Book With Confidence - Our COVID-19 Travel Policy

Is it really that time of year already? My perception of passing time has been a little off lately, an experience I appear to share with many guests, colleagues and friends, but the tell-tale signs are building up. Christmas trees and lights are being put up in public places, music with too many bells is being played in commercial establishments, ads for toys are making an appearance in various media - the trappings of the season are all around me. So, I have to concede that we appear to be entering another advent period, one that promises to be somewhat more normal than last year's. There are joys to look forward to: I am making (moderate) seasonal travel plans, perhaps I'll even bake some special cookies deriving from my home tradition, possibly I'll mull some wine at some point and for once, I might even listen to a Christmassy song...

The travel plans are, of course, for seeing loved ones, and love is what Christmas should be about. I know I write words to this effect every year, but after all, it's true. If there is anything we might - or should - have learnt from the difficult times that we have gone through (by the way, at Peter Sommer Travels, we had a joyful and successful autumn season in 2021, our first trips running since the autumn of 2019!), it is that love is one of the things that sustain us. And that too is joyful after all: the realisation that there are others - be they family, friends, collaborators, companions - who bring warmth, joy and comfort into our lives and to whom we bring the same.

There are many ways to express love, and one of them is giving gifts. So here, we continue our tradition of suggesting some ideas that may be of interest to our guests and to like-minded friends, now for the ninth time. This means that beyond this post, you can also peruse those from 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 - each one is full of good ideas that my colleagues and guests at Peter Sommer Travels and myself have come up with. Again, I am repeating myself, but it is important to underline that this list is authentic: it really includes items that we enjoy, that we consider giving to others or that others consider giving to us (fingers crossed!). So, here they are: our Christmas gift suggestions for 2021.

PETER SOMMER'S RECOMMENDED READ:

It's not by chance that we bear Peter Sommer's name. He is our founder and the person who carries the burden of responsibility for the course we take and the decisions we make as a company. If you have been in contact with us recently, you have probably conversed with him, as he takes a very active role not only in leading tours, but also in keeping in touch with our guests, past, present and future. As a young student of archaeology, Peter made the seminal decision to embark on a gruelling walk across Turkey in the Footsteps of Alexander the Great back in 1994, an undertaking that eventually inspired him to set up his own company. Peter Sommer Travels allowed him to fulfil his desire to share with others in the wonderful experiences, the sights, sounds and aromas of that country, but most of all its fascinating history and the beautiful archaeological and historic sights it is so rich in. Peter has never lost his enthusiasm for what we do, and his attention to detail has been contagious, enabling us to design and run our tours to the highest standard as the company grew and expanded into its current form, operating cultural and archaeological tours and cruises in, by now, six different countries. In 2022, he will be leading Walking and Cruising the Lycian Shore, and likely several others of our Turkish gulet cruises. His suggestion for 2021 takes us back to his original fascination with Turkey's history.

The Ottomans: Khans, Caesars and Caliphs, by Marc David Baer, Basic Books, 2021.

(US and international Amazon) (UK Amazon) (Basic Books)

This brand-new book, by an accomplished scholar who teaches at the London School of Economics and Political Science, has already received a lot of praise, with accolades like "superb, gripping, and refreshing", "compellingly readable", "scintillating and brilliantly panoramic", "outstanding" and "masterful". Beginning with Osman I (or Ghazi Osman), the thirteenth-century ancestor of the Ottoman dynasty and ending with the rise of Mustafa Kemal in the early twentieth, it takes us on a seven-century tour through the history of what soon became a large and supra-regional power and a lasting cultural influence on three continents. Baer's sweeping and dynamic narrative touches on all aspects of the long Ottoman era, both light and dark: its rulers and its peoples, its religions, its economy, its social and political life, its culture and cultures, its dual nature between 'East' and 'West', also between tolerance and oppression, and much more. To do so, he conjures up a vast array of historic characters, some inspiring, some absurd. Most importantly, he manages to do all that while offering a deeply informed analysis of all the topics mentioned without ever compromising the vibrant and rewarding quality of his narrative.

