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  • Come to a different world. Discover rustic, authentic and pristine gems. We connect tourists to localities in more than 160 countries. Do what locals do, eat where they eat and experience the truth of the place you are visiting.

    RICHARD EDER is chief of The Times Paris bureau. By RICHARD EDER

    ”G o with me,” the classical guidebook commanded, calling itself, for that reason, ”vade mecum.” Guidebooks emerged when grand tours began to go under: those arranged in lordly fashion, using servants and letters of introduction, and those carried out more rumbustiously -Dumas brawling through Andalusia, Borrow busybodying his way around what he chose to call ”Wild Wales.” They gave place to the institutionalized timidity of the Victorians, who preferred books to introductions, as being more likely to unite a decent moral tone with thorough instruction. Hence Baedeker.

    Guidebooks have since sprouted in every direction. The heirs to Baedeker flourish: Blue Guides and Nagel’s guides, detailing village by village and mile after mile. They are soberly written and ostensibly without angles or color. Only ostensibly: The notion that the world has an intelligible history that has deposited artifacts that are worth seeing and, furthermore, ought to be seen, is colorful enough these days, if you think about it.

    They are the guidebook as ideal: and also, perhaps as obstacle. They set out a trip as dozens or hundreds of goals, with a notion that traveling does not consist of losing yourself but of keeping yourself in hand. They sharpen the edge of anxiety, as if their main point was not so much to see things as to make sure you haven’t missed any.

    As for seeing, perhaps they do get in the way: they are the anatomical chart of the real object, and a tourist standing in Chartres cathedral and following the ogives in the guidebook is seeing things by a kind of mental black-light that illuminates something indisputably real about the place – but not precisely the thing that makes it worth coming so far to see.

    The travel guide is not simply a book: it is a person, as well. The Blue Guide has been to an expensive college and prefers to be known as le Guide Bleu. Its traveling clothes are well-cut and even if it doesn’t list restaurants it makes a point of going to good, not necessarily expensive, ones. It has been to them before, and is greeted by the proprietor

    Ngel went to a state university where it studied harder than Blue Guide, didn’t have such a good time, but got better marks and a Ph.D. Its clothes come off the rack and wherever it decides to eat, it makes notes during the meal. Blue Guide, Nagel thinks, is a dilettante.

    Neither has much use for Fodor’s, which is noisy and travels with its wife and another couple. (Blue Guide has been known to sneak a Fodor’s in the bottom of its suitcase, though, for a little light reading.)

    Fodor’s has a very good time, picks up a touch of something in Siena that doesn’t last, though, buys presents for the children and doesn’t remember every place it visited.

    A nice tweedy lady of a certain age at the next table is going through Fielding. Arthur Frommer’s Dollarwise Guide has just bought a $600 guitar because they are cheaper here, and you get workmanship. It has an ant problem from time to time owing to the cheese and chocolate in its luggage.

    ”Paris at Night” stays in its hotel each evening reading about it. ”France en Jeans” is the niece of a friend. It did a French civilization summer course at Aix-en-Provence, is heading out to Rennes with a bunch of kids it met, and would like to leave its three suitcases with you for a week or two.

    Michelin is not a person: neither the red one nor the green. It is a universal condition, a flyer’s manual, a navigational chart. What it makes you wonder about, though, is the other hilltop town you pass by on your way to a starred town; the restaurant down the street from the starred restaurant, the hotel across the square from the recommended hotel. Is Michelin economizing a great swatch of the world, putting it aside in a kind of forest reserve so it won’t get worn out by tourists? Such a pristine air these non-Michelined places have, like untracked snow. And the day a shopkeeper tells you about an unlisted restaurant her family goes to, and you go: Is it as marvelous as it seems, or only so for not being written down?

    Traveling occurs between the lines of the guidebooks. But what would we do without the lines to start off from? Guidebooks can replace vision with self-consciousness – for the guide-wired traveler the church’s name exists before the church does – but they also reassure. Most of us can’t tolerate unrelieved strangeness. The thing to do is to leave the book in the hotel room by mistake every third morning, or to read its map backwards and go the other way.

    Anyway, the books have other uses. Anticipatory reading, for instance, for a journey that may take place never, or only years later. To imagine Denmark is a very fine thing: I won’t say finer than going there, but fine in its own way. ”From Horsens to Arhus the main road (A 10) runs past the Yding Skovhoj Hills, the highest point in the whole of Denmark (173 m) on left, and then through Skanderborg, situated on a beautiful lake,” Nagel says.

