Spain: Reviews of Travel Books and Maps
The purpose of this page is to reveal to you the resources that we have used both prior to and during our trip to Spain. We have reviewed such resources so we can convey to you which ones we thought were most useful as well as those we didn't find useful. Hopefully, this may better direct your information gathering efforts for your own trip...
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REVIEWS OF TRAVEL RESOURCES (BOOKS, MAPS, WEBSITES)
Rick Steves: Spain [Overall Rating: 4/5]
This guide book was our go-to book of our Spain trip. Its appeal was that Steves essentially condensed most of the popular cities and towns in Spain into a quick hitting list of highlights complete with triangle ratings, at-a-glance summaries to quickly help the reader prioritize the sights, and simplified hand-drawn maps focusing only on what Steves thought was most important to his audience. He also pulled no punches when it came to his opinions as well. And as such, it was very apparent to us that this book was a hit with the American audience.
We also appreciated some of Rick Steves' insider tips regarding booking many of the venues in advance. Especially for things like the Palacio Nazaries in the Alhambra of Granada and several of the Gaudi buildings in Barcelona, it was very wise to book those things well in advance of our trip. Although we enjoy flexibility and letting the circumstances (especially weather, closures, crowds, etc.) dictate what we should focus on and what to defer, we wisely did as Steves said and avoided getting shut out or held back in very long queues on the aforementioned key highlights by getting our tickets well in advance.
Since we didn't want to lug multiple guidebooks with us while out in the field, this was the book we ultimately relied on for the majority of the Spain part of our trip in 2015. But that was also where we ran into trouble. Given its popularity with Americans, pretty much everything Steves recommended was crowded and/or overrun with tourists. It turned out that some of our most enjoyable experiences in the country involved places that weren't mentioned in the guidebook. Examples of this included the Hanging Houses in Cuenca, most of the waterfalls that we visited, a nice beach at Ezaro, Monasterio de Piedra, and many other things. And because of our over-reliance on this guidebook, we also missed out on some things that I really wished we could've done. These misses included a couple of Barcelona sights like the Magic Dancing Fountains on Montjuic and the Parc de la Cituadella as well as the Tower of Clavero in Salamanca among others.
Rick Steves also had a tendency to favor things related to art history. I guess that's fine if you're into that, but our interests were more on the nature stuff. So we had to take his ratings with a bit of a grain of salt though for the most part, we agreed with his ratings.
Overall, we can totally understand why the Rick Steves Europe guidebooks (and TV show on PBS) is very popular amongst the American audience. But we do have to caution that if you're gonna bring just one guidebook and it's this one, then it's probably beneficial to go on TripAdvisor to validate or at least open your mind to the stuff that's either not mentioned or de-emphasized in the Steves guidebook. I know there were certainly moments where if we paid attention to the DK guidebook, we wouldn't have whiffed on some of the things we wished we had back. Still, it's a solid guidebook that we think maintains its relevancy despite all this free information on the internet.
Lonely Planet: Spain [Overall Rating: 3/5]
For almost all of our trips, we'd go to the LP guides as our default choice of guidebooks, but we made an exception for Spain as we put the Rick Steves guide to the test and were pretty pleased with the experience though there were some things we wished we would've known in spite of the book. So in terms of in-the-field guides, it seemed like over the years, LP had lost its utility. However, where the LP books still remain relevant to us was the pre-trip planning. That was where their detailed maps, sight summaries and highlights, and encyclopedic information and logical organization at least helped us seed our pre-trip queries before we delved deeper into the research to become well informed during the course of our trip planning.
Some of the things we spontaneously "discovered" through the LP guides while out in the field (that didn't involve Rick Steves) included Ainsa, Ordesa y Monte Perdido hikes, Aiguestortes y Estany de Sant Maurici, and others. I also appreciated the write-ups concerning the history and culture, which helped me better prepare for what the attitudes and way of life was like, which was especially important since we were spending a month in the country.
That said, the book itself was quick thick so when it came to the weight versus usefulness in the field, Rick Steves won out. So in the end, I'd recommend this book to start a pre-trip research, but I wouldn't recommend it as an in-the-field resource unless you're not keen on checking out DK and Rick Steves.
Eyewitness Travel: Spain (DK) [Overall Rating: 3.5/5]
Julie and I brought three guidebooks to Spain, and this was the third one. In terms of writeups and trying to glen a little more about what the country would be like in more than just pictures, I'd have to say this book was probably the most lacking on that front. In fact, I could probably generalize and say that as far as a standalone reading resource, this book doesn't do the job.
