More Good Reads, Relevant Links

EightPiecesOfEmpireLawrence Sheets covered the demise of the former Soviet Union for NPR. He writes his memoir in a brisk, non-academic style that's just right for the interested lay person. It's a quick read; Took me only a weekend and Monday. He includes what must be all his greatest hits, his quick trip to Afghanistan, a trip to Sakhalin Island in the Russian far east, visiting the Chernobyl exclusion zone, but I'm particularly drawn to his Caucasus reporting.

He makes my modest story on the southern Caucasus, recounted in CS&W, appear callow, and I appreciate him for it. It's exciting to get background on some of the places we visited a few years after he did, in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia (even a tiny place we visited, Dzoroget in Armenia, athough he visited under entirely different circumstances). His coverage of Abkhazia's succession from Georgia is admittedly maybe not general interest, but I loved it.

He reported that little war along with his friend and fellow reporter Thomas Goltz, who has written his own books, and if you read their accounts alongside each other, you get a real, exciting sense of what went on at that fraying edge of the Soviet empire.

The books:

Eight Pieces of Empire by Lawrence Scott Sheets
Georgia Diary by Thomas Goltz

Similarly, you can read Sheets on Armenia alongside Christopher de Bellaigue's Rebel Land, (earlier post) which is set just across Armenia's western border in Turkey, for a richer understanding of the Armenian genocide question, and Sheets on Armenia alongside Thomas de Waal's richly reported Black Garden (that's what "Karabakh" means), which is set just across Armenia's eastern border in Azerbaijan for a better understanding of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Go ahead and polish off your expertise about the southern Caucasus with:

Bread and Ashes by Tony Anderson. Travels in Georgia.

Also in the region, see
Towers of Stone by Wojciech Jagielski, reporter for the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza,
The Man who Tried to Save the World by Scott Anderson, about aid worker Fred Cuny in the north Caucasus, 
Chienne de Guerre by Anna Nivat, incredibly brave war reporting from Chechnya,
Beslan: The Tragedy of School Number 1 by Timothy Phillips on the nightmare in North Ossetia,
– Thomas Goltz's other books Azerbaijan Diary and Chechnya Diary,
– Thomas de Waal's other book The Caucasus: An Introduction,
– and Christopher de Bellaigue's In the Rose Garden of  the Martyrs , a memoir of Iran. de Bellaigue writes beautifully, and after all, Iran borders Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh.

Finally, to stay up to date, there's the International Crisis Group's North and South Caucasus reporting. (Lawrence Sheets is ICG Project Director for the South Caucasus these days) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Caucasus section


New Affiliations

You can now read CS&W as part of Open Salon and we're on, too. I'll share Chapter One of Common Sense and Whiskey, the book (,, Kindle), at both places today.

Meanwhile, later today we'll publish Chapter Thirteen of Common Sense and Whiskey, Tibet, here on the blog.


Big Displays Up North

The big blast from the sun on Thursday, known scientifically as a coronal mass ejection, may bring some excitement for skywatchers today and tomorrow. Having stalked the aurora last month in Lapland, I can testify that it's a thrilling, thrilling moment when you spot the beginning of a display.


Just on the off chance that you can't travel to the far north tonight, here are a couple of web resources: AuroraMAX, from the Canadian Space Agency, has a live, 180 degree view of the sky over Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. And I learned something in Lapland – use Here's its aurora gallery for this month.

Blog Recommendation

Got a blog to recommend, from a fellow named Jake, who's working his way around the circuit in Cambodia right now. His blog is called My Alternative Life. I've put a link in the sidebar on this page under "Worth Your While," because it is.

Go spend a little time with Jake when you get a chance.

Check out what's on his front page right now, for example. Shooting big, swaggery weapons, Angkor Wat and a great, fascinating and very photogenic place, Cambodia's Tonle Sap Lake. What's not to like?

His Tonle Sap experience brings back memories. Here's one of the photos from our visit. Just a couple of guys, standing around, cruising the lake:


CS&W Author Interview

Today published an interview we did for their blog. They asked some stuff we maybe haven't explicitly discussed here on CS&W. Check it out here and let us know what you think. And thanks and good luck, Shane!

Weekend Reading. Pretty Pictures, too

I commend to you my friend, author and traveler Laurence Mitchell's blog, East of Elveden, for weekend enjoyment. As he puts it, he's in, "Petersburg. No, not that one…."

Links for the Weekend

A travel blog centered on Eastern Europe: Argophilia. Note their advice on TripAdvisor.

The people at Anna.Aero have been in touch. It's a site for Airline Network News and Analysis, hence ANNA. (A natural partner for the Airline Route Updates blog. If you've GOT TO KNOW that Eastern Airways is to Start Glasgow – Stavanger Service, or Air Mauritius from 30MAR12 is introducing its 4th weekly service between Mauritius and Mumbai, then Airline Route Updates is for you.)

And most importantly, big big Lakhs for Big Babus.

Common Sense and Whiskey in Award-Winning Company

IgluawardbannerExciting, delightful news: Common Sense and Whiskey has been chosen as an Iglu Travel Awards 2011 winner. It's our second year in a row to be so honored. The category is Travel Stories. Here's how they put it:

"Our dedication to sharing experiences makes this award one of the most important. Here at Iglu, we're absolutely committed to using detailed first-hand reports. However, we've also got to ensure that the experiences are relevant, accurate, up-to-date and interesting, not to mention well-written and well-presented.

There is never a story told that was not worth hearing, especially if it is relevant and might impact on your travelling plans. The last thing you want to do is fall victim of scams or miss out on a possible bargain. You might acquire knowledge from the first hand experiences that will give you the confidence you need to barter, negotiate, and properly explore a culture. First hand experiences allow you to escape the tourist rut.

Our travel stories blogs are detailed enough to capture you're interest, but not littered with arcane factoids like some of the many blogs which didn't make the cut. The Iglu team realises that when it comes to travel stories, some of them are warnings more than recommendations. We've made sure you get the truth about hundreds of destinations worldwide."

Many thanks to Elizabeth and her fine crew at

New Book Review on Amateur Traveler Blog


Thanks to Chris Christensen and Josh Allen for this review, just up last night on the fine blog Amateur Traveler.

-A blunt, dare I say: “Guide Book” into the reality of “Adventure Travel”.

If you love stories about tropical beaches, amusement parks or milky white sandy beaches; then this isn’t the book for you.

Bill Murray takes a collection of his fifteen most memorable trips and opens your eyes to the frequently good, bad, and of course, ugly parts. You’ll find stories which make you ask “Why the heck did he go there?” Only to find out he might have asked himself that once he was there as well. From a hacking woman in a broken down “guide vehicle” in Tibet to an arduous train ride through endless birch forests along the Trans-Siberian Railway, this book is a wonderful insight into the world of “Traveling off the Beaten Path, Road, Waterway, or Train Track”.

I would recommend this to anyone, especially if you’ve never been to these places. It will certainly spark your interest and for most, will add to the places on your list of “places to see.”

Josh Allen

Blog Recommendation

Check out Uncornered Market, a blog by Audrey Scott and Daniel Noll. Good stuff.

Just now, they’re convalescing. Toward the end of a trip to Bangladesh, as they write,

“As I began researching online, I saw photos of cute bungalows in lush green gardens with “breakfast served on the porch” and thought, “I want that.” I want quiet. I want peace. I want green. I want a place where I can read, where I can write. I want to stretch and exercise my body.

We leave for Bali tomorrow.”

I know the feeling. During our three month trip we, too, spent time on a “vacation from our vacation,” just a couple days off the road to mend and gather our thoughts. After one longish trip that ended with a couple of days of bad local trains, we celebrated our own personal Liberation Day in the unlikely city of Ulan Bataar, Mongolia.

But back to Uncornered Market – They’ve traveled this world extensively, the authors have, and I admire and envy them for some of the places they’ve gone to see. Drop by their nicely done site and I bet you’ll spend some time with it.