‘Abandoned World War II’ is a book for lovers of armchair travel and history

The Second World War truly lived up to its name, touching every corner of the world as is ably illustrated in the book Abandoned World War II Aircraft, Tanks & Warships by Chris McNab.

This fascinating coffee table book sits at the intersection of history and travel with an impressive collection of photographs of artifacts that litter the globe more than seven decades after the end of the the deadliest war in history.

Divided into geographical sections, the book collects photos from a variety of sources that show rusting tanks, crashed aircraft and sunken ships, but much more, including numerous fortifications and other historical remnants.

While the photos are the book’s biggest draw, the well researched captions are its best attribute, offering much needed context for many of the images, but also imparting interesting and lesser-known stories about the war in some of its most far-flung locales.

For me, the most interesting photos were the abandoned German submarine bases which were brutalist masterpieces before brutalism was a thing, but there were many other images which captivated me.

While the book seems comprehensive, the images chosen represent just a tiny portion of what travellers with a keen interest in the war’s history can discover. I can think of fortifications in Quebec’s Gaspé and at Cape Spear, Newfoundland that I have seen that could have been in the book, but aren’t, and the remains of a crashed Liberator bomber that rests on the top of a mountain in Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains as another example. 

Abandoned World War II isn’t for everyone, but if you sit at the centre of the Venn diagram where history, architecture, treasure hunting, archeology, travel and photography overlap, then you’ve found your next read.

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G Adventures founder releases Unlearn, a manifesto about how we can travel better after the pandemic

Businesses around the world are being hit hard by the pandemic lockdown, especially those in the travel industry, but G Adventures founder Bruce Poon Tip is hopeful that we’ll all benefit from this pause to build a more mindful and sustainable travel experience when the world emerges from this crisis.

Poon Tip wrote a free-to-download instabook to outline his thinking about the future of the travel industry while confined in his Toronto home during the early weeks of the lockdown. Titled Unlearn: The Year the Earth Stood Still, the book came about as he struggled to write a statement about how his international small tours company was facing the pandemic, but found that whatever he wrote would either be obsolete by the time he finished it or too trite to release.

More of an extended essay than a true book, Unlearn presents Poon Tip’s dreams of a better future for a travel industry that has grown exponentially in recent years to the point where overtourism, climate change and sustainability have all become real issues.

“I think there is also a difference between what I would like to see and what might actually be possible,” wrote Poon Tip in Unlearn. “We have a chance to reset everything. This is what this instabook is about. It’s about you, me, and every traveller in the global community having the chance to rethink, restart, and rejuvenate the idea of what travel should be and could be.”

Part of the book is Poon Tip describing the early stages of the crisis when he was travelling from country to country, a normal aspect of his life and career, when it began to dawn on him that something bad was happening. Then, all of a sudden, he found himself stuck in his home, with nowhere to go, a very strange state of affairs for a perpetual traveller like him.

Like many of us, he started to use the time for some big thinking and collected those thoughts in the rest of the book where he outlines how he thought travel could be better.

First off, says Poon Tip, travel has to be better than just be sustainable. He hopes that we become more community minded when we travel and not just jet off to nice resorts or sit on cruise ships to never interact with the people in the places we visit.

“I hope that one of the things we get from this generation-defining event is that we think more about people as individuals wherever we go and conduct ourselves accordingly,” wrote Poon Tip. “That means being as conscientious when we travel as we are at home, not only by reducing single-use plastic to help the turtles, but by travelling in ways that don’t rip people off.”

As for overtourism, rather than go where everybody else goes, Poon Tip hopes that we spread ourselves out a bit more and not all go to Venice or stand with throngs of people in Paris looking at the Mona Lisa. Instead, he offers a list of recommended destinations that few visit, but are every bit as fulfilling like Uganda, Bolivia and Albania, among others.

While some of those places may sound like rough outposts for hardy backpackers, Poon Tip writes that he believes that there are opportunities to enjoy luxury travel just about anywhere, but that we should change how we define luxury. Today, luxury experiences are virtually indistinguishable from one location to the next giving you no sense of place so why not enjoy what people in India or Serbia consider luxurious instead of some idealized Western ideal?

Poon Tip is not a fan of cruise ships or all-inclusive resorts and fully expects people to indulge in both when the Covid-19 pandemic passes, but believes that many might think twice before doing so.

