Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Tribulations of a Chinaman in China, #19 of Jules Verne’s Extraordinary Journeys

Posted on February 18th, 2014

#7 of 54 in the Jules Verne Reading Challenge

The Tribulations of a Chinaman in China, #19 of Jules Verne’s Extraordinary JourneysAround the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne
Series: The Extraordinary Journeys #19
Published by Hetzel in 1879
Pages: 340
Location: China
Mode of travel: Ship, Walking
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Read it on Wikisource
Kin Fo is the man who has everything, youth, health, riches and a beautiful fiancee. Despite all this, life barely seems worth living. When Kin Fo discovers he's lost all his money he's convinced things can only get worse so he decides to commit suicide. He sets up a desperate pact with his friend, the philosopher Wang, to kill him in such a way that he will at last feel a thrill of emotion before he dies. But will he change his mind?

Verdict: OK.

NB: It seems this book was only recently translated into English, the only free copies I could find were in French. I read the book in French, so I can’t comment on the quality of the translation.

Tribulations is not too bad. Actually, it’s better than I thought it would be. The plot idea of an over-pampered rich man who has everything except an idea of what to do with his life still resonates today. Kin Fo’s friend, the philosopher and reformed assassin Wang, is sure a bit of serious hardship will bring Kin Fo to his senses so he sets about providing it. It works, although I couldn’t help noticing that Kin Fo, upper class gent that he is, took care to bestow much of the physical hardship on his manservant and his American bodyguards – but that’s all part of the comedy.

Remembering that Voyages Extraordinaires had a didactic mission, I think Verne gave a fair representation of Chinese history and geography within the limits of his understanding. He displays some unfortunate ideas about racial purity (his hero is pure Han and all but white, none of that Manchurian interbreeding – sigh!), and western superiority (Kin Fo is entirely respectable and sympathetic, because he’s a fan of western technology in all its forms). Verne manages to convince himself that the exotic Chinese diet might not be so bad if you’re used to it but he can’t handle the music at any price…

On the other hand, his descriptions of poverty in China leading to mass emigration, the negative effects of imperialism, especially regarding the importation of opium and the political unrest within China probably do reflect major issues of his day quite accurately. His geographical knowledge of China is a bit limited  – I assume he relied on reports coming in mostly from the westernized trading posts. Consequently, his ‘tour of China’ when Kin Fo takes to the roads and rivers is only worth just so much.

Veronika decides to dieVeronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho: a modern version of the same plot – I think Tribulations of a Chinaman is a worthy book because of its plot, rather than because of the Chinese backdrop so no wonder it reminded me of this more modern version. Veronika has everything but life feels empty so she decides to take a lethal  overdose. When she comes round, she’s informed that while she didn’t kill herself instantly, she caused enough damage that, just like Kin Fo, she has only a few days in which to savor life. (Amazon USA, Amazon UK)

The patron saint of travelers

Posted on February 17th, 2014

St Botolph-without-AldersgateAny walk around London is a literary walk. On Sunday, we strolled from Blackfriars Underground Station, past the ruins of the Domincan abbey which is so mysteriously reincarnated in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. We walked around St Paul’s and the Barbican and  eventually back to Cannon Street. We passed several places where Shakespeare lived and worked, the pub where Keats was born, the tombstones of Blake and Robinson Crusoe author, Defoe, the home of Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels. And that’s just the shortlist.

In keeping with my travel obsession, here’s something which usually attracts less attention: St Botolph’s-without-Aldersgate. St Botolph or Botwulf of Thorney, alive in the 7th century, is the patron saint of travelers though it isn’t easy to say why, unless it was because of his post-humous journeying.

botolph-iconCourtesy of Wikipedia: Botwulf is supposed to have been buried at his foundation of Icanho. In 970, Edgar I of England gave permission for Botwulf’s remains to be transferred to Burgh, near Woodbridge, where they remained for some fifty years before being transferred to their own tomb at the abbey of Bury St Edmunds, on the instructions of Cnut. The saint’s relics were later transferred, along with those of his brother Adulf, to Thorney Abbey, although his head was transferred to Ely Cathedral and other portions to Westminster Abbey and other houses.

There were three churches dedicated to poor old Botwulf in London, all situated outside the gates (because that’s where you get travelers).

