Travel books, travel guides, and audio tours make all the difference on your first trip somewhere.

The DK Eyewitness travel guides are consistently useful, and the Rome book served me well during my visit.Most especially, I love the books’ pictures.. They have great maps and guides to art, architecture, and sights. The pictures help you identify where you are and what you are seeing. It’s a very visually appealing book. Compared to other books where there’s lots of text and little in the way of images, the DK book is an outstanding value.

Here’s a scanned a page so that you can see what the book looks like.

DK Travel page for Trastevere
DK Travel page for Trastevere

Previously, I stated reviews of the Rome book were wrong. Most of the criticisms are about its info on shopping districts, hotels, nightclubs, and the like, which is stuff I didn’t use. Admittedly, the other books (Frommer’s and Fodor’s) provide better practical information about how to travel and get along.

Using Audio Tours

Rick Steves is wildly popular, but I never heard of him until recently. His website offers  free audio tours of Rome. They were helpful, if somewhat cheesy. Ok, more than somewhat. Rick Steves is annoyingly hoaky, but his information is quite enlightening. We used tours for the Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Forum and Colosseum, the Sistine Chapel, the Accademia/David, and the Uffizi.  (Note: I included links to the mp3s but you should go to the page to get the maps.) The website will release several additional tours next month. Unfortunately, there is no tour of the Palatine Hill, which you visit when you see the Forum and Colosseum.

I love audio tours, especially their little accompanying maps, and the information that you would otherwise know nothing about. Yes, they “frame” the experience (as do tour books), but I want that framing. Those frames help you mentally store things. The point of a vacation is to rest your brain, skip mental work, and let someone else create categories for you. Smartphones can let you visit Wikipedia after a day’s worth of sightseeing to give you more in-depth information. That, too, is still framing.

Some people are condescending about structured tours, tour guides, guide books, audio guides, and the like. They think they want to experience their sightseeing in an authentic, unmediated manner. But since when is anything unmediated? Since when is any experience of any famous site “natural”? On the flip side, while Steves presents the information in a neutral if corny tone, the frame is still interpretive. Sometimes it’s ok to leave behind the ideological agenda game and enjoy the awe of everything around you. Sort of like visiting Disney – at some point you turn off the critical thinking, and just have fun.

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