Read this: The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux

The Great Railway Bazaar 
by Paul Theroux

Only 280 sleeps to go until the big adventure! Sounds a bit ridiculous, I know, but actually 280 sleeps isn’t all that many… 9 months… and still so much to do before then!

Anyway, it’s never too early for me to start getting excited about my next adventure, and a lot of my reading reflects that. I love to read older travel books, written by proper adventurers, before the advent of technology came and changed travel. I love to read about how travel was before everyone was in a hurry to just get to a place and see the tourist attractions and get their photo and tick it off the list, when it was just as much about the journey as it was the destination.

I’ve finally gotten around to reading The Great Railway Bazaar, and I couldn’t agree more with the commendation on the cover – it was truly entertaining, from start to finish. Paul Theroux’s travelogue takes us from London through the Middle East, India, Asia and Siberia. He was travelling for the sake of travelling, all by rail (well, as much as was possible by rail), back in the mid 1970s. Just on the road because he wanted to be. Experiencing rail travel in country after country, watching the world go by, and writing about it all as it went.

“But he does not know – how could he? – that the scenes changing in the train window from Victoria Station to Tokyo Central are nothing compares to the change in himself.”

It mesmerised me. Every page. I fell in love with train back in 2013 when we caught a few trains around Europe. That’s the way travel should be; slow. Time to think. Time to take it in. Not running around airports like headless chooks – I hate that. I’m even more looking forward to all of the train trips we’ll have in this next big trip after reading this one.

The other thing that really got me about this book was how incredibly descriptive it was. I’ve read plenty of books that paint a lovely picture, but not terribly realistic; with so many passages in this book, I actually felt like I was there…

“It was a single-line track, but squatters had moved their huts so close to it, I could look into their windows and across rooms where children sat playing on the floor; I could smell the cooking food – fish and blistering meat – and see people waking and dressing; at one window a man in a hammock swung inches from my nose. There was fruit on the window sills, and it stirred – an orange beginning to roll – as the train sped by. I have never had a stronger feeling of being in the houses I was passing, and I had a continuous sense of interrupting with my face some domestic routine. But I was imagining the intrusion: the people in those poor houses seemed not to notice the strangers at their windows.”

 

Anyway, I got my copy at a second hand bookstore, but you can also get one here. Happy reading 🙂

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Read this: Icelandic Folktales & Legends by Jacqueline Simpson

Icelandic Folktales & Legends
by Jacqueline Simpson

I’m starting to get reaaaalllly excited about the Icelandic part of our #👫worldtour. We both got our Bogs boots in the mail, Airbnbs have been booked, driving routes are starting to be planned.

But aside from all of that, the other part of the pre-travel preparations I love is reading books about and from the places I’ll visit, particularly books about the history and mythology of a place. Having read several times that the Icelandic people still have incredibly strong ties to the ideas and concepts behind magic and fairytales, I wanted to read a bit about them, and found this book.

It’s a compilation  of Icelandic fairytales and legends, gathered from many different sources, and translated into English (thankfully!). The stories run the full gamut of everything from trolls to ghosts to mermaids and giants. There are 80-odd stories, but they’re all short and come with modern explanations and interpretations. One of my favourites was one of the first ones in the book, which you can get a copy of here...

 

HIDDEN FOLK
It was once generally believed in Iceland that the Hidden Folk moved house on New Year’s Eve, and so one should choose that night to sit at a crossroads and see them go by. They cannot then get past the man at the crossroads, and offer him many treasures, gold and jewels, choice ornaments and delicate foods of every kind. If the man stays silent throughout and accepts nothing from them, the jewels and delicacies are left lying near him, and then he can have them, if he holds out till day; but if the man answers or accepts the elves’ offers, he is bespelled and loses his wits, and it never in his right mind again.

Some say the right crossroads are those on the fells and moors from which one can see four churches. The oldest believe is that one ought to keep vigil there on Christmas Eve, for that is the real beginning of the New Year.

Project Cookbook complete: Meet THE KITCHEN PASSPORT!