The highlight of the walk is always the least expected part, in this case the conservatory at the Barbican, a large space in the upper storeys, filled with cacti and palms. Or maybe the Roman wall which is much more extensive than I thought. It’s worth noting that although you can often hear a free organ recital on Sundays in St Paul’s the area is otherwise a ghost town. It’s nice in some ways but it makes it hard to find a decent pub to have lunch in.

London's Hidden WalksThis is the book we used: it’s a good little walking book, small enough to fit in a pocket, detailed enough to be interesting, concise enough to read while you’re walking, pretty enough to make you want to get started and easy to follow.  If 13 walks aren’t enough, there’s a volume 2 as well. (Amazon UK, Amazon USA)

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Posted on February 16th, 2014
 Cloud Atlas by David MitchellCloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Published by Random House in 2004
Pages: 509
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A postmodern visionary who is also a master of styles and genres, David Mitchell combines flat-out adventures, a Nabokovian love of puzzles, a keen eye for character, and a taste for mind-bending philosophical and scientific speculation in the tradition of Umberto Eco and Philip K. Dick. The result is brilliantly original fiction that reveals how disparate people connect, how their fates intertwine, and how their souls drift across time like clouds across the sky.

Verdict: Kind of OK

Cloud Atlas mapWow! That was a marathon. I feel like I’ve been dragged pretty much all over time and space: from the 19th century Chatham Islands to Brugues to California, all over the UK then off to a dystopian future Korea before passing through Raiatea and  both 19h century and post-apocalyptic Hawai. But I also rather feel like I just read six short novels which were rather loosely tied to each other. The link is in the idea of the transmission of documents through generations of people somehow connected to each other. That’s interesting, provided you don’t mind the idea that the documents are basically inactive and of emotional significance only to those people. The other connecting thread the depressing, though possibly true theme, about the eternal resistance of the human spirit in the face of oppression but equally, the upper hand oppression constantly regains.

When I come to ask myself if these six short novels (or one long one) were any good, I find I want to rate them between 2 and 4 stars, depending which novel/part. Honestly, Cloud Atlas was okay, but I’ve read many books which packed a similar punch on the same theme, were at least as clever in their organization, better in their writing and not nearly as long.

Explorers of the New Century by Magnus Mills

Posted on February 13th, 2014
 Explorers of the New Century by Magnus MillsExplorers of the New Century by Magnus Mills
Published by Bloomsbury in 2005
Pages: 184
Location: Fictional
Mode of travel: Ship, Trek
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It is the beginning of the century and two teams of explorers are racing across a cold, windswept, deserted land to reach the furthest point from civilization. It is, they find, 'an awfully long way'. Johns and his men take the western route, along a rocky scree, gossiping, bickering and grumbling as they go. Meanwhile, Tostig's men make their way along the dry riverbed in the east - they are fewer, with just five men and ten mules, and better organised than their rivals. But with Johns team keeping pace in the distance, the race is on to reach the Agreed Furthest Point.

Verdict: I really enjoyed it!

I thought Explorers of the New Century was just going to be a satire on the subject of scientific expeditions. You know, the styles and levels of organization, the clash of personalities, the competitive machismo and posturing (or wholesome, manly attitudes, depending on your point of view), the arbitrary goal, with the elusive Agreed Furthest Point (from civilization) and the unspecified date and location underscoring the abstract nature of the story. All that is there… except the goal… the goal really took me by surprise once I found out what it was. But then, everything that happened next, terrible and astonishing as it was, made sense in context.

Is Explorers of the New Century more than just a short little book which stuns the reader with an astonishing twist? It doesn’t waste words on unnecessary descriptions and analyses, but I think I would have enjoyed it if had been only the book I was expecting. The individual expedition members are all well differentiated and their interactions and contributions to their expeditions would still have made it an interesting and funny short read. The landscape is chilling in its otherworldly bleakness but the stark contrast between the routes taken by the competing expeditions heightens the difference between their methods, successes and failures.

