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Book Your Trip Now: 12 Literary Pilgrimages

Many destinations are benefiting from their connection, however tenuous, to a popular work of literature.

1. Bath, England

Despite being dead since 1817, Jane Austen remains one of the most popular writers in the English language. Her works of quiet social satire have inspired countless film adaptations and modernizations, reams of fan fiction (both of the published and of the online variety), and even a weeklong festival in Bath, England, the scene of many an Austen book. Thousands of Austenophiles spend a week in September dressing up as their favorite character from Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice or any of Austen's other works, engaging in Regency era gossip, partaking in country dances, a wedding, and touring the Pump Room.

2. Prince Edward Island, Canada

Prince Edward Island was the idyllic island home of everyone's favorite plucky, if melodramatic, red-haired orphan, Anne Shirley, better known as Anne of Green Gables, as well as, for a time, her creator, Lucy Maude Montgomery. The Anne of Green Gables books remain some of the most popular children's books, selling, over the course of the series century-long life, 50 million copies in 36 different languages.

The 120-mile island still retains much of the pastoral countryside that Montgomery would recognize and is home to a year-round population of only around 135,000. The island has embraced Anne of Green Gables as, if not exactly its raison d'etre, then at least a good part of the reason why some folks visit. For the past four decades, Anne of Green Gables the musical has run every year at the Charlottetown Festival, while the sequel, Anne & Gilbert, began in 2005 and has run every year since. Interestingly, the term "Anne of Green Gables" is a registered trademark owned jointly by the heirs of Montgomery and the Province of Prince Edward Island.

3. King's Cross Station, London and other places in the Muggle world

linda-platformEver since Harry Potter took over the world, King's Cross Station hasn't been the same—the fabled depot for the Hogwarts Express really does have a Platform 9 3/4. The mythic platform is tucked away in a passageway between two other platforms, sports half of a rather forlorn luggage trolley sticking out of the wall, and is routinely visited by Muggles with cameras (see photo, yep, that's me).

But that's not the only stop on the Harry Potter tour: This past summer, a tourism company devoted solely to Harry Potter put together a five-day "School of Wizardry" in the Chicago area, involving classes in Divination and Astronomy, a Hogwarts banquet, and even a field trip to Chicago for Harry Potter: The Exhibition at the Museum of Science and Industry. British tour companies of all stripes have Harry Potter inspired tours through England and Scotland, though it is difficult to parse out book tourism versus movie tourism, since the two very much tend to overlap.

If you want to make your own Harry Potter tour, then check out In Search of Harry Potter by Steve Vander Ark. I can't vouch for its quality, but it seems promising and the folks who bought it, according to Amazon, enjoyed it.

4. The Grail Trail, inspired by The Da Vinci Code

In the months and years after Dan Brown's blockbuster book came out, inspired tourists swarmed the Louvre and Church of Saint-Suplice in Paris, and Westminster Abbey and the Templar Church in London, searching for arcane clues to the whereabouts of the Holy Grail. While these were already big tourist stops to begin with, administrators and operators of the locations noted an upswell in tourists—and that many of them had The Da Vinci Code tucked under their arms. At the height of the book's fame, tour companies were putting together trips and walks inspired by the books, prompting some of these locations to post signs indicating that no, grisly murders and pagan sex rituals were not known to have taken place there:

sion-note

The Louvre, for one, still offers a Da Vinci Code-based tour, beginning under the famous I.M. Pei pyramid.

5. Walden Pond, Massachusetts

walden-pond

Once the site of Henry David Thoreau's misanthropic experiment, Walden Pond—a state park—is a perfectly clear 102-foot deep glacial pond open for swimming. Only 1,000 visitors are allowed in at a time, so while it's not exactly the isolated spot it once was, it's still pretty quiet.

