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on 22 August 2012
While precise memories of events must have faded in the fifty years between the journey and the book, the context benefits from the breadth and depth of the man's reading. It made me want to read all his other books (done that) but also to read all that he has read (no chance). I have never come across a better descriptive writer. My son, who is a well read engineer and a harsh critic of pretty much everything, was impressed with this quality. In one of his other books, about the Mani, he mentions, in discussing his home there, that every home should have at least two shelves of reference books. I bet he had a lot more than that.

Buy it, read it, and then go buy his other books.
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I bought this second volume about the author's European walk for my son-in-law after we'd both enjoyed A Time of Gifts, which described the first part of his journey. This book covers his walk from his entry into Hungary to his arrival at the Iron Gates, the gorge on the Danube which forms part of the boundary between Romania and Serbia (a third volume, The Broken Road, which completes the journey to Constantinople, was published posthumously). This volume is perhaps more reflective than the first, describing the landscapes and people he encounters as he crosses the Great Hungarian Plain on horseback, crosses the Romanian border into Transylvania and walks down the Danube to the Iron Gates. Once again, it's the vivid, unforced quality of the writing that brings what he's seen to life for the reader - for example, [p82]:

"Scattered with poppies, the golden-green waves of the cornfields faded. The red sun seemed to tip one end of a pair of scales below the horizon, and simultaneously to lift an orange moon at the other. Only two days off the full, it rose behind a wood, swiftly losing its flush as it floated up, until the wheat loomed out of the twilight like a metallic and prickly sea."

A real pleasure to read (even without having read the first volume, I think) - highly recommended.
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on 5 October 2008
I read both of Fermor's books of his trek from UK towards Instanbul in sequence, and enjoyed both hugely. It was a great pity he never produced the projected 3rd volume! This (2nd) volume covers his travels through Hungary and Romania, largely by being befriended by local people and being in turn passed on to their friends, so he had the enormous luck of not only their open-handed hospitality but also of their local knowledge. Many of these characters are compelling: I especially loved the studious land-owner who opened the conversation by asking what was Fermor's special research topic. He was clearly disapproving that the 19y old had not got one, and was only mollified by his evidently wide classical reading. Fermor writes perceptively and sympathetically, but his beguiling account is bittersweet as one knows that he is describing a region and people who are on the brink of the horrors of WWII and the dead hand of prolonged totalitarianism. The book ends with an exciting ferry ride through the Danube's Iron Gates gorge - which seemed so spectacular that I decided to visit the place asap, only to discover that it had since been submerged by a dam put up in later more utilitarian times!
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In 1933 at the age of 18, Patrick Leigh Fermor set off on an epic walk across Europe. Adolf Hitler had just come to power in Germany and the continent would soon be ravaged by war. Leigh Fermor set of at the end of December with only a small amount of money and carrying a rucksack containing a few possessions.

Although he kept extensive notes about his journey, he didn’t start writing this book until the 1970s and it was first published in 1977, over 40 years after the events described. In the intervening period, Leigh Fermor had become a war hero (kidnapping a German Commander in Crete) and an established travel-writer. A Time of Gifts has none of the signs of immaturity one might expect of a teen-aged traveller although I suspect that even at 18 he already showed many of the qualities that would be evident in his later work.

Not many people would choose to set off on such an epic journey in the middle of winter, but Leigh Fermor embarked on a Dutch steamer sailing from Tower Bridge to the Hook of Holland in mid-December. Wearing an ex-army great-coat and hob-nail boots, he disembarked in Rotterdam and began his trudge across Europe in the flat lands of Holland, walking along the polders and canals in a bitterly cold east wind.

He entered Germany a few days later with some trepidation. Years of anti-German propaganda dating from the First World War had conditioned Patrick to expect a certain image of the German people; “the bristling paterfamilias, his tightly buttoned wife, the priggish spectacled children and the odious dachshund reciting the Hymn of Hate among the sausages and the beer-mugs – nothing relieved the alien strangeness of these visions”. Experience soon convinced him otherwise however and he writes, “I very soon found myself liking them. There is an old tradition in Germany of benevolence to the wandering young: the very humility of my status acted as an Open Sesame to kindness and hospitality”.

In Cologne, after looking around the famous twin-spired Cathedral, Patrick met up in a pub with a group of barge-men and with the thought of hitching a life on a barge on his journey down the Rhine, ended up being offered a free berth all the way down to Coblenz. His account of the river voyage is magical, the bargees singing Christmas songs accompanied on a mouth-organ while the little towns along the bank slip past, appropriately illuminated for the season.

The German hospitality offered to this poor student traveller is consistently good throughout his journey. Even on Christmas Day in an un-named village near Coblenz, Patrick stopped at an inn for lunch only to be swept up in a huge family party, waking up the next morning on somebody’s sofa with a huge hangover.

As Patrick made his way through Germany he noticed increasing number of Nazi enthusiasts. Generally speaking, the people he met were disdainful about the Nazis and had no love of Hitler. The German people generally had a high regard for Britain, not least because of our Empire and our Navy, which seemed to attract admiring words wherever he went. No doubt a few years later it would have been a different story.

Patrick travelled with very little money in his pockets. Every so often he was able to pick up £4 from a British Consulate, presumably mailed to him by his parents, but usually he relied on very cheap lodging houses and the hospitality of some contacts made in Britain and contacts picked up along the way. Occasionally he was able to find casual work chopping wood or helping out with other mundane tasks, but in Vienna, a new friend called Konrad suggested that he offered his services door-to-door as a sketcher of portraits. At first Patrick was very unsure about this, but egged on by Konrad he found a ready market and found that fifteen minutes with pencil and paper could earn him enough for his evening meal and accommodation. This chapter gives some lovely cameos of German domestic interiors and the people who lived in them.

Overall, this is serious travel-writing, offering a snap-shot of a Europe about to be ravaged by war and enjoying a brief respite of relative prosperity and peace. Readers can only admire Leigh Fermor’s courage in setting out on a journey spanning a continent with so little in the way of resources. His trust in good fortune has been an inspiration to many other young travellers and for someone like me who likes to tie up all the loose ends before he departs on a journey, it represents a very different but much-admired approach.

The book ends with the author in the mid-Danube region of Czechoslovakia. A second volume, Between the Woods and the Water (1986), takes us through to Romania. Leigh Fermor never wrote the third volume which would have described the route to Constantinople. However, a third volume has now been produced by Colin Thubron and Artemis Cooper based on Leigh Fermor’s diaries and was published in September of last year (2013) as The Broken Road,

Readers may also be interested in Artemis Cooper’s biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor, Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, and also Nick Hunt’s recreation of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s journey documented in his book Walking the Woods & the Water: In Patrick Leigh Fermor’s footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn .
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on 22 October 2013
"Between the Woods and the Water" is the second book of the three now published on the Young Fermor's epic journey across Europe. Written up some ten years after the first it lacks a smidgeon of the immediacy of the earlier work but is just as rich in historical, etymological and architectural detail - three of the most recurring themes in the author's brilliant prose. This is a book that could be read and reread for all the knowledge it contains. It is perhaps too dense to take in at one reading, and that is probably why PLF is difficult to appreciate : his prose is so frequently a potent distilled concentrate ! That said, there are plenty of lyrical passages as well that do not require too much reflection and most of the adventures he describes also make for light reading. But I suspect many of us are left with an inferiority complex, unable to quite absorb at one sitting the historical and political significance of what is under his microscope - but no doubt with appetites whetted for more background reading. Never mind ! PLF's prose is so magnificently different from the run of the mill that it always deserves the extra attention required to gain the most from it !
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on 22 June 2008
Leigh Fermor's great classic is extraordinary. His language is immensely beautiful, but I believe that the secret to understand the book is that he is actually painting pictures with words. There are some great set pieces in this second volume such as the Easter ceremonies in Hungary, his unforgettable aristocratic hosts and the chateau life he began to lead after Munich while still camping out from time to time. His descriptions of those country houses, and their denizens, particularly once he crosses into Romania, are like small jewels.

The great glory of this book is the trip he makes in Transylvania: it shows a world which no longer exists (Romanian, Hungarians, Swabians etc all living together in one area) and makes one wish to go there immediately.

Leigh Fermor 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 14 May 2017
I just loved this, despite being aware that this is a memoir by a posh boy meandering across Hungary and Transylvania in the company of various Magyar aristocrats. It helps that he is all too aware of it himself, and aware too that he didn't appreciate the significance of the time that he was living through. He and his aristo chums briefly note the Nazi 'night of the long knives' and then go back to partying. But it's beautifully written, and evokes so powerfully a natural and human environment that isn't there any more.
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on 27 December 1999
To enhance the wanderlust yet again in a similar fashion to that seen in "A Time of Gifts" would take an author of great integrity and ability - Leigh Fermor manages once again. Possibly the best travel writer of the 20thC. PLF takes us on not only a journey but also on an adventure in philosophy, history and art. YOU MUST READ IT!!!!!!!!!!!
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on 4 July 2013
Having finally read 'A Time of Gifts' a few books back, I started on 'Between the Woods and the Water', the second of Leigh Fermor's books recounting his journey on foot in the early 1930s from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. Now he is travelling acros the Great Hungarian Plain, into Romania and Transylvania and ending (for this book) at the Iron Gates of the Danube, where the East finally and properly takes over from the West. For quite a lot of the book, L-F does a fair bit of lolling around in faded country houses with minor aristocracy, but even this is interesting for its representation of a vanished, pre- WW2 way of life. And the gradual transition from Mitteleuropa to even more exotic Eastern lands, where the Ottoman Empire held sway for centuries, is really well handled.
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on 10 April 2010
A wonderfully written account of a journey through a region that was irrevocably changed just a few years after the author travelled through it - a fact which lends added poignancy to his vivid descriptions of a way of life that has since vanished. This perhaps inevitably invites comparisons with Rebecca West's 'Black Lamb and Grey Falcon' - although in this instance Leigh Fermor, writing years later, was doing so while fully aware of what would later happen, thus meaning that the Second World War hangs over this work like a storm waiting to happen. Deservedly one of the great works of travel literature.
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