Best Selling Journeys of All Time

Posted on February 12th, 2014

I would expect many of the best-selling books of all time to be about journeys, but can I prove it? I checked out the list of Wikipedia and the Goodreads list on which it’s based. I decided to be strict and only include books in which the journey is absolutely central. So for example, I left out The Little Prince though he travels from his planet to Earth because he spends most of the story at one location in the desert, and Watership Down because the rabbits’ journey of re-location only takes up the first part of the book

  1. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien is the #2 all time bestseller on the Goodreads list
  2. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien is #4
  3. She: A History of Adventure by H. Rider Haggard is #8
  4. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is #12
  5. Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach is #27
  6. The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi is #33
  7. The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield is #52
  8. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is #62
  9. Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft by Thor Heyerdahl is #64
  10. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak is #65
  11. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams is #80
  12. The Life of Pi by Yann Martel is #118 in Wikipedia. It just dropped off the Goodreads top 100.
  13. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes does not have sales figures but is likely to be very high up the list

 My scores

7/13 read.
2/13 dabbled with (I’ve seen the film of The Life of Pi and read part of Don Quixote)
1/13 never heard of before now. That would be The Celestine Prophecy.

On the other hand, I have read 30/100 of the best-selling books of all time, a higher than average score. The credit must go to my child to whom I’ve read most of the dozen or so picture books in the list!

Tiger’s Voyage by Colleen Houck

Posted on February 11th, 2014
Tiger’s Voyage by Colleen HouckTiger's Voyage by Colleen Houck
Series: The Tiger Saga #3
Published by Random House in 2011
Pages: 560
Location: India
Mode of travel: Boat, Jeep, Magical Animal, Scuba, Trek
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With the head-to-head battle against the villainous Lokesh behind her, Kelsey confronts a new heartbreak: in the wake of his traumatic experience, her beloved Ren no longer remembers who she is. As the trio continues their quest by challenging five cunning and duplicitous dragons, Ren and Kishan once more vie for her affections--leaving Kelsey more confused than ever.

Verdict: let the synopsis stand as a warning.

In theory, Tiger’s Voyage has a huge amount of potential as an adventure story. It’s an epic-sized book which includes a trek across the Indian jungle, a yacht trip half-way around India, and scuba diving around the magical world of some Chinese dragons on a quest for the goddess Durga’s black pearl necklace which is needed to break a curse.

In reality, as the synopsis indicates, all these fantastic possibilities take a back seat to Kelsey, Ren and Kishan’s love life. It goes on and on and on, sometimes descending into misogyny. Clearly a lot of people are getting a huge kick out of reading about it. Not me, but a lot of people.

I really only have a few more observations to make about this book.

  • This is the third book in the series and I haven’t read the other two. I don’t expect the author to hold my hand over this – I was quite prepared to pick things up as we went along. If Kelsey, the first-person narrator, spent even a fifth as much time thinking about the curse, quest and adventure as she does about her love life, I probably would have done. As it is, I still have very little idea what it’s all about, though I know exactly what went on between her and Kishan in Shangri La (book 2) and between her and Ren in Oregon (book 1).
  • As a story about a love triangle and in the spirit of ‘show don’t tell’ it would help if we didn’t just have Kelsey’s friends’ constant word for the fact that she’s fantastic and the center of the universe. After finishing the book, I tried making a list I called Kelsey’s Impressive Skills and Achievements. I’m not going to post them here because they would be spoilers but there are really only three or four of them anyway. They take up a fraction of the book. I thought she was a bit of a wimp.
  • As a story about a love triangle it’s a problem that Ren’s behavior is completely unacceptable yet a) Kelsey doesn’t see it, b) nobody else tries to tell him he’s wrong and c) we aren’t given any reason for it, e.g. PTSD from his ordeal in book 2 running deeper than anyone thinks.
  • The plot of the adventure proper, the part with the dragons, didn’t have the complexity I would expect of a YA book. Most of the mythology is quite loosely made up which would be fine if it added up to something but it doesn’t. Maybe it would benefit from more in depth research to suggest plot twists and complexity.
  • Anybody who gets inspired by this series to go and visit India is in for a bit of a surprise. Kelsey only really emerges from her love haze when there’s something opulent to notice. The huge, over-crowded, noisy, complex and only very locally opulent maelstrom of modern India completely passes her by.

Map of southern IndiaAll the same, you should go. And just to encourage you further, here’s a map of southern India with the route taken by the tigers.

In chapters 2-4, Kelsey, Ren and Kishan drive to the Yawal Wildlife Reservation and hike into it over two days to visit Phet. The village they live near must be somewhere between Mumbai and Jalgaon. I love this blog post by Sundeep Krishna that gives a great idea of the Yawal woodland and the drive to get there, even if it is very 4WD orientated.

