Marie’s Reading: “Europe on Five Wrong Turns a Day: One Man, Eight Countries, One Vintage Travel Guide” by Doug Mack

Europe_On_5_Wrong_Turns_250“It began as most things in my life do: awkwardly.” –from the Introduction

I’m back from a wonderfully refreshing vacation and am ready to blog!  What better book to return from travels with than Europe on Five Wrong Turns a Day?

After discovering a vintage copy of Frommer’s Europe on $5 a Day at a Minneapolis book festival, Doug Mack decided to re-create his mother’s 1960’s trip around Europe.  The twist was that he’d be using the famous guidebook Europe on $5 a Day–1963 edition.  No internet sourcing, no Trip Advisor, no Yelp.  Just possibly outdated suggestions and sheer luck.  Adventure!

Mack blogged about his trip, and the book has its roots there.  If you dig through the 2009 archived posts here, you’ll find his posts from the road.  I love the unflattering photos of famous places feature.  He mentions these photos in the book, but the descriptions can’t do justice to the actual snaps.

Mack’s grand tour included Florence, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Berlin, Munich, Zurich, Vienna, Venice, Rome, and Madrid.  Part travelogue and part comedic road trip, this is an enjoyable bit of armchair travel.  There’s some enlightening details about the history of tourism and the state of tourism today thrown in for good measure.  It’s also refreshing that Mack is decidedly not after what we come to think of as a spiritual journey or a quest for enlightenment or on the road to find himself.  He’s on the beaten tourist track to see the sights, to see The Old World and how it has and continues to evolve.

This quote from the Madrid chapter sums it up nicely:

And that, I think, is the most important legacy of Europe on Five Dollars a Day: it’s not about where you travel–on the beaten path, along a frontage road, or where no tourist has been before–but about what you make of it.  Find your own way….Just get out there and make it up as you go along, guided not by rules or numbers but by an insatiable curiosity.

I also enjoy how Mack refers back to his mother’s trip, mostly using the letters she and his father wrote to one another, all along the way.  It’s a mother-son trip across decades, adding another dimension of personal interest.  Seeing all the ways that tourism has changed (and has stayed the same), is a big part of the fun of the book.

If you’re a fan of Bill Bryson (Neither Here Nor There, I’m a Stranger Here Myself, and Notes from a Small Island in particular), you might find a lot to like in the entertainingly self-deprecating narrative voice and intriguing historical details.  A.J. Jacobs would also be a good author to try–Mack’s quest to re-create his mother’s grand tour echoes many of Jacobs’ experiments, such as reading through the encyclopedia in The Know-It-All or attempting to follow the Bible as literally as possible in The Year of Living Biblically.  The recent The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck could also be a good choice.

There are dozens upon dozens of “fish-out-of-water” tourist narratives out there, which might appeal to you if you enjoy Mack’s journeys.  Classics sprang to mind while I was reading. S.J. Perelman’s hilarious The Swiss Family Perelman, a slightly embroidered account of Perelman’s world tour with his family, would be a great choice.  Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad might also appeal.

Mack also includes a nice bibliography of his own in Europe on Five Wrong Turns a Day, so you can also check there for some reading ideas!

It’s good to be back.  Somehow that vacation felt longer than a week.  And somehow I managed to hardly read a thing, despite my best intentions.  Ah, well.  That’s what vacations are for, I suppose.

–Marie

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