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on 3 March 2008
The simple concept of this journey was to walk from the hook of Holland to Istanbul following the two main arteries of Europe: the Rhine and the Danube. The book was written from pre-war notebooks so some of the language is slightly unfamiliar at first. Once you get over your modern cynicism the gentle pace and detailed descriptions will pull you through the slowly changing landscape of Europe. You will feel the cold of blizzards through dense woodlands and then warm up to drink schnapps in a Bavarian Inn. Despite the poetic prose and flawless rhythm the real strength of this book is the sheer scale and range of knowledge shown by PLF. I was never let down by his ceaseless curiosity, a curiosity which feeds off the assortment of characters he conversed with and the books he pored over en route. PLF is clearly a gifted Linguist and he has more than a passing interest in History, Folklore, Anthropology and Geography. This book also spurred me on to travel into Central Europe and see things for myself.
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on 15 July 2014
Don't . . . . . . just DON'T skip even a single line!
Having enchanted yourself into some sort of other-worldly stupor by reading a few pages, the temptation might surface now and then to scan-read a bit - but you'll miss some of the most surprising historical tit-bits, or nature / season inspired wonder, crafted so well onto the page you can feel the precision grinding into your consciousness. Tales of chance meetings with characters you thought could never exist, of places perhaps consigned now to the march of so-called progress, this is one of the best books I have EVER READ.

Just get it, don't hesitate.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 11 September 2014
In 1933, at the age of 18, Patrick Leigh Fermor set out on an extraordinary journey by foot - from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. "A Time of Gifts" is the first volume in a trilogy recounting the trip, and in this volume the reader accompanies him as far as Hungary.

It's an exceptional book. Published years after the event, in 1977, it still perfectly captures the wonder of his extraordinary journey and the many fascinating people he met on the way. What elevates this magical book are Patrick Leigh Fermor's gifts as a writer and the resultant delightful prose; his enthusiasm for knowledge and learning which peppers every page; and his personal charm which makes him as welcome in aristocratic homes as hostels or the homes of farm workers or labourers.

Patrick Leigh Fermor also provides an alternative cultural history of central Europe. His gifts for languages and history result in musings about Yiddish syntax, Byzantine plainsong, and most memorably the whereabouts of the coast of Bohemia as mentioned by Shakespeare (turns out it existed for 13 years but also turns out Shakespeare probably couldn't have cared less), and much much more.

So, in summary, a beautifully written travel book, that also serves as a history book, and in the company of the most charming and enthusiastic teenager it's possible to imagine. A remarkable book by a remarkable man. I look forward to the next volume, Between The Woods And The Water, though plan to read the recent biography Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure by Artemis Cooper first. All in all this feels like the start of another beautiful relationship.

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on 13 April 2014
This book is a wonderful account of a young Englishman’s journey, on foot, from the Hook of Holland to Esztergom on the Hungarian border. He left British shores at Tilbury Docks to start his walk from Holland to Constantinople on 9th December 1933; he was eighteen. A Time of Gifts is the first half of his trans-European trek. Leigh Fermor wrote this book some forty years following the end of his journey; it was published in 1977. So it is a much older and wiser man looking back at and writing about his journey. I believe this adds much to this book.

He was utterly free to go where he pleased apart from being at pre-arranged destinations to pick up monthly cheques written out for four pounds. He had no bed and board booked; he lived on his wits. Providence being what it is, he met many generous people who put him up and fed him. Some of the accommodation was that of peasants whilst others were manor houses and castles of the landed gentry.

What absolutely makes this book is its superb, mellifluous and intelligent writing. The author’s intelligence shines through every page. This is so much more than a journal, a day-by-day account of his journey. The landscapes that the author passes through; the people that he meets; and the architecture of the towns and cities he walks to, stimulate in him wide ranging thoughts and perceptions. Too you will learn much of European history by reading this book.

Given that this was an inter-war journey it is represents an absolutely priceless snapshot of Europe between the wars. The ascent of the Nazis in Germany is evident. Bar a few notable exceptions, the German people that Leigh Fermor encounters are lovely. There is much pathos, in particular, when he talks of the Jewish people that he met in Germany and Austria, because of what horrors lay in wait just a few short years away.