The team’s location in Goa, one of India’s smaller states, is unspecified. I’m also not sure which temple of Durga the Tiger Team visited in Mangalore but it may be Kateel. If you know better, please drop me a line in the comments thread.

This is a really beautiful page about the Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram, where Kelsey met Lady Silkworm and obtained a map through the dragons’ world.

And here’s one they unaccountably missed but which we visited many years ago, in February 2000. The temple of Devi Kanya Kumari at the very tip of India, where the three seas meet. There are some interesting resonances between the Durga stories in the book and the one related to this temple.

[Group 0]-P0000793_P0000795-3 images

The economic importance of tourism

Posted on February 11th, 2014

It’s easy to forget how much commercial clout tourism has in the 20th and 21st century. With that goes social and political clout. The level and type of tourism changes or upholds societies (for better and worse), its withdrawal can cause a crisis.

  • 11 Feb 2014: Patrick Kingsley reporting on what we knew must be the case: tourism in Egypt has taken a nosedive due to political unrest. the nature of the regime which eventually stabilizes in Egypt seems likely to have an effect on the countries long-term prospects. The figures are fascinating.
    - 12.5% of employment in Egypt is tourism related.
    - 11.3% of the GDP is tourism related
    - The industry made 3.6bn GBP in 2013 versus 7.7bn in 2010
    Despite the political situation, Egypt remained the most popular country for travel in Africa in 2012 and the 2nd most popular if considered as part of the Middle East.

Men of the Docks by George Bellows

Posted on February 10th, 2014

Thank you, America!
George Bellows' Men of the Docks

Please note: this review is for a painting, not a book.

I don’t know if I’m pleased or disturbed to find that I know the collection of the National Gallery in London so well I can immediately spot a new acquisition. Men of the Docks had been in place literally two days when I discovered it. Apparently it is the National Gallery’s first major piece of American art!

There it is among the Monets and Pissarros: George Bellows’ view of Brooklyn terminal with 1912′s equivalent of zero-hours contract workers waiting for a job, Manhattan in the background and dominating the scene, an enormous Transatlantic passenger liner.

It’s a scene with a lot of personal resonances for me. Chapter 7 of the book I’m working on uses my own arrival at the same terminal in just such a ship as well as the history of several family members arriving at around the date of the painting. It even fits in quite well with all the Jules Verne I’m reading at the moment, despite being dated a bit later.

It means a lot to me to have this painting where I can see it regularly but I think it’s an excellent piece even without the personal connections. I love the loose painting style, the red and petrol blue color scheme and the composition in which the monumental size of the ship stands out and the sky isn’t allowed much of a role (I just like that). I like the fact that although it’s beautiful, the subject matter evokes the harsh reality of many of the immigrants on the ship and the casual labor force they were destined to join. It fits very well among the Monets et al., but British viewers might also like to compare it to the work of our own painters of industrial and working class life.

The National Gallery’s page for Men of the Docks.Biography of George Bellows on Wikipedia

Round the World in 80 Days, #11 of Jules Verne’s Extraordinary Journeys

Posted on February 9th, 2014

#6 of 54 in the Jules Verne Reading Challenge

Round the World in 80 Days, #11 of Jules Verne’s Extraordinary JourneysAround the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne
Series: The Extraordinary Journeys #11
Published by Hetzel in 1873
Pages: 240
Location: International
Mode of travel: Elephant, Ship, Sledge, Train
Read it on Gutenberg
Read it on Wikisource
One ill-fated evening at the Reform Club, Phileas Fogg rashly bets his companions £20,000 that he can travel around the entire globe in just eighty days - and he is determined not to lose. Breaking the well-establised routine of his daily life, the reserved Englishman immediately sets off for Dover, accompanied by his hot-blooded French manservant Passepartout. Travelling by train, steamship, sailing boat, sledge and even elephant, they must overcome storms, kidnappings, natural disasters, Sioux attacks and the dogged Inspector Fix of Scotland Yard - who believes that Fogg has robbed the Bank of England - to win the extraordinary wager.

Verdict: more twists and turns in the plot than expected.

