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Was ist das?
FROMMER'S NORTHERN ITALY is a 504 page guidebook with a large, glossy, full-color fold-out map of northern Italy. The book, which is by Eric Sylvers, is a huge detailed effort. The writing is straightforward, and there are no attempts at writing that is cute or coy (there is no, "nudge-nudge, wink-wink" type writing to be found). There are thirteen (13) chapters. The first three chapters are of an introductory nature. The chapter titles are shown below:
(1) Chapter 1. The best of northern Italy;
(2) Chapter 2. Northern Italy in depth;
(3) Suggested Itineraries;
(6) Trentino-Alto Adige;
(7) Friuli-Venezia Giulia;
(8) Milan and Lombardy;
(9) The Lakes (Garda, Coma, Maggiore);
(10) Piedmont & Valle D'Aosta;
(11) Liguira and the Italian Riviera;
(12) Planning your trip;
(13) Useful terms and phrases.
CHAPTER THREE (pages 76-89) shows a full-page photo of the town of BELLAGIO with Lake Como and snowy mountains in the background. Page 81 shows an old stone bridge crossing a sleepy canal in the town of VICENZA. We learn from a map on page 80 that the towns of Brescia, Verona, Vicenza, Padua, and Venice, all occur in a straight line going from east-to-west, and that all are recommended for tourists. Page 83 shows a huge cliff at a place called, CINQUE TERRE, where a sidewalk with railing allows tourists to walk through a crevice carved into the sheer walls of the cliff. Later on in the book where details are provided, we learn that this is actually "part of a popular hiking trail that hugs seaside cliffs, affording heart-stopping views of the coast and of romantic little villages looming ahead (page 448 in CHAPTER ELEVEN). Continuing with Chapter Three, we find a photo of a chef in the town of ALBA, serving white truffles. Since I have training and experience in finding and eating fungi (morels, urnulas, and hen-of-the-woods), I found the disclosure of the "Truffle Town" of Alba to be interesting. At a later point in the book, details are provided of ALBA and its Truffle Festival held in October (pages 392-394 in CHAPTER TEN). We learn of a restaurant in Alba called Piemontese which serves pasta made of barley flour. Pages 88-89 have photos of the snowy Dolomite Mountains, and we learn that the town of Turin was the site of the 2006 winter Olympics, and that a 1-hour drive will take you to the town of AOSTA, described as being in "the heart of the Alps" (page 88). Later on in the book, a section devoted to AOSTA discloses its Roman ruins, an archaeological museum, and give a warning that most hotels require guests to stay at least three days (page 397-404 in CHAPTER TEN).
CHAPTER FOUR (pages 90-177) concerns VENICE. We read that, once arriving at the Venice airport, one needs to take a 20 minute bus ride or taxi ride to get to the ferry boats ("vaporetto") and from there, take the ferry to your hotel. Page 95 shows a photo of a canal in a downtown area, where several buildings have huge domes. The place looks like New Orleans right after Hurricane Katrina. We learn that Venice has six districts: (1) Cannaregio; (2) Castello; (3) San Marco; (4) San Polo; (5) Santa Croce; and (6) Dorsodura. These districts are also shown on a 2-page map (page 108-109) which resembles the landmass to the south of New Orleans, which is criss-crossed with hundreds of bayous (but in Venice, it is canals, not bayous). This map identifies hotels, and an almost identical map (page 126-127) identifies restaurants. And again the same map appears on page 140-141, but this one identifies museums and cathedrals. The book warns the reader that many buildings do not have street numbers, that many streets change names repeatedly, that getting lost is common, that most commercially available maps omit streets, and that the best map of Venice is published by STORTI EDIZIONI.
The photos in Chapter 4 include Piazza San Marco (page 143), which contains Palazzo Ducale, Campanile di San Marco (with elevator for tourists taking you up 318 feet for a view of the city), and Ponte dei Sospri (a bridge that bridges the upper stories of two buildings, where the two buildings are separated by a canal) (page 146). We see a photo of Chiesa di San Salvador (page 152), which is a church built in 1508 that houses paintings by Titian, a photo of a gondola boatyard (page 156), a photo of the "Ghetto" where Jews were once forced to live until liberated by Napoleon in 1797 (page 161), photos of the annual "Carnevale" (pages 165, 167), and a photo of the bombastically decorated LA FENICE theater (page 172).