Well this is mighty exciting to be able to finally post… Say hi to the little book I put together:

THE KITCHEN PASSPORT:
Getting Around The World & Bringing It Back To Your Table

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If you’ve been playing along for a while, you may remember this post, or this one; the little passion project I started two years ago got a little out of control and ended up as a kind of cookbook / travel guide / journal hybrid, almost 170 pages long, with 63 recipes, full colour photos and notes from around the world, and I’m pretty excited to say is finally finished and ready to fly out into the world!

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Let me tell you a bit more about it and why I decided that I wanted to share it…

This book is a collection of recipes inspired by meals I’ve enjoyed on my travels, as well as some of the stories behind them, the places I first ate them, the markets I visited, and the people I met on the way. My hope is that anyone who does find themselves with a copy can use it as part cookbook, part travel guide, part voyeuristic look into my diary.

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Food plays such a huge role in cultural identity and is one of, if not the best ways to get to know a new city. It has the power to bring together strangers, to communicate entire histories, and to create amazing memories which will still be with you as you eat that same dish 10 years later. My greatest travel memories can be recalled so easily through the senses of taste and smell; through food. I want to give others an easy way to either recreate food from their travels, too, and others still (and maybe more importantly) a way to taste a bit of the world they haven’t visited yet.

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I’m neither a professional chef nor writer. I have no training in photography or visual design. I’m just another girl who wants to leave behind some of that which I’ve been fortunate enough to experience. I hope this little book inspires some to travel and brings back fond memories for others. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed taking the adventures that are behind it.

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If you’d like a bit more of a preview of the book, or to actually purchase a copy, follow the link and head on over to Blurb Books, where it’s being sold in hardcover, softcover (unfortunately printing “real” books these days isn’t a cheap venture, I’ve done my best to keep the costs down!), eBook and PDF formats, with pricing (ex GST & shipping) below:

Hardcover: AUD$51.99
Softcover: AUD$36.99
eBook: AUD$19.98
PDF: AUD$9.99

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And if you do end up with a copy, I really, truly do hope you enjoy the escape from reality and return of fond memories while reading and cooking from it 🙂

Read this: The Great Global Bucket List by Robin Esrock

The Great Global Bucket List
by Robin Esrock
http://www.globalbucketlist.com/

“For over a decade, renowned travel journalist, bestselling author and TV host Robin Esrock scoured the globe in search of one-of-a-kind, bucket list-worthy experiences. During his remarkable journey to over 100 countries on seven continents, Esrock uncovered unique adventures, fascinating histories, cultural spectacles and unforgettable characters – proving that modern travel is so much more than over-trafficked tourist attractions.”

When you’re anything like me and read an introduction like that and the lovely people at Affirm Press kindly offer to send you a copy, you get excited! Everything about that paragraph got to me, because it’s everything I’ve ever dreamed about. As long as I can remember, there have always been three things in life that I’ve wanted to do; learn as much as I can through reading (yes, major bookworm and nerd, I’m ok with it), travel the world, and write about it. This guy is doing just that. He’s seen the world and wrote a book about it. That was a book I needed to read.

Covering everywhere from place as far-flung as Nicaragua and Mongolia, to more common places like Italy and Thailand, he’s literally seen it all. The amount of things he’s seen and experienced is absolutely mind-blowing, and eye-opening. The bucket list items aren’t for everyone, being of the more adventurous nature. Experiences like biking down the “Death Road” in Bolivia, for example, are definitely not my jam… but hot air ballooning over Bagan in Burma or taking part in the world’s biggest food fight in Spain definitely are! Then there were things like Burning Man, which I’ve heard only bits about but now want to know more after reading what Robin had to say about it.

While parts of the book felt a bit forced and read as trying a bit too hard to be funny (“First stop is a treat of the ancient world, Chichén Itzá, not to be confused with chicken pizza, which happens to be delicious.”), it was fantastic to see a great deal of photos taken of and by Robin himself, because it made it so much more real. There is absolutely nothing more depressing than a travel book where all the photos look photo-shopped, because you just know that sort of an adventure is out of reach for us real people. Especially because adventure isn’t out of reach for any of us – especially not with a bit of inspiration like this.

