Category Archives: In Paddy’s Footsteps

Jan Morris review of Nick Hunt’s Where the Wild Winds Are

Nick Hunt reads from his new book at the launch at Stanford’s bookshop, London on 6 September 2017

Jan Morris’ review of Nick’s new book, Where the Wild Winds Are: Walking Europe’s Winds from the Pennines to ProvenceFirst published in The Literary Review. She is effusive in her praise, concluding …

Hunt’s own summing-up of the whole venture expresses it better than I can, anyway. He says that he and his senses have been washed, scoured, scrubbed, frozen, heated, pummelled, pounded, downcast, uplifted and animated by the Winds.

And so, in a way, have mine, by reading his book.

This extraordinary work is a prime example of that contemporary genre, the ex-travel book. Travel writing as such being a bit obsolete now, since so many readers have been everywhere, the form has evolved into something more interpretative or philosophical. Where the Wild Winds Are: Walking Europe’s Winds from the Pennines to Provence is a work of this sort – a thoughtful (and perhaps rather too protracted) relation of a journey on foot across half of Europe – and it contains much admirable descriptive writing of the old sort. It is also, however, something far more interesting than most such enterprises: it describes an expedition into the Winds!

The Winds? Yes, four European winds, sometimes with a capital W, sometimes not, into which, one by one, Nick Hunt goes. He wants to experience and explore them all. Each is rich in history, myth, folklore, superstition and effect. Many of us have travelled across Europe, but as far as I know nobody has hitherto so deliberately explored the kingdoms of the great winds. Scientists, geographers, glider pilots, artists, poets and theologians have investigated and commemorated them, but travel writers never before. Hunt immerses himself in those Windlands and manages to give his readers a blast, a sigh, a shiver of each.

He chooses four named winds out of dozens, four being a geographical sort of number. His first and smallest wind, one I have never heard of before, blows across a northwestern corner of England. It is called Helm, and its headquarters, it seems, is a desolate plateau called Cross Fell in a particularly uninviting stretch of the Pennines. Helm is the only named wind blowing across Britain. It sounds perfectly awful and its reputation is frightful: it howled for fifteen days in 1843, it demolished a castle tower once, everybody complains about its psychological and temperamental effects and for centuries the countryside it rules was plagued by vendettas, pillagings, rapes, cattle-rustlings and murders. Hunt relates an awful curse that a 16th-century archbishop cast upon the place: it ran to more than a thousand words and finally declared that the souls of the local miscreants should be condemned to the deepest pit of hell, their bodies to be torn apart by dogs, swine and wild beasts.

Of course Hunt does not blame Helm for all this, but the wind does seem to have a baleful influence upon people, even now. He never experienced it for himself, diligently though he tried, tramping the high fells in search of it and miserably camping out, but his description of the experience is sufficiently vivid. It seems to me that the whole of Helmland is blown through with scoundrels and demons.

Less baleful, thank goodness, seems the influence of Foehn, which the novelist Hermann Hesse once described as the south announcing news of spring to the snowbound north. It is a warm wind (katabatic, Hunt helpfully explains, meaning that it blows downslope, not anabatically), and although it is said to cause migraines and depressions, it is also associated with clear skies and warmth. It sounds an ambiguous sort of wind. Our author starts his walk through its realm in Zurich in late March. He hopes to catch the wind doing what Hesse said it did, and he gives us some classic travel-book stuff on the way (‘flocks of sheep clanged their bells in a satisfyingly Alpine way’). When he gets to Liechtenstein he finds an entire exhibition devoted to Foehn. ‘We say’, announce its curators fondly, ‘that Foehn is the Oldest Man of Liechtenstein.’ This lively exhibition seems to reveal a different sort of attitude to the wind from anything Helm inspires in the bitter Pennines – more considerate, more affectionate perhaps. As Hunt walks on, though, he finds that while his front is growing warmer, his back is getting cold, and I take that to demonstrate that Foehn is a two-faced sort of wind.

It apparently is responsible for an illness of its own – Föhnkrankheit (‘Foehn-sickness’). Citizens complain of wind-induced depressions, anxieties and headaches. Farm animals grow fretful when Foehn blows and schoolchildren become uncontrollable. Hunt saw for himself a horse ‘excitedly’ performing ‘a small dance in its field’, and took this to mean that Foehn was on its way. When he told one elderly citizen that he was hoping to experience the wind for himself, the old boy scowled, tapped out his pipe on his trouser leg and simply said schlecht (‘bad’).

