Born in Denmark in 1805, Hans Christian Andersen grew up the son of an impoverished washerwoman and a cobbler father given to daydreaming. The child, often left alone, played with his theater and created stories for his marionettes. At the age of fourteen, he left his home in Odense for Copenhagen, penniless, but convinced he would find a job in the Royal Theater. He was immediately dismissed by the director as being too thin and having no breeding.

Andersen then contacted the Director of the Academy of Music, Siboni, asking the housekeeper at the door for a job singing. Ushered into the living room where the Director was giving a dinner party, Andersen sang a song or two, and immediately endeared himself to the guests. And for the next several months he was given dinner each evening at a different guest's home, until he found the patronage of Jonas Collin, one time head of the Royal Theater, who educated him and supported his earliest travels abroad, beginning in 1831.

From 1835 to 1839, Andersen produced a novel The Improvisatore and wrote several of the tales that were later to make him world famous, including “The Princess and the Pea,” “The Emperor's New Clothes,” and “The Little Mermaid.” Throughout his life, however, he continued to travel, making over twenty-nine journeys abroad. In his homeland and elsewhere in Europe, he is also well known for the books describing these journeys.

Translator Anastazia Little has gathered much of this travel writing, which shows him accumulating ideas for his stories in the midst of foreign settings, agonizing over adverse criticism, and displaying a near neurotic concern for his health—all of which makes for fascinating and entertaining reading.