The family has pushed back from the Thanksgiving table. The once golden, gleaming bird is much the worse for wear. The conversation turns to travel. Remember that little town just south of Heidelberg on the Neckar?, somebody says. It was the Rhine, not the Neckar and it was north, not south, of Heidelberg, says another. And it was Mainz, not Heidelberg.
What are you talking about? The Gasthof Hirsch is on the hill above the city, not in the old town.
The railway station can't be where you say it is because the tracks are on the other side of town.
And so it goes when the clan gathers. We inevitably talk travel but our recollections never seem to quite match. Memory, after all, plays tricks. Not mine, of course; mine is photographic and infallible, but for the enlightenment of the table we wind up hauling out the books, maps and atlases. Soon everyone is involved; tracing a route, looking up a date or finding the price of a hotel room. New trips are planned and old ones are re-lived. For a few moments we are transported: mentally swaying to the music at the Gasthaus Fraundorfer in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, downshifting to negotiate a narrow road in the Swiss Alps or lazing over lunch at an outdoor café in Vienna. Our memories have been awakened by those old, familiar books and maps, many of them dogeared travel veterans.
The travel library, you see, has multiple uses. It's for trip planning and trip taking, of course, but also for reminiscing, for dreaming and for settling arguments. Thus I have found it essential (even before we started writing this newsletter, by the way) to keep certain maps and travel books around the house.
For the frequent traveler to Western Europe a small library helps pass the long winter nights, serves as an invaluable resource for settling arguments, is there to plan your next trip and, of course, stands at the ready when it's time to head for the airport again.
Here are a few items I would never be without.
Germany, Austria, Switzerland. I use Michelin maps #426 Austria (scale of 1:400,000), #427 Switzerland (1:400,000), and #920 Europe (1:3,000,000). These are not suitable for guiding you over Europe's maze of backroads but are for planning and perspective.
You'll notice I omitted Germany. That's because the German Auto Clubs (ADAC) Maxi-Atlas is all anyone needs for that country, both for planning and backroads driving. It also contains an index of some 10,000 towns and villages cross-referenced to the proper map page. I know of no other atlas that is suitable for backroads driving. A spiral binding makes the Maxi-Atlas very easy to use but remember, it covers only Germany.
I should also mention that the tourist offices of each of the three countries will provide free maps which are also suitable for general reference, not including driving.
Scaled from 1:100,000 to 1:200,000, maps of this large scale are not only essential when you are "in-country" but also nice to have back home for planning or settling an after-dinner argument. For Germany, the best are the ADAC Karte at 1:150,000. To cover the entire country one needs 24 separate maps (with ADAC Karte priced at $7.95 each, the value of the ADAC Maxi-Atlas, which covers all Germany for $22.95, is obvious).
Allianz Freizeitkarte at 1:100,000 have even more detail and are suitable even for bicyclists. But the problem for the auto traveler using these maps is that they cover so little territory one is constantly changing to a new map.
Die Generalkarte (1:200,000), my personal preference, are published in Germany by Mairs and are by far Germany's best selling road maps. You'll need 35 to cover the entire country. They are also available for Switzerland (4 maps) and Austria (9 maps, including Italy's Südtirol).
The legends for the above maps - ADAC, Mairs, Allianz - are in several languages, including English. One of the features I find especially useful in all of them is that scenic roads are edged in green.
While the previously mentioned Maxi-Atlas is a must for Germany, the hardbound Germany/Europe Atlas by ADAC is the Mercedes Benz of European atlases. About one-third of its pages are devoted to Europe. This is a very good book to have, but not essential. Michelin's softbound Motoring Atlas Europe, at half the price, is low-tech but a good reference and planning tool.
Hallwags hard-to-find, softbound Euro Guide Atlas has much to offer, including a directory of 20,000 hotels. Neither the Hallwag nor the ADAC Germany/Europe Atlas fit easily in a suitcase.
The must-have guide for skiers is the marvelous, hardbound ADAC Ski Atlas. Two minor drawbacks are the text is in German and it's a load for the suitcase.
The most important travel book I own is the current Michelin Red Guide for Germany. It not only goes with us on every trip, it is a reference I use on a daily basis. Need hotel fax or phone numbers? Need hotel addresses? Want to know where a certain hotel is in relation to the center of town or the main railway station? Which hotels are in a quiet location? The phone number of the local tourist office? How far it is from one town to another? Where to get a good, three-course meal for less than 25 DM ($15)? The red guides (published for France, Italy, Spain & Portugal, England & Great Britain, the Benelux countries, Paris, London and the Michelin's Main Cities Guide which includes more than 60 of Europe's major cities) will answer those questions and a thousand more.
Not to be overlooked are the hotel guides available free from the German, Austrian and Swiss tourist offices in this country. The hotels listed are members of their country's hotel association and as such are required to meet certain standards. These booklets are especially valuable for Switzerland and Austria, countries for which there is no Red Guide (Salzburg, however, is covered in Michelin's Red Guide for Germany, and some of the important cities of Austria and Switzerland - Vienna, Salzburg, Zürich, Geneva and Basel - are covered in Michelin Main Cities).
For sight-seeing and cultural attractions I keep the Michelin Green Guides, one each for Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Unlike the Red Guides, these books are not revised annually. The guide for Germany, however, was recently updated to include the eastern part of the country.
Beyond the Michelin Green and Red Guides, nothing is essential. Among the all-purpose guides covering hotels, restaurants, sights, etc. I prefer the Frommer's guides for individual countries.
You might also consider the Access Guides by Richard Saul Wurman. I have never used them in Europe but on a recent vacation in New England, I found the Access Guide for Boston quite valuable. Designed for the walker, these books are organized by neighborhood and feature color-coded type for fast look-up. Restaurants are in red, sights & culture in black, hotels in blue and shops/parks in green, etc. A numbering system in the body of the text refers the reader to excellent 3-D style maps. The graphics are excellent, the information reliable.
Two other books I find helpful both at home and when traveling are the Marling Menu Master, a little $7.95 menu translator published for French, German, Italian and Spanish; and Langenscheidt's Taschenwörterbuch, an English to German and German to English dictionary.