When our author did at last encounter Foehn in person, as it were, sure enough it was an ambiguous fulfilment. The energy of its gusts was evidently thrilling: ‘Now that I had found the wind, I had to follow it.’ But with Foehn, he says, came a powerful sensation: ‘Melodrama was everywhere: in the lake, the trees, the grass, the birds, the mountains, the sky, the light.’ He was, he says, ‘worn ragged from the struggle … I had come a long way to find the wind, but now for the first time … I had the strong sensation of wanting it to stop.’

Ah, but Hunt’s fourth wind (I will get to the third one later) is the Mistral, and we all know that one. The very name whispers holiday, art and the warm south. Van Gogh, Hunt tells us, painted his Summer Evening specifically because the Mistral was blowing through the Midi that day. ‘Aren’t we seeking intensity of thought’, Van Gogh asked a friend, ‘rather than tranquillity of touch?’ Intensity is evidently a hallmark of the Mistral. Both the French and the Spanish have warships named after it. Van Gogh himself, of course, eventually went mad.

Hunt knew all about the Mistral when he began his exploratory walk at Valence, where the wind is popularly supposed to start, and he had no difficulty in finding it for himself. It hit him in the face the moment he went out, and all around him, he tells us, passers-by ‘walked at forty-five-degree stoops, their hair-styles heading south’. Was this indeed the Mistral? he asked one of them. The reply was definitive: ‘Oui … This is the place with the most wind in France.’

He need not have asked. Throughout his stay in Provence, the Mistral was boisterously and proudly with him, and everyone talked about it. It used to be called ‘the idiot wind’, he learned. In the town of Orange in 2004 it blew for sixteen days without stopping, and it regularly blows there for one in three days throughout the year. ‘It makes us nervous – angry, even. Yes, it makes us angry! He enjoys this! He likes the passion! Me, I hate it.’ It had lately changed its blowing patterns, some said, while others suggested that in the law courts judges sentence more leniently if the Mistral is blowing hard.

One connecting theme of Hunt’s book is the subject of madness and its supposed links with particular winds. Van Gogh spent a year at Arles in Provence and painted two hundred pictures there – scenes all distinguished, Hunt suggests, by ‘the restlessness of the air’. Van Gogh himself called the Mistral merciless and wicked, but he loved the clear light of it, and it was not in Mistral country but in northern France where in the end he shot himself.

Nick Hunt reads from his new book at the launch at Stanford’s bookshop, London on 6 September 2017

I have left to the end Hunt’s second Wind, the Bora, because it is the one I have personally experienced, and because it seems to me the one most dramatically associated with a particular city. The Bora is a terrific climactic phenomenon that periodically storms down the mountainous coastline of the Adriatic and bursts through gaps in the highlands to fall upon places on the coast. Hunt calls it the ‘enfant terrible of the Adriatic’, and at its worst it can reach hurricane strength.

The Bora is intimately associated with Trieste, a city of tangled nationality, mingled fortunes and pungent character. I have known the place myself for seventy years and have written about it often, but until Hunt’s book reached me I had never heard of the Bora Museum, which is in a back street near the docks and contains 150 bottled winds from the four corners of the world.
Trieste and the Bora have become almost synonymous and they are proud of each other.

Everyone in the city has tales to tell of the wild and boisterous Bora, its rolling over of trams, its stripping of roofs and all its extravagant goings-on – such a contrast from the sometimes melancholy suggestiveness of the city itself. The Bora is fundamental to the self-image of Trieste. There is a street named in honour of it, artists repeatedly celebrate it, you can buy comic postcards of it and local historians like to claim that a nearby battle fought under its influence in AD 394 led directly to the fall of the Roman Empire. I forget exactly why.

I can myself testify that the Bora has the usual deleterious wind effects, including odd sensations of desolation or enervation. Nevertheless, after finishing this fascinating work, it seemed to me that the Bora is the happiest and jolliest of all Hunt’s Winds, the only one, perhaps, with a sense of humour.

Where the Wild Winds Are is full to the brim with learning, entertainment, description, scientific fact and conjectural fiction. It is travel writing in excelsis, and if I have judged it to be too long, that is perhaps because I have had enough of the genre itself. Hunt’s own summing-up of the whole venture expresses it better than I can, anyway. He says that he and his senses have been washed, scoured, scrubbed, frozen, heated, pummelled, pounded, downcast, uplifted and animated by the Winds.

