ve read a couple of non-fiction travel books lately and it put me in mind of several others I’ve read on the same subject, my favourite city, London and of the UK in general. A couple of them are true “travel” type books, and a couple more are more historical facts but equally interesting and one is fiction that describes the  history of the city through the eyes of several families and their descendants. I like that because it describes how various familiar sites and areas of London developed and changed over the centuries. Makes me want to visit those sites on my next visit!

The city of London has changed and grown considerably around St. Paul's Cathedral, and there's no end in sight.

The city of London has changed and grown considerably around St. Paul’s Cathedral, and there’s no end in sight.

Move Along, Please – Mark Mason

This man has undertaken the journey between Land’s End and John O’Groats, the southern and northernmost points of the main island of the U.K. He’s doing it by local busses, not long distance “coach” and thus meanders along the countryside meeting local people who take the bus for work or shopping or school. By avoiding the main motorways where long distance coaches travel, he’s seen more of the “real” everyday Britian. He’s armed with several books written by people who have done this journey in the past by various means and meets up with others along the way who have local knowledge in various stopping points.

Bizarre London – David Long

This is a book of facts about London, the weird, wonderful and little known facts and events. Read about a cross dressing highwayman, a licensed brothel on Whitehall, read about architectural features that tell stores of the past, odd museums, murders, and all sorts of things.

Tales from the Tower of London – Daniel Diehl

A series of stories about the goings on in the Tower of London over the centuries from it’s establishment by William the Conqueror to the 20th century. Mainly it’s about various people that were incarcerated there and includes historical events such as the Gunpowder Plot and the Peasants’ Revolt. Not bad and if you’re interested in the history of London you will probably find it worth a quick read. Not really in depth but easy to read.

London: The Biography – Peter Ackroyd

It did take me quite awhile to read this book but it’s easy to pick up and put down. Each chapter tells about an aspect of the social history of London and it all comes together over centuries to become the city it is today. Crime, poverty, theatre, economics, architecture, neighbourhoods, strengths and weaknesses. It doesn’t read like a textbook, it’s quite interesting.

London – Edward Rutherfurd

Rutherfurd writes long involved fictional histories of an area or city starting, usually, with very early civilization up to the present day. The story he’s written about London starts just before the Roman invasion and ends after World War II. He introduces a handful of familys and traces the stories through them and their ancestors over the centuries. It’s life from the every day people’s point of view. The stories get briefer in the more recent century and a half, with the updates from the 20th century past WWI being just touched on. The best bits are the early to medieval and Tudor/Stuart eras. There’s a family tree at the start to keep them all straight though you can’t see it very well if using an ereader.

UK: Icons of England – Bill Bryson

Bryson edits a collection of contributions from other people who write about their favourite bits of England. They aren’t exactly icons in the traditional definition of the word but they do give a broad feeling of different aspects, such as weather, various nature, seaside, and a lot of them are recollections from the writer’s past. The book was originally a coffee table type with photographs and was a fund raiser. I read it as an ebook and it was not bad. Not always interesting but everyone’s taste is different. You would probably get more out of it if you’d lived there.

Notes from a Small Island – Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is a very good travel writer, lots of dry humour in his observations which has reduced me to weeping giggles often.This was the first of his books I had read and I reread it last year and giggled just as much. He travels around Britain, mainly by public transportation on busses and trains, to towns, villages and cities as well. He’s an American but has lived in the U.K. for quite a number of years. He has the point of view of a non-native and yet is spot on in many of his observations. Thoroughly enjoyable.

These are the books that I’ve read that can give a reader a great look at London and some of the UK. They give more than just dry historical facts or a generic travel guide “things to do and see”, they show you the past and the present in ways you might not think to look for.  Most of them are available as ebooks from your favourite site (Kobo, Kindle etc.) and you library or a second hand bookstore will have many of them as well. Feel free to comment and suggest others I or other readers might enjoy about London and the U.K.

