In planning my trip to Italy in April of 2006, I bought the guide books listed on the web page. As I write this, I have not visited the country yet, which is the ultimate test of a guide book. So the brief reviews here are preliminary.
Italy: Instructions for Use by Nan McElroy
This is not a guide book for either Venice, Siena or Bologna but travel in Italy in general. It is a small book that can fit in your pocket if you're not wearing tight jeans. Italy: Instructions for Use covers may of the things that a traveler will want to know. For example, you have to validate your train ticket at a validation machine before getting on the train. The book does not cover places to say, things to see or places to eat. Rather, it covers much of the day to day information that will be useful as you navigate a foreign society. Some of the material covered in this guide was covered in my conversational Italian class, but in this book it is available without mid-term and final exams.
The Rough Guide Italian Dictionary and Phrasebook
This little book has an overview of Italian grammar and verbs, along with an English to Italian and an Italian to English dictionary. As a dictionary, the book is good, considering its small size. As a phrase book it is somewhat awkward. The phrases are scattered throughout the dictionary, making it difficult to find a phrase since you have to guess where it might be included.
Venice is one of the most written about cities in the world. The city stars in novels, there are a number of histories of the Venician empire and city state. Since the 1700s, when Venice started to attract tourists, people have been writing guide books as well. The vast wealth of material on Venice can be contrasted with the sparse amount information available on Siena and Bologna.
The Rough Guide to Venice & the Vento, Sixth Edition, by Jonathan Buckley.
I was very happy with the Rough Guide to Barcelona, which I referenced constantly last year when I visited Barcelona. So far, I'm equally happy with the Rough Guide to Venice. It provides a good summary of the options available to get from Venice's Marco Polo airport to the island of Rialto (the main island of Venice). I used The Rough Guide as a secondary guide when it came to researching places to stay. My main reference for hotels was Charming Small Hotel Guide: Venice and North-East Italy. The Rough Guide provides a nice overview of the different sections of Venice (e.g., San Marco, Dorsoduro, Santa Croce,...).
Chow! Venice: Savoring the Food and Wine of La Serenissima by Shannon Essa and Ruth Edenbaum.
Tourist towns and tourist spots are notorius for bad food. With a high volume of tourists the resturants do not have to rely on repeat business. Venice is, apparently, notorius for poor food, at least compared to the rest of Italy. However, with a guide like Chow! Venice you can find good, reasonably priced, resturants.
The reviews of Chow! Venice are largely favorable on Amazon. However, there were a few negative reviews. Originally I tried to get an english translation of Michela Scibilia's well regarded book A Guide to the Eateries of Venice (Venezia Osterie e Dintorni). I was unsuccessful in ordering this book from amazon.uk.co (Amazon in the UK), so I ordered Chow! Venice. I have not "field tested" the book yet, but it looks very good. The format is small enough that it is easy to carry around. The book is divided by section (e.g., San Marco, Dorsoduro...) and gives a review of the food at each resturant.
Unfortunately this charming guide to Venice's resturants is not available from Amazon at a reasonable price (there was a used copy listed for $195 US). However, this book may still be available from the authors via their web site at http://www.chowbellabooks.com/. I purchased a copy directly from Shannon Essa who was very nice. She not only sold me a signed copy of her wonderful book but was helpful in answering my questions. The web site includes updated resturant reviews, pictures and other things.
Venice for Pleasure by J.G. Links.
With the exception of the island of Lido, Venice is a city where you get from place to place either by boat or by walking. J.G. Links is a walking guide for Venice. The book takes you through various sections of the city and includes a discussion of some of the lesser known sights. Mr. Links, who died on October 1, 1997, has an engaging writing style. It is a guide to Venice as a city to be enjoyed and savored. If you want to see all the sights in a day, this may not be the guide for you. But if you want to learn something of the nature of Venice, the city that is the bones of a dead empire, this may be the book for you.
The Companion Guide to Venice by Hugh Honour
This guide to Venice provides no information on places to stay or even where to eat. Rather it is a guide to all that you can see in Venice. The Companion Guide describes the neighborhoods and the buildings. The layouts of the churches and cathedrals are described, along with their art and history. The Companion Guides are for those who want to not only see, but understand as well.
Walking and Eating in Tuscany and Umbria by James Lasdun and Pia Davis
This is a book about walks in the Tuscan and Umbrian countryside. A number of these walks are in the area around Siena. What I love about the book is that it combines reviews of walks you can take with reviews of resturants at the start and end of the walks. I have not yet gotten a good feeling for is what these walks are like for an out-of-shape computer scientist.
There is a web site associated with the book, which is supposed to have updates: www.walkingandeating.com
Siena & the heart of Tuscany by Rebecca Ford, Footprint Press
The most visited city in Tuscany is Florence (Firenze). Many people who visit Tuscany spend only a day in Siena. Guidebooks on Tuscany have sections on Siena, but this was the only guide book I found that is just covers Siena and its immediately surrounding area.
Bologna & Emilia-Romagna by Dana Facaros & Michael Pauls, Cadogan Guides
This guide to the Emilia-Romagna region has a good section on Bologna, covering the city's history. The guide also has a general history of the Emilia-Romagna region and a discussion of the regional food. Bologna is supposed to have some of the best food in Italy.
Bologna by Ben Donald, Footprint Press
The city of Bologna is covered in guides on the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, but as with Siena, this Footprint Press book was the only guide book I found was written on Bologna and its surrounding area.
My main web page on Italy
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