And so, in a way, have mine, by reading his book.

Buy Where the Wild Winds Are: Walking Europe’s Winds from the Pennines to Provence
By Nick Hunt
Nicholas Brearley Publishing 258pp

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Adventures for Harriet – A literary hike along Paddy’s route in memory of Harriet Clarke

As those who correspond with me know, I can be very slow to follow-up on the messages and suggestions that so many of you send me, but on the whole I do tend to catch-up eventually. Jennie Harrison Bunning, who is in charge of Marketing and Publicity at the always brilliant Slightly Foxed – a quarterly magazine for book-lovers who don’t feel entirely at home in the here-today-and-gone-tomorrow world of overnight publishing sensations and over-hyped new books – got in touch just one month ago to tell me about a great cause that they are supporting, and as it is Paddy (and Nick Hunt) related, I’m happy to bring it to your attention, and to ask for your support.

Jennie wrote:

Dear Tom

Congratulations on your very good website pertaining to all things PLF! It’s a brilliant tribute, and filled with really useful and interesting content.

I’m writing to let you know about an upcoming Paddy-related adventure that I hope you’ll find of interest. On 1 May 2017 Katy Macmillan-Scott is embarking on a 600-mile journey by foot across Europe, in memory of her best friend Harriet Clarke and to raise awareness for Never Too Young, Bowel Cancer UK’s campaign for the under 50s. Her route will follow the first leg of Paddy’s 1933 journey, from the Hook of Holland to Budapest.

We all very much enjoyed Nick Hunt’s book about his experience of walking in Paddy’s footsteps and I believe Katy has been in touch with Nick who’s been encouraging. It’s the same trip but will perhaps be rather different through the eyes of a ‘lady adventurer’, as such! You can find out more about her walk here: https://www.adventuresforharriet.co.uk/

At Slightly Foxed we’re going to be supporting Katy by donating proceeds from book sales, and by sharing news of her journey through our news and social media channels. She’s an incredibly inspiring young woman and has already almost doubled her fund-raising goal of £1000, which is brilliant.

Just to give you a quick overview of what we’re doing.

· We’re donating 10% of the sale price of all books listed on our online shop here: https://foxedquarterly.com/products/adventures-for-harriet-a-literary-hike-from-rotterdam-to-istanbul/

· On Friday 24 March we ran this full-length article on A Time of Gifts in our newsletter to subscribers

· While Katy is away (1 – 20 May) we’re going to be sharing a daily extract from A Time of Gifts and other books, interspersed with Katy’s diary entries, original archive images and photos from her trip, on our blog and through social media channels.

· We’ll be using the tag #adventuresforharriet and #literaryadventure (among others) and will start to post fairly regularly from now on. Our Instagram and Twitter handles are @FoxedQuarterly and we’re on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/FoxedQuarterly/

Would there be an opportunity in an upcoming newsletter for you to share news of Katy’s adventure with your subscribers? And might you be able to share news in any other way, or temporarily encourage sales of the books though our channels to raise more money? We’d be happy to supply Andrew Merrills’s article for you to use.

It would be wonderful if we could coordinate efforts to help raise awareness of Katy’s walk, and bring a new generation of readers to the great PLF at the same time.

I hope to hear from you soon.

With all good wishes

Jennie

Clearly the issue of cancer is one that offers a challenge to us all, but the fact that Harriet could die from bowel cancer at the very young age of just 32 is a great tragedy. Read more on Katy’s website or donate directly via her Just Giving site here. I hope to keep you updated over the coming weeks.

The gravitational pull of a unique personality

Patrick Leigh Fermor, left, met Heinrich Kreipe, his former captive, at a reunion in Greece in 1972 which included the famous Greek TV show

Patrick Leigh Fermor, left, met Heinrich Kreipe, his former captive, at a reunion in Greece in 1972 which included the famous Greek TV show

We all discovered Paddy by different routes, but if one follows the thread of certain ideas, one can often find it leads to Patrick Leigh Fermor. My own journey started with my interest in Byzantine history; the link with Constantinople and Steven Runciman being my link. It was therefore a great joy to hear from a former colleague with whom I had lost touch some years ago. Chris Wares has discovered Paddy through his interest in the work of Antony Beevor, and after finding this blog he wrote to me explaining his own Paddy journey. He has agreed to me publishing it here. How did you first encounter Paddy? Maybe you can tell us in the comments section.

by Chris Wares

Unlike probably everyone reading this I have yet to actually read any of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s books. In fact I’m ashamed to say that a year ago I hadn’t even heard of the man. But over the past twelve months I have found myself being inexorably drawn towards the man and his books. Unknowingly at first and then, after what I can only describe as a sort of literary epiphany, I realised that I was in the gravitational pull of a unique personality, a name that kept turning everywhere I looked. Gradually I came to terms with the realisation that I would be compelled to read his books.

