Category Archives: Travel

Hull

hull

Hull
Pevsner Architectural Guides
By David and Susan Neave
Yale University Press – £14.99

There’s something about the city of Hull that is both fascinating and alluring, yet oddly off-putting in equal measure. What’s more, it’s hard to decipher which of these feelings ultimately take precedence. Although either way, this all together authoritative, practical and wonderfully illustrated guide of one of England’s leading ports since the Middles-Ages, really isn’t hard to decipher.

In fact, it’s something of a shame that there aren’t many more books like this on more British cities. Reason being, it’s far more than that which it’s secondary title proclaims. It’s just as much an all round guide and essential background reference, as it is an architectural guide.

For instance, this Pevsner Architectural Guide of Hull also includes a number of Excursions toward the rear of the book. ‘Excursions,’ being something, which in all honesty, one wouldn’t normally associate with Hull.

As such, from page 187 onward, there’s background information as well as maps, on the surrounding environs of: Hessle and the Humber Bridge, Cottingham and West Hull Villages, East of Hull: Hedon and Burton Constable, not forgetting of course, the absolutely wonderful small town that is Beverley.

The latter of which, I had the utmost pleasure of enjoying for a morning, and cannot help but agree with the following: ”Beverley is one of England’s most attractive country towns, and deserves to be better known. Its historic core, with medieval street plan, is remarkably intact. The town has many fine houses, predominantly Georgian, a rare medieval brick gateway, a handsome market cross, and a superb Guildhall, but its greatest architectural works are the Minster and St. Mary’s. No other town in England can boast two parish churches of such exceptional quality […]. Any exploration of the town should start at the Minster, where the history of Beverley really begins. Bishop John of York, who founded a monastry on the site of of the Minster in the early C8, was canonized as St John of Beverley in 1037, and it was the development of his cult which encouraged the growth of a town to provide for the needs of pilgrims and churchmen” (‘Beverley – 8.5 miles from Central Hull’).

Moreover, the bulk of the book really does focus on the city of Hull itself, which all told, lends the city a certain panache; especially when one colour photograph of a delightful old building is placed alongside, another. And then another.

Augmented with maps and an array of drop boxes which feature something most idiosyncratically indicativeof Hull itself – the Georgian Docks, Hull’s Victorian Sculptors (Earles and Keyworth’s) or Hull’s Telephone Boxes (cream-painted for the city’s independent telephone company), this book is resoundingly well detailed considering the amount of information it has set out to ultimately convey.

At 233 pages in length (excluding a really helpful Glossary and Index of Artists, Architectects and Other Persons Mentioned), Hull may be conceptual in application, although it really is concise in its appreciation of a much overlooked, very English city.

David Marx

 

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Belgium & Luxembourg

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Belgium & Luxembourg
By Helena Smith, Andy Symington & Donna Wheeler
Lonely Planet – £14.99

This sixth edition of Lonely Planet’s Belgium & Luxembourg is every quintessential, literary expectation one has come to expect of said publisher’s assimilation of the most informative of travel guides. At 310 pages (excluding Glossary, Behind the Scenes and Index), it both informs and inspires the reader in equal measure.

For instance, even before reaching the fully explained, full-colour ‘Top 15’ (which, in chronological order consists of Bruges, Brussels, Grand Palace, Carnival Capers, Flemish Primitives, Luxembourg City, Chocolate, Castles, Belfries & Begijnhoven, Belgian Beer, Flanders Fields, Art Nouveau, Antwerp Art & Fashion, Museum of Remembrance, Art Cities and Caves of the Ardennes); one of the book’s three authors writes: ”My childhood bedroom in Sydney was decorated with postcards of Van Eyck Madonnas, but it wasn’t until a couple of decades later, during a couple of Europe’s coldest winters, that infatuation turned to love. My first impression of Antwerp was one of sheer wonder, the guildhalls of Grote Markt glinting as snow fell at the Christmas market, and the dimmed, richly cosy interiors of the Rubenshuis and the Museum Plantin-Moretus. This sense of quiet magic has accompanied each subsequent visit, whether it’s to galleries or gigs in Ghent, or for family time in a 17th-century farmhouse” (‘Why I Love Belgium & Luxembourg’).

In so doing, she has already inadvertently – or perhaps not so inadvertently – bequeathed the reader with a sense of anticipation – if not beguiling wonder. And in a round-a-bout kind of way, this already confirms that the book has done its job.

