Right after we'd bought tickets for Italy earlier this year, a well-traveled friend dropped off her favorite travel guide to Italy. Its dog-eared pages and a couple of remaining post-it tags