Between the Woods and the Water: On Foot to Constantinople: From The Middle Danube to the Iron Gates (New York Review Books Classics)

by Patrick Leigh Fermor

Other authorsJan Morris (Introduction)
Paperback, 2005




NYRB Classics (2005), Edition: F First Edition Thus, 280 pages


The acclaimed travel writer's youthful journey - as an 18-year-old - across 1930s Europe by foot began in A Time of Gifts, which covered the author's exacting journey from the Lowlands as far as Hungary. Picking up from the very spot on a bridge across the Danube where his readers last saw him, we travel on with him across the great Hungarian Plain on horseback, and over the Romanian border to Transylvania. The trip was an exploration of a continent which was already showing signs of the holocaust which was to come. Although frequently praised for his lyrical writing, Fermor's account also provides a coherent understanding of the dramatic events then unfolding in Middle Europe. But the delight remains in travelling with him in his picaresque journey past remote castles, mountain villages, monasteries and towering ranges.… (more)

Media reviews

Unhurried and receptive, endlessly curious and with, as Philip Toynbee has said, ''a rapturous historical imagination,'' Mr. Leigh Fermor, who is in his 70's, was, and remains, an ideal witness to what is now a vanished world.

User reviews

LibraryThing member thorold
This second part of Patrick Leigh Fermor's journey to Constantinople takes us through the idyllic summer of 1934, from Easter day in Esztergom to the beginning of Autumn at the Iron Gates. The style of travel has changed rather: although he is still mostly walking, in A time of gifts, he had been
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living the life of the impecunious student traveller, sleeping rough or in cheap hotels and hostels, but since Munich he has been caught up in a chain of letters of introduction, moving from castle to castle as he enjoys the generous hospitality of the central European aristocracy.

In other circumstances we might be inclined to be rather disparaging about this endless procession of good luck and connections, but since we know that most of these wonderful characters are living on borrowed time, we can just sit back and enjoy it with him. And there is a lot to enjoy. We follow the author riding a borrowed horse over the Hungarian plain, dredging up forgotten fragments of Hindi and George Borrow to communicate with Gypsies in their own language, romping in cornfields with farmgirls, pursuing a clandestine liaison with a married woman during a Dornford Yates-style motor tour of the Carpathians and discovering common ground with an orthodox Rabbi in a remote logging camp.

There's an extra layer of irony when we read this book now - Leigh Fermor couldn't know when he was writing in 1986 that the map of Eastern Europe was about to be redrawn yet again. Possibly it was this that broke the flow — in any event, we're still waiting for the promised third part of the journey to Constantinople.
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LibraryThing member RobertDay
The story so far: in 1933, 19-year-old Patrick Leigh Fermor (later to achieve notoriety operating behind German lines in Crete during WW2) drops out of a reasonably good public school and determines to tramp across Europe to Constantinople, learning languages and cultures as he goes along from
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whoever he meets. This book opens with him about to enter Hungary...

This book, the direct sequel to "A Time of Gifts", picks up exactly where the last book finished (on a bridge over the Danube outside Esztergom) and sees Leigh Fermor entering Hungary and then travelling through Transylvania before ending this volume at the Iron Gates, the spectacular gorge where the Danube cuts through the Transylvanian Alps in southern Romania. Entering these lands, he comes across the Roma people (then generally called Gypsies) and some of the earliest diversions concern young Patrick's explorations of the Roma language and its connections with other languages. In this, he references a writer he refers to just as "Borrow"; many modern readers may not know that he is referring to George Borrow, a Victorian philologist who also spent time living with the Roma in England and also undertook an extensive walk of his own (in his case, the length of Wales). His novels of Romany life, "Lavengro" and "The Romany Rye" were considerable best-sellers in their day, and his account of his Welsh travels, "Wild Wales", can still be found in some Welsh bookshops. He was one of the first people to popularise the linguistic connections between many European languages and the languages of northern India; the growth of academic studies of what is now commonly called "Indo-European" languages had been considerable during the 18th and early 19th centuries, but Borrow was one of the first writers to put these ideas before a wider public (though he looked more for a religious explanation for the commonality of tongues). Nonetheless, those interested in the Romany way of life would have absorbed some of their knowledge of the background to the language through Borrow, and Leigh Fermor certainly found it of use when travelling through Hungary and Romania.

Transylvania had been ceded to Romania as a part of the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the Treaty of Trianon which followed World War 1 in the south-east of Europe in 1919-20; Hungarian and Romanian were commonly spoken in Transylvania, but many of the gentry also spoke German because of their ancestry. Leigh Fermor comes across this much, especially as he continues his journey passing from manor house to Schloss to mansion, all arranged by the friends he made on the way. But his easy lodgings come to an end towards the end of this book as he moves further into the former Ottoman sphere of influence, and the family connections that stood him in good stead across Europe begin to peter out.