    Arhus is a sweeping white-walled town with a view for miles. The Yding Skovhoj Hills are emerald green: and Skanderborg Lake is turquoise laced with purple. Later, if I ever go there, who knows what these places will really look like: but they will look better, in any case, because I imagined them.

    Or retrospective reading. After a day traveling to Doune Castle in Scotland, to Balquhidder and Killin, past Loch Tay and under Ben Lawers, and from there to Aberfeldy and Pitlochry. After dinner, Blue Guide tells me of one of my stops:

    ”Gargunnock house (garden open), 3 m. S., is said to have been visited by Chopin, who composed the schottische, the popular scottish country dance, for Miss Gargunnock.” Oh, Miss Gargunnock: I was there too. Britain

    For the serious traveler to Britain, one interested in seeing in detail the great houses, castles, churches and museums that dot every county, the Blue Guides are probably the most complete. They are, however, written in the earnest and humorless style of the Baedekers of old, have no illustrations and contain no information about hotels, restaurants or prices.

    The more practical side of British tourism is covered by three guides that are issued annually: ”Egon Ronay’s Lucas Guide,” ”The Good Food Guide,” and the Michelin red guide. Michelin, in my judgment, is the weakest of the three, except for its superbly detailed city and town maps. ”The Good Food Guide” gives detailed judgments of relatively few restaurants; Ronay covers both hotels and restaurants. If I were buying only one, it would be Ronay.

    For those on limited budgets, two other Ronay guides are indispensable. One covers pubs and the other, called ”Just a Bite,” lists places that serve good, cheap, simple food.

    For those visiting only London, I would strongly suggest the green Michelin guide to the capital. It is packed with historical and cultural information, maps, charts, line-drawings and addresses. Walkers will profit from Anton Powell’s new book ”Londonwalks” (Holt, Rinehart, Winston).

    Among hundreds of specialist guides, I must mention four: Mervyn Blatch’s ”Guide to London Churches” (Constable), Elsie Burch Donald’s ”London Shopping Guide” (Penguin), the Oxford University Press’s handsome illustrated literary guide (for those who would walk in the footsteps of Shakespeare and Wordsworth) and the inexpensive paperback annual called ”Historic Houses, Castles and Gardens” (International Publications Service), the only source of accurate, up-to-date data on often eccentric opening hours.

    Visitors to Scotland would do well to invest in the detailed and comprehensive ”Harper’s Handbook to Edinburgh,” which is available, as far as I know, only locally. R.W.Apple Jr. Ireland

    The Blue Guide contains the most complete information on sights and museums. It is thorough, but a bit dull. For hotels and restaurants, I find ”Egon Ronay’s Lucas Guide” essential. It has a separate section on Ireland that lists all the best places. Fodor’s ”Ireland” is a useful introduction for someone who has never visited Ireland before, especially the general chapters that deal with the literary tradition, for example, or the Irish love for sports.

    A very good specialized guidebook is ”A Literary Guide to Ireland,” by Susan and Thomas Cahill. It was published in the United States in 1973, and is now out of print, but you can buy it in Dublin bookstores. It contains evocative descriptions of the parts of the Irish scene important to such writers as Yeats, Joyce, Swift and O’Casey, and tells the tourist how to follow in their footsteps. William Borders France

    A man on the Paris Metro is reading his newspaper upside down. The fellow next to him says: ”Pardon, monsieur, but you’re reading the paper upside down.” The man looks at him and says: ”You think it’s easy?”

    Seeing France without a Michelin guide is much the same. It can be done, but it isn’t easy. In fact, it’s downright foolish. Most travelers are familiar with the red guide, with its lists of hundreds of restaurants and hotels, but not everyone knows about the green guides and the road maps. The maps, very simply, are excellent, and cover every corner of France. There are 43 of them, so there is no excuse for getting lost. They do not include larger-scale maps of cities, which is irritating, but then the city maps are in the red guide, with special notations on where the best restaurants are to be found.

    The green guides are pocket-sized encyclopedias, and are a necessity for any traveler who wants something more than a tour-bus monologue. There are 19 green guides for France, six of them in English. They are so good that not even the French, who hate to admit they don’t know everything about France, carry them.

