Book Review: Experience USA, by Lonely Planet

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_experience_USAThis Lonely Planet book sets out to entice visitors to the USA, a country surely in need of someone to look at it through a happy lens to counteract the doom and gloom we hear about it daily. The introduction portrays the USA as a land of ‘hope, potential and opportunity’ where most everyone has a job, loves small talk, watches sports, and spends their leisure time going on fishing trips or attending school reunions. Conversely the authors also note that life in modern-day America is’hard and not always fair’, although the book provides little explanation as to why this may be. Granted, a travel guide is rarely the place to provide deep insight into social, cultural or political change.

This book offers interesting information and observations, many eye-catching images and detailed maps of some areas – although you may have to wade through extraneous material to find them. It piqued my interest in travelling to some of the states I’ve not yet seen, as well as to attractions I didn’t know existed.

The authors’ patriotism shines through loud and clear: ‘We,’ they trumpet, ‘have always
been a nation focused on betterment…[striving] to be better, bigger, bolder.’ You’ll also have to tolerate some cutesy wording: ‘Tornadoes can go wherever they darn well please…’ and some mind-bogglingly odd questions: ‘Are we a melting pot of cultures…a mosaic…or a tossed salad?’ You may also have to take some of the advice with caution, such as the suggestion to use pepper spray to deter a charging bear.

I found the book somewhat hard to navigate. Page 21 has a map depicting all 50 states, paired with a list of key experiences region by region. Yet the book is primarily structured not by regions, but according to the ‘behind the scenes workings of US culture’. The sections are titled – rather vaguely – as Big & Bold, Americanarama, Melting Pot, Innovation & Creation, and Surprising Experiences. Although the large subheadings within each section indicate what is covered, you’ll need to consult the index if you want to zoom in quickly on key areas of interest.

There are suggestions for journeys by plane, rail, and car – and also by riverboat, cycle and cable-car, and on foot. More adventurous travellers will find information about mountain trails, caves, caverns, tunnels and white-water rafting. The suggested itineraries cover not only main routes but also lesser-known detours. Festivals, conventions, competitions, rituals and celebrations are also described. As some sights or events take place during particular months or seasons (for example, whale watching, Coachella, bat swarms) the book recommends the best time of year to show up.

If you like quirky attractions the book will help you to locate unusual places to visit, such as the American Museum of the House Cat (North Carolina), the Lunchbox Museum (Georgia), or California’s International Banana Museum. There are directions to the world’s largest chainsaw in Michigan, and the two-ton, 20 foot long, beady-eyed killer bee modelled on the bees that terrorised Texas in 1990. Lost your luggage en route, or fascinated by what others have mislaid? The Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama, sells items that travelers have left behind.

Historical events are covered too, such as the Salem Witch Trials and the associated museums and memorials. It’s disappointing that the index does not consistently include reference to people or places of significance, even if they are referred to in the text. For example, there is no entry for Martin Luther King Jr, although he is briefly mentioned in the book. Nor does the index point to popular tourist destinations such as the White House or Times Square.

Cities such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles are of course featured, however if you are planning to visit them a smaller, more tightly focused guide book will likely offer better value and more detailed information. Curiously, Los Angeles is described as having a ‘gregarious personality’ (although there’s little evidence of this when you’re being interrogated at LAX…).

Unexpected extras include a few recipes – Mint Julep, and Tortilla Soup – as well as an ‘armchair reading’ list for California’s John Muir Trail, and a list of classic films and books set in and around the USA. (Delighted that the fabulous Thelma and Louise gets a mention.)

The book’s subtitle is somewhat misleading, suggesting that it will provide ‘inspiration, ideas and itineraries for lovers of classic cars, barbecue and rock and roll’. Why limit the target audience and turn potential readers away? Although most New Zealanders enjoy a good barbecue, how many of us would see a barbecue as a sufficient attraction to base our holiday around? If that does sound like you, there are a couple of pages devoted to preparing and eating Texas barbecue, described by the authors as a ‘manly meal’ (!). There are even suggestions about what not to wear while eating it, and whether to eat with your hands or a fork.

