Even though we can’t travel right now we can still plan our future trips, hopefully trips we will be taking next year!
I’ve been spending time in Florence for more than 30 years now. Every time I visit I discover more amazing new (old) places. At this point have come to realize that’s just how it is with Florence – she has endless magical people, places and things and reveals something new every time you are there.
Florence gets masses of tourists. They all seem to hang out at the same handful of big attractions, keeping them overcrowded and making it difficult to see anything. Which just means that 95% of the most amazing things in Florence are wide open, waiting for you and me to discover them, love them, photograph them and soak it all up with no one getting in our way!
In this book I do take you to the big sites but I give you specific things to look for and strategies to escape the crowds when they get overwhelming (and believe me, they do get overwhelming!)
Some of the things you will learn about in this book are:
Fantastic museums you’ve probably not heard of but will really enjoy
12 churches you need to know about. Most people won’t want to visit all 12 but will really enjoy dropping in on a couple.
Shopping – Florence has some of the best shopping in Italy. Whether you want a leather jacket, handmade shoes, a vintage Gucci bag or some gorgeous tableware to take home (and much more!) you will love my guide to the boutiques scattered throughout the Renaissance city!
Aperitivo time – a guide to my favorite aperitivo bars for a pre-dinner drink and snack
Rooftop bars – my favorite places to get up high for a sunset glass of wine with a staggering view.
7 sensational piazzas you need to know about, their secrets and special things to look out for.
The Medici palaces, why you need to see them and what to look for.
What to eat in Florence.
My absolute favorite restaurants (and gelato bars!)
The best markets in Florence.
How to buy leather in Florence.
20 Unusual and Interesting things to look for in the historic center of town.
Whatever your interests are you will find things in this book just for you. The idea behind writing it was to get you away from the crowds, show you something new and help you build the trip of a lifetime. I want you to absolutely fall in love with Florence.
Whether you are a frustrated traveler stuck at home because of the pandemic, or an arm chair traveler who loves being whisked away to exotic locales through the pages of a book, this list is for you!
Each book is fantastic, some are hilarious, and all of them will make you fall in love with new places. Some of the books on this list took me to countries I will never travel to while others helped me to explore countries I did visit.
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1. In A Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
This has to be one of the funniest books ever written. I have read In A Sunburned Country many times, and read it before each trip to Australia to see family because it is filled with fascinating places to see and things to do there. And it is hilarious! All of Bryson’s books are wonderful, but this is my favorite. I laugh til I cry every time I read it! Here’s the scoop:
Every time Bill Bryson walks out the door memorable travel literature threatens to break out. This time in Australia. His previous excursion up, down, and over the Appalachian Trail resulted in the sublime best seller A Walk in the Woods.
Now he has traveled around the world and all the way Down Under to Australia, the only island that is also a continent and the only continent that is also a country. Australia exists on a vast scale, a shockingly under-discovered country with the friendliest inhabitants, the hottest, driest weather, the most peculiar and lethal wildlife to be found on this planet, and more things that can kill you in extremely malicious ways than anywhere else: sharks, crocodiles, the 10 most deadly poisonous snakes on the planet, fluffy yet toxic caterpillars, seashells that actually attack you, and the unbelievable box jellyfish.
In a Sunburned Country is a delectably funny, fact-filled and adventurous performance by a writer who combines humor, wonder, and unflagging curiosity. Wherever Bryson goes he finds Australians who are cheerful, extroverted, and unfailingly obliging. They are the beaming products of a land with clean, safe cities, cold beer, and constant sunshine. Australia is an immense and fortunate land, and it has found in Bryson its perfect guide.
2. The Sex Lives of Cannibals, Adrift In The Equatorial Pacific by Maarten Troost
This is another one that has you crying laughing. You should put it at the top of your must read list. (You probably won’t want to travel to Tawara though!) Here’s the scoop on The Sex Lives of Cannibals:
At the age of twenty-six, Maarten Troost—who had been pushing the snooze button on the alarm clock of life by racking up useless graduate degrees and muddling through a series of temp jobs—decided to pack up his flip-flops and move to Tarawa, a remote South Pacific island in the Republic of Kiribati. He was restless and lacked direction, and the idea of dropping everything and moving to the ends of the earth was irresistibly romantic. He should have known better.
The Sex Lives of Cannibals tells the hilarious story of what happens when Troost discovers that Tarawa is not the island paradise he dreamed of. Falling into one amusing misadventure after another, Troost struggles through relentless, stifling heat, a variety of deadly bacteria, polluted seas, toxic fish—all in a country where the only music to be heard for miles around is “La Macarena.” He and his stalwart girlfriend Sylvia spend the next two years battling incompetent government officials, alarmingly large critters, erratic electricity, and a paucity of food options (including the Great Beer Crisis); and contending with a bizarre cast of local characters, including “Half-Dead Fred” and the self-proclaimed Poet Laureate of Tarawa (a British drunkard who’s never written a poem in his life).
