My publisher tells us that our new Pocket Guides to London, Paris, and Rome are doing great -- not cannibalizing sales of our full-size guidebooks to those cities but getting in on the thriving market for smaller, more colorful, and more portable "best of" and "top ten" guidebooks. To celebrate their success, here's a fun Q&A for people anticipating trips to my three favorite big cities in Europe:
Best photo op in each city?
Rome: The old ladies on their folding chairs as they hang out in the Jewish Quarter; rays of sunlight cutting through St. Peter's Basilica; the scene on Via del Corso in the early evening when it's closed to traffic, and the community is out for the passeggiata.
Paris: The city from top of Montparnasse Tower (you don't have to look at the Montparnasse Tower); the neighborhood action on a street like rue Montorgueil; the honey-colored tones of freshly baked bread and pastries at just about any corner bakery.
London: Different angles on the Millennium Bridge; the pageantry during the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace; Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament from the top of the London Eye.
Best free yet enriching experience in each town?
Rome: Going to a late Mass at St. Peter's Basilica (most days at 5 p.m.); being all alone in the Pantheon very early or very late; exploring the back streets of Trastevere.
Paris: Being in the organ loft at St. Sulpice Church as Daniel Roth plays a short concert between Masses on Sunday; sitting on the steps of Sacré-Cœur in Montmartre as darkness settles on the City of Light.
London: Enjoying the many wonderful and free galleries and museums -- especially the British Museum and the British Library; taking in Speakers' Corner at Hyde Park on Sunday; viewing the legal action in the Old Bailey courtrooms.
Favorite single museum and why in each town?
Rome: The Borghese Gallery -- It must be the most sumptuous palace in Italy even without its many Bernini masterpieces, including my favorite statue anywhere, Apollo and Daphne.
Paris: The Louvre -- It shows off the greatest collection of art in Europe in what was its biggest palace.
London: The British Museum -- It's the chronicle of our Western civilization.
What guilty pleasure do you indulge in each city?
Rome: Staying in the decadent Hotel Nazionale and dining at my favorite restaurant, Il Gabriello.
Paris: Pigging out on macarons at Ladurée on the Champs-Elysees.
London: Riding in the big black taxis just to talk with the cabbies; wandering through the parks, browsing from obscure monument to obscure monument, while people watching.
Biggest mistake time-strapped travelers make in each city, and how to avoid it?
Rome: Going to sights like St. Peter's and the Colosseum when there is a long line. Rather than waiting an hour to get in, you can be all alone at the greatest church in Christendom if you simply go early or late. And the line for the Colosseum is actually a line to buy a ticket, which is a combo-ticket that includes the neighboring Palatine Hill. Simply pick up your ticket at the Palatine Hill entrance a short walk away, and stroll right past the long line waiting for tickets at the Colosseum.
Paris: Waiting in long lines for the Louvre, Orsay Museum, Sainte-Chapelle, and Versailles. All can be avoided simply by purchasing the Paris Museum Pass (sold at any city museum).
London: Going to a play when you're suffering from jet lag--that's one expensive nap. That's why, if I'm touring England, I go from the airport directly to Bath (a relaxing, smaller town) to get over jet lag. I finish my tour in London when I'm fully adjusted to local time. And that way, nothing will be anticlimactic since I end up in exciting London. It's the best finale for a trip around Britain.