Sunday, 27 November 2011

The Traveller's Friend Challenge

1. Which famous contemporary novel is this quoted from?
'Travelling,' she sighed. 'So predictable.'
'What's wrong with travelling?'
'Avoiding reality more like.'

2. Which Danish writer, who lived in Africa, said that the Danish character was like 'dough without leavening'?

3. In which famous market in Cape Town can you buy everything organic, farm-fresh and eco-friendly, in a Victorian warehouse?

4. Who wrote that 'The mildest-tempered people, when on land, become violent and bloodthirsty when in a boat'?

5. Which humorous poet and landscape painter, who finally settled in San Remo with his cat, impressed Queen Victoria so much with his 'Illustrated Excursions in Italy' that she summoned him to court to give her drawing lessons?

6. Who wrote that 'We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us'?

7. On which map was the oldest use of the phrase 'Here be Dragons'?

8. In the days of the Grand Tour, what was a cicerone?

9. What happened to the offices of the Baedeker guidebooks in 1943?

10. When he arrived from Peru with a battered suitcase after travelling as a stowaway in a ship's lifeboat, Paddington Bear was wearing a tag saying what?

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Patrick Leigh Fermor

‘If they fall short of the double vision which turns Salisbury Cathedral into Cologne, they invest the scenery with a lustre which is unknown to total abstainers.’
Patrick Leigh Fermor on the potential benefits of hangovers while travelling

Not long after Patrick Leigh Fermor was born his parents moved to India and left him with another family in Northamptonshire, where he spent a happy three years ‘as a wild-natured boy. I wasn’t ever told not to do anything’. At school, he resisted academic structure. Expelled when caught holding hands with a local greengrocer’s daughter, he educated himself from there on, reading Greek, Latin, Shakespeare and History with hopes of entering Sandhurst.

However, at the age of 18 he decided instead to walk the length of Europe, ‘like a tramp, a pilgrim, or a wandering scholar’, from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople (Istanbul). With a longing for freedom and an image of himself as a ‘medieval pilgrim, an affable tramp with a knapsack and hobnailed boots’, he set off on 8 December 1933 with just a few clothes and books of poetry. He slept in hayricks and shepherds' huts, but also in the castles and country houses of aristocracy.

He kept notes and sketches along the way, hoping to write about the journey, but his rucksack was stolen in a youth hostel in Munich, which he saw as something of a blessing for lightening his load, although he lost not only notes but his sleeping bag, money and passport. It was not until 40 years after his long walk across Europe that he published A Time of Gifts and almost a decade later Between the Woods and the Water, describing the events of that time with a wealth of historical, geographical, linguistic and anthropological information – and possibly some creative storytelling.

After his walk he moved to Romania for two years, but in 1939 became a major in Special Operations Executive during World War Two. Living on Crete after the British retreat, he kidnapped the German commander in reprisal for his assault on the villages, events retold in Ill Met By Moonlight by his comrade, W. Stanley Moss. In the 1950s, he explored the wild region of the Mani in the southern Peloponnese, where he made his home. At the age of 69 he swam the two kilometres of the Hellespont (Dardanelles) in the manner of Lord Byron.

Excerpt from The Traveller's Friend: A Miscellany of Wit and Wisdom (Summersdale Publishers)

Monday, 31 January 2011

No Cameras Please, We’re French

‘Non-non-non!’ says the Frenchman in an irritating sing-songy voice, as if wagging his finger at a greedy child. I was taking a photograph of the enormous wheels of cheese he was slicing for his customers on a small market stall on a sunny Saturday morning. He wants to exercise his right not to be photographed. A lady customer agrees with an undeniable Gallic shrug, ‘Il a le droit’.

Casting aside self-important cheese-makers (there, that’ll teach him), there’s a wonderful atmosphere in Provence on market day. It’s more than a place to do your shopping. It’s about thinking about dinner, learning what’s in season and how to prepare it, admiring photographs of the animals it came from, before being wished a bon weekend. It seems rude to buy without asking questions.

And there are many lovely market towns in this region, the Luberon, half an hour from Avignon, such as Gordes, spectacularly clinging to a mound of rock, and l’Isle sur la Sorgue, the largest antique centre outside Paris, whose Sunday market winds around its lanes and squares and canals. At the Café de la France there, you often hear more American and German and British accents than French, so it’s hardly surprising locals are protective, wanting to keep their culture real and not just a photo opportunity for people like me who can’t buy anything as they only have carry-on.

Today, we drove slowly around wooded hillsides behind lycra-clad cyclists, and stopped here in Pernes les Fontaines, named for its abundant if modest fountains. The stone clock tower, medieval walls and fortified gates hint at past grandeur. Just beyond the Cormorant Fountain is the old covered market where, according to a sign on the wall, in the seventeenth century the official weights and measures were kept, and everyone could come and verify the weight of their goods, whether wine, oil or grains. A small collection of stalls offers plants and cuttings and hand-labelled bags of seeds. My mother, the gardener, is delighted and asks the price, which is when we discover everything’s free. It’s run by Soleil Vert, an association for the study and protection of the environment.

Just around the corner is Galerie l’Aire du Cormoran, a contemporary art space. The owner shows how the architect created a building filled with light in the old town, and talks us through the series of black and white photographs. Next door there’s a Gallery Café whose tables look over the river, where he’s meeting friends for lunch.

The main market has, among cheap clothes and a Bible seller, and the usual mix of exquisite jams and honeys, organic bread, colourful cuts of meat and fresh fish. I put camera away and am talked through the fresh goats’ cheeses, all decorated prettily with pepper or fresh herbs and arranged in rows. We buy some for lunch, and vow to buy more from local producers at home. Why only do this when on holiday in France?