Monday, January 21, 2008

Guide To Nowhere

My selection of guidebooks: Lonely Planet Moscow, Insight Moscow, Knopf Mapguides Moscow, Michelin Paris, Rick Steves' Paris and The Little Black Book of Paris.

The problem with travel for me is that I absolutely hate doing all the planning. Why can't my personal assistant just take care of it for me and I can sit back, relax and be comfortable in the knowledge that someone else is doing all the hard work for me? Live would be so much better. When it comes to booking travel, I'm horrendously late about doing it. I put it off and off, until I reach the point that I absolutely have to make it happen. Then, it's a mad scramble but, miraculously, it always comes together - even if there is only just a few hours to spare.

Every year, my parents invite me to come along on one of their worldwide excursions. The locales they visit are exotic places like Morocco, Spain and other distant points in Europe and the Mediterranean. It's hard to say no - especially since a tour with them means that my pocket stays full. But they're of an older generation that enjoys traveling in groups. They like to have a group of friends as travel companions, and groups mean itineraries - and intineraries that include bus tours and crowds of other tourists are not that appealing to me.

When I visit a new city, I like to go and just hang. Cruise the streets and see the people. Try to get a feel what it would be like to live there. Of course, there are times when living like the locals isn't necessarily in the best interests of personal health - like the 2001 EDSA II Revolution in Manila, or the 1999 7.2 Richter Earthquake in Manila, or the simmering eruption of Taal Volcano in Legazpi City that same year, or the terrorist bombings in Manila in 2000. Hmmm, perhaps there's a reason why I haven't been back to the Philippines in seven years.

Anyway, I enjoy just checking things out. Without a strict itinerary of "must sees." Sure, I've made the time to journey to the St. Louis Museum of Art, or the MoMA, and I've gone to long lengths to visit Tokyo Disneyland and Chichen Itza. But what I really want to do is just cruise around and do not much in particular.

And travel guide books seem to just suck at helping you do just that.

Lately, I've been prepping (not too seriously, mind you) for a trip to Moscow and Paris. A trip whose flight booking will have me departing Dulles in Virginia with stops in Frankfurt, Warsaw, Moscow, Copenhagen and finally Paris. From there, it's back to Frankfurt before returning to Dulles. In other words, I get a cheap, whirlwind tour of Europe on the way to Moscow and Paris. Maybe there will be some cool things to see at the airports.

My friends are planning the trip to Moscow, which works fine for me since I hate to plan. I just arrive, check into my hotel and they're taking care of the rest. Mindless. I kind of like that sometimes.

Paris is different. I'm on my own. I will have to seek out my own adventure. Many friends have stated that I "must see" The Louvre. Frankly, going to a very large museum that costs a bit of money and may be overrun with tourists smashing to see the Mona Lisa does not sound appealing to me. Modigliani? Yes. Ethnographic art from the South Pacific? Yes. But, do I want to go through the hassle? I'm tending on the "no" side of the equation.

I want to wander the streets, drink coffee and eat baguettes while smoking cigarettes (I can start) in a sidewalk cafe, speak atrocious French to Parisian women who might find that endearingly attractive, tour the markets, but it seems that the guidebooks I've sourced are more concerned with telling me about the history of the city and all the "must see" places to see.

What I want to know about both cities is where to stay and where to eat. Guide books are terrible at this. The Insight City Guide to Moscow gives great insight on the neighborhood attractions but places to stay and eat are minimal. It's irritating. The notion of lugging this 1-2 pound book around the world that doesn't tell me where to eat is just puzzling.

It's a poundage game with me since I'm too cheap to buy a roll-on for my computer case and insist on my nine-year-old Tenba shoulder bag. Every ounce weighs on me and I'm careful with what I bring - especially since I'm expecting to bring home more than I left with. So far, on an ounce to info ratio, the Knopf Mapguide Moscow is the best bargain. Just a slim, lightweight book with maps of Moscow and little tidbits on places to visit in each area. Minimal. Light. I likey.

The Little Black Book of Paris is also a small, compact book that's wire bound to make it easy to hold open to the right page. The descriptions are concise and it looks to be a decent book. To be honest, I bought it because it just looks sexy. Leather bound with a black band to hold it closed. Nice. It will probably be the book I end up taking with me.

But all of this thinking is just too tiring for me. Perhaps I should hire a personal assistant.

Or maybe I can find a French girl who will pity this wayward traveller and tour him around her town...


true said...


Did you get my email on Paris? I'm having email relay problems and I wasn't sure if it sent. Additional info: spend a day wandering in Montmarte, but think twice before staying there. Given my own interests, I skipped the Louvre and spent entire afternoons in the Centre Pompidou and Musee de Orsay instead. Both are fantastic, but the Pompidou requires at least three times the length of visit. It's also worth it to eat at the Restaurant Georges at the Pompidou, at least for lunch. For just wandering around, I really enjoyed the neighborhoods around the Luxembourg gardens and the University of Paris.


onocoffee said...


Yes, I did receive your email and now that I am definitely going (just booked the tix), I will be seriously reviewing your notes. Thanks!