If you’re organising a trip to the USA, Experience USA will offer you an extensive range of suggestions for what to see and do. Yet the weight and shape of this book make it too big and heavy for most people to take on a trip: it has 316 pages and is almost the size of an A4 sheet of paper. It would be most useful during the planning phase – or after a trip when reminiscing.

Reviewed by Anne Kerslake Hendricks

Experience USA
Published by Lonely Planet
ISBN 9781787013322

Book Review: Epic Hikes of the World, by Lonely Planet

Available at bookshops nationwide.

cv_epic_hikes_of_the_world.jpgThis is the hiker’s fantasy book – packed with mouth-watering mountain, forest and coastal trails that have you dreaming of that next hike and holiday before you can figure out where you last put your boots.

Epic Hikes of the World profiles 50 hikes from around the world, spending quality time with each trail showing us luscious full colour photos, general maps, and details on how and when to go, and how difficult the trail is. What I really like about this book is how the main trail description is written as a story from a hiker who did it – similar to how we hikers share tales with one another of the great trips we’ve been on, picking up on how word of mouth often inspires our next hike.

The Lonely Planet writers/hikers are good at relating tales just the way you’d tell the story at a dinner party – how you planned to do the walk in 3 days but it took you 5 days and why: how you ran into those Swiss tourists and shared a brew overlooking a stunning mountain tarn, or the views you saw when you hit that summit and marvelled at the sheer drop of hundreds of metres.

I’d actually really like to read these trail stories in a small paperpack format and take it on a hike with me, to ponder and delight in those descriptions when I’m out in the mountains and bush.

A few New Zealand hikes make the list – the Routeburn, the Abel Tasman Coast track, and the Cape Brett track. I’m not really sure about the latter, but I guess that a sheep, farmland and lighthouse walk is more appealing to the visitors to NZ rather than for us locals, who see this kind of view most days.

Some of the hikes are more about the history (Hadrian’s wall in the UK), or taking a different approach (heli-hiking in the Bugaboo Mountains in Canada), and there’s even some city walks (Sydney’s Seven Bridges). It’s not always about the mind-blowing views (Four Days on the Alpine Pass Route in Switzerland)… Who am I kidding – it’s always about the mind-blowing views, and the challenge of getting there and having earned it.

It’s nice to see the “More walks like this” follow up detail that accompanies each trip. If you like South African Day hikes, it’ll tell you about 3 more, if the challenge of coast-to-coast hikes is more your thing, they’ll list 3 more you can consider looking into. It’s a nice touch to a nicely put together book. This is one of my favourite Lonely Planet books to date, but that’s because hiking is one of my favourite things.

Reviewed by Amie Lightbourne

Epic Hikes of the World
by Lonely Planet
ISBN 9781787014176

Book Review: London – 24 hours and 160 photos in one city

Available in bookshops nationwide.

London_24hours.jpgLonely Planet continue to produce superb guides for travellers. Once the basic stuff has been covered (and I have well-thumbed copies of many places in Europe and Asia ) the challenge is to take the traveller aside and tempt them with something else.

In London, the something else is to revisit old favourites and discover new treasures. Both photos and text capture another view of the city and enable the traveller to stray behind the scenes. While some of the more familiar places are included such as Kew Gardens, Battersea Power Station etc, the text and images give a slightly different perspective. I loved the 8am section on the full English breakfast. Here we see local pensioners catching up at Formica tables while eating the traditional fare. The text is sympathetic and informative. No judgements are passed on the way of life portrayed. Rather, it suggests that this should be part of your visit and allow you to experience a different side of London life.

Another morning activity is swimming in the Serpentine. This is a long held tradition but as the temperature never exceeds 15 degrees, I suspect most visitors might pass on the opportunity. I sent some suggestions to my nieces who live in London. They tracked down the Nomadic Community Gardens and enjoyed meeting a Kiwi who has a regular plot there.

This book could easily be another coffee table treat, but I think it has more to offer the repeat visitor who desires a little more from their visit. The photos and text work well together to suggest an alternative excursion for the curious traveller.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

London: 24 hours and 160 photos in one city
Published by Lonely Planet
ISBN 9781787013438

 

Book Review: Experience Italy, by Lonely Planet

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_experience-italy.jpgLonely Planet has long conquered the domain of the travel guide, and its well-thumbed tomes appear in the hands of travelers, desperately searching for a particular restaurant or hotel recommended in the aforementioned guide, the world over.

