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Quality books give travelers a leg up on their journey

Works spotlight Australia, Africa, Rome, elsewhere

SHARE Quality books give travelers a leg up on their journey

What Bill Bryson has done for England and the United States, he has now done for Australia: written a delightfully entertaining travel book.

Bryson is the kind of guy who would, and did, kill time by looking through maps for "ridiculous names, of which Australia has a respectable plenitude. I am thus able to report that the following are all real places: Wee Waa, Poowons, Borrumbuttock, Sugan Buggan, Boomahnoomoonah, Waaia, Mullumbimby Ewylamartup, Jiggalong, and the supremely satisfying Tittybong."

The book, "In a Sunburned Country" (Broadway Books, $25), is a romp through Australia's marvels, mysteries and, yes, absurdities. Bryson, author of the best sellers "A Walk in the Woods" and "Notes from a Small Island," travels from Sydney, site of the 2000 Olympics, to the Nullarbor Plain, where desert temperatures can hit 140 degrees Fahrenheit. He also travels from the nation's capital of Canberra, where he says the dearth of good restaurants is noticeable, through the outback to the big red boulder that was once known as Ayers Rock but is now called Uluru. Along the way, you can be certain that he will have dozens of encounters and observations that bring smiles.

Another best-selling travel writer, Paul Theroux, provides a good look at where he has been going and what he has been thinking about these past 15 years in a collection of essays called "Fresh Air Fiend" (Houghton Mifflin, $27). This collection, filled with characters and comments, covers five continents and a lot of water, too. Whether he's snowbound in the Maine woods or pondering matters on a remote Pacific island where atomic bombs were once detonated, Theroux has plenty to say. There are also chapters on how he came to write the books that he did. In a chapter on "The Great Railway Bazaar," for instance, he looks at travel writing in the 1960s and '70s: "The travel book was a bore. A bore wrote it and bores read it." Whatever you think of Theroux and his sometimes biting observations, you will never apply the word "bore" to him.

You won't find the stylish writing of a Bryson or a Theroux in "My African Safari" by Kim L. Capehart (Pentland Press, $11.95, paperback), but you will get an insight into the culture of Ghana that's not available to the casual tourist. Capehart, who was a medical intern in Ghana, found a land that's poor in material goods yet rich in the joy of living. Writes Capehart: "If experiences of running from local wildlife, hunting, the Ghanian health care system, weird and unusual food, and losing my bungalow, toilet paper, crutches and soap within the first couple of days sound interesting . . . by all means keep reading." I did.

This is the year of Rome's Jubilee 2000 celebration, expected to attract more than 7 million Americans. When in Rome, or before they go, they might do well to read "As the Romans Do: The Delights, Dramas and Daily Diversions of Life in the Eternal City" by Alan Epstein (William Morrow, $20). Five years ago, Epstein and his wife, who had fallen in love with Rome, took their belongings and their two school-age children and moved there permanently. "We were hooked on the beauty, the thrill, the incomparable joy of starting over in a new land with a new language," writes Epstein. His book is a celebration of the city but especially the men and women who populate it. Epstein looks at the Romans' gregarious culture, in which coffee is ever-present; their artistic flair; their love of good food; their unusual attitudes toward marriage and religion; and, yes, their sex appeal.

Guidebooks

One of the best parts of a trip to Poland can be the cuisine — if you know how to decipher the menus or what to buy at the market. Accordingly, Joan and David Person have written "Eat Smart in Poland" (Ginkgo Press, $12.95). The book is the fifth in a series of travel guides for food lovers. Other volumes cover Mexico, Indonesia, Turkey and Brazil. The Poland book has a menu guide, a glossary of foods and flavors, tips on shopping in the country's fascinating food markets, Polish phrases and a recipe collection. And while I'm sure the recipes will produce tasty dishes, I'm equally certain that nothing printed there will ever top my late Polish grandmother's pierogis.

Geography, history, and cartography are combined in the big, colorful "DK Atlas of World History" (DK Publishing, $50). Part One presents a global overview of the past 60,000 years, while Part Two examines specific geographical areas, including coverage of places and people you may not find in a more traditional atlas.

National Geographic puts out three good travel magazines, so it's hardly surprising that the company would issue good guidebooks. Among the volumes in the "National Geographic Traveler" series, all of them containing the Geographic's signature photography along with the guidance, are "Rome" ($22.95), "Italy" ($27.95), "Australia" ($27.95), "California" ($27.95), and "San Francisco" ($22.95).

People who have driven to and in Alaska have sent back good reports on "The Milepost" (Morris Communications, $24.95), a big fat trip planner packed with information and ads for Alaska, Yukon Territory, British Columbia, Alberta and Northwest Territories. Included is a 21- by 31-inch pullout-map.

Despite the summertime traffic, Cape Cod continues to charm everyone from families in search of fun to couples in search of romance. The fifth edition of "Guide to Cape Cod" by the Globe's Jerry Morris (Globe Pequot Press, $13.95), covers the variety of lodging, dining, shopping and recreation available.

When visiting the Cape, you naturally want to find the best routes as well as new and out-of-the-way places. "The Cape Cod Street Atlas" (DeLorme, $9.95) is new this year, with 45 map pages, each covering an area roughly 4.5 miles by 6 miles. Street names are listed in a town-by-town index that covers 25 municipalities.

Our smallest state has its charms, too. That is made abundantly clear in "Rhode Island: An Explorer's Guide" by Phyllis Meras and Tom Gannon (Countryman Press, $17). They cover the museums and restaurants of Providence, the mansions and Colonial homes of Newport, the tranquility of Block Island, and much more.

One of the most respected guides to small inns is "Bernice Chesler's Bed & Breakfast in New England" (Chronicle, $17.95).


Unless otherwise noted, guidebooks are paperbacks.