Guide books, too good to be true?

brysonbookPhil: I’m writing this from my hotel room in Adelaide, Australia. Travelling around for a couple of weeks, a guide book of some sort is invaluable. Pitching up in a town and exploring is perfectly fine but having a guide in a book makes better use of limited exploring time.

I don’t really need much help with this leg of the trip as a programme of visits has already been provided by the people who invited me over. However, in preparation I’ve been re-reading Bill Bryson’s book “Down Under” for a few pointers.

Bryson is a very entertaining, and therefore successful, travel writer. I’ve read all his travel books but now I’m on the ground, they turn out to be more use for the armchair traveller. Once inspired to buy tickets, go and get something more practical.

Adelaide gets hardly a mention in the book even though the writer visited. This is odd as it’s a beautiful city full of attractive Victorian buildings. The streets are clean, it feels relaxed, just the sort of place Bryson loves. Not to worry, as I get to enjoy my exploration.

Adelaide Station

One section of the book covers a train called the “Indian Express” which runs from once side of the country to the other. I’m going to be taking the Adelaide to Sydney section of this run next week. Bryson travelled 1st class but obsesses about the people in “coach” until he accidentally finds his way in there and then describes the occupants as owning “124 pairs of sunken eyes” that follow his progress to the refined end of the train.

I will be travelling “coach”.

You see, when you ARE a successful travel writer, opportunities open up. When Bryson ends up in coach, he’s returning from riding up in the locomotive cab. Not something the average traveller gets the chance to do. He’s riding 1st class because his publisher is paying, they don’t annoy their best-selling writers with uncomfortable trips unless there is a very good reason.

Even at the one stop I’ll be making, Broken Hill, he’s off on a pre-arranged trip into the country. Me, I’m hoping that the town is as delightful as he describes. Google street view suggests the most exciting feature is a giant branch of Woolworths.

There’s nothing wrong with this. Vicarious travel is what books and TV series offer. Maximum interest in minimum time. Just don’t beat yourself up if your trip isn’t quite as action-filled. I’m not.

Adelaide Shops

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Filed under Books, Phil, Writing

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