Grand tours, real and imaginary

12 Apr

In a previous post, I mentioned the grand European tour that I undertook in the summer of 2007. I saw some remarkable sights along the way. As noted, on this particular journey, though, I didn’t keep a diary of where I’d been. So once again, I need my readers to help me out. And I’m still waiting for somebody to tell me the identity of that German town. Toward the end of the tour, I stayed in a hotel on the banks of a canal, next door to which was the extraordinary Poppenhuis. I think this was in Belgium, but there again, it may well have been the Netherlands! You have to click on the picture and get the larger view to appreciate just what’s going on here… Did you see that? What about the ones in the window? Is that creepy or what?

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The extraordinary House of Puppets

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The canal just before sunset

And then we have a castle, somewhere in Slovakia, but again, I can’t remember exactly where. I know Slovakia pretty well and have travelled there quite extensively, as far east as the Tatras. But I’ve no idea where this castle, which looks as though it’s come straight out of the pages of a Brothers Grimm book, is located.

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In recent years, I’ve been lucky enough to spend a good deal of time in northern France, but I’ve yet to go travelling again as I did back in 2007. It’s logistically impossible for me to undertake such a tour at the moment, but I’m already planning some kind of shorter version for the summer, taking in new countries. I love travel for its own sake but also find myself drawing on the experience in my writing. And so, for instance, the Poppenhuis has just made its way into my latest project, some six years after I first saw it.

In the meantime, as previously noted, I’ve been touring the world through books. And so far this year, for some reason, it seems to be Japan to which I’ve been drawn. I’m still grappling with the mystery of Haruki Murakami and why my friends rate his novels so highly. I’m 300 pages through my latest attempt to understand – Kafka on the Shore – with 200 still to go. Yasunari Kawabata’s The Master of Go, on the other hand, had a wonderful sense of elegy and otherness to it that drew me in from the start. There were no flashy narrative pyrotechnics involved, just an account of an epic match between two players who dedicate their lives to the game, which becomes utterly absorbing for the reader too. I recommend reading this book while listening to Hymn to the Immortal Wind by the wonderful Japanese post-rock band, Mono. And if anyone can suggest any further good reads from Japan to accompany me on my travels this summer, they’ll be much appreciated.

All text and images © PSR 2013

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