When I travel, or am planning a trip, I like to read. A lot. I like to read in general, but when I plan a trip, I like to read about where I’m going. Non-fiction, fiction, historical novels, biographies, and the general history of the place I’ll be visiting. It gives me a sense of knowing where I’m going, and a familiarity once I’m there. Knowing the history of a place is amazing – how and when it was founded, and by whom, the general politics and every day life, and interesting little quirks and tidbits.
For example, when I traveled to Italy for the first time in 2016, I read a bunch of books on Ancient Rome – Cicero, in particular. It gave me a good feel of that Late Republican era, right before Caesar was murdered and Augustus became the first emperor. I read Robert Harris’ books: Imperium, Conspirata, and Dictator. They’re fabulously written, by the way, and give a good insight from a historical novel perspective of the great Roman orator himself, and the conspiracy behind Caesar’s murder in 44 BCE. I also read his Pompeii (twice), which was a really interesting read on the events leading up to the famed eruption of 79 CE from the perspective of the overseer of the aqueduct. It’s another historical novel, and in it the overseer of the aqueduct is the one who discovers that something big is about to happen thanks to a disruption in the flow of water in the aqueducts. Once I got to Pompeii last year, I really was able to have a better picture of how water was actually brought to the city, and was able to re-create a lot of the story of Pompeii in my mind while there.
I also read Rome and Jerusalem by Martin Goodman, and SPQR, the quintessential read by Mary Beard for any ancient Roman history enthusiast, which gave some good historical perspective. I moved on to some historical fiction on the Etruscan civilization thanks to some free Amazon Prime reads by Elisabeth Storrs – The Wedding Shroud, Call to Juno, and The Golden Dice. These books led me to do a little digging on the Etruscan civilization, which in turn was really cool when I happened to chance upon an Etruscan tomb in the Val d’Orica and was able to grasp a lot of the significance behind it.
After returning, I went on to read a ton more on Italy (and decided to go back to school for a second master’s in Classical Mediterranean History, but that’s another story for another day). Some of my favorites include: Dark Athena, which is primarily set in the US, but has origins in southern Italy; Beneath a Scarlet Sky, which is a novel based on true events during World War II; The Monster of Florence, which tells of the serial killings that took place in and around Florence during the 1980’s and was absolutely fascinating; The Mistress of the Vatican, which tells the story of Olimpia Miadalchini, the secret female pope; and most recently, Gomorrah, which is a personal look by author Roberto Saviano into the secret organized crime world of Naples and Campania — it was one I read in two days.
Preparing for my upcoming trip to Barcelona and the Baleric Islands in Spain this summer, I’ve been doing a little research on some books set in or about Barcelona and Catalonia. I know some of the basics – they’re currently going through a fight for independence from Spain and recently had a vote, which resulted in the Catalonian leader being removed from government. I want to know more. I want to know the history behind this movement. And so, I’ll read. On my list, I’ve got The Man of my Life, which was reviewed to give a good insight into current Catalan politics and the independence movement. I’ve also got The Color of a Dog Running Away, which is reviewed as being an “unforgettable historical thriller” set in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona. Of course, I’ve got my Rick Steves’ Pocket Guide to Barcelona to page through, and I’ll see which of the other books on this list by The Culture Trip pique my interest.
Reading in itself is a passport to the world. It’s something I’ve always loved, and I’ve found a new appreciation for it as a travel aide. Have you read to prep for a trip, or because of a trip? If so, what? I’d love to hear in the comments.