MICHAEL METCALFE'S RECOMMENDED READ:

Michael has been part of the core team at Peter Sommer Travels since 2009. With his expertise in epigraphy, the reading and understanding of ancient (Greek) inscriptions, he brings important knowledge of the Ancient World to the table, offering his guests very direct access to a key category of sources on life in antiquity. Of course, Michael's interests and his knowledge range much further than that, extending across Mediterranean history and also to the era of the early travellers who rediscovered the vestiges of ancient civilisations. Michael has been the designer of all our Italian tours, and his influence can also be felt on our itineraries in Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom. He has also been central in the development of our gulet charters and tailor-made land tours, carefully crafted trips that are modified to match the sometimes very specific interests or wishes of our guests. He is a powerful and inspiring speaker, with a natural gift to bring the past, its glories, dramas, disasters and triumphs, back to life in a memorable and very accessible fashion. In 2022, Michael will be leading some of our cruise itineraries in Turkey. His recommendation is a book we've been waiting for!

The Carians. From Seafarers to City Builders, edited by Olivier Henry and Ayşe Belgin-Henry, Yapı Kredi Yayınları, 2020. [NB: the Amazon page states 'Turkish edition', but the book's only version is actually a bilingual edition in English and Turkish!]

(US and international Amazon) (UK Amazon) (Zero Books)

Guests who have travelled on our gulet cruises in Turkey may well have met Olivier. He's been working with us for many years and our guests admire his easy-going erudition and his evident joy in sharing it with them. Amongst Olivier's many distinctions is the role as director of excavations at Labraunda, the great sanctuary of Zeus that was a central shrine to the ancient Carians, the inhabitants of the southwestern corner of Anatolia. Recently appointed to a prestigious professorship at Lyon (France), Olivier is an authority on Caria and its people, whose very culture was often an interface between western (Aegean and later Greek) and Anatolian influences. As no up-to-date account of the Carians had been available heretofore, Olivier and Ayşe have done a great service to their discipline by producing this highly accessible overview with contributions from thirty authors, ranging from prehistory to recent history, taking in both the archaeology and the written sources available on this fascinating region and providing summaries of many individual sites. There can be no doubt that The Carians will become a must-read for scholars and travellers alike.

PAUL BESTON'S RECOMMENDED READ:

Has it been five years already since Paul Beston joined our core team? Paul is our main tour expert in the United Kingdom and also leads tours in Italy and Greece, but he is much more than that, with a key role in designing our UK tours and also in employing his fine prose to express much of what we are doing. He is uniquely equipped for these roles, as he is a compelling storyteller with a seemingly endless store of information on all manner of history, from the grand sweeping narratives to the often obscure, even bizarre, details. His quick wit is matched with a profoundly analytic mind, enabling him to make the past and its characters come to life in a fashion that is as entertaining as it is informative. In 2022, Paul will be leading Exploring Wales, Exploring Wessex, Exploring Hadrian's Wall and our new Walking Hadrian's Wall, and also on the May and October runnings of Exploring Crete and the autumn Exploring Macedonia. His 2021 recommendation relates to that tour.

Minoan Crete: An Introduction, by L. Vance Watrous, Cambridge University Press, 2021.

(US and international Amazon) (UK Amazon) (CUP US) (CUP UK)

Ever since the discovery of the Palace of Knossos by Arthur Evans at the turn of the last century, the Minoan civilisation of Bronze Age Crete has been a field of ongoing discovery, a source of enormous fascination and - through its art - of great joy, but also in many ways a mystery or a series thereof. Considering the importance of Minoan Crete in European and Mediterranean prehistory and the vibrant archaeological research all over Crete, it is perhaps surprising that no up-to-date handbook (or textbook) on Minoan Crete has been available for many years - a problem that a whole generation of students has suffered from, as have travellers eager to be informed on one of the most famous aspects of Crete's long history. That problem is now solved for a few decades to come. Watrous, professor at Buffalo, is a major Minoan scholar, having spent decades conducting fieldwork in East Crete, engaging in both survey and excavation, not least at the wonderful Bronze Age town of Gournia. Based on his intimate knowledge of the island and its archaeology, his book provides a long-awaited and well-organised overview of the Cretan Bronze Age

JULIE BROWN'S RECOMMENDED READ:

