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AUSTRIA

Both Lonely Planet and Rough Guides have books covering Austria. I bought the Lonely Planet and read my friend's Rough Guide and I consider the Rough Guide to be far superior; it's more comprehensive and goes into a lot more detail. The Lonely Planet's section on Salzburg is frankly pretty pathetic. You should definitely go with the Rough Guide.

Insight have a Compact Guide to Salzburg. Compact is the right word, as it has just over 100 pages, only about a third of which covers the city of Salzburg itself, the rest covers the Salzburg region of Austria. The sections on restaurants and hotels (about one page for each) aren't worth bothering with, but the bits about Salzburg's history are interesting. Hardly a brilliant book then, but better than the Lonely Planet, and it only costs 5.99. Insight also produce a "FlexiMap" of Salzburg. This is extremely useful, a big, detailed fold-out laminated street map of Salzburg on one side, with a more detailed map of the Old Town, an A to Z index, and some basic tourist information on the other. Well worth buying, if you can get hold of a copy.

Of all the sites on Salzburg on t'internet, this is the one that I found to be the most useful.

BULGARIA

OK, again you've got the choice of a Lonely Planet or a Rough Guide to Bulgaria. I bought them both and my recommendation would definitely be for the Rough Guide. It is far more comprehensive (Sofia takes up 15 pages in the Lonely Planet, 43 in the Rough Guide), several places we visited were totally ignored by the Lonely Planet.

A couple of useful sites for Sofia are Sofia City Guide and the Sofia Echo, and Sofia Life. In Your Pocket also have their Sofia pages up and running again.

We booked our hotel through HotelsBulgaria, part of Hotels Central.

CUBA

There's now a wide selection of tourist guides to Cuba but a lot of them are glossy tat, detailing only the major hotels and tourist sites in Havana, skipping much of the rest of the country, and tending to assume that you're going to be on a guided tour rather than making your own way. A quick flick through several of them in WHSmiths revealed that not one of them went into any details on such vital topics as booze and, err... booze.

One book I can definitely recommend is the Lonely Planet guide which covers most of the country in reasonable detail and is updated fairly regularly. I have also found the Travellers Survival Kit to be fairly useful; although perhaps not quite as comprehensive as the Lonely Planet. There's now a new Rough Guide to Cuba too; although I don't own a copy I've flicked through it a few times in the bookshops and it looks pretty good; if it's up to the Rough Guide's usual standards it would be well worth considering. Another newish book is the Time Out guide, although that only covers Havana.

If you're planning on an extended visit to Cuba, or want a fuller understanding of the Cuban way of life try the Culture Shock! guide to Cuba. Also well worth reading is The Land of Miracles by Stephen Smith, a British journalists' account of his visits to Cuba and attempts to meet Fidel Castro. For those who want to know a bit more about the country try Cuba by Hugh Thomas, a massive (1150) page history covering the years 1762 up to the Cuban missile crisis. It took me a while to plough through it, but it's surprisingly accessible and readable. Just as comprehensive, but a hell of a lot shorter, is "Cuba, A New History" by Richard Gott.

Some more photos of Camaguey can be found here.

CZECH REPUBLIC

There's now a proliferation of guides to the Czech Republic in general, and even more that cover only Prague.

My personal recommendation would be the Rough Guide to Prague which has recently been released in a new edition (although I do have one reservation; the map pages fall out too easily). In a similar vein is the Lonely Planet guide book. I got the 2007 Lonely Planet for a bit of variety and found that it just didn't have the same breadth or depth of coverage as the Rough Guide. I'd also like to recommend the Insight Guide to Prague. It's a bit heavier than the others, but is pretty informative and has by far the best photographs. Mine also came with an invaluable large laminated fold-out street map.

A bit poncey but interesting anyway is the newly-published "Art for Travellers" guide to Prague. It totally ignores stuff you'd find in standard guidebooks such as hotels, restaurants, and bars and instead concentrates on the buildings (their architecture and history) with a special emphasis on art and art galleries. The language can sometimes be a bit flowery and some of the photos are surprisingly poor quality (if they'd wanted an out of focus photo of the Tyn Church they could have borrowed one of mine) but these reservations aside I found it an often fascinating read.

If you have a Sony PSP you can get a disc called "Passport To Prague", produced with Lonely Planet. If you've already been to Prague once, or already have a half-decent guidebook, don't bother. There's not that much detail, the multimedia content is disappointing (dark, indistinct photos, only one 5 minute video of Prague which seems to devote half its running time to watching trains on the underground and some topless young lad arseing about on his BMX), and some very surprising omissions (I couldn't find anything on the Astronomical Clock). The maps are OK, but what kind of idiot is going to pull out a PSP if they're pissed and/or lost at 2am in some Prague back alley? You'd be much better off just buying a guidebook.

The Rough Guide's section on Brno (15 full pages, including a 2 page map) is OK, apart from the restaurant section, which is pathetic, all of 8 restaurants are listed, all but 2 of them from a veggie perspective. I suppose that's what you can expect when you send a vegetarian to one of the great meat-eating countries of the world (is anyone apart from a Hare Krishna really likely to go to Brno to eat in a Hare Krishna restaurant?!?).

Prague in Black and Gold by Peter Demetz is a history of Prague, readable and very well written and recommended for those who want a greater understanding of the city's complex history. If you're really interested in Prague's history try "The Theatre of the World" by Peter Marshall, which tells the story of Prague's Golden Age when the mad Emperor Rudolph II transferred the Habsburg Capital to the city, and of his obsessions with astronomy, art, and the occult.

