a weekly column by Robert Westbrook
Lonely Planet Guide Books
few years ago, my wife and I arrived in Bucharest from Bulgaria by
train on Christmas Eve without the benefit of my passport -- a careless
official at the Romanian border had taken it into his office and forgot
to return it to me when the train started up again. I knew I was in
big trouble. Rolling into Bucharest, we were met by the Chief of Police,
a man with an ironic smile and a trenchcoat who looked almost exactly
like Anthony Hopkins, the actor. From that point on I figured we were
in a movie . . . hopefully a movie with a happy ending.
did we get out of such a fix? Well, Anthony Hopkins, bless his soul,
turned out to be a most civilized chief of policeman with a good knowledge
of French, which my wife, Gail, also happens to speak. One of his
detectives very nicely changed some American dollars for us on the
black market, since all the banks were shut, and from there we were
in the gravy: We had come equipped with a copy of the Lonely
Planet Guide to Eastern Europe, chock full of maps and vital information,
including telephone numbers, addresses for various lodging choices
and restaurants, and prices we should expect to pay. By the time night
fell -- and a cold, snowy night it was! -- we were comfortably ensconced
in a guest room in an apartment owned by an enterprising Bucharest
woman, who cooked a five-course dinner for us complete with Romanian
So you want to vacation this year in Antarctica? Yes, Lonely Planet has an Antarctica edition. Or perhaps you just want a Tibetan phrasebook -- they have that as well. Or maybe what you want is "Trekking in the Karakoram and Hindukush," or "Walking in Ireland," or "Bushwhacking in Australia." To some extent, the Lonely Planet books have changed the world, making once-obscure places accessible to the traveling hordes. On New Years Eve of 2000, the millennium bash, Gail and I happened to be in an oasis in the Sahara Desert -- the Siwa Oasis, a very beautiful place where we had been lured by the Lonely Planet Guide to Egypt . . .only to find lots of other foreigners like ourselves, wandering from hotels to restaurants to ancient monuments, all of us with the same traveler's bible in hand.
The Lonely Planet books always start off with a history of the place where you happen to be, whether it's Beijing or Boston, and then go on to give you information about required visas, transportation, culture, museums, food, lodging, language, dangers, even what sort of electrical current you will encounter in order to plug in your laptop or razor. In my experience, it's fun to go it alone, without a tour guide, to be free to explore on your own, and the Lonely Planet books make this possible. Generally, the prices are a bit out of date with every guide book I have ever encountered, but this series will give your some parameters and set your feet in the right direction. In the end, getting lost is half the fun, but with the Lonely Planet you are at least likely to be found again.
So go for it! The world is your oyster!
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