I am sure everyone has their own story on how they became acquainted with PLF but, as I stand on the precipice of opening one of his books for the first time, I thought I would describe how I arrived at this point.

It all began about a year ago when I read Crete: The Battle and the Resistance by Antony Beevor. Beevor is one of my favourite authors and so, while not being especially interested in the war in Crete, I was confident that my investment would be rewarded. Amongst the broad sweep of battle Beevor describes the tale of a British SOE soldier who possessed a larger than life character. A man who captures a German general from under their noses and then marches him across the mountains with half the German army on his tail. It was a scintillating story but the name of the hero didn’t particularly register in my mind.

A few weeks later I read Natural Born Heroes: The Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance by another of my favourite authors, Christopher McDougall. McDougall’s stories of long distance runners provide great inspiration for those that are needing motivation to get down to the business of training for a marathon. In the book McDougall writes of ancient Greek demigods who had discovered the secrets of endurance running. Switching to the twentieth century, he describes in reverential tones the superhuman endurance of a British soldier called Paddy who possessed the same qualities. It’s the same guy.

OK. So it’s a good tale and worth retelling but surely this was just coincidence. Sure, it’s a great yarn about the Battle of Crete and it also works as a modern day fable about god-like feats of endurance. But this was just one of those things right? The sort of tale anyone writing about Crete includes.

Then several months later I booked a romantic weekend in Brasov, Transylvania, for my wife’s birthday. A rare opportunity for us to get away without the kids and visit somewhere slightly off the beaten track. To get to know the place better I decided to do my homework and read up on Romania. These days, tied down by kids and mortgages, my wanderlust is largely restricted to armchair adventures. Travel books and histories providing an enjoyable way of vicariously travel the world.

I picked up Anthony Eales Blue River, Black Sea, a light and enjoyable read recounting his journey by bicycle and boat from the source of the Danube down to the Black Sea. Eales opens by describing how he decided to emulate the journey some guy called Patrick Leigh Fermor made in the 1930s down the Danube who also happened to kidnap a German general in Crete…. Hang on a minute? Kidnapped a German general in Crete? This can’t be the same bloke can it?

It’s at that point I turn to Google. Who was this guy? A good story can be a matter of circumstance; a combination of events that a person can just be caught up in. But appearing heroic in two separate dramas suggests a character that possesses something special. A man who “drank from a different fountain” as some might say.

I quickly found myself getting up to speed on the basics – SOE, renowned travel writer, author of three books about walking across Europe in the 1930s, the last of which was edited by Colin Thubron and Artemis Cooper. This was sounding good. I like Colin Thubron. And Artemis Cooper? That’s a name that rings a bell? Of course! – she co-wrote Paris After the Liberation: 1944 – 1949 with Beevor (which I also just read).

Another Google search and I realise that Beevor and Cooper are married and obviously share an admiration for PLF. And – just to reinforce the impression that everything was in some way joined up and connected to the man – it turns out that Cooper is the daughter of John Julius Norwich whose A History of Venice I read in August. I was beginning to get the feeling that Patrick Leigh Fermor was something special. I was in the orbit of something that deserved further investigation.

My armchair exploration of Romania continued through the Autumn and it soon felt as if all roads led to Patrick Leigh Fermor. The author Nick Thorpe talks about him in The Danube: A Journey Upriver from the Black Sea to the Black Forest while travelling along the Danube in the opposite direction to Eales. Nick Hunt follows in his footsteps in Walking the Woods and the Water: In Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn. William Blacker quotes him extensively in Along the Enchanted Way: A Story of Love and Life in Romania (which incidentally is one of the loveliest books I have read in a long time) and Dervla Murphy contrasts 1990s Romania with his descriptions of the 1930s in Transylvania and Beyond. Georgina Harding quotes him in In Another Europe: A Journey to Romania. At times it felt as if everyone who had ever visited Romania in the past 40 years had read his books.

