Step this way
Ideal destinations for literary-minded travellers
In 1841, aged 22, Herman Melville signed on as a seaman aboard the Yankee whaler Acushnet and 18 months later he and shipmate Toby Greene jumped ship on the transcendentally beautiful island of Nuku Hiva, in the Marquesas Islands in today’s French Polynesia and as remote from a continental landmass as it’s possible to be.
Mesmerised by Nuku Hiva’s beauty, and the beckoning, smiling women attired in their “garb of Eden”, the insouciant Melville trekked inland to the Taipivai Valley (immortalised as Typee in his future novel) where he spent several months before being rescued by the Australian whaler Lucy Anne.
Typee, based on his adventure, appeared in 1846 and sold well, unlike his 1851 masterpiece Moby Dick, which languished unrecognised until rediscovered and reappraised in the 1920s. Young Melville legged the rugged 20km to Taipivai Valley and today’s pilgrims can do the same while relishing stupendous scenery, massive petroglyphs and lunch at a Taipivai guesthouse. The freighter and passenger ship Aranui 5 sails out of Papeete on regular 14-day voyages to Nuku Hiva and other islands of the Marquesas. More: aranuicruises.com.au. SHIPBOARD READING: Typee and Judith Schalansky’s Atlas of Remote Islands.
This is not for softies, especially while wearing improvised armour with a barber’s basin for a helmet and subsisting on stale bread and cheese.
To celebrate the 401st anniversary of Miguel Cervantes’s Don Quixote, sally forth from Madrid in your hire car (dubbed Rocinante of course) well stocked with “honest Manchegan wine” and accompanied by a tolerant and worldly companion to drive and hike across the windswept windmill-topped landscape of La Mancha. Cervantes invented the modern novel but was rather vague on placenames, except for El Toboso, the village of the Don’s ladylove Dulcinea.
Despite Sancho’s counsel against reading too many books, visit Madrid’s Spanish National Library’s sublime collection of Cervantes’s masterpiece. Last year, quixotically, on the 400th anniversary of the publication of the second volume of his tragicomic novel, the Spanish believe they located his final resting place, in Madrid’s walled Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarian nuns. More: spain.info. BEDSIDE READING: Monsignor Quixote, Graham Greene’s accolade to Cervantes. Village priest Father Quixote, a descendant of the Don, is promoted to monsignor by a wine-addled bishop; he and the village’s deposed communist mayor Sancho embark on a road trip through post-Franco Spain. Or, do as William Faulkner did and re-read Don Quixote annually.
In January, 1836, “before a light morning air”, HMS Beagle sailed into Sydney Harbour with the young “scientific-person” Charles Darwin on deck admiring its glittering beauty. Four days later he and a guide set off on horseback to cross the Blue Mountains west of Sydney to Bathurst and on the second day tethered their horses at the Weatherboard Inn at Wentworth Falls. A passionate geologist, Darwin decided to take an afternoon walk to view the rim of the Jamison Valley and wrote: “Following down a little valley and its tiny rill of water, an immense gulf unexpectedly opens … walking on a few yards, one stands on the brink of a vast precipice … showing headland behind headland, as on a bold seacoast.”
Evolutionist pilgrims and lapsed creationists can follow in his footsteps down Charles Darwin Walk from Wilson Park (south of the highway) and along Jamison Creek, which with a sudden flourish reveals the same sublime view that astonished the young clergyman.
A few days later after studying a platypus he diarised a heretical thought, which would eventually lead to his theory of evolution: “An unbeliever in everything beyond his own reason might exclaim ‘Surely two distinct Creators must have been [at] work’. ”
The Weatherboard Inn’s site is in nearby Pitt Park. Hardcore creationists have erased the satanic evolutionist’s name from its commemorative plaque but a fence protects the English oak planted on the 1936 centenary of Darwin’s visit. As the Beagle departed Australia, he recorded his feelings, “Farewell, Australia! … I leave your shores without sorrow or regret.” Recently, however, Darwin’s great, great grandson Chris has settled with his family on a tranquil Blue Mountains bush block and conducts bushwalks. More: email@example.com; darwinsunfinishedbusiness.com. ON-THE-ROAD READING: Charles Darwin in Australia by FW & JM Nicholas draws on Darwin’s diaries, field notes and publications.
THE BEST OF TIMES AND THE WORST OF TIMES
Paris’s most poignant literary walk is to follow the way of the tumbrels of the condemned, from the glowering Conciergerie prison to the guillotine, as heart-stoppingly portrayed in the final chapter of Charles Dickens’s transcendent novel A Tale of Two Cities. Dissolute London lawyer Sydney Carton has switched places with the condemned Charles Darnay and as the tumbrels roll Carton holds the hand of the terrified young seamstress who recognises he is voluntarily dying in place of Darnay.
At Cour de Mai, by the Conciergerie en Ile de la Cite, you are standing where the six tumbrels departed with “the day’s wine” to quench the guillotine’s insatiable thirst. Cross the River Seine’s Pont au Change, turn left along Quai de la Megisserie, right on to Rue de la Monnaie, cross Rue de Rivoli into Rue du Roule and left into Rue Saint-Honore. Above the modish boutiques are win-