Around the World in 80 Days must be one of Verne’s most famous stories but since I never read it before, it actually managed to surprise me. That was quite exciting. Unlike several of the other Verne books I’ve read so far, this one has character arcs. Although Verne relies on stereotypes as usual, both Passepartout and Fogg evolve a lot during the book, especially Passepartout. He didn’t start off a very keen traveler but by the time he got back, it was possible to wonder if he’d really settle back into his old peaceful habits again.

Verne provides a lot of information about the possibilities for international travel in the 1870s. As the chronology just below shows, it was the development of trans-continental railways (and the Suez Canal) which made Fogg’s journey possible. It was dependent of four very recently opened routes. Nevertheless, it was the steamship which seemed most likely to prove the weak link, even though it had been around for some time. This was still the era of steam-sail hybrid shipping in which crossings were a lot faster with a favorable wind, and slower in rough seas.

1825 – First public transport railway opened in Britain
1838 – Regular Transatlantic crossings by steamship begin (previously passengers crossed the Atlantic in sailships).
1869 – The American Transcontinental Railroad connecting San Francisco with the eastern networks was completed
1869 – Opening of the Suez Canal
1870 – The Indian Peninsular Railway connecting Mumbai to Calcutta was inaugurated (earlier than announced in the story)
c.1870 – a Transalpine rail connection had been opened within the last couple of years.
1872 – Fogg’s journey

One of the things which fascinated me most about Around the World in 80 Days is the globalization Verne refers to already at this stage. His protagonist, Passepartout frequently notes the buildings and streets in Asia might easily be in Europe and that the populations in each of the cities he visits is strikingly multiracial and multicultural. The reason is that a large part of the tour travels through the outposts of the British Empire, or its cultural descendant, the United States. Only in Yokohama or, arguably, in the depths of the Indian and American continents, does Fogg stray off this westernised territory. I remember from my history studies that there was a lot about this situation which wasn’t ideal and if it could fairly be said that 19th century Singapore, Hong Kong, etc.. resembled Victorian London in terms of living conditions, it wouldn’t be a compliment.

Fogg himself wants nothing to do with sight-seeing anyway,and only participates in the adventures the author arranges for him out of sense of duty. Although the author makes fun of him for it, the main point of the book is to explore the possibilities of the new means of transport themselves.

I put together an itinerary of Fogg’s tour round the world below in several sections. It contains dates, times, mode of transport, starting point and end point, but if you feel some of it may constitute minor spoilers, don’t click on the arrows!

London to Bombay (Mumbai) in India – days 1-18, Ch3-Ch9

RTW-Steamer point

Verne doesn’t dwell on the crossing of the European and Mediterranean, possibly considering it too well-known to his readers.
Wednesday 2nd October 1872
20:45 – Departure of train from London to Paris
Thursday 3rd October 1872
07:20 – Arrival in Paris by train. Fogg certainly took the London-Dover train and boarded a cross-channel steamer around 23:00. He would then have taken a train Paris by around 05:00, probably from Calais.
8:40 – Departure from Paris on train bound for Turin.
Friday 4th October 1872
06:35 – Arrival in Turin
07:20 – Departure from Turin on train bound for Brindisi
Saturday 6th October 1872
16:00 – Arrival by train in Brindisi
17:00 – Departure of the Mongolia steamship bound for Bombay via the Suez Canal. Fogg and Passepartout spent a total of 14 days on the Mongolia.
Wednesday 9th October 1872
10:30 – The steamship Mongolia arrives in Suez.
Sunday 13th October 1872
The passengers can see Mecca from the ship.
Monday 14th October 1872
14:00 – The Mongolia stops at Aden to take on fuel
18:00 – The Mongolia leaves Aden
Sunday 20th October 1872
16:30 – arrival of the Mongolia in Bombay (Mumbai)

Crossing of India by the Great Indian Peninsular Railway – days 18-23, Ch9-Ch15


Sunday 20th October 1872
16:30 – arrival of the Mongolia in Bombay (Mumbai)
20:00 – departure of the train from Bombay to Calcutta
Monday 21st October 1872
12:30 – brief stop at Burhampour for lunch
Tuesday 22nd October 1872
8:00 – the line is unfinished, 15 miles before Rothal. Despite the announcement of the line’s completion in the newspapers, passengers are obliged to make their own way over the 50 miles between Kholby and Allahabad.
c.9:30 – departure towards Allahabad by elephant.
Wednesday 24th October 1872
10:00 – arrival at Allahabad after numerous adventures
10:30 – departure of train from Allahabad to Calcutta
12:30 – brief stop at Benares (Varanasi)
Thursday 25th October 1872
5:00 – arrival of the train in Calcutta
12:00 – departure of the ship Rangoon from Calcutta to Hong Kong