With his writing venerated by so many, the signs were clear that I needed to read him for myself. Here was someone who is not only considered one of the best travel writers ever but someone whose books inspired so much else that I read and enjoyed. My curiosity piqued I enthusiastically went on a bookstore spending spree and purchased all three books of the trilogy as well as his biography.

The books have sat patiently on my bedside table for some time now, but the moment of turning that first page is fast approaching. Logically the trilogy should form part of my Romanian literary journey but I have purposely set them aside and held back until the moment is right. The books may be the finalé to my Romanian odyssey but I feel as if they may also be first steps of an entirely new journey.

It’s rare to have such a sense of anticipation ahead of reading a new book. Such a build up runs the risk of the reality failing to live up to the expectation and I am nervous that perhaps I may not find his books as exquisite as I have come to imagine them to be. But on the other hand I am reassured with the knowledge that I am following in the footsteps of many others.

And now to turn that first page and follow path that is well trodden; one which all of those who are reading this will have already travelled….

Important! Venue change – Routes of the Heart: Lucy Abel Smith’s Transylvania

Please refer to yesterday’s post here.

The RCI London have had to make a venue change to John Sandoe Bookshop as below. I’m not sure if you still need to get free tickets via Eventbrite link , but this says Sold Out. Don’t let that worry you: just turn up on the night. NB – the timing at the new location is earlier – 1830 start. The Eventbrite site still gives the old start time.

John Sandoe bookshop location here.

Dear All,
This is to inform you that, due to completely unforeseen circumstances, the “Routes of the Heart: Lucy Abel Smith’s Transylvania” event, scheduled for 22 November at 7pm, has been cancelled. The event is to be staged at John Sandoe Bookshop, 10 Backlands Terrace, London SW3 2SR on the same day 22nd November, between 6.30pm and 8.30pm.
We apologise for any inconvenience and look forward to welcoming you to all our future events.

Best wishes,

RCI London

Routes of the Heart: Lucy Abel Smith’s Transylvania

https-cdn-evbuc-com-images-25411158-126282815867-1-originalTransylvania, with its rich natural and historic heritage, enjoys a huge revival as a cultural and touristic destination. Historian Lucy Abel Smith is one of the British enthusiasts who have contributed, through her writing as well as various projects, to transforming this land of diversity and overwhelming beauty into a hotspot of unforgettable discoveries. The Romanian Cultural Institute in Belgravia is proud to provide the setting for the launch event of her latest book, ‘Travels in Transylvania: The Greater Târnava Valley‘, a new foray into the culture and history of central Romania.

When: Tuesday 22 November, 7pm
Where: Romanian Cultural Institute London, 1 Belgrave Square, SW1X8PH

Admission is free but by ticket from Eventbrite.

This charming and accessible guide takes as its focus the towns and villages of the Greater Târnava Valley, home to an exceptional cultural heritage. Here Romanian, Hungarian, Saxon, Jewish and Roma cultures come together in an extraordinarily rich mix, against the backdrop of some of the loveliest landscapes in Europe. The main towns are Sighișoara and Mediaș, with their towers and citadels. The villages are famous for their unique fortified churches and unspoilt rural way of life. The guide to the sights of the valley also includes sections on the plethora of flora and fauna, bee-keeping, winemaking and gypsy heritage, as well as an outline of the region’s complex and often turbulent history.

“There is still to be seen the stunning landscape, ancient farming methods and extraordinary botanical variety. But there is so much more. We travel through a fraction of ancient Hungary to encounter a vast array of the peoples of Central Europe, all up until recently living together, yet in distinct communities with different customs, architecture, costumes and languages. We find the Vlachs and the Szeklers, the Hungarians, the Saxons, and the the Jews, the Gypsies and others, such as the Armenians, who settled here to take advantage of this tolerant and diverse land in the very heart of Europe.” – Lucy Abel Smith

Lucy Abel Smith is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, a historian and art historian, specializing in Europe and the Balkans. She has been leading tours for Museum Societies since her early 20s, specialising in Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Her first tour to Romania was in the early 80s for the then British Museum Society (www.realityandbeyond.co.uk). In 2013, Lucy Abel Smith founded the Transylvanian Book Festival (www.transylvanianbookfestival.co.uk), whose second edition has just been completed. Together with her husband, she hosts a contemporary sculpture show, ‘Fresh Air’, in their garden in the Cotswolds every other year, where they strive to exhibit the work of a sculptor from Central Europe. The artist whose works were exhibited in 2013 was Vlad Olariu from Cluj, Romania.