With The Sex Lives of Cannibals, Maarten Troost has delivered one of the most original, rip-roaringly funny travelogues in years—one that will leave you thankful for staples of American civilization such as coffee, regular showers, and tabloid news, and that will provide the ultimate vicarious adventure.
3. What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristen Newman
My first thought reading this was oh my God her parents must have read this!!! Then I bought it for all my friends. I have given this book to so many people before they have gone on a big trip. It is terribly funny, raunchy and pretty fantastic. Here is the scoop on What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding:
A funny, sexy, and ultimately poignant memoir about mastering the art of the “vacationship.”
Kristin Newman spent much of her twenties and thirties buying dresses to wear to her friends’ weddings and baby showers. Not ready to settle down and in need of an escape from her fast-paced job as a sitcom writer, Kristin instead traveled the world, often alone, for several weeks each year. In addition to falling madly in love with the planet, Kristin fell for many attractive locals, men who could provide the emotional connection she wanted without costing her the freedom she desperately needed. Kristin introduces readers to the Israeli bartenders, Finnish poker players, sexy Bedouins, and Argentinean priests who helped her transform into “Kristin-Adjacent” on the road–a slower, softer, and, yes, sluttier version of herself at home. Equal parts laugh-out-loud storytelling, candid reflection, and wanderlust-inspiring travel tales, What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding is a compelling debut that will have readers rushing to renew their passports.
4. The Lost Girls: Three Friends, Four Continents, One Unconventional Detour Around The World.
This would have seemed like a great idea when I was approaching 30. Or at any other time actually. Wouldn’t you love to just walk away from it all and go find yourself somewhere in the world? Here is the scoop on The Lost Girls:
“A triumphant journey about losing yourself, finding yourself and coming home again. Hitch yourself to their ride: you’ll embark on a transformative journey of your own.” — Allison Winn Scotch, New York Times bestselling author of The One That I Want and Time of My Life
Three friends, each on the brink of a quarter-life crisis, make a pact to quit their high pressure New York City media jobs and leave behind their friends, boyfriends, and everything familiar to embark on a year-long backpacking adventure around the world in The Lost Girls.
With their thirtieth birthdays looming, Jen, Holly, and Amanda are feeling the pressure to hit certain milestones—score the big promotion, find a soul mate, have 2.2 kids. Instead, they make a pact to quit their jobs and set out on a journey in search of inspiration and direction.
Traveling 60,000 miles across four continents, Jen, Holly, and Amanda push themselves far outside their comfort zones to embrace every adventure. Ultimately, theirs is a story of true friendship—a bond forged by sharing beds and backpacks, enduring exotic illnesses, trekking across mountains, and standing by one another through heartaches, whirlwind romances, and everything in the world in between.
5. Love, With A Chance Of Drowning by Torre Deroach
Just the premise of this book tells you it’s going to be a compelling and funny travel read! But you have to ask yourself, would you do it? Here is Love With A Chance of Drowning:
New love. Exotic destinations. A once-in-a-lifetime adventure. What could go wrong?
City girl Torre DeRoche isn’t looking for love, but a chance encounter in a San Francisco bar sparks an instant connection with a soulful Argentinean man who unexpectedly sweeps her off her feet. The problem? He’s just about to cast the dock lines and voyage around the world on his small sailboat, and Torre is terrified of deep water. However, lovesick Torre determines that to keep the man of her dreams, she must embark on the voyage of her nightmares, so she waves good-bye to dry land and braces for a life-changing journey that’s as exhilarating as it is terrifying.
Somewhere mid-Pacific, she finds herself battling to keep the old boat, the new relationship, and her floundering sanity afloat. . . .
This sometimes hilarious, often harrowing, and always poignant memoir is set against a backdrop of the world’s most beautiful and remote destinations. Equal parts love story and travel memoir, Love with a Chance of Drowning is witty, charming, and proof positive that there are some risks worth taking.
This one is timeless. It will make you want to take your own year off and go find yourself in some fabulous and exotic place somewhere other than home. Eat Pray Love:
Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love touched the world and changed countless lives, inspiring and empowering millions of readers to search for their own best selves. Now, this beloved and iconic book returns in a beautiful 10th anniversary edition, complete with an updated introduction from the author, to launch a whole new generation of fans.
