For the last decade, Gretel Ehrlich has been obsessed by an island, a terrain, a culture, and the treacherous beauty of a world that is defined by ice. In This Cold Heaven she combines the story of her travels with history and cultural anthropology to reveal a Greenland that few of us could otherwise imagine.

Ehrlich unlocks the secrets of this severe land and those who live there; a hardy people who still travel by dogsled and kayak and prefer the mystical four months a year of endless darkness to the gentler summers without night. She discovers the twenty-three words the Inuit have for ice, befriends a polar bear hunter, and comes to agree with the great Danish-Inuit explorer Knud Rasmussen that “all true wisdom is only to be found far from the dwellings of man, in great solitudes.” This Cold Heaven is at once a thrilling adventure story and a meditation on the clarity of life at the extreme edge of the world. – Barnes and Noble synopsis

If you like to travel, you’ll love this book!  In creating this little treasure of a book, Once in a Lifetime Trips: The World’s 50 Most Extraordinary and Memorable Travel Experiences, author Chris Santella  interviewed travel experts with first-hand knowledge of the destinations  described.  The photographs alone are enough to make one drool — the stunning full-page color vistas really seem to capture the essence of each location– and make one dream of someday seeing them in person.

Included are some places I’ve always wanted to go to (such as Machu Picchu in Peru); others I’ve never even considered (Mongolia or Cappadocai) and some, such as Provence by Bike, that I just might have to investigate.  One drawback — these are not cheap trips — they are first class, often even using private jets to conveniently transport guests get from point A to point B, so for most of us, they really are once in a lifetime trips, if ever.  Still, it doesn’t hurt to drool and dream!

submitted by Georgann

Aptly subtitled “the Ultimate Guidebook,” Hawaii: the Big Island Revealed was a great help to us on our recent trip to The Big Island. Authors Andrew Doughty and Harriett Friedman were terrific “tour guides.” The prose is well-written, humorous and thorough. I was so glad we took this book along!

It can be overwhelming to plan a trip to a far-away place, but the authors told us what to do and what to skip. All the recommendations they made were well worth following. And when we didn’t follow but struck out on our own, our results were less than stellar. I liked how they rated places to see with “Real Gem” or “Not to be Missed” icons.

The authors tell you where to turn by mile marker. I had no idea how extremely helpful that would be until we began driving and realized that there is very little signage along the roads. Businesses are not allowed signs in front, but only can put their names on the buildings themselves, so it is easy to drive right by and miss the place you were looking for. Also, even the highways signs were different, so the mile marker directions were important.

Our guidebook made it safely to The Big Island, was well used while there, and is back on the shelf at the library. If you are planning a trip, take this “Real Gem” along! Even if you aren’t going, it is a fun and interesting read!

With the last years’ worth of talk about passenger rail between here and Chicago, there is a vivid battle on our local papers’ comment pages between the “that would be nice” faction and the “they’re just trying to get re-elected, where will the money come from?” team.

Before taking a side, one might wish to peruse this fresh book by James McCommons, Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service.

This one isn’t gathering dust on our shelf.  People are using it no doubt to bolster their arguments.  That being said, how cool would it be for Cubs fans and the 75% of the University of Iowa students from Chicagoland? Or, nationally, anyone spending two hours riding the bus in Los Angeles for lack of infrastructure?

World Adventure seriesThe library and the Putnam Museum are partnering to bring you a special ’round-the-world tour. Each month, a book discussion will be part of  a travelogue series  –  to Tuscany, the Pacific Coast, Fiji, Sweden and Sahel (West Africa).

At the “Inside the Tuscan Hills” show on October 13th,  the group will discuss The Sixteen Pleasures by Robert Hellenga.

This novel by the Knox College literature professor is set in 1966 Florence. The heroine heads off to Italy to become on of the “mud angels” – volunteers who race to save priceless boks and artwork. Hellenga is skilled at both characterization and depicting Italian culture. Insider knowledge of book restoration and conservation is woven into the plot.

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson  is the choice for November 17th’s “Pacific Coast, Top to Bottom.”

Set on a fictional island off the coast of Washington in the l950’s, the story revolves around the death and possible murder of a World War II veteran and fisherman. One of the suspects is a first-generation Japanese American, and so resentment of the recent internment and other restrictions  are brought into play. The setting is hauntingly beautiful and evocative of  the region’s painful history.

Call the Putnam Museum & Imax Theatre at  563.324.1933 for details.

Beatles LondonIf you’re lucky enough to be going to London sometime and you’re a Beatles fan, be sure and pick up The Beatles’ London: A Guide to 467 Beatles Sites in and Around London. Here you’ll find a detailed and meticulous listing of every significant (and some not-so-significant) site associated with the Fab Four. Heavily illustrated and carefully mapped (including listing nearby Tube stations), you’ll soon be able to immerse yourself in Beatlemania. The book is divided geographically so that you can make the most of your time, and includes a special “Fast Fab Excursion”, an outlined walking tour that encompasses the most essential Beatle sites (allow about five hours), and a section on the filming of “A Hard Day’s Night”, “Help” and “Magical Mystery Tour”. While a lot has changed about London since the Beatles were in town, it won’t be hard to find yourself following in the footsteps of Paul, John, Ringo and George. And even if your travel plans don’t include London, any Beatles fan will be in trivia heaven with this book.

staycation3Congratulations to KarenW, the winner of our first ever Davenport Library Info Cafe blog contest! Karen’s excellent comment recommended not one but several wonderful places to visit, all arranged in a handy driving tour and includes great places to stop for a meal along the way. Her tour will appeal to many interests including families, and really showcases the beauty and history of eastern Iowa. Be sure to check out her comment!

Need some more ideas for your next Staycation? Here are some thoughts from a couple of our blogging librarians:

Lynn: I, for one, can’t wait to get on the road and try out Karen’s ideas. (it’s very useful to know how to gauge your coffee consumption when you’re in (relatively) unknown territory).

One of my favorite staycations follows the river on the Illinois side. It starts with an early morning  hike at Mississippi Palisades State Park in Savanna (fortified by a thermos full of good strong coffee). Trails along the cliffs and ravines provide just enough challenge to make ice cream, popcorn and/or an elegant Italian meal in Galena seem totally justifed.  To me, it’s a great combination of natural beauty, physical exercise and (sort of) sophisticated indulgence.

Ann: Don’t pass up a visit to the Neil Smith National Wildlife Refuge near Grinnell (about a 2 hour drive west of the Quad Cities, just off Interstate 80) where you can experience Iowa the way it was when the pioneers arrived. Less than one tenth of one percent of the tall grass prairie that once covered Iowa remains; at Neil Smith they are hard at work preserving and restoring authentic prairie. They have an excellent visitor’s center with educational displays and a introductory film, walking paths of various lengths (some are perfect for children) and a driving tour where you will have a very good chance of spotting the buffalo or elk herds. The Refuge is free but you’ll want to pack a picnic lunch. Don’t miss visiting this rare and beautiful land.

Congratulations again Karen and thanks for the great Staycation ideas! Your IMAX tickets are in the mail!

Staycation2Here we are – already getting to the end of vacation season. Many  fellow library workers and customers are talking about all the fun trips they have planned before school starts (the New Windsor rodeo, Tabor Home Vineyards & Winery, the windmill in Fulton, Illinois, the Iowa State Fair) or the fun things they’ve done on their days off. If you’re one of them, we’d like to hear from you; the best ideas will win a prize.  The following rules apply:

The destination must be within a 1-day drive (round-trip) of the Quad-Cities.

Ok, there’s only the one rule.

Submit a comment to this post by August 21st , and you may be a winner! The Putnam Museum and IMAX Theatre have generously donated 2 tickets to Kilimanjaro: To the Roof of Africa (showing through October). A perfect choice for all you travelers, armchair and otherwise. The winner will be announced August 25 – good luck!

Great Railway BazaarWhen you think “travel writer,” you usually think of someone like Paul Theroux or  Bruce Chatwin. Not exactly  laugh riots. In fact, they can be pretty grim. The more painful the journey and annoying their companions, the more they like it. The Great Railway Bazaar was Theroux’s first travel book  and became a classic of the genre. He celebrates the hardship and minimizes the joy of travel – increasingly so, the further he goes along the Orient Express.

Theroux does excel in describing the people he meets  in Europe and Asia – London to  Afghanistan to  India to Japan to Siberia. Ghost Train to the Eastern Star was a sequel of sorts, in which Theroux travels by train again to China, Vietnam, the former Soviet Union and sees the incredible changes 30 years have wrought.

Other masters of the travelogue as endurance test are Bruce Chatwin (In Patagonia) and Jonathan Raban. A British writer, Raban writes about the Mississippi River in Old Glory. (He irritated many locally with his depiction of Davenport).

So, if you find yourself in the midst of a very bad vacation, start writing – you may as well get something constructive out of it!

Notes from a Small IslandTravel writers range from morose (Paul Theroux) to the absurdist. Summer seems more appropriate for the latter, so for the unfortunate few out there who haven’t experienced a Bill Bryson book, please do so now.

There’s absolutely no excuse for those of us who live in Iowa, as Bryson is one of our own. He grew up in Des Moines, traveled in Europe in the ’70’s as a young man, and has alternated living in England and the U.S. ever since.

My all time favorite is Notes from a Small Island, in which Bryson affectionately pokes fun at the English in all their eccentricity. He clearly admires the British character – their humility and forbearance, but can  endlessly mock their customs and  language (place names such as Farleigh Wallop and Shellow Bowells and incomprehensible Scots accents). Those of us who’ve never quite grown up find this hilarious.

The blurb on the British version warns, “Not a book that should be read in public, for fear of emitting loud snorts.”