Traveling through books

Brighton Pier, Brighton, UK

Brighton Pier, Brighton, UK

I love to read and I always have. In fact, my whole family were readers. Both parents, my sister and I always had our noses into a book. When I was a teenager, I discovered Harlequin Romances. They were short novels, written to a formula and always had a happy ending. I really liked them because of the storylines but also because they took place in locations all over the world. Even then, I loved to read descriptions of different places and I still do.

Since I am a self-confessed Anglophile, with British and Irish genes, my favourite book locations are anywhere in the U.K. and Ireland, city or village or countryside.  I read books by English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish writers frequently. It’s even better when I’ve actually been to the location and can pictures some of the areas described. It doesn’t really matter, however. It gives me glimpses of a place I might like to visit sometime, just like seeing movies or television shows filmed in a foreign location does. I even like historical novels that give a good sense of place. Edward Rutherfurd’s books detail the history of a city or location through the eyes of a number of families and there are great descriptions. You really gain an appreciation for how a city developed over time and if and when you do get to visit, you can search out various neighbourhoods and buildings for yourself.

Obviously, I’m not going to list all the books I’ve read that I’ve enjoyed for the locations in addition to the story itself. There are far too many! Through books, I’ve enjoyed visiting such far flung countries as Japan, Russia, Sweden, Australia and New Zealand, among others. City “visits” have included Rome, Paris, Moscow, London (of course!), Dublin, New York, Oslo, Cairo and Berlin. I’ve gained a recent interest in some of the crime novelists from Scandinavia in recent years, due to rising popularity after the “Dragon Tattoo” books by Stieg Larsson. In fact, there’s a website devoted to authors from that part of Europe so there will be lots of suggestions and recommendations I will be looking at. Scandinavian Crime Fiction is being added to my Favourites right now! Authors such as Jo Nesbo and Camilla Lackberg give a wonderful feel for the location as well as the story. I’m very impressed by the translation to English too, it seems to really pick up the feel and atmosphere of what the original novel is probably like in its native language.

Another of my favourite authors is Diana Gabaldon. She has written a series of books based on time travel. They’re historic, they’re romantic, they’re really well researched and absolutely amazing. The first in the series is called Outlander and the first few books are based in the Scottish Highlands during the final Jacobite uprising and the years after, the rest are based in North Carolina and the east coast of American in the years leading up to and during the War of Independence. So far! She’s also got another few books that are mysteries with one of the side characters from the main series, the Lord John Grey books.

As for the type of book I like, I can read almost anything if I’m in the mood for it, though favourites include historical fiction, crime novels, general fiction and sometimes a taste of fantasy, autobiography/biography, history (non-fiction),  comedy, romance (but not the “bodice rippers” as a rule), and I do like what might be classed as “women’s” fiction, “chicklit” and the like. I’ve chosen the photo for this post because I’ve recently discovered an author, Peter James, who writes about a detective, Roy Grace, who works and lives in Brighton, England. I’ve been to Brighton for a visit and the first book that I read had some of the action going on inside the Royal Pavillion, which I’ve also visited so could picture clearly. I’ve just picked up a couple more of his books to enjoy.

If you have a book recommendation and if it features great locations, Please do comment!

Travel Magazines

travelmags

I mentioned National Geographic Traveler the other week and I thought I might talk a bit about some of the travel magazines that I like.

I’ve been buying them and/or subscribing to them for a long time. It was armchair traveling for a long time and I was also drawn to the photography as that has been a lifelong hobby for me. I subscribe to three at the moment and pick up others if they feature something that I think I’d find interesting.

I don’t get any of them in digital format because I don’t have a tablet and they don’t really make them for a PC or laptop yet. I wish they would. Even the ones that are for a Kindle don’t work through the Kindle app on a PC, only on a tablet. I do have an iPod touch but I find that magazines on that are just not suitable. It’s too small a screen. I think the tablet digital versions would be lovely, though and if I ever get one, I will probably switch reading the magazines to that format. Most of the magazines with digital format also offer bonus content for those versions.
Here, then, is a little run down of some of my favourites.
Favourite Travel magazine –

National Geographic Traveler
Why?