You can pick up a copy (and inspiration for your next adventure) here, and in the mean time, you can check out Robin’s website for more information on all of his favourite bucket list items.

Read this: So Sad Today by Melissa Broder

So Sad Today
by Melissa Broder

I saw a photo of this book alongside a nice big Starbucks cup on Kate’s Instagram page while I was stalking her trip around New York and that combined with her caption was about all it took to convince me to buy myself a copy.

A poet and writer who started the @SoSadToday Twitter account a few years ago, Broder brought out this little pink and purple gem of personal essays a few months ago, and I think it’s an either love it or hate it kinda read. I loved it.

While I’ve never been addicted to drugs, had an open marriage or gone on anonymous sex benders, there was a lot I COULD relate to. She writes brutally and honestly about topics that I still find difficult to even just contemplate in my own mind, let alone voice out loud.

Disordered eating and body dysmorphia.

Depression and anti-depressants and their effects.

Crippling anxiety and feeling so much safer when you’re alone.

The essay entitled “Honk If There’s A Committee In Your Head Trying To Kill You” made me laugh and almost cry at the same time. Because that is exactly how I feel a lot of the time! Actually, a lot of her thoughts rang bells for me; this crazy woman has managed to voice so much of my demented internal monologue, it’s actually frightening. And kind of comforting, knowing that I’m really not alone. The start of her essay “I Want to Be a Whole Person but Really Thin” was another one that really stopped me in my tracks and made me feel things I didn’t want to feel and acknowledge. This is how it starts…

I am a vanity eater, a machinelike eater, a suppresser-of-feels eater. I save the bulk of my calories for the end of the day so that I have something sweet and seemingly unlimited to look forward to. I do not trust the universe to provide anything to fill my apparently bottomless hunger. That’s the case with my consumption of a whole pint of diet ice cream with six packets of Equal poured into it every single night. It’s a way of offering myself something cloyingly saccharine and seemingly infinite. I don’t believe that the world, or god, will give me that sweetness. So I am giving it to myself. I am going to bed full of sweetness that the day may not have provided. And I am defeating the laws of nature by doing this with diet ice cream. Most nights I would rather curl up with the diet ice cream than be in the world.

 

I think the most difficult thing that some readers will find with this book is the concept of “first world problems” and thinking that actually, compared to some people, she probably wasn’t struggling that badly. But as she writes, and something else that really rang true for me, “I feel bad about my struggle, because it is nothing compared to other people’s struggled and yet it still hurts.”

What I think I love most about this book is that it’s really not mopey or whiney or “feel sorry for me and my middle-class white-girl problems.” That’s certainly not how it came across to me, anyway. Everyone has their struggles and their demons, and everyone deals with them differently. This particular woman decided to write about some of hers (and I can relate because I’ve always turned to writing when things have been hard), and that’s brave.

The knowledge that you’re not the only one who is so sad today, for whatever reasons, is a comfort. And for my generation of women, who are expected to have a stellar career and perfect marriage and beautiful children and stay thin and fit and healthy, but still eat burgers with the guys and enjoy cocktails with the girls, and have time to workout and read and volunteer and shop and cook and clean and work and all the other crap, sometimes the best thing in the world is to know we’re not alone, our worries aren’t petty, and that what we’re going through matters. Grab a copy here and enjoy (or not!)  🙂

Read this: The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk

The Museum of Innocence
by Orhan Pamuk

I came across this book a few months ago while reading a travel magazine that mentioned a few books worth reading that were set in certain cities. Considering we’re planning to visit Turkey next year, and it was described as being a beautiful look at Istanbul over the past few decades, I thought I’d add it to my reading list without looking too much more into it.

How to describe this book… I really have no idea. There are a few aspects to it, for me…

1. I guess on the surface it’s a bit of a demented love story. Kemal, the gentleman telling his story back in this book (beginning in the 1970s), is from a very well-off family in Istanbul society. He’s engaged to another society darling, Sibel, but manages to fall in love with a not so well-off, younger, distant relative (before anyone starts thinking this is more incestual than it sounds, it’s a relation by marriage, not by blood), Füsun.