Experience Italy, a new release and part of the expansion of Lonely Planet titles to every conceivable nook of a bookstore’s travel section, is a long way from such humble titles as Southeast Asia on Shoestring. As a hard cover coffee table book, thick with colour images and packed with a dizzying amount of information, it is not one you will be taking on your travels. Rather it is one to dip into at home for a bit of escapism, to be elsewhere – an elsewhere that, as it turns out, might not be akin to actually being there.

The book traverses culture, architecture, food, sport and daily life, presenting a range of potential experiences to inspire the traveler, and ‘to introduce you to the personality and, dare we say, the very heart of Italian culture and landscape’. Images abound – detailed maps, archival photos, glossy landscapes, reproductions of famous artworks, light filtered through lush vines. All invite exploration of the book and evoke a textured, multifaceted Italia.

The extensive material, which includes entries such as ‘Walk like an Italian’ ‘Puglia’s Peasant culture’ and ‘Exploring Sicily’s Market’ is primarily marshalled into sections that are reflective of the ‘themes that season Italian life’ – from ‘The Italian Icons You Already Love’ (histories of the Vespa, pizza, and grape varieties/wines included), through to ‘Treasured Heritage Hill Towns and Harvest’ (featuring, among others, the Slow Food Movement, mosaics and Shakespeare’s Italian Plays). There are also sections on the big hitters: Rome, Florence, Milan, Naples, Venice. You can follow circuitous routes through the book by heeding the cross references, which then lead you to stumble upon others. It is a self-confessed ‘scavenger hunt’.

This labyrinthine method can seem confusing at first, and irritating if you did just want to read by area without having to continually look things up, but this is a book to read at home. And perhaps this approach is more reflective of how we experience and discover a place – haphazardly, in parts and without ever conquering the whole. And there is something to be said for the pleasure of chance discovery, for being exposed to ideas that would never had occurred to you to look up in the first place.

Yet Experience Italy, which champions the offbeat, cobbled paths, cliff-hugging towns, rolling hills and hidden secrets, risks branding experience. We are advised to eat that ‘last, lingering gelato on the steps of the Duomo’, look ‘beyond its blockbuster, crown-pulling sights’ and avoid ‘hordes of motor-coach tourists. Rather we should ‘Walk in the oak and chestnut forests of remotest Tuscany, as the autumn mist creeps in’, engage with its ‘Epic art and architecture’, experience its ‘insanely lovely spread of deep-cut, vine-blanketed valleys’.

The avuncular tone, the triumvirate of punchy adjectives so often rolled out to rule over perceptions, and the parade of dramatic verbs set to fire you up can be relentless at times –almost oversaturated. It’s as if a filter (by way of a distinctly Lonely Planet style) had been applied to enhance your potential experience, advising you how to reflect on it. One could be forgiven for wondering how expectations will match reality.

It suggests a consumerist approach to landscapes, culture and climates, pandering to our need for ticking off bucket lists. This is an Italy where everything is incredible, unique and yours for the taking. It is, perhaps, too inclusive, confusing two traditionally opposed ways to travel: heading out on your own and taking the well-trodden path. It is hard to know whether the title is suggestive, inviting or an imperative – a rallying call to the Lonely Planet way of life.

But for all my cynicism, this is a nice book to have within reach of the armchair – it is a pleasure to look through and there is much to glean from it, when it gets down to business and stops playing the hype-man. From tips on the price of coffee through to background information on Lecce’s tradition of papier- mâché statues (which originated in the affordability of the raw materials required) it explains customs, the significance of sites, the history of certain foods – it presents many entry points as to what Italy has to offer.

And it does get you excited and make you want to go. So, read up from the comfort of your armchair and leave the book at home. Love at first sight is promised: ‘We’re not talking a mere flirtation, but a fully blown, red-hot love affair’ but ‘before you set foot on Italian soil and unzip the length of its boot’, perhaps steady those heady expectations and apply some measure to the hard and hyped up sell.