We see in this book the older Leigh Fermor getting more into his stride in relating the events of his youth to the future that was yet to be. News such as the assassination of the Austrian Chancellor Dolfuss begins to impinge on his idyllic world, and at one point, he discusses the rise of Hitler in Germany with a Hassidic Jew and his sons in a cabin in a Romanian forest. No-one can comprehend the fate that awaits them; there have been pogroms before and this is just one more, says the older Jew; we shall weather this as we have done all the others. Leigh Fermor reports this without irony, but the pointedness of the encounter is plain for all to see. Elsewhere, he comments that his earlier self was experiencing a way of life that would be swept away within a few years; the older, more experienced Leigh Fermor puts this into the text rather more often in this book than in "A Time of Gifts". I think this reflects his increasing experience as an older man in writing his travel memoirs as much as reflecting his younger self's burgeoning awareness of changing times.

The younger Leigh Fermor also has other changes to contend with. In "A Time of Gifts", he mentions meeting various young women on his travels and even talks about flirting with some of them; but these are very much the jolly times of young people. In "Between the Woods and the Water", his relationships with women take a more serious turn, only partly due to the influence of one of his hosts in particular. There is an amorous encounter with some farm girls; and then there is a full-blown affair with a particular woman, simply identified as 'Angéla'. This bittersweet relationship - Angéla is unhappily married and only a few years his senior - presages a later episode in his life, when he lived with another woman in Romania for a number of years before the outbreak of war.

I related closely to "A Time of Gifts" because Leigh Fermor's journey of discovery through Europe reminded me so much of my own; we had similar experiences in seeing a land through new eyes. I was a bit worried that I would not relate so much to this book because I haven't travelled in Hungary or Romania. I needn't have worried; the echoes of the former Empire mean that there is an historical and cultural continuity between the books and the post-Communist opering up of these countries gives the modern reader a sense of catching up with a history and geography that remains little known in the UK.

My observations on George Borrow do make me think one thing; Leigh Fermor continues to wear his scholarship lightly, but we are in different times now and many readers will not have the same classical background to fall back on. Quite often there are Latin phrases dropped into the text without translation (or footnotes), and it is expected that the reader will know them. I'm fairly lucky; my own interest in history in general, and in Central and Eastern Europe history and culture in particular means that I've read Borrow, or (thinking back to "A Time of Gifts") Jaroslav Hasek's "The Good Soldier Švejk". Others will not have this background; a reading list would have been an ideal addition to the book.

Otherwise, this is a remarkable continuation of Leigh Fermor's story. Its conclusion, the unfinished "The Broken Road", promises much, especially as Leigh Fermor changes his objective and heads south through Bulgaria and into Greece - very much terra incognito in those days.
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LibraryThing member teaperson
This book isn't nearly as good as time of gifts. The digressions seem more like, well, digressions. Perhaps it is the nature of his voyaging: instead of walking alone, he spends much of the time castle-hopping with aristocrats. Yet it fails to provide that nostalgic, Brideshead Revisited, sense of
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loss. Fermer's vocabulary is still stunning, but his narrative drags. An afterword getting him to Constantinople would have been nice, too, since he clearly gave up the ghost before doing volume three.
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LibraryThing member John_Vaughan
Sir Patrick Michael Leigh Fermor, DSO, OBE was best known as Paddy, by his peers (Jan Morris, Bruce Chatwin) his fellow SOE Officers, the resistance fighters in Crete and the world’s press. This delightful man charmed all that he met, even his kidnapped prisoner, the German General Kreipe, was
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able to find a common love of poetry and books with him. Richard Woodward, a BBC journalist, once described him as "a cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Greene."

The opening words of Between the Woods and the Water are ”Perhaps I had made too long a halt on the bridge …” and his readers might agree as we were left stranded on the edge of Bulgaria, thirsting for the third and final volume of his charming and charmed trip from England to the Black Sea. Paddy died in 2011 without publishing an end to this fascinating walk.

Now his long-time publisher John Murray announces – to a collective sigh of relief - it will publish the final volume of Paddy Leigh Fermor's journey to Constantinople in 2013, drawing from his diary at the time and an early draft he wrote in the 1960s.

