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TOP 1000 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.

5/5
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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 24 June 2017
Third of the trilogy from this interesting polymath, describing his pre-war walk from Holland to Constantinople, describing the topography of the countries visited and the exalted people he stayed with. Well worth the read as he describes a Europe that did not survive the war. An enlightening book of travel and scholarship.
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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 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 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 7 September 2015
The first in PLFs proposed trilogy of his walk across Europe to Istanbul as an 18/19 year old in the 1933/34/35. This book takes him from London as far as Budapest. Arriving in Rotterdam he walks across Holland, down the Rhine before, at Stuttgart cutting east through Ulm, Augsburg, Munich, Salzburg, re-joining the Danube to walk on to Linz, Vienna and Bratislava (from where a friend takes him on a short train trip to Prague and back) and then on into Hungary. As ever with PLF there is an inordinate amount of scholarly opinion and debate. He does not wear his knowledge or intellect lightly. A lot of these musings however are very informative and provoke further research as he discusses amongst a raft of other matters early Germanic tribes and their relationships with each other and their role in the decline of the Roman empire. Walking across Europe in the 1930s ensures there are telling descriptions of pre WWII life, the presence of rising Nazism, the now lost medieval townscapes and both peasant and medium ranking aristocratic mid European life. PLF’s writings have been challenged for not being wholly accurate but this charge is of far less importance than the overall picture his remarkable journey, and his writing skills, paint.
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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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VINE VOICEon 4 May 2013
First published in 1977, 'A Time of Gifts' is a near-lyrical account of Patrick Leigh Fermor's journey on foot - in 1933/34 when he was 18 - from the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube. The companion volume, Between the Woods and the Water continues his journey to the point where, at the aptly named Iron Gates, the Danube forms the boundary between Yugoslavia and Romania.

The third volume, which will complete his journey to Constantinople, was never finished but, based on an early draft and Patrick Leigh Fermor's original diary, The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos will finally be published in September 2013.

Based on those original diaries - and supplemented by knowledge he gained in the intervening years - 'A Time of Gifts' takes the reader through the Europe that existed in the years before the Second World War. His knowledge of European history - both secular and religious - comes across as being near-absolute but Patrick Leigh Fermor has no difficulty in weaving that knowledge into a compellingly beautiful story. On the journey we encounter, at one extreme, the down-and-out inhabitants of the worker's hostels and, at the other, the last vestiges of an aristocracy still living in their slowly decaying castles.

Hitler had yet to achieve absolute power and, through the eyes of the German people Leigh Fermor met, we see an almost dismissive attitude to the rising menace of Nazism and the horrors that, in a few year's time, were to be unleashed on the world.

Despite what happened in those ensuing years, I had no difficulty in recognising the Vienna I fell in love with almost 40 years ago.

But, as Artemis Cooper recounts in her book Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure Leigh Fermor was far more than simply an accomplished historian and writer. During the Second World War, as a Major in the SOE (Special Operations Executive), he kidnapped and abducted a General of the German army of occupation in Crete. Then, dressed in German uniforms and with General Heinrich Kreipe pinned down in the back of the car, he and a colleague drove through Heraklion, the German headquarters town, bluffing their way through checkpoint after checkpoint in the process. By the time they were taken off in a boat to Alexandria he and General Kreipe, having discovered a mutual love of the Latin odes of Horace, had become almost friends.

In 1944 Leigh Fermor was awarded a DSO for his part in the saga whilst, in 1957, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger released a film (Ill Met By Moonlight) based on the abduction and starring both Dirk Borgarde and Marius Goring. 'Paddy' Leigh Fermor was knighted for services to literature in 2004.

Read and enjoy. 'A Time of Gifts' is a genuinely beautiful story.
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on 27 January 2013
This is the first installment of an epic journey undertaken by a very young man who by December 1933 was finding himself at the end of his tether. Expelled from his public school for dalliance with a grocer's daughter, not sure (having passed School Cert. at a London crammers) he wanted the experience of Sandhurst and a military career, he conceived the mad plan of walking across Europe to Constantinople on a shoestring. Basically it was to be up the Rhine and down the Danube.

A word about the title which is a little obscure for a travelogue, however unusual and distinguished. It is taken from a line of poetry by Louis MacNeice and in my understanding honours the people who were so kind and generous to him along the way. One must remember he was not yet nineteen when he first set out and his youth, good looks and sense of humour charmed very nearly all he met and he certainly displayed a supreme ability to get along with just about anybody.

"Si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait".... Sixteenth century Henri Estienne who first coined this oft-repeated phrase was nicely side-stepped by PLF. Here is an odyssey seen through the eyes of a most intelligent and curious teenager, full of enthusiasm and courage, written up by a man of vast experience half a lifetime later ! No wonder the result is like no other, so amazingly different and distinguished !

The book varies from the colloquial to dense thickets of Byzantine prose that sends most conscientious readers scrabbling for their dictionaries. His lyrical descriptions of the monastery at Melk are a case in point, but there are many other passages that with less talented writers would be labelled "purple prose" but with PLF generally manage to be quite sublime. In Germany he had at least one brush with a young Nazi supporter but as far as history is concerned the strength of the book is in describing a way of life that was to disappear with the Second World War. His precociousness and erudition, his real interest in languages, migration and demographic change led to introductions to the educated and the titled who then effectively passed him on from "schloss to schloss" ! When a four-poster in a crenellated dwelling was not available, in Germany and Austria at least he was often able to be put up by the village mayor in a local hostelry, something that was more or less a traditional privilege in those days for wandering scholars.

There are plenty of adventurous moments that every reader can empathize with... like losing his passport in Munich together with all his belongings. They disappeared from a youth hostel to which he could not return for the night as a result of passing out drunk at the beer festival. But PLF always manages to get out of every scrape with flying colours !

Here and there the old man writing up the story may have gilded the lily just a little, or been parsimonious with the exact truth concerning his amorous escapades, but there is something in his writing, the way he can level with the reader, that convinces that every essential in the long-running saga is absolutely true. The second installment is called "Between the Woods and the Water" and was published as recently as 1986. It finished with the 'implacable words' "To Be Concluded". The third installment - not alas to be written up by Paddy himself - is believed to be still in gestation !

Perhaps Amazon will allow me to conclude with a little plug for "Google Earth". My already huge enjoyment of this book was greatly leveraged by being able to follow PLF on the map with very precise detail. The photographs of historic buildings he saw and visited (when not destroyed by the war) are there in their thousands and are sometimes complemented by street views or 360° Dioramas which will actually place you in the middle of the picture.
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