Georgia

Looking for somewhere different that is neither quite Europe nor Asia? Georgia in the Caucasus is a lot more than mountain tribes with wool hats – though you can find these as well among the 5000m-high Caucasus peaks.

It might come as a surprise to some, but the capital, Tbilisi, is a friendly, safe, relaxed tree-lined city with Soviet, Czarist, 21st century and ancient Georgian church architecture all seeming a bit confused in each others company. Add some of the most hospitable people on earth (do accept any invitation to attend a traditional Georgian feast that lasts long into the night), and you have a great off the beaten track destination with the advantage of the first guidebooks to assist you.

The Georgia Bradt Guide gives superb cultural and historic background with real practical what, where and how of even remote corners of the country. Lonely Planet fans will be glad to hear that Georgia is now also in their coverage with a combined Lonely Planet guide for Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The best map is the ITMB country map of Georgia (1:610 000 scale) with a Tbilisi town plan insert.

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Author: Gerhard Buttner

Vilnius, Lithuania

Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, is a hidden gem. A very pleasant city with an extensive Old Town to explore, parks, castles and a few surprises, like the Frank Zappa Memorial (and why not?) and the run-down artists’ quarter of Uzupio. You might even be lucky and arrive at the right time, as on certain weekends Lithuanians like to dress up in traditional costume and gather in parks and town squares to sing and dance, asserting their national identity.

Unless you are in the decaying concrete suburbs that ring the city, you would never guess that this cosmopolitan city was part of the Soviet Union just a decade ago.

The most detailed guidebook to the Baltic States are definitely the Bradt Travel Guides and the Bradt Travel Guide to Lithuania is worth the buy. If needed, take the very handy Lonely Planet Baltic Phrasebook. As for maps, Latvian cartographers Jana Seta do the best maps for just about anywhere in the Baltics. I recommend both the Jana Seta street plan of Vilnius, and the 1:500,000 Jana Seta Lithuania Map.

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Author: Guy Bristow

Aran Islands

The largest of the three Aran Islands, Inishmore, can be reached by ferry from Rossaveel (or Galway) on the Connemara coast. You can see most of the island in a day trip, though I wished I’d taken more time to absorb the grandeur and isolation of the place. There is only one road running down the island’s length, and there are minivans, bicycles or horse drawn carriages to hire in the harbour at Kilronan.

The must see is the ruined prehistoric fort of Dun Aonghasa, which not only perches on the edge of the cliff high above the ocean, but incomprehensibly also faces the full force of the western winds. A mysterious and majestic site.

The Ordnance Survey of Ireland map of The Aran Islands at 1:25,000 will give you some reference points and serve as a souvenir. Once you’re bitten by the place I would recommend you to dive into Tim Robinson’s wonderful book Stones of Aran: A Pilgrimage. It is an obsessive survey of the minutiae of the island’s landscape, history and myth – a unique masterpiece. Unfortunately it is now out of print, but it is definitely worth tracking down (I know the author lived locally).

Douglas Schatz worked at Stanfords for more than 20 years, and was the company’s managing director until April 2009. He is now pursuing several exciting ideas in the world of books and digital publishing.

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Author: Douglas Schatz