Category Archives: Guide Books

An Andalucia Guide–Really Seeing Southern Spain

book cover: Andalucia Guide
 Destination: Andalucia, Spain

Book: The Andalucía Guide, by Michael Jacobs.  NEW, October 2013

Reading Michael Jacobs new book, published by Interlink Books makes me realize that I probably should not claim that I have been to Spain.  Other than a short visit to Madrid, and drive through the Don Quixote La Mancha country, I only visited Andalucía.

Jacobs points out in the opening of The Andalucía Guide that eight generations of Moorish rule has left Andalucía more African than European, and totally different than the whole of Spain. It is an exotic region–not just in extravagant architecture and gardens, but also because its botanical and geological characteristics separate Andalucía from Catalonia and the rest of Spain.

Gateway described in andalucia guide

Despenaperros Pass, Spain–gateway to Andalucia. Photo shared by Spain’s Minsterio de Fomento

I vividly remember passing through the Despeñaperros pass that separates northern from southern Spain, but at the time did not realize it has long been considered by travelers at the gateway to Paradise. In the midst of this dramatic twisting canyon, we stopped at a small restaurant/shop and bought Spanish cheese for picnics on our road trip explorations of Andalucía. Coming down from the mountain pass, you can suddenly see the glint of the sea. Somehow the landscape seems to come to life on the southern side of this great divide. (At the bottom of this piece, you can find a link to a You-Tube trip through the pass)

Andalucia Guide: Alhambra

Washington Irving’s Room at the Alhambra, Granada Spain

The other fact that did not occur to me when I traveled in southern Spain was how influential the literary and artistic Romantic era– in the second half of the 19th century– had been on my thinking about Spain.  I have acknowledged here my debt to Washington Irving, one of the great popularizers of the romance of Moorish Spain. It was Irving who drew me like a magnet to the incomparable Alhambra in Granada. Jacobs says, ” Andalucía seems at times less of a real place than an invention of poets and story-tellers.” A theme that runs through this idiosyncratic  Andalucía Guide is the impact of the romantic writers on the region.

Very individual in its choice of subjects and places, The Andalucía Guide‘s major divisions follow a rough chronological pattern.  The author makes it clear that he has assembled a very personal selection rather than an making an attempt to cover everything. Interestingly, his focus seems to be strongly influenced by the romantics that he wants us to doubt. For instance, “Flamenco” and “Gypsies” and the “Moorish Age” each get a chapter and these are the three principal factors that delighted the romantics.




Reflecting pool in the Alhambra

Reflecting pool in the Alhambra

Throughout the book, the author quotes liberally from long-ago travelers who wrote about the region.  The traveler who loves to read (that’s YOU, right?) will be delighted that so much attention is given to both Spanish and foreign writing about Andalucía.

The choice of subject matter of the few color photos, seeming  almost an afterthought, further emphasize the author’s contention that our views of Spain are largely formed by the writings of the Romantics.

Some random tidbits from The Andalucía Guide that may be of practical use for travelers:


If you’re looking for Gypsies in their picturesque costumes, living in their caves–

Triana [a neighborhood of Seville] is no longer a gypsy suburb, and few gypsies remain in the Albaicín…those in Granada’s famous Sacromonte are now only used by the gypsies to put on tourist entertainments.


Beware of superstitions (shared by Andalucians and gypsies, it seems.)

The very mention of the word ‘snake’ is meant to bring on bad luck, and the only remedy is to shout afterwards, lagarto or ‘lizard.’  


Every day I discovered new sources of bad luck, ranging from the c0lour yellow to a chance encounter with a funeral procession.


Jacobs is singularly unhelpful in answering the question he acknowledges that  all tourists pose, “Where  canthe ‘real flamenco’ be heard?”  He says that fewer bars now have flamenco performances, because patrons want T.V.  He suggests going to Peñas Flamencas–private clubs, but doesn’t give us a clue as to how to find them.


The chapter on food and drink warns you about the extremely late hours of dining in Seville and the south, later than any other part of Spain.

…it is not uncommon to have lunch as late as five in the afternoon or to dine at midnight.  If you do insist on eating in a restaurant at times to which you have been used elsewhere in Europe, you will probably end up in the blandest of establishments.  But you must also remember that Andalucians frequently forsake conventional meals altogether in favor of the tapa or bar-snack.

Ah, yes, I remember it well. We were roaming through one of the white villages that cling to a hillside in southern Spain and getting hungrier and hungrier as the time approached mid afternoon.  No one stirred in the village–all taking a siesta.  We finally found a bar that was open, and ate the tapas that they had available–delicious even if we had not been starving. However, one point that Jacobs does not mention is the Seville habit of standing at the bar for your drink, coffee, or even tapas.  Rural areas are more relaxed, and you can sit at a table, but in Seville, a tired traveler’s tootsies will just have to put up with standing around until the approved dining hour of ten p.m. or later.


Jacobs agrees with the characterization of Sevillianos by English 19th-century writer Richard Ford.

One of the greatest promoters of Seville’s charms was Richard Ford, who was also one of the few people to write perceptively about its people, with their caustic humour, refusal to be hurried, and wild outbursts of child-like enthusiasm.

