Saturday, March 01, 2008

More Trip Planning, Book Review: Frommer's Europe

I might once again be whittling down my list of destinations. This is not entirely a bad thing. If my stay remains in the 15-17 day range, I can give individual locations more attention and walking time than I would if I did a tour that crammed 10-15 destinations in the same amount of time. So right now an even-more-pared-down list of destinations would look like this:

  • Dublin
  • Paris
  • Avignon--this is a change from Bordeaux or Lyon--more on that below
  • Venice
  • Rome

This really is cutting things down to size, but with an average of three days per city (shorter in Dublin and Avignon, longer in Paris and Rome), I can be more leisurely in my venturing. So, given that reduced list, I decided to pick up Frommer's Europe to get suggestions on what to do at these various destinations.

One thing I decided, based on my reading of London, was that I might be better off heading to Dublin directly. Not that I disliked London when I visited 20-odd years ago, but there were other, new things I want to do more. And the hotel rates were just insane. Each nation's section is broken down into an overview, places to stay, places to eat, and sightseeing suggestions for various lengths of stay. I loved it when the book chastises the reader for spending only one day in Venice: "Apologize to yourself for spending only one day and promise to return."

Something the Frommer's guide does not do--and given the size and complexity of its subject matter, perhaps it can't--is provide details for every city or area in every country. London's section, for instance, recommends hotels only within the city proper, and ignores B&Bs, such as I stayed in back in '86. The section on France did not cover anything in Lyon or Bordeaux, two of my "wine country" destinations, but they did have a section on Avignon, which has both history and wine touring available. The section on Venice provided hotel locations only on the islands, where a friend told me not to stay, and ignored the mainland, where I was advised to go. So: another book or some other websites are in order.

I would say that the Frommer's guide is good for someone who is, like me, willing to travel independently, but unlike me, is only interested in staying on the beaten path. Odds are, cheaper rooms can be found outside the covers of this book. Mind you, Europe isn't cheap practically anywhere for Americans, with the Euro approaching $1.50 and the British Pound hanging in there at around $2 each. Most hotels in the two- or three-star category ranged between $150 and $400 a night. Absurd, but there it is. So one must go back and review how much time one is likely to spend in the hotel and compare the quality of, say, a one-star lodging cited in the book to a youth hostel one-third the price.

One activity that caught my eye was a Dublin Literary Pub Crawl, which could be great, though I would fail terribly at the trivia questions promised along the way. Despite being an Irish writer (or at least Irish-American), I can't say I've read a lot of Irish writers. Some Shaw, some Swift, very little Joyce. Thus the addition of Ulysses to my reading list.

The big warning I've gotten from all of the various sites I've visited is the need for a money belt, as wallets seem to be a target for street urchins and other unsavory types. It probably also helps not to dress in outlandish, blatantly American clothing, which essentially excludes name brands and bright colors. Not a problem: I've got a lot of dour stuff in my wardrobe. Otherwise, advice from Frommer's is pretty slim when it comes to cautions and warnings. Their advice on when, where, and how to book hotels or other activities is somewhat better. Again, I have more reading to do.


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