Adrift

by Puneetinder Sidhu

44 Reviews
A book surrounded by Lego creations

Review: Adrift: A Junket Junkie in Europe (2010), by Puneetinder Sidhu. Arrangement by Francis Tann. December 2020.

Reading time: 3 minutes

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February 25th at 3:12pm

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The author is not lost.

The back cover copy even says so: "Meet Puneetinder Kaur Sidhu: self-professed travel enthusiast. (...) She is not lost. She is not queuing up to find herself. (...) Nor is she on the path to self-discovery."

Those looking for a 21st century Freya Stark or Anita Conti will be disappointed. Adrift is neither challenging nor transformative, and it's not supposed to be.

Like many people, I enjoy stories of change and growth set during travel - The Departure and The Return as context for The Conflict and The Resolution - but the blurb sends a clear message: Come, Dear Reader, for the candy. Then stay for the candy, because, well... that's all you're getting.

Background on this series is here.

Specifically European candy, which I love. A brief tribute to the comfortable difference of Europe, without tears or catharsis? Yes, please.

The Rules

Sidhu begins the travelogue with her Cardinal Travel Rules.

As someone who travels a fair amount, and spends a lot of time reading and writing about travel, I appreciate her take.

  1. I shall not convert (into Indian rupees and compare prices)
  2. I shall not be guided by tour operators
  3. I shall avoid extreme tourist hangouts
  4. I shall visit no more than one attraction (per day)
  5. I shall not indulge in souvenir shopping
  6. I shall avoid the consumption of fast food
  7. I shall avoid the use of public transport
  8. I shall stoutly resist summer romances
  9. I shall avoid impersonal hotels
A beautiful child proud of his work

It was important to him to get the colors right.

In spite of a few discrepancies - sometimes you just have to take the subway, and I think two attractions per day are fine - I dove into Chapter One knowing Sidhu and I were kindred spirits.

The Trip

The author arrives in Nuremberg and begins planning her trip. She will eventually travel through Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Hungary, Austria, France, and England, staying with friends and family along the way.

Someone introduces her to the mitfahrzentrale, a ride-sharing service which is astonishingly German, even down to the logos, and thus we begin the tour.

If you find the tales of a smart, budget-conscious Indian woman seeing all the highlights of Europe even a little interesting, you'll blow through Adrift like a serving of marzipan and espresso.

From the beginning, the narrative contains everything we expect: linguistic barriers (Turkish men on a train), weird food (Baltic herring that smells like "rotten garbage"), and charming villages (towns "nestled contentedly along narrow winding pathways").

Later, Sidhu takes a tour of the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. She strolls the Strotget (a long pedestrian street with cool shops). She has pastries and coffee. She takes a bicycle tour of Ven, a lovely Swedish island in the middle of the Oresund Strait, where she and a friend enjoy the scenery over a lunch of smoked mackerel and potato salad.

Francis building a special Lego decoration

Hard at work complementing Puneetinder Sidhu's Adrift.

Several Lego bricks connected to create a beautiful abstract object, orange, white, and gray

A horse, with colors from the cover.

And that's just the chapter on Sweden and Denmark.

More of the Same

The book continues in a similar fashion as Sidhu makes her way through Europe, visiting castles, churches, and museums, punctuating her story with historical tidbits, descriptions of delicious food, observations about her friends and the places she visits, and moments of mid-level introspection.

Adrift needs an editor.

As promised on the back cover, there is nothing too profound. No quest for enlightenment. This is softcore European travel porn, and - as someone who has made these trips several times, who has been to many of the places she describes - I couldn't get enough.

Some of the stops

  • Amsterdam: The Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum, windmills, the red-light district, joints in a coffeeshop
  • Munich: The Viktualienmarkt, the Glockenspiel and Marienplatz, Dachau concentration camp
  • Budapest: The Hungarian Parliament, Castle Hill, the Royal Palace, a Turkish bath
  • Vienna: The Vienna State Opera, the Hofburg, Saint Stephen's Cathedral, Schönbrunn Palace
  • Paris: Sacré-Coeur, the Musée d'Orsay, the Champs-Elysées, the Arc de Triomphe
  • London (she's getting tired): Saint Paul's Cathedral, the Tate Modern, Hampstead Heath and Kenwood House, the Notting Hill carnival

Inspired by the Father

The travelogue closes with an unexpected spark of longing.

Hopping off the tube at Euston station, we made our way... to the Tavistock Square. It's a beautifully shaded park... in the midst of which stands a memorial to none other than Mahatma Gandhi. Installed in 1968, it's a likeness of the Father of the Nation seated cross-legged with a shawl draped over his shoulders.

It was such an achingly familiar sight, an image so instant-India. (...) All of a sudden, I missed home. It was time to go back.

And one and a half sentences later, the book ends.

The Mechanics

Adrift needs an editor. Multiple sentences contain awkward punctuation and word choices, as well as unclear meaning, ranging from: "What on earth was that, I recollect asking him suspiciously?" to "Reportedly older than the London Tube, the grimy yellow carriages certainly looked their age, even if the claim was of a more recent origin!"

A brief tribute to the comfortable difference of Europe, without tears or catharsis? Yes, please.

A chapter is entitled Auf Weidershun instead of Auf Wiedersehen, and the author mentions the French king Louis XV when she means Louis XVI.

Gina Says:

  • Wow, that was fast
  • You hardly told me anything about it
  • You liked the back cover copy

While these issues and others tripped me up, I had so much fun living vicariously through Sidhu that I didn't mind. Reading Adrift was like listening to Greatest Hits of [Your Favorite Decade]. They never get old.

Feature or Bug?

The fundamental decision point for potential readers is simple.

Those looking for a 21st century Freya Stark or Anita Conti will be disappointed. Adrift is neither challenging nor transformative, and it's not supposed to be.

An extremely cool abstract Lego horse, matching the color scheme of the book cover

A horse, because "people travel on horses." Francis Tann, December 2020.

If you find the tales of a smart, budget-conscious Indian woman seeing all the highlights of Europe even a little interesting, however, you'll blow through Adrift like a serving of marzipan and espresso.

Click here to list the 44 Reviews which have already been published.

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About

A smiling Francis and me, sitting outside in front of some shrubs

Some basics

A brief biographical sketch

Me on top of a sunny Mt Pilatus in Switzerland, with mountains in the background

Travel

Pardon the saccharine and the obvious, but travel is everything

A couple standing in front of a large Gothic church, on a bridge over the Seine

France

France deserves its own section

Francis, as a two year-old in a car seat, in sunglasses reading a French picture book

Reading

The bullshit of daily life? I'd rather read.

Stage with musicians going at it - they're Gogol Bordello, and they're crazy

Music

Let me take you back

Little boy sitting on a big white bed, looking at a tablet

Television

I watch a lot more television than movies

Live action from a soccer game at Crew Stadium - yellow versus blue

Soccer

The only sport that matters

Ugly photo of a pig knuckle after it's been eaten - really, it looks horrible

Food

As a travel writer, I have to talk about food

Me in an outdoor restaurant drinking from a green coconut with a long straw

Dumb stuff

You will not feel smarter after reading this

Dumpster full of garbage

Minimalism

Trying to live simply

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Other Interests

I've only driven a Ferrari once

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Get off my lawn

A few brief rants

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