A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube

A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube


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This beloved account about an intrepid young Englishman on the first leg of his walk from London to Constantinople is simply one of the best works of travel literature ever written. 

At the age of eighteen, Patrick Leigh Fermor set off from the heart of London on an epic journey—to walk to Constantinople. A Time of Gifts is the rich account of his adventures as far as Hungary, after which Between the Woods and the Water continues the story to the Iron Gates that divide the Carpathian and Balkan mountains. Acclaimed for its sweep and intelligence, Leigh Fermor’s book explores a remarkable moment in time. Hitler has just come to power but war is still ahead, as he walks through a Europe soon to be forever changed—through the Lowlands to Mitteleuropa, to Teutonic and Slav heartlands, through the baroque remains of the Holy Roman Empire; up the Rhine, and down to the Danube.

At once a memoir of coming-of-age, an account of a journey, and a dazzling exposition of the English language, A Time of Gifts is also a portrait of a continent already showing ominous signs of the holocaust to come.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781590171653
Publisher: New York Review Books
Publication date: 10/10/2005
Series: NYRB Classics Series
Pages: 344
Sales rank: 108,117
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.71(d)

About the Author

Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011) was an intrepid traveler, a heroic soldier, and a writer with a unique prose style. After his stormy schooldays, followed by the walk across Europe to Constantinople that begins in A Time of Gifts (1977) and continues through Between the Woods and the Water (1986), he lived and traveled in the Balkans and the Greek Archipelago. His books Mani (1958) and Roumeli (1966) attest to his deep interest in languages and remote places. In the Second World War he joined the Irish Guards, became a liaison officer in Albania, and fought in Greece and Crete. He was awarded the DSO and OBE. He lived partly in Greece—in the house he designed with his wife, Joan, in an olive grove in the Mani—and partly in Worcestershire. He was knighted in 2004 for his services to literature and to British–Greek relations.

Jan Morris was born in 1926, is Anglo-Welsh, and lives in Wales. She has written some forty books, including the Pax Britannica trilogy about the British Empire; studies of Wales, Spain, Venice, Oxford, Manhattan, Sydney, Hong Kong, and Trieste; six volumes of collected travel essays; two memoirs; two capricious biographies; and a couple of novels—but she defines her entire oeuvre as “disguised autobiography.” She is an honorary D.Litt. of the University of Wales and a Commander of the British Empire. Her memoir Conundrum is available as a New York Review Book Classic.