If you have spoken to someone at Peter Sommer Travels and it wasn't Peter himself, most likely it was Julie. As our Office and Operations Manager, she keeps in touch with our guests prior to the travel season(s) and with all of us, guests, local partners, tour managers and so on, while the season is underway. On a busy day, when multiple tours might be starting and ending in several of the countries we visit, her role is akin to juggling a litter of kittens - but I hasten to add that as a cat lover, she would never engage in such activity! Julie is familiar with a great many of our tours from personal participation in reconnoitres, sometimes even the tours themselves. The combination of her direct knowledge of the places we visit and of the nature of our tours and cruises with her very active concern for our guests' needs and interests, make her a key interface between the content we offer and those we bring it to, enabling her to help our guests make informed decisions. This year, Julie proposes a very beautiful book.

Irish Fairy Tales, (compiled by various authors), with a foreword by D.L. Ashliman (Deluxe Edition), Flame Tree Publishing, 2018.

(US and international Amazon) (UK Amazon) (Flame Tree)

This is a lovely book: a little old-fashioned, more than a little quaint, softly poetic, timelessly sweet and a little mysterious. It's no secret that Ireland is a country of stories and of storytellers, as we witness on our tour of it! Due to its late industrialisation, Ireland preserved much of its folk tradition for longer than most other European countries, allowing many tales (also songs) to be recorded in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a time when Ireland was very actively rediscovering its identity. The stories thus collected are quite diverse, ranging from more conventional 'fairy stories' to narratives drawn from Irish Celtic mythology. All of them reveal the active imagination that is part and parcel of Irish culture, and also the age-old belief that the very landscape we humans inhabit is likewise home to other entities, such as fairies, talking cats, giants and miscellaneous monsters, mermaids and so on, some helpful to us, some less so. In contrast to the 'classic' continental fairy tales collected and 'corrected' by the Brothers Grimm and others, these stories are less streamlined, and thus both more strange and more authentic. The Flame Tree book, a handsome hardcover edition with illustrations by Arthur Rackham and other artists, is a compilation of several collections from the early twentieth century.

TONY SPAWFORTH'S RECOMMENDED READ:

Professor Anthony Spawforth is probably our most well-known academic expert. As a Professor Emeritus at the University of Newcastle (he also taught in Princeton), he is a senior scholar with a long track record of publications about the Ancient World, ranging from deep scholarship to works aimed at a more general readership. If you have followed our gift suggestion lists, you may have come across our recommendation of two of his books, in 2018 and 2017. It goes without saying that such a man is knowledgeable as a guide, but there is more to Tony: he is an engaging presenter of the past, an elegant and entertaining narrator, with a gift for drawing his audience into the places he shows them, and into the events and the cultural phenomena he describes. In 2022, you can experience his skills on Exploring Sicily and Cruising the Dodecanese. Tony's 2021 recommendation is, in his own words, "by an old pal"!

The Greeks: A Global History, by Roderick Beaton, Faber & Faber, 2021.

(US and international Amazon) (UK Amazon) (Basic Books US) (f&f UK)

March 2021 was the 200th anniversary of the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence, and the occasion has been marked by the publication of quite a few important new books (see also Nota's entry below). One of those is Beaton's volume, a veritable tour de force, following only two years after his 2019 Greece: Biography of a Modern Nation (also highly recommended!). Beaton, for many years Professor of Modern Greek and Byzantine History at King's College, London, is one of the greatest living connoisseurs of Greek culture, having published copiously on Greek history and literature alike. His new book traces the history not of the country but of the people, from their beginnings in the mists of prehistory to the modern age, and it does so in beautiful and well-measured words, illustrating and explaining the outsized influence (or really influences) emanating from Greek culture (again, really cultures, as he stresses) again and again. Foreign Affairs describes the book as a "magisterial yet readable introduction to Greek history—one of the best of its kind, whether for academic or popular audiences"!