I can’t recommend this book enough and I can’t wait to read about the second half of his walk to Constantinople.
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on 25 October 2014
As I was travelling in Northern Europe and had arrived near The Hook of Holland, but going further North rather than South I felt sufficiently inspired to download "A Time of Gifts for probably my fourth read over the years. It still didn't disappoint, with the passage of time. The book is a wonderful evocation of an old Europe about to be changed for ever by the second world war. Patrick Leigh Fermor writes poetically , not dissimilarly to Laurie Lee's recollections of his time in Spain at much the same period.Some readers may find the author's digressions into the classical ancient world not to their taste, but it isn't long before he returns to "the road" again, spinning a magical tale of his encounters, along the way, with architectural vistas of ancient castles perched on great rocks amidst the deep forests of central Europe.
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on 30 June 2005
Leigh Fermor's novel about his walk across a long-lost europe is somthing special and unique. It brings back to life a place and time that few rarley glimpsed and is now totally lost. It shows us, through Leigh Fermors unique knowlage of history and literature, a different and wonderful landscape of europe which enchants and entertains. In our suspucious un-trusting urban city lives, this book is a great reminder of how things were, and how they could be.
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on 18 November 2013
A marvellous flight of fancy, re-creating the seminal Rhine-Danube journey of the famous author's famous youth. It is all in the writing, and there is relatively little action or character - though Leigh Fermor does occasionally allow himself to bring to life some of the people he met. There is also a brilliant but brief vignette in a Nazi-filled beer-kellar in Munich and a touching, innocent scene with two girls in their parents' empty house. But mostly he waxes lyrical when describing Rhineland scenery or when he diverges to explain some ancient backwater of history, notably the Imperial Hapsburg or Landsknecht past.

The early parts of the book are better, in my view, because the writing is more exuberant and uncluttered, particularly the opening chapters in Holland and north Germany. The pace slows and the writing becomes more restrained (except in Vienna) as the polymath traveller enters Austria, where architectural descriptions take hold. Remarkably, and tediously, there is at least one word on almost every page which I did not know - but don't let that put you off.
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on 12 January 1999
This is a wonderful book, an adventure story. Only 17, he walks from London to Budapest in the early thirties, a remarkable feat in itself, this book is like a memoir of that trip. Along the way he shares his thoughts on the people he meets and the places he visits. Interspersed with objective and sympathetic observations of history art and culture, mixed with hindsight. The book shows us a glimpse of what the people of Europe were like just before the second World War. Fermor has a rare gift in the way that he understands and can explain what he sees.
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on 13 October 2013
This book describes the author`s journey, mostly on foot, from Rotterdam on the North Sea coast of Holland to the Danube in Hungary in 1933, traversing Germany when Hitler was coming to power; although that has surprisingly little place in the story. Moreover he sets out at what must be the worst time of the year, ie., just before Christmas; walking across Europe through winter and into spring. He meets the full range of European society from aristocrats to east European peasants. He sleeps in castles, barns and under trees. He carries a minimum amount of kit, which gets stollen. At one point, when short of funds, he makes some money by selling the sketches he does of people he meets. Throughout, he is resourceful and upbeat.

It is difficult to know how much of this book is the product of the 18 year old that did the journey and how much derives from the more mature man who produced it later in life. If the former, it is an incredible work. In either case it is a polished, evocative and lyrical description of an age that cannot return. We have here a picture of a Europe that, to our loss and shame, is gone for ever. That an 18 year old had the fortitude to embark alone on such a journey and, moreover, to see it through is enough in itself. To describe his exeriences as he does and also to bring the historical, backgound and knowledge of languages to it that he does makes it, in my view, a work of genius.
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on 19 July 2013
I've never been so disappointed at not enjoying a book - all the portents looked good - I had read about Leigh Fermor and was practically in love with him before starting this book. Coming from a similar family background - and like him being an insufferable teenage intellectual snob & auto-didact who spent hours reading about art & architecture & memorising poetry, I was sure it was going to be just my cup of tea. I'd even been to most of the places, for heaven's sake, and could conjure up the pictures and galleries so laboriously described.

So why did I not enjoy it? It was just too self-consciously clever and lyrical and so obviously not the work of the young man who set out. The section of his original (rediscovered) journal highlighted blindingly the difference between the fresher, more brisk prose of a 19 year old and the highly polished, contorted and effortful version that he spent so many years working up. He even managed to bring in his dining-out story about the German General in Crete (which it appears he trotted out so frequently that even his friends and admirers tired of it). I tried hard to like it, but kept flicking into my Kindle to see how many pages were left. It was quite a slight book, but it felt very long. I got increasingly irritated with his sense of entitlement, ability to swan into schlosses and houses all over the place, drink beer, converse (seemingly with ease) in a multiplicity of languages and despite his self-confessed snobbery, I also found his fascination with the Hapsburg nobility very tiresome. I only really woke up when I got to his meeting with "Pips" Schey (cue quick genealogical chit chat from L-F about their wealth and antiquity). I recognised the name at once from "The Hare with the Amber Eyes" and went back into that book to remind myself about a clearly very fascinating and charming individual- certainly Leigh Fermor was in total thrall to him and had a bit of a man-crush. Amusingly, L-F is afforded just one line in Edmund de Waal's compelling book - that he stayed at the castle with Baron Schey von Koromla. Unfortunately it reminded me just how much I had enjoyed that book, and to unseemly comparisons between the two. I had to really drag myself back. There were some enjoyable bits - largely descriptions of nature, but the whole was far less interesting and enjoyable than I was anticipating. I'm currently trying to work up the energy to read the second book. Trouble is, do I really care if he gets to Constantinople or not? Probably not a lot.
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