“Maybe Covid will make this sort of insular travel obsolete. It’s possible. I mean, we don’t travel on Zeppelins anymore either,” he said.

Poon Tip sees a bright future for homestays where travellers embed themselves in homes in the places they visit in order to better experience how people live there. It’s something that G Adventures has been doing for years and he hopes that others travel providers embrace it because it’s not only good for visitors, but benefits hosts and their communities as well.

Having interviewed Poon Tip a few times, I’ve always been impressed by his philosophy that travel can be a force for good. Everything he writes in Unlearn is consistent with that world view and nicely crystallizes his beliefs in one quick read. I’d encourage all travellers to read what he has to say and take the time to reflect on their own travel motivations and how they can be better travellers when this is all over.

“Travel’s always done good, whether we travellers have thought about it or not. But it can do a lot more good when we know what we’re doing, and why. We’ve been doing good, but after the pandemic, let’s see if we can do better,” concludes Poon Tip.

Reading Paul Theroux’s latest book, ‘Figures in a Landscape’

When it comes to travel writing, Paul Theroux is a living legend. Anyone familiar with the genre has likely read one of the books for which the American writer is justifiably famous like The Great Railway Bazaar, The Old Patagonian Express or The Happy Isles of Oceania so his many fans are always excited when he publishes something new.

That something new is a Figures in a Landscape, an anthology of non-fiction writing that was released earlier this year. Anyone expecting one of his introspective travelogues will be disappointed, but this collection serves up enough outstanding writing that they will come away knowing a little more about the world and a little bit more about Paul Theroux.

The stories in this book mostly collect magazine articles of Theroux’s that he has written over many decades and while they are not exclusively travel stories, many of them are and they are a treat.

The essays in Figures in a Landscape include celebrity profiles, literary discussions, personal philosophy and travel sketches that collectively reveal a a bit more about Theroux, a man who has said he doesn’t want to publish an autobiography because he thinks it’s a sign that an author is spent and has nothing left to write about. Despite that claim, there is enough autobiography here and in some of his other books that Theroux doesn’t seem to be someone with many secrets.

His celebrity profiles are something of a revelation and the best of the lot is a revealing portrait of Elizabeth Taylor during a visit to Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. His encounters with names like Robin Williams, Oliver Sacks and an anonymous sex worker who deals with odd bondage kinks are also enjoyable reads. His ability to capture these people on the page is an extension of his outstanding skill at observing details that elevates his travel writing above the rest.

Many of Theroux’s essays in this book also provide loving overviews of some of his favourite writers like Graham Green, W. Somerset Maugham, Joseph Conrad and Hunter S. Thompson. Theroux admits that many of his works are filled with references to books he’s loved so these essays will provide insight into those influences.

The section of the book that will entertain his fans the most are his travel stories. In many of them, he waxes philosophical about travel and travel writing:

“Travel can seem one of the most annoying, self-indulgent, even futile ways of passing the time. But travel should be about looking deeper into the world at large, into oneself,” he writes.

He says that readers should beware of what they read in travel books because they are merely the observations of one person on a given period of time and are not necessarily an accurate portrayal of a place.

“All you do as a note-taking traveler is nail down your own vagrant mood on a particular trip. The traveling writer can do no more than approximate a country.” he explained.

Where Theroux is at his best is when he shares his travel philosophy with his readers. Sure, you can go on a comfortable beach vacation to enjoy yourself, but the author thinks that we should get outside of our comfort zones if we want to use travel as a way to better ourselves:

“As for the recognition of hard travel as rewarding, the feeling is mainly in retrospective, since it is only in looking back that we see how we have been enriched,” he says.

Get off the beaten path and visit countries that are maligned and you will find those trips to be the most fulfilling, he says.

“‘Don’t go there,’ the know-it-all, stay-at-home finger-wagger says of many a distant place — I have heard that my whole traveling life, and in almost every case it was bad advice.”

Anyone’s who’s read and enjoyed Theroux’s work will be glad he ignored the advice he was given in order to have the adventures that inspired his writing. We are also fortunate enough that he was able to live in a time when magazines, newspapers and books were able to provide travel writers with a means to earn a living because today’s writers of social media aphorisms don’t compare.

  • Figures in a Landscape: People and Places by by Paul Theroux is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt