Sunday, January 01, 2006


Clue Book for Travellers

Noticing that my travel guides for Germany are called "West Germany" and were published circa 1980, and wanting to plan a visit agenda for that country, I bought a new book yesterday. I hesitate to dignify it with the title "guide book", though, as I will explain; it is more a clue book, or a fact book for tourism.

The local bookstore with the largest section in our town offered a range of three choices, not including Michelin nor Bleu. Of the three available, I think I picked the "best"; I based my choice on comparison of their treatment of three cities I plan to visit--map of center of town, information and floorplan of major museums, hours and days places are open.

While I don't totally regret my choice, I am puzzled by some of the editor's decisions (or oversights). Consider the treatment of "Dresden": ten pages, including a half-page map, description and open hours of twenty-three sites, a lovely two page photo of a large building, and two pages each for "Zwinger" and "Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister". The floor plan and "don't miss" for the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister are given, as is the address, and yet this important museum is not indicated on the half-page map; I'm hoping that Theaterplatz 1 is near the Sächsische Staatsoper at Theaterplatz 2, which is indicated on the map. Another puzzlement is the lack of a caption for the two page photo; perhaps it would have been an "Overleaf:" caption, and would have gone were the map is, so was superceded by the map.

The arrangement of pictures around regional maps is odd. The idea seems to be to place them in numerical order following the hands of a clock, but not necessarily starting at "12"; on one, "1" is at 10 o'clock, "2" is at 12, and so on, whereas on another "2" is just below "1", then "3" begins the clock-face order. This would matter less if the same logic were used on the maps, so that the pictures ended up in proximity to the locations on the map; yet "2" is at the bottom of the map, while "5" and "6" are top center and top right, respectively. One can look at the map, then seek the photo with the corresponding number; it is not obviously wrong, it is just not very user-friendly, and was likely not tested or subjected to criticism. Levels of craftsmanship are falling, and publishers are cutting costs (and competencies) where they shouldn't.

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Closer reading by someone who knew for what to look revealed that the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister is in the Zwinger (it is shown on the Zwinger double-page spread), which is noted on the map. Nevertheless, I still rate this guide "could do better".
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