Not just any cruise brochures, mind you. The Epics. The Around the World Cruises. Not many lines offer a complete circumnavigation any more. If they ever did. The Cunard brochure is the best one. Ninety days. Departing Ft. Lauderdale on January 13, 2009.
The fun starts with a good dose of swank. Barbados. Rio. Montevideo. Acapulco. Honolulu. Then the exotica begins. Pago Pago. The Tasman Sea. Hong Kong. Singapore. Goa. Alexandria. Then a taste of old world glamour. Athens. Rome. Cannes. Barcelona. Normandy (mais ouis, a side-excursion to Paris along the way). Then...a five day cruise across the Atlantic to New York, no doubt to recoup and refresh in a suite at the Waldorf-Astoria for a bit. I do not consider myself an ambitious man. But mark my words. I WILL make this trip one day. I MUST make this trip one day.
But not this year. Or next. The needs of the Future Rock Star and the New Puppy have put the kibosh on world travel for the time being. All is not lost, however. In addition to the reading and re-reading of my Cunard brochures, I now have a new fireside companion that makes me feel as if I have made the trip already. And in the grand style.
"Voyages Around the World" by Marc Walter, Alain Rustenholz and Sabine Arque is one of the most amazing books I have ever read. Certainly the most amazing travel book. In 315 pages, this masterpiece traces a journey around the world using precise but limited text and vintage photos of the ways the lucky travelers of times past accomplished the greatest of all trips. The pyramids at Giza. The Taj Mahal. The hotels. The cruise liners. Private train coaches. Fine restaurants. Ladies and Gentlemen dressing for dinner each night. All the activities and destinations you dream about when you are a boy of ten and you live in the woods in a town of three hundred people. A boy like me.
In addition to the photos, the editors insert at strategic points reproductions of vintage tickets, fare schedules, tourist brochures and such to give the reader willing to suspend his or her disbelief the real feeling of being along with the people whose journals make up much of the text. On one page we find photos of Shepheard's Hotel in Cairo. On another page we have the menu for tonight's dinner at Baron's Hotel in Alep, Syria. From June 1937. How about this quote from a fellow traveler upon entering the Hotel Mamounia in Marrakech...
After the delightful garden came a corridor where I could hear the sound of gushing water from the entrance, and then finally I reached the large inner courtyard...it was paved with mosaics made up of thousands of tiny blue, yellow, black and white designs that glistened with moisture...the apartments that opened onto this courtyard had immense doors of solid oak.
This book is so lush, so vibrant with exotic sights, so stimulating to the senses of the armchair traveler that I found it hard to read much of it at one time. Like a Sacher-Torte (order at http://sacher.com/ for all of you sent shuddering into a chocolate fit by the mere mention of the name), there is nothing better in small slices but if you try to consume too much at once you become sated and the satisfaction diminishes. You just have to sip something appropriate and read a little of this book at a sitting. Savor it. Let it sink in. Let it envelop you. The best trips take a good while, the better to allow them to change you.
Stay the course, boy from the little town in the woods. Keep the white dinner jacket pressed and ready. A new brochure comes out every year. Soon. Soon.