Thoreau only lived at Walden for two years, in a tiny, single-room shack barely large enough for a small bed, a desk, and a chair; in the 155 years since the publication of the book, however, hundreds of thousands of Thoreau pilgrims have visited the site in the hopes of earning the quiet contemplation and spiritual connectedness that Thoreau seemed to have achieved. Once they got there, however, they may have been disappointed: As Thoreau's place in the literary canon became sacrosanct, more and more people packed into the little pond. During the summer of 1952, crowds averaged 35,000 people, who brought with them their cars, hot dog stands, and litter. This prompted Massachusetts to make the site a "reservation" and put strict limits on the number of visitors, allowing the area to revert to a more natural state.

6. Rowan Oak, Faulkner's Mississippi home

More books, papers and articles have been written about Southern writer William Faulkner than any other writer in the English language, excepting, of course Shakespeare. So it stands to reason that there be some tangible monument to his work, a place where Faulkner fans can go to wonder at his genius and study his life. In 1972, they got that place after his daughter sold their family home, Rowan Oak, where Faulkner spent some of his most productive years, to the University of Mississippi. The home, a Greek Revival edifice that pre-dates (and survived) the Civil War, is visited by thousands each year.

7. Barnhill, Jura, Scotland

Barnhill was George Orwell's misty Scottish retreat, far from the city and civilization, where ironically enough, he wrote the claustrophobic classic 1984. Orwell, whose real name was Eric Arthur Blair, used the income from his other classic, Animal Farm, to rent a cottage on the small, isolated isle of Jura off the coast of Scotland. It was there, afflicted by the tuberculosis that would eventually kill him, that he finished the book. 1984 is still a staple of the high school lit course and in 2009, Queen Elizabeth II made headlines when she presented the visiting president of Mexico with a copy of the dystopian masterpiece, prompting the news media to wonder exactly what she meant by that.

In any case, if reading 1984 wasn't depressing enough, you can immerse yourself in the Orwellian milieu by renting Barnhill for a week—only 8 miles from the nearest telephone and 25 from the nearest pub, the cottage is going for about $780 a week. Provided you can get there, of course.

8. Hemingway's home in Key West, Florida

hemingway-keywest

Ernest Hemingway's Key West home, where he lived from 1931 to 1939 and wrote A Farewell to Arms, is now overrun with polydactyl felines, supposedly the descendants of cats originally owned by Hemingway (a claim refuted by his surviving family). Cats aside, Hemingway did live and write there, did reclaim a urinal from Sloppy Joe's and turn it into a water fountain, and did set up a boxing ring in the front yard. The place is also home to the first swimming pool in Key West, installed by Hemingway's second wife, Pauline.

But truly, the main attraction at this National Historic Landmark is the cats—it's like crazy cat lady colony heaven. There are about 60 cats living at the house, and many of them have either six or seven toes on each foot. They sport names like Spencer Tracy, Archibald MacLeish, Simone de Beauvoir, Emily Dickinson, and Gertrude Stein.

9. New Orleans, Louisiana

Despite the fact that Anne Rice has turned her back on vampire lit and instead embraced recreations of the life of Jesus, tourism to the Gothic underside of the city of bourbon, blood and lust blew up after her Vampir Lestat novels hit the bestseller list. New Orleans, with its deep vein of voodoo and Santeria and dark history of slavery and war, took to the influx of vampire tourists with aplomb, even spreading rumors that "vampires" were loose on the streets, slashing the unsuspecting and drinking their blood.

In the 1990s, at the height of her fame, Rice herself organized tours of the city, which then included stops at her first home, at St. Elizabeth's Orphanage (a 93-room former orphanage that Rice bought and renovated) and Lafayette Cemetery.

While Rice has left New Orleans for a gated subdivision out in the suburbs, a number of tours still exist that take their inspiration from Rice's books, with stops at the historic Gallier House, the inspiration for Louis and Lestat's house in Interview with a Vampire, various other Garden District homes, and of course, the cemeteries.

