I love reading about the travels of others, especially in and around Europe. Hopefully I will cycle through some of the places they visited on their journey. Both of the first two books combine travel with history, so it will be nice to learn about the places too. It's always handy to have a couple of guide and reference books to hand as well.
These are the books I have chosen to carry with me on my cycling tour of Europe, provided I have left enough room to pack them in my panniers!
"Geert Mak spent the year 1999 criss-crossing the continent, tracing the history of Europe from Verdun to Berlin, St Petersburg to Auschwitz, Kiev to Srebrenica. He set off in search of evidence and witnesses, looking to define the condition of Europe at the verge of a new millennium.
The result is mesmerising: Mak's rare double talent as a sharp-eyed journalist and a hugely imaginative historian makes In Europe a dazzling account of that journey, full of diaries, newspaper reports and memoirs, and the voices of prominent figures and unknown players; from the grandson of Kaiser Wilhelm II to Adriana Warno in Poland, with her holiday job at the gates of the camp at Birkenau.
But Mak is above all an observer. He describes what he sees at places that have become Europe's well-springs of memory, where history is written into the landscape. At Ypres he hears the blast of munitions from the Great War that are still detonated twice a day. In Warsaw he finds the point where the tram rails that led to the Jewish ghetto come to a dead end in a city park. And in an abandoned crèche near Chernobyl, where tiny pairs of shoes still stand in neat rows, he is transported back to the moment time stood still in the dying days of the Soviet Union.
Mak combines the larger story of twentieth-century Europe with details that suddenly give it a face, a taste and a smell. His unique approach makes the reader an eyewitness to his own half-forgotten past, full of unknown peculiarities, sudden insights and touching encounters. In Europe is a masterpiece; it reads like the epic novel of the continent's most extraordinary century."
The Valley of Heaven and Hell - Cycling in the Shadow of Marie-Antoinette
"It's a personal adventure story and an exploration of one of France's most paradoxical and least known areas.
On bicycles and with a limited budget, the author wobbles along behind her husband as they retrace the lives of Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVl from their teenage marriage to their desperate escape attempt, and finally back to their rendezvous with the guillotine.
It is also light-hearted account of a very unskilled cyclist trying to pedal over 500 miles, from Versailles, across Paris and through the Marne valley to the birthplace of Champagne.
Their journey took them to many provincial towns seldom visited by tourists, each with its own particular charms and history, from Meaux, birthplace of France's noblest cheese, via Epernay and Reims to Dormans, site of one of the great memorials of WWI.
From peculiar makeshift meals in their tent to occasional gourmet meals, the couple spent three weeks exploring and enjoying a part of France that has the delightful air of the land that time forgot.
While there are some darker moments recalling the events of WWl and the horrors of the French Revolution, it's mainly a happy tale about a couple enjoying themselves and discovering the delights of an overlooked area of France.
The Valley of Heaven and Hell offers armchair travellers an opportunity to enjoy quiet waterways, the annual festival of Joan of Arc in Reims, iconic battlefields, the romance of the guinguettes, and to wonder whether Marie-Antoinette and her husband deserved their dreadful fate."
The Rough Guide First-Time Europe
"The Rough Guide First-Time Europe tells you everything you need to know before you go to Europe, from visas and vaccinations to budgets and packing. It will help you plan the best possible trip, with advice on when to go and what not to miss, and how to avoid trouble on the road. You'll find insightful information on what tickets to buy, where to stay, what to eat and how to stay healthy and save money in Europe. The Rough Guide First-Time Europe includes insightful overviews of each European country highlighting the best places to visit with country-specific websites, clear maps, suggested reading and budget information. Be inspired by the full-colour 'things not to miss' section whilst useful contact details will help you plan your route. All kinds of advice and anecdotes from travellers who've been there and done it will make travelling stress-free. The Rough Guide First-Time Europe has everything you need to get your journey underway."
"15 languages with mini-dictionaries. Includes Bulgarian, Croatian, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish and Welsh."