Thursday, August 27, 2020



Sharing three vintage travel guides from This Beautiful World Series, a series of compact books with over 100 high quality color pictures published in the 1960s and 70s. The series started with titles focused on Asia and expanded to cover a wide range of surprising locations from Katmandu to St. Louis.  Their logo is a stylized representation of a Chinese character for beauty.  I have three of their books and added another book on Rajasthan that is not part of the series but seemed to fit in to the group to give the picture symmetry.  Most of the guides were sold in country. All purchased second hand at the AFSA book store on one of the many lunch hour visits I made to the store.

Kashmir, Shinay Fuiwara (1978).

The Himalayas: A Journey to Nepal, Takehide Kazami (1968). Once owned by "ME Lee".  With a blue circular ink stamp "Colorama - 21 "[~K?] Price" 

Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ages, Masatoshi Konishi (1969). Blue rectangle stamp inside, London Book Company, Peshawer.

Rajasthan, Sevanti Nin & Sondeep Shankar (1980). Published by Roli Books.

Bonus Book

Nepal, His Majesity's Government, Department of Tourism (1974).  Chock full of color photos of the country. Stamped inside, "With Compliments: - Gorkha Travels, Ltd. Durgar Marg, PO Box 629, Kathmandu, Nepal. 



Saturday, August 22, 2020

VINTAGE TRAVEL: Part II - Iron Curtain Edition

VINTAGE TRAVEL: Part II - Iron Curtain Edition 

I have only a smattering of miscellaneous guides from before the fall of the Soviet Union. The guides are in English and in were published by published by state owned presses or ministries of tourism. I try to imagine their owners. What motivated them to travel to the restricted areas of former Yugoslavia, Romania, and the U.S.S.R. An English speaking traveler would have been under scrutiny of both sides for making a visit to these destinations behind the iron curtain during the cold war. One of the most daring was Fitzroy Maclean (described in an earlier blog: Diplomat, Adventurer, Soldier, Author), a British diplomat who, while in Russia in the 1930s during the height of Stalin's show trials,  continually exhausted his minders by traveling into the forbidden areas of Soviet Central Asia. Maclean had been described as the original British Action Hero and had enough adventures for ten lifetimes.  

These guide books are much less daring.


A Tourist Guide Through Sarajevo, Dr. Smail Tihic (1966).  Purchased used from the AFSA bookstore with the first owner's signature on the flyleaf, "Janet L. B[illegible] July 1970. Book contains a brief history with a listing of resort destinations around the city, numerous black and white photos, and a map of the city on the back flyleaf. There are also a handful of ads in the back for tram lines, "Zrak" optics for binoculars and hunting scopes.  I wonder what adventures Janet B. may have had in the summer of 1970 with Tito in power seeking to be independent from the USSR. The world got to see the mountain setting of Sarajevo during the the 1984 Winter Olympics. In 1996, my wife traveled to Sarajevo and saw the devastation and rebuilding of the city following its four-year siege during the Bosnian War.

Moscow: A Tourist's Guide, V. Chernov and V. Mazov (1961).  Printed in the U.S.S.R. and distributed by their state tourist agency, Intourist (now privatized in affiliation with Thomas Cook).  The Berlin Wall would have gone up that year and Premier Nikita Khrushchev would have been in power then and later that year he would met with President Kennedy in Vienna over the fate of Berlin. The Guide contains a history of Moscow, "hints for the motorist" ("it is against the rules for a driver to signal except in emergencies"), black and white photos, and maps of the metro and ring road system (rarities).


Moscow: Architecture and Monuments, M. Ilyin (1968)

Published in the "USSR", a beautiful book of black and white and color photos featuring the Kremlin, the Old City, Moscow's Classical Period and "New" Moscow. A contrast of the Kremlin and 1960s modern architecture. Purchased in the AFSA bookstore.


The Romanian Coastline, Romanian Ministry of Tourism (no date, ~1980?) Not really a guidebook but a tourist brochure, I found in the AFSA bookstore and bought it for its color photos and time period. I'm trying to imagine traveling to Ceaușescu's Romania to visit a resort on the Black Sea about 1980. The brochure features Casinos, Roman ruins, beaches, Las Vegas style shows and spas. The fact that a traveler kept this and donated to a book store they must have experienced some of the coastline's charms.