In her early thirties, Elizabeth Gilbert had everything a modern American woman was supposed to want—husband, country home, successful career—but instead of feeling happy and fulfilled, she was consumed by panic and confusion. This wise and rapturous book is the story of how she left behind all these outward marks of success, and set out to explore three different aspects of her nature, against the backdrop of three different cultures: pleasure in Italy, devotion in India, and on the Indonesian island of Bali, a balance between worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence.
7. Wild: From Lost To Found On The Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed
At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and she would do it alone. Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.
One of the Best Books of the Year: NPR, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly,Vogue, St. Louis Dispatch
8. The Year Of Living Danishly by Helen Russell
I had planned on being in Copenhagen in December so was fascinated to read this book. It’s not hard to see why Denmark is the happiest place on earth. This book is both enjoyable and really quite funny. The Year Of Living Danishly:
When she was suddenly given the opportunity of a new life in rural Jutland, journalist and archetypal Londoner Helen Russell discovered a startling statistic: the happiest place on earth isn’t Disneyland, but Denmark, a land often thought of by foreigners as consisting entirely of long dark winters, cured herring, Lego and pastries.
What is the secret to their success? Are happy Danes born, or made? Helen decides there is only one way to find out: she will give herself a year, trying to uncover the formula for Danish happiness.
From childcare, education, food and interior design to SAD, taxes, sexism and an unfortunate predilection for burning witches, The Year of Living Danishly is a funny, poignant record of a journey that shows us where the Danes get it right, where they get it wrong, and how we might just benefit from living a little more Danishly ourselves.
9. Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Just so fantastic! Angst + travel led to a Pulizter prize for author Andrew Sean Greer. You need to read Less:
Who says you can’t run away from your problems? You are a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the mail: your boyfriend of the past nine years is engaged to someone else. You can’t say yes–it would be too awkward–and you can’t say no–it would look like defeat. On your desk are a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world.
QUESTION: How do you arrange to skip town?
ANSWER: You accept them all.
What would possibly go wrong? Arthur Less will almost fall in love in Paris, almost fall to his death in Berlin, barely escape to a Moroccan ski chalet from a Saharan sandstorm, accidentally book himself as the (only) writer-in-residence at a Christian Retreat Center in Southern India, and encounter, on a desert island in the Arabian Sea, the last person on Earth he wants to face. Somewhere in there: he will turn fifty. Through it all, there is his first love. And there is his last.
Because, despite all these mishaps, missteps, misunderstandings and mistakes, Less is, above all, a love story.
A scintillating satire of the American abroad, a rumination on time and the human heart, a bittersweet romance of chances lost, by an author The New York Times has hailed as “inspired, lyrical,” “elegiac,” “ingenious,” as well as “too sappy by half,” Less shows a writer at the peak of his talents raising the curtain on our shared human comedy.
10. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres
This one will have you dreaming of travel to Kefalonia. Don’t confuse it with the horrible movie made from the book – the book is gorgeous! I’ve been watching The Durrels In Corfu on Amazon Prime lately and dreaming about getting back to the Greek Islands. Then my friend Martine from the Orangerie Retreat in Basilicata sent me this photo, updating me on her Sunday afternoon on her terrazza. Maybe it was a sign? Captain Corelli’s Mandolin:
Set on the Greek island of Cephallonia during World War II, this is the story of a beautiful young woman and her two suitors: a gentle fisherman turned ruthless guerrilla, and the charming mandolin-playing head of the Italian garrison on the island.
Carol Drinkwater was a beloved British actress, famed for her role in British TV’s All Creatures Great and Small. This book is part of a series, each book of which is fabulous. This is The Olive Farm:
After all, they are newlyweds of limited means, and Carol is still adjusting to her role as stepmother to Michel’s two daughters. But the splendor of the region becomes a force they are unable to resist. Michel presents their life savings to the real estate broker as a down payment for the farm, embarking the family on an adventure that will bring them in close contact with the charming countryside, querulous personalities, petty bureaucracies, and extraordinary wildlife (including a ravenous wild boar) of Provence. In the spirit of Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence and Frances Mayes’s Under the Tuscan Sun, The Olive Farm is a splendid tour of southern France, from the glamour of Cannes to the Iles de Lérins and a Cistercian monastery on the tiny isle of St. Honorat, to Carol Drinkwater’s own small piece of land, which she transforms from an overgrown plot of weeds and ivy to a thriving, productive farm, transforming in the process her own dream of a peaceful and meaningful life into reality.
12. World Travel, An Irreverent Guide by Anthony Bourdain
How is it possible to miss someone you never met? I truly miss Bourdain. I miss his voice, his travels and his irreverence. So I loved this book. World Travel, An Irreverent Guide:
A guide to some of the world’s most fascinating places, as seen and experienced by writer, television host, and relentlessly curious traveler Anthony Bourdain
Anthony Bourdain saw more of the world than nearly anyone. His travels took him from the hidden pockets of his hometown of New York to a tribal longhouse in Borneo, from cosmopolitan Buenos Aires, Paris, and Shanghai to Tanzania’s utter beauty and the stunning desert solitude of Oman’s Empty Quarter—and many places beyond.