Excellent photography
Interesting stories from all over the world
Good online blogs and bloggers

Digital format: Has an iPad app
Subscriptions: 8 issues/year, Approx. $20 CAD per year. Occasional special deals for renewals. Currently seems to be $10 US for a subscription to US addresses.

Second favourite :
Conde Naste Traveler
Why?

Very good photography
Good stories, can be a bit America-focused during several issues over the year
Top 100/Top X/Reader’s Choice/Gold List type issues a bit redundant
Only one blog, Wendy Perrin but she’s informative.

Digital format: Exclusive content on digital app versions (iPad, Kindle Fire, Samsung Galaxy, Nexus 7, Nook Colour
Subscriptions: Usually has very good deals for US subscriptions. A bit more for Canadian and international but I’ve had some good deals there too.  Slightly more for digital + print. Not sure if the digital is available outside the  U.S.

Not that keen on their current website, it’s a bit in-your-face with the big black headlines but there are subscribe links displayed prominently and it’s easy enough to find your way around.

I sometimes buy the U.K. version as well, depending on content. I can get it at some of the better news stands here.

Travel + Leisure
Why?

I pick it up sometimes if there’s something I want to read
Not quite as polished,  the website a bit similar in feel to CNT above.

Subscriptions: Good value for Canada/US subscriptions, $24 US for a 24 month subscription.
Subscription links on website not prominently displayed.
Digital format: Doesn’t look like they have a digital version.

Britain
Why?

I love the U.K. so this has lots of articles on many aspects and all areas of Britain.
Great photography
Big, glossy magazine
More expensive than the others, is an import.

Subscriptions: 6 issues/year for $29.99.
Digital format: iPad version $20.99 and they have a digital version that will work on a PC, a Mac, and Android tablet as well as the iPad. It’s through a company/viewer called Zinio and going by their sample on their site, it’s a bit fussy, having to zoom in and out to view things at a readable level. The table versions would likely be nice.
I have this on print subscription at the moment, too. Even the ads are good, with lots of website links for things to look up.

Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel
Why?

Good for those of us that don’t spend a mint traveling
Lots of online resources
Lots of good, practical information.

Digital format: Multiple digital versions available. Looks like they’re in the middle of a change. I wonder if they’re going all digital or they’re changing their print production or something. Their current version is available online only and is a zoomable one that works on a PC at least.

National Geographic
Why?

This is the classic travel magazine.
The photography is world class with lots of exotic locations and long, informative stories. It’s not just about travel, it’s about our world in general. It’s about the environment, nature, travel and great adventures.

Subscriptions: You can get a digital only, print only or a combo for a little more. Digital version is available for Canada as well as the U.S.
Digital format: iPad and Kindle Fire with access to the online archives.
They also produce editions aimed at kids and younger people. Top quality. No wonder they’ve been around over 100 years.

There are others but these are the ones I read either regularly or occasionally.  There are also ones on the news stand that focus on regions such as Italy, or Spain, several for people that like to go on cruises, and theres one on Islands in general. Which ones do you like?

I Heart Her City

New York Public Library

New York Public Library (Photograph by Wally Gobetz, Flickr)

I’ve been browsing a blog on the National Geographic Traveler magazine’s website by Annie Fitzsimmons, the Urban Insider. I thought she might have some interesting articles on New  York, with the view to our visit there in May.  I am really happy I did! This post in particular of all the ones she’s got tagged with New York City has probably added 4 or 5 things to the list of places to see and things to do. She loves her city and after reading that post, I just might as well!

At least one item she listed was already on my Radar, the Frick Collection.

She describes her neighbourhood, Greenwich Village so well that I think a wander around there is definitely called for.

And what about this? The Transit Museum where the store has unique souvenirs except that seems to be an online shop not a real one. Will have to investigate further.

We probably won’t get as far north on Manhattan as The Cloisters but you never know. I have seen the Unicorn tapestries. On my one visit to NYC I was lucky enough to see them at the main Metropolitan Musuem.