10. Hotel Chelsea, New York

hotel-chelseaYou can get most of your literary tourism out of the way —and some of your musical and modern art tourism, too—with a single, mind-boggling trip to the Hotel Chelsea. For decades, the hotel enjoyed a storied reputation as the haunt of drug addicts, alcoholics, writers, and sometimes all three: Charles Bukowski, Thomas Wolfe, Dylan Thomas, Tennessee Williams, Mark Twain, Allen Ginsberg, O. Henry, Jean-Paul Satre and others have all written from there, drank there, argued there, or even died there. Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road there, Charles Jackson of The Lost Weekend committed suicide there, and Sid Vicious woke up to find his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, dead from a stab wound to the stomach there.

11. Oxford, England

Oxford is a Mecca for fantasy fans of all stripes: This college town was the home of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Dodgson (better known as Lewis Carroll), and more recently, Phillip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials books. While Oxford's amazing architecture and hushed historical tones are enough of a tourist draw, fantasy fans who want to see where it all began can check out the Museum of Oxford, which is home to several personal artifacts of the real Alice, Alice Liddell; stop for a pint at the Eagle and Child pub, where Tolkien, Lewis, and other members of the Inklings, would sit, talk, and debate theology; visit the place where he wrote The Hobbit and the first two Lord of the Rings books at 20 Northmoor Rd. or leave flowers at Tolkien's grave at the Wolvercote Cemetery; and tour Exeter College, Pullman's alma mater that was transfigured into the Jordan College of the His Dark Materials books.

12. The Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta

The Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta is the three-story Tudor Revival apartment building in Mitchell herself wrote the seminal Southern apologist epic, Gone With The Wind; the whole thing is now a museum dedicated to the author and Southern history, one of Atlanta's most popular tourist attractions.

Mitchell and her husband moved into apartment 1 of the building in 1925; she began writing the Pulitzer Prize-winning book soon after. Gone With the Wind, published in 1936, was immediately a tremendous success and turned into the blockbuster classic film three years later. Mitchell never wrote another novel, although she was for the next few years a very popular figure in Atlanta society; in 1949, however, she was killed by an off-duty cab while she was crossing the street.

Bonus: Trilby, Florida

This entry isn't exactly about a place offering literary tourism now, and it isn't exactly about a place that offered literary tourism then—it's more about the power of fans and the books they love.

trilbyWhen it was published in 1894, Trilby was hugely popular in America. The book, about a young half-French, half-Irish woman named Trilby O'Ferrall who, whilst under the spell of a hypnotist Svengali, transforms from a tone-deaf grisette into famous diva. The Gothic horror romance novel, written by George Du Maurier, whose granddaughter Daphne Du Maurier would practically reinvent the genre with Rebecca, inspired a rabid fandom along the lines of Twilight: Women donned striped skirts like the heroine and harbored romantic notions of the Parisian bohemian lifestyle in the 1850s; families named their pet turkeys after Trilby; people hosted "Trilby" teas and parties; the word "Svengali" became a byword for a person possessing an evil kind of charisma and able to control others around him; and whole towns transformed themselves into a paean to the book.

Well, one town. Trilby, Fla., a tiny collection of storefronts and houses due west of Orlando. At the time, the place was called Macon, but residents of the town soon realized that people and letters directed for Macon, Fla., were being misdirected to the larger and better known Macon, Ga. Not long after the book was published, the president of the railroad line that promised to invigorate the little town decided change its name to Trilby and to name the streets after characters in the book. For awhile, the name change seemed to stimulate interest in the town, if not exactly tourism—riders on the train while passing through would crane their necks out the windows to catch sight of "Svengali Square" and "The Laird Lane." Sadly, in 1925, a fire destroyed much of the budding township and its potential future as a Trilby tourist trap; by that time, however, some of the charm of being named after a book whose popularity was waning was wearing off.
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There are hundreds of thousands of places made famous by their relationships with popular books; what are some of the more weird and out of the way ones that you know of? Any favorites?