NOTA KARAMAOUNA'S RECOMMENDED READ:

Nota has been working with us as a tour expert in Greece since 2012, making 2021 the tenth year of our collaboration. As a native Athenian, specialised in Byzantine art and archaeology, but with wide-ranging historical interests and fluent in three languages, she has the unique skill of explaining Greek culture from an authentic personal and inside perspective, but also within a much wider cultural context. Her thoughtful and profoundly informed narratives do not content themselves with explaining the monuments or works of art we see or the historic events that took place at the sites we visit: she is driven by a compelling desire to understand the underlying reasons, the ideas, needs and conflicts that were behind the individuals and societies that created them. In 2022, you can see her in dazzling action on Easter in Athens, Exploring the Peloponnese, Cruising to the Cyclades and Cruising the Dodecanese. Her suggestion for this year is one of great significance for anyone interested in modern Greece.

The Greek Revolution: 1821 and the Making of Modern Europe, by Mark Mazower, Penguin, 2021.

(US and international Amazon) (UK Amazon) (Penguin US) (Penguin UK)

Mazower, professor at Columbia, New York, is another big name in modern Greek studies, famous for works like Inside Hitler's Greece (1993) and Salonica, City of Ghosts (2004). On the 200th anniversary of the Greek Revolution, using up-to-date research, he presents a remarkable book that will certainly be the standard English-language account of the Greek War of Independence, and the international involvement in it, for a long time to come. The book achieves both a riveting account of the actual rebellion in all its gory drama and of how a diverse group of local chiefs gradually became the nucleus of a new nation. At the same time, it offers a profound and wide-ranging analysis, from the underlying causes to the immense consequences of the conflict and its unlikely outcome that changed European geopolitics permanently: Greece was the first 'small nation' in Europe to gain its independence and nationhood, three decades before Italy became a nation-state and four decades before Germany did! In the Times Literary Supplement's words: "Mazower tells the story as it always needed to be told".

HEINRICH HALL'S RECOMMENDED READ:

I celebrated my 10 years as a core team member (or 12 years if I count before that) with Peter Sommer Travels earlier this year. Besides our social media presence, such as our Facebook page and this blog, my primary tasks are centred on the design and maintenance of our tours and cruises in Greece (where I live) and in Ireland (where I studied), and I am the joint tour expert on the majority of those, as well as occasionally in Turkey. Since I have also assisted with the design of itineraries in Italy, Croatia and the United Kingdom, I have very direct knowledge of our offerings in all six countries we currently travel. Although my academic background is as a prehistorian, my long-standing active participation in archaeological fieldwork has given rise to a more holistic approach, an interest in all periods of human activity and a passion to explain the remains, ancient to modern, hands-on, so as to understand the people(s) they reflect. In 2022, you can meet me on many of our tours in Greece and on Exploring Ireland. This year, I suggest a truly exceptional book.

The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, by David Graeber and David Wengrow, Allen Lane, 2021.

(US and international Amazon) (UK Amazon) (Macmillan US) (Penguin UK)

Human societies started off primitive and simple, embarking on a linear process of increasing complexity, social differentiation and cultural progress some 10,000 years ago, culminating in the development of what we call 'states' and 'civilisations'. This is the standard model of human development taught across the world for many decades. While some of us, especially prehistorians, have occasionally been uncomfortable with this narrative, as the actual past looks patchier and less straightforward than this tale, Graeber, a much-admired and debated cultural anthropologist who taught at the London School of Economics (he passed away - before his time - in 2020) and Wengrow, Professor of Comparative Archaeology at King's College, have boldly gone and rethought our early past on the basis of the actual evidence, concluding that the traditional model is a) wrong, b) detrimental and c) makes the past "unnecessarily dull"! Their analysis leads them to a different narrative of our beginnings, less linear, less deterministic and with much more scope for conscious decisions. This may be one of the most important new books this year: its ground-breaking ideas are sure to be discussed for a long time.

A GIFT TO ENJOY WITH BODY AND SOUL:

Tomić Plavac 2017, Tomić Winery, Jelsa, Island of Hvar, Dalmatia, Croatia.

(Wine & More) (Tomić Winery)

[We've done our best to find a provider stocking this particular wine in the UK and the US. Of course, availability may vary, but it's worth looking for. If all else fails, you can settle for a similar product from the same region.]

