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How books inspire travel: Following in the footsteps of an author or character

Ed Ronco
At Ernest Hemingway's home in Havana, visitors can peer through the windows and see his study, among other rooms.

Editor's note: This segment originally aired on Jan. 19, 2017.

They say reading a book can take you far away. That’s usually a metaphor. But for many, books inspire literal travel, to follow in the footsteps of great authors or stories.

“Literature is a really big pull for travel,” KNKX travel expert Matthew Brumley said. “Just think of the impact (Ernest) Hemingway has had on Havana. People are visiting his bars, and his house is stunning.”

Near Havana, you can peer into Hemingway's windows and see his desk, his living room, and his bedroom, complete with his war correspondent’s uniform hanging in the closet.

You can even climb the stairs of a tower where he wrote, and look at the typewriter inside the top level. On some days, a docent minding the rope line across the door will take your camera inside and get a close-up of the keys. She winks at you, and suggests you keep it quiet, as if you’re special and she’s not supposed to do this. Then you see her do it for the next visitor. It’s still cool, though.

That said, it’s important to do your research. For Hemingway, and so many other authors, lots of places claim to be a famous site where they wrote or drank or slept. Some are not.

“Every city you go to in Europe, there’s a bar, sandwich or drink named after Hemingway,” Brumley said.

Credit A very nice docent / KNKX
A docent at Ernest Hemingway's house will take your camera beyond the rope line, and get you a nice closeup of his typewriter.

By sticking to official sites such as homes, museums, well-known locations, Brumley says you’ll find a rewarding experience.

“It gives you insight into not just their literature, but how they lived,” he said. “You get to see their furniture, the magazines they collected, the books they read, and it’s very gratifying.”

Pablo Neruda has homes across Chile. In Rome, at the bottom of the Spanish steps, you’ll find the Keats-Shelley Memorial House. Across from Circus Maximus, you’ll find the Protestant Cemetery of Rome, with many author graves. Try Victor Hugo's house in Paris, too.

“Grab a couple books before you go, then build a trip, or at least part of a day, around your passion for a particular author,” Brumley said. “It brings not just a destination to life, but another era to life.”

Bonus points, Brumley says, if you re-read their book on location, with a good bottle of Chianti.


"Going Places" is 88.5's weekly exploration of travel. Our travel expert, Matthew Brumley, is co-founder of Earthbound Expeditions on Bainbridge Island, which provides small group travel to clients including KNKX. Never miss an episode again. Subscribe to Going Places with iTunesGoogle Play or Stitcher.

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.