Tuesday, September 24: Review a book, place, or product.
Today’s Blogtember challenge is really difficult for me! I’m torn between reviewing the Blue Guide: Sicily (Ellen Grady, 8th rev edn, Blue Guides, 2012), and Rome (Oxford Archaeological Guides) [Kindle Edition] (Amanda Claridge, 2nd edn, OUP, 2010). I used both of these guides when in Italy and both were excellent. Because I couldn’t choose between them, I’ve decided to review both of them in turn.
Blue Guide: Sicily
I chose this guide because when I go to do ‘culture’ rather than ‘adventure’, I want information on the history and architecture of the place that I have gone to. This is why I chose the Blue Guide for Sicily and it did not disappoint. While the blurb on the back of the guidebook is somewhat limited [see photo], the publisher’s description was more detailed and swayed me to buy the book. It states:
‘Fully revised and updated new edition of this popular Blue Guide, by Sicily resident and tour guide Ellen Grady. The author is assisted on this edition by ancient historian Michael Metcalfe, who contributes his scholarship to the entries on the ancient Greek and Roman remains.
While this guide retains the Blue Guides’ traditional focus on architecture, art and archaeology, with in-depth coverage of all the sights, both the famous and those off the beaten track, the author is also an expert on the cuisine of Sicily and each chapter contains detailed and up-to-date listings of where to eat and what local specialties to sample. Fully revised accommodation sections are also included, along with information on Sicilian wine.
Ideal for on-site use as well as for at-home study and to help visitors plan ahead.’ [source]
In this review, I’m going to focus on the three things that I find useful in a guidebook: food recommendations (for the limited times we eat out), detailed maps of different sites and clear information on opening times/how to get there, and clear, informative and easy to follow historical/archaeological/architectural information about the site itself.
The best thing about this guide was that all the recommendations concerning where to stay, where to eat and the local attractions were helpfully put at the end of each provincial chapter. This meant I could quickly flick to the back of the chapter, [see photo] and look at the recommendations by place and price. The description given in the guide book was clear, to the point and very informative.
We only ate out once, and used the guide as the basis for our decision. There were three recommendations for Sciacca and we looked at each in turn. One was very snobby and pretty much booted us out immediately, one was very definitely closed, and the final option was a success. We ended up at La Lampara in the port of Sciacca.
The food was amazing, and will have a blog post to itself it was so good. The service was pretty good, although there were some stumbling blocks in terms of translating the menu from Italian to English. However, I think that part of the fun of travelling and exploring new places is ordering food without entirely knowing what I’ll end up eating; I didn’t mind that so much.
I especially liked the additional section on local specialties, and the section on local festivals and events. These sections are informative and reading the descriptions of the local delicacies made my mouth water. These specialties aren’t just limited to food and also cover things such as pottery and coral. However, if you do go to Sicily you have to eat the deserts as they are out of this world. Especially the pastries and granita.
Maps and detailed information of cultural sights:
I found the maps in the guide very informative and detailed. I’ve used the example of the map of the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento to show the detail and clarity of the layout [see photo]
As you can see, the points of interest are very clearly outlined on the map, and the distances are very clear as well. I found it easy to direct other friends to our rendezvous point after we were separated and we found a lovely walk that took us off the beaten track in order to explore areas of the Park that I had not yet seen.
Information about the history, archaeology and architecture of different sites:
The guide gave detailed information about most of the usual tourist sites such as Agrigento and Syracuse. However, it also included detailed information about sites that are usually off the beaten track and as a result I got so much more out of our trip. We went to places that I had not heard of, or only had limited information about and they were quiet!
We mainly focused on the ancient history of Sicily. I’m not fussed about churches and things like that unless they’re truly spectacular. The guide is excellent and provides easy to read and in-depth information into the history of each site along with the differing academic opinion about them. Perhaps as I’m an academic myself, I like the fact that the guide acknowledged that there are differing interpretations of the ruins and jumbles of rocks that I was walking through!
Here are some photos of the more detailed information given:
I would really recommend this guide for anyone going to Sicily. If you have done your research before hand on where to stay and the usual issues of safety etc, you don’t really need that in your travel guide. This Guide includes both, but strongly focuses on the interesting and informative rather than the practical.