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The Little Known Airport Bookstore Program That Can Get You Half of What You Spend on Books Back
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Inflight entertainment is a necessary evil, but the price can quickly add up without the proper planning. Between Wi-Fi access and TV/movie packages, you can run into all kinds of annoying additional charges that will only increase the longer your flight is. Thankfully, there is one way to minimize the cost of your inflight entertainment that’s a dream for any reader.

Paradies Lagardère, which runs more than 850 stores in 98 airports across the U.S. and Canada, has an attractive Read and Return program for all the books they sell. All you have to do is purchase a title, read it, and return it to a Paradies Lagardère-owned shop within six months and you'll get half your money back. This turns a $28 hardcover into a $14 one. Books in good condition are re-sold for half the price by the company, while books with more wear and tear are donated to charity.

If you haven’t heard of Paradies Lagardère, don’t worry—you’ve probably been in one of their stores. They’re the company behind a range of retail spots in airports, including licensed ventures like The New York Times Bookstore and CNBC News, and more local shops exclusive to the city you're flying out of. They also run restaurants, travel essentials stores, and specialty shops. 

Not every Paradies Lagardère store sells books, though, and the company doesn’t operate out of every airport, so you’ll need to do a little research before just buying a book the next time you fly. Luckily, the company does have an online map that shows every airport it operates out of and which stores are there.

There is one real catch to remember: You must keep the original receipt of the book if you want to return it and get your money back. If you're the forgetful type, just follow PureWow’s advice and use the receipt as a bookmark and you’ll be golden.

For frequent flyers who plan ahead, this program can ensure that your inflight entertainment will never break the bank.

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Musée du Louvre, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
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How a Notorious Art Heist Led to the Discovery of 6 Fake Mona Lisas
Musée du Louvre, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Musée du Louvre, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Human civilization has changed a lot over the past five millennia—but our instinct toward fakery, fraud, and flimflam seems to have remained relatively stable. In their new book Hoax: A History of Deception (Black Dog & Leventhal), Ian Tattersall and Peter Névraumont sift through 5000 years of our efforts to con others with scams and shakedowns of every description, from selling nonexistent real estate to transatlantic time travel. This excerpt reveals a convoluted art heist that netted not one, but six, of Leonardo da Vinci's most famous portrait(s).

Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is, by a wide margin, the world’s best-known Renaissance painting. The pride of Paris’s Louvre museum, it is hard nowadays for a visitor to get a good look at. Not only do heavy stanchions and a substantial velvet rope keep art lovers at bay, but a jostling horde of phone-pointing tourists typically accomplishes the same thing even more effectively. While you can expect to scrutinize Leonardo’s nearby Virgin and Child with Saint Anne up close and in reasonable tranquility, you are lucky to catch more than a glimpse of the Mona Lisa over the heads of the heaving crowd. And that’s just getting to admire the painting: With elaborate electronic protection and constantly circulating guards, stealing the iconic piece is pretty much unthinkable.

At a time when the standards of security were considerably more lax, around noon on Tuesday, August 22, 1911, horrified museum staff reported that the Mona Lisa was missing from her place on the gallery wall. The Louvre was immediately closed down and minutely searched (the picture’s empty frame was found on a staircase), and the ports and eastern land borders of France were closed until all departing traffic could be examined. To no avail. After a frantic investigation that temporarily implicated both the poet Guillaume Apollinaire and the then-aspiring young artist Pablo Picasso, all that was left was wild rumor: The smiling lady was in Russia, in the Bronx, even in the home of the banker J.P. Morgan.

Two years later the painting was recovered after a Florentine art dealer contacted the Louvre saying that it had been offered to him by the thief. The latter turned out to have been Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian artist who had worked at the Louvre on a program to protect many of the museum’s masterworks under glass.