The book starts when they first meet, and follows an incredibly tumultuous number of years; not to ruin the story for those also wanting to read it, but basically, he’s madly in love with Füsun which costs him his engagement to Sibel, and it seems, ultimately, his happiness. Star-crossed lovers, heart break, romance, etc, etc.

 

2. At several points while reading this (very long) book, I was ready to throw in the towel, because I am not a fan of romance novels. I don’t care for love lost or “The Notebook” or star-crossed lovers or any other crap like that. At those points, it just felt like a sad romance novel. But then I’d read parts like this and I realised that it actually wasn’t just a love story after all; it was a story of melancholy, of loss, of confusion, of someone trying to find meaning in their life. That, I could relate to.

“‘Don’t worry, it will pass,’ he said softly. ‘You’re still young. It’s still very early for you to be losing sleep over this kind of pain, so don’t fret. But when you’re my age, if you have some regrets in life, you’ll have to lie here counting the stars until dawn. Beware of doing things that you might regret later.'”

 

 

3. It was also a really interesting study of Istanbul as a city, with Pamuk noting how the city evolved as the characters did over the years. As someone who was already looking forward to seeing the city, I was really fascinated to read about how it had changed. And, as a woman, I  really enjoyed reading about the changing roles women played in society, and how families and groups of friends interacted. The book was written in such an effortlessly descriptive way that you almost felt you were right there when they were dining in a noisy restaurant or eating at the family dinner table.

 

4. I’ve never had an unrequited impossible love story of my own, yet parts of this novel were so scarily relatable in other ways, and just so, so beautiful…

“In fact no one recognizes the happiest moment of their lives as they are living it. It may well be that, in a moment of joy, one might sincerely believe that they are living that golden instant ‘now,’ even having lived such a moment before, but whatever they say, in one part of their hearts they still believe in the certainty of a happier moment to come. Because how could anyone, and particularly anyone who is still young, carry on with the belief that everything could only get worse: If a person is happy enough to think he has reached the happiest moment of his life, he will be hopeful enough to believe his future will be just as beautiful, more so.

But when we reach the point when our lives take on their final shape, as in a novel, we can identify our happiest moment, selecting it in retrospect, as I am doing now. To explain why we have chosen this moment over all others, it is also natural, and necessary, to retell our stories from the beginning, just as in a novel. But to designate this as my happiest moment is to acknowledge that it is far in the past, that it will never return, and that awareness, therefore, of that very moment is painful. We can bear the pain only by possessing something that belongs to that instant. These mementos preserve the colors, textures, images and delights as they were more faithfully, in fact, than can those who accompanied us through those moments.”

Reading this hit home and made sense to me. I’m a journaller, a recorder of details, a hoarder of memories. I am prone to melancholy, nostalgia, quiet sentimentality. I spend a lot of time analysing life and it’s meaning, trying to understand who and what and why I am. So does Kemal, in this book.

 

5. Following on from that sentiment that mementos have the power to preserve memories, Kemal’s character collects bits and pieces throughout the story that remind him of his love, Füsun. Cigarette butts, hair pins, pencils, a shoe, restaurant menus… He collects these things to bring him back to moments that remind him. At the end of the book, he decides to open a museum to display these memories of his life and love, and the author of the book actually opened a real life Museum of Innocence in Istanbul a few years ago.

“Sometimes, thus consoled, I would imagine it possible for me to frame my collection with a story, and I would dream happily of a museum where I could display my life… Where I could tell my story through the things that Füsun had left behind, as a lesson to us all.”

 

It was such a strange book, and it seems that people either love it or hate it. I can understand why; I kept thinking I’d hate it when I got to the end, but actually, I absolutely loved it. It was beautiful, and so worth the read. You can grab a copy here – really looking forward to visiting the museum in Istanbul now!

