Category Archives: Literary Travel

Walden

A Lit-Nerd Road Trip Adventure through the Beautiful Northeast USA

lighthouse in Portland, MaineMaybe I am biased because I have spent the better part of my life living in and wandering around New England and the rest of the northeast, but I think it is the most beautiful part of America; especially Maine, where I was born and now happily live. Not only is it gorgeous, it’s a hotbed for brilliant, literary minds. If you are a nerd like me, pack up the car and embark on the great American road trip to discover the great American novel!

Longfellow's GardenI’ve loved poetry since I was a little girl, maybe because I was such a dreamer and I liked the idea of romanticizing every single thing that has ever happened, or maybe I was just dramatic. Either way, I am not alone. Mainers are in love with poetry and trip into Portland will prove that. Head down Congress Street past the giant statue of our beloved Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and you will soon find yourself at the poet’s former home. The house was built by his grandfather, Peleg Wadsworth, (a General in the Revolutionary War), between 1785 and 1786. Along with his wife Elizabeth, he raised ten children in the house, which would later become Henry’s childhood home. Longfellow House isn’t just for poetry lovers; architecture and history buffs will also enjoy the visit. It was the first home in a city famous for its beautiful brick work to be built entirely of the material, and it is also one of the oldest standing structures in historic Portland. Plus, the gardens are gorgeous!

About a half an hour up the coast you will find the home that Harriett Beecher Stowe lived in after her husband accepted a position at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. The couple only inhabited the home for two years, but it was during those years that Stowe penned Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The controversial story became one of the most widely read novels in the world, and it is even reported that President Lincoln referred to Stowe as, “The little lady who started this great war.”

Hopping back on the poetry train, you will find yourself in Derry, New Hampshire where one of America’s most beloved poets made his home. Robert Frost worked hard to maintain his farm there for eleven years until moving his family to England to focus on his writing. Upon his return to the States, he moved back to New England and was granted not one, but four Pulitzer Prizes. Today people from all over the world travel to Derry for a tour of the farm. You can even take home a piece of the tree that inspired, “Tree at My Window.”

If you have yet to get your fill of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Cambridge, Massachusetts offers a glimpse at the home he where he spent almost fifty years with his family. All of the items in the home belonged to the Longfellow family, and the collection includes over ten-thousand books that were owned by the poet. As a bonus for history lovers, the house was also once inhabited by George Washington.

In Springfield, MA you will find a wonderful tribute to everyone’s favorite children’s author, Dr. Seuss. The sculpture garden is located outside the museum in the author’s hometown. His step-daughter, Lark Grey Dimond-Cates, is the artist behind the bronze tribute which features a giant story book, an enormous likeness of Horton the Elephant, the Lorax (my favorite!), the Cat in the Hat, the Grinch and his dog Max, and of course, Theodor Seuss Geisel.

If you find yourself in Lowell, Massachusetts, you will want to stop by the National Historical Park visitor center. There you can pick up three different maps that allow you to follow the haunts of legendary beat Jack Kerouac. Explore downtown Lowell, Pawtucketville, Centralville, or all three and see where Kerouac lived, went to school, was baptized, and all of the places that inspired and worked their way into his novels and poems. Downtown is home to the Jack Kerouac Commemorative which is made up of a series of granite columns inscribed with passages from some of the writer’s most famous works, including the seminal On the Road. You can also pay your respects, as Kerouac is buried in the city’s Edson Cemetery.

WaldenConcord, Massachusetts was once the most popular places for progressive literary minds to convene. For me, one of the most exciting places on this trip is the Walden Pond State Reservation where Henry David Thoreau lived off the land and penned Walden; Or, Life in the Woods. For two years Thoreau lived in a one room cabin he had built on land owned by his friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Amos Bronson Alcott and Margaret Fuller were frequent guests during these years. Thoreau’s original cabin no longer stands, but you can pay visit to a replica where you will be greeted by a statue of the man himself.

Speaking of Bronson Alcott, he raised his family close by. This includes his daughter, and another one of my all time favorite authors, Louisa May Alcott. The Orchard House in Concord is where she wrote and set the classic Little Women. The characters in the story are based on her family, Louisa herself as the protagonist, Jo March. Much like her character, Louisa was a headstrong tom boy who paid frequent visits to Ralph Waldo Emerson and delighted in walks through the woods with Henry David Thoreau. Eighty percent of the furnishings at the Orchard House belonged to the Alcotts, and the home appears much as it did when they lived there. Of all the places on this tour, Orchard House is the most like actually stepping into a story.