Thursday, August 20, 2020

Vintage Travel - Part 1


Perhaps it’s the COVID virus which has made me go deep into my library to find vicarious travel experiences. Lately, I've been looking at a series of vintage travel guides. Years ago, I unconsciously started buying them second hand from the American Foreign Service Association located in the basement of the State Department. And by vintage, I've arbitrarily picked 1980 and earlier. Each of them came from a series of books by a publisher similar to those existing series today like Lonely Planet, Rick Steves, and Frommers. And guidebooks are different from their more literary cousins, travel narratives. Guidebooks are meant to be compact and functional making the traveler self-sufficient or at least reassure the owner they can be confident in their new adventure. 
More than other books, travel guides tell two stories: the first is a snapshot of how the world was perceived at a point in time and second, the story of the book's life, who owned it where they carried it. Travel guides were an especially personal object traveling in the hands of their owners who were exploring sights new and different from their homes. Perhaps some held out while walking or grasped tightly like security blankets.

Here's a few samples of vintage travel guides from different eras.


Marlborough's Self-Taught Series

The Marlborough Self-Taught Series was first published by a London publisher in 1909 using a popular self-instructional teach yourself method. It employed a systems of phonetics and also included a second series on grammar  The series covered most continental European languages but also Asian and Middle Eastern tongues and even Esperanto. One puzzling entry is for "Irish". 

My copy is for Persian with a bookstore stamp on the inside showing it was sold by the Mebso Bookstore, Tehran.  I imagine an British traveler, perhaps a serious minded student or army officer, walking into the bookstore on one of their first days in Iran and buying a copy one afternoon and walking out into the streets of early 20th century Tehran. The guide is compact, pocket sized, and well thumbed. 


Alpina Guide Books

The Alpina Guide Books was a small series was published in France the early 1950s offering classic black and white photos of their subjects and concise tours of well-loved French sites such as Chartres, Rheims, Notre Dame, and Versailles. My two copies are Paris on Foot and The Cathedral of Notre-Dame. Inside the back cover of Paris On Foot is a hastily drawn map and a set of notes for a show at the Folies Bergere at a cost of 1.7 Francs. It looks like two sets of hand writting: one French, one English I'm imagining an American traveler in post-war Paris taking notes from a small hotel Concierge setting out on foot to find the music hall and see a show featuring the Can-Can.

Pan Am Complete Reference Guides 

Once upon a time Pan American Airways, known as Pan Am, was the largest international airline and flagship carrier of the United States until its collapse in 1991. It's most glamorous days opened in the the late1950s and early 1960s with Pan Am flying its sleek and efficient Boeing 707s to Europe. With those flights, Pan Am published a series guides to European countries such as Britain, Spain and the Scandinavian countries. My copy is the Complete Reference Guide to France (1962). 

Here I'm imagining an American family traveling for the first time traveling to Paris, having shared the excitement with their friends and neighbor. Their travel agency has kitted them out with the Pam Am travel guide and carry-on bag.

More to come...

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Counterpoint to the Zombie Apocalypse

A quiet, peaceful, and even sweet book from Alice Herdan-Zuckermeyer. Alice and her husband, "Zuck" were intellectuals of in Weimar-era Berlin, he also being a playwright. The couple escaped Nazi Germany at the start of WWII and found their way to a small Vermont farm where they adapted to the small town ways of farm life in New England raising goats, chickens, and pigs, and struggled to survive the harsh New England Winters. Alice was able to keep her sanity by regular trips to the Dartmouth College library and writes a captivating chapter on her love of the Dartmouth library. She has also written a bit of a love story for her newfound country calling herself an American even after returning to Europe following the end of the war. As might be expected with New England farm life, it can be somewhat slow in sections. Overall, a satisfying read providing an outsider's perspective on America during WWII and a great addition to the New York Review of Books series.


Added bonus to the NYRB edition is the Wolf Kahn painting on the cover.