Before getting into the actual body of the book itself (which invariably kicks off with the country’s capital, Brussels), there are assorted sections entitled ‘Need to Know,’ ‘First Time Belgium & Luxembourg,’ ‘If You Like…,’ ‘Month by Month,’ ‘Itineraries’ and ‘Travel with Children,’ which, for all intents and the most helpful of personal purposes, is self explanatory.

Following an abundance of information on the various regions, the travel guide concludes with ‘History,’ ‘The Belgian People,’ ‘Creative Cuisine,’ ‘Arts & Architecture’ and naturally, a rather hefty section on ‘Belgian Beer.’

So in all, Belgium & Luxembourg makes for a rather fascinating read in its own right. That it just happens to include an assortment of maps and tips, makes it all the more so.

David Marx

I Love You Leo A

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I Love You Leo A
By Rosa Aneiros
Small Stations Press

     And stay close to groups of women unless you want to spend the whole journey being          ogled like a piece of merchandise! Discretion has never been their strong point!

Part travelogue, part resolute reflection on the human condition, I Love You Leo A is a harmless and enjoyable enough read; but once you’ve reached the end, that’s essentially it. You’ve reached the end.

There’s no literary after thought. Nothing that fundamentally lingers in the mind. Nothing that compels one to re-visit the varying travels and thoughts our protagonist Leo has embarked on; which is okay, although I personally rather enjoy being touched or moved by what I’ve just read.

To be sure, the two main things I came away with having read these 263 pages, was: who was responsible for daubing ”I love You Leo A” on the various walls and flyovers amid Leo’s travels, and, perhaps more interestingly, a brave and altogether vivid portrayal of Istanbul towards the latter part of the book:

”This is the real Istanbul. The Istanbul of contradictions. A combination, sometimes tense, sometimes so natural it’s strange, of modern and ancient. Decadence and technology meet and sometimes give way to conflict[…]. They can’t help feeling nostalgic for their sultans and their leadership of the Eastern Mediterranean, and yet they want to be a real bridge between Asia and Europe. Tradition weighs down too heavily for them to advance, and yet they don’t want to do away with their own history and customs so they can be accepted as another group of Europeans.”

Having lived in a predominantly Turkish neighbourhood of Berlin, I can honestly vouch that all of the above is resoundingly true. Turks do not ”want to do away with their own history and customs.” As such – well in Berlin at least – they’re absolutely not ”accepted as another group of Europeans.”

That said, what truly jumped out of this book, was authoress, Rosa Aneiros, coming totally clean with the following (with regards to Istanbul): ”The black market is too lucrative a business for policemen and officials to pass up. Blackmail and corruption are an everyday occurrence.”

So there you have it: only read this book if you (really) want to know what makes Istanbul tick. Other than that, you’ll probably find I Love You Leo A somewhat forgettable.

David Marx

 

Flanders – Northern Belgium

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Flanders – Northern Belgium
By Emma Thomson
Bradt Guides – £15.99

According to Michael Palin ”Bradt Guides are expertly written and longer on local detail than any others,” which, at the end of the day, I cannot help but agree with.

Having recently spent a fair bit of time in the Zeebrugge area of West Flanders, I was looking for a guide book that would indeed shed assorted, if not detailed light on some of surrounding area(s); primarily that which could be reached via the coastal tram which runs from one end of the Belgium coast to the other.

Beginning in Knokke-Heist near the Dutch border, said Kusttram runs the entire 68 km (42 miles), all the way to De Panne – which nigh touches the French border. As the authoress Emma Thomson writes in chapter six (‘West Flanders’): ”De Lijn operates a cheap-as-chips (or should that be frites?) tram service that visits over 70 destinations […]. Trams run every 20 minutes during winter and every ten minutes in summer.”

Whilst in Zeebrugge, I do have to say, De Lijn was my gateway to the coast, which in and of itself, incorporates a menagerie of quaint seaside towns. One I invariably visited was Blankenberg, on which Thomson writes: ”Blankenberg is to Flanders, what Blackpool is to north-west England. During summer, the coast’s second largest town is filled with noisy bars and restaurants and it’s 350m-long seafront crowded with people. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a good place for kids thanks to a clutch of animal-themed attractions and the huge range of sports on offer.”

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure I agree with the Blackpool comparison – there’s no-where near as many loud-mouthed, Jeremy Kyle types, while the streets aren’t paved with puke. That said, I do rather like the fact that Flanders – Northern Belgium didn’t skirt around the area, if not avoid Blankenberg altogether – like so many other Belgian guides.

To be sure, there was even a ”what to see and do” section on the (small) town – replete with phone numbers, addresses, prices and hours of opening. A mighty handy check-list that is a feature running throughout these 338 pages (excluding colour photographs, Author’s Story, Acknowledgements, List of Maps, Introduction, Appendix one to four and Index) as a whole.