When: Tuesday 22 November, 7pm
Where: Romanian Cultural Institute London, 1 Belgrave Square, SW1X8PH

Free entrance. Please book your ticket on Eventbrite.

Following Michalis in Mycenae

13694300_10105313766032178_664315251_oSoon I will be travelling to the Mani and will make my first visit to Paddy’s house, something that is rather belated, but an experience that I am looking forward too very much. My friend Ryan Eyre from Seattle has been on a long trip to Europe this summer. Not long after he stayed with me here in Winchester, he travelled to Greece and found himself in historic Mycenae. What he discovered was a virtually moribund tourist industry, and an interesting story about Patrick Leigh Fermor.

By Ryan Eyre

On a recent visit to Mycenae, the Oreia Eleni Hotel seemed the obvious place to stay. The Oreia Eleni, also known as La Belle Helene and the House of Schliemann, is a simple hotel but rich with historical associations. Heinrich Schliemann lived in the building during his excavation work at Mycenae in the 1870s and a generation or more later it was converted into a hotel. Agamemnon Dassis is the current proprietor and is the third-generation of his family to run it. He lives in a house next door with his wife and young daughter. A youthful looking man in his late 40s, Agamemnon is an energetic and quite attentive host.

Mycenae is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Greece but Greece’s economic woes have definitely affected business in the modern village half a mile below the citadel. The number of tourists has declined in recent years and most people who currently visit Mycenae do so as a day-trip and pass through the village without stopping. The owners of the almost empty shops, restaurants and hotels in Mycenae sit rather forlornly, waiting for customers who largely never appear.

I was the only guest at the Oraia Eleni during my two-night stay and Agamemnon told me that I was in fact the first guest they had had in three weeks. This was in July. As a guest, I benefited from being able to talk to Agamemnon at length.

The second day of my stay he showed me the small museum that is on the ground floor of the building. Agamemnon’s father photocopied famous people’s signatures from the guestbook and they are displayed in note-card size form behind glass. He pointed out the signatures of Agatha Christie (I was staying in the same room she supposedly did), Virginia Woolf, Stephen Spender, Carl Jung, Jean-Paul Sartre, Alec Guinness, Charlton Heston and J.K. Rowling (among others) and provided some anecdotal information about each visit. I was interested to note that Albert Speer, Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Goebbels and Herman Goering all passed through in the 1930s (it was unclear whether they visited separately or together).

Up to that point Patrick Leigh Fermor’s association with the hotel hadn’t crossed my mind. Thinking about it for a moment it seemed obvious he must have stayed here. I asked Agamemnon whether Leigh Fermor’s signature could be found anywhere on the display. “Oh, yes, I forgot to mention him”, Agamemnon said before pointing out PLF’s name scrawled in his own and dated from 1960.

“He came here many times over the years. He came in the 1950s, and in the 1960s and many times afterwards I remember when I was a young man he telephoned and asked me whether I was George. I said no, I am his son. Who is this? This was in Greek but I could tell from the accent that it was a foreigner. He said, tell George that Michalis from Kardamyli called. I was a little confused. Later I met him. As I said, he came here a number of times. I also visited him in Kardamyli. One time when his wife was in England he came and stayed for a week. He was a great man, a very great man. I last saw him in 1998. When I came back here in 2007 after some years living abroad I did not contact him before he died. I regret this.”

I didn’t immediately tell Agamemnon my own story about meeting Patrick Leigh Fermor in Kardamyli in 2009. That evening at the dinner table and after drinking an ouzo and some wine, I asked him to sit with me because I wanted to tell him something. I began to recount my last trip to Greece when I had gone to the Mani to try to meet the author, who was then 94 years old.

“You met him in the end?” Agamemnon asked before I could go on much further. I told him I had written PLF a brief letter that I had dropped off at his house and ended up being invited to lunch the next day, where I spent several hours drinking, eating and talking with the great man.

I acknowledged I was extremely lucky. Agamemnon agreed and opened up more. He told me about how Paddy would come to Mycenae and disappear for the entire day, only returning at night. Paddy didn’t tell people he was a famous writer; Agamemnon only discovered this on his own.

Paddy was pretty self-deprecating and didn’t take himself so seriously. He was happy to talk to all sorts of people and showed genuine curiosity in their lives. “He had this constant curiosity about people and the world. That’s why he lived so long,” Agamemnon remarked.

