Travel Books -- Two Takes On Touring Europe

Rick Steves has developed a devoted following during the past 20 years, not only for his "Europe Through the Back Door" guidebooks, but for his regular Back Door newsletter and his videos.

His guidebooks are entertaining, efficient and reliable. But it's when the Edmonds-based Steves tells his stories about people and places that his personality shines through and makes friends of his readers.

So it's about time that "Postcards from Europe" has hit the presses. The new book ($16.95, John Muir Publications) is scheduled to hit the racks in the next month or so.

The stories about places he's been and people he's met present Steves at his garrulous best: enthusiastic metaphors and contagious kindness; unabashed sentimentality, good humor and compassion interspersed with flashes of insight.

He's organized the short, journal-like narratives in an itinerary that loops from Amsterdam through Germany, Italy, Switzerland and up to Paris. As he travels - often by the seat of his pants - the prose flows off the top of his head: spontaneously and energetically.

The tone honors the purpose and theme he articulates in his introduction:

"Europe is where I'm from. Like a salmon homing in on its birthplace, I'm compelled to return. I haven't spent a quarter of my adult life in Europe for the gelato. . . .

"Good travel is like a dance. It's about people. I've enjoyed a 20-year dance with Europe. And while Europe's changed and I've changed too, we've never lost eye contact."

His tales - "the Swiss schoolteacher who risks my life to show me an edelweiss we can't pick. . . . The Parisian who takes a deep whiff of moldy cheese and sighs, `It smells like see feet of angels' - leave readers with not only vicarious experiences and acquaintances, but lessons in how to travel and become involved in the life of the world.

A travel primer

In "Create Your Own European Adventure - Leave the Guidebooks at Home," Clive Shearer, a Bellevue writer, artist and consultant, draws on years of traveling experience in compiling 370 pages of practical advice that every first-time independent traveler to Europe (or anywhere, for that matter) should know - if not memorize.

The book ($19.95, Newjoy Press, P.O. Box 3437, Ventura, CA 93006) isn't a guide to places. It's a how-to-do rather than a what-to-see type of guide, from planning and scheduling through taking photographs and keeping a travel journal.

Straightforward and unpretentious, it covers packing, health, safety, communication, finances, transportation and information sources - not to mention souvenir-hunting, bargaining, doing laundry, people watching, finding public toilets . . .

High-end and group tourists who opt to have others do the groundwork, footwork and most other work involved in traveling for them needn't bother. This is a book for those who want to become intimate with Europe and Europeans and not spend money like an American.

"My goal," Shearer writes, "is meant to prepare you for your journey, to allow you to take your own steps, find your own path, and reap your own joys."

Check local travel bookstores, or special order from Newjoy Press.