Book of the Day: Travel Through Time and Tour Rome With the Popes

I was wandering down cobbled via del Moro in the Roman neighborhood of Trastevere when I found a used book store, and on the one shelf reserved for English language books, I saw Anthony Majanlahti’s The Families Who Made Rome: A History and a Guide

I didn’t buy it then, but when I came home, memories of that book haunted me until at some later time, I recalled it, and then ordered it from Amazon, the UK store, because it wasn’t for sale in the USA store. (But it is now!)

This is one of my favorite books. Period.

Rome, Tourism, Angels, DaVinci Code
Castel St. Angelo, Refuge of the Popes

It’s like a magic mirror. Step through it into a velvet and damask world of conniving and plotting like you’ll find in any Shakespeare history play, or in Game of Thrones, or in Dune, for that matter. But these plotters, these princes, appointing their nephews to high positions, giving their brothers and sisters lucrative towns to administer, going to war, dressing like the Caesars, throwing parties in which guests toss golden plates into the Tiber, these grasping power-mad men are the Popes. Like any emperor, they put the treasury of their kingdom to use, building themselves fine palaces and monuments. Rome bears the marks of these men everywhere. Many of them polished their legacies, but still managed to improve the traffic flow for the tourists. Read this book and you’ll never see the Papacy or the city the same way again.

Each chapter covers a papal family who shaped the Rome you find today. And after each historical chapter comes one that could be used to take a walking tour of that family’s palaces and compounds. It’s a marvelous way to deepen your understanding of the grand squares, the bridges and elegant public spaces. From Palazzo Farnese to the Quirinale Palace, from the Ghetto to Piazza Navona to Villa Borghese, this is both an architectural and artistic tour of the Eternal City, and an intimate portrait of waves of papal ambition and corruption. Beauty and power are inextricably linked, as in any great civilization.

It’s very dense, like a flourless chocolate cake, or like a flaky cornetto stuffed with Nutella dipped into an espresso.

This book may not be for you. Maybe you just want to know a little bit about the past and culture of the places you visit. But me, I like to dive deep into history, to try to imagine myself walking back in time. If this book is for you, you are really going to thank me.

What’s your favorite place to travel? What’s your favorite book about it? Please share below! Comments very welcome!

Book of the Day: Voyage to the Time of the French Revolution

Notre Dame, Paris, France, Margaret Mayo McGlynn
Paris, France, Cathedral, Notre Dame
Notre Dame, Paris

So you want to go to Paris. Who doesn’t? April is a beautiful time to be there. Trees with soft purple blossoms rain petals at the foot of Notre Dame. Lovers kiss in the parks, and the restaurants serve white asparagus grown in the Loire Valley.

The first time I saw Paris I was with my mother in 1989, the 200th Anniversary year of the Storming of the Bastille, and I’d just emerged from a messy breakup. I was cranky and difficult, a painful state amplified by the hi-test cafe au lait served in our little hotel in Montparnasse.

When I picked up a copy of Christopher Hibbert’s the The Days of the French Revolution, Mom let me read it to her at bedtime. It was just what I needed, a gory blow-by-blow account of that violent and thrilling time. The pictures it flashed on my mind might have been made by a videographer of the sort who took the Vietnam footage beaming into our living room nightly when I was a child. My mom would nod off when I was only a few pages into each chapter, but I kept reading.

It grabbed me first with a rather graphic supposition about the King’s inability to sire children, and a surgery performed to correct that royal predicament. Later the Parisians storming the old prison, increasingly murderous, leaving death in their wake. One unforgettable vignette shows Marie Antoinette peering through a Versailles window to see the head of her best friend on a pike. Bloody? Yes. Disturbing? Uh-huh. Boring? No way.

Léon-Maxime Faivre - Death of the Princess de Lamballe [1908]

Léon-Maxime Faivre – Death of the Princess de Lamballe [1908]

This book is vivid and detailed. If you are visiting Paris for the first time and your taste runs a bit more Silence of the Lambs than The Notebook, this is the read for you. This was my first Hibbert, but definitely not my last. The guy wrote about many things I find fascinating. Maybe you will, too!

Ever read any Christopher Hibbert? What’s your favorite history book? What’s your favorite era in history to read about? Comments are welcome!

Be Your Own Tour Guide – Great History Books for Travel

Notre Dame de Paris, France

Everybody travels differently, which is why I don’t like organized tours. What you find interesting I might find deadly dull. Travel just isn’t one size fits all. Which is why I like to do lots of research on a place before I go. I like to be my own tour guide, so my husband and I can go at our own pace and see what really interests us.

One of my favorite ways to get to know a place before I visit is to read a great history book about it.

I’ve done this over and over again before trips to Italy, France and England. And now, you can check out what kinds of things I like to read in my very own Amazon store. Pretty cool, eh? Please take a gander and let me know if you have any questions.

Click here to check out my History Books for Travel Store!

I’ve got pages for France and Italy, and there will be more to come, probably Bermuda, oh, yes, and Los Angeles. There’s so much great stuff about here that I can’t wait to share with you!