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Review: Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman by Alice Steinbach

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Without Reservations
4 Stars

Journalist Alice Steinbach decided that she was going to take a break from the life she was living. She was happy, but she felt that she needed some time to get acquainted with herself now that her two sons were grown. So she planned an open-ended months-long trip to Europe. She had only the vaguest of itineraries and very few travel reservations. She went to Paris, London, Oxford, Milan, Venice, Rome, Siena, and Asolo.

I genuinely liked the Alice Steinbach I found in these pages. She is intelligent, educated, and interested. My copy is littered with post-it flags marking books she mentions that I have to read or artists whose work I want to look up. She is curious and she is friendly and she is a traveler, not a tourist.

My Post-Its
My Post-It Flags
Her writing is beautiful. I've had a sort of "I'd like to go to Paris but, you know. That reputation Parisians have" attitude for a while. Within pages, I was dying to go. The city came alive for me as she described it. I want to follow in her footsteps and take the time to just stand in the light in the chapel of Sainte-Chappelle. I want to buy a ridiculously expensive French dress. I want to see the Carré Rive Gauche celebrate Five Extraordinary Days.

Ms. Steinbach is a curious, friendly traveler. She strikes up friendships wherever she goes and writes meaningfully about the people she meets. She is willing to learn whatever they teach her either directly or indirectly.

Paris was the strongest section, but I enjoyed her other destinations as well. She dislikes Rome, for a very good reason, but I wish she had liked it. I somehow loved the city when I visited.

Each chapter begins with a picture from a postcard and a message that Alice has mailed to herself at home. I loved these. I looked forward to each new chapter for that reason.

There is a lot of introspection in the book as well. She never crosses the line into being self-indulgent. She always pulled her story back into her travels before I lost interest in her internal musings.

I recommend this for the well-read armchair traveler. I feel like I've had a mini European vacation now that I've finished it.  I'll definitely be reading Educating Alice:  The Education of a Curious Woman.

Read an excerpt.

I read this for the Off the Shelf Challenge and my own Dewey Decimal Challenge.

Buy Without Reservations at

I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop's, my local independent bookstore, and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site.

5 comments:

  1. Wow, Jen, I have never heard of this book, but now I have to read it! Thanks.

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  2. These kinds of books make me so jealous! I want to "find" myself by traveling across Europe!

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  3. This sounds wonderful. After a cancelled trip to Paris, I'm craving all things Paris when it comes to travel info. I'm sorry to hear she didn't like Rome. A trip there several years ago made it one of my favorite places. :-)

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  4. What a fantastic trip alice takes! I was thrilled to read that Paris came alive for you in the book and that she describes places in beautiful detail. I love books like these in which you feel almost as if you are traveling bside the narrator! I'm not able to travel much but I'm a happy armchair traveler when I can read books like this one! Thank you for a wonderful review!

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  5. I have this book on my shelf - thanks for reminding to pull it down and read it! I love travel memoirs especially when the author leaves a busy life behind to take a risk on travel (a dream of mine)

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Thanks for taking the time to comment! Have a great day!

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