Special Museums of the Northeast

The title of this delightful book might more appropriately be "Curious Little Museums," for this is a selective guide to 144 offbeat, mostly one-of-a-kind collections -- curiosities that amuse as much as they educate and inspire.

Among the diverse entries are the Musical Wonder House of Wiscasset, Maine, filled with elaborate mechanical music devices that will serenade as you tour; the New England Ski Museum of Franconia, N.H., a treasure house of skiing memorabilia in the heart of ski country; the Salem Witch Museum of Salem, Mass., where visitors in a darkened (naturally) hall watch a series of tableaux explaining Old Salem's witchcraft frenzy; and the Bob Hoffman Weightlifting Hall of Fame of York, Pa., a personal tribute to the body-building sport by the man known as the father of weightlifting.

Author Nancy Frazier, a magazine editor, describes the collections with an enthusiasm that is obvious -- which makes this guide fun to read -- and she provides details on operating hours, phone numbers and other helpful information.

A number of the museums are privately operated, founded by individual collectors who very often are quite willing to give visitors personally escorted tours. At the Musical Wonder House you may be invited to a candlelight concert. "The Hudson River Valley: A History & Guide," by Tim Mulligan. Random House. 205 pp. $8.95 paperback.

As great rivers go, author Tim Mulligan points out, the Hudson is relatively short, only 315 miles; yet its "beauty is so great that the first cohesive group of American artists, the Hudson River School, formed to paint it and its surroundings in every mood and season." Much of that beauty remains little changed.

Mulligan offers a very personal tour at the river, from the summer resort of Saratoga south to New York City -- the direction chosen "for the purely arbitrary reasons that to me it feels right going with the flow of the river rather than against it, and that the logical culmination for the book is in New York City, where the Hudson disappears under the great harbor."

As a guide, Mulligan, who is managing editor of Family Weekly magazine, is eloquent, amusing and sensible. At Saratoga, he gets you started on a sightseeing tour with a "fortifying" breakfast at Mrs. London's Bake Shop, and then lets you know that the "uninteresting" countryside just outside town will quickly "turn hilly, with pines and clumps of woods and pretty farms to delight the eye."

Mulligan has divided the book into the upper, middle and lower Hudson regions, introducing each with a bit of history followed by sightseeing and touring suggestions and recommended inns and restaurants. It is a format that works excellently, providing travelers with a good framework to plan their own weekend or week-long excursion. "Tahiti & French Polynesia: A Travel Survival Kit," by Robert F. Kay. Lonely Planet. 136 pp. $7.95 paperback.

This is a slim, pocket-sized guidebook, but it is packed full of useful information for travelers headed for these fabled South Seas islands on their own or with a guided tour. It is the latest in the excellent Lonely Planet series of guides from Australia, designed primarily for the Asian-bound traveler with a spirit of adventure.

Author Robert F. Kay begins with a concise, very readable history of the islands; adds advice about climate, money, health and other practical concerns; and then turns to the heart of the book: what to see and do on each of French Polynesia's five archipelagos, how to travel between the islands and where to stay.

For travelers with more time, he suggests using inter-island cargo boats, still, he says, "a vital transportation link" and usually less expensive than flying. He provides details on boats, schedules and approximate fares.

His lodging suggestions range from "bottom end" to "middle" to "top end." At the budget level, a 10-minute walk from Papeete on Tahiti, the largest of the islands, is the 22-room Mahina Tea -- "your basic family-run, pension-style lodging. There are no frills or luxury about this place," he writes, "but it is clean, although reports are that local roosters can be aggravatingly noisy." About $18 a night for two for a room and private bath.

Best of all, Kay's book will lead you to the Tahiti of your dreams: mountain waterfalls, hidden pools, lovely white beaches and smiling, welcoming people.

FROM LOCAL AUTHORS: "Roaming 'Round Holland -- 5th Edition," by Patricia Gordon Erickson with Sheila Gazaleh-Weevers. Erickson/Gazaleh-Weevers. 414 pp. $14.95 paperback. A province-by-province sightseeing guide to the Netherlands, this is an excellent choice for families because it devotes a great many pages to interesting things to see and active things to do for children in differing age groups. To order: Roaming 'Round Holland, 3319 Dent Place NW, Washington, D.C. 20007. "Kauai -- 1985-86 Underground Guide -- 6th Edition," by Lenore W. Horowitz. Horowitz. 83 pp. $5.95 paperback. A frequent visitor to what may be Hawaii's loveliest island, author Lenore W. Horowitz promises -- and provides -- "the rare and special place we have discovered over the years." The focus is on Kauai's many beaches and restaurants -- among them places not normally found by tourists. To order: Papaloa Press, 813 Aster Blvd., Rockville, Md. 20850. "China, Solo -- A Guide to Independent Travel in the People's Republic of China," by Barbara B. Letson. Jadetree Press. 213 pp. $9.95 paperback. You can go to China "all alone, unguided, travel to its farthermost reaches," says author Barbara B. Letson. "I've done it." And she tells other travelers how to follow in her footsteps. Her information is practical and her enthusiasm is infectious. To order: Jadetree Press, P.O. Box 11130, Arlington, Va. 22210.