Sunday, 8 March 2009

Tha Armchair Traveller.


Although I manage to get "abroad" once a year - and sometimes twice - that is not the full extent of my travelling. In some respects armchair travelling is just as exciting, particularly when your guide is a past-master at taking you to the right places.

There is no better guide for me than Paul Theroux. I have been across Europe, down South America, through China with him. I have read "The Old Patagonian Express" and "The Great Railway Bazaar" at least a dozen times

Now I am settled by the fire on a bleak, typical March-lambing weekend, when the sky is blue one minute and the next minute it turns pewter grey and the wind sends sharp gritty pellets of snow battering into your face. Do I care about the weather? No, because I am reading Theroux's latest book "Ghost train to the Eastern Star", which has Theroux travelling as near as possible along a route he first took thirty three years ago.

Chapter three "The Ferry to Besiktas" has stopped me in my tracks. I have read it three times and I don't wish to go any further. I want to stay "here" and wallow in it, soak up the atmosphere. Where is "here?" We are in Istanbul, that marvellously ancient city that straddles both Europe and Asia.

I've been there once - for a week in 1986, before setting off to look at the archaeological sites of Pergamum, Didyma, Troy, Ephesus and the like. The highlight of the week in Istanbul was to set off from the Galata bridge on the ferry to Sariyer - down the Bosporus - Europe on one side and Asia on the other - that grand waterway that ends at the Black Sea. Along with standing on the Great Wall of China and boarding the Trans Siberian express it rates as one of my greatest ever experiences.

Nobody for me describes a place like Theroux. Here he is describing stepping out of the station when he reached Istanbul:-

"Istanbul is a water world, and your first view of it, stepping out of Sirkeci Station, is the pin-cushion profile of minarets on domes seeming to rise from steep dark islands, turbulent ocean all around, the Sea of Marmara to the right, the Golden Horn to the left, the Bosporus straight ahead. Walk forward, walk anywhere, and you approach water splashing at the shores of the city, which is spread across three distinct promontories. Across the Sea of Marmara, dappled with raindrops this afternoon - past the ferries and cargo ships and fishing boats, those silhouettes of battlements and villas - is the shore of Asia, the twinkling edge of the Eastern Star."

If you want to go there, do read this book. Given Turkey's appalling human rights record as far as Kurds and Armenians are concerned, it is probably the best option these days. Enjoy!

25 comments:

Heather said...

It's a good way to reduce one's carbon footprint too. My father was a great armchair traveller and never went abroad but had a good general knowledge of 'abroad' from his reading. I am nervous of going to certain countries as I know of two people who have come home with very unpleasant illnesses which have permanently affected their health. One has to be so careful. I thought I had been very careful not to overdo it yesterday, but my unfit muscles are glad of today's horrid weather. To misquote: 'She who gardens and crawls away, lives to garden another day'!!

Crafty Green Poet said...

I love readling travel books too!

I've tagged you with a meme about influential writers, you can find out more on my blog, if you want to play along!

Annie Wicking said...

You always find something interesting to posts on your blog. The wonderful things I have learnt from you. Now I'm an armchair Traveller.

Derrick said...

Hello Weaver,

I agree that Instanbul is a fascinating city. We went on a ferry trip up the Bosphorus, criss crossing from side to side, wondering when it might stop! At the terminus, we had the most wonderful mussels on skewers for our lunch and then went all the way back!

HelenMHunt said...

Sounds great. I love Bill Bryson's travel books as well.

Gramma Ann said...

You always make everything sound so interesting. I love to armchair travel also.

jinksy said...

Armchair travel certainly beats March lambing time...

Adel and Robyn Kadis said...

i love Paul Thredoux's book and thoroughly enjoyed Dark Star Safari. Mostly for his great writing but also because I love Cape to Cairo travel books... probably because I live in both places... I haven't read this one yet.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

What wonderful journeys I've enjoyed via books! Not only to places I'll never see in person (and some I liked reading about, but actually wouldn't want to experience first-hand) but places in times which are long gone, before they were forever changed, or perhaps disappeared entirely.

No book can ever equal the real thing, of course; you can have bits and pieces, as isolated by the senses and interests of the writer/traveler whose work you're perusing. But a good travel writer can give you an experience of the place and people, the land, the smell of rain and leaves and hot sand under midday sun. Theroux is a fine writer and companion for any journey.

Red Clover said...

Yea! I love getting new names...book addicts are sad, garden addicts are sad, but when you combine the two together, you could end up desperate.

Here's to all of us who are incurably both! Thanks for the titles. I'll have to check them out.

Sepiru Chris said...

Good afternoon DW,

I have never read Theroux. I suspect I will have to mitigate that loss as soon as time provides, although there is a substantial reading list to my right and left already...

Thank you, though, in advance, for the introduction. The pincushion quote is enough seal the purchase.

Tshcuess,
Chris

The Weaver of Grass said...

My father was an armchair traveller as well, Heather - he only ever went to London once and he was not impressed - he was a true countryman.
Sorry about the gardening aches and pains - we never learn do we.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks for the meme c.g.p. I am thinking about who has influenced my writing - such a long list. Hope to put it on my blog eventually.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Mussels on skewers Derrick - yum. I have to say that the fish restaurants in Istanbul are the best in the world. Their sea bass with herbs - to die for.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Yes Helen, I too am a Bill Bryson fan - he used to live quite near here at one time. It was he who coined the Malhamdale wave - the way our farmers up here just raise on finger in acknowledgement when they are driving around.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Gramma Ann - the older I get the more I love the armchair kind of travel.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Jinksy - you will see from today's post that lambing has moved indoors as the weather is so cold.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks for visiting Adel and Robyn - glad you enjoyed the read. Shall call on you.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Agree about Theroux Scribe - the best.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Hope you get to enjoy his books Red clover.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Chris - get reading, there is a whole world there waiting for you.

The Weaver of Grass said...

ADEL AND ROBYN
Hope you read this - I love your log and find it so interesting but try as I may I cannot leave a comment on it - there doesn't seem to be a space.

The Weaver of Grass said...

ADEL AND ROBYN
Hope you read this - I love your log and find it so interesting but try as I may I cannot leave a comment on it - there doesn't seem to be a space.

The Weaver of Grass said...

ADEL AND ROBYN
Hope you read this - I love your log and find it so interesting but try as I may I cannot leave a comment on it - there doesn't seem to be a space.

greg rappleye said...

Put me in the plus column for Theroux, too.

If you haven't read his novel, "The Mosquito Coast," you really must.

Therouox took a lot of flak for his book on Sir Vidia, but everyone has pretty much come around to Theroux's point of view.