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February 28, 2007

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DAVID'S DEN                                        BOOK REVIEWS


Armchair Traveling – Passport Not Needed by Dave Zuchowski

If you love to travel but find that circumstances of life prevent you from going away as much as you’d like, there is a remedy for geographic stagnation - travel books. While most will agree that these pallid palliatives are no substitute for the real thing, there are advantages to snuggling in at home with a book in hand that can serve as a guide to many exotic, mysterious places around the globe. So, forget your concerns about passports, visas, Dramamine, dengue fever and yellow fever shots and start turning those pages. Bon voyage!

“One People, Many Journeys” ($19.99 in hardback) covers more territory in its 284 pages than a six-month-long, around-the-world cruise on the QE 2. Most of the pages of this visual cornucopia are filled with beautiful, sometimes disturbing, glossy color photos that celebrate life in all of its vicissitudes on virtually every continent.

Built around headings that capture the universality of human life, the book is arranged in sections titled breathe, play, live, work, love, celebrate, reflect and die. Each section of photographs is preceded by an essay by one of eight authors - experienced powerhouses in the world of travel who introduce the section with commentary and insight.

The intent of the book is to show that, regardless of nationality or cultural background, the journey of life and the human condition share a common template that resonates throughout the globe. In the birth section, for instance, photos of fathers holding their newborn child in Malawi and China show how paternal bonding is encouraged in lands separated by vast distances.

Another interesting comparison in the play section, contrasts a photo of a trio of merry nuns in Peru playing soccer in their convent courtyard with that of a triad of prone Moslem cricket players in Pakistan pausing in the middle of a game to pray. In the reflection section, a poignant pair of photos plays the image of a pair of old friends sitting on lawn chairs along a gray beach on Vancouver Island against another of two explorers standing in the eerie golden twilight on a frozen and forbidden-looking section of Antarctica.

This kaleidoscope of images from around the globe is entertaining, eye-opening and enlightening, rendering the book a sophisticated addition to anyone’s travel library. Ever heard of the Principality of Sealand? How about Akhzivland, Lovely, the Empire of Atlantium or Borovnia? Then Micronations: The Lonely Planet Guide to Home-Made Nations ($14.99 in paperback) will help you place them on a map.

This whimsical, tongue-in-cheek look at more than fifty start-up “countries” headed by would-be kings, dukes and presidents are political creations that might raise an eyebrow or two. Although these experiments in statecraft are somewhat dubious, the political movers and shakers of these miniature states have gone so far as to compose national anthems, issue currency and postage stamps, even, as is the case of the Republic of Molossia, a small landlocked enclave on the outskirts of Silver City, Nevada, develop its own navy.

This 60-page guide to small, weird places delves into the history, location, people and culture, laws and rules, currency and other details of statehood. Sections also present information for potential visitors on places to stay, eat, shop and things to see. For instance, the North Forest Archipelago, a collection of environmentally aware citizens who pledge to love and protect the forests of Maine, New York, Vermont and New Hampshire, is described as a constitutional monarchy headed by King James II with a capital located in the backwoods of New York’s Adirondack region.

The book is a fun read with a fair share of color photos that shows what can be done with a little imagination, a fine sense of irony and a mind that’s just a little over the edge.

You can find information on far more substantial destinations in The Perfect Day ($7.99 in paperback), a series of breezy accounts of cities around the world written by experienced authors. Starting alphabetically with Abu Dhabi and ending with Washington, DC, this 112-page booklet is made up of each writer’s account of how they would like to spend the day in one of their favorite cities.

Food and restaurants get a lot of play in the narratives but so do museums, recreational activities and browsing through some exotic market places like the dusty bazaars of Delhi’s Old City and the legendary flea market in Glasgow. The seaside, sunsets, and romantic places also get a bit of ink in such inclusions as Pirita Beach in the write up about Tallinn and the mention of a boat ride up river to the Pak Ou Caves near Luang Prabang.

The book is a fascinating read in and of itself, and, who knows, it might even come in handy some day when you decide to visit Djenne, Pokhara or Miami.


  • One People, Many Journeys
  • Lonely Planet Micronations
  • Lonely Planet the Perfect Day

  • Dave Zuchowski has been writing about travel for twenty years, and his articles have made the pages of many newspapers aand magazines cross the country, including AAA, Pathfinders, West Virginia Magazine, Southsider, and Westsylvania. Currently, he is the travel correspondent for the New Castle News, a daily in the Pittsburgh area. For the past ten years, he's also been the arts and entertainment writer for the Washington County section of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In his spare time, he also puts his horticultural interests to good use on his fifteen acre farm located near Centerville, Pa.

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