Friday, November 20, 2009

Rome's (concise) Blue Guide.

Following my post on Rome's Blue Guide, those nice folks from Somerset Books (who publish the Blue Guides) sent me a copy of the brand new concise Blue Guide to Rome.

Generally, I love the Blue Guides - nothing comes close for the tourist who desires a "cultural" guide. My old (and not especially travel-handy) guide to Rome has had such heavy use that it's all held together by sticky tape - yet it's a testament to it's quality that it holds up ever strong, despite the beating it's taken.

First impressions of the new concise guide were very positive. The most noticeable thing is the reduction in size (it is, after all, a concise guide), to much more handy dimensions and weight. Although it was no real chore to crack out the weightier bigger brother of the concise guide - the new one will be much easier to use when "on site" in Rome.

The quality of the production is the next thing that jumps out at you. The cover is sturdy, tactile and pleasing to the touch. The pages remain glossy and smooth ones used in all Blue Guides, and the printing on them is clear and easy to read.

The contents of the guide are, as they back cover says, a "distilled" version of the full guide, which is essentially true - all the most important places to visit are included, while some of the periphery sites (maybe an unfair term) are not present.

The organisation follows a similar pattern to the full guide - in discussing a geographical area and everything of interest in it, followed by the next, adjacent, part of the city. For me it's the best and only way to organise the content - because it allows one to find a particular area of the city and see everything of interest within it.

The introduction is brief and omits much of the information found in the full guide, but that's really no problem for a concise guide. The biggest chunk is taken up by a historical sketch of the city, which is a newer version than that included in the full guide. There is little difference between the two - save length, and in my opinion both are well written and informative.

As mentioned in my previous post, the full guide is a little outdated now (primarily because of the new entrance procedures to the Forum Romanum, Colosseum and Palatine Hill). The new concise guide has all of this updated - which is essential in my opinion because the new procedure is quite different, and requires a bit of planning to pull off successfully (avoiding queues, busy periods etc).

The section of the guide on the Forum and it's surroundings is as excellent as before, but it is bolstered by the addition of several small colourful images which help break up the written descriptions a little. This applies also to the sections covering Ostia and the Via Appia - wonderful photographs add much to the guide.

I was also very happy to see that the EUR has now been incorporated into the main body of the guide. I know it may not be an especially aesthetically pleasing area, but it is aesthetically interesting and the Square Colosseum and the Museum of Roman Civilisation are especially fascinating (not least for the enormous model of Rome in the 4th Century).

One of the most useful new features is that each section has a little box featuring places to eat. It's brief, but a very nice addition, and conforms to the guides aim of being useful "on site".

Overall, then, the concise guide is just as excellent as it's bigger relation, and by my reckoning, it's still the only guide you really need. It's excellently written (by Alta Macadam) and the quality of the book's production itself is second to none.

The new size means that it somewhat supersedes the bigger version as THE guide to take on a trip to Rome. My personal plan is to take both and have the concise version "on site" and the larger version in the hotel room - having every cultural angle covered, so to speak.

As the new concise guide answers all my (admittedly minor) criticisms of the full guide, I must concede that I can find no real fault with it. Obviously it lacks the depth of the bigger version, but that's it's intention and can hardly be considered in a bad light. The price is also exceptionally fair, and I can offer no real complaints of any form.

My recommendation: If you're going to Rome - take it!

Note: Many thanks to Mr Tom Howells from the publishers of the Blue Guides for being so generous in providing me with a copy - I will be using it extensively on my next visit.

Here's a picture of my well thumbed full guide and the new concise guide, so that you may see the size difference:

No comments:

Post a Comment