Before you stray too far from Concord, take a stroll through the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Thoreau, Hawthorne, Emerson and the Alcotts are all buried.

roughing ItNext stop: Connecticut, Hartford to be exact. In Hartford you can visit another of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s homes, or if you are like me, you will be far too busy geeking out over the Mark Twain House and Museum. Twain, whose real name was Samuel Clemens, moved to Hartford with his wife Olivia in 1871. Construction on their home began in 1873, and they moved in before it was finished in 1874. While living in their creation, Clemens wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Life on the Mississippi, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court, and worldwide favorite, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The Clemens family continued to build their home in Hartford until hard times forced them to move to Europe during 1891. Twain’s daughter, Susy Clemens, passed away while visiting their beloved house in 1896, after which the Clemens’ never lived in Hartford again. The Mark Twain House and Museum is filled with interesting artifacts from the writer’s life and has a great gift shop where you can buy books and more. My favorite item is a button that reads, “Experience Freedom. Read a banned book.”

There are so many other amazing places to visit in the northeast, like the Edward Gorey House in Massachusetts, HP Lovecraft’s grave at the Swan Point Cemetery in Rhode Island, and the Robert Frost Museum in Vermont. Amherst, Massachusetts is home to the Emily Dickinson Museum, where the poet was born and spent a majority of her life, and in Lenox you will find the home of The Age of Innocence and Ethan Frome author Edith Wharton. Stephen King fans flock to Bangor, Maine to see the town that so many bone-chilling stories have been set in. But if I keep going, I will have written a novel of my own, and I don’t want a bunch of people showing up at my house!

Happy reading and safe travels!

Melissa Rae Cohen is a travel writer for Auto Europe working out of Portland, Maine. In her spare time she likes to read books. Lots and lots of books!

Fes Glaoui Palace

The Glaoui (Glaoua) Palace in Fes, Morocco

Slightly outside of the UNESCO classified Fes Medina, you will probably miss something extraordinary, unless you take the time to go and look for it. The Dar al Glaoui, the Glaoui Palace, a crumbling reminder that power is fleeting. (To find someplace to stay in Fez that is just as luxurious but not as crumbling – check out these Dars, Riads and Traditional Hotels)

Fes MedinaWhile a lot of people mention Paul Bowles novel, The Sheltering Sky as the ultimate in capturing the essence of Morocco, for me, it was a different book that succeeded in capturing not only the Moroccan mentality, but also the soul of the country itself. Gavin Maxwell’s Lords of the Atlas: The Rise and Fall of the House of Glaoua 1893-1956 is perhaps the ultimate in coming to understand Morocco.

Fes Glaoui PalaceConsider this review from The Library Journal

“British author Maxwell accomplishes the twofold task of detailing the daily life, customs, and rituals in pre-independence Morocco and of recounting the rise and fall of El Hadj T’hani El Glaoui, the legendary tribal warlord through whom the French ruled one of their prize colonies in North Africa. Maxwell, who died in 1969, considered himself an explorer and wrote of faraway places; here he introduces readers to the harshness and beauty of Morocco. He shows how the blend of Berber, Arab, and black African races created an extraordinary cultural mosaic and explains how the French colonialists recruited the Atlas Mountain tribal warlords to subdue the other tribes.

Fes, Glaoui PalaceAs the chief beneficiary of this policy, El Glaoui was able to rule most of southern Morocco in an absolute fashion, until Morocco’s independence from France in 1956 brought an end to the rule of a very colorful warlord.”

At times it is necessary to remind yourself that not only is this a true story, but that most of the events portrayed took place in the 1900’s! It is a fantastic account of the power behind the French Protectorate, and a reminder that politics has always been a filthy business. Anyone planning a visit, or who has been to Morocco, especially the Glaoui kasbahs of the High Atlas, should read this book, as should fans of bloody, political intrigue.

Fes, Glaoui Palace Medina FesI should point out though that the book has more than a few critics who generally say something like this: “If you want a book singing the praises of a few thugs who made good during the French mandate (Primarily on prostitution) A book filled with unsupported (And frankly slanderous) comments, a book written by a man who clearly doesn’t know the first thing about Morocco, Islam or Arab culture and a book that’s basically a rip off from someone else’s then this really is the book for you. ”

So, those are the reviews – but as someone who is married to a Moroccan, who has lived in Morocco for several years and who has done more than a fair bit of study into the Moroccan character and the Moroccan way of doing things, I feel that this book characterizes the ‘crabs in a bucket’ mentality (thanks to Hawaii for the metaphor) which holds Morocco back, makes it difficult to personally achieve things here, and impedes the forward motion of a people who have brilliant minds that are wasted on petty jealousy and judgment. That’s my opinion. In any event, the book is one that I highly recommend to anyone coming to Morocco, which makes it that much more amazing that today was the first time I’ve visited the Glaoui Palace in Fes.

Fez Glaoui PalaceAfter all that, hands down, this is my favorite touristic destination in Fes. It’s not as well kept as the Batha Museum, not as grand and glorious as the Karaouyine Mosque, not as stinky or touristic as the famous Fez tanneries, but there is something truly awe inspiring in this famous, decrepit but still beautiful house.

