Lonely Planet: Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania, by Peter Dragicevich, Hugh McNaughtan, and Leonid Ragozin
As part of my reading for the upcoming Feast of Tabernacles in Estonia , I requested this book from one of the local library systems I frequent on a regular basis, only to find that the book was on order. It was worth the wait. As it happens, the book was on order because the newest edition of the book just came out this year, and was likely on back order from the publisher. In reading this book I was reminded why I find the Lonely Planet traveling guides such a comfort when looking forward to international visits, as this is the third time that I have read a guide in advance of traveling, having previously done so for trips to Ghana and Thailand. The virtues of the book, and the others in the series I am familiar with, are many–the material is well-organized, benefits from crowdsourcing information, and contains a healthy amount of irony, wit, and sarcasm. For example, of one of Estonia’s small islands the authors have the following to say: “Vormsi, Estonia’s fourth-biggest island (93 sq km), rose from the sea around 3000 years ago and continues to rise at a rate of 3mm per year (its highest point is a modest 13m above sea level and is said to be a hiding place for trolls). Except for its voracious mosquitoes, the island has only ever been sparsely inhabited and as a consequence its forests, coastal pastures and wooded meadows have remained relatively undisturbed (163).” This is the sort of book that reports on local customs and superstitions in a deadpan and understated way, at times giving warning to readers about conditions and giving handy tips on how travelers can save money and get the most bang for their buck. It is hard to imagine a more pleasant read for the witty traveler.
In terms of its contents, this book has much in common with other traveler’s guides to the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. It gives a few useful words and phrases in the three national languages, it comments on culture, history, and politics, it gives recommendations on lodging, food, travel, and shopping, and it comments on visa requirements and the rapidly growing e-infrastructure and the somewhat lacking transportation infrastructure of the region. Like most guides, it goes in order from north to south, starting with Estonia, progressing to Latvia, and then finishing with Lithuania. Unlike the other guides I have read, it also includes excursions to Helsinki (the capital of Finland), placed after the section on Estonia, as well as to Kalingrad (ruled over by Russia since WWII) after the section on Lithuania. What the book lacks for in glossy pictures it more than makes up for in useful information and a robust sense of both humanity and snark, directed where appropriate, usually at either Russian or Nazi behavior or problems with mosquitoes, which are mentioned often.
The target market for a book like this one is fairly obvious–it is aimed at people traveling to either Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania. The book is updated frequently, encourages readers to send their comments and remarks, which helps the book stay current and improve in quality and usefulness to travelers. The authors are honest in their appraisals and encourage readers to be wise about social customs so as to be wise and understanding travelers in foreign countries. For those of us who do enjoy the occasional trip to foreign lands, the guide are useful in providing worthwhile information for planning trips. Included are insets for walking tours of the region’s capital cities, advice on whether or not to get museum or city passes in various cities, and even include information on how to room with residents of cities, and which areas have English-speaking tourist guides. For those looking for useful and specific details and recommendations about cost and quality, this book is a useful guide that, at about 430 pages including its closing “survival guide” apart from its lengthy index, is not too taxing on the reader while also providing a wealth of worthwhile information. For those traveling to the Baltic states, this book is a must-read.
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