Read this: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

A Confederacy of Dunces
by John Kennedy Toole

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“Novels are often able to capture reality very well, much better than in the world we see on Facebook, where, ironically, it’s about real people. Fiction, with its invented characters, gets much closer to reality. It’s about people as they really are, with all their problems and quirks. On top of this, the parallel world of books, film and television is always available. Even when the whole world is falling upon you, this is the one thing that keeps standing. A world that doesn’t change, that is nice and safe.”
— Marieke Nijmanting in Flow Magazine

I read this quote in Flow Magazine recently, when I was half way through reading A Confederacy of Dunces, and I couldn’t believe how apt it was. Despite the fact that this book is hilariously demented and the anti-hero’s every movement is a complete debacle, it was about a person as he was, with all of his problems and quirks, in a parallel world.

I’d heard about this novel a long time ago, but never knew what it was about. Until I read about the Ignatius J. Reilly statue that resides in New Orleans while I was reading 111 Places in New Orleans That You Must Not Miss. I figured if he was a big enough fictional character in a city full of characters (fictional and real), he must be worth reading.

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John Kennedy Toole’s novel was finally published over a decade after his suicide, after his mother pushed writer Walker Percy into reading it. It follows the adventures of Ignatius J. Reilly, a fat, lazy, unemployed 30-year-old man still living at home with his mother…

“A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs.”

It paints a picture, doesn’t it? Doesn’t sound like a character that embodies a “hero” of sorts. And yet, I absolutely adored him! He may be unemployable, eccentric, incredibly eloquent and well educated, and yet completely deluded, but he’s a character that I really related to in parts. At the heart of it, he’s struggling to find his place in the world. That’s partially his own fault, sure, but it’s a universal struggle I think most of us can relate to.

His misadventures in his home city of New Orleans are hysterical, and magnificently written – the articulate insults, the comedic disbelief at his own misfortune, the other characters, it’s all fantastic. Part of the novel is told through the Journal that Ignatius is writing, his indictment on the world. It chronicles his attempts to find employment at the behest of his mother, first in an office, then as a hot dog vendor on the streets of the French Quarter. This part had me in stitches, because it was just so perfectly written and so vivid…

But back to the matter at hand: Clyde’s vengeance. The vendor who formerly had the Quarter route wore an improbably pirate’s outfit, a Paradise Vendor’s nod to New Orleans folklore and history, a Clydian attempt to link the hot dog with Creole legend. Clyde forced me to try it on in the garage. The costume, of course, had been made to fit the tubercular and underdeveloped frame of the former vendor, and no amount of pulling and pushing and inhaling and squeezing would get it onto my muscular body. Therefore, a compromise of sorts was made. About my cap I tied the red sateen pirate’s scarf. I screwed the one golden earring, a large novelty store hoop of an earring, onto my left earlobe. I affixed the black plastic cutlass to the side of my white vendor’s smock with a safety pin. Hardly an impressive pirate, you will say.

However, when I studied myself in the mirror, I was forced to admit that I appeared rather fetching in a dramatic way. Brandishing the cutlass at Clyde, I cried, “Walk the plank, Admiral!” This, I should have known, was too much for his literal and sausage-like mind. He grew most alarmed and proceeded to attack me with his spear-like fork. We lunged about it the garage like two swashbucklers in an especially inept historical film for several moments, fork and cutlass clicking against each other madly. Realizing that my plastic weapon was hardly a match for a long fork wielded by a maddened Methuselah, realizing that I was seeing Clyde at his worst, I tried to end our little duel. I called out pacifying words; I entreated; I finally surrendered. Still Clyde came, my pirate costume so great a success that it had apparently convinced him that we were back in the golden days of romantic old New Orleans when gentlemen decided matters of hot dog honor at twenty paces.

 

He actually has many run ins with his fellow New Orleanians, and they don’t get any less hilarious as the novel plows on; in the end, I felt like he was just a misunderstood and slightly deluded man, who wanted things to just be right and couldn’t quite work out how to make them so. He just wanted to be left alone to write and express his thoughts. I get that; I can relate. But don’t take my word for it – pick up a copy for yourself here and enjoy a truly entertaining, unforgettable read!