Still looking for a perfect spring break destination? If jetting off to Cancun (I wish) or going home to sleep and cuddle with your pets (my current plan) doesn’t seem exciting enough this year, you should consider going on a literary pilgrimage to a site associated with your favorite author or book. There are incredible locations all around the world where great writers lived, worked, did drugs, or simply hung out—places that, for many, seem like a unique window into an author’s experiences and talent. Here are four incredible locations connected with famous writers that no literary aficionado will want to miss:
1. The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, Key West, Florida
This house in Key West, now a National Historic Landmark, was Hemingway’s residence from 1931-1939, and is where he wrote his acclaimed novel A Farewell to Arms. When Hemingway lived here, he created a boxing ring in the front yard—a perfect place for him to demonstrate his physical bravado—and, with the help of his second wife, Pauline, built the first swimming pool in Key West. If images of Hemingway fighting and swimming are not enough to draw you to this site, you may be excited to learn that the house is also filled with cats! About 40-50 cats currently live in the residence, and some are supposedly the descendants of Hemingway’s own prized feline Snowball, who was given to him by a ship’s captain. These are not just your average house cats: most of these kitties are polydactyl, sporting six toes on each paw. The cats also have wonderful, literature-inspired names, such as Gertrude Stein, Emily Dickinson, and Simone de Beauvoir. Literary history, warm weather, and cuddly, six-toed felines—what could be better?
For more information on the Hemingway house and these adorable animals, look here (photos of cats included): http://www.hemingwayhome.com/cats/
2. The Chelsea Hotel, New York City, New York
The Chelsea Hotel, also known as the Hotel Chelsea or just the Chelsea, is located in Manhattan on W 23rd Street between 7th and 8th avenues. Since it was first opened for occupation in 1884, the hotel served as a hangout for numerous authors, musicians, and modern artists, who lived, created, drank, and did various drugs in this building. Guests of the Chelsea Hotel included renowned authors Tennessee Williams and Mark Twain, poets Charles Bukowski and Allen Ginsberg, and even French writer and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. This is where Jack Keouac wrote On the Road and Arthur Clark created 2001: A Space Odyssey. Artists also loved the Chelsea: mere days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, for example, Andy Warhol supposedly threw an “Assassination party” at the hotel to raise people’s spirits. The building is currently closed for renovations, having fallen into a state of dangerous disrepair, but for devoted literary and art fans, even the sight of the hotel’s façade might be enough.
To learn more, take a look at this great article in Vanity Fair, “An Oral History of the Chelsea Hotel: Where the Walls Still Talk”: http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2013/10/chelsea-hotel-oral-history
3. Walden Pond, Concord, Massachusetts
Walden Pond is the site of transcendentalist author Henry David Thoreau’s famous solitary experiment, chronicled in his book Walden, which made this location famous. Thoreau lived here alone for two years beginning in 1845 in a tiny, one-room shack; at the time, the land he occupied near Walden Pond was owned by his friend and transcendentalist companion Ralph Waldo Emerson. Thousands of people travel here each year, hoping to see the serene beauty Thoreau describes in his prose and to achieve the same solitary contemplation and connection with nature that he depicts. The pond grew so popular— averaging crowds of over 35,000 people in 1952—that Massachusetts decided to make the location a state reservation, incorporating 335 acres of protected land, and now only allows 1,000 visitors in the area at a time. While this is nowhere near the state of perfect isolation Thoreau sought, these limitations permit Thoreau fans to enjoy a slightly quieter and more reflective experience at Walden Pond.
For more details about Walden Pond State Reservation, look here: http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2013/10/chelsea-hotel-oral-history
4. The Elephant House, Edinburgh, Scotland
The Elephant House is the coffee shop where JK Rowling penned the first words of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the book that launched a magical series that many of us have probably read countless times. The shop, living up to its name, houses over 700 paintings and plastic, ceramic, and wooden models of elephants. In the bathroom, in homage to the author, visitors have covered the walls of each stall with messages written to Rowling and quotes from the Harry Potter books themselves. One note, for example, has an arrow pointing to the toilet bowl with the message, “The way to the Ministry of Magic”—if you don’t understand this comment, you may want to refresh your memory by looking at some chapters where Harry, Ron, and Hermione sneak into the Ministry. Although the Elephant House does attract many tourists and Harry Potter lovers, it remains a cozy and welcoming place to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea while allowing visitors to bask in the ambiance that Rowling must have enjoyed when she began writing her magical series.
Look here for more information about the Elephant House: http://www.fluxmagazine.com/index.php/travel/the-elephant-house/
So plan a unique trip this spring break and visit one (or all) of these literary landmarks. Even if you don’t consider yourself obsessed enough with authors to seriously consider taking such a vacation, just imagine how impressed your English professor might be if you told him or her that you casually visited Walden Pond and had a transcendental awakening, or conceptualized your own book series while enjoying a cup of coffee in Edinburgh.