Wow! This is a great book for travel dreamers or doers.  Subtitled A Rough Guide to Travel Adventures by Greg Witt, Ultimate Adventures showcases all sorts of exotic locations — some places I’ve never even heard of, but now can’t wait to see.  And though there are many adventures which are geared more to the adrenaline junkie, there are still plenty of “soft” experiences for the more conservative traveler.  For instance, I know I’ll never ever attempt a 51-day ski trip to the South Pole or ice diving in Russia’s White Sea.  But maybe I could handle hiking New Zealand’s Milford Trek, as I’ve had friends who’ve successfully completed it.

One handy feature is a 5-star rating system covering 4 elements: physical, psychological, skill level and wow! factor.  This is designed to help the reader decide if this trip is a good match for their abilities.  For example, climbing Mt. Kilamanjaro is ranked high (4) for the physical endurance required, only a 2 for the skill level needed (it’s basic hiking, not technical rock climbing) but it scores a 5 for Wow factor.

It’s well-organized (by continents); the photos are breathtaking and the descriptions should inspire even the stodgiest couch potato.  As a librarian, I don’t need to buy many books, but I do plan to purchase this one!

What is it about Americans and cars? Maybe it’s the sheer size of our country, or our heritage from our pioneer ancestors who were forever exploring the open road, but most of us have a real attachment to our cars. While plane travel and gas prices have made some difference in vacation plans, the tradition of seeing the country from the road remains strong. Start planning your next road trip with these two new books.

Drives of a Lifetime from National Geographic. This coffee-table-worthy book covers 500 trips world-wide, from spectacular scenery to sophisticated cities. Divided by types of trips (including mountains, sea, rivers, villages, urban, historic and gourmet) you’ll find the famous (the Grand Canyon, Mt Fuji, the Cotswolds of England) to the less traveled (the coast of Newfoundland in Canada, Cuban byways or the Okavango Delta in Botswana) Scattered throughout are quick “top ten” drives by subject (Wilderness Drives, Untamed Roads, African River Drives, Music Drives, Spectacular Bridges) and several “ultimate road trips” with more detail (Australia’s Great Ocean Road, Arches and Canyons of Utah, Sunset Boulevard in California) As you would expect from National Geographic, the photographs are outstanding.

USA’s Best Trips from Lonely Planet. No photos but lots more detail, this title concentrates on just the US with 99 itineraries with something for everyone including lists by theme (city, historic, culinary, etc) Most range in length from 2 to 5 days and are arranged geographically so it’d be easy to string two or more together. Some of the most fun are the longer, iconic cross-country trips – Route 66, Massachusetts to Miami, the Lincoln Highway, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Great River Road, the Great Divide (Rocky Mountains) and the Pacific Coast Highway. You’ll never be short of ideas for the your next great American road trip.

submitted by Georgann

Aptly subtitled “the Ultimate Guidebook,” Hawaii: the Big Island Revealed was a great help to us on our recent trip to The Big Island. Authors Andrew Doughty and Harriett Friedman were terrific “tour guides.” The prose is well-written, humorous and thorough. I was so glad we took this book along!

It can be overwhelming to plan a trip to a far-away place, but the authors told us what to do and what to skip. All the recommendations they made were well worth following. And when we didn’t follow but struck out on our own, our results were less than stellar. I liked how they rated places to see with “Real Gem” or “Not to be Missed” icons.

The authors tell you where to turn by mile marker. I had no idea how extremely helpful that would be until we began driving and realized that there is very little signage along the roads. Businesses are not allowed signs in front, but only can put their names on the buildings themselves, so it is easy to drive right by and miss the place you were looking for. Also, even the highways signs were different, so the mile marker directions were important.

Our guidebook made it safely to The Big Island, was well used while there, and is back on the shelf at the library. If you are planning a trip, take this “Real Gem” along! Even if you aren’t going, it is a fun and interesting read!

staycation3Congratulations to KarenW, the winner of our first ever Davenport Library Info Cafe blog contest! Karen’s excellent comment recommended not one but several wonderful places to visit, all arranged in a handy driving tour and includes great places to stop for a meal along the way. Her tour will appeal to many interests including families, and really showcases the beauty and history of eastern Iowa. Be sure to check out her comment!

