I just realized that I've never blogged about one of my primary, ongoing bookish love affairs: that with the Eyewitness series of travel books. Their motto is "The Guides That Show You What Others Only Tell You," and boy do they ever: lavish, full-page color cross-sections of architecture, lovely photography and illustrated region-by-region and street-by-street maps of the areas under discussion. As you can see, I've amassed a small hoard over the years. Have I been to all these places, or even had a concrete plan to visit them? No indeed. I am guilty of buying them up and flipping through them by the idle hour, building dream adventures around the beautiful things depicted in their heavy, glossy pages. Road trips around Lake Louise and train journeys through Rajasthan have unrolled in my head. I've developed, as you can tell, a bit of an addiction to brightly-colored page markers, because heaven knows I wouldn't want to lose track of any of my precious discoveries.

But lately I've been gravitating toward one of these beauties in particular, because David and I actually ARE saving our pennies for a very exciting trip—one that I've been dreaming about since I can remember, whose Eyewitness volume I've owned since well before the advent of the Euro, meaning that I'm enjoying many an outdated description of how many francs a certain export represents, or how, unfortunately, a given museum will be closed for renovation until 2003. Luckily, the bulk of practical trip planning can be done online these days, and the important things? Haven't changed much in the past decade.


Or, in some cases, the past several centuries.

Three weeks in France! I'm so excited. Given that I've studied the language and literature for years, and have passed as close as Figueres on the Catalan side and Basel on the Swiss, it just seems wrong that I've never actually visited the country. We're hoping to go in late May/early June of next year, to celebrate my 30th birthday.

I thought it would be fitting to post about this for the first time during Paris in July, since I actually have been spending much of July reading up on Paris, as well as Normandy, the Loire Valley, Bordeaux, and Gascony. I just love trip planning. Did you you know that it's still possible to stay at the Grand Hotel where young Marcel Proust and his grand-mère holidayed by the seaside, in the town later to be immortalized as Balbec?

What other bookish wonders should we be sure to visit? What should I put on my list of must-purchase French-language books? We are also big fans of wine, textiles, and weird museums. (One of the highlights of our trip to Switzerland, for example, was this collection of 18th-century taxidermied frogs posed in tableaux of village life.) Any suggestions? Do tell!


  • I wish I could help you more, but all I have to offer is that, if I were able to go back to France right now, I would go here.

  • I'm afraid I'm not much help with suggestions for France, since it's been years since I traveled through the country. But I share your love for Eyewitness books...I love the glossy photos and the layout for trip planning. But I find them too heavy to lug on the actual trip!

    And woo-hoo for your upcoming trip!

  • My Russian prof gave me the Eyewitness Russia book, and I love flipping through the pictures! :)

    You know, when I'm down, I totally plan out trips I'd take if I had the money, so I understand being into guidebooks even if you're not expecting to travel to a country in the immediate future. It's just fun to imagine!

    And I hope you enjoy France. :D It's been too long since I was there for me to offer any practical advice, but I hope you blog about your trip when you get back!

  • I have not been to France, and am a horrible traveller, but Amanda went in college, and in terms of bookish places, I know she loved visiting the George Sand house, where she took a number of beautiful, apparently illegal photographs ;D. Myself, if I were visiting France, I would love to see the Colette Museum in Burgundy, which has, for instance, her collection of glass paperweights she had collected - how much geekier and esoteric do you get, you know? And my Hugo loving self would take the tour of the Parisian Sewers of course...

  • I also love the Eyewitness books. I'm afraid if I actually let one in my house I would want to go to wherever it featured also! Three weeks in France sounds just wonderful. And it means so much more when you have all that information to enhance your appreciation. I can't wait to join you vicariously! (but sort of glad I missed a first-hand account of the taxidermied frog exhibit...)

  • How exciting! A trip to France will surely be amazing. As are the Eyewitness travel guides. As a teen I took myself on a trip to Italy, using the Italy guide - I wrote a long, complex story with myself as a character and using the guide to describe in detail what I saw and ate, etc. It was totally fascinating. Love those books!

  • That hotel actually has one room decked out according to the description in In a Budding Grove. So you can re-enact your favorite scenes with Marcel and Albertine.

    Normandy + textiles = Bayeux tapestry, but I'm sure you knew that one.

    St. Malo is a joy, and features Chateaubriand's grave, out on a little island (or not, depending on the startling tide). The tide is a wonder, but not the grave. Plus, I seem to have slipped over the border into Brittany.

