You may have noticed that we've been on hiatus for the past week; unfortunately, that will remain the status of this site for another week or so as we slog through tax season and as we put the finishing touches on our first book, City Sketches, which should be out and available on our sister site, Travel's Bitch (www.travelsbitch.com), and on Amazon.com by the end of the month.
Bear with us – the book will be worth it, and then we'll continue to entertain and inform you in our usual snarky way.
Returning Series – The latest season of The Amazing Race begins on Sunday, Feb. 23 at 8 P.M. EST. This time, it’s an “all-star” event featuring popular teams from past races. The line-up is, in my opinion, staggeringly uninteresting – but I’ll at least check out the various locations that are highlighted in each episode.
Ongoing Series – Titan Books continues to bring back the oldies, and three long-out-of-print series are really hitting their stride as the book company commits to seeing the publication of the entire list of titles for each author:
- Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu series – fourteen in all, these now politically-incorrect thrillers are still slam-bang adventures that will keep you turning the pages. President Fu Manchu and The Drums of Fu Manchu (# 8 and 9 of the series) are now available in trade paperback for pre-order from Amazon.com.
- Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm series – over twenty paperbound titles in this one; 8 have been published already, several more are ready for pre-order, all from Amazon.com. These books tend to be politically-incorrect in a misogynistic way – women viewed from the 1950s Playboy take on “girls.” Still, good action reads, in a much grittier, blue-collar manner than James Bond.
- Helen MacInnes thrillers – just to prove that thrillers aren’t the exclusive domain of male writers, check out Ms. MacInnes’ list of novels from the ’40s through the ’80s. Start with Above Suspicion, Assignment in Brittany (so accurate in its descriptions of spying techniques that it became required reading for all WWII Allied agents going behind enemy lines), North from Rome and Decision at Delphi, and then choose from any number of titles set during WWII or the Cold War. All titles are available in paperback form from Amazon.com.
For the past year, on our sister site (www.travelsbitch.com), I have enjoyed sharing memories of my travels to various cities abroad. Along the way, I hoped to inform and entertain you with the histories of, and the rich cultural experiences awaiting you in, these diverse towns. I've always believed that a good working knowledge of an area enhances the joy of travel.
As these posts accumulated, an idea sparked in my head that these essays could be pulled together in one place; that a collection of these writings could have the potential of reaching a larger audience and to inspire in those readers the desire to travel and to experience cultures and adventures of their own. The path was already laid out – the format of the post entries; I just had to follow it to its ultimate destination – the collected essays in book form.
So I'm thrilled to announce that those collected pieces will be available as an e-book, City Sketches, by late April of this year; plans are already in the works for a paperback edition to follow shortly thereafter. The essays have all been re-edited and revised; while essentially the same pieces, there will be additions and deletions that will correct any errors and enhance the information included in each sketch.
So look for the appearance of City Sketches at Travel's Bitch in a few months.
I’m still unclear on when my interest in the Way of St. James suddenly veered into the territory of obsession; but I understand now that I have set myself onto a path from which I can neither turn nor retreat. Casual curiosity always strays dangerously close to whimsical determination; and from there, the snares are out that will catch and hold one inexorably to a personal cause.
I first became aware of the Camino de Santiago in the fall of 2013. Where and how are shrouded in a haze of books and film that I encountered on the subject at about the same time, but my imagination was piqued. The Way had everything:
- Myth and Legend: St. James’ barnacled corpse floating ashore in Galicia and its transport to Santiago; the miracles attributed to him by pilgrims hiking to the town’s cathedral.
- History: From the first centuries of Christianity to the Middle Ages to the present, the countryside has seen countless pilgrims and just as many stories of persistence and salvation along the Way.
- Romance and Adventure: The lost art of the pilgrimage lives on today as travelers trek across the north of Spain in the footsteps of all who came before them, achieving a task that few others on this planet will accomplish.
- Geographical and Cultural Wonders: Travelers will hike across the Pyrennes, through mountainous terrains; across wind-swept grasslands along Spain’s northern reaches; and through the rolling greenery of Galicia as they reach their goal. They will pass through rustic villages and try local delicacies in their native settings; they will pass through large towns of architectural splendor, including Burgos – where they will see the final resting place of El Cid, one of the nation’s greatest heroes.
But the Camino held one other attraction for me: it was doable. At 63 years of age, this body of mine is fighting me, threatening me with fatigue and years of wear-and-tear. My mind rebels – I am not ready for retirement from life, and I will not spend my remaining years seated on a rocking chair somewhere whittling wood. But I can’t do some of the things that I could ten or twenty years ago. And so the Camino beckoned, and I gravitated inexorably toward it. The path is not a Herculean challenge: hiking through the Pyrennes requires no extraordinary mountain-climbing skills; trekking through the north of Spain is a fairly level proposition. This is an adventure that I can do – and that was all the knowledge I needed to commit myself to this month-long journey.
So as the new year of 2014 was ushered in, I made this resolution: I will make the pilgrimage to Santiago; I will walk the path that stretches from Saint-Jean-Pied-a-Port to that Galician cathedral. The adventure begins!
Push – This Kickstarter project has already been fully funded, but the uniquely new wallet/case for the iPhone 5 is still available for order at www.pushcase.com. Push is your basic hardshell phone casing, but with a big difference: on one side, if you push inward, a small slot will eject where you can put up to three credit cards or two cards and some cash. Now you can grab your phone and not worry if you forget your wallet (let's be real – you're more likely to grab that iPhone than your billfold on your way out the door). Available in various colors or in wood finish, for $39.
Melting Watch – For the Dali lovers out there, or just those who think the surreal aspect of this timepiece is a turn-on, modern art meets practical functionality with this working piece straight out of Salvador Dali's The Persistence of Memory. Watch the minutes melt away on your wrist and watch the looks on your friends' faces. And all for $29.95 from www.gadgetsandgear.com. Timeless!
I must give full credit to Rick Steves and his website for leading me to this really cool – in every sense – Parisian activity. It seems that, from mid-December to the end of January, part of the first elevated level of the Eiffel Tower is converted into an ice-skating rink, allowing guests (after paying for admission to the Tower) to skate for free 188 feet above the ground.
Gustave Eiffel probably never even conceived of the idea of including this winter sporting venue in his original plans, but the 200-square-meter (2,150 square feet) rink has been a fixture of the first level since 2004. About 80 people can ice skate on the rink at any given time, and given the enormous popularity of the site, you may have to wait in line for some time. But think of the bragging rights when you get home!
Taking in some of the most panoramic views of Paris while gliding across the ice on the Eiffel Tower definitely claims a spot on our must-do list.