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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Books & Travel

My spouse and I were married in Europe back in 1949 – he was a student in Paris, we had little money and a strong desire to see as much of Europe as we could while we were there. Transportation was a tandem bicycle that for long distances rode in the baggage car as we travelled third class on the train. To keep costs down, we’d shop at local markets, snack a lot and stay in the least expensive room in a good hotels so it was clean and had hot water. Economizing was a necessity and part of the fun.

Once the travel bug bites you never recover and even with careers and a family to raise, we’d be off whenever we could. After retirement, every winter we’d be away for 4 or 5 months - around the world 3 times, and spent whole winters in Africa, South America, and Asia a number of times and of course Europe – always on our own. I thought of writing a book but always was too involved in science projects one way or another so finally some travel experiences are finding their way into some blog posts like this one.

We always travelled light but still took two or three books with us – one was the latest travel book for the country to be visited – they are all informative but we prefer the ‘Lonely Planet’ series because of its excellent local maps. In a new place, it takes the first two or three days to plan things out so you can make the most of your visit. Renting a car gives freedom to poke into out of the way place. My advice is, if you haven’t much time, take a tour. You don’t get the same feel for a country or ever have enough time when you visit a site but all the planning is done for you and the guides are usually excellent.

Besides the Lonely Planet book, we take historical novels. One example - if traveling in Greece, Mary Renault’s books give such gripping portrayals one transported back in time and place so the whole experience is much enriched.

Our first time in Mexico, we read Bernal Díaz first-hand account of the Spaniard Cortés' incredible conquest of the Aztecs in 1521. Díaz served as a soldier under Cortés and was no writer but his chronicle of events is so real one gets caught up in reports of grizzly native worship and the adventure and intrigue. He describes how Cortés’ prevailed against all odds by using his ability to manipulate, flatter and persuade his enemies. One of the family expressions since then has been recognizing when someone is ‘doing a Cortés’.

Until next week… Rie

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