He told me about various friends of Paddy’s who have stayed at the Oraia Eleni and that the Patrick Leigh Fermor Society had also passed through in the last two years.

Moving into more salacious territory, he then told me that he was going to tell me something about Paddy that most people haven’t heard. He didn’t have the heart to tell the members of the PLF Society when they visited. Agamemnon asked me to keep it off the record so I can’t fully disclose what I heard. What I will say is that it was an anecdote that I have very reason to believe is true and confirms that well into his 70s Paddy was sexually active with women who were not his wife and were considerably younger than himself. Agamemnon and I agreed that Paddy’s mixture of looks, charm and erudition was remarkable. “He really had the mentality of a teenager,” Agamemnon added.

Drinking wine and hearing these stories as the only guest in an atmospheric place gave me the thrilling feeling of luck and leventia, or feeling of lightness, that Paddy would refer to in connection with Greece. It was an evening that reminded me why I travel.

Travels in Transylvania: The Greater Tarnova Valley

The UNESCO World Heritage fortified church in Viscri

The UNESCO World Heritage fortified church in Viscri

Whenever I mention Transylvania to friends and acquaintances most express a strong desire to visit this land of mystery. Few however, can place Transylvania on a map and even less ever actually travel there. Readers of the Paddy blog will know that PLF passed through in 1934 and returned during communist times. I have had the privilege of working and travelling there, and it is through this association that I met Lucy Abel Smith who is the organiser of the Transylvanian Book Festival 2016 and author of this new Blue Guide.

If you are thinking of visiting Romania with all its cultural, historical, and natural riches, it may be difficult to decide where to start for it is a large country with a relatively small population. Transylvania itself is an area three times the size of Wales with diversity in all corners. The recently published Blue Guide Travels in Transylvania: The Greater Tarnova Valley helps by picking one area and offers a detailed insight from someone who has been living and travelling since the time of Ceausescu, describing a journey through this one part of Transylvania, the fabled “Saxon Lands” of the south-east that Lucy knows so well. It essentially takes as its theme a 120km long journey along the course of the Tarnova river from Odurheiu Secuiesc in the Gurhui mountains, westwards along the Tarnova valley via Ruritanian cities like the beautiful Sighisoara and ends in Blaj.

Lucy herself describes the area thus:

“… there is still to be seen the stunning landscape, ancient farming methods and extraordinary botanical variety. But there is so much more. We travel through a fraction of ancient Hungary to encounter a vast array of the peoples of Central Europe, all up until recently living together, yet in distinct communities with different customs, architecture, costumes and languages. We find the Vlachs and the Szeklers, the Hungarians, the Saxons, and the the Jews, the Gypsies and others, such as the Armenians, who settled here to take advantage of this tolerant and diverse land in the very heart of Europe.”

The landscape that these peoples crafted and the architecture that they developed is both beautiful and unique. Accommodation is plentiful and will suit all budgets, with food on the whole being local and organic in many cases. It is easily accessible with flights from Vienna, London, and Munich amongst others, direct to Cluj, Turgu Mures, Bucharest, and soon Brasov. Above all the people are welcoming and it is safe. If you take Lucy’s excellent guide you won’t go far wrong. Your journey can be extended north to the baroque city of Cluj, west to Sibiu (a Saxon city and European City of Culture), or south to the large Saxon city of Brasov which is not far from the so-called Dracula’s castle (the violent warlord Vlad Dracul did live there) in Bran.

Lucy Abel Smith

Lucy Abel Smith

Lucy writes from a very personal perspective and is an engaging writer with an informative but never patronising style. She is an art historian and her explanations of church art – frescoes, altar-pieces and statues – are thorough but never boring. The guide is packed full of useful information, including accommodation details, and background history. There are some useful maps and illustrations. It could do with some colour photographs but other than this, the Blue Guide Travels in Transylvania: The Greater Tarnova Valley would be an invaluable aid for the independent traveller.

Malancrav, near Sighisoara, Romania

Malancrav, near Sighisoara, Romania

If you are thinking of an alternative holiday in Romania you could do worse than combine a tour of the Tarnova valley with a few days at the second Transylvanian Book Festival which runs from 8th to 11th September. Full details can be found on the Festival website.

For those who have any questions about travel in Transylvania I would be more than happy to attempt to answer them. See the About and Contact page for details of how to get in touch.