In my experience on this trip, having a good travel guide is priceless. It has to have the right amount of all kinds of different information - practical things, history, architecture, where to eat, where to walk, etc. I don't just want summaries of all of the different sights, hotels, and restaurants. That is boring and overwhelming. What I need when I travel is for someone to be very unbiased and tell me what is REALLY important/exciting/interesting about an area. Oh, and lead me to some good eats.
We've decided that Rick's books are excellent take-along guides. We've now used his books in Holland, Rome, and now Florence, and are always whipping it out of our bag to find a restaurant, learn more about a church, or read up on the history of the area.
Also, prior to this trip, Josh downloaded all kinds of free audio guide podcasts to our ipods. We've enjoyed using them in the Lourve, The Pantheon, St. Peter's Basilica, the Sistene Chapel, the Roman Forum, the Colosseum, and today in a walk through Florence. Very informative, not too long, not too short, and only slighly cheesy. It was nice to see all of these things and learn a bit more about what we were seeing without having to pay for audio guides at every stop.