Crossing  of the Bay of Bengal and South China Sea – days 23-35, Ch15-Ch20


Thursday 25th October 1872
12:00 – departure of the ship Rangoon from Calcutta to Hong Kong
The Rangoon passes within sight of Great Andaman
Wednesday 30th October 1872
The Rangoon enters the straits between Malacca and Sumatra
Thursday 31st October 1872
04:00 The Rangoon arrives in Singapore
11:00 The Rangoon leaves Singapore, having loaded fuel
Sun 3-Mon 4 November 1872
Storm at sea, making the Rangoon late.
Wednesday 6 November 1872
c.6:30 – Arrival of the Rangoon in Hong Kong, having missed the expected connection to Yokohama
20:00 – Departure of the Carnatic for Yokohama, ten hours early, inadvertently carrying Passepartout.
Thursday 7 November 1872
15:00 – Fogg and the rest of his party embark on the small schooner Tankadere, bound for Nagasaki.

From Hong Kong to San Francisco – days 35-62, Ch20-Ch25


Wednesday 6 November 1872
20:00 – Departure of the Carnatic for Yokohama, ten hours early, inadvertently carrying Passepartout.
Thursday 7 November 1872
15:00 – Fogg and the rest of his party embark on the small schooner Tankadere, bound for Nagasaki.
Monday 11 November 1872
19:00 – Fogg’s party board the steamship for Yokohama, directly from the Tankadere.
Wednesday 13 November 1872
Passepartout arrives in Yokohama, Japan on the Carnatic
Thursday 14 November 1872
Fogg arrives in Yokohama, Japan on the
18:30 – Departure of the General Grant steamship for the United States, carrying the reunited group.
Monday 2 December 1872
07:00 – The General Grant arrives in San Francisco

From San Francisco to  London – days 62-80, Ch25-Ch34


Monday 2 December 1872
07:00 – The General Grant arrives in San Francisco
18:00 – Departure of the train from San Francisco (Oakland) towards New York
Thursday 5 December 1872
14:00 – The train calls at Ogden for Salt Lake City
16:00 – The train leaves Salt Lake City
c.11.30 – The train is stopped at Kearney and the passengers are delayed
Sunday 8 December 1872
08:00 – Sail sledge from Kearney to Omaha
c13:00 – Departure of the train from Omaha to Chicago
Monday 9 December 1872
16:00 – Arrival of the train in Chicago
c.1630 – Departure of the train from Chicago to New York
Tuesday 10 December 1872
22:30 – Departure of the steamship China for Liverpool
23:15 – Arrival of the train in New York
Wednesday 11 December 1872
09:00 – Fogg ships on the Henrietta, across the Atlantic
Friday 20 December 1872
01:00 – The Henrietta enters the port of Queenstown in Ireland
01:30 – Departure of the train from Queenstown to Dublin
The times of the connections in Dublin are unspecified
11:40 – Arrival by steamship in Liverpool
15:00 – Departure of the train from Liverpool to London
20:50 – Arrival in London
Saturday 21 December 1872
20:45 – Deadline of the bet


And your random country is … Moldova

Posted on February 8th, 2014

A random country generator game…

MoldovaThis is a silly way of avoiding work but I do it anyway. I go to the random country generator and set it to pick just one country. Then I go to the bookshelves for the Around the World in 80 Days group on Goodreads, find the shelf for that country and start clicking through all the books to decide which ones I want to read.

moldova flag

Playing the Moldovans at tennisPlaying the Moldovans at Tennis by Tony Hawks – The reason I’m avoiding work is that I’m preparing a long post about Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days and I got a bit tired of it, so it seems apt to notice this other book about someone taking off as a result of a bet. Tony Hawks has bet a friend he CAN beat all eleven members of the Moldovan soccer team at tennis, or he will strip naked in Balham High Road (London) while singing the Moldovian National Anthem. And why not. The Moldovan list contains more serious books than this but honestly, none of them really appealed.