Need some more ideas for your next Staycation? Here are some thoughts from a couple of our blogging librarians:

Lynn: I, for one, can’t wait to get on the road and try out Karen’s ideas. (it’s very useful to know how to gauge your coffee consumption when you’re in (relatively) unknown territory).

One of my favorite staycations follows the river on the Illinois side. It starts with an early morning  hike at Mississippi Palisades State Park in Savanna (fortified by a thermos full of good strong coffee). Trails along the cliffs and ravines provide just enough challenge to make ice cream, popcorn and/or an elegant Italian meal in Galena seem totally justifed.  To me, it’s a great combination of natural beauty, physical exercise and (sort of) sophisticated indulgence.

Ann: Don’t pass up a visit to the Neil Smith National Wildlife Refuge near Grinnell (about a 2 hour drive west of the Quad Cities, just off Interstate 80) where you can experience Iowa the way it was when the pioneers arrived. Less than one tenth of one percent of the tall grass prairie that once covered Iowa remains; at Neil Smith they are hard at work preserving and restoring authentic prairie. They have an excellent visitor’s center with educational displays and a introductory film, walking paths of various lengths (some are perfect for children) and a driving tour where you will have a very good chance of spotting the buffalo or elk herds. The Refuge is free but you’ll want to pack a picnic lunch. Don’t miss visiting this rare and beautiful land.

Congratulations again Karen and thanks for the great Staycation ideas! Your IMAX tickets are in the mail!

car travelIt’s the American thing to do – despite the dismal state of the economy and the need to cut back, a lot of people hit the road each summer on vacation. Something about our vast collection of interstate highways, our love of cars, our need to explore – it’s all part of the American character. And seeing more of this beautiful country – mountains, plains, cities – keeps us going around “just one more” corner. Of course, there are stretches of road – Nebraska comes to mind as does, quite frankly, large chunks of Illinois – that you must get across just to get where you’re going. Thank goodness for that super-slick CD player, built right into the car – just the thing to keep you and everyone in the car happily occupied!

Now, what to feed it? Let’s turn to our own librarians for their recommendations.

Lynn reminds us that a lot depends on who’s on the car with you. If you’re traveling with multi-generations, you need to look for something that will engage the kids, but is interesting to adults too. She suggests The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford, the classic (travel!) story of three pets separated from their family. A perilous journey with cute, smart animals and a happy ending – a winner for everyone. She also suggests West with the Night by Beryl Markham (another travel story!), an incredibly beautiful description of Markham’s life in Africa of the 20s and 30s. Although probably not of interest to children, Lynn also loved The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, a poignant story of love and loyalty.

According to Lynn, another thing to consider when choosing a book on tape is the narrator. A good reader can make a so-so book interesting, while a bad reader can ruin even a great book. For this reason she recommends anything read by Audie Award winner Barbara Rosenblat who has narrated a variety of titles including the Amanda Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters and mysteries by Nevada Barr and Lisa Scottoline. Jim Dale, beloved award winner reader of the Harry Potter series is another narrator that makes listening a pleasure.

Ann just listened to The Miracle at Speedy Motors by Alexander McCall Smith, part of the No. 1 Ladies Detective series. Nothing terribly dramatic happens during the course of the book – read these stories for the evocative setting of Botswana, the various characters that you grow to love, the belief that kindness and politeness can improve any situation. This is a slow-paced book – sometimes almost too slow – but that’s also what makes it wonderful – calm and leisurely, leaving the reader/listener feeling the same.

Rita recommends the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlene Harris. They’re funny and fast-paced and you may find yourself believing that vampires really could be walking among us. She also liked Downhill Lie by Carl Hiaasen, a non-fiction account about returning to golf after a long absence. Read by the author, it’s filled with dry humor and great insights for fellow golfers.

Rita also reminds us that you there are hundreds of titles you can download from NetLibrary, a free service that allows you to transfer audio books to your MP3 player (which you can then hook up to the CD player in your car) Sign up for an account at either of the Davenport libraries, then access it from any computer, any time.

With so many great books to listen too, you might be tempted to take the long way home! What about you – do you have any favorite books-on-CD that you’d recommend for a long trip?