In World Travel, a life of experience is collected into an entertaining, practical, fun and frank travel guide that gives readers an introduction to some of his favorite places—in his own words. Featuring essential advice on how to get there, what to eat, where to stay and, in some cases, what to avoid, World Travel provides essential context that will help readers further appreciate the reasons why Bourdain found a place enchanting and memorable.
Supplementing Bourdain’s words are a handful of essays by friends, colleagues, and family that tell even deeper stories about a place, including sardonic accounts of traveling with Bourdain by his brother, Chris; a guide to Chicago’s best cheap eats by legendary music producer Steve Albini, and more. Additionally, each chapter includes illustrations by Wesley Allsbrook.
For veteran travelers, armchair enthusiasts, and those in between, World Travel offers a chance to experience the world like Anthony Bourdain.
13. A Year In Provence by Peter Mayle
This was the first book I read about packing up your life and moving to Europe, in this case the south of France. Since it first published in 1991 I have read every book in this genre that I can get my hands on. It’s such a fabulous dream! This book is hilarious too. A Year In Provence:
In this witty and warm-hearted account, Peter Mayle tells what it is like to realize a long-cherished dream and actually move into a 200-year-old stone farmhouse in the remote country of the Lubéron with his wife and two large dogs. He endures January’s frosty mistral as it comes howling down the Rhône Valley, discovers the secrets of goat racing through the middle of town, and delights in the glorious regional cuisine. A Year in Provence transports us into all the earthy pleasures of Provençal life and lets us live vicariously at a tempo governed by seasons, not by days.
14. The Woman Who Fell From The Sky: An American Woman’s Adventures In The Oldest City On Earth by Jennifer Steil
I absolutely loved this book! Jennifer paints such a beautiful picture of Yemen and describes the people she met so clearly you feel as though you know them yourself. As war and famine have raged in Yemen these past few years I have constantly wondered if they have all survived and how their families are doing. The Woman Who Fell From The Sky isn’t that well known but trust me, it is fantastic. Here is the scoop:
“I had no idea how to find my way around this medieval city. It was getting dark. I was tired. I didn’t speak Arabic. I was a little frightened. But hadn’t I battled scorpions in the wilds of Costa Rica and prevailed? Hadn’t I survived fainting in a San José brothel? Hadn’t I once arrived in Ireland with only $10 in my pocket and made it last two weeks? Surely I could handle a walk through an unfamiliar town. So I took a breath, tightened the black scarf around my hair, and headed out to take my first solitary steps through Sana’a.”—from The Woman Who Fell From The Sky
In a world fraught with suspicion between the Middle East and the West, it’s hard to believe that one of the most influential newspapers in Yemen—the desperately poor, ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden, which has made has made international headlines for being a terrorist breeding ground—would be handed over to an agnostic, Campari-drinking, single woman from Manhattan who had never set foot in the Middle East. Yet this is exactly what happened to journalist, Jennifer Steil.
Restless in her career and her life, Jennifer, a gregarious, liberal New Yorker, initially accepts a short-term opportunity in 2006 to teach a journalism class to the staff of The Yemen Observer in Sana’a, the beautiful, ancient, and very conservative capital of Yemen. Seduced by the eager reporters and the challenging prospect of teaching a free speech model of journalism there, she extends her stay to a year as the paper’s editor-in-chief. But she is quickly confronted with the realities of Yemen—and their surprising advantages. In teaching the basics of fair and balanced journalism to a staff that included plagiarists and polemicists, she falls in love with her career again. In confronting the blatant mistreatment and strict governance of women by their male counterparts, she learns to appreciate the strength of Arab women in the workplace. And in forging surprisingly deep friendships with women and men whose traditions and beliefs are in total opposition to her own, she learns a cultural appreciation she never could have predicted. What’s more, she just so happens to meet the love of her life.
With exuberance and bravery, The Woman Who Fell from the Sky offers a rare, intimate, and often surprising look at the role of the media in Muslim culture and a fascinating cultural tour of Yemen, one of the most enigmatic countries in the world.
This was the first of Khaled Hosseini’s books, followed by A Thousand Splendid Suns and And The Mountains Echoed. Each of these books are hauntingly, achingly beautiful. After reading Hosseini I read as many books set in the region as I could find. These books let me be an armchair traveler to places I know I won’t ever go. Here is the scoop on The Kite Runner:
The unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant, caught in the tragic sweep of history, The Kite Runner transports readers to Afghanistan at a tense and crucial moment of change and destruction. A powerful story of friendship, it is also about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption; and an exploration of the power of fathers over sons—their love, their sacrifices, their lies.
