Tuesday, April 2, 2013

W13: Scandinavia

The Biblio-Mat knows what you want but often gives you something related in the most facetious way, which is part of the reason I love it so. Feeding the fire on this notion is the fact that I had wanted to take a trip for the Easter weekend and wanted a book on travel to whet my appetite for wandering a new city (in this case Montreal) so the Biblio-Mat gave me a travel guide. Unfortunately it was a 255 page travel guide. On Scandinavia.

Everything one needs to know about Scandinavia, unless you're visiting there.
Scandinavia by Eric De Maré, published in 1952, is billed as a travel guide and remains very relevant today, on account of it having very little to do with vacation activities. Seventy percent of this text recounts the history of Scandinavia while twenty percent goes into detail about the architecture contained within and ten percent follows the journey of the author through the countries. A one percent margin of error contains the information that might actually be important for the standard tourist.

This was the most useful part of the book.
While not bone dry, it the sheer length of it decided that it would make a better read during my trip instead of before it, seeing how there was a six hour drive between Toronto and Montreal. Unfortunately this plan did not take into account that I would be travelling with an attractive and interesting French girl so it was read at night between reading modern Montreal travel guides, which gave a glaring contrast to what Scandinavia was missing.

No info on food, but if you needed to recite a Swedish refrain...
Split into three parts for each of the three main Scandinavian nations, this book had a section each on Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. Each section begins with a very in-depth look at the history of the country, starting from prehistoric times (5000 B.C). Fifty or so pages later the subject shifts to the culture of the country, and how it came to be. The sections for Sweden and Norway were interesting, if for nothing more than the insertion of random artworks, music scores, and umlauts, but the section on Denmark left a bit to be desired since the cultural discussion lead back to the inspection of the history of the country. Instead of concentrating on what Denmark is like, the author chose to delve on what happened to it.

Everyone loves the Scream.
Interwoven in the later parts of each chapter, though, is the recounting of the trip the author took across each country. It meanders quite a bit as tangents into the history of the country fly off left and right, but it is still entertaining in how little time is spent seeing attractions versus admiring the geography. Not the landscape, mind you, but the beauty of how towns and rivers are laid out, which were somewhat already covered by the maps preceding each chapter. The long descriptions on various forms of architecture also seemed redundant since the best quality about this guide was that it had ridiculously high amount of photographs of buildings.

Just like Montreal, if you squint at it from a distance.
This is not all to say that the information in the book wasn’t interesting, just that it was fairly useless for any tourist that wasn’t a scholar of Scandinavian history. The important aspects of a travel guide, such as where to eat, what to see, or how to say “Where is the bathroom?” in the native tongues were missing, but I guess sometimes having no information on a guide is better than having incorrect information such as, say, on the closing time of the Montreal Botanical Gardens resulting in a certain Biblio-Mat blog-writing tourist getting locked in and having to scale a turnstile and two eight-foot fences to get back to civilization.

Book rating: 6/10 (At least the maps were useful)

Random quote: “The purpose of travel, a modern writer has declared, is to obtain ecstasy. That is one of those wild, sweeping generalizations which are helpful, if not entirely true.”


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