Reviewed by Emma Johnson

Experience Italy
by Lonely Planet, Bonnie Alberts, Oliver Berry, Alison Bing, Abigail Blasi, Cristian Bonetto, Kerry Christiani, Gregor Clark, Douglas Cruickshank, Matthew Fort
Published by Lonely Planet
ISBN 9781787013315

 

 

Book Review: City Mazes – Real Street Map Puzzles to solve from Amsterdam to Vancouver, by Patricia Moffatt

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_city_mazesPuzzle kids of all ages will get into this book.  It’s perfect for anyone who loves to travel – be it in the flesh or only on paper. Although, I have to say, if you own a Sat Nav, it’s pretty accurate. The book is a collection of 30 ‘iconic city’ street maps re-engineered here and there to a create fun, challenging and beautifully illustrated activity book. Puzzle designer Patricia Moffatt, with the help of illustrators company Racket, has taken aerial photos of a number of major cities and redrawn the streets with tiny little embellishments to create her mazes. Sometimes this is a simple line closing a street or in the case of Paris, directing the journey underground through a tunnel or over a bridge.

Whilst puzzlers draw along the with ‘paths’ their pens pass famous sights like the Eiffel Tower and Empire State Building. Added to each page are features of each city, with dialogue to explain and even hyperlinks. Each maze also reveals hidden gems like markets, or unique shops and art galleries, eateries and other tourist spots from those in the know. After all this is a Lonely Planet production, the book producer that once prided itself on giving the inside information for all travellers. The links might be a bit of a clue to that, too.

Given the liberal placement of images of vodka, beer, wine etc, and mentions of bars and restaurants I’m not really sure this is a children’s book. But, on the positive, kids of all ages will appreciate the clean, almost cartoon-like images.

vancouver_imageAre the mazes easy? Well, not for me. I had to backtrack several times. I got a bit distracted by all the text on the sides of the main puzzle, which was interesting. But that didn’t stop me. I got there, probably about 2 hours after my 9-year-old who was intent only on solving each level. She didn’t read the text at all. No matter. Maybe on the second round. There are 30 puzzles to re-solve. (I shouldn’t have fretted, either.  The solutions are in the back.)

This is one of a series of books that run alongside the theme of mazes based on maps and geographic locations. The artwork has a nice muted but classy feel, being printed on good quality heavy paper. According to the inside sleeve, the paper stock is endorsed by Forest Stewardship Council, an independent, non-governmental, not for profit organization established to promote the responsible management of the world’s forests.

The cover has a satisfying three dimensional quality to it. Definitely worth a look as good gift choice for a unique recipient who has everything or nothing like this.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

City Mazes – Real Street Map Puzzles to solve from Amsterdam to Vancouver
by Patricia Moffatt
Published by Lonely Planet
ISBN 9781787013414

Book Review: The World’s Best Bowl Food, by Lonely Planet Food

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_worlds_best_bowl_food.jpgThe World’s Best Bowl Food is a salute to comfort food found the world over. Bowl food is undergoing a revival. You can spot a million #powerbowl posts on Instagram, and for many people it’s all about what superfoods you can pack into the bowl.

A little research from Lonely Planet found that the original bowl food is all about comfort – there’s a reason why each ingredient finds its way in there, and it’s because it’s delicious, reminds us of home, or tradition. As the Foreword says, ‘some of the world’s most beloved dishes – macaroni cheese, Vietnamese pho, and Japanese ramen have transcended their local roots and become transcontinental comfort foods.’

I’m a foodie and I loved this book. There are lots of different takes on old favourites of mine (nasi goreng, ceviche, chilli con carne), recipes I’ve always wanted to try (pho, jambalaya, any Asian flavours in a soup-food-bowl), and loads of exciting new recipes with flavour combinations or ingredients that tickled my fancy.

