While traveling I’ve developed the habit of visiting a local bookstore and buying a book that dives into the history of that area, sometimes it’s the city and other times the country. This gives me something relaxing to do in the evenings after a day spent running around but also adds another dimension to my trip. The history heightens my experience when exploring the city since I’m able to relate what I read to the real world - be it landmarks, sculptures, or the culture.
Last year during my trip to Paris I got “How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City” which covered the growth of Paris and how it introduced many features which we associate with a modern city: sidewalks, a public transit system, night time street lighting, and many others. Beyond being an engaging and immersive read it felt magical to read a chapter about a bridge before bed and then walking over that same bridge the next day with my new knowledge. This happened multiple times during the trip and each time the book improved the real world experience.
This year, I went to Portugal and bought “Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire” which covers the early history of Portuguese colonization. This was a flashback to high school history but was much more engaging this time around. Seeing the street names, plazas, and sculptures named after the personalities (villains?) in the book made my exploration more real. I even went out of my way to check out an Afonso de Albuquerque statue in a small Lisbon park.
This is a habit that I encourage avid readers to adopt. It gets you to read something you never otherwise would have read and adds a new layer to a trip. So far I’ve only done it for international trips but will start doing the same for domestic and local ones as well. The world is so rich in history and it’s amazing to be able to experience and feel that connection.