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The Turk Who Loved Apples: And Other Tales…
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The Turk Who Loved Apples: And Other Tales of Losing My Way Around the…

by Matt Gross

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Glowing reviews of this 2013 book by former “Frugal Traveler” and “Getting Lost” columnist for the New York Times, made me want to read it. As a young man, Gross picked up and moved to Ho Chi Minh City and from there explored more of Southeast Asia, worked for a local Vietnamese newspaper, and eventually got himself various travel writing gigs. In 2006, the Times gave him a budget for a three-month, around-the-world trip, which was to establish his “frugal traveler” identity. This, he says, was the job “everybody called ‘the best job in the world’—and an opportunity ripe for fucking up.” Which he did, at first.
The book is a mix of his travel experiences, which I enjoyed tremendously, and ruminations on the larger meaning of travel, which weren’t as interesting. The requirements for travel have changed for him over the years—from carrying a single bag to traveling with a wife and infant, from the ability to set his own schedule to being part of a family with all its competing needs. Truthfully, staying home has come to have its own satisfactions.
Across his whole travel-writing career, Gross visited “fifty or sixty countries,” ate their food (whole chapter on the resultant digestive laments), learned to cook much of it, and wrote hundreds of articles for the Times and others. He sums up everything he learned about traveling frugally in two pages in the middle of the book, which can be boiled down further to: use the Web to find deals and recommendations on airfare, lodging, and food. Airfare: use local and in-country airlines. Lodging: stay with others where you can, Airbnb, works when you can’t. Food: be adventurous. Social life: find local connections through Facebook friends-of-friends-of-friends.
The book’s full title is The Turk who Loved Apples and Other Tales of Losing My Way Around the World, which refers to his early days, as he was learning how to travel, yes, relatively frugally. Through an organization called World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms—a network of farmers who will provide volunteers free food and lodging in exchange for some farmwork—he stayed a few days on a rural apple farm in Turkey. Gross bonded with this farmer, an engineer who’d left his profession to do what he loved, and learned from that encounter that frugality “was not an end unto itself but one of the many traveler’s tools, a means of getting closer to exotic lands and foreign peoples.” And getting closer to people—from fellow expats in Ho Chi Minh City to refugees in Calais to members of his wife’s and even his own family—is what Gross is all about. ( )
  Vicki_Weisfeld | Nov 3, 2015 |
Read in February/2015. Matt Gross could not write himself out of a wet paper bag. I don't even know what warrants the extra star or two here. Very immature and pointless writing. He seems like a college kid out on his 1st trip w/o Mom or Dad....not interested in anything new in other countries (which in this book are very few) other than hangin' and partyin'. A waste of time. ( )
  untraveller | May 28, 2015 |
  corinnerodrigues | Feb 24, 2015 |
This is a wandering sort of travel memoir by Matt Gross, mainly covering his years working as a travel writer for the New York Times.

I decided to read this book based on its intriguing subtitle: "And Other Tales of Losing My Way Around the World." What a charming way of describing travel.

This book didn't win me over at first, though, as it jumped around quite a bit and seemed unfocused. For example, in one chapter, the narrative goes from Gross' time as a youth living in Vietnam to an encounter with an island policeman, to a NYT assignment in Italy, back to the results of his law enforcement encounter, and then to Vietnam again.

Also, I had to adjust my expectations, because it soon became clear that Gross is something of a control freak, rather than a "losing his way" type of person at all. There are even a dozen or so pages about how he consciously tries to get lost on purpose, in specific areas. Rather than draw out sightseeing plans, he comes up with plans of specifically what not to plan. It was lovely to read about, and sounds like something that I would do, but it's also not what the subtitle had me imagining of this book. The author seems to want the reader to believe that he is that traveler - carefree, blow-wherever-the-wind-takes him. When asked if he'd like to embark on a frugal trip around the world, he says "Sure, why not?" But that isn't really him. As the book goes on, we seem him grow more relaxed, but he still never struck me as a throw-caution-to-the-wind type. Which is fine.

Whether he is a planner or a wanderer, Gross is a great travel writer, enlightening us on cultural nuances, highlighting small encounters and recalling quirky experiences rather than cover all of the usual tourist attractions. I also loved how he included a chapter about food, mostly Vietnamese, and his willingness to immerse himself in foreign cultures.

He speaks sometimes about books that he reads, really only mentioning Zola and Huraki Murakami, but the way he spoke about reading, even briefly, had me wishing that I could explore his bookshelves and ask him questions about his books. I love the idea of reading all over the world.
And he describes traveling the seas and land of Greece, attempting to parallel the journeys of Odysseus - of course I loved that idea!

He also has a sense of humor:

One evening as I was reading Zola in bed, I looked up from my book and realized I didn't know where I was. Not the city, not the country - I was nowhere at all. Terror hit me like a locomotive. I was seized by the fantastical fear that at any moment a government official would storm into the room and demand I reveal our location.

Gross spends the second half of the book chronicling his Frugal Traveler column adventures, in which he flounders at first but gradually becomes brilliant. As an editor says, as his journey reaches a close, "he is gaining steam, not losing it."
This described how I felt about this book. At page 175, I was in love! Unfortunately, by then, the book was 3/4 over.

Still, I really enjoyed this and would certainly read more about the author's travels.

Thanks to Perseus Books and NetGalley.com for providing me with an advance copy of this book. ( )
  joririchardson | Jun 4, 2013 |
not like any travel book I have ever read. I have no idea what the point of this book was. ( )
  zmagic69 | May 25, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 030682115X, Paperback)

While writing his celebrated Frugal Traveler column for the New York Times, Matt Gross began to feel hemmed in by its focus on what he thought of as “traveling on the cheap at all costs.” When his editor offered him the opportunity to do something less structured, the Getting Lost series was born, and Gross began a more immersive form of travel that allowed him to “lose his way all over the globe”—from developing-world megalopolises to venerable European capitals, from American sprawl to Asian archipelagos. And that’s what the never-before-published material in The Turk Who Loved Apples is all about: breaking free of the constraints of modern travel and letting the place itself guide you. It’s a variety of travel you’ll love to experience vicariously through Matt Gross—and maybe even be inspired to try for yourself.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:38 -0400)

Discusses the author's numerous trips to exotic places all over the world and argues that modern travelers should throw away their guidebooks and let the places they visit be their only guide.

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