By Victor Block
Hop aboard the fabled Orient Express train. Pedal the route of the famous Tour de France bicycle race. Explore the colorful canals and history-rich streets of Venice.
OK, so you can't make these inviting journeys right now. But you can take virtual trips that immerse you in the sights, sounds and other appeals of those and other places and experiences by reading about them.
Some of the books described here are new and others older, but they are all rated among the most outstanding travel writing in recent years. Let your eyes do the walking and your imagination lead you to places you may have visited and others you'd like to when things return to normal.
"Around the World in 80 Trains" by Monisha Rajesh, Bloomsbury Publishing, describes a globe-straddling rail journey through North America, Europe and Asia. It includes a high-altitude ride in Tibet, trans-Canadian journey and experiencing the luxurious Venice Simplon Orient-Express. In addition to descriptions of train trips and destinations the author brings to life fascinating people she encounters along the way.
Pedal power is the mode of transportation that moves author Tim Moore ("French Revolutions: Cycling the Tour de France," Yellow Jersey Press) as he attempts to cover the entire course of the legendary French bicycle race. Moore is one of the select writers of comic travelogues, and his words make enjoyable reading for everyone from serious bikers to those who have never set foot on a pedal.
Excursions rather than destinations also are the focus of "The Journey Matters: Twentieth-Century Travel in the True Style" by Jonathan Glancey, Atlantic Books. The author brings to life the golden age of travel, when getting to a destination was as important and enjoyable as being there. He augments accounts of journeys he took — such as crossing the Atlantic on the SS Normandie and flying from England to Singapore with England's Imperial Airways, a British airline that operated from 1924 to 1939 — with equally intriguing stories by fictional narrators.
When it comes to books about destinations, seldom, if ever, has the essence of a city been better described than in "Venice" by Jan Morris, Faber & Faber. This award-winning tome is not a guide or history book but rather one that absorbs the reader into the character and life of that magnificent city. Venice comes alive almost as if the reader were there enjoying its architecture, canals, curiosities and, above all, its people.
Then there are those books that cover the world in scope. The latest edition of "1,000 Places to See Before you Die" (Patricia Schultz; Artisan Publishers), which seems to me a daunting challenge, takes almost 500 pages that are illustrated by some 1,100 photographs to highlight what the author considers to be Earth's "must-see" attractions. They cover the gamut from the Cappadocia region of Turkey, a geologically moonscaped area of rock towers, cones and caves to cheetahs hunting for prey in Kenya to the rugged Huangshan Mountains in China.
While only 25 destinations are highlighted in "Hidden Places" by Sarah Baxter, White Lion Publishing, they live up to the book's name in terms of both obscurity and appeal. Included are little-known citadels that are reachable only on foot, jungle-blanketed remains of the great Mayan civilization and underwater ruins buried deep in the Pacific Ocean.
More accessible sites are previewed in the 2020 edition of Lonely Planet's "Best Travel Destinations." This 15th annual collation of hot spots ranks the top 10 countries (No. 1 is Bhutan), cities (Salzburg, Austria) and best-value destinations (Indonesia). Other "best" ratings include top-value destination, new places to stay and new food experiences. The book places a strong emphasis upon sustainability for the environment, local people and travelers themselves.
Those who prefer to combine a bit of intrigue with their travel reading are likely to find "The Falcon Thief" by Joshua Hammer, Simon & Schuster, to be a page-turner. It is, the jacket tells us, "a true tale of adventure, treachery and the search for the perfect bird." The story is a fact-based crime adventure about a wildlife detective (yes, they exist) seeking to apprehend a globe-trotting smuggler who spent two decades capturing rare birds and their eggs. The story whisks readers from the Matobo National Park in Zimbabwe and the deserts of Dubai to the volcanoes of Patagonia and frigid tundra near the Arctic Circle. That virtual whirlwind tour of exotic destinations, combined with the stirring story, offers appeal to a variety of readers.
WHEN YOU GO
Local bookshops are making deliveries in some areas. If that isn't available where you are, visit your favorite online bookseller.
Victor Block is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
The Dubai Desert is among places where "The Falcon Thief" by Joshua Hammer unfolds. Photo courtesy of Gerold Grotelueschen/Dreamstime.com.