I really would like to see the New York Public Library interior and the Rose Reading Room. It looks amazing.

G. wants to go up in the Empire State Building and we decided we are probably going to take a bus tour around the city. Those usually include several routes, a night tour and one to see Brooklyn which is apparently not that interesting though you get to stop and take a photo across at the skyline.  One advantage of these tours is using them as transportation. You can get off at various locations and explore the areas and neighbourhoods.  There are also television/movie locations tours that might be interesting too.

Now that G. has his ticket to Canada, I will sort out the NYC tickets. I’m going to use Aeroplan points for those and I’m still trying to decide on a hotel. So many to choose from! Saving money on the flights will help with the hotel budget.

National Geographic magazine is one of, if not my favourite travel magazine. I get a few but this one has the best photography of all. Some years ago I flew to Toronto for a photography seminar they gave. I must blog about that sometime!

Bookstore Bounty

Bookstore Bounty

Bookstore Bounty

Yesterday, I went to the Chapters bookstore with my mother and my niece. We go every year after Christmas to spend our gift cards. As I mostly read ebooks these days, I headed for my other favourite section. Travel books! I know you can get great travel books and apps and magazines on tablets but there’s just something about browsing through a real travel book with glossy paper and beautiful photos, hands full of postit notes to mark the pages.

As you can see, two of the four purchases involve New York City because, as you know, I’m planning a visit there for early May.

This, then, was my bounty from yesterday’s visit.

A magazine called Discover Britain

Lonely Planet’s Not for Parents: New York City

Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Photography

Eyewitness Top 10 New York City

The “Not for Parents” book is a new brand to me. It’s not a guide book, it’s 95 pages of little bits of trivia about New York, and it includes history, general triva, “Did you know”, and just, loads of different aspects of the city. One double page is all about Grand Central Station. A blurb about the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the three women that instigated the idea of short term revolving exhibits. There’s Empire State Building, baseball, fashion, skyscrapers, Andy Warhol, and it goes on and on in short two page spreads per topic. Wonderful! I anticipate it will contribute a lot of little trivia bits to my upcoming travelogue!

The Travel Photography book lured me because it’s got, in addition to the usual tips about composition and camera gear and software, you also get chapters on shooting iconic views like the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum, how to take pictures of street scenes, museums, performances, wildlife, night life, shopping, festivals, etc. That’s all really useful stuff to me!

I do like the Top 10 books, as well. They’re small, they have lots of maps and good info about what to see and details like opening times and days and locations. They break the city down by sections and popular neighbourhoods in addition to top 10 lists like museums, festivals, churches, places for children, etc.

The magazine? I just love travel magazines and love the ones about Britian, I often get ideas of places I want to go for the next time I’m there and I like to see photos and read information about places I’ve been. This issue has a piece on Bath, one of my favourite cities in England.

Visiting London in the 1940s

I wonder if they followed the itineraries in this blog post!

Travel guide books have been around as long as there have been travelers but the first guidebooks as we know them originated in the early 19th century. From this article in the Sydney Morning Herald from a few years ago:

It was in response to the Grand Tour’s enduring popularity into the early 19th century that the first true travel guidebooks appeared. An English writer and playwright, Mariana Starke, recognised the Grand Tourists’ need for practical information, and in 1800 she wrote Letters from Italy, blurring narrative and guidance. Twenty years later, the book morphed into the dedicated guidebook Information and Directions for Travellers on the Continent. Already it contained now-familiar forms: a ratings system (using exclamation points rather than stars), accommodation options, costs and titbits of history.

Published by John Murray, it would be the pioneer title of one the world’s first great guidebook empires, Murray’s Handbooks, which would eventually publish about 400 titles. Its exhaustive, two-volume 1845 Handbook for Travellers in Spain, written by Richard Ford after four years of research and a decade of writing, is the classic among guidebooks.