    A trip to the little Présence Africaine bookshop in the Latin Quarter might be fun.

  • That's so exciting!

    I bought an Eyewitness book for when I went to Greece and it was invaluable. I knew what to look for in terms of monuments and found my way around thanks to the maps and walking tours included throughout.

  • What great travel books! I don't think I have ever heard of them before. My husband and I were just talking about saving for a big trip the other day. I think a trip to the bookstore to look at the Eyewitness books might help us decide where that trip will be. How exciting to be planning a trip to France. I've heard Monet's gardens are gorgeous.

  • Great plans you got going there, Emily! I don't think I ever bought any of these guidebooks (um, one might be hiding somewhere in the archives), but it wasn't b/c they aren't fantastic...was more worried about turning into the book buying version of those cocaine lab rats that would keep hitting the switch till I expired! Anyway, have fun with the planning, which is a lot more fun than the saving, ha ha. P.S. I'll send some tips after I get over my trip envy--have been to France twice and loved it both times (duh)!

  • Kathy: Oh my, that looks heavenly! And while we probably won't be attending the actual workshops, we will be right in that area - some great friends of ours live in Toulouse, so we'll be staying with them for a few days. Exciting!

    Jill: They are super heavy. I left mine at home when I was backpacking around England, but for trips where I have a car or a "home base" I sometimes bite the bullet & bring it along. Thanks for the well wishes!

  • Eva: The Russian one is near the top of my list of coveted Eyewitness books! Russia, Norway, & Scotland I think. I so relate to the imaginary trip-planning - so fun. :-)

    Jason: YES, Colette's paperweight collection! Just the kind of thing over which I swoon. There are also so many Colette-related sights in Paris, since that's where she spend most of her life...I'm thinking I'll have to revisit my fave bios of French writers, to remind myself where they all lived & worked!

  • Jill: No, the taxidermied frogs were awesome, believe me! Sounds grotesque, and is a little bit, but it's actually kind of awe-inspiring once you start looking at how much loving care went into making these bizarre pieces of art. Glad to know I'm not alone in my Eyewitness mania!

    Sarah: They are awesome, aren't they? And wow, that story-writing approach to traveling sounds totally fascinating!

  • Amateur Reader: Thanks for all the tips! Bayeux Tapestry is definitely, definitely on our list. I didn't know about the Proust-ified room at Cabourg - that's hilarious and awesome. David & I are making our slow way through the audiobooks of A la recherche... (I have read them in text form as well, but he hasn't), and we'll have to be sure to revisit the second book before we go so we'll know what to look for. :-)

    Duck Thief: GREECE! *Swoon* I agree, the walking tours & neighborhood breakdown maps are so helpful, both once you get there and in imagining how to plan your days ahead of time.

  • Stefanie: A trip to the bookstore is definitely in order, and I hope you share what you end up getting! It's funny that you bring up Monet as I have an odd relationship with him - I'm not a big fan of his work, but I do think his house & grounds look crazy beautiful.

    Richard: You are so right! They're vicarious travel crack, no getting around it. :-) Will look forward to your suggestions whenever you get to it. You're right about the saving...I'm on a book-buying ban for the trip, but at least I can spend all the time I would otherwise be book-shopping dreaming about the fun times ahead!

  • I love these guides but have only the one on France--the feel of the pages, the photos. I love planning trips too and have spent hours doing just that. In Paris I love the Rodin museum, the Place des Vosges, the Picasso museum, eating breakfast at the same cafe every morning, and walking everywhere. This is so exciting!

  • Cynthia: The walking everywhere & cafe breakfasts are among the things I'm most looking forward to in Paris! I'm super-excited. :-)

  • They're wonderful! And I LOVE your bookmarks!

    While I don't have their travel books, I did love Eyewitness' just-as-magnificently illustrated science books when I was a kid. I agree, they have fantastic photography!

    Best wishes on you trip to France. The Grand Hotel does sound like a sumptuous treat (be sure to get some Madelleines, hehe.)

    By the way, it makes me smile that we have almost the same age :)

  • June 2012

    Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
              1 2
    3 4 5 6 7 8 9
    10 11 12 13 14 15 16
    17 18 19 20 21 22 23
    24 25 26 27 28 29 30


    link to Wolves 2011 reading list
    link to more disgust bibliography