Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Book Review: Lonely Planet's 1000 Ultimate Sights

Did you see the Bucket List?

"Two terminally ill men escape from a cancer ward and head off on a road trip with a wish list of to-dos before they die."

They have a list of places one of them wants to see before he "kicks the bucket". It helps that the other one is very rich and has no other way to spend his money. Jack Nicholson revels in such roles - not dissimilar to Melvin Udal, for instance.

Lonely Planet publishes the sort of guide books that appeal to me, since if you use one you do not necessarily end up at the same sights as every other tourist. For instance, one of the things I like to do in a new city is seek out local beer - preferably microbrewery stuff or even brew pubs. That and LP is why we ended up one lunchtime in a biker bar in San Francisco - close to downtown but far from the ordinary.

Bike rack Zeitgeist

They have sent me a pdf of a new venture - and also a hard copy - which is I suppose a way of helping you to chose your own bucket list. It is a lavish production but not something you would stuff in your bag to take on a trip. More something to leaf through on a cold evening when there is nothing on tv. The photography is stunning and the quality of reproduction excellent. For each one of the 1,000 sites there is a 100 words summary - and some basic info on how to get there - usually a URL. They are grouped into categories "Greatest Wildlife Spectacles" for instance. Of my personal favourites "Most Interesting Subway Stations" - Baker Street is their first choice (been there) and Montreal (yup) - for its art.

Baker Street - Underground Station

And, of course, even though they have a thousand "ultimates" I expect we will all be in disagreement with some of their choices. I went to Washington but the National Cathedral was not on my list of things to see - they chose it because it has Darth Vader gargoyle! But then think of all those tourists who go to the Louvre because they have read the Da Vinci Code. By the way the only other site in the American capital they mention is the Renoir painting "Luncheon of the Boating Party" at the Phillips Collection. Drat, missed that too.

The index, by the way works as most indeces do by page number, even though each of Sights is numbered sequentially.

Most Iconic Trees mentions nowhere in Canada - much less Cathedral Grove, BC - but of course Sherwood Forest is in there (cross that one off) and California Redwoods get mentioned. Done that too.

Canada does get some mentions: Niagara Falls (been there many times) Green Gables, polar bears in Churchill, Burgess Shale in BC (I have been trying to get there for a while - forest fires stopped me last time) and Drumheller, CN Tower (check). Of Vancouver - nothing at all. Not prettiest baseball field, or greenest city or (of course) most liveable city. I guess we have nothing ultimate to offer - so perhaps we are not world class after all.

Not many people will be able to claim all1,000 but it was intriguing in my first flip through how many I had seen - and also the number that were already on my own bucket list. But mine is much shorter, more eclectic (I think) and more affordable. For instance the upper falls in Cypress Falls Park - this is the lower one, and the lack of a good guide at the time meant we missed the upper one.

A bigger splash

UPDATE Well I had one of those cold evenings so i checked out the Ultimate Sights in Paris - and initially I was impressed that 17 were listed - 18 if you count Versailles. But then I looked at them and found that some appear more than once and some categories are of dubious value. First up the cemetery at Pere Lachaise. That was the first place I visited the first time I went to Paris - but simply because it was the closest to the apartment where I was staying and the 20th arrondissement has not much else to offer. The self same cemetery appears three times "Most Romantic Spots" (tomb of Abelard and Heloise) best music pilgrimage sights (Jim Morrison's grave) and Best Places of Rest. Actually, it does get mentioned in Lonely Planet's Paris guide as the world's most visited cemetery. I just don't get off on graveyards - or gaols.

Most Notorious Prisons: Conciergerie
Best Underground Sights: Catacombs
Art Nouveau Icons: métro entrances (though only one is completely original)
Most Unusual Stadia: Hippodrome d'Auteuil
The Opera (twice)
Tastiest Gourmet Sights: Food Hall Bon Marche
Mona Lisa
Sacre Coeur (Notre Dame doesn't make "most amazing cathedral or church, nor does Chartres, or Salisbury for that matter)
Greatest Bookshops: Shakespeare & Co (Foyle's in London doesn't get in either). Maybe Shakespeare rates as an English bookshop in France - though even those are not as rare as they were once.

Well, you get the idea. Of course the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe are in there.

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