Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Book Reviews: Fodor's vs. Frommer's Ireland

Three years ago, when I first got this wild idea of going to Europe, I bought a pair of touring books on my family's ancestral home of Ireland. This year I finally found the cash to make the trip happen, so I broke down and read as much of the Fodor's and Frommer's guides as I needed (i.e. the places where my planned tour are scheduled to go).

I read Frommer's first. Their content is organized approximately geographically, starting with Dublin and working around the island more or less clockwise. It has several redundant maps for each area: one being a hotel map, one being an attraction map, one a restaurant map. Frommer's lavished a great deal of attention on the various pubs in Ireland, one of my favorites being the Ronald Reagan in Tipperary. One thing, I suppose, that Frommer's lacks is a literary link between locations. Each attraction, hotel, restaurant, and pub is given its own detailed blurb, and of course its own number on the map (thus the need for separate maps for each type of location). However, there's not much in the way of context in the writing. A pub could be right next to a museum, or it could be across town. It's hard to tell just from the blurbs, so you have to keep flipping back to one of the maps.

To this end, then, Fodor's has the advantage over Frommer's because it has much better narratives for "suggested itineraries." For instance, the book gives one-, three-, and five-day suggested itineraries, explaining in text how to get from point A to B to C, including places to stop along the way for food or beverages. Their maps, then, include both attractions and restaurants, and so are not broken up by subject matter. This combination keeps things in perspective and avoids redundancy.

Both books have explanatory histories at the back that provide details on Ireland's history, from prehistory to "The Troubles" and beyond. They also provide detailed information on prices, customs, web sites, vital phone numbers, etc. I didn't find one book with more advantages than another. However, Frommer's had a more general section up front, while Fodor's provides this information by region. I probably learned more about Irish history from these books than I ever learned from my family--which I guess shows how important "the old country" was in our home.

So for my money, Fodor's works better. I'll be interested to see how they handle France and Italy.

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