I tried my hand at the intriguing-looking Chia Pudding from Central and South America.  Chia seeds have a delicate, nutty flavour and have a great capacity to absorb liquid. They’ve now made their way into kitchens and supermarkets around the world, and this has to be the easiest recipe out there. Mix 2 cups of natural yoghurt with half a cup of chia seeds. Leave for 4 hours. Serve cold with maple syrup or honey, and toasted flaked almonds and berries – or whatever you have to hand.  Delicious!
Chia Pudding.jpg

I also tried the Quinoa Stew. I liked the look of all the flavours, as well as the fact it didn’t take long to cook on a week night. It was super-tasty and the leftovers froze well for delicious work lunches.

The book layout is great – an attractive photo for each recipe, an interesting note on origins and history, and essential for the foodie – tasting notes. The book is sectioned out into bowl food types: breakfast bowls, dessert bowls, soups, salads and healthy bowls, stews and hearty bowls, and rice, pasta and noodle bowls. There’s also a difficulty guide for easy, medium or hard which is handy for the time-conscious, or when you miss that part of the recipe that says simmer for 3 hours and its 8pm already.

Quinoa Stew
Food and drink is a huge part of the travel experience and the memories we have of our adventures overseas. Travel guidebook publisher Lonely Planet launched this new ‘Lonely Planet Food’ imprint in 2016 and it’s great to see such a quality range of books for the foodie or the keen traveller.

The imprint houses titles from the Lonely Planet World’s Best series such as The World’s Best Brunches, The World’s Best Spicy Foods, and The World’s Best Superfoods. The Lonely Planet Food logo can also be found on the From the Source series which introduces food lovers to local dishes from around the world and to the cooks that have perfected them.

We raise our bowls to you Lonely Planet Food, keep these books coming!

Reviewed by Amie Lightbourne

The World’s Best Bowl Food
by Lonely Planet Food
ISBN 9781787012653

 

Book Review: Epic Drives of the World, by Lonely Planet

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_epic_drives_of_the_worldI’ve long been a fan of Lonely Planet publications, especially since they have included New Zealand in their reviews of great places to see and visit.  This book is no exception.  Epic Drives of the World contains three drives in New Zealand, in both the North and South Islands, and the very first two page illustration is of a VW campervan parked overlooking a portion of the East Coast somewhere in our beautiful country.

Fifty drives are described in detail with photographs of the terrain traversed, covering all parts of the globe from Africa and the Middle East, through the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania. The drives are graded from Easy through to Epic.  And an added bonus is a feature which gives information about similar drives to the initial one being described.  For instance, even though only three major drives are featured here in New Zealand, the index in the back of the book has the information that there are eleven routes covered somewhere in the book describing drives in Central Otago, the Kaikoura coast, Southern scenic route, thermal hot spots and Waiheke Island to name a few.

An indication of the extensive research which has gone into the book is the description for the Pacific Coast Highway.  To quote: ‘New Zealand’s indigenous Māori culture, coastal scenery and Art Deco design combine in this off-the-beaten track journey around the country’s Pacific Ocean coastline. Start at Whakatane, one of New Zealand’s sunniest cities, and the departure point for boat trips to Whakaari (White Island), a sulfurous active volcano off the coast.  Nearby Ohope is close to the protected wildlife refuge of Moutuhora (Whale Island). The remote region beyond Opotiki around NZ’s easternmost point is steeped in the traditional ways of the Ngāti Porou iwi (tribe), with local Marae (Māori meeting houses) displaying beautiful wooden carvings.’

Napier-Napier-s-art-deco-architectureAlongside this description (reproduced in part) is a full page colour photograph of Napier with some of the Art Deco buildings and its white sand beach.  This drive was in the ‘More Like This’ section which follows many of the harder, epic drives throughout the book.

The book is a visual feast, being A4 size with a hard cover, and containing many photos and colour illustrations.  Little maps are at the beginning of each main drive showing where they are in the country represented, and each drive has the starting location, the end point, the distance covered, how to get there and, in some cases, what to take, when to go, where to eat, and websites to connect to for further info.  It’s packed full of information about the countries visited, the wildlife to watch out for and some history or relevant information about the country.

Epic Drives of the World is a real cracker of a book which would delight all sorts of readers, from the die hard adventurer through to the stay at home imagineers.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

Epic Drives of the World
by Lonely Planet
Published by Lonely Planet Global
ISBN 9781786578648