Wine is an important part of the Mediterranean cultural heritage - and a very enjoyable one for those who know to savour it. Of course, wine makes a regular appearance on most of our tours and cruises, first of all as part of our historical narratives, since we are likely to encounter the traces of wine culture throughout history at many of the archaeological sites we visit. But it's not just stories: we encounter actual local wines in Turkey, Greece, Croatia and Italy, generally as an appropriate accompaniment with our dinners and more specifically in the form of occasional winery visits and tastings at places of particular interest. As we aim to engage with all aspects of local culture, this is one of them.

What could be more appropriate here than a fine wine from the island of Hvar, ancient Pharos? We know well that parts of the island were settled by Greeks (from Syracuse) in the fourth century BC, their careful laid-out field system at Stari Grad remaining in use to this day. They brought the knowledge of viniculture with them, and also the art of wine-making. The island's dry and extremely sunny climate, along with the cool sea breezes offering some moderation, make it ideal for growing grapes, especially red ones. Tomić is a family business, with centuries of experience in producing wines. They specialise in indigenous varieties, growing them in various parts of Hvar and vinifying them according to the most modern standards. Their Plavac is a blend of two varieties: Plavac Veliki and Plavac Mali, perhaps Dalmatia's noblest red grape (in 2016 we recommended a 'pure' Plavac Mali from the mainland). It has been a Hvar classic for many years now. In contrast to the heavier and highly tannic Plavac produced elsewhere, Tomić Plavac is an elegant and well-balanced wine, with typical aromas of red fruit, mineral earth and wild herbs, matched by spicy notes achieved through ageing in oak. This is an easy and mid-priced wine, but one that expresses its region very well. If you're more ambitious, it is also worth looking for the Tomic Plavac Mali barrique.

AN OLD FAVOURITE:

Mermaid Singing, by Charmian Clift, Muswell Press, 2021 [original edition Bobbs-Merill, 1956].

(US and international Amazon) (UK Amazon)

It's not surprising that both Tony Spawforth and I came up with this suggestion independently of one another. Long out of print, this is a very charming book about one of our favourite islands! Clift (1923-1969) was a well-known Australian writer and journalist. Together with her husband, the writer George Johnston, and their children, she sought a different life in Greece, first settling on Kalymnos (in 1951), later on Hydra (where she befriended Leonard Cohen). Mermaid Singing is about their experiences on Kalymnos, at a time long before the advent of modern tourism, when sponge-diving was the main Kalymnian industry (we're glad to say that counter to her prediction, it has survived so far!). Clift is a formidable observer with a remarkable eye for detail, capturing the character of the island and its inhabitants with great affection, but also with a clear analysis of the rigid social structures prevalent at the time. Her account is beautifully written, captivating, evocative and authentic, with ample attention also to the quaint and humorous aspects of island life. Strangely, the book never became a household name amongst those who love the Greek islands - perhaps it will do so now?

A GIFT FOR FOOD LOVERS:

(The) Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking [title differs between US and UK editions], by Marcella Hazan, Knopf, 2012 / Boxtree, 2011.

(US and international Amazon) (UK Amazon) (Knopf US)

Apparently, a 30th-anniversary edition of this important book is being prepared for 2022, but we're more than happy to settle for the 2012 version. Hazan (1924-2013) hailed from Emilia-Romagna in the north of Italy and moved to New York in 1955. There, she became an accomplished (home) cook, trying to recreate the cuisine of her homeland. Based on her own experience, but also on extensive research travelling in all parts of Italy, she published two cookbooks during the 1970s, later amalgamating them into the 1992 Essentials. It became an instant classic, noted for the authenticity of its recipes and for the delightfully clear instructions it provides (instead of glossy pictures!). In Hazan's own words, "it is meant to be used as a kitchen handbook (...) for cooks of every level (...) who want an accessible and comprehensive guide to the products, the techniques, and the dishes that constitute imperishable Italian cooking."

A GUEST'S RECOMMENDATION:

We're not the only ones who enjoy reading. Most of our guests do, too, inspired by their own interests and - maybe - sometimes by our trips. We're always curious to hear what they've found.