However, we also recognize that pictures are worth a thousand words, and when it came to getting a sense of what a particular attraction looked like or how it was laid out or how the street-by-street self-touring would be like, that was probably where this book shined over both LP and Rick Steves. I guess if there wasn't readily available internet (to check out TripAdvisor or Pinterest), this guidebook was good for that quick visual at-a-glance evaluation of whether a particular attraction was worth our time or not. Plus, in a bit of a surprise, this book also covered a few things that weren't in either Rick Steves nor LP, and this included the waterfall-heavy Monasterio de Piedra.
So in the end, this book was primarily a back-up resource as well as an aid to our pre-trip planning. And in terms of how it compared to the LP experience, I guess it was hit and miss, but we felt it was more useful as a resource in the field (where Rick Steves didn't cover it or provide good photos), and so we gave this book a slightly higher rating than LP.
Garmin City Navigator Europe [Overall Rating: 4.5/5]
Generally, when it comes to international research, I'm pretty happy when I can call upon a MapSource software that covers the part of the international destination that I'm headed. In this case, it was Europe, and the cool thing about this product was that it pretty much covered all of Europe. So that meant it was useful for trip planning when we drove around France, Italy, Switzerland, Great Britain, and now Spain!
The reason why I like the MapSource product is largely because of its functionality. Even though we had a Garmin Nuvi for in-the-field navigation of Europe (from a separate purchase of an SD card), this MapSource product helped us with the trip logging and waypointing both when I had to download stuff from the Nuvi as well as prior to the trip when I had to mark where we were planning on going.
In addition to the functionality, I also liked the level of detail that included default waypoints for some places we were targeting (mostly accommodations but surprisingly some waterfalls as well, which was surprising considering this product was a "city navigator"). That said, there were some details that were left to be desired concerning walking paths and trails that weren't in the map, but I guess that's really an expected weakness considering this product was all about city navigating in Europe as opposed to navigating between natural and wild places in the continent. We also saw quite a few parts of the map that were a bit outdated so we did experience a few confusing moments while driving in Spain (especially frustrating since it seemed like the streets were even narrower and more random than in other European cities, which we suspect might have to do with the fact that some of the old medinas were probably converted into city streets).
I think GoogleMaps still leaves a lot to be desired in terms of places pinned on their world collaborative maps, and so until I see GM getting even more comprehensive, I'll just keep sticking with the MapSource product for trip planning in the interim. Who knows how long it will take before that happens? In any case, I'm willing to bet that quite a few of these default waypoints haven't even made an appearance on GoogleMaps yet (though it is a matter of time).
So even in an age of GoogleMaps where there might be plenty of disjointed waypoints and tracks from random bloggers, hiking clubs, business, and general info providers, this map is still necessary to get the rest of the info that otherwise wouldn't find its way onto Google. And for that reason alone, that makes this product very valuable. I know that little by little, these map products are being phased out, but at least as far as Europe is concerned, I have what I need.
I know from seeing Amazon reviews that quite a few people have trouble with getting the product installed or used, but I can't say I've had terrible difficulty in getting up and running with each MapSource product I have. Perhaps what's more annoying is having to enter serial numbers or license info and connecting with their server (or hooking up a Garmin GPS product as part of the install process), where I fear one day I might get stuck having to re-install it only to find out that I can't communicate with their server anymore (thereby rendering the product useless even though I bought it).
So until the product is rendered useless, I still contend this is the most useful map product out there and only lags behind GoogleMaps in that the place name search capability may not be as extensive, flexible, nor up-to-date since GoogleMaps is constantly being added to as time goes on...
Wikiruta [Overall Rating: 4/5]
During the course of our research of waterfalls in Spain (not necessarily a commonly searched thing, especially since you pretty much have to do the searches in Spanish to get anywhere), we came across this website on more than one occasion. I tend to think of it as kind of a free trails.com except it focuses on the country of Spain. So there are trail write-ups (in Spanish) along with elevation profiles, photos, star ratings, and even interactive topographic maps (an especially useful feature).
It's too bad that not everything is covered, but of the kind of long distance excursions that we knew we might have to make an evaluation as to whether to spend the hours to do them or not on our Spain trip, this helped a lot in terms of getting a good idea of how much trouble it would be as well as how off-the-beaten-path the trail would be as well. They even had GPS waypoints as well as tracks.
Had we been living in Spain and had the time to go on longer weekend outings, then this would be an extremely useful tool to refer to over and over again. However, since we were on limited time abroad, this tool actually deterred us from considering most of the long-distance hikes unless it really was worth it (Cares Gorge comes to mind). In any case, the level of detail was definitely what we were looking for when it came to trail research, and it's this kind of useful level of detail that we also strive for on our own writeups on this website. So their approach definitely resonated with us.
The only drawback is that it's pretty much in Spanish. Personally, my Spanish is not up to the fluency where I can seamlessly use this tool and read the descriptions and know exactly what they're saying in one quick pass. Nope, it takes me multiple passes at a very slow reading speed. So that's really the only thing keeping me from rating this tool any higher.
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