As you can imagine February was not much of a reading month for me, because it was more or less completely dedicated to my US vacation:
The days before leaving with preperation, then the trip itself and finally with coming back home and readjusting to my normal life (and getting teary every time I see New York on TV, which btw happens daily, and seeing / reading pictures and stories from Pittsburgh - also daily thanks to my lovely Tweeps).
I know that some of you plan to travel soon as well - and some even to New York and Pittsburgh. So my obvious choice for this book edition is to present you the books and maps I used for my travels.
Let's start with my daily travel buddy for New York City:
Streetwise Map - Manhattan
I got my first Streewise Map a while ago from my friend Katharina. She had a spare one of San Francisco, which she gave to me. I used it while being in Northern California in April 2010 and liked it a lot.
Based on my positive experience I put the Manhattan and the subway / bus map for New York on my last Christmas wish list and they did not dissapoint me.
The maps from Streetwise are very easy to use. They have a small format and are folded in a way that you are always able to open the map for the part of the city you need without unfolding it to full size and handle a huge and flattery paper map. So if you - just like me - love to hide the fact that you are a tourist this is the map you need. Additionally the it is made from a thicker than normal paper and is laminated. You can check it in pouring rain and it won't be a problem.
I love these maps and before I buy any other I will always there is a Streetwise Map for the city I plan to visit. BTW ... there is none for Pittsburgh and I had to use a regular city map, which was very uncomfortable in direct comparison.
Streetwise Maps are not expensive. The Manhattan map costs at Amazon (Germany) only 5,10 EUR and the subway / bus map only 1,40 EUR. I strongly recommend to spend this few EUR / $ and get excellent maps, which will help to make your trip easier and safer.
DK Eyewitness Travel - New York City
Of course there a millions of travel guides available for NYC - small ones, big ones, specialized ones (like art guides) ... what ever you want. I used two German books from ADAC mostly for reading before the trip and while being on the road I took The New York City edition of the DK Eyewitness series with me.
I just love these DK books. The general information sections are (if you have a recent edition of course) very precise and up to date. The combination of information presented city area by city area is ideal for my needs and easy to navigate. You find for every part of the city information about historic landmarks, museums, shopping, special attractions of the neighborhood and little stories and urband legends. The layout is very lively with lots of pictures in different sizes, little maps and drawings, but the clear structure of the copy makes it easy to find what you are looking for.
I am a person, who works a lot with the keyword index and I liked a lot that the index was very detailed and the information always easy to locate on the indicated pages.
At the moment I am flipping through my New York City DK and all the pictures and bits of info I catch by randomly looking into it make me want to go back - right now.
Moon Handbook - Pittsburgh
I can tell you that it is not easy to get good travel literature about Pittsburgh. In German language there is simply - nothing. So dear travel book publishing companies .... if you are looking for somebody to write a German one, I would consider doing it if the money is right ;).
Before my trip I ordered "The Insider's Guide Pittsburgh" and "Seeing Pittsburgh" by Barringer Fifield and Michael Eastman. The second one is pretty old (1996), which means that some of the stuff is kind of outdated because Pittsburgh is a quick changing place. It is also not a classic travel guide with all the general information. It presents the city in form of neighborhood walks and provides a lot of stories, pictures and information. Especially when it comes to historic landmarks it is still interesting and helpful.
The Insider's Guide is ... well ... simply boring. The books is quite big (450 pages) and yes - it has a lot of information and is useful, but with almost no images and the very serious way the content is presented it is not exactly making you feel like "YAY travelling to Pittsburgh looks like FUN!".
Thank god I am a lucky girl at least sometimes. And so at a Barnes & Nobles in New York while looking for something totally different I climbed some stairs and randomly looked around and saw the back of the Insider's Guide in the travel book shelf for US cities. I thought that when the Insider's Guide is there some more books about Pittsburgh could be there as well and I might finally find a good one - and I did.
I found and bought the Moon Handbook Pittsburgh by Dan Eldrige and I like it a lot. If you know the city and the people at least a bit you realize by the first few pages that this was written by a Burgher (not a native one, but one who lived many years in Pittsburgh and graduated from PITT). The language, the humor, the little stories, the charateristics of the different neighborhoods - all very nice and to the point. Little chapters like "Pittsburgh on a rainy day" and the fact that the sports chapter is BIG show also that the man knows what he is talking about ;).
But what made the book really perfect for me was, that it had a lot of information for people like me who visit the city without a car. It even has a map with all major bus lines which the lady at the Visit Pittsburgh Office commented with "WOW - I have never seen something like this before." And that is because the Port Authority is able to give you flyers about the schedule and stops of every single line but no overview map. Seriously ... but Port Authority Pittsburgh (and especially the recent bus service cuts) is a topic for itsef anyway...
To give you another example: I was wondering how I could go to the inclines without a car. I knew it must be possible, but I thought I would have to figure out while being in Pittsburgh and not beforehand. It was the Moon Handbook which gave the simple info that the Monongahela Incline is just accross Station Square, where you can go by T, bus or just walking Smithfield Street Bridge. Sounds banal but none of the other books was telling me this and it is hard to get an idea of distances when you never were at the actual place before.
Although the Moon Handbook is not comparable to the big and colorful travel books you may be used to - like the DK New York City - I can strongly recommend it.
BUT .... folks ... dear travel book publishers, writers, designers, layouter ... WHY all three book about Pittsburgh I could get have only black and white pictures??? Common ... Pittsburgh is great and should presented in bright and beautiful color pictures.
If you are planning your trips to one of the cities in the near future and feel like I might have some tipps and recommendations for you, just drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will share all my knowledge and experience and will try to help although I am for sure not the biggest expert neither for New York nor for Pittsburgh.