Havana with Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and The Sea

Hemingway’s escapades, chasing macho kicks around the globe, mean that he has a quiver full of stories that tie him to many of the world’s must see places. Out of all his writing though, The Old Man and the Sea, would have to stand as his most iconic.

And Cuba is definitely a woman.

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Bristol & The Open Sea with Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Treasure Island'

The history of Bristol is always so present and available, it's one of my favourite places to explore. So when you find yourself en route to Bristol, be sure to have Treasure Island close by. With it's rich maritime history and harbour position on the Avon river right near the ocean, it's no wonder Bristol is the setting in which this adventure begins.

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Morocco with Dave Eggers - You shall know our velocity

Reading Eggers’ prose is like a pressure on my chest. A welcome antidote to comfort. There are many reasons why people leave their comfort zones. Often it’s because what was once comfortable no longer feels comfortable. That’s kind of the premise of this book. Once again, Eggers articulates the heart’s confusion, both capturing the drive to escape and inspiring it.

This novel traverses much of the globe as it traces the philanthropic stumbling of the two main characters, bent on freeing themselves of the burden of some acquired cash and a painful memory. What took me to Morocco was kind of similar and that’s why this book stands as my required reading when in North Africa. Recently separated, my heart in tatters, I felt compelled to throw myself into exotic locales and see how I handled it. Death or growth, either sounded tempting. Recklessly, I cast myself over the ledge of Atlantic freight trains as they reeled off for hundreds of metres down impossibly long Moroccan points. Ever since seeing the surf film Sipping Jetstreams I had imagined myself climbing those fractured cliffs in the fading gold of the evening. Remnants of an endless liquid canvas would drop from my soggy frame onto the cracked desert. Needless to say, I had romanticised it. Happy to say, it lived up to it.

Morocco is varied. What you experience on the coast is different to the inner cities, mountains and desert. Jemaa el-Fnaa is the main square in Marrakesh. It caters to all your snake charming and monkey jiving needs. If you long to get truly lost then step into the labyrinth of laneways that make up the souq (marketplace) bordering the square. Wandering rows and rows of claustrophobic lanes and passageways, it truly feels at times that your only way out may be to buy a magic rug and blast through the canvas roof. Make time to sip tea with the Berber locals and buy some of their wares. When it all becomes too much, flee to one of the rooftop restaurants and watch the sun dip over the square and the weirdness unfold below. For a real treat, head to a bathhouse and be scrubbed to within an inch of your life. A hilarious little Welsh man I met whilst their described the experience best. Standing in his undies whilst a woman hurled buckets of water at him, he turned to me and said, ‘It’s like being in The Shawshank Redemption.’

For me this novel flawlessly catches the horrors and triumphs of travel. Frustrating limitations that leave you bewildered that teleportation hasn’t been invented yet. Seemingly imminent danger that subsides, leaving you feeling more alive and sure of why you are somewhere unfamiliar. It’s a reminder that leaving isn’t always running away and that getting lost can be a pretty good way of finding something. There’s no real strong moral here. I think that’s why I like it so much. Travel won’t solve your problems but it will change you. Most of the time, that’s enough.

Prague with Franz Kafka's 'Metamorphosis'

Kafka was a depressive wretch. His very name has come to represent situations where you find yourself powerless, stuck within the machinations of an endlessly bureaucratic system. Like trying to track down your luggage when lost on an Easyjet flight. Kafkaesque. Yet, he casts a broader shadow over a city than any other literary figure I've come in contact with. Bar maybe Hemingway in Havana. So it seems kind of incongruous for such a despairing figure to be the face of such a thrilling city. A history of diabolical invading dictators might have something to do with this. Prague now has the ability to make Paris look off the beaten tourist track but the Bohemians went back to back with the Nazis and the Soviets as overseers so Kafka's anxious scribblings became the voice of the people.

Working as an insurance lawyer certainly fed into Kafka's bleak view of existence but the most menacing force in his life was in fact his father. So when Kafka writes about transforming into an unsightly bug, becoming a burden upon his family, eventually dying and his family feeling joyous relief at his demise, you get a pretty graphic insight into the family dynamic.

The dark humour, concise and lucid writing style are an anecdote to the bureaucratic delays he railed against. They pull you along at a pace but saints be praised, Prague ain't no drag either. Every angle the eye can turn is littered with castles and an architecture often lost after WWII's bombfest. Czech food is as delicious as it is dense. Its beer and goulash, a revelation. 

If you can find a bar that only serves beer, beer snacks like small sausages and cheese in jars of oil and is peopled by large bellied Czechs discussing politics, then you are in the right place. 

Prague is a Western European pit stop for a good night out so save Kafka's short stories for the train ride in and out. Metamorphosis is a must but I'm all about the absurdity of the cheerily named Being Unhappy. Just as a Kafkaesque worldview no longer applies to Prague this story is a way better time than the name suggests. 

New Orleans with John Kennedy Toole 's A Confederacy of Dunces

Literature and its litany of heroes are full of tales of woe and the story of this novel and its beleaguered author are no different. The twisted satire of A Confederacy of Dunces is the ultimate companion to the quirky streets and freaks, not always comfortable but these pages can match the people of New Orleans for Southern style hospitality. 

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