In 1984, I made my first trip to Sweden, one of the most beautiful countries in Europe. I’ve been dying to go back ever since to experience more of its culture, people, cuisine and more.

When I saw the book “Tattoos, Hornets & Fire: The Millennium Sweden Photographs” and its superb photographs, which reveal so much about this magnificent Scandinavian gem, I knew I had to move my return higher up on my “To Visit Soon” list.

The name of the book itself is enough to peak one’s interest. It was written by Christopher Makos, an internationally recognized photographer and visual artist and author of more than 15 books, and Paul Solberg, an independent filmmaker, with contributions by Elisabeth Daude.

I think this excerpt from the book, written by Makos, best describes what’s inside: “I have always been fascinated by the Nordic countries … believing that stereotype that the southern countries are warm and romantic and conversely, that the northern countries are cold, serious and aloof. I have come to realize that stereotypes are really of little use to any of us. Funny, because, Stero-Type, to me, means seeing with your two eyes wide open, not shut.”

From the Punjab provence to Tamil Nadu with love

When I said yes to taking a look at “Around India in 80 Trains,” I did so for two reasons. One, everyone I know who’s been to India absolutely loves it; and two, the title sounded like a straightforward “presentation” of the best way to travel through the country.

What I wasn’t expecting was a colorful, whimsical and, yes, sometimes harrowing adventure story in which author Monisha Rajesh tries to reconnect with a country she used to call home. Traversing via Indian Railways–the largest rail network in Asia–on the Chennai Rajdhani Express from Delhi to Chennai (No. 50), a toy train from Matheran to Neral (No. 24) and the Nagercoil Express from Coimbatore to Madruai (No. 11), just to name a few, Rajesh covers an astounding 40,000 kilometers–the circumference of the Earth–up, down and across this country of an estimated 1,241,490,000 people.

With chapter titles like “Bullets Over Brahmaputra,” “City of Gins,” “The Crazy White Man in the Cupboard” and “All Aboard the Insomnia Express,” you know you’re in for a wild ride!

Humor and adventure in Southern England

Cornwall, southern England’s coastal playground, has a very long and storied history. It was first settled in the Neolithic and Bronze ages, one of the most popular sports is surfing, and about a decade ago, the U.K. government recognized the Cornish language as a protected minority language. But whether you knew these facts before watching “Cornwall with Caroline Quentin” is irrelevant–you’re already hooked.

An eight-part travelogue DVD set plus a 12-page viewer’s guide hosted by two-time British Comedy Award winner Caroline Quentin, “Cornwall” offers armchair–and hopefully later real-time–travelers a humorous, insightful and intimate journey made vividly real through the production’s dazzling cinematography.

Presented in the style of American TV travel journalists Rick Steves and Samantha Brown, but with the wit that only a Brit–a comedian at that–can pull off, “Cornwall with Caroline Quentin” brings the sights and sounds, local flavor, eccentric personalities and drop-dead gorgeous landscape more than just to life. I’m pulling out my passport now!

A Picture speaks a thousand words

Words can be truly powerful, but I think images are what really bring them to life. And this is what I found in “China: Portrait of a People,” regarded in some circles as the most comprehensive book of photography on modern China ever published by a single author.

Author and American travel photographer Tom Carter is no stranger to long treks through foreign lands. He spent 18 months backpacking down the length of Mexico, Cuba and Central America, followed by one-year stints in Japan and India. But it is his time in China–where he has lived since 2004–that led to his first book.

Encountering China’s 56 different ethnic minorities, each possessing their own distinct lifestyles, languages and customs, Carter sojourned on a travel regimen that would make even the staunchest of bare-bones adventure travelers flinch. Making do on a very limited budget with only a backpack and digital camera, traveling via the cheapest transportation and sleeping in single-digit dollar guesthouses, he had one goal in mind: to portray China to the West candidly, fairly and objectively.

The book is amazing, encompassing over 800 vivid color photos, and printed in a 6-inch-by-6-inch book that makes the reader feel more like a close friend or relative is sharing vacation photos–a robust 638 pages of them.

Contrary to the stereotypical images of the Chinese people often portrayed in the U.S. media, what’s clear through Carter’s extensive time spent literally living side by side with many a country man and woman is that there are bountiful layers of complexity, joy, history, culture and more to the estimated 1.3 billion people living in the fourth largest country in the world.

Echoes that speak loudly

I saved “Echoes of Earth: Finding Ourselves in the Origin of the Planet” for last, because in lieu of sharing travel adventures and perspectives within and/or about a specific destination or country, the book offers unique aspects about the planet in which we live through a voyage embarked by two women to simply photograph–or so they thought–some of the oldest rock and mineral sites around the globe.

Of the journey taken by authors L. Sue Baugh and Lynn Martinelli, the latter says, “We expected to come back only with images for a photo-essay book. We did not expect to be transformed as artists nor to discover that our human origins lie hidden in the story of the oldest stones. Our bodies carry ancient minerals deep within our bones and ancient life within our human cells.”

The 200-plus photographs in the book are stunning, fashioned to shift a reader’s perspective in passionate and unexpected ways through its 9-inch-by-11-inch format, two-page spreads, foldouts, half pages and cutouts–essentially a visual “flip book.” In the end, the authors say that we can see how “we are all echoes of Earth.”

Lysa Allman-Baldwin writes for numerous online and print publications, including as the cultural travel writer for and as a senior travel writer for, an Afrocentric travel website. Lysa can be reached at