Bites of European Cities for the MTV Generation

AMSTERDAM (Knopf Guides, $24 plastic-bound); FLORENCE (Knopf Guides, $25 plastic-bound); ISTANBUL (Knopf Guides, $25 plastic-bound), and LONDON (Knopf Guides, $25 plastic-bound).

More travel guides for the MTV generation (or at least its more educated and intellectually curious members), these new volumes, which bear no bylines (but carry long lists of contributors) are English translations of a series originally published last year by Editions Nouveaux-Loisirs in France.

Long and slender, with dust jackets over durable black plastic-coated bindings, they're visual delights full of photographs, maps, architectural details, paintings and more. The slant is heavily historical and cultural (in other words, French), with sections on each city "As Seen by Painters" and "As Seen by Writers," and with precious little space wasted on mindless amusements--though there are sections of practical information, with smart recommendations for hotels and restaurants, museum addresses and hours and the like.

In an era of "sound bites," these are books full of travel bites, quick and memorable. They're no substitute for detailed guidebooks and background reading (for which, incidentally, they offer extensive bibliographies), but they are undeniably great fun, and an effective preliminary means of immersing oneself in the spirit of a place. Volumes devoted to Venice and San Francisco are due soon.

CAIRO: Tales of the City and VENICE: Tales of the City, both edited by John and Kirsten Miller (Chronicle Books, $12.95 each hardcover).

These small volumes of diverse writings (most quite brief)--the first in a series dubbed Chronicles Abroad--are a few months late: They would have made perfect stocking-stuffers at Christmastime. Handsome little things, not much bigger than a large man's palm, they're simply mini-anthologies of evocations of their subject cities, mostly by famous writers.

Some of these are letters or journal entries; others are excerpts from longer works. The authors are something of an odd lot: They include Rudyard Kipling, Naguib Mahfouz, William Burroughs and Monty Python's Michael Palin for Cairo; Thomas Mann, Jean-Paul Sartre, Casanova and Orson Welles (an anecdote about encountering Churchill) for Venice. As serious literary compendia, they're pretty lightweight, but they're diverting enough and are small and inexpensive enough to make great casual gifts, even though it isn't Christmas.

CHOCOLATES FOR THE PILLOWS, NIGHTMARES FOR THE GUESTS by Kenneth Lane Prestia (Bartleby Press, $12.95 paper).

Hotel guests sometimes get robbed, raped, even burned to death in their rooms. In many instances (as law courts have agreed), the hotel itself was negligent in permitting the circumstances under which these things could occur. Kenneth Prestia, who has worked the security detail for the Hilton, Hyatt, Western International and Howard Johnson hotel chains, argues in this admonitory volume that all too many hoteliers concentrate on guest amenities while neglecting basic measures to protect their clientele.

There are horror stories aplenty here (don't read this book late on a stormy night in a cheap motel room without a deadbolt on the door), and a measure of good advice for travelers. Prestia probably could have made his point in far fewer words, though--in a magazine article, say.

Quick trips:

CRUISES '94 by Antoinette DeLand and Anne Campbell (Fielding Worldwide, Inc., $16.95 paper).

Which ships cruise which waters, what to see and do along popular cruise routes, how the major cruise ships (as well as smaller craft--river boats, charter yachts, hotel barges, etc.) stack up against one another, general tips for pleasant sailing and more. A standard for the water-bound vacationer.

EXPLORING EUROPE BY BOAT by Barbara Radcliffe Rogers and Stillman Rogers (Globe Pequot Press, $12.95 paper).

This little guidebook is full of information on such things as river barges along the Seine through Normandy, icebreaker jaunts in Finland and steamers on the lakes of northern Italy--ways of seeing Europe that many travelers miss.

NEW MEXICO: Discover the Land of Enchantment, revised second edition by Dave DeWitt (Gulf Publishing Company, $15.95 paper).

An updated version of one of the more comprehensive guides to this state, in the Texas Monthly Guidebook series. As the sub-title suggests, the book is often phrased in tourist-bureau-sounding prose, but it covers a lot of ground and does it well.

THE BEST HOTELS OF GREAT BRITAIN 1994, compiled by the Association for Consumer Research, edited by Patricia Yates (Globe Pequot Press, $19.95 paper).

A thick, invaluable volume for anyone planning to travel in England, Scotland and/or Wales--especially in the countryside. Originally published in the U.K. itself as "The Which? Hotel Guide 1994" ("Which?" being the British equivalent of our "Consumer Reports"), this is a serious, responsible guide, with much frank description, pro and con, and lots of very specific and up-to-date factual information.

Books to Go appears the second and fourth week of every month.

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