CHAPTER FIVE concerns VENETO (page 178-230). The topics in this chapter include the cities of PADUA, TREVISO, ASOLO, VASSANO DEL GRAPPA, VICENZA, and VERONA. We read that Veneto contains artifacts of William Harvey (discoverer of circulatory system), St. Anthony, Galileo (you can see his podium at Universita Palazzo Centrate), and Giotto (frescos made during 1303-1306). We read about ancient bronze relics dating from 5th century BC at MUSEO BAILO in the city of TREVISO (page 194-198). We read about a medieval walled village of MAROSTICA, which is 20 miles north of Vicenza, and which has an annual festival commemorating a 15th century chess game between two knights. Near the town of VICENZA, one finds one of the world's most influential pieces of architecture, namely, VILLA ROTUNDA, designed by Palladio and built in 1567. Tourists are allowed inside only on Wednesdays (page 211). We learn that the city of VERONA devotes itself to the operas of Verdi, and that opera season is June to August, where performances are held in an ancient amphitheater.
CHAPTER SIX concerns Trentino-Alto Adige (pages 231-264). The photos include cows by Tyrolean mountains, a castle built in the 11th century containing frescos of battle scenes, where the castle is topped with a wall with spaces for archers to shoot arrows. We learn of a 13th century church (Chiesa dei Domenicani) with a fresco depicting court life, and another fresco called, "Triumph of Death." We learn of a nearby museum that houses a 5,300 year old "ice man" (an actual man) who was discovered inside a glacier. Further on in this chapter, things get more dramatic, and we read about two national parks, Parco Nazionale Della Stelvio and Parco Nazionale di Tessa, which contains many hiking trails and animals (elk; chamois), huge glaciers, and skiing. This part of Italy has a German influence, and the book provides German names for the towns. We learn of a hotel containing frescos of an elephant, because at one time, a 16th century guest marched into town riding an elephant. There are three photographs of the dramatic Dolomite mountains.
CHAPTER SEVEN concerns Friuli-Venezia Giulia (pages 265-282), and brings the reader down from the mountains back to sea level. This area of Italy includes the town of Trieste, which once belonged to Austria. We learn of CAPITOLINE HILL in Trieste, which has many ancient Roman ruins. The book recommends a visit to CATTEDRALE DI SAN GIUSTO, which contains structures built in the 5th and 14th centuries. We learn that admission is free to this cathedral. Those who like to read James Joyce, will be glad to learn that he wrote Ulysses at Caffe-Pasticceria Priona, which is still located in Trieste. The book recommends a mosaic-filled Basilica, built in 313 AC.
CHAPTER EIGHT is about two cities, Milan and Lombardy (pages 283-337). Page 283 has a full-page photo of "Duomo," a complicated looking building resembling Notre Dame in Paris. Construction started in 1386 on Duoma, which is one of the largest churches in the world. We read that Pinacoteca di Brera, built in 17th centry, has the world's best collections of northern Italian paintings, including paintings by:
* di Brera;
Milan also contains da Vinci's LAST SUPPER. Although this fresco has substantially deteriorated, page 298 advises that you need to buy admission tickets months in advance. In contrast to so much of the other material in this guidebook, we learn that Milan has a museum devoted to contemporary works (avant garde furniture, lamps, and photography). Milan also has a museum filed with working models of da Vinci's inventions (Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonard da Vinci). Pages 304-308 disclose high fashion boutiques that sell works of leather, fur, and linen. Located in the town of CREMORA, we find two museums devoted to violins (Museo Stradivariano and Raccolta dei Violini). For tourists interested in being overwhelmed by art, we learn that the town of BERGAMO has an art museum with paintings by Lotto, Botticelli, and Raphael. BERGAMO also has a town square filled with amazing architecture, e.g., Palazzo della Ragione, Torre Cirico, and Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.
CONCLUSION. This book is the result of a massive literary, fact-finding, and photographic effort. I was impressed by the details, such as details of cuisine, details that provide phone numbers for ticket offices, and advice that certain attractions are open for selected days of the week, or occur only in specific months.