Karl Baedeker is said to have written his first guidebook – Holland, Belgium and the Rhine – for Murray’s Handbooks, but in 1829, with the publication of Baedeker’s German-language guide to the Rhine Valley, he also became its first competition. Guidebooks to Austria, Belgium, Holland and Switzerland followed, and by 1861, two years after Karl’s death, Baedeker was publishing English-language guides.

While Baedeker was the most popular for a long time, now we have a plethora of choice. Add on the Internet and it can actually get a bit overwhelming. You don’t even have to carry a book anymore, what with ebooks and podcasts and smartphone apps, you can have it all ine a neat, light package.

I love guidebooks, especially the ones with lovely pictures! Those are the more expensive and heavy ones but they are so nice to look at. In the past, I’ve always bought at least one guidebook for somewhere I’m planning to go, even if it’s a small “Top Ten” city guide and yes, even in this day of the internet. It’s easier to have a small book in your bag than sheets and sheets of printed paper sometimes.

My electronic device is an iPod and I’ve discovered that guidebooks on that are not really that convenient to use though they’d be good on a tablet sized device. There are some good apps for iPods and smartphones but unfortunately, the one I wanted recently doesn’t work on my older device. Figures.

But bringing this back to London in particular, I have an old guidebook  to London that was published during World War II. There’s a small insert that explains that due to the war, they cannot publish the full set of maps they usually do. There is only one fold out city center map with the underground stations marked and some of the main streets.

What makes me laugh, though, is their suggestions for itineraries for one or two days’ sightseeing. I really don’t know how you could fit it all in! Surely they don’t suggest you do all these things in the time allotted? I wonder if they’re saying that any or several of these for morning and afternoon would be sufficient though they do mention, in the ultimate of British understatement,  that it’s a “very hurried day”. That’s putting it mildly! I expect you could do it if you were just walking past all these sights and not going inside.

The Victoria Tower, Westminster

The Victoria Tower, Westminster

I’m reproducing the itineraries here for your amusement.

For one day in London their suggestions are:.

Morning:
National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Whitehall (passing Gov’t Offices, Royal United Services museum and the cenotaph), Parliament, Westminster Abbey and cathedral, Buckingham Palace (exterior), St. James’s Park, London Museum Lancaster House, St. James’s Palace (exterior).

Lunch in the Piccadilly or Leicester Square area. (phew! My feet would be smokin’ by this time!)

Afternoon:

Regent, Oxford Streets, Wallace Collection, Drive thru Hyde Park, Kens. Gdns, Piccadilly, Royal Academy, British Museum, Lincoln’s Inn walk, Law Courts and Temple, Fleet Street, Ludgate Hill, St. Paul’s
They go on to suggest dinner and theatre if you are staying overnight.

An Alternative might be:
Tower of London, Monument, Bank of England, Royal Exchange, Guildhall, Cheapside, St. Paul’s.

Lunch.

Law Courts, Temple Gardens, Embankment, County Hall, Parliament, Westminster Abbey, National Gallery (open evenings of certain days).

A bit more doable(?)

A suggestion for a two day visit:
First Day:
Charing Cross, National Gallery and Portrait Gallery, Whitehall, Parliament, County Hall, Westminster Abbey (Lunch) War Museum, Lambeth Palace exterior, Tate Britain, Westminster Cathedral, St. James’s Park, London Museum, Green and Hyde Parks, V&A museum, Nat. Hist. and Science Museums.

Second Day:
Tower of London, Monument, Royal Exchange, Bank, Guildhall, Cheapside, St. Paul’s, (lunch) Holborn, British Museum, Oxford St., Wallace Collection, Regent’s Park, Zoo

Longer stays suggest things like the Dulwich Picture Gallery, the “new” Horniman museum, Windsor, Hampton Court, Kew, Richmond, Epping Forest, Croyden Airport

Oh yes, that’s the main international airport, Croyden. In another old book I have, published in the 1950s, it mentions the London Airport (later called Heathrow) that is under construction. In that book, the Museum of London has moved to a wing of Kensington Palace.

Fascinating!