Explore Czech Republic is a directory of internet sites about the Czech Republic. They were kind enough to put a link to my site, so I'm returning the favour.

Prague Life is brought to you by the same people who brought you Cracow Life (see below). In Your Pocket also do a Prague guide which you might find especially useful if you're planning on hitting the titty-bars.

This is a good site for Brno; some nice photos.

LITHUANIA

There's not that much choice here in terms of books. Probably the best is the Lonely Planet guide to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Rough Guides also have a guide to the Baltic States. There's also a Bradt Guide to Lithuania which is fairly useful.

Once you get to Lithuania you must buy an In Your Pocket guide. Their guide to Vilnius is published 5 times a year and the guides to Klaipeda (and Kaunas) are published yearly. At less than 1 each these guides are essential containing information on hotels, restaurants, bars, clubs as well as tourist sites. Also included are maps and travel information. In your pocket also has a great website (which also features guides to most places in Eastern Europe and extensive links).

Vilnius Life is another one from the people who brought you Cracow Life.

POLAND

There's a fairly good range of guidebooks covering Poland. Both Lonely Planet and Rough Guides have brought out new editions in 2005. My preference is for the Rough Guide, which just seems to cover more. There's also a very good Lonely Planet book covering just Krakow, although it's a little bit out of date now. I'm also going to recommend the Insight Guide to Poland; although it's bar and restaurant sections are useless it has excellent sections on Polish history and society. As it's a lot heavier than the other guides it might be worth reading this book before you go and then leaving it at home.

In Your Pocket have bi-monthly guides to Warsaw and Krakow (as well as Gdansk) and cover a few other cities (including Wroclaw) less regularly. As usual these guides are almost essential, being up to date, well written, comprehensive, and best of all written with tongue firmly in cheek. The link to their website is below.

An excellent general book on Polish history (it's actually the book used in most Polish schools) is The Heart of Europe by Norman Davies. It starts in 1980 and then works its way backwards, although the newly published revised version also includes a chapter cover 1980 to the present day. By the same author is Microcosm: Portrait of a Central European City which takes a detailed look at the history of Wroclaw, using it illustrate the sometimes confusing and unstable history of this part of central Europe in general over the last 1200 years or so.

This site is for a British run company that helps foreigners to buy property in Krakow. The same people also run a bed & breakfast in Krakow.

Cracow Life is a great site, the restaurant and bar listings (and the reader's reviews) are particularly good. They also have Warsaw Life and Wroclaw Life.

SLOVAKIA

Both Lonely Planet and Rough Guides do guidebooks covering both the Czech and Slovak Republics; Slovakia is obviously not considered important enough to have its own book yet. Both books devote far more space to the Czech Republic than Slovakia. The Rough Guide seemed much the better of the two, it certainly gave far more space to Bratislava than the Lonely Planet.

Bratislava Hotels have not just details of hotels but lots of general tourist information and links to other sites too. The Hotel Kyjev has its own site here.

SLOVENIA

Rough Guides finally brought out a guide book for Slovenia in 2004, when Lonely Planet released a new edition of their Slovenia guide. I went with the Lonely Planet, which was fine. A good website for Ljubljana is www.ljubljana.si.

Some more Slovenia links that I've been sent:

www.burger.si/Koper/ENGKoper.htm
www.slo-istra.com
www.portoroz.si
www.koper.si
www.piran.si

Ljubljana Life is a good English language guide.

GENERAL

Lonely Planet have a useful general guide to Eastern Europe that features sections on Slovenia, Poland and the Czech Republic. There's nothing in it that isn't in their guidebooks dedicated to those countries, but if you're pushed for cash or room in your bags it's a useful book.

Lonely Planet also have an Eastern European phrasebook, which has sections on Czech, Polish and Slovene. The Rough Guide European phrasebook has a bigger and better Czech section, and also covers Spanish.

Not really related to this website, except perhaps in spirit, but a great read and a good introduction to travelling and boozing in Eastern Europe is Borders Up by Vitali Vitaliev, a Russian-born journalist who breaks the countries of Eastern Europe down according to whether the drink of choice is wine, beer or spirits, and describes his travels and drinking in each. Great stuff! The Longest Crawl by Ian Marchant is part travelogue, part social history of the pub in British society, and part love-poem to the joys of British beer. I loved it.

Feel free to e-mail me with any questions, observations, or abuse you might have.

OTHER LINKS

Fun In Hounslow: A comprehensive guide to this cosmopolitan London Borough.

Dublin Photos : Photos from my friend Piyushs' stag-trip to Dublin.

Los Gordos : The finest tug-of-war team in the Home Office.

In Your Pocket : Excellent, up-to-date guides to many cities in Eastern Europe.

Lonely Planet: A bit politically correct and up its own arse, but still very useful, especially the "Thorn Tree".

Rough Guide: ditto.

HotelsCentral: Cheap hotels! Reliable, good prices, wide selection in Eastern Europe.

Octopus Travel: Reasonable alternative to Hotels Central, usually a bit more expensive though.

Expedia: Good for cheap flights! Not so good for cheap hotels (link is to UK site).

Opodo : Sometimes have better prices than Expedia.

Milnrow : My hometown! Just in case you're interested!

TravelRoomers : Tree hugging hippy crap!! Not really, free accomodation, looks like a good idea.

CAMRA : The Campaign for Real Ale. Drink beer that isn't cold and fizzy.

Beers of Europe: Buy or just drool over 1000s of different beers. A bit expensive, but great service.

Hidden Europe: Website of an interesting magazine that "explores Europe's special places" (not titty bars).

J.W. Lees: Possibly my favourite Britsh brewery.

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