This book delighted me, and made me yearn to return to that “invention of poets and storytellers” that was so–yes, it was–romantic.

Finally, for those looking for the practicalities, about half The Andalucía Guide is devoted to describing specific towns. The appendix has a wealth of practical material, including vocabulary, time line and 23 pages of suggested additional reading.  I have a few suggestions of my own below, but definitely not 23 pages.

What do you prefer in a guidebook? An encyclopedic “just the facts, ma’m” style, or the idiosyncratic choices of the author? Do you have a favorite guide to Spain?

 MORE Andalucía Guide Information

For an up-to-date culinary tour of Seville and some gorgeous pictures, see this article by David Lebovitz.

To see what it is like to drive south through the Paso de Despenaperros, here’s a trucker in Spain on video. (Caution, if you suffer from car sickness, beware.)

You can see the my favorite books about Spain in this article.

The Andalucia Guide was provided to me by Interlink for review, however, they know that I will tell you what I honestly think.  The highway photo is identified, and comes from Flickr. The others are my own. The first link to the book takes you to Amazon, because I am an Amazon affiliate and make a few cents off of each sale. However the 2nd link takes you to Interlink Books,  so that you can buy form an Independent book seller.


A Small Japan Guidebook Captures Culture in Photos

The Little Book of Japan guidebook

Destination: Japan

Book: The Little Book of Japan by Charlotte Anderson with Photography by Gorazd Vilhar (NEW September 2013)

Japan Guidebook Bonsai

Bonsaid from the Little Book of Japan. Photo by Gorazd Vilhar, used with permission

One of the very precise and spiritual arts of Japan that has made its way to the western world is bonsai ( the pronunciation, bone-sigh, was pounded into my skull by a book I once read). This little Japan guidebook strikes me as a kind of literary/photographic bonsai.

Charlotte Anderson has taken on the subject of Japan, including culture, religion, history, geography, and covers it all in concise paragraphs lavishly illustrated by the photos of Gorazd Vilhar. The pair have written seven other books on Japan, where they live.

Normally, a book with so many stunning images would be a coffee table extravaganza, but in bonsai style, The Little Book of Japan, contains its essence in 191 pages that fit within a bright red cover that is just six inches by six inches. The size makes it an easy book for the traveler to take along as a Japan guidebook, even though it is not the traditional guide to places to sleep and eat.



Japan Guidebook - Tokyo

Modern Tokyo with Mt. Fuji in background. Photo by Gorazd Vilhar, used with permission.

The section on places gives condensed descriptions of the major cities and attractions, to whet your appetite for travel. The subject matter, divided into four major categories: Cultural Icons, Traditions, Places, and Spiritual Life will prepare the traveler to understand and fit into a very different culture.

Japan Guide Book Dancer

Child in dancing costume from The LIttle Book of Japan. Photo by Gorazd Vilhar, used with permission

If you read about foreign places to learn something new–to get a feel for the culture, rather than planning travel–you will still get good value from The Little Book of Japan. I must confess that Japan has never been on my wannagothere list, even though I have read several very good books about the country. And because I have only been to Japan through books and movies, I still do not know much about the culture.  So I was fascinated to see that I knew more than I thought I knew about Japan, but this tiny Japan guidebook taught me many new things as well.

I developed a new appreciation for the wide variety and artistry of bento boxes, even though I rarely eat Japanese food, let alone prepare it.  I laughed out loud to learn about the Japanese fondness for good luck amulets when I saw one that you attach to your computer keyboard. (Now there’s something that might come in handy!) How interesting to see how future-oriented the Japanese are, and how puzzled by other’s interest in “old things.”  Nevertheless, they have adapted to the world’s view that historic buildings and places are important and preserve some of their heritage which makes travelers happy.

Of course I know about the manga culture (a higher form of comic book and animation), and the impact it has had on our own literature (the growth of illustrated novels, for example) but I had not heard of Otaku, a slang word referring to obsessive fandom for many types of fantasy and play-acting.  Like going to “Maid cafes” where the servers dress in Victorian black dresses and ruffled aprons and serve tea from English porcelain; or collecting fantasy figure dolls; or getting together with friends and dressing in fantasy costumes.

Flower arranging, tea ceremonies, architecture, shoes–every angle of Japanese art and culture are explored in this beautiful little Japan guidebook that isn’t really a routine tourism guidebook, but really is a guide to the culture of Japan.

 The book was provided by the publisher for review.   My opinions are always my own.  Sometimes I insert links to Amazon so you can find a book easily. Although it costs you no more, you are supporting A Traveler’s Library when you purchase through our links. Thanks!

A Taste and a Sip of Old Fashioned Wisconsin Supper Clubs


Destination: Wisconsin

Book: Wisconsin Supper Clubs: An Old-Fashioned Experience by Ron Faiola

Article by Brette Sember

A supper club sounds glamorous to me, something from the era of crinolines and fedoras when dinner in a restaurant was an Event you put on your finest for. The concept had me imagining cigarette girls drifting among tables, flaming baked Alaska for dessert, and Studebakers in the parking lot. Clearly I have some unresolved fantasies about the middle of the 1900s. Continue reading