Chrissie's Reviews > A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople:

A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor
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Jun 29, 2015

really liked it
bookshelves: great-britain, hungary, text-checked, travel, bio, holland, art, germany, history, austria, series
Read from August 01 to 08, 2010

This is a really wonderful armchair travel book. You cannot find better. A nineteen year old travels on foot from Rotterdam to Budapest, well actually almost to Budapest. He gets over the Slovakian border into Hungary. The next book covers his travels from Budapest to Constantinople: Between the Woods and the Water: On Foot to Constantinople from the Hook of Holland : The Middle Danube to the Iron Gates. I will have to read that too!!!

If my own knowledge of history had been better I would have given it 5 stars....... Due to my ignorance, there were points where I was a bit lost. You learn not only about his travels and the landscape and the people he met on his journey, but also how history has formed all that he saw. He leaves from Holland, travels up the Rhine in Germany then down the Danube through Austria, Chezckolslovakia to Hungary - on foot, from December 1933 through March 1934. He is 19 years of age. You do run into the rumblings of the approaching war, but that is not the central focus. The focus is on art and literature and history and the people he met along the way. Both jails and mayors of the small villages and friends introduced by other friends offered him a bed and a meal. He stayed in beautiful castles along the Danube. He talked and talked with the people. You read this book and you want to do the same trip, but of course that is now impossible...... He does take one short trip on a barge and another trip by train with a friend to Prague. I particularly loved the intertwining description of the city, the art, the music and the history of this city. It would be worth it to pick up this book if you are only interested in reading the chapter on Prague!!!!

The writing style is fabulous. Here follows a quote after his stay in Prague when he was traveling near the Slvakian border to Hungary.

"My next call, only a few doors away, was a similar haunt of sawdust and spillt liquor and spit, but this time KRCMA was daubed over the window. All was Slav within. The tow-haired Slovaks drinking were dressed in conical fleece hats and patched sheepskin-jerkins with the matted wool turned inwards. They were shod canoe-shaped cowhide moccasins. Their shanks cross-gartered with uncured thongs, were bulbously swaddled in felt that could only be unwrapped in the spring. Swanp-and-conifer men they looked, with faces tundra-blank and eyes as blue and as vague as unmapped lakes which the plum-brandy was misting over. But they might just as well have been swallowing hydromel a thousand years ealier, before setting off to track the cloven spoor of the aurochs of a frozen Trans-Carpathian bog." (page 229-230)

In the chapter about Prague one finds the following text:

"The spires and towers recalled the earlier Prague of the Wenceslases and the Ottokars and the race of the Premysl kings, sprung from the fairy-tale marriage of Czech princess with a plough-boy encountered on the banks of the river. The Czechs have always looked back with longing to the reigns of the saintly sovereign and of his descendants and to the powerful and benevolent Charles IV - a golden age when Czech was the language of rulers and subjects, religious discord unknown and the rights of crown and nobles and commons and peasants all intact. These feelings gained strength during the Czech revival under the last hundred years of Habsburg ascendancy. Austrian rule fluctuated between unconvinced absolutism and liberalism soon repented and it was abetted by linguistic pressures, un timely inflexibility and all of the follies that assail declining empires, for knavery was not to blame. These ancient wrongs must have lost much of their bitterness in the baleful light of modern times when the when the only evidence to survive it is an heirloom of luminous architectural beauty." (page 149)

What I want to show by this quote is that the writing is very erudite. Be warned, the text isn't always light However there is so much that is just wonderful to experience through the accounts, reflections and diary notes. He is 19 when he travelled. He is a normal kid, drinking and seeing the towns and the world around him. The books are written many years after his travels. In the interim the author has matured and further increased his knowledge and ability to express himself. So the more knowledgeable and erudite the reader is himself, the more he will enjoy this book. It probably should be given five stars, but I gave it four. I am who I am. The four stars reflect how the book was perceived by me.
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message 4: by Lynne (new)

Lynne Chrissie's back! Chrissie's back!

message 3: by Chrissie (last edited Aug 10, 2010 02:40AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Chrissie Yup; and I managed to read several books but I haven't had the time to write reviews...... I HATE writing several reviews at the same time. I never manage to put my heart on the line. I hope you got my postcard!!!!!
Oscar jumped out of a window 3 meters above the ground! He is totally fine. Nothing happened. :0) And I love the book you recommended to me about the Indus River.
How ya doing?

message 2: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Chrissie, Thanks for posting about this book. Sounds fascinating.

Chrissie I think I should say that what makes this book so marvelous is the writing style. OK, sometimes the history is over the top but at other points it is pure poetry! Fermor can write!

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