Essential Reading: Maps and travel guides
“A guide to hidden corners, little-known places and unusual objects,” says the blurb, nicely summarizing the emphasis of a series of guidebooks which we have recently discovered. Only in Budapest was published in 2006, with author Duncan JD Smith adeptly reviewing 84 offbeat and eclectic curiosities around the Hungarian capital.
Now Smith has followed his Budapest debut with a trio of new titles. Only in Berlin, Only in Vienna and Only in Prague bring a bit of Duncan Smith’s distinctive style to three more central European cities, with in each case 84 hidden gems being unveiled. Clearly there is some magic to the number 84 to which we are not privy.
We learned that a mosque not far from our Berlin home is the oldest in Germany, discovered monster water lilies in Prague and found out about old Turkish cannonballs embedded in the stonework of Vienna buildings.
The internet may have revolutionized our travel planning, but decent maps and first rate guidebooks are still a must. Yet the latter are often not written with an eye for detail, and that’s where the Only in series really appeals to us. The author reveals the entire history of a city and its hinterland through 84 detailed snapshots of the urban landscape, every one of them well worth a visit.
In a way, Duncan Smith’s approach is similar to our efforts with hidden europe magazine—gently trying to get beneath the skin of a place and identifying spots that are genuinely offbeat and not on the regular tourist circuit. And all the better as almost all the “sights” mapped out by Duncan Smith in his guidebooks come with no admission charges.
We are always surprised how many visitors arrive in Europe without a single map in their baggage. On a recent train journey from Berlin to Budapest, we were upstaged by a fellow traveller who enquired whether our journey would pass through Zürich. Fond of diversions though we may be, our regular route from Berlin to Budapest keeps well clear of the Alps.
Maps matter, which is why we were dead chuffed last week when a new edition of Thomas Cook’s Rail Map of Europe landed on our desks.
We really love this minimalist piece of cartography that maps the principal rail routes from the Arctic to Andalucía and the Aegean, along the way exploding the myth that there are no rail routes in Liechtenstein. This map is a gem. Did you know that the railways of Albania are unconnected to the wider world? Or that entire passenger trains are shipped on ferries from Germany to Denmark and Sweden?
We reckon that the Thomas Cook map (and the latest edition of the same company’s monthly European Rail Timetable) are as essential as passport and credit cards on any European trip.