Since its publication in 2003 Kite Runner has become a beloved, one-of-a-kind classic of contemporary literature, touching millions of readers, and launching the career of one of America’s most treasured writers.
16. A Honeymoon In Purdah by Alison Wearing
Reading this book my first thought was, I wish I had thought to do this! I can’t imagine risking traveling through Iran now but had I read this when I was younger I would have in a heartbeat. Just a really fantastic story. A Honeymoon In Purdah:
The beautifully written travel memoir of a Western woman’s journey in Iran.
With a love of travel, Alison Wearing invites us to journey with her to Iran–a country that few Westerners have a chance to see. Traveling with a male friend, in the guise of a couple on their honeymoon, Wearing set out on her own at every available opportunity. She went looking for what lay beneath the media’s representation of Iran and found a country made up of welcoming, curious, warmhearted, ambitious men and women.
With humor and compassion, Wearing gives Iranians the chance to wander beyond headlines and stereotypes, and in doing so, reveals the poetry of their lives–those whose lives extend beyond Western news stories of kidnapping, terrorism, veiled women, and Islamic fundamentalism.
“With this engrossing account, Wearing casts a sympathetic eye on the real people of Iran, so often invisible to the West.”–Publishers Weekly
17. The Caliph’s House: A Year In Casablanca by Tahir Shah
There is something so magical about people buying homes in foreign countries, navigating a new culture and (always) meeting a cast of characters! This time it’s in Morocco. Here is The Caliph’s House, A Year In Casablanca:
In the tradition of A Year in Provenceand Under the Tuscan Sun, acclaimed English travel writer Tahir Shah shares a highly entertaining account of making an exotic dream come true. By turns hilarious and harrowing, here is the story of his family’s move from the gray skies of London to the sun-drenched city of Casablanca, where Islamic tradition and African folklore converge–and nothing is as easy as it seems….
Inspired by the Moroccan vacations of his childhood, Tahir Shah dreamed of making a home in that astonishing country. At age thirty-six he got his chance. Investing what money he and his wife, Rachana, had, Tahir packed up his growing family and bought Dar Khalifa, a crumbling ruin of a mansion by the sea in Casablanca that once belonged to the city’s caliph, or spiritual leader.
With its lush grounds, cool, secluded courtyards, and relaxed pace, life at Dar Khalifa seems sure to fulfill Tahir’s fantasy–until he discovers that in many ways he is farther from home than he imagined. For in Morocco an empty house is thought to attract jinns, invisible spirits unique to the Islamic world. The ardent belief in their presence greatly hampers sleep and renovation plans, but that is just the beginning. From elaborate exorcism rituals involving sacrificial goats to dealing with gangster neighbors intent on stealing their property, the Shahs must cope with a new culture and all that comes with it.
Endlessly enthralling, The Caliph’s House charts a year in the life of one family who takes a tremendous gamble. As we follow Tahir on his travels throughout the kingdom, from Tangier to Marrakech to the Sahara, we discover a world of fierce contrasts that any true adventurer would be thrilled to call home.
18. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
Extreme bravery doesn’t always involve running around with a gun. As you read this you have to calculate the risks involved for all the women in the group. In this case I have to think reading these books was an act of extreme bravery. This is Reading Lolita In Tehran:
Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Azar Nafisi, a bold and inspired teacher, secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics. Some came from conservative and religious families, others were progressive and secular; some had spent time in jail. They were shy and uncomfortable at first, unaccustomed to being asked to speak their minds, but soon they removed their veils and began to speak more freely–their stories intertwining with the novels they were reading by Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Vladimir Nabokov. As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids in Tehran, as fundamentalists seized hold of the universities and a blind censor stifled artistic expression, the women in Nafisi’s living room spoke not only of the books they were reading but also about themselves, their dreams and disappointments.
Azar Nafisi’s luminous masterwork gives us a rare glimpse, from the inside, of women’s lives in revolutionary Iran. Reading Lolita in Tehran is a work of great passion and poetic beauty, a remarkable exploration of resilience in the face of tyranny, and a celebration of the liberating power of literature.
19. A Fortune Teller Told Me by Tiziano Terzani
If a fortune teller told you not to fly for a year because you might die, would you listen?