Vincent Peruggia, Mona Lisa thief
Vincent Peruggia
Courtesy of Chronicle Books/Alamy

Peruggia reportedly told police that, early on the Monday morning before the theft was discovered—a day on which the museum was closed to the public—he had entered the Louvre dressed as a workman. Once inside, he had headed for the Mona Lisa, taken her off the wall and out of her frame, wrapped her up in his workman’s smock, and carried her out under his arm. Another version has Peruggia hiding in a museum closet overnight, but in any event the heist itself was clearly a pretty simple and straightforward affair.

Peruggia’s motivations appear to have been a little more confused. The story he told the police was that he had wanted to return the Mona Lisa to Italy, his and its country of origin, in the belief that the painting had been plundered by Napoleon—whose armies had indeed committed many similar trespasses in the many countries they invaded.

But even if he believed his story, Peruggia had his history entirely wrong. For it had been Leonardo himself who had brought the unfinished painting to France, when he became court painter to King François I in 1503. After Leonardo died in a Loire Valley château in 1519, the Mona Lisa was legitimately purchased for the royal collections.

So it didn’t seem so far-fetched when, in a 1932 Saturday Evening Post article, the journalist Karl Decker gave a significantly different account of the affair. According to Decker, an Argentinian con man calling himself Eduardo, Marqués de Valfierno, had told him that it was he who had masterminded Peruggia’s theft of the Mona Lisa. And that he had sold the painting six times!

Valfierno’s plan had been a pretty elaborate one, and it had involved employing the services of a skilled forger who could exactly replicate any stolen painting—in the Mona Lisa’s case, right down to the many layers of surface glaze its creator had used. By Decker’s account, Valfierno not only sold such fakes on multiple occasions, but used them to increase the confidence of potential buyers, ahead of the heist, that they would be getting the real thing after the theft.

The fraudster would take a victim to a public art gallery and invite him to make a surreptitious mark on the back of a painting that he had scheduled to be stolen. Later Valfierno would present him with the marked canvas, which had allegedly been stolen and replaced with a copy.

This trick was actually accomplished by secretly placing the copy behind the real painting, and removing it after the buyer had applied his mark. According to Valfierno, this was an amazingly effective sales ploy: So effective, indeed, that by his account he managed to pre-sell the scheduled-to-be-stolen Mona Lisa to six different United States buyers, all of whom actually received copies.

Mona Lisa returned to the Uffizi Gallery in 1913
Museum officials present the (real) Mona Lisa after its return to Florence, Italy's Uffizi Gallery in 1913.
The Telegraph, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Those copies had been smuggled into America prior to the heist at the Louvre, when nobody was on the lookout for them, and the well-publicized theft itself served to validate their apparent authenticity when they were delivered to the marks in return for hefty sums in cash.

According to Valfierno, the major problem in all this turned out to be Peruggia, who stole the stolen Mona Lisa from him and took it back to Italy. Still, when he was caught trying to dispose of the painting there, Peruggia could not implicate Valfierno without compromising his own story of being a patriotic thief, so the true scheme remained secret. Similarly, when the original Mona Lisa was returned to the Louvre, Valfierno’s buyers could assume that it was a copy—and in any case, they would hardly have been in a position to complain.

Decker’s story of Valfierno’s extraordinary machinations caused a sensation, and it rapidly became accepted as the truth behind the Mona Lisa’s disappearance. Perhaps this is hardly surprising because, after all, Peruggia’s rather prosaic account somehow seems a little too mundane for such an icon of Renaissance artistic achievement. The more flamboyant Valfierno version was widely believed, and is still repeated over and over again, including in two recent books.

Yet there are numerous problems with Decker’s Saturday Evening Post account, including the fact that nobody has ever been able to show for certain that Valfierno actually existed (though you can Google a picture of him). Only Peruggia’s role in the disappearance of the Mona Lisa seems to be reasonably clear-cut. Still, although it remains up in the air whether Valfierno faked his account, or whether Decker fabricated both him and his report, the Mona Lisa that hangs in the Louvre today is probably the original.

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