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Daniel G. Lebryk
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Was ist das?
Frommer's has a good solid approach to travel books. They are the solid backbone of guidebooks, in my mind sitting exactly in the center between Lonely Planet (focus on inexpensive) and Fodor's. Frommer's Northern Italy is a good guidebook to that region. However, I prefer Fodor's guidebook to this region.
The book is classic guidebook, starting with a sort of sales pitch on the area, what is fantastic to see, and why would anybody want to visit the area. What is not to love about Northern Italy? This region is without compare one of the most incredible, varied areas in Europe - high mountains, beaches, shopping, night life, museums, and food. The book continues with a cultural context of the area. There is a fairly meaty chapter on the history, architecture, art, music, film, and literature influenced by or found in Northern Italy. The last introductory chapter is sample itineraries. Frommer's itineraries are more like 5 cities in 5 days, a little more moving around than I like. I also find that Frommer's over sells some cities or areas. On the other hand, Fodor's recommendations tend to be a little more leisurely and in depth.
There is a new generation of guidebooks that forgoes the large number of pages on hotels and introductions to the culture, but concentrates on the unusual and unique in a city. It is that kind of guidebook that is inspirational and one to carry while walking around the city. The Frommer's generation of guidebooks is packed with so much surface information that isn't necessary while visiting a city that they end up left in the hotel room. This guidebook could be half the weight and still be useful during the trip.
The book is divided into geographic regions. Frommer's tries very hard to say something about most every town in that region. What separates a really great guidebook from a good one is how they handle the smaller towns. Frommer's tries too hard to cover too much territory. I find it very difficult to weed out the nice location from the truly spectacular; Frommer's uses too many positive words to describe everything. It is a little like reading a real estate listing, close to the train, nice view, cozy kitchen, etc. all have semi-secret negative meaning. Genoa is a perfect example. This is a city I would probably never recommend for a vacation. I worked there off and on for almost two years. It has some nice aspects, but it is no where near the city Frommer's describes. I found it very hard to balance the paved everywhere crowded city with the somewhat utopian Garden of Eden words used in this book.
Some of Frommer's travel advice seems a little bit dated, and maybe not as strongly worded as I like. Meals are a religion in Italy; Italians eat certain foods in a particular order and eat dinner much later than any American is used to. Cappuccinos should never be ordered after 11AM, never. This isn't an American that should be able to get whatever they want, because darn it I have my cappuccino after dinner always. It is simple, cappuccino is for breakfast, the machines do not have refrigeration for the milk, and a late night cappuccino - well you really don't want that frothed milk from that machine (trust the food safety person). A coffee is not a big American cup of coffee, it is an espresso. Typically espressos are made with Arabica beans and have fairly low caffeine content.
Dinner never starts before 7PM. In fact it is almost impossible to get a meal earlier than that. They get very uncomfortable if you deviate from that standard, especially in more formal restaurants. My advice on wine, drink local as much as possible, and definitely Italian. There are some fabulous wines that don't make it to the United States, especially inexpensive Nero D'Avola from Sicily. There are so many different Grappas, from clear to straw colored, to pale red - they are worth tasting. If by chance the waiter brings a bottle of any liquor to the table after dinner, this is the highest compliment the restaurant could give out. A bottle offered at the end of a meal is a thank you from the owner for eating at his restaurant. It's not uncommon for Italians to be served a bottle, but extremely rare for Americans, be honored if it happens. The section on meals in Italy didn't really emphasize these things very well.
Car rentals were a big miss for me in this book. The advice wasn't nearly strong enough, parking in any Italian city is impossible (a car is a liability), Italians drive very fast and expect certain rules to be followed (some slightly but importantly different from the US), and driving without a GPS is simply crazy. Even with a GPS, expect to get lost regularly and traffic is always heavy during the spring and summer months. Top all that off with anything left inside a car will be stolen and gas is roughly four times the price as here; there's an equation for avoiding a car if at all possible.
The book includes a fold out map of the region and a more detailed map of Venice and Milan. The map is not good enough to drive or really use in the cities. It would be much better to buy a Michelin detailed map on arrival.
