Baedeker Backer

I was amazed to see the write-up in the Nov. 11 Worldwise column on the collection of Baedekers at Bernard Shapero's bookshop in London. I thought you might like to know that there is an expert on Baedekers in your own back yard, namely yours truly.

I began collecting Baedekers as a special interest when Shapero was in short pants, and I actually bought Baedekers from him when he was operating out of his father's attic in North London. I think well of the lad, and he gives promise of making a name for himself in the book trade.

However, I consider myself the American specialist in these fascinating bits of history. My stock may only run to 1,000 copies of the "original" Baedekers, but it is certainly the largest on this side of the ocean.

William B. O'Neill Old & Rare Books, Reston China

I recently returned from a two-week trip to China -- to Shanghai, Suzhou, Wuxi, Hangzhou, Xian and Beijing -- and would like to share some of my experiences.

I found the hotels that had been booked for me by my tour company to have rooms comparable to a newly built chain hotel in this country. The bathrooms were Western, many with ultramodern American Standard fixtures. Towels, soaps, complimentary shower caps, toothbrushes and toilet paper were provided. The tap water could not be drunk, but there was no need: The hotels provided tea, teacups and a large thermos with boiling water that stayed hot all night. There usually was an attendant on each floor who would refill the thermos if needed.

I carried some of that water with me on excursions, although bottled water and orange soft drinks were often available from street vendors. The major streets and roads I saw were cleaned frequently and were totally free of debris, although I did see a lot of spitting in the streets, and children used them as toilets. The public restrooms I saw had only "Eastern" toilets, porcelain strips flat on the floor, requiring squatting. I carried toilet paper with me on excursions away from the hotel.

The Chinese people I met were very hospitable to Americans. Most could speak no English and conveyed their sentiments with smiles, body language and sometimes applause. Most enjoyed being photographed. They also were curious, frequently circling our tour group just to look at us and listen.

Some of the food we had was superb, although our meals in Beijing were duds. However, Chinese mastery with vegetables, chicken, shrimp and pork was evident everywhere else, and we found Chinese beer to be tasty. The Western breakfast served as part of our tour provided eggs, ham, potatoes, toast, orange juice and good coffee.

Chinese are heavy smokers, but smoking was banned in the restaurants we went to. And although I am sensitive to air pollution, I was aware of none in any of the tour cities. (We traveled in October.) The only times I needed a face mask were on the Air China overseas and domestic flights and in the hard-seat section of the trains.

Most importantly, I learned how crucial the tour director is to the quality of a tour in China. In the cities, the China International Travel Service (CITS) provides guides, but we found their understanding of English very limited, although they spoke it well. A good tour director can act as intermediary in making decisions about what to see and do, and planning the use of time. We unfortunately did not have a tour director, thus thrusting a responsibility on CITS guides that they were not equipped for and depriving us of good shopping and sightseeing opportunities. R. Swanson Alexandria


The article on "Lucca the Unsung" in the Sept. 23 Travel section brought back many fine and vivid memories of the two months I enjoyed there the summer of 1979. Although I went to study art, my true learning experience was the discoveries I made about the Italian people as the result of living in their culture.

As a student, I had a limited budget, but I had no problem finding lasagna verde and carafe of house wine for less than $5. Certainly the value of the dollar has gone down since 1979, but I question whether a typical meal in Lucca costs $30 to $35, as the author stated.

While in Lucca, I stayed in the 14th-century Guinigi Palace (now apartments). The story of its tree-topped tower was one of the first things related to me and the other students. In attempting to outdo the Guinigi family, a rival Lucchese family had built their palazzo slightly taller. Unmiffed, the Guinigis merely planted a tree atop their tower, reclaiming the prestige of having the tallest structure in Lucca.

I fell in love with the town of Lucca and came to know something of the generous and compassionate nature of the Italian people. This might be difficult for a traveler passing through town to experience, but I would make one recommendation: Know some elementary Italian -- very few Lucchese speak English. John M. Bell Harrisonburg, Va.

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