Vibrant and alive with wonder at the potpourri of magical places and interesting cultures which make up our beautiful world, Brian Lawrenson's account of his travels along Marco Polo's route is a breezy and fun way to vacation from your balcony. By train, camel, and tricycle we are along for the ride as he and his wife Jill find history and adventure from Istanbul to Kathmandu, Damascus to Samarkand, from China to Pakistan. Written in an intimate style, we experience everything along with them, making for a relaxed holiday devoid of the hassles and overflowing with the pleasures. Speculation about Marco Polo and his journey and the colorful history of each place visited and enjoyed are given the reader in an atmosphere as easy as the cafes where plans for the next day were often hatched.
Colorful groups and experienced guides often join in the journey, but mostly it is that sense of excitement at being there which captures the reader. We can see in our mind's eye the sultans and belly dancers when visiting the Pela Palas in Istanbul, and experience a romantic gondola ride along a Venetian canal while discovering the interesting history of the gondoliers. Whether it is the Valley of Tombs or a spot where Lawrence of Arabia once stood matters only slightly, as it is only one tiny adventure among many we get to share with the Lawrensons. In China we can hear the hoofbeats of riders as we gaze upon the Terra Cotta Warriors of ancient times, and in Syria we learn of Queen Zenobia, who once challenged and defied the Roman Empire. Young Syrian girls still wear copies of a coin she had minted with her image as a necklace.
It was fascinating to discover great beauty in places like Pakistan, which is not the first image which comes to the mind of a westerner. Ali and Azeem guided the Lawrensons safely across narrow paths barely roads at all, through a vibrant country still strangely full of British traditions. Exotic foods were sampled and enjoyed at eateries throughout the journey, and it feels as if we are there enjoying them as well. There is a sense of good fortune also; a bomb exploding in a marketplace the couple had just left. From Trieste and the Croation countryside to the making of tea in China it is all enjoyable and fascinating. Americans who enjoy Globe Trekker on PBS will find that same bright sense of enchantment in traveling to these exotic places with the Lawrensons as our guides.
Being American by birth and good fortune, and now living in lovely Australia after marrying there, I found myself wondering whether the shadow we know exists in our day in certain regions of the world would ever find their way in to this breezy travel adventure so full of wonder and history for these places along Polo's journey. A comment offered by a border guard and a quiet conversation Lawrenson had with another man brought me briefly back to earth from the heady journey I'd been on with he and his wife, Jill. Sympathy for anti-American leanings and the fanatical hate of a world criminal booted out of many countries already was palpable, but by no means representative of the majority. It only served to highlight the guilt by association for those who look the other way at evil as it freely and openly walks back and forth across their borders. No doubt those same two people, if they saw a man stab violently another outside their window, would never consider allowing him to move freely in and out of the comfort of their family home. Morality, decency, and a sense of right and wrong inherent in the vast majority of human beings would not allow for such.
It was a brief jolt, coming near the end of the author's journey, only serving to foster in the reader an appreciation for their own beauteous patch of freedom. Perhaps the finest comment I can make about this work is that it doesn't necessarily foster that feeling of regret we sometimes get from travel books. Due in large part to its intimate style and true wonderment which can be felt by the reader, we close this book with the impression of having been these places ourselves. As the couple approach Sydney, we too are grateful for our own spot to rest, yet left wondering how much more there is to experience in our third rock from the sun if we could only manage to do so. In the end, this is an enjoyable and uplifting account of travel I can honestly recommend to anyone who enjoys them.