Comical true life, History, Memoir, Non-Fiction

#305 Educating Alice by Alice Steinbach

Educating Alice by Alice SteinbachSummary

Educating Alice by Alice Steinbach is another one of those travel/life memoirs written by published authors or bloggers that seem to be so popular currently. Other books I would put in this category are Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. Books written by Mike McIntyre also fall into this category.

These types of books are interesting because A) it’s a memoir and memoirs are always neat and B) the reader gets to learn about places they haven’t been to through the eyes of someone else rather than a bland overview from some history or travel book.

This book is about a woman named Alice. She spends an unspecified amount of time traveling around the world learning how to do various things. Apparently she also gets paid for doing all of this. I’m going to have to figure out how she landed this sweet gig so I can do the same. How come I can’t go to Havana? Seriously, who doesn’t want to see Havana at least once in their life?

Each section of Alice’s book is divided by location. The first place she goes it to Paris where she enrolls in the cooking academy at the Ritz Hotel. The Ritz Hotel, not the Ritz-Carlton, or whatever it’s called. We’re talking about the original Ritz Hotel in all its expensive glory. I have never desired to learn how to cook French food. I do like Julie and Julia, but I would rather cook other things. Call me rustic, or whatever. I also can’t have wheat so that kind of puts a damper on all those heavy French sauces and pastries, too bad, so sad. Alice summarizes her entire experience in Paris. She learns to cook, she makes some friends, and she plays at being wealthy by buying wine at the Ritz cafe. I do have to admit that I have never really desired to visit Paris before. About the only reason I would want to go is to see the Louvre, but Alice kind of opened up another view of Paris for me, which sounds much more interesting than people talking about how romantic the Eiffel Tower is.

After that, Alice goes to Kyoto, which I never had a chance to visit while I lived in Japan. It’s quite the shame because Kyoto has such a vibrant history and culture. In Kyoto, Alice learns several Japanese arts flower arranging, dancing and tea ceremonies. She talks to some actual Geishas and learns that the profession is not as illustrious as it used to be. It’s a really neat look at Kyoto.

Next she goes to Florence, Italy. I would also like to go to Florence and see all the frescoes and sculptures by all those seemingly similar named Italian artists. Alice’s description of Florence is great. She learns a lot about the art and architecture of the area. She also learns of a very damaging flood that swept the area in 1966. The people of Florence fought valiantly to save the priceless works of art that call the city of  Florence home. I found it quite touching that rather than looting a flooded shop for the newest tennis shoes, the people of Florence rushed to save the works of art they considered their heritage. Oh, New Orleans, you make us ashamed sometimes.

Alice goes to England, where she does something. This section wasn’t that exciting. I’m having a hard time remembering what she did there. It had to deal with shoes.

Then Alice goes to Havana, Cuba. I would like to visit Havana, if you haven’t guessed already. Because of the way the government has worked in Havana for many years and the way other governments have treated Cuba, Havana has had this ability to develop its culture in something of a bubble. They have their own culture defined in ways by the United States, but not defined by anyone but themselves in other ways. I really enjoyed reading Alice’s descriptions and narrations of her adventures. If I ever get a chance to go to Havana, I’m going.

Alice goes back to France to visit a lot of gardens. I like gardening and all, but I’m totally not into the structured pleasure garden methods described in this section of Alice’s books. It was interesting to learn that there was such a market for olive trees several hundred years old just for people’s flower beds.

Alice then goes to Prague. I would like to go to Prague. She takes a writing class there and that’s about all she does. She does delve into the history of Prague during WWII. Prague was invaded by the Germans in 1939. All the stories of German invasion during WWII seem similar, but each invaded country adds its own feel to the invasion.

Last, Alice goes to Scotland where she works with sheep dogs. Honestly, I would like to visit Scotland, but I don’t want to play around with a bunch of sheep dogs when  I go. I like dogs, I have a dog, but I don’t want to stand around a bunch of sheep and a dog. While reading this entire section I was thinking of the movie Babe, you know the movie with the pig that herded sheep?

What I liked

I really enjoyed reading about all of Alice’s adventures. I know she does have another book that is similar. It was a precursor to this book. I might read it someday if I ever come across it. I admit I am kind of jealous that Alice gets to travel around the world and then write about it.

Attention people who pay other people to travel around the world and write about it, I will willingly take your money and travel around the world, then write about it.

I can tell Alice really enjoys her adventures; it shows in the way she writes about them. I’m glad that she got to have all these experiences then turn them into a book for other people to experience.

What I didn’t like

A couple of sections were kind of boring. I forgot what Alice did while she was in England. I wasn’t overly impressed with her Scotland section or her second France section. All the other trips were pretty good though.