All of his work is eminently readable of course and even the denser works can be re-read with enjoyment, but the two volumes of his youthful walk are so beautifully written and are so full of the peoples he met that his readers need this closure.
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LibraryThing member nmele
The second in Fermor's beautiful written memoir of his walk from the North Sea coast to Istanbul covers his ramble through Hungary and Rumania. His memory is remarkable, aided by notebooks he kept, but his observations, curiosity and elegant writing are even more remarkable. A chance encounter with
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his book about monastic life, A Time To Keep Silence, led me to this trilogy, and reading this volume decided me to read his books about Greece as well. But that must wait for the third volume of this travel memoir, The Broken Road, is waiting for me.
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LibraryThing member stillatim
More enjoyable than the first volume of the not-quite-trilogy, and gives me enough reason to pick up that cobbled-together third volume. I might be misremembering, but Fermor seems more self-conscious in this volume, and of course he's traveling lands less well-known to himself and to most
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Anglophone readers.
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LibraryThing member quondame
A long look back on an unforgettable and almost unique 1934 tramp in the Hungarian and Rumanian region of the Danube. Polyglot Fermor loves applying his wide vocabulary to passionately recalled arboreal vistas. Also some fun pastoral and urban romps.
LibraryThing member kropferama
The. Second book in Fermor's walk from London to Istanbul. Fermor is one part carefree adventurer, one part poet and one part historian. He paints rich portraits of places and people and gently moves you along with him. Keep a dictionary handy since he uses the full expanse of the English language.
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Some of his descriptions are poetry disguised as prose. He writes about a time between the wars that is long gone.
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LibraryThing member isabelx
The second part of Patrick Leigh Fermor's journey on foot to Constantinople in the 1930s starts as he enters Hungary and takes him as far as the Iron Gates on the border of Yugoslavia and Rumania. He seems to have been fascinated by the movement of the European and Asiatic tribes across Central
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Europe from the Roman era onwards, and it becomes more interestinhg as you realise how swirled together the populations are in that part of Europe. As you read on you know that the world he describes will soon be gone for ever and wonder about what will happen to all these friendly and hospitable people who put him up on his journey.
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LibraryThing member Figgles
The young PLF's travels, begun in the more familiar western Europe and chronicled in "A Time of Gifts", continue - through Hungary and Rumania. I find I know almost nothing of these parts of Europe, which for most of my life were hidden behind the Iron Curtain. Here the young PLF, sometimes camping
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with shepherds and at others taken in by gentle aristocrats who let him loose in their libraries, unfurls a map of conquest and reconquest which sounds romantic but has left us with terrible ethnic tensions that resonate today. As well as planning nest to read the posthumously published "The Broken Road" that completes Leigh Fermor's trilogy, I think I will need to re-read A J Mackinnon's "The unlikely voyage of the Jack de Crow" which covers much of the same territory, by an equally impecunious and eccentric young man, about 70 years later...
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LibraryThing member featherbear
Bought a 2nd copy by mistake because I didn't catalog the first one on LT. Both the Viking and NYRB editions have the author's running captions. For those who found Time of Gifts hard going, try this one out. Fewer set pieces steps up the pace. I like the set pieces in ToG so personally the earlier
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memoir is my preference. ToG seems more urban, while BWW, where the trip covers Hungary and Transylvania, has a rural, pastoral, country estate feel. Noteworthy nature writing, maybe the highpoint being the golden eagles near the end. A recent viewing of a documentary on the NatGeo Wild cable channel suggests that the only remaining link to the past described by PLF is the great stork migration from Africa to Europe. Even the frogs may have disappeared or are disappearing (see the chapter in Kolbert's 6th Extinction). One missing aspect in ToG that seemed odd for a 19 year old at the time was the lack of reference to sex. It's checked off in BWW. Then there is the great Hebrew-Hellene interlude with the orthodox and assimilated Jews (the Hellene being the Georgic overtones of the woodcutters) with the mad Hellenism of the Nazis imminent. The interplay of the author's lost memories and their physical embodiment (the edition of Horace lost to a German torpedo during the war) with the loss of culture spiritual and material (the drowned villages of the dammed Danube) provides some literary enrichment, "lachrymae rerum," if no comfort.
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LibraryThing member JBreedlove
Everything that a book should be, good prose, a new world described well, and a look a a past in a place that no longer exists. many new - old english words as well. And put together from memory and journals and diaries. I wonder if he finished his third book describing the last leg of the trip?
LibraryThing member jgoodwll
Continuation of 'A time of gifts'. Journey through a jigsaw of isolated ethnic groups brought by history to Hungary and Romania. Petty aristocracy left bereft by land reform. Surviving remnants of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Welcoming people who have hardly heard of England.
LibraryThing member PDCRead
This is the sequel to A Time of Gifts, and picks up where we left Fermor on the Bridge in Budapest.

In this he carries on in the same manner as before, walking and meeting people, sharing wine and food, and laughter. In the background there is the spectre that is the Nazi party, and he mentions
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stories of atrocities that are starting to happen to people in Germany.

He spends a few months in Rumania / Transylvania and has an affair with a married woman. And meets those peoples in this complex landscape, who come from protestant catholic, orthodox and Romany backgrounds. It is an intense time as Europe slides towards war, and this comes across in the book.

His descriptive prose is beautiful to read, he has a way of capturing what he saw in such a beautiful way. There is an awful lot of history in here too, and whilst some of it is fascinating, you can loose yourself with the all the noble families of Europe. This was written a long time after the events, and whilst he has captured the time with his masterful use of the language, I think that it lacks a little something that it may have had if it was written soon after the journey.
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LibraryThing member m.belljackson
Although there are many beautifully evoked landscapes, as in [A Time of Gifts], as well a the highly memorable Island of the Turks,
the emphasis on the homes, architecture, books, and intricacies in the lives of the semi-rich doesn't measure up to peasants and sleeping in haystacks.

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political history bordered on boring...

...and refusal to acknowledge the horror of Hitler felt contrived or incomprehensible...
...also hard to tell how he actually felt about "gypsies" and Jewish people.
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LibraryThing member DramMan
travel memoir, written decades after the event (1934), recounting a solitary walk across central/eastern Europe - redolent with pre-war period detail. Lyrical in places and remarkable for the detail recalled, only some rather tedious disquisitions on history or abstruse ethnographic subject matter
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spoil the effect.
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