In Praise of the Travel Guide

Travel guides

It was recently announced that the end for the noble Travel Guide may well be nigh, as Lonely Planet books sales begin to plummet beyond ignorable levels (money-wise, think lots).

I must admit, I was deeply, deeply saddened by this announcement. Call me old-fashioned – a teenage boy recently asked me, if I was a journalist, did that mean I was into pen and paper and all that? – but there is something about the rectangular shape in the pocket of your rucksack that is impossible to replicate on the screen of your phone or iPad. Although it looks like the General Public disagree with me, I simply cannot swap my too-well-thumbed Lonely Planet for Google Maps and Trip Advisor.

Would Lucy and George of A Room With A View have realised their love for each other without their shared passion for their Baedekers (iconic travel guide of the 1900s)? Would my bizarre light-headedness in Santa Croce have worried me so little were it not for my Travel Guides supplementary ‘fact of the day’ style explanation of ‘Stendhal’s Syndrome’, the fainting fits experienced at Santa Croce, caused by an overwhelming density of masterpieces in such a small space? And, most important for students, would my living costs have been nearly so cheap had my Lonely Planet not warned me that the restaurant in which I planned to go for dinner would cost upwards of €200 a head?

On a recent trip to Florence, the first thing I did after checking in to my questionable hostel was toss my rucksack on the bed and pluck out my battered Travel Guide. And what, dear readers, did it have to offer me? What did it wisely suggest that I did with my precious first few Florentine hours?

Unwind on your own square metre of the acres of grassy banks in the city’s many breathtaking gardens (maps and prices all detailed). Stave off the travelling fatigue by watching people who are definitely more tired than you during a visit to the Oltrarno region – artisan central. Make like a true local and pop into an Enoteca (wine bar) for a gigantic glass of the good stuff and free nibbles. And, come sunset, wander (ok, pant) your way up to San Miniato Del Monte, the church on the hill that overlooks a panorama of the whole city, and watch the sun go down.

Because, tired and clueless, and in desperate need of an English cup of tea, heeding the wisdom of my Travel Guide was the only remedy that managed to encourage me to immerse myself in one of the world’s greatest cities… without a moment’s nap. And, still a bit tired, and (probably due to the wine) still rather clueless, I staggered and panted up to San Miniato Del Monte, as it suggested, and watched the sun set over the sleepy Arno, absorbing the breathtaking spread of my new surroundings. Easily the best memory of my entire time in Italy. And, on the steps of the Monte, awaiting the sinking of the sun, were another 40 people, And, despite my cynical cries of ‘Bravo! Same time tomorrow?’, I couldn’t help feeling at one with my fellow sunset spectators. After all, their very presence meant they had clearly all read their Lonely Planets too.old and young, coupled and alone, local and tourist. As the sun vanished at blink-at-your-corkscrew-and-you’ll-miss-it speed, everyone joined together in a gentle applause, congratulating the sun himself for the hardest and most glorious part of his day’s work.

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