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A Time of Gifts (New York Review Books Classics Series) 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Laura400 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an extraordinary book, about an extraordinary walking trip, by an extraordinary writer. Yes, it is very learned and will send the reader scrambling at times to translate a Latin quotation or look up a Hapsburg prince. Yes, it can be a slow read at times. So it won't appeal to every reader. But if you are tempted at all, give it a try. For me it repaid the effort many times over.It's a compassionate, perceptive and charming journey through central Europe six years before the start of World War II, but it's not just a travel journal. It's also a captivating history lesson. It's really fantastic, and I know I will reread it.
Marionwalker on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
teaperson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A great evocation of places and times. Fermer was a young Briton who schlepped across Europe in the mid-1930's. Yet he looks back on it from the perspective of old age. To me, he is the epitome of the slightly aristocratic English academic with knowledge across an astonishing breadth - yet who remains engaged with the world. The real-life type of John LeCarre's spymasters.The book has a certain leisurelyness that can grate, but once I got into the rhythmn it carried me along.
edgeworth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Leigh Patrick Fermor has been on my TBR pile for quite some time now, and I picked up his seminal book A Time of Gifts at Readings about two months ago, but since he passed away last week it seemed appropriate to advance him to the front of the queue. A Time of Gifts is a travel memoir of a bold endeavour Fermor embarked upon in 1933: to walk all the way across Europe, following the Rhine and the Danube, from Rotterdam to Istanbul - in winter, no less.What sets Fermor apart from other travel writers is his massive breadth of literary, historical, linguistic and cultural knowledge; he seems, in fact, to have been not just a renaissance man but a genius. While walking through the Swabian counryside he amuses himself by singing and reciting verse, casting his memory back through the swathes of literature he has memorised. He literally fills an entire page with the names of English poems and poets that he has read, then says "My bridgehead in French poetry didn't penetrate very far: a few nursery rhymes, one poem of Theodore de Banville, two of Baudelaire, part of one of Verlaine, Yeats' Ronsard sonnet in the original, and another of du Bellay; lasly, more than all the rest put together, large quantities of Villon." That's not a bridgehead, it's D-Day. Either Fermor was exceptionally modest, or standards have slipped in the last century. How many eighteen-year olds today would be able to recite a single English poem, or even name a French one?Fermor is therefore that kind of traveller, a lifelong scholar with an intense thirst for knowledge - one readily slaked by the majesty of Central Europe. He finds every town and city and province fascinating, detailing their history and customs and fashions and architecture. A Time of Gifts is more than a mere travel memoir: it's an orgasmic ode to the grandeur of civilisation itself.I make this sound tedious, and it can be at times, but Fermor's infatuation with Europe is so genuine it's hard not to appreciate it, and it can be infectious. I often split travel writers into two groups: witty, conversational types like Bill Bryson, who can easily be read by anyone, and writers like Ted Simon or (I assume) Paul Theroux, whose loftier ruminations on the world can easily turn people off. Fermor certainly belongs to the latter category, but the book isn't all art and literature. There is a definite sense of adventure and excitement to his travels, as he dosses down in haystacks or befriends wealthy German counts and sleeps in plush four-poster beds; the idea of being a young man with an open road and a pack on his back, something wonderful around every corner. In an early chapter, he hitches a ride on a river-barge, and describes the joy of watching the counryside slide past, the flourishing of flags and horn-blasts from other vessels, the wheeling of seagulls and the shadow and sunlight of the mountains. Not since the ferry chapter in David Mitchell's Number9dream have I read a passage so suited to the song "Blitzball Gamblers," the finest tune there is for stirring the excited, triumphant feelings of nautical travel at its finest. (The scene must always be on a water-borne vessel, of course.)The other thing that sets A Time of Gifts apart is the age in which it took place. The 1930s were arguably the last great era of Europe, before it was devastated by World War II (many places or objects in the book are footnoted as having been destroyed in the war). The scenes in Germany are darkened by the presence of S.S. men with raised forearms and sieg heil salutes - although they also reveal a strong dislike of the Nazis amongst many ordinary Germans. In many other places there is a sense of a vanished age, of towns and cities lost not just to war but to modernity. Fermor's world of dainty villages and regal cathedrals and ruined castles is a world crammed full of the aesthetic splendour of antiquity, a world full of things made in a time when individual craftsmen took pleasure in their work and create
Polaris- on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not as good as I'd hoped for, or what the many strong reviews had suggested. I really wanted to love it but I honestly found many of the tangents and digressions were of little interest to me and sometimes even downright boring. Undoubtedly, Fermor writes well and I did enjoy many passages as he slowly progressed across 1930s Europe. When he discussed local history or the many quirky anecdotes I enjoyed it - just too many dry passages on classical poetry, churches or architecture which didn't excite. Ashamed to admit that I couldn't avoid skipping a few of the duller pages - it was the only way I could see myself finishing it as I genuinly wanted to follow his journey to Budapest without giving up on him. I did find it oddly repetitive too, which is strange considering he was constantly on the move.The section in Vienna was one of the better ones, and I found it more of interest than the many sojourns in the various castles and big piles his connected friends had set him up with. A very privileged version of 'tramping' - and not exactly WH Davies' 'Autobiography Of a Supertramp' . Doubt I'll read the second installment of the journey onward to Constantinople.
desultory on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have nothing to add. That (Stbalbach) is a great review.
isabelx on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In 1933 an eighteen year old boy set off from London to walk all the way from the Dutch coast to Constantinople and didn't get back to England until January 1937. The first volume takes him as far as Hungary, and his journeycontinues in "Between the Woods and The Water" which is on my list to read next month. During the war Patrick Leigh Fermor was in the SOE and spent a lot of time with the resistance in Crete. His adventures there were thesubject of the Dirk Bogarde film "Ill Met By Moonlight". He is still alive and a couple of weeks ago he was knighted.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love this story
kjlarson More than 1 year ago
Upon discovering Patrick Leigh Fermor's amazing books only recently, I have given this particular one as a gift many times. I wish I had known about him or lived in his day and age. It is inspiring and full of historical information that is far from boring. I will view any trips anywhere with my eyes more open and notice details like birds, architecture, faces and music. I have read many other books by him also., including BETWEEN THE WOODS AND THE WATER, which is part two of his journey across Europe. An amazing man who lived a full and colorful life. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book felt like traveling in time to a place that no longer exists. Though a lot of Fermor's tangents about Classic (and some European) literature and history went over my head—I am not as erudite as he was then, or had since become—I really enjoyed his rich, sensual descriptions of cities, towns, villages, fields, pubs and insides of people's houses, glimpses of other lives. Also, loved his descriptions of the art he encounters on his way. He seems to miss no detail, no smell, no association. Somehow, he was able to convey "a feel" of the place, which, of course, is a highly subjective thing. But I bought into his particular feel. The book is a little uneven and at times was a bit too slow and bogged down with too much historical detail. In fact, instead of another paragraph on the Hapsburgs, I'd rather hear even more about how the presence of the Nazis is changing people's daily lives, the economic situation. He, after all, has the benefit of the hindsight. Some places that Fermor visits blend into one (just like Fermor himself confesses happens in his memory). I suppose it's only natural. Overall, Fermor is a smart, ecstatic and funny companion and guide, and I enjoyed this journey. I would have enjoyed it even more if I was more versed in history of the region, or maybe Fermor could have explained it better (like Ian Frazier does in Travels in Siberia). I could compare this book to W.G. Sebald's "walking books": The Emigrants, Vertigo, The Rings of Saturn and Austerlitz. Only the last one has what one could call a destination, an articulated goal of the journey. Sebald's books, as opposed for Fermor's, have a much slower pace and are much more "philosophical." Sebald invests more time and detail into characters, whereas Fermor portrays them more like people seen standing on a platform as he rushes by on a train. Figuratively speaking, of course. He actually tried to avoid transportation as much as possible and just walk. This is in line with his conceit.
Pombal More than 1 year ago
While not as well known as Jan Morris (a great choice to introduce the volume), Fermor is an equally engaging writer on a par with Colin Thubron. This first volume tells the story of his journey across Europe beautifully evoking the spirit of many places and the encounters with individuals that are the human faces of his journey. Exquisite prose enhanced, not diminished, by an masterful vocabulary.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Guest More than 1 year ago
In this book and its sequel the youthful author experiences central Europe at a critical time. The warmth and friendliness of his personality combine with the ready intelligence and his openness to experience, to give a unique preview of events that would shake the world. The anchoring in one person's view gives the events more "reality" than many presentations that take a more pretentious look at them. The author also writes extremely well, which is a decided plus.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think this is a good book because it is about a teen just like me on a long journey across parts of Europe in 1933. I think it is ne of the beter books I have read in the past year.