Barbara Z. has so far joined us on four trips, our cruise of the Dodecanese and Exploring Crete, as well as our gastronomic tours in Sicily and Turkey, and apparently, she is planning for more! Together with her husband, L., she is delightful company. Her active interest in the things we show and the stories we tell is matched by her own stock of no less interesting stories and ideas; her quick, perceptive and incisive mind is balanced by a mischievous sense of humour; her eagerness to learn and experience is mellowed by a talent for enjoying herself. Barbara is a connoisseur of music, a lover of art, an avid traveller, an accomplished cook and - of course - a great reader. Her suggestion is very fine indeed.

Katherine, by Anya Seton, Mariner, 2013 / Hodder, 2006 [originally Houghton Mifflin, 1954].

(US and International Amazon) (UK Amazon) (Mariner US) (Hodder UK)

Seton (1904-1990) was a prominent American writer, famous for her historic (or in her own words "biographic") novels. She received much praise for the careful research she undertook to describe the eras her stories are set in and the lives of her protagonists. Katherine, her best-known book, is about Katherine Swynford (c. 1350-1403), the long-standing lover and eventual wife of John of Gaunt, son of Edward III and uncle to Richard II, both of them Kings of England. Her children with John, born out of wedlock but later legitimised (by her stepson Henry IV) made her the ancestor of the Tudors. Despite minor inaccuracies, the novel is considered a rarely-matched example of romantic historical fiction, fast-paced, rich in medieval atmosphere and compellingly portraying Katherine as a strong and resolute character. It's a mystery why it has not been made into a movie yet!

SOMETHING TO WATCH:

Barry Lyndon, directed by Stanely Kubrick, 1975.

(US and international Amazon Video – also available on DVD) (UK Amazon Video -also available on DVD)

The winter holidays are a great opportunity to take some time and watch an acclaimed movie classic!

Barry Lyndon is, after Spartacus, the second Kubrick film we present here. Based on William Makepeace Thackeray's 1844 novel The Luck of Barry Lyndon, it's the picaresque tale of Redmond Barry, a fictional 18th-century Irishman, played by Ryan O'Neal. His hunger for wealth and advancement make Barry's life a turbulent and rakish one: he joins first the British, later the Prussian army, then makes a living as a dishonest gambler and duellist travelling across Europe. Later, he seduces an English aristocrat's wife and eventually marries her, gaining status and affluence (and the name Lyndon), followed by his ultimate downfall. Although the film was not a great success initially, it is now considered a masterpiece, distinguished by Kubricks's trademark lush cinematography and choice of superb but not famous (theatre) actors for the countless speaking roles. Critic Roger Ebert described Barry Lyndon as one of the most beautiful movies ever made. Kubrick's detached, even cynical, treatment of his protagonist was once criticised as 'cold' but is now seen as another strength of this unusual work.

A READ FOR YOUNGSTERS AND ADULTS ALIKE:

The Way Things Work Now: A Visual Guide to the World of Machines, by David Macaulay, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt / Dorling Kindersley, 2016.

(US and International Amazon) (UK Amazon) (HMH US) (HMH UK)

Wouldn't you like to know how everything works? And wouldn't it take a genius to explain it all? David Macaulay is that genius! We already recommended one of his books, City, six years ago (as an 'old favourite'). After his 1970s/1980s success with books explaining historic architecture, Macaulay has spent over three decades utilising his enormous gift as an illustrator of technical detail, paired with his subtle wit, to explain quite literally the way things work. The current version of this extraordinarily brilliant book is the third (the first came out in 1988 and technology has changed a bit since then), but the concept remains the same. Starting with a section on basic mechanics, the book works its way through different fields of machinery and technology, explaining the functional principles of hundreds of devices we encounter in our daily lives, from crankshafts to dishwashers, from watermills to Wi-Fi systems, from zippers to jet engines. This is presented as a children's book and it serves that purpose well, but don't be fooled: you'll enjoy it every bit as much!

A GIFT TO PLAY WITH:

There is no need to change what we initially wrote about quality toys. We've said it before and we'll say it again: playing is not just for kids. Since time immemorial, it is a way to relax and open our minds, to re-engage with aspects of our world in new ways and to mix up the way we see things.

Ancient Civilizations of the Inner Sea, by Christopher Vorder Bruegge, Mark McLaughlin and Fred Schachter, GMT Games, 2019.