    After the Michelin guides, the best book to have in Paris is ”A Touch of Paris,” a guide put together by a group of young Americans who live there. It is sensible, witty and complete, without being outsized. As a bonus, it has superb photographs and great drawings by the French cartoonist Sempe.

    For wine buffs, Alexis Lichine’s ”The Wines and Vineyards of France” (Knopf) is a must. Mr. Lichine provides not only the story of the wines, but also itineraries for visiting the wine regions. Each chapter ends with a list of hotels and restaurants. After 40 years of tramping the wine roads of France, Mr. Lichine has some excellent tips to offer. Frank J. Prial Switzerland

    There are many good guidebooks on Switzerland. Perhaps because I look for the solid information that enables me to decide why, where, when and how best to see what I elect to visit, the Michelin green guide is the one I first pull off my bookshelves to plan an excursion – when I have not left it in the glove compartment of my car. The English version of the Swiss green guide is now almost impossible to find in the shops, but a completely updated revised edition is due out in July, Michelin says.

    Fodor’s ”Guide to Switzerland” has a detailed chapter on each of the nation’s highly diverse regions, as well as more general information about the country. Its easy style makes for summer reading, without forgetting its basic purpose of enabling the visitor to enjoy what Switzerland has to offer.

    For anyone who delights in tramping about a foreign country (as distinct from scaling peaks with guides and ropes), a Sierra Club publication, ”Footloose in the Swiss Alps” by William Reifsnyder, is the ideal traveling companion.

    Another way to get inside Switzerland is to take the advice of Margaret Zellers by going ”The Inn Way” (Berkshire Traveller Press). The author, who seems to have left no stone unturned, tells much about Switzerland and the Swiss in this guide to the out-of-theway places to stay. Miss Zellers has also put together, for the Swiss National Tourist Office, a 32-page handbook, ”The Unique World of Switzerland,” that is available at any Swiss National Tourist Office. Victor Lusinchi Germany

    The thing about guidebooks in Germany is that most of them are written for people going somewhere else. This is understandable, because the Germans are Europe’s most active tourists, and seem to feel comforted by the sense of circumscription that a guidebook gives you, a mirage of order even where you know there might be none.

    That leaves a short shelf of guidebooks about Germany. Do not expect the quirky or gaily idiosyncratic in a country that doesn’t see itself as such. For instance, I like a place called Konigswinter, across the river from Bonn. It’s a hoot: donkey carts, bars, accordion bands, Turkish guys trying to pick up the Dutch girls off the Rhine River day-liners. But do you think there’s a guidebook with even a vaguely apostate approach that might mention it? No.

    So make do. Food: Trust the red Michelin. (The best way really would be to clip out the German gourmet magazines but that’s a chore.) Michelin also does places to stay, if you can follow all those little markings that look like they come from a Monopoly set. Robert Kane’s ”Germany A to Z” (Rand, McNally) also does pretty well on hotels, I think, noting correctly that one place where I had a room for a month rivaled Brandon, Manitoba, for atmosphere. It is clearly not so good on restaurants, with my 1980 copy making no mention of either Aubergine or Tantris, the two Munich restaurants that are the country’s best.

    As for maps and descriptions of things to see, there is the Michelin green guide and Baedeker’s. I think they’re both peculiarly antiseptic – the country is really much more beautiful and interesting than they let on. The Baedeker’s has some good features, including lists of all the golf courses, casinos, zeppelin museums, salt mines and diabetes clinics open to the public. John Vinocur Russia

    For an omnibus guidebook that will steer you to the right trolleybus for Moscow’s Marx and Engels Museum or the tastiest dishes in Uzbekistan, the classic is Nagel’s ”Guide to the U S.S.R.” But at more than 1,000 pages and with a price of $45, this tome may be more than the tourist needs. A good substitute of more limited range is the Blue Guide to Moscow and Leningrad. Victor and Jennifer Louis’s ”Complete Guide to the Soviet Union,” written by a couple who live in a curious demi-monde between the Soviet system and the world outside, is cheaper, almost as exhaustive and in some ways more up-to-date.

    Soviet guidebooks incline to the leaden. But if you’d like a view that’s both sympathetic and readable, hunt up John E. Felber’s ”Tourist Manual for the U.S.S.R.” (International Intertrade). This 220-page paperback is a melange of sensible cautions (”Don’t lose your patience – keep a chipper attitude – avoid arguments”) and dizzying reversals of common experience (”Soviet customs are very lenient with tourist baggage”). With Mr. Felber at hand you will find comfort in the most vexing situations.

