Monday, October 05, 2009

Walking tours

Foster, Laura O. Portland City Walks: Twenty Explorations in and Around Town. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, 2008.

---. Portland Hill Walks: Twenty Explorations in Parks and Neighborhoods. Portland, Or.: Timber Press, 2005.

Hinshaw, Mark L. Citistate Seattle: Shaping a Modern Metropolis. Chicago: American Planning Association, c1999.

Karlinsey, Laura. Seattle City Walks: Exploring Seattle Neighborhoods on Foot. Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 1999.

Johnston, Norman J. University of Washington. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2001. The Campus Guide.

Protopappas, John J., Alvin R. McNeal, and American Planning Association. National Capital Area Chapter. Washington on Foot: 23 Walking Tours and Maps of Washington, DC, Takoma Park, and Old Town Alexandria. Washington: Smithsonian Books, 2004.

One of the best ways to get to know a city is to go walking in it. You see things you wouldn't notice on a car or bike, because you don't have to pay attention to traffic; you're moving more slowly, and can stop more often; and you're closer to points of interest. I especially like walking in older, residential or mixed use neighborhoods, and looking at the architecture.

Many smaller towns have brochures with walking tours listed. And guidebooks for bigger cities sometimes have a few walking tours described. The four books with "walk" or "foot" in the title here are devoted to walks in some cool cities. I've done at least two tours from each book. All have maps, with notable landmarks numbered to correspond with the text. All also start each chapter/walk with a few paragraphs describing the overall walk. They each have walks in the main business/tourist areas of the cities, but also include walks in residential neighborhoods.

I was lucky enough to go to Portland this summer for a few days, and very lucky to have copies of Laura Foster's Portland Hill Walks and Portland City Walks. Foster notices, and writes about everything on these walks, including the bands of iron around curbs of intersections in some residential neighborhoods. The books have lots of history, but cover more recent stories too. She tells you what buildings to look between for good views. It seemed just about every time I had a question about something, there was an answer (okay, there were a couple unanswered questions--it's good to have a few mysteries).

"Hill walks" are VERY hilly--elevation is included for each walk. Most are west of the Willamette River. "City walks" are way flatter, and include more downtown Portland areas, as well as some suburban walks. Foster provides detailed information on how to get to the starting points of each walk, whether by mass transit or car. Unlike Washington on Foot, these books tell you exactly how to go once you've gotten off a train or bus. And there's information on places to get water and use bathrooms, as well as recommendations on restaurants or places to get picnic fixings.

The books have both historical and current black and white photos. They're printed on glossy paper, which makes them both heavy. When I went on a particular walk, I had the corresponding book in my backpack, but I photocopied the pages of the particular walk I was doing, and carried those photocopies in my purse or pocket.

I bought Seattle City Walks before I had definite plans to go to Seattle. A few years after I bought the book, I visited Seattle twice within six months. I'm so glad I had this book (and remembered I had it!). Each chapter/walk description provides information on how to get to the starting point via mass transit (as of 1999), as well as parking information. The writing style is chatty and informal. One indication of how spot-on the book is: the Queen Anne walk mentioned that in the fall, sometimes you'll see people gathering nuts (maybe a kind of chesnut?) on a particular street--people come from around Seattle to do this. And sure enough, that's what I saw when I walked down the street on an October afternoon.

The book features a fair number of black and white photos, and includes some information about shops, restaurants, and other businesses. There are one-page essays on various topics throughout the book, which is about the size of a standard trade paperback. Two walks outside Seattle are included, on Bainbridge Island and in Kirkland. There's also a special chapter on parks and nature walks.

On the topic of Seattle...a great book about public spaces, recent development, planning, architecture, and urban life in Seattle is Citistate Seattle: Shaping a Modern Metropolis. It's not a guide, but a collection of essays about all the above topics. I wouldn't carry it around as I walk around town--it's got a large format--but I recommend reading it before you go. It'll give you lots of things to look for, and a different perspective on what you'll see. It convinced me to check out the beautiful Chapel of St Ignatius at Seattle University, and put me on the lookout for the funky Belltown P-Patch community garden. The book is a good read if you're interested in what makes cities liveable.

And it's not a walking guide per se, but University of Washington (part of a series called "Campus Guide") is an architectural guide to the campus in Seattle, with write-ups of most buildings and landmarks, and lots of color photos.

I've been to Washington DC many times. The book I've tried the most walks from is Washington on Foot. I don't think I've ever been disappointed. The fourth edition was published in 2004; it was first published in 1977. I've mainly used the 1992 edition. Nearly all the walks take place in Washington DC itself (it does have walks in Takoma Park, MD, and Alexandria, VA). This one is quite heavy on architecture and history, which you'd expect. It features black and white line drawings. It tells you which Metro stations are closest to the starting point of each walk, but it doesn't tell you how to get from the Metro station to that starting point. This is a drawback when even the exit you take out of a Metro station can put you blocks from where you hoped to go. The guides don't provide me with all the information I'd like, especially about newer buildings. There's very little about shops or restaurants. I'd love to see walks for the new-ish embassy enclave on International Drive, by the UDC/Van Ness Metro station, and Rock Creek Park. The book is tall and not very wide (not the greatest for photocopying) and not too heavy.

If you're staying in the Virginia suburub of Arlington and want to do some walking, check out WalkArlington's Walkabouts page (I especially like the guides listed on the left of this page).

Finally, my go-to web site for sightseeing in DC is Cultural Tourism DC. It has a calendar of events, links to tons of museums, and a great Tours and Trails section.