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From Russia, With Love

August 14, 1994|COLMAN ANDREWS

ST. PETERSBURG by Steve Raymer (Turner Publishing, Inc., $39.95 hardcover).

In many nations of the world, there are two key cities--one gritty, businesslike, exciting in a frisson- producing sort of way, the other softer, more artistic, and often simultaneously more sensual and more spiritual. New York, Johannesburg, Sydney, Milan and Madrid are examples of the first sort; Los Angeles, Capetown, Melbourne, Rome and Barcelona are examples of the second. And in Russia, of course, the two are Moscow and St. Petersburg, respectively. St. Petersburg (the former Leningrad, and before that Petrograd, and before that, well, St. Petersburg) isn't tough, gray Moscow. Instead, it is a city of canals, or formal gardens, of gloriously ornate palaces and pastel-tinted houses. Stalin hated the city. Tchaikovsky, who graduated from the city's famed music conservatory, loved it. Steve Raymer--former Soviet Union specialist for National Geographic and now director of the National Geographic Society News Service--loves it, too. His portrait of the place, in words and photos, is understated, and not uncritical, but he deftly communicates his affection for the city and makes it come alive.

DC FOR FREE, revised edition, by Brian Butler (Mustang Publishing, $8.95 paper); EUROPE FOR FREE, 3rd revised edition, by Brian Butler (Mustang Publishing, $9.95 paper); HAWAII FOR FREE, 3rd revised edition, by Frances Carter (Mustang Publishing, $8.95 paper); LONDON FOR FREE, revised edition, by Brian Butler ($8.95 paper); PARIS FOR FREE (OR EXTREMELY CHEAP) by Mark Beffart (Mustang Publishing, $8.95 paper) and THE SOUTHWEST FOR FREE by Mary Jane & Greg Edwards (Mustang Publishing, $8.95 paper).

There's no such thing as a free dejeuner, but there are plenty of free museums, public monuments, holidays, fairs and festivals, factory tours, sports facilities, beaches, hiking trails, vista points and the like--all over the world. Mustang's "For Free" volumes, each offering "hundreds of free things to do" ("free and inexpensive," in the case of Paris) within its subject area, are concise and surprisingly comprehensive guides to such institutions, events and places.

The London and Washington, D.C., books use helpful letter symbols after each listing, indicating proximity to public transportation, suitability for children, availability of facilities for the handicapped, etc. The Paris volume gives transportation information, but doesn't mention children or the handicapped. (Mark Beffart, author of the Paris guide, incidentally, defines "extremely cheap" as 18 francs or less for museums and historic sites, nine francs or less for private gardens. Figure approximately five francs to the dollar.)

Quick trips:

WHITEWATER RAFTING IN NORTH AMERICA by Lloyd Armstead (Globe Pequot Press, $16.95 paper) and WESTERN WHITEWATER; FROM THE ROCKIES TO THE PACIFIC by Jim Cassidy, Bill Cross and Fryar Calhoun (North Fork Press, $34.95 paper). Nothing to do with the Clintons here--just a couple of serious guidebooks for the rafting/canoeing/kayaking crowd. Lloyd Armstead's volume is a straightforward facts-and-figures guide to 200 rafting trips in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Costa Rica. "Western Whitewater"--at 590 pages, one of the longest and heaviest paperbacks I've ever hefted--covers a much smaller area in much greater detail, with photographs and anecdotal asides included.

CALIFORNIA UNDER SAIL; A GUIDE TO BEACHES, BOAT TRIPS, MARITIME MUSEUMS, ISLANDS, & COASTAL ADVENTURES by Else Ditmars (Country Roads Press, $9.95 paper). If it's in the Golden State and has to do with the Pacific Ocean, it's probably listed here--without much detail, but in accessible style.

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