Italy’s most famous foreign correspondent, Tiziano Terzani, was living in Bangkok and reporting from all over Southeast Asia for the German magazine Der Spiegel when a Hong Kong fortune teller warned him. So he spent the next year traveling overland and wrote this book, telling his fantastic story. It’s tremendous. A Fortune Teller Told Me:
“An utterly charming and engaging travel book that offers vivid portraits of unusual corners of Asia, told by a skilled raconteur whose eyes were open wide.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review
Warned by a Hong Kong fortune-teller not to risk flying for an entire year, Tiziano Terzani—a vastly experienced Asia correspondent—took what he called “the first step into an unknown world. . . . It turned out to be one of the most extraordinary years I have ever spent: I was marked for death, and instead I was reborn.”
Traveling by foot, boat, bus, car, and train, he visited Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Mongolia, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia. Geography expanded under his feet. He consulted soothsayers, sorcerers, and shamans and received much advice—some wise, some otherwise—about his future. With time to think, he learned to understand, respect, and fear for older ways of life and beliefs now threatened by the crasser forms of Western modernity. He rediscovered a place he had been reporting on for decades. And reinvigorated himself in the process.
20. Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey On The Silk Road by Kate Harris
A brilliant, fierce writer, and winner of the 2019 RBC Taylor Prize, makes her debut with this enthralling travelogue and memoir of her journey by bicycle along the Silk Road—an illuminating and thought-provoking fusion of The Places in Between, Lab Girl, and Wild that dares us to challenge the limits we place on ourselves and the natural world.
As a teenager, Kate Harris realized that the career she craved—to be an explorer, equal parts swashbuckler and metaphysician—had gone extinct. From what she could tell of the world from small-town Ontario, the likes of Marco Polo and Magellan had mapped the whole earth; there was nothing left to be discovered. Looking beyond this planet, she decided to become a scientist and go to Mars.
In between studying at Oxford and MIT, Harris set off by bicycle down the fabled Silk Road with her childhood friend Mel. Pedaling mile upon mile in some of the remotest places on earth, she realized that an explorer, in any day and age, is the kind of person who refuses to live between the lines. Forget charting maps, naming peaks: what she yearned for was the feeling of soaring completely out of bounds. The farther she traveled, the closer she came to a world as wild as she felt within.
Lands of Lost Borders, winner of the 2018 Banff Adventure Travel Award and a 2018 Nautilus Award, is the chronicle of Harris’s odyssey and an exploration of the importance of breaking the boundaries we set ourselves; an examination of the stories borders tell, and the restrictions they place on nature and humanity; and a meditation on the existential need to explore—the essential longing to discover what in the universe we are doing here.
Like Rebecca Solnit and Pico Iyer, Kate Harris offers a travel account at once exuberant and reflective, wry and rapturous. Lands of Lost Borders explores the nature of limits and the wildness of the self that can never fully be mapped. Weaving adventure and philosophy with the history of science and exploration, Lands of Lost Borders celebrates our connection as humans to the natural world, and ultimately to each other—a belonging that transcends any fences or stories that may divide us.
21. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
This book seems to be at the top of every avid traveler’s list of must read travel books. It is fiction based on real life. The book is huge, some 900 pages, yet no one ever complains about the size. It is fantastically written and my guess is Shantaram has made more treks around the world with backpackers than any other book. Here is the scoop on Shantaram:
Lindsay, a convicted bank robber, and heroin addict arrives in Bombay after escaping from an Australian prison. Intended only to be a step in his journey, Bombay became his home. Together with “Linbaba”, we learn about India – very often the poorest India – as he lost all his money and found himself living in the slums.
“It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured.”
So begins this epic, mesmerizing first novel set in the underworld of contemporary Bombay. Shantaram is narrated by Lin, an escaped convict with a false passport who flees maximum security prison in Australia for the teeming streets of a city where he can disappear.
Accompanied by his guide and faithful friend, Prabaker, the two enter Bombay’s hidden society of beggars and gangsters, prostitutes and holy men, soldiers and actors, and Indians and exiles from other countries, who seek in this remarkable place what they cannot find elsewhere.
As a hunted man without a home, family, or identity, Lin searches for love and meaning while running a clinic in one of the city’s poorest slums, and serving his apprenticeship in the dark arts of the Bombay mafia. The search leads him to war, prison torture, murder, and a series of enigmatic and bloody betrayals. The keys to unlock the mysteries and intrigues that bind Lin are held by two people. The first is Khader Khan: mafia godfather, criminal-philosopher-saint, and mentor to Lin in the underworld of the Golden City. The second is Karla: elusive, dangerous, and beautiful, whose passions are driven by secrets that torment her and yet give her a terrible power.
Burning slums and five-star hotels, romantic love and prison agonies, criminal wars and Bollywood films, spiritual gurus and mujaheddin guerrillas—this huge novel has the world of human experience in its reach, and a passionate love for India at its heart. Based on the life of the author, it is by any measure the debut of an extraordinary voice in literature.
