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on 28 June 2000
This is the first book of two describing a 1,200 mile walk from Holland to Constantinople undertaken in 1934 when the author was 18 years old. The book was written some forty years later, events and people recalled from memory and notes in a diary.
The language of this book is pure poetry, just a delight to read. The author beautifully describes amazing countryside, castles, rivers, fascinating and incredibly generous people and a way of life in parts of Europe that were forever destroyed by the war. He walked through Germany during the time that Nazism was in the ascendancy, giving hope and optimism to a nation that had long been on its knees. It is fascinating to read about the excitement that Nazism brought to Germany in 1934 with the knowledge of the destruction and horror that it brought to the World just a few short years later.
The author met the most amazing people, a lot through good luck and fortune, but a lot to do with the fact that the author comes across as a delightful companion; polite, intelligent and with a young man's enthusiasm for life and living.
I can't wait to read the second part, 'Between the Woods and the Water'.
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on 4 February 2006
Leigh Fermor's great classic is extraordinary. His language is immensely beautiful, but I beleive that the secret to understand the book is that he is actually painting pictures with words. There are some great set pieces: the walk in Holland, breakfast in Rottterdam, the cold, the chateau life he began to lead after Munich. He is a polymath and the book is not really travel literature at all, or if it is, it is of a totally different order to anything I have ever read. Will Leigh Fermor write the promised third part of the great trilogy?
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on 23 July 2009
I bought this book on the strength of the reviews having stumbled across it on one of my Amazon rambles and I am very glad that I did. I am giving it 5 stars and my own review as I wanted to join the already substantial voices that praise this book.

The lyrical prose that Leigh Fermor uses deftly draws us into this almost magical Europe. He summons up images from a bygone era without once touching on cliche or the sometimes pedestrian descriptions often found in travelogues. Following him from the ice-bound canals of the polders of the Netherlands, down the castle strewn Rhine and across the snowy mountains and woods of Bavaria and Austria we are introduced to a range of fascinating characters and lost customs. Tableaus of Breughelesqe scenes in tankard-filled inns or moonlit trudges across a starlit landscape come alive in his skilled hands.

Clearly an incredibly talented linguist, observant social anthropologist and knowledgeable individual he uses his talents liberally to describe and illuminate Europe in the early 1930's. The fact that it was written with the benefit of hindsight adds to the book's rich detail rather than detracting from it.
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I bought this remarkable travelogue as a Christmas present for my son-in-law, who enjoyed it so much that he recommended I read it. It's an account of the adventures of a young man as he walks across Europe in the early 1930's from the Hook of Holland as far as the Czechoslovakia-Hungary border (subsequent volumes Between the Woods and the Water and The Broken Road continue his journey on to Constantinople). The author has a keen eye for details, and his memories of some of them have been reinforced by the diary he kept on the trip. But the eye is worthless without the gift of telling. Look at this:

"A rival pallor was spreading at the other end of the sky, and very fast. Behind a flutter of hills a rim of blood-red lunar segment was rising. It expanded to its full diameter and then dwindled; and when the circumference was complete a tremendous crimson moon was casting loose. It changed to orange and then to yellow as it climbed and diminished until all the colour had ebbed away and left it to soar with the aloof and airy effulgence of sliver. [...] While the light was seeking out more and more liquid surfaces for reflection, the sky, where the moon was now sailing towards its zenith, seemed to have become an expanse of silvery powder too fine for the grain to be descried. Silence transcended the bitterns' notes and the industry of the frogs." [p272]

The choice of the exotic word "effulgence" (which means a brilliant radiance) in this extract indicates that the reader of this book needs access to a dictionary in order to deal with Leigh Fermor's wide-ranging vocabulary; for example, when I looked up the word "imberb" - which means beardless - from his p235, I found several references to his - and no-one else's - use of it. This is nowhere better illustrated than in his use of technical terms when describing architecture, or - as here - military paraphernalia:

"Lancers' torsoes taper into their sashes like bobbins. Red and white ribbons cross their breasts and sometimes the Golden Fleece sprouts from those high star-crusted collars. Hands rest on the hilt of a sabre looped with a double-ended sabretache. Others nurse a plumed shako, a dragoon's helmet or an uhlan's czapka with a square top like a mortar-board and tufted with a tall aigrette." [p124]

Passages like this (and a modest amount of un-translated German, French and Latin scattered throughout the text) mean that you can't take your eye off the ball for very long. However, there are great rewards for such concentration: his powers of description are so strong, you feel you're on this fascinating road with him, as he drinks himself unconscious in the Munich Hofbrauhaus, is snowed-in for a couple of days with two pretty girls in Stuttgart, or describes the striking architecture of Prague in tones of awestruck wonder which are difficult for us to appreciate in a world where travel has become so commonplace and straightforward.