The palace is owned by 14 families who have fallen on hard times in Marrakech and France but is lived in and taken care of by Abdou, an artist. He was born there and lives there with his sister. He is the third generation born there and while not a Glaoui, he is happy to be there and try to keep it from falling in on itself.

Fez Artist Abdou 'Figaro'The palace is generally closed to the public but usually open to the public via Abdou and his sister who are happy to show you around the 150-year-old palace comprised of 17 houses, stables, a mausoleum and cemetery, Quranic school, hammam, garages and two large gardens. While generally the tour is composed of seeing a few salons, the haram, the massive kitchen and a few of the courtyards, it is possible to see a bit more if you are careful and polite and the weather lines up for you.

Fes, Glaoui Palace T'Hami GlaouiApparently, the palace complex is for sale for several million dollars. A steal for anyone who gets it since it would be like owning your own miniature al-Hambra (which it was actually designed after). The entire house is a masterpiece of painted wood, zellij (mosaic tile), carved wood, fountains, and also the first modern bathroom to ever be built in North Africa complete with original plumbing.

Of course, if you do buy it – try to get a few of Abdou’s paintings thrown in, since personally, I find his style to be one of the most enjoyable I’ve come across in Morocco. Total hidden treasure. I would tell you how to get there, but it would be a waste of time, because you would get lost and have to ask someone anyway – so, just go to Batha and start asking people how to find Abdou and the Glaoui Palace – they’ll know exactly where you mean.

As always – if you are coming to Morocco and need help figuring out what to do or where to go – my travel advice is free for the asking. Just use the contact form below.

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great american travel writers

Ten Great American Literary Travellers

great american travel writersWhether you are looking for travel inspiration or just a great read, these ten American travelers can provide you with what you are looking for. Each of their lives were just as interesting (if not more) than the extraordinary works they produced. With each writer, I offer one book that you may not have heard of. Each recommended book by the way will be a treasured gift for any travelers you may be shopping for…

Jack London books1) Jack London – While some might question my putting him at the top of this list, London’s works have probably inspired more young men to hit the road than any other. From romancing the Alaskan gold rush to marching with a homeless army to Washington D.C.- London was a humanitarian, forward thinker who spent a life thirsting for adventures. Recommended book: The Road

Hemingway shotgun2) Ernest Hemingway – While primarily thought of as a great writer, there is no denying that Hemingway was, at heart as shiftless as the next guy. Recommended book: On Paris

Steinbeck camping3) John Steinbeck – Steinbeck’s novels tend to focus on California, the place he knew and loved best but there is a restlessness and itchy feet quality to all of his work that speaks to the souls of travellers. While The Grapes of Wrath is perhaps the best known, I recommend you read: Travels with Charley in Search of America

Jack Kerouac4) Jack Kerouac – known as the father of the beatniks (though that probably should be William S. Burroughs) but more like the press secretary of the beatniks- Kerouac journeyed through depression, alcoholism, and many lands from the USA to Mexico, Morocco, France and more. Kerouac’s words have inspired several generations of travellers to hit the road. Recommended book: Lonesome Traveler

Mark Twain Sphinx5) Mark Twain – Sarcastic, caustic, serious and funny. Samuel Langhorne Clemons set out to see the world and then reported on it with humor that has defined Americanness ever since. Recommended book: Roughing It

Woody Guthrie6) Woodie Guthrie – Neither a world traveler nor an author, but how could I not include the man who wrote such songs as “Blowing in the Wind” – Guthrie’s songs have been the soundtrack to so many adventures that it would be impossible not to include him – and besides his life is an incredible journey to read about. Recommended book: Woodie Guthrie: A Life

travels of Emma7) Emma Goldman – Emma Goldman got around and there was no one more feared in the post Wild West than this hell on wheels anarchist. Deported, arrested, and absolutely rabid – her life intersected with some of the most radical people of her day. Recommended book: Living My Life by Emma herself.

Grandma Gatewood8) Grandma Gatewood – Emma Gatewood was a completely different kind of person from Emma Goldman despite sharing the same first name and initials – but no less inspiring. Not only the first solo hiker to do the Appalacian Trail but also the oldest! Grandma Gatewood also hiked the 2000 mile Oregon Trail and did it all for peace. Recommended book: Enjoying the Journey

Vagabond Ed Burn9) Ed Buryn – You may have never heard of Ed Buryn, but he has inspired the likes of me, Rolf Potts, and countless others to hit the road in their own way. Ed’s unique travel philosophy is the base of today’s Vagabonding and his stories, photos and drawings still amuse, entertain and educate. Recommended book: Vagabonding in Europe and North Africa

Harry Franck Vagabond10) Harrry Franck – While not as well known as the other’s on this list, Harry Franck was perhaps the most daring and prolific of them all. Starting with a trip around the world with no money (on a dare) and then going on to explore huge portions of the world and write more than 30 books about it. I recommend you begin with his first A Vagobond Journey Around the World