So in all, the aforementioned Palin is right in stating that Bradt Guides are ”longer on local detail than any others.”

Along with a friendly tonality of writing – which essentially endeavoured to pin-point what one (usually) always wants to know – I found this particular guide more than helpful and informative.

David Marx

South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland

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South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland
Lonely Planet – £17.99

Lions at waterholes, township art, clouds pouring over Table Mountain, Kalahari dunes, Drakensberg peaks, Swazi and Zulu ceremonies: Southern Africa’s famous trio is rich with adventures and experiences, culture and scenery.

                                                                     James Bainbridge
                                                                     Lonely Planet Writer

When compared to other travel guides, it does need to be said that Lonely Planet do go some way in coaxing that extra mile out of their publications. Perhaps there’s something in the layout, overall design or content, that makes this part-time traveller at least, always want to invariably reach out for their manifestation of travel writing, over others.

South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland being no exception to this thinking.

Replete with an array of maps (many of which are generally overall country maps, although several do home-in on a number of city centres such as Cape Town and Durban, Knysna and Pietermaritzburg), and the sort of colour photography that traverses everything which comes to mind when thinking of Africa’s famous trio: from the lions, zebras, buffalo and rhino that constitute its spectacular wildlife, to whales swimming in Walker Bay, not to mention Cape Dutch architecture, the Cederberg Wildnerness, vast urban areas, Knysna oyters and of course, a menagerie of cats (which, along with lions, also include wildcats, leopards, caracals and of course, cheetahs).

Indeed, like the Rainbow Nation itself, these 628 pages (excluding Index) cover most of the things that could possibly be expected from a visit to this extraordinary part of the world: ”With people from Afrikaners to Zulu living side by side and speaking 11 official languages, South Africa is undoubtedly one of the world’s most diverse countries. Pastel rondavels (round hats with a conical roof) dot the green ridges of the Drakensberg and Wild Coast, Nelson Mandela’s birthplace; Basotho shepherds clad in distinctive hats and blankets lead their sturdy ponies through Lesotho’s Maluti Mountains; and at the traditional reed dances in Swaziland and Zululand, debutantes dance with swaying reeds for local royalty. Meeting these people and experiencing their diverse cultures, all coexisting thanks to Mandela’s legacy of tolerance, will leave you with indelible memories.”

Memories indeed!

Compartmentalised into twelve different sections (Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal, Free State, Johannesburg & Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Kruger National Park, Limpopo, North West Province, Northern Cape, Lesotho, Swaziland) and simply packed with an abundance of all the important information you’ll ever need – from best places to eat and stay, sights and activities, phone numbers, websites, a handy section on the various languages, and a (most worthwhile) section called a Survival Guide that lends itself to everything you need to know – Lonely Planet do give good value for money.

Before I forget, also included is a wildlife guide, and in the back of the book, a pull-out map of Cape Town.

So, if you intend heading to either South Africa, Lesotho or Swaziland, be sure to investigate this most crucial of travel guides. It’ll enable you to do so much forward planning before you’ve even landed; which, when you think about it, can only be a good thing.

Or, like South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland itself, an essential thing.

David Marx

Lonely Planet Denmark

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Lonely Planet Denmark
(Seventh Edition)
Written by Carolyn Bain & Cristian Bonetto
£15.99

Denmark may be well renowned for having to pay some of the highest taxes anywhere – on average, around 45 percent – but along with said taxes, comes one of the finest qualities of life in the world. On average, full-time workers report devoting 66% of their days to ”personal care.”

Indeed, currently ranked third in the world (nearby Norway is first), the country appears to have cemented it’s position at or near the top of the global tree of fine living; which, in the ultimately B-I-G scheme of life, really is no mean feat. Or, to quote one of the editors of this overtly friendly travel guide, Carolyn Bain: ”Chart-topping contentment and quality of life, blockbuster dining and design, and a cheerful emphasis on hygge (cosiness) – explore (and envy) what makes Denmark tick.”

With Lonely Planet Denmark, it really couldn’t be easier to ascertain just what does make Denmark tick. Reason being, this book is cool and edgy, well designed, simple to navigate throughout and is written in such a way that you can’t help but want to travel to the country’s capital, Copenhagen, nigh immediately: ”Copenhagen is the coolest kid on the Nordic block. Edgier than Stockholm and worldlier than Oslo, the Danish capital gives Scandinavia the X factor. Just ask style bibles Monocle and Wallpaper magazines, which fawn over its industrial-chic bar, design and fashion scenes, and culinary revolution. This is where you’ll find New Nordic pioneer Noma, (once again) voted the world’s best restaurant in 2014, and one of 15 Michelin-starred restaurants in town – not bad for a city of 1.2 million.

Yet Copenhagen is more than just seasoned cocktails and geometric threads. A royal capital with almost nine centuries under its svelte belt, its equally well versed when it comes to world-class museums and storybook streetscapes. Its cobbled, bike-friendly streets are a hyggelig (cosy) concoction of sherbet-hued town houses, craft studios and candlelit cafes. Add to this its compact size, and you have what is possibly Europe’s most seamless urban experience.”

Sound like something of a cultural, dog’s under-carriage?

Like The Netherlands, another small nation in north-western Europe – who too, place a rather large emphasis on gezelligheid (cosiness) – Denmark does indeed drip with simply inviting sexy chic, along with a chilled vibration that needs to be exceedingly regularly embraced.

Hence, the equal abundance of Danish outdoor activities, as explained on page thirty: ”Although small (and very flat), Denmark has a great diversity for activities, from island-hopping cycling adventures to Lake District canoeing. The sea, never far away, offers fishing, sailing, windsurfing and beach-going, while the national parks and hiking trails offer walkers a chance to stretch their legs. And everywhere, the cycling opportunities are outstanding.”

Covering all the main regions of the country from obviously Copenhagen (a pull-out map is included) to Zealand to Bornholm to both Southern and Northern Jutland, these 309 pages – excluding Behind the Scenes, Index and Map Legend – is unquestionably up there with all helpful, concise and important travel guides. Along with sections on History, Food & Drink, Literature, Film & TV as well as Denmark Today and The Danish Lifestyle, Lonely Planet Denmark absolutely has to be packed alongside one’s toothbrush and credit card.

Especially if travelling to Denmark.

David Marx

The Other Paris

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The Other Paris – An Illustrated Journey Through
A City’s Poor and Bohemian Past
By Luc Sante
Faber & Faber – £16.99

”Before Haussmann’s reconfiguration of the centre, the neighbourhoods were tightly interwoven; afterward they were more separated, but the classes still met on common ground: on the squares and boulevards. It was said that when cafes began to feature open terraces, the poor discovered what and how to eat from passing by and observing the diners as they ate. And the rich always had the opportunity to absorb the culture of the poor from their markets and entertainments. For that matter, the practice of mixite flourished for at least a century: a house of six or seven stories would feature a shop on the ground floor; the shopkeepers’s dwelling on the mezzanine level; a bourgeois family upstairs from the mezzanine, on the, the ‘noble floor’ then each succeeding story would house people of progressively lesser income. People trudged up as few flights of stairs as they could afford, and as a result, every such house was itself a microcosm of society as a whole.”

When one thinks of Paris, for some idiosyncratically odd and perhaps romantic reason, they invariably conjure up many of the images described and photographed throughout this altogether wonderful book.

To be sure, The Other Paris – An Illustrated Journey Through A City’s Poor and Bohemian Past by Luc Sante is somewhat mesmerising in that it immediately transports the reader unto a place we all – for some reason or other – already know so well. The hustle and bustle, the oft referenced ‘seductive couture and intellectual hauteur’ that makes Paris so intrinsically alluring.

Indeed it’s all here; these 271 pages (excluding Carte de Paris, Notes, Acknowledgements and Index) vividly convey a city for all its captivating worth: ”What an awakening, silent but alive, happens when this city – its streets, houses, sidewalks, lamposts, trees, urinals – is no longer covered like a skin, like a crust, by that grublike swarm of humans rushing to the job machine, but at night comes back to life, swims back to the surface, washes off it s filth, stands back on its feet, scratches itself, sings to break the silence, makes light to rend the darkness. It stretches, relaxes, spreads itself out before me, the solitary walker, the unknown strider, stranding me among its scattered limbs, a vast labyrinth in which I rapturously lose myself, turning every corner, leaving every boulevard at the first left, catching up with the stream once again or passing it by, hopping on one foot, whistling with a but in the corner of my mouth.”

Inundated with a cornucopia of black and white photographs, drawings and reprints of posters (of a long but not necessarily forgotten era), these twelve chapters are as vivid as they are entertaining as they are at times, highly educational.

As The London Review of Books’ Jeremy Harding has since written: ”A poetic guide to the city’s underworld across six centuries, a threepenny opera with a milling crowd of beggars, gangsters, whores and constables, attended by artists, insurrectionaries and intellectuals.”

In and of itself, quite a wide (and unforgiving) gambit; rather like the stunning city of Paris itself.

David Marx