When I am going to be traveling anywhere I like to read books
set in that place before I go. It’s fun stumbling upon places you’ve read about
and being able to recognize shops and restaurants and landmarks from a book,
but also you can discover places you had never heard of before that may be
close to where you are going or perhaps are just a train ride away. Adding
these spots to your itinerary can end up being the highlight of you trip!
During this Coronavirus / COVID19 outbreak we are all facing some form of self isolating or quarantine. Books not only keep us entertained but also help us escape when the world around us gets too crazy. Sharing physical books is not necessarily safe at this time, so I recommend you read digitally instead.
*I don’t own a Kindle but I do read everything on the Kindle App (on my iPad.) Books purchased via Kindle (or using the Kindle App) are very inexpensive, averaging about $3.99 *Many authors will mark their first in series free and do box sets very inexpensively. *If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you get as many books as you want, for free. You can cancel at anytime and keep the books you have downloaded. A subscription to Kindle Unlimited is $9.99 *If you have Amazon Prime you not only have access to Prime TV, movies and music but also to free books and magazines. Amazon offers a free 30 day trial to Prime. Links: Kindle, Amazon Prime Free Trial , Kindle Unlimited Subscription
Books can help you get into the travel vibe, or when you get home can keep the magic alive for a while longer. Some of the books on this list are novels, others are autobiographies.
The books on this list are all available on Amazon and have affiliate links.
Four retired women decide to pool their resources and rent a villa in Tuscany for a year. As the story unfolds you get a look not only at Tuscany but also other parts of Italy, meet some fun local characters and get to enjoy the adventures and love affairs of the four protagonists. This book is fabulous and is wonderful for all ages. Women In Sunlight.
After a devastating divorce California native Laura Fraser eventually decided to go to Italy to visit some friends. Unexpectedly in the midst of her heartache she met a lovely and complicated man with whom she then embarked on an affair that lasted for years. This gorgeous autobiography is perfect for anyone who has ever secretly dreamt about finding a fabulous man while on vacation and having an affair with substance that continues as the years roll by. Over the course of several years Fraser takes you all over Italy and introduces you to some places you probably have never heard of before. An Italian Affair
Pellegrino has many books set in Italy and all are wonderful. This one finds her protagonist at a crisis point in her life. She stumbles across a house swap website, finds a beautiful old summer villa in southern Italy and is able to do a swap with her little London flat as the villa owner needs to work in London for a few months. The story that unfolds is just gorgeous and will leave you dreaming about a house swap of your own! This is one of several books Pellegrino has written that center around the same house, the Villa Rosa. Each of her stories set at the villa will leave you dying to spend a summer there. Under Italian Skies
After traveling to Venice several times Barry and his wife decided to take a year out from their life in Florida and live in the most unique city on earth. This book is different from most of the expat-living-abroad stories in that they rent, not buy and only spend one year. The story is delightful and funny and inspiring, exposing the reader to a slice of Venice most tourists don’t see. It is also incredibly relatable because they are just normal folk who bring their computers and work from home. They make you realize that you don’t have to have great wealth to do something like this, which opens up endless opportunities to those of us who would love to do something similar. The Venice Experiment
and Francesca Hackett is living la dolce vita in Rome, leading
tourist groups around the Eternal City and forgetting the ghosts she left
behind in London. When she finds a stolen designer handbag in her dustbin and
returns it, she is brought into the orbit of her grand neighbour who lives
across the piazza – famed socialite Viscontessa Elena dei Damiani Pignatelli
della Mirandola. Though the purse is stolen, Elena greets the return of the bag
with exultation for it contains an unopened letter written by her husband on
his deathbed, twelve years earlier.
Mutually intrigued by each other, the two women agree to collaborate on a project, with Cesca interviewing Elena for her memoirs. As summer unfurls, Elena tells her sensational stories, leaving Cesca in her thrall. But when a priceless diamond ring found in an ancient tunnel below the city streets is ascribed to Elena, Cesca begins to suspect a shocking secret at the heart of Elena’s life. The Rome Affair
Food and Travel writer Diana Armstrong buys and renovates a 400 year old home in a tiny town not far from Orvieto. Once again the cast of local characters is fascinating and fun, the local history is intriguing and you will be left wanting to buy your own home in Italy. I particularly loved when her friends would come visit from the US, and all the food shopping and preparation Armstrong does. Somewhere South of Tuscany
Paul Stuart, a renowned food writer, finds himself at loose ends after his longtime girlfriend leaves him for her personal trainer. To cheer him up, Paul’s editor, Gloria, encourages him to finish his latest cookbook on-site in Tuscany, hoping that a change of scenery (plus the occasional truffled pasta and glass of red wine) will offer a cure for both heartache and writer’s block. But upon Paul’s arrival, things don’t quite go as planned. A mishap with his rental-car reservation leaves him stranded, until a newfound friend leads him to an intriguing alternative: a bulldozer.
