Travel books – explore the world from your armchair.

One bookcase of travel books.

I love books and I love to travel, so it’s no surprise that I have, over the years, acquired a good number of travel books.

My favourite way to travel is by train. I only wish that I’d been able to travel more by steam train than by the modern electric or diesel trains. There’s so much more adventure or even romance on steam trains. As a passenger travelling by rail I can relax, let someone else take care of the driving, kick back and either watch the scenery flash past the window, chat to fellow travellers, or lose myself in a good book. I can take a walk if I get bored…or feel the need to exercise…or I can make use of the onboard buffet or bar. For me, the journey is just as enjoyable as the destination…sometimes, more so.

I have several books specifically about rail travel, a few of which are in the photo below, and will tell you a little about each of these 5 books pictured.

Just five of my books about train travel – there are more.

So as not to bore you all too much I’ll try to keep my summary of each book as brief as possible…just a few sentences.

Railway Stations – Charles Sheppard is a 1996 publication and looks at railway stations that are “Masterpieces of Architecture”. Some of the standout stations being New York’s Grand Central Station, Saint Louis’s Union Station, and Paris’s Gare du Nord is worthy of inclusion for its facade alone. All of which I am happy to say I have visited over my years of train travel. Moscow’s subway is also included, its passageways more ornate than many luxury hotel lobbies, and deserving of the title ‘Masterpiece’.

Amazing Train Journeys – a lonely planet publication (October 2018). Divided into neat sections – Africa, The Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania. Experience 60 of the world’s greatest and most unforgettable train journeys, from classic long-distance trips like Western Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer and Darwin to Adelaide’s The Ghan, to little-known gems on regular commuting lines. Personally I’d probably choose some of the small privately run railways in the UK that have preserved and operate steam trains – such as the short 2 hour trip from Fort William to Mallaig in Scotland – this is the line that the Hogwarts Express chugs along in the Harry Potter movies.

Chris Tarrant’s Extreme Railway Journeys – (as seen on the UK’s Chanel 5) published in 2016. The text in this book is by Chris Tarrant, accompanying the many colour photos. The problem is that the majority of the photos feature Tarrant’s face mugging for the camera. There are a few pictures simply showing scenery or trains from a distance, but anything close up has the man himself blocking the view. I realise it’s HIS TV show and HIS name on the book….but really, how many photos of Chris smiling do we need to see? There are some helpful maps showing the routes of the 14 Extreme Rail Journeys covered. The text is informative and easy reading, mixed in with a lot of moaning by Tarrant about trains not running on time, being overcrowded and uncomfortable in the third world countries he visited – however he was overjoyed and waxing lyrical about the Japanese Bullet train. The efficiency, comfort and the fact that the staff bow to customers scored points with him. Tarrant, it seems, prefers his “Extreme Journeys” to be accompanied by a large dollop of comfort and luxury.

Great Railway Journeys published by the BBC in 1994 accompanying the TV series of the same name, is in my opinion a far more interesting and better presented book than the one by Chris Tarrant. What makes it so is firstly, that Tarrant is not involved at all, so we can enjoy the beautiful photographs in peace, and secondly that each of the 6 Great Railway Journeys covered is narrated by a different celebrity travellers, who barely make one complaint among them. Mark Tulley takes us through Pakistan from Karachi to the Khyber Pass. Lisa St Aubin de Teran travels in South America, from Santos in Brazil to Santa Cruz in Bolivia. Clive Anderson takes us from Hong Kong, via Shanghai through to Ulaan Baatar in Mongolia. Natalia Makarova is on the Bolshoi Express from St Petersburg in Russia via the various ‘Stans to finish in Tashkent. Seasoned traveller and former “Python”, Michael Palin has a shorter trip from Derry in Northern Ireland to Kerry in the Irish Republic, and finally it’s a South African rail trip for Rian Malan starting in Capetown and ending eventually in Bophuthatswana.

More Great Railway Journeys again published by the BBC, in 1996, is more of the same….This time the celebs are Benedict Allen, Chris Bonington, Henry Louis Gate Jr., Buck Henry, poet – Ben Okri, comedians – Alexei Sayle and Victoria Wood. They journey through the middle east, Africa, the UK, Canada, Argentina and the final journey is from London to Arkadia in Greece. As in it’s predecessor, great photos and informative and witty text make this book another winner. Each journey, each story, has its own unique character, written especially for people who love slow travel….who savour the experience of the journey….rather than rushing as fast as possible to the destination. The only negative thing that I could mention about this follow up book is that there were no maps showing the routes taken. But all in all another marvelous BBC publication.

Do you enjoy the adventure of travelling via rail? What’s your favourite route? Please let me know in the comments section.

Advertisements

I saved the best to last. Cinque Terre. Part 3 – Vernazza. A photographic journey.

Vernazza village – Cinque Terre’s crown
Pastel houses cling to cliff tops
Steep streets take us down
Into the winding narrows
, of Vernazza’s heart
And from this place of beauty
You will never want to part.

