Perceptive Travel Book Reviews March 2019
by William Caverlee

In this issue: Great train journeys around the world and two narrative tales of long-term journeys around the globe—with no regrets.

Amazing Train Journeys

Amazing Train Journeys
Edited by Lonely Planet

Amazing Train Journeys is both a coffee-table book and a guidebook. It describes sixty present-day railway journeys that you can take in various places across the globe. At 304 pages, it contains dozens of stunning color photos: rail cars, mountains, passengers, bridges, towns, and villages.

Included is the train that many would hold to be the most famous of all: The Orient Express. These days it is called the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and connects London and Venice, rather than London and Istanbul, to the disappointment of Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming fans everywhere. Still, if you can afford it, the two-day transit of 1,300 miles should make for a grand enough re-creation of old-style rail touring.

As pristine stewards in uniforms matching the train's livery skilfully make you feel at home, you start to take everything in‐the impossibly plush upholstery, the baby grand piano in the bar, the stunning art deco design of the champagne bar, even the different mosaics on the floors of each bathroom—and the years flip backward like one of those movie sequences.

For a different experience, you can try the Hershey Train in Cuba, which traverses the 53 miles between Havana and Matanzas in around 3-1/2 hours. The Hershey is one of the book's shorter lines. Another is Hong Kong's West Rail Line, which covers 22.2 miles in around a half-hour. Meanwhile, in Wales, there's a historically interesting 39-mile trip called the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways:

Despite being beloved for its fleet of illustrious steam engines, Ffestiniog Railway actually began life without any locomotives—or indeed any passengers. Constructed in 1833 to transport slate from the quarries of Blaenau Ffestiniog to waiting ships on the Irish Sea, downhill trains were powered by gravity, with horses deployed to heave empty trucks back uphill.

Long distance railfans will doubtless turn to page 191 and the Trans-Siberian Railway with its seven-day 5,752-mile excursion between Moscow and Vladivostok. Or, for North Americans, there's always the 3,946-mile ride from Vancouver to Halifax on VIA Rail Canada, which takes a week as well. For a comparatively short hop at three days and 2,438 miles, there's the famed California Zephyr, linking Chicago and San Francisco, with its tour of the Rocky Mountains (and possessing what is surely one of the great railroad names of all time).

Adrenaline-rush devotees will want to head to China to experience train travel at 248 mph on the Beijing to Shanghai High-Speed Rail. Meanwhile, the rest of us will be found happily lolling at 24 mph on the Glacier Express in Switzerland, named the "slowest express train on the planet." Such slowness is welcome—you will have a good view of the Matterhorn as you pull into the station at Zermatt. (The chapter's photograph of the famous peak is terrific.)

The book includes plenty of detailed information about schedules, regulations, amenities, and such, for prospective ticket buyers. For armchair travelers, the wealth of photographs makes for a pleasant browse. All in all, Amazing Train Journeys touches on every sort of rail line, from the famous to the obscure.

No Regrets: Adventuring Through Life
By Linda McDermott

Linda McDermott's memoir, No Regrets, takes us around the globe with an intrepid traveler. At the outset, No Regrets announces itself as a story of personal growth attained through travel. Indeed, the book contains plenty of life lessons, but, in another sense, it is a true travelogue, a detailed account of far-flung adventures, with numerous missteps, surprises, and human encounters.

Divorced, with two grown children, McDermott set out on her many journeys—both in her home country of the United States and internationally—well into her sixties. Her life list is impressive: dog sledding in Minnesota and Canada; hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc; backpacking in Patagonia; journeys to Australia, Mexico, Mongolia, Fiji, Nepal, Africa, and on and on, until she had achieved every continent. She managed to sign on for two separate turns working in Antarctica. She drove the ALCAN highway to Alaska. Toured Nepal three times.

For most people, completing the famed Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain is the subject of an entire book—for McDermott, it's a pair of chapters. Sometimes she traveled alone, often she was accompanied by her stalwart, good-natured friend, Judy.

McDermott's travels were not luxury tours. She mostly backpacked, staying in hostels, sometimes camping. She gave couchsurfing a try, sometimes slept in an airport or a car. She experienced plenty of dicey moments in strange towns when it seemed every hostel was filled. Travel in faraway provinces can include worries about crime, illness, accident; yet, again and again, McDermott set forth into the unknown.

The book includes a variety of drawings (dog sled, penguin, canoe, etc.) to illustrate chapter headings. 375 pages.

Turning Left Around the World
By David C Moore

In their world tour, David Moore and his wife Helene opted for a commercial travel company. Their itinerary included stop-offs in first-class hotels, along with other opportunities for fine dining and wine tasting.

Still, they found plenty of chances to experience the wild side. They toured jungles, deserts, and mountains; dodged snakes and crocodiles; rode motor scooters; commingled with locals; went ballooning; rode mountain bikes...

The ten-month tour Moore describes in his travelogue took place in a great circle around the Pacific Ocean with stops in South America, New Zealand, Australia, Southeast Asia, China, and Japan, with transits to Hawaii and the United States.

Natural wonders and man-made wonders abound in Moore's account. For world travelers in this area of the globe, there are a number of must-see destinations when you're making such a grand loop. Moore checked off most of them: Easter Island, the Galápagos Islands, Machu Picchu, the Great Barrier Reef, Ayers Rock, the Sydney Opera House, Angkor Wat, the Terracotta Army, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall of China, and Mount Fuji.

Moore's writing, for the most part, gives us a day-by-day narrative of the tour. But, in several chapters, he provides some historical background to the site he is visiting, such as the Inca Empire; Aborigines in Australia; Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge.

With dozens of small color photographs of scenes from the trip. 373 pages.

William Caverlee is a freelance writer who has been published in numerous magazines and literary journals, including The Oxford American, Cimarron Review, Flight Journal, The Florida Review, and Louisiana Cultural Vistas. His work appears in The Writer’s Presence: A Pool of Readings, and he's the author of Amid the Swirling Ghosts and Other Essays.

See the last round of book reviews from William Caverlee

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No Regrets

Buy No Regrets: Adventuring Through Life at your local bookstore, or get it online here:
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Turning Left Around the World

Buy Turning Left Around the World: David and Helene Shared the Adventure, the Sights, the Laughs... and Even the Tears at your local bookstore, or get it online here:
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