With little choice in the matter, Paul accepts the offer, and as he journeys (well, slowly trundles) into the idyllic hillside town of Montalcino, he discovers that the bulldozer may be the least of the surprises that await him. What follows is a delightful romp through the lush sights and flavors of the Tuscan countryside, as Paul encounters a rich cast of characters, including a young American woman who awakens in him something unexpected.
A feast for the senses and a poignant meditation on the complexity of human relationships, My Italian Bulldozer is a charming and intensely satisfying love story for anyone who has ever dreamed of a fresh start. My Italian Bulldozer
In the 4th story about
symbologist Robert Langdon (Angels and Demons, Da Vinci Code and The Lost
Symbol) he inexplicably wakes up in a hospital in Florence with a head injury,
memory loss and an assassin hunting him down. With a mystery bound up in Dante’s
Inferno, the story takes you through Florence then on to Venice as Langdon
tried to figure out the clues left by a dead billionaire who had planned the
release of a virus to cull the world population.
Not only an exciting and fast paced read, this book will inspire you to make your own Inferno walking tour of Florence. (Or join one of the guided Inferno walking tours!) Inferno
After a tragic shooting at the
University of Texas, classics professor Sophie Chase along with her star pupil
and some colleagues takes on an academic project in Naples. A villa has been discovered
after being buried for nearly 2000 years in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius,
along with a trove of documents. The discovery leads them on a chase involving an
ancient mystery, 1st century nobles and a slave girl at the heart of
an ancient controversy.
Their billionaire benefactor puts
everyone up at a villa he owns in Capri, from where this fast paced murder mystery
moves back and forth across the bay of Naples with plenty of twists and turns. Whatever shocking
events transpired in the face of Vesuvius’s fury have led to deeper, darker
machinations that inexorably draw Sophie into their vortex, rich in stunning
revelations and laden with unseen menace.
This is especially good for anyone who enjoys mysteries, Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius, and will be traveling to Naples or Capri. The Night Villa
Facing a post-divorce early mid-life
crisis, writer Elizabeth Gilbert decides to spend a year traveling alone
through 3 countries, Italy, India and Bali, in order to feed her soul, become
more spiritually aware and shift her perspective on romance. The first third of
this year takes place in Rome and focuses on the food she eats, the things she
sees and the lifelong friendships she makes.
Eat, Pray, Love is a gorgeous book that spent 4 years on the New York Times Bestseller List before being made into a movie. Eat, Pray, Love
In 1962 while Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were making headlines in Rome, an ingénue arrives by boat to a little town just beyond the Cinqueterre. This beautiful story of an actress, a novelist and an innkeeper with a dream combines a little intrigue with 1960’s Hollywood and life on the coast of Liguria. Spanning 50 years, this is a gorgeous story will keep you engrossed until the last sentence. Beautiful Ruins
This is first in a murder mystery series set in Venice. Local police detective Commissario Guido Brunetti investigates the murder of a much disliked but brilliant German conductor during the intermission at the La Fenice opera house. He works his way through the mystery with the backdrop of Venice, its culture and somewhat dirty politics. This entire series is tremendous, especially if you are going to or already love Venice. Death at La Fenice
This autobiography is first in
series about two sisters who decide to escape the dreary British winter and run
away to a hilltop town in Liguria to work the season in a rose grafting
business. (Not knowing anything about roses). Of course nothing goes as planned,
but they fall in love with this crazy little town and end up buying a rundown
cottage which is really not much more than a shed and costs them less than a
With a non-existent budget they
slowly renovate the cottage not only making it livable but also building themselves
a new life.
Another first in series
autobiography, this one will make you fall in love with southern Italian life.
When Australian Chris Harrison went
to Dublin he never dreamed his life was about to change forever. He met the
love of his life, Daniela and before he knew it moved to her southern Puglia
town of Andrano.
This autobiography not only takes
you through this gorgeous part of Italy with its whitewashed towns, olive
groves, incredible beaches and cobblestoned streets, but also takes you along
on his journey dealing with every day life. He has to deal with the infuriating
bureaucracy and with Daniela’s mamma who is determined to convert him to Catholicism
and build an extension to her house for them to live in.
The true story of Frances and her husband Ed buying and renovating an old home in Tuscany. Endlessly enjoyable more than 20 years after first being published, it will make you dream about buying your own villa in Tuscany. If you have watched the movie you can still enjoy the book as other than the house being called Bramasole, the town being Cortona and there really being a team of Polish workers, the two stories are vastly different. Under The Tuscan Sun
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