Finally, the fact that the landscape he was moving through was changing even as he watched it gives this book an elegiac quality. This is particularly the case in Germany, where Hitler had just come to power (however, almost all the Germans he encountered were antipathetic to the Nazis, and treated this strange English traveller with great courtesy and kindness), and it's hard to read about his love for the people he meets and the architecture of their cities without thinking of the conflagration which was just around the corner.
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on 25 February 2008
At first I had trouble adjusting to Leigh Fermor's extremely descriptive style. He furnishes his writing with rarely-used words and is happy to hold up the story for pages while he sidetracks us with art historical or architectural speculations. However, his charm and learning prove irresistible. This is an unforgettable book.
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on 11 August 2005
I have read this book at least three times. It never fails to entrance me.
This records not just a journey , but also a way of life and an era which the second world war changed for ever.
His eye for detail and gifts of lively desciption more than stand the test of time.
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VINE VOICEon 23 November 2012
As a periodic dipper into travel writing I had no idea when I bought it that A Time of Gifts is a classic of the genre, but undoubtedly it is.

This story of a young man's quixotic decision to walk from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul in the early 1930s is strange in one respect: it is an account recollected years later in tranquillity and with some benefit of hindsight but based on the author's contemporary notebooks. The standpoint is uncompromisingly lyrical/intellectual. The prose is florid and wonderfully imaginative, the similes and metaphors consistently revealing. The acceptance that the reader will need no condescension has been seen by some as arrogance but it is itself a portrait of the writer.

One cannot read episodes of friendship and hospitality offered by (literally) passing acquaintances from all classes of society without understanding that this is a world of the past. It is impossible to imagine a young man today taking off on a similar project with a similar happy outcome. We can be grateful that Leigh Fermor undertook the adventure and wrote about it so eloquently.
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on 26 August 2012
I stumbled on this book by chance having nothing else to read at the time. I was intrigued from the start by his letter in the preface about his time in wartime Greece and how poetry crossed the cultural and military barriers of political prisoners. Then the real journey unfolded and I found myself re reading whole paragraphs just to savour his wonderfully poetic and detailled descriptions of life in 1930's Europe. The rather idyllic freedom with which he travels from village to town to city and across borders, lodging in Innkeeper's attics and medieval castles and meeting every kind of character from jolly German burghers stuffing themselves with pork and beer to ascetic scholars discussing some latin prose, is all the more nostalgic, set as it is against the early stirrings of the Brown Shirts who later terrorised Europe till 1945. His descriptions of architectural gems, social outings and the countryside in all seasons really brings that epoch back to life and we mourn its passing. His journey skips along at a pace in places and dawdles along in others as his interest is fired and friendhips are forged or rekindled. He meets so many strangers who treat him so kindly in a world where the traveller on foot was becoming an oddity and yet hospitality and trust abounded. PLF's description of the raspberry liqueur he shared with the German publican is just one of the many gems that adorn this delightful story of a young man's travels in middle Europe. i usually prefer fiction to travelogues but what a joy to come across this book at a time in my life that i can really appreciate its many levels and twists and turns. At times it almost feels like a fairy story and at others there is the faint hint of the future horrors released by nazism. The author takes as much pleasure in describing his simple breakfast of coffee and black bread as he does the intricate patterns caused by the frost on the trees and window panes. His exuberance and fascination in everything he sees makes it impossible not to be carried along seeing that lost world still alive through his eyes. We experience a lost innocence where 4 crisp £1 notes can be sent by post (and do arrive) every month by his doting mother to the nearest consulate or embassy for him to collect and pay his way. A world that some may still remember but most of us can only dream of. An unusual and uplifting look that gives a unique insight into that period of social history.
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on 24 June 2011
I've loved this book since it first came out in the late 70s, and love it again each time I read it. Mysteriously it seems quite different each time; and there is a deep vein of humour which is much richer now than when I was younger! I am now reading it aloud to a friend, and it is even better this way: Leigh Fermor's use of words is wonderful and a joy to speak aloud.

Of course, the subject matter is also fascinating, a view into a world so recently vanished.

Do not be put off by long lists of literature which appear from time to time: if that isn't your thing, turn the page and pick it up from there.
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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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