Frommer's choice of pictures is surprisingly well balanced. There are just enough to whet my appetite but not so many as to reduce information. There's a nice balance between images and text. They do this much better than Fodor. Web addresses were not as common as I expected. Most places have a web address for more information.
The food is fabulous in Italy. It's almost difficult to have a bad meal. Almost every pizza is baked in a wood fired oven and hand made in the restaurant. If you are particular about what you have on your pizza, bring along a dictionary. Many words look like one thing, but end up being something completely different. Anchovies are usually fresh and flavorful, not the salty mess we have. Desserts are usually light, wonderful, and a small portion.
Northern Italy is a remarkable place to visit. There is a place to make everybody happy, from the hard core night life person, to the shopper, to the outdoorsman, to the sun bather and everything in between. Frommer's guidebook is a decent choice for broad brushstrokes about the area. Fodor's is a better choice.
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I generally like Frommer's Travel Guides. One exception is "Frommer's Northern Italy: with Venice, Milan and the Lakes" by by Eric Sylvers. The book could easily have been 30% shorter, and is plagued by an excessively chatty, sometimes glib, style of writing that pads out whole sections with needless phrase spinning, hype and digressions. As is the case with most popular fiction, and certainly with blogging, adjectives are everywhere in abundance, as are pithy turns of phrase and trite sayings to amplify the "personal" take on experiences.
There is likely no other area on Earth with so great a concentration of Christian era and Catholic art, churches, cities and buildings as northern Italy. Nevertheless the author betrays an anti religionist streak in his writing, and assumes that everyone feels about it as any politically correct person in California would. His description of Catholic priests in the middle ages "droning on in unintelligible Latin" to illiterate congregations that contented themselves while the "the priest gibbered in a language no one could understand" by looking at the "comic book art" of the stained glass windows and frescoes is clearly offensive.
The author seems oblivious to the fact that he is writing about Italy, the birthplace and homeland of Latin language and culture, and that for over a thousand years that Latin was the common language of diplomacy, education and power in much of Europe. Most of the languages of Western Europe are either directly derived from Latin or highly influenced by it. What sort of idiot would describe a priest or educated person speaking in Latin, many centuries ago, as "gibbering"? What sort of idiot guidebook editor would have allowed such statements into print?
As for architecture, he dismisses the whole of the Baroque period in a few sentences, saying most of it wasn't very good, and then carries on with what suits him. The travel itineraries and points of interest details are difficult to extract specific information out of without allowing the author to go on at length, as though hoping that someone on the next bar stool would finally say something useful.
As I am sure that this book and its author have both defenders and even enthusiastic supporters, let me say that a guide book to somewhere you have not yet been is very much like a cook book for meals that you have not yet made. There are as many different expectations as there are cooks, so to speak. Some cooks just want the bare bone facts of a recipe, what done how. Others may want complete instructions for how to boil water along with a sweet story of how the special pot that you should use to boil the water was purchased by the author in a wonderful little shop in Padua, that you really should visit, on that trip where the author discovered the special way locals tie their garbage bags, while the author contemplated their recent breakup and celebrated the courage to continue with their cookbook project, and so forth.
My main complaint with this book is that it is loquacious, chatty, adjective laden and informal in tone at the expense of concision and the easy gleaning by the reader of straightforward facts that one might need. For some readers this may be a virtue, proof of the personal. For this reader it is annoying and a major failing. The book has a lot of good information concealed in it. But in the end it's a slog, and there are better alternatives with more concise information and less adjective laden hyping.
The graphics and images are quite good. But the removable, fold out map included in the back of the book continues an annoying Frommer's practice of including detachable maps that are so broadly drawn and lacking in detail that they are neither useful for navigating your way in a city nor for planning a road itinerary. They are, evidently, intended to give the user only a broad idea of geography and the main roads and streets, but not so detailed as to be actually usable. A very bizarre theory of map value and use. Best to tear it out and leave it at home.
"Frommer's Northern Italy: with Venice, Milan and the Lakes" was in serious need of a re-appraisal, re-writing and some serious editor's cuts before it was published. NOT RECOMMENDED.