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Although I like to think of myself as a pretty independent and resourceful traveler, there are times when a guidebook is very useful. There is so much information out there on the internet that printed travel guides can’t really compete with; a travel guide can only contain so much information and is outdated almost as soon as it’s published. On the other hand, a travel guide keeps all the information in one place and is easier to cope with than lots of separate print outs and pages of notes. There have been times when travelling that I’ve had to change my plans at the last minute because of problems with transport and I’ve been glad to have the guidebook for alternative ideas for places to spend the night.
I can’t say I have a particular preference for publisher; Lonely Planet and Rough Guides tend to cover the same countries and include more or less the same information but in slightly different formats. When looking for a guidebook earlier this year for a trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina, I was surprised to find that neither publisher has yet published a book on this country.
The only guide I could find was published by Bradt in 2008. I’ve used Bradt guides before but I wouldn’t buy one if Lonely Planet or Rough Guides have a guide for that destination. I didn’t get to look at the book before buying; I had a voucher for Play.com and bought straight from the website. That said, I don’t think that a quick flick through it in a bookstore would have alerted me to the shortcoming of the Bradt guidebook.
From first appearances, the Bradt guide looks more strait-laced and scholarly than the Lonely Planet (slick and modern, for backpackers and high end travelers alike) or Rough Guides (more fun and aimed more towards the budget end of the market). There are six pages of reasonably attractive and interesting photographs at the beginning of the book, but that’s all. The quality of the photographs is not quite as good as those in Rough Guides and nowhere near as good as those in Lonely Planet (which I think are usually first class). I thought the photographs were a bit lacklustre, lacking in character or originality.
The rest of the book, then, is decidedly black and white with only a few street maps to distract from the text. Now, as a stop-gap until you can find the tourist information office, the street maps in guidebooks are usually fairly helpful. They’ll get you to the TIC generally and there you can get something more detailed. In this part of the world it is usually the case that bus stations are situated outside of the town or city centre, sometimes so far that you need to pick up a tram or shuttle bus. This is a good idea really because it means that people who don’t need to go right into the centre don’t have to, after all the increased traffic in the centre only slows you down and if you’re a local you’ll probably not need to be in the centre anyway. While this is ideal for locals, it’s often a bit of bind for tourists because you have to somehow get into the centre. In Lonely Planet and Rough Guides, if the station is off the map there’ll be an arrow on the edge of the map saying which direction the station is in and giving the approximate distance. Not so in Bradt; if it hadn’t been for the bright yellow box that is the Holiday Inn, which I recalled from news reports during the Bosnian War, we’d have been rather unsure of which way to head. We ended up walking, not such a great distance but I’d have expected the guidebook to suggest that a tram might have been useful and perhaps saying which number to the centre.
Another issue with the maps was that places were specifically mentioned and then not shown on a map. A restaurant that was recommended in Banja Luka is a good example; information on its location comprised “A 1Km footpath along the river from the centre of town takes you directly to Stari Mlin” – brilliant, except we don’t know which side of the river or which direction.
While we’re on the subject of restaurants why bother saying “The Chinese restaurant in town couldn’t survive and closed down just before this book was written”? The fact that there was previously a Chinese restaurant is no help to me looking for a restaurant today!
One thing I couldn’t fault this guidebook on is the amount of information about the background history of the country. Everything is covered – culture, wildlife, typical foods, economy and so on; in fact the guide itself doesn’t start until page 101 and is over by page 253 which means there’s a lot of padding here and not much in the way of guiding. Still Bosnia is still relatively undeveloped when it comes to tourism and there are at least a good number of suggestions for the major towns as well as some less obvious countryside places although I would say that a good many of them require a car to get to.
As you would expect there are recommendation for accommodation and eating although I’d say there are fewer than in other guidebook publications and I felt that as far as food was concerned it wasn’t described with much enthusiasm. There has been, however, an attempt to cover a range of budgets and although I felt the book was aimed not so much at backpackers as travelers as step up the tourism chain, not all options suggested were at the top end.
While Bradt looks on the surface to have all bases covered, it’s the little details that let it down and it comes across as a little stuffy with little humour. I’d have liked to have seen more photographs and more focus on the people of the country as well as the history which was really too lengthy. Perhaps as tourism develops this guide will evolve and reflect the greater possibilities.
All the vital stuff is here along with some useful extras such as recommended reading, fiction and otherwise, relevant websites and a short section on useful vocabulary. In this respect it varies hardly at all from the better known guides. Given the problems with this guide I’d be unlikely to buy another Bradt guidebook unless there were no other options for the particular destination. For me Tim Clancy took the joy and excitement out of travelling a little and I felt that the lack of attention to detail was inexcusable. Priced at £13.99, this is so far the only guidebook to Bosnia and Herzegovina available in English. One can only hope that Lonely Planet or Rough Guides have their publication in the pipeline.
Perhaps you need to write your own guide
. . . ♥ jesi ♥
greenierexyboy 27.10.2009 22:21
I don't care if it's meant to be a guidebook, I just can't stand it when these things are stuffy: you'd hope that a bit of enthusiasm for the place would shine through.
RICHADA 27.10.2009 09:18
An odd one this - I suppose seeing as no other guide on the subject is available, this has to count better than none. Trouble with guids I find is that all of them are frustrating, when you actually KNOW a country they all fall far short to my mind, although I suppose as travellers we have to start somewhere! Richard. xxx