21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Like vintage port, to be savoured drop by drop,
This review is from: A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: from the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube (Paperback)
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.