Alice kind of weaves some personal, hopeful romantic relationship in her book. I don’t know if it was really the place for it because this is a travel memoir, but then again, it also adds this personal touch. Elizabeth Gilbert did much the same thing in her book, but she did actually have some resolution in her relationship. The relationship Alice keeps feeding, perhaps one-sided, doesn’t seem to go anywhere. I kind of wanted to reach through the book and be like, “Look either say you like this guy and go move to Paris or Japan or where ever in the heck he lives, get married in Vegas, travel together the end. If that doesn’t work out for you, stop pining over this guy and be by yourself or go find another man. Someone did write a book one time called He’s Just Not That Into You.” The relationship may have actually had more meat than Alice lets on. I can’t see her boyfriend/friend/whatever ok’ing her writing this much about him in her book if they weren’t on good terms.


I liked Alice’s adventures, in Wonderland, no, not in Wonderland, in the world.
alice steinbach, author of without reservations, eat pray love by elizabeth gilbert, educating alice, educating alice adventures of a curious woman, educating alice: adventures of a curious woman by alice steinbach, Julie and Julia by Julie Powell, mike mcintyre
Comical true life, History, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Steinback-Alice

Collected Works, McIntyre-Mike, Memoir, Non-Fiction, social commentary

#211 The Wander Year by Mike McIntyre


I read Mike’s other book about wandering. His other book The Kindness of Strangers: Penniless Across America deals with Mike’s bright idea to travel across the United States without any money. I’ll have to be honest with you, I don’t think Mike is too smart for doing this. This was in the early 1990s so times weren’t as tough as they are today, but still, seriously, Mike, think ideas through before you carry them out.

This book is about Mike and his wife traveling around the world. Yes, Mike manages to find a wife even if he did pull that weird hitchhiking stunt. At the time Mike and Andrea weren’t married yet. So just imagine your boyfriend asks you to travel around the world with him for a year without you killing him along the way.

Things turned out alright for the pair. They planned the trip for months. They budgeted $40,000 for their jaunt around the world. They made charts about weather. They bought plane tickets that were good for up to six months. They took very little in the way of clothing.

On their trip Mike and Andrea visit six continents. They go a of places they have never been and they go a few places they have been before. They visit the South Pacific. They visit New Zealand, which is a place I would really like to go. They visit Bali. They visit India. They visit Nepal. They visit China. They go to Spain and Ireland. They go to Chile. They go to Bolivia. They even get right at the edge of Antarctica while they are in South America.

That is a lot of places to see in just one year. They don’t go home to visit anybody during this time. People do come and see then though along their journey. On several occasions friends and family meet them in various countries for a visit.

There are some humorous incidents. For the length of the entire book Mike complains that Andrea has brought a blow-up clothes hanger in her bag. Mike thinks this is weird and frivolous, but later on, he learns to like the hanger. During the journey Mike and Andrea are accosted by carpet salesmen in Morocco and a couple of other countries. They meet some Unarians in South America, which are basically people who have some sort of religion that involves UFOs.

Mike and Andrea see a lot of beautiful sights. They talk about how New Zealand makes them sick because it’s so perfect.

What I liked: I don’t know how it has come to pass that I have read two books about globe-trotting in very little time. I guess it just turned out that way. I do find it interesting to read about other people’s travels. That way, if you’re planning a trip you can use the recommendations and stories of others to get where you want to go.

Each leg of the trip is divided into an essay. Mike originally wrote these for either a magazine or a newspaper. It’s nice that he bound them in a book. The good thing about this idea is that you don’t have to read this long drawn out section about one country or another. The sections are short and do not take long to read.

The book isn’t actually very long. The e-book version includes either the whole The Kindness of Strangers or a very large sample of it at the back. So don’t look at the page numbers listed for the Kindle version and be discouraged. It’s not really that long.

At the end of the book there is a breakdown of costs. Mike and Andrea spend over ten thousand dollars more than they had planned to. They list what they spend on hotels, air travel, other transportation costs and food. It’s kind of neat to see how much money it took them to get around the world.

What I didn’t like: This is a nice book and all, but some of it really seems in that realm of not-relateable. How many people have $40,000 dollars lying around that they can blow on a trip around the world? If I had $40,000 it would not be spent on a trip around the world. In fact, if most people had $40,000 it wouldn’t be spent on a trip around the world.

For another matter, who quits their job to go on a trip around the world? We’re in the age of keep your job pretty much no matter what. I think people could probably relate more to Mike’s previous trip across the United States without any money than they could to his trip around the world with $50,000 dollars.

I think extravagant travel is probably waning in its popularity. Yes, it’s sad, but people just don’t have that kind of money anymore. Through economic inflation and a terrible job market, people don’t have the money to make those trips to Disney World, let alone a trip to South America. I would love to travel around the world some day, maybe not all at once though. I would rather go in short bursts. I may never have enough money to do that.

Overall, this book is entertaining. It is interesting. I don’t now how Mike and Andrea managed so well on their very long trip. These two are twelve years older now. I don’t know what they find to spend their time on these days.


Comical true life, McIntyre-Mike, Memoir, Non-Fiction, ponder provoking, social commentary

#133 The Kindness of Strangers:Penniless Across America by Mike McIntyre


One journalist gets a crazy idea and decides to hitchhike across the United States without a cent. This is basically what this book is about.

We meet Mike in California. He has traveled the world and decides he wants to do something more realistic, I guess. He gets the bright idea to hitchhike across the United States without any money.

This was in 1994, not yesterday, so nobody get any ideas. This is not a safe mode of travel, ok? Anyways, Mike takes himself and his pack along for the ride across the United States. His ultimate goal is Cape Fear, NC. His journey will stretch ocean to ocean.

Personally, I am not going to pick up a hitchhiker. I’m also not going to hitchhike. I have had to walk many places on foot and I did get a few rides. When I was in college I lived a short walk from where I worked and where I went to school for a while, and some people I knew would stop and pick me up. I knew those people though, they weren’t strangers, ok? I used to get rides from all kinds of people going down the hill to the nursing home. Fellow nurses aides, families of the patients, and even the kitchen staff would give me lifts down the hill, not that it mattered very much, since by the time I got to the top of the hill, I was almost at work anyways.

Mike was brave to do this, but it also could have been a very foolish decision. He relied simply on other people’s’ generosity to get him through his journey. Surprisingly, it only took six weeks. I would have thought his journey would have taken him much longer, but he found enough good people, to pare a trip across the entire United States down to six weeks.

People do try to give him money from time to time, but mostly they give him rides and buy him food. Some people let Mike sleep in their homes and some people tell him to sleep in the backyard. There aren’t too many nights that Mike has to fend for himself in his sleeping arrangements.

Mike makes a note that generally, people who help him out are poor themselves. There are a couple of more affluent people who help Mike, but for the most part, it’s the people on the poverty line, or pretty close, that help Mike out. That is kind of sad. You would figure that the more money a person had, the easier it would be to help a person out. It’s not always true though.

I have met many poor people who will bend over backwards to help a friend or even a stranger, but I have met many other people who live comfortably in their means, who won’t lift a finger to help others. It’s backwards, but that is the way it generally works.

These days a person just can’t go hitchhike across the United States. It’s dangerous. First of all, someone just might run over you. I’m serious. If there isn’t a sidewalk, I am generally not going to walk there because people just don’t pay attention while they are driving. Second of all, someone might murder you. There are plenty of murderers who do what they do and never get caught. That is kind of scary, but it’s life. Third of all, human trafficking is still alive and well in the United States. Yeah, what Mike did was stupid, but you have to admire the guy for having the guts to do it even though none of us would ever do this ourselves.

Mike makes a point to stay clean-shaven the entire trip. He feels people will be more likely to pick him up, if he doesn’t have a big hobo beard. Mike is right. People generally don’t trust beards. We haven’t had a bearded president for some time, a long time in fact. Many people tell Mike that they picked him up because he looked so “clean-cut.”

Another thing that is rather disturbing to me about Mike’s journey is that he encounters so many people who are racist. This was over ten years ago, so people have had some time to lighten up and quit being jerks, but I was still surprised that, even in 1994, he encountered so much racism. It boggles my mind that people still choose to behave like that.

We follow Mike on his journey which seemingly exposes areas of the country where people are jerks. Ok, they’re not entirely jerks. Most people with any sense don’t pick up hitchhikers. The person on the side of the road could be Santa Claus, but it’s not wise to pick him up, because he could also be the Santa Claus Strangler.

What I liked: I do like the acts of kindness Mike was able to find across the country. Some acts were from declared Christians, while other acts were just from kind people.

It is really refreshing to read about someone, in real-life, who takes their time to help somebody else. Most of the time, we hear about people who take their time to hurt other people.

What I didn’t like: I almost want to reach through the internet and shake Mike and ask him what he was thinking. I mean, he was a grown man and all when he started his journey, and honestly, I probably wouldn’t have cared in 1994. There is just something about a person who willingly puts themselves in harm’s way. For example, in South Carolina, it’s not a law to wear a helmet on a motorcycle, moped, scooter, or bicycle. I know right?! That is crazy! I grew up in an area that required helmets. Wear your helmet people! Seriously, it’s only going to help you. Every time a person on a motorcycle goes by without a helmet, I want to roll down my car window and shout at them for being stupid.

MIke put himself in this situation and the reader and everyone else could have said, “I told you so,” had something happened to him. Luckily, it seemed like someone was watching out for Mike on his journey. He didn’t get stabbed, shot, mugged, or raped. There were a few near misses, but Mike stayed mostly intact.

I know I mentioned this before, but it’s still kind of offensive. Mike encountered a ton of racist people, who weren’t afraid to state that they hated anyone who wasn’t white. What makes you that kind of person? I can’t put two and two together on this one. It’s weird, it’s odd, and it’s un-American. Our country is “supposed” to be a country where everyone is valued for themselves and not for their color or ethnic heritage.

Overall, I found Mike’s journey a very entertaining read. It was on Kindle for free, so if it still is, go ahead and snag it up.