    If you’re looking for good food the Soviet Union is not for you. But Lynn and Wesley Fisher’s ”The Moscow Gourmet” will help you to make the most of what there is. The section on ”waiter sovieticus” is probably the best ever written on that ornery species. ”If you scream at the waiter,” advise the Fishers, ”he will probably scream back.”

    For the connoisseur there is nothing to rival Baedeker’s ”Russia 1914,” a classic that has become a rarity even in its 1971 reprint. Here are the sights and sounds of the old Russia, some of them still discernible behind the sterile facade of the new. The images are worth savoring still. John F. Burns Spain

    The choice of guidebooks is a very private statement about oneself. It resembles one’s choice of friends. It hints at economic position, frugality or its opposite, frivolity or intellectual pretension. That said, the snob in Spain and Portugal goes with the classics. The outof-print Guides Bleu, with one volume for Spain and another for Portugal, Madeira and the Azores, remain the scholar’s guides to the nave of every cathedral in Iberia. Where else can you learn that in the 14th century, on the island of Lanzarote, ”the women enjoyed the privilege of polyandry, being allowed three husbands who succeeded each other at the new moon”?

    If the Guide Bleu is for the graduate student of Iberian tourism, the reliable green Michelin guide is for the serious undergraduate who means to get through the Prado in less than a week. Its companion for sleeping and eating purposes, the red Michelin, is idiosyncratically French in its perception that the best food in Spain is served near the French border, in places like Barcelona and San Sebastian. That this is true does not remove the foreign taint. The newly issued ”Baedeker’s Spain” is a relatively serious tour of the main sights, with simple maps and pictures. The traveler who wants to be told to do only a few things in a few places will undoubtedly want Fodor’s.

    The natives use other things. In the capital, for eating, ”Madrid Gastronomico” and ”Guia Gastronomica de Madrid,” and, in the provinces, ”Guia Gastronomica de Espana,” which can be bought at well-stocked newspaper kiosks. The Banco Exterior has just issued ”La Guia del Viajero,” which gives many places to eat and sleep across the country. James M. Markham Italy

    For several years I have been collecting old Baedekers. For anyone who plans to visit Italy, I’d recommend the 1930 editions of ”Northern Italy With Florence,” ”Rome and Central Italy” and ”Southern Italy and Sicily, With Sardinia, Malta, Tripoli and Corfu,” together with the 1927 ”Tyrol and the Dolomites” and the 1928 ”Switzerland With Chamonix and the Italian Lakes.”

    All these travelers’ companions are full of good advice for railroad passengers, and have almost none for motorists, let alone the jet crowd. They recommend hotels and restaurants that are only dim memories, and quote rates that are about one-thousanth of today’s. Yet with all their anachronisms, these red-bound oldies are still most useful for their painstaking descriptions of the enduring sights – the frescoes in the palaces of Tuscany, the panoramas from alpine peaks, the beauty of Lake Como. Their accuracy and exhaustiveness is unmatched by any of the younger generation of guidebooks, including the automobile-oriented Baedeker series that came out after World War II. (True, the current travel literature has the up-to-date listing of hotels and eating places, but for accommodation and food, I’d rather rely on word-of-mouth and advice from local people.)

    Of course, Baedeker frowns on fun in traveling. With a pedantry that comes through even in the English-language editions, the stern taskmaster relentlessly orders his charges to visit the Egyptian-Assyrian collections in museum basements, climb high towers, bribe or bully sacristans into turning on the lights to make musty Baroque paintings visible and to take in the cemetery in Pisa, ”for which 53 shiploads of earth were brought from Jerusalem in 1203.” Without Baedeker I’d never have known. Paul Hofmann Greece

    For travelers who wish to immerse themselves in the layers of culture and history that go to make up Greece, the Blue Guide is as detailed and comprehensive as anyone could wish. Complete with street plan of Athens and maps of Greece and several of the islands, it is a mine of historical information from ancient times to the present.

    Less highbrow, but sufficiently detailed to satisfy most nonspecialist readers, the ”Guide to Greece” by Michael von Haag and Neville Lewis combines historical detail with anecdotes and comments on local customs.

    Also useful and readable is the familiar Frommer ”Greece and Yugoslavia on 15 and 20 Dollars a Day,” by John Wilcock. Mr. Wilcock is helpful in providing additional practical travel information, such as the starting points of buses and telephone numbers of hotels.

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