(GMT Games)

Unlike the very serious and historically informed board game about the Peloponnesian War we presented in 2019, this is a much more light-hearted affair, not a historical simulation but a fun game loosely inspired by the Mediterranean region's ancient history. It is for one to six players, using only a handsome map, nice and simple wooden counters and a stack of event cards. Although the rulebook may look forbidding, coming to just over 20 pages, that's because it is very detailed - the game is really quite simple. Essentially, you pick one of ten ancient civilizations set around the Mediterranean (Rome, Egypt, Minoan Crete and so on) and proceed to try and gain territory, build 'wonders', avoid disasters, barbarian invasions and so on and - most important of all - prevent your fellow players from doing those same things. Playing the game, depending on the number of players and the chosen scenario, can take anywhere between two and five hours, but it's not one of those games that require full concentration and chess-like strategic planning - in fact, the many random events will shatter your plans repeatedly in any case! If you have like-minded friends eager for a bit of somewhat competitive fun, this is for you.

A CLASSY GIFT:

Donegal Tweed Flat Cap (multiple designs), by Hatman of Ireland, Colemanstown, Co. Galway.

(Irish Tweeds)

I've been wearing Donegal Tweed flat caps for 32 years now, and I'm only just about to get my third! That fact in itself explains why I recommend this timeless and practical headgear. They are comfortable, virtually indestructible, reasonably waterproof without being synthetic, lightweight, nice to look at and lovely to touch. Hatman is a family business, based in County Galway and using Irish New Wool. Their traditional designs, broadly divided into herringbone or salt-and-pepper patterns, are traditional, reflecting the colours of the Irish landscape. I don't have more to say, really, so let me tell you a story instead. On my return from our recent Exploring the Peloponnese tour, my cats, probably annoyed by my prolonged absence, decided to climb onto the wardrobe and attack my previous Hatman cap, mangling it quite badly. Thus, I contacted the company to find a new one, and they passed my message on to a delightful man, Liam at Irish Tweeds, who not only identified the design of the damaged item, but also pointed out how grateful he is to the dogs and cats of the world, as they provide him with some extra turnover: a tweed cap is not an item that requires frequent replacement! By the way, they deliver their products worldwide with no postage charge. If you order something, do make sure to keep it safe from your pets!

WHO'D HAVE THUNK OF THIS?:

Build your own Stonehenge, by Aedes Ars, 2018.

(Amazon US and international) (Amazon UK) (Aedes Ars)

This list is never complete without an unusual, amusing or odd entry and like every year, I've been looking around to find something sufficiently arresting. Reader, be honest: in spite of your undoubtedly many and fine achievements in life, have you ever built a solar observatory? Here's your chance! Aedes Ars, a Spanish producer of very fine architectural model kits, offers a miniature model set of Stonehenge, that famous 5,000-year-old Neolithic monument in Wiltshire, England (featuring prominently on our Exploring Wessex tour), as it looked after completion. Including a cardboard base, ceramic reproductions of the stones, artificial grass, glue and everything else you might need, this will enable you to construct your own Stonehenge, at a scale of 1:135. Once you're done, you can set it up at the correct orientation during the summer solstice, so as to observe the famous effect of sunbeams and shadows. You can thank me later!

THE BEST GIFT OF ALL:

(It is often said that a change is as good as a rest, but some things don't need changing. What we wrote under this heading in 2013 is still true, so the text has been left unchanged and is here for the ninth time. It won't be the last...)

That would be love. And not just for Christmas.

It's all over the place and it's for you to find and enjoy, to receive and to give. Whatever it takes you, it's cheap at the price.

Evidently, we cannot offer links for finding that, but why not have a look at our 2022 travel brochure instead - and treat your loved one(s) to the holiday of a lifetime?

2 responses to “Christmas Gifts for History Lovers, Travellers and Gourmets, 2021”

  1. Jeanne Tifft says:

    I’ve been reading Heinrich’s recommendation, The Dawn of Everything, downloaded to my Kindle after reading a rave review in the Atlantic Magazine. Fascinating source-driven new twist on history. Prepare to be gobsmacked.

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