Around the world in 80 pages (give or take a few)

Monday, November 12, 2007 at 9:11 AM

I usually don't think of winter as a good time to travel, given that it’s snowy or rainy in many areas (Mountain View included!). So I was surprised to find out that many of my friends are going on trips in the next two months. Some of these trips are home to visit family for the holidays, but some are to far-away locales like Japan, England, Ireland and Russia.

My own recent trip to Germany for the Frankfurt Book Fair showed me that traveling to a foreign country where you don’t speak a word of the language can require some major preparation! Walking through the stalls and checking out travel guides from publishers like Penguin, Insight Guides and Lonely Planet, I noticed that each guide seemed to cover something the others hadn’t. It struck me that browsing a whole range of guides is a great way to start getting to know a country.

My next vacation is in St. Petersburg, Russia, so after I got back from Germany, I decided to check out a bunch of guides to the city using Book Search. I already have a guide from Insight Guides, so I looked at the other offerings, like this Lonely Planet guide, which has a nice overview of the city’s history, culture, and popular activities, and this Frommers guide, which has more practical information about getting around the city. (Thanks to the "Places mentioned in this book" feature, I was also able to see interactive Google Maps with markers for each city mentioned in these guides!)

In addition to current guides, I found an unexpected public domain gem: Through Russia – a book of travel notes published in 1874. I imagine that the St. Petersburg of today is much different from the one depicted in the book. Certainly, things like fashion and modes of transportation will have changed radically, but what about less tangible things, like the culture? I'm planning to see if my impressions jibe with those of author Katharine Blanche Guthrie.

If you're going on a trip, I recommend giving Book Search a try. Even if you have only a short stay and limited time to absorb the culture, books can give you great insight into the way people do things. You might even find yourself responding to such phenomena as Russian morzh swimmers and Japanese Noh theater with an inner smile, thinking, “Ahh -- I get it!”


No comments: