An account of the author, his fiancee and their friend walking north-to-south from Poland to Istanbul, via Slowakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. This walk takes place shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, so the countries and peoples described are undergoing drastic changes.
The wandering trio was either rather unlucky, or the author chiefly remembered their negative experiences (no beer and/or no cigarettes, disgusting food, no rooms, hostile or stupid people), or - and I did get that impression a few times - the walk was not planned very well. Had I been contemplating a visit to these countries, after reading this book I would now have made the decision to not go there. The author sometimes shows contempt for the people he comes into contact with, and I was also surprised to learn about the hostility, or unfriendliness encountered.
This book contains no practical advice for globetrotters, instead it is strictly a diary-like accounting of what happened, a listing of experiences, like a series of vignettes, in a rather objective tone, and without the benefit of letting the reader glimpse any thoughts or reasoning of the main characters (except - at times - the author's, who comes across as a not very likeable person). So the decision of their friend to part ways with the author and his fiancee at the half-way point comes as a surprise. Apparently also to the author and his fiancee - even though one would think that after weeks of spending every waking hour in one another's company, a simmering conflict would have become more and more obvious. It gets a bit better in the second half of the book.
I did not enjoy the style of writing. Often a "story" would end, and the next part begins by jumping into the middle of the action, and then back-tracks to the beginning and continues from there, which makes for a jerky story at times); often the next section starts by mentioning a person's name, and I'd wonder momentarily whether I missed the introduction or first mention of that person - it gets annoying after a while, because it interrupts the flow of reading. The author also sometimes delights in using very flowery language. The book is eloquently written, but without heart. Which is somewhat surprising for a personal travelogue. I never developed a liking for any of the main characters.
The book could also have profited from better proofreading - there are numerous typos, and the translations of German expressions are at best slightly off, and at worst simply wrong.
What I found interesting and read-worthy were the short historical outlines given for the different places visited.
Aside from all the faults listed above, it was still a moderately entertaining read.
Interesting stories of people and places encountered while walking from northern Poland to Istanbul. Goodwin can turn a nice phrase.
On Foot to the Golden Horn recounts Jason Goodwin's breathtaking journey through Eastern Europe-from the dikes and marshes of Poland's Baltic coast across to the Golden Horn in Istanbul.
From the cover: Discover an unknown Europe. This is the story of an incredible voyage, full of encounters with fascinating people and landscapes. But its backdrop is one of the most important historical moments of the late 20th century--Eastern Europe at the beginning of the 1990s. Goodwin's motives initially had nothing to do with this moment: fascinated by the history of Istanbul, he vows to reach the place as a visitor would have during its Byzantine heyday--on foot. As a result, he and his friends find themselves tramping through Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria as the Iron Curtain falls apart all around them. (--Andrew Nieland) Along the way, they sleep in haystacks, drink with Gypsies, and play with Ceaucescus orphans, meeting with overwhelming hospitality as an older Europe tries to settle with itself, and a new one struggles to be born. An exciting travel adventure, that really makes the walk come alive.