Vernazza is a sight to behold. It’s a photographer’s dream and also a photographer’s nightmare. It’s such a lovely place, scenic, colourful – that it’s almost a sin if, as a photographer, you take a bad picture of it. Not even a bad picture….just a picture that doesn’t reflect the full beauty of the place. It’s so difficult to capture…my photos don’t do it justice (in reality the colours are so bright they “ping”)…you must go and visit yourself.

Sure it’s a little shabby in places. Some of the buildings have paint peeling from their facades but it’s a kind of shabby beauty….beauty with age maybe. I loved it here. I spent so long wandering the streets, in and out of alleys and buildings, that I missed out on the final 2 of the Cinque Terre’s villages. But it was worth it.

From the train station you can either wander straight down to the little harbour – the heart and soul of Vernazza – from which everything else radiates, OR do as we did and climb upwards instead. Up the steep stone stairways and narrow paths that bring you out on the hilltop above the village, with spectacular views over the church steeple and down to the harbour of this gorgeous little fishing village. It was exhausting but well worth the climb to the top. Only after drinking in the beauty of the place from this vantage point did we venture down into Vernazza proper.

When in a catholic country like Italy you can’t help but notice the churches and religious icons – especially in these small villages – dotted here and there in quiet corners. A chance to pass on your thanks to the powers that be…..if that’s what your beliefs are….or just enjoy the moments solitude away from the tourist throngs.

Of all 5 villages of Cinque Terre, Vernazza is the only one with a natural port. It has no car traffic either which, if you can get there early and beat the other eager tourists, adds a special tranquility to the place.

Cinque Terre part 2 – Riomaggiore village – a photographic journey.

Riomaggiore is the first of the villages you’ll meet if you approach Cinque Terre from La Spezia. It isn’t, in my opinion, the most beautiful of the villages but is still very pretty and very much worth visiting.

From the railway station you can either, follow the coastal path around a headland to get to the village, or take a short cut through a pedestrian tunnel that takes you directly into the heart of the village. Although the coastal path is picturesque and rugged, on a hot day like it was when we visited, the cool of the tunnel is the preferred route.

The villages of Cinque Terra. Part 1. Manarola – A photographic journey.

Since my last post – a black and white photographic journey through Paris – was so well supported I thought I’d try you all with some colour photos of the villages of Italy’s Cinque Terre. The villages are such a riot of colour that it would not do justice to their beauty if I presented photos in black and white.

The villages of Cinque Terre cling to the rocky cliff face along the north west coast of Italy. The can be accessed either by rail – from the nearby city of La Spezia – just 10 minutes by train to the south, or by following the pathway cut into the cliff face. The railway and the pathway link all five villages that make up the Cinque Terre. I thought that I’d be able to get some spectacular photos from the train as we made our way along the rugged coastline…..BUT – there’s always a BUT – because of the physical limitations of the geography here, the railway cuts through many, many tunnels so glimpses of the ocean are few and far between. However, the villages, as we discovered on departing the train, more than made up for the disappointment of the journey.

The buildings are close together due to the physical limits of the geography of the area and are painted in beautiful pastel colours. We spent a day exploring just 3 of the 5 villages. Here is a look in pictures at the second smallest of the five villages – Manarola.

San Francisco beckons

I’ll soon be heading off to San Francisco to catch up with my eldest son and his wife….and aim to visit as many of the amazing independent bookstores there as I can. Immediately Green Apple Books, City Lights, Alley Cat Books and Dog Eared Books spring to mind, but there are dozens more scattered around this awesome city. Since my blog is primarily about books, writers, and bookstores, this will form the “bones” of my trip, but I’ll also flesh it out with lots of other bits and pieces and pursue my other passions of photography and travel…..not to mention the cafes and boutique breweries, bars, restaurants, galleries and shops. Speaking of galleries, there will be visits to photography galleries and art galleries plus there is a lot of art in public spaces outdoors such as the hundreds of murals in the Mission district. Then again, San Francisco also has some wonderful parks and open spaces to explore too, so after exhausting ourselves in the parks on this side of the bridge, we’ll probably head over the Golden Gate Bridge and see the mighty Redwoods in Muir Woods and since we’re almost there already… there are the vineyards of Sonora to check out.

We’ll also be spending a few days on the Monterey peninsula and a long weekend in Portland, Oregon – where I’ll spend some of my time in Powell’s bookstore – the biggest independent bookstore in the USA.

If anyone has any other tips on “must see” things in San Francisco, OR if you have any requests for things you’d like me to check out and blog about while in SF, please let me know in the comments below. I won’t be going to visit Alcatraz as I have already been there twice – once a few years ago and once back in 1986….but any other suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Quotes to inspire

Other than my wife and family I have three main passions. They are writing, photography and travel. So I thought I’d hit you with my favourite quotes to do with writing, photography and travel

“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.”
–Franz Kafka

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
–Robert Frost

“Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”
–William Faulkner

“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”
— Elliott Erwitt

“If the photographer is interested in the people in front of his lens, and if he is compassionate, it’s already a lot. The instrument is not the camera but the photographer.”
— Eve Arnold

“My life is shaped by the urgent need to wander and observe, and my camera is my passport.”
— Steve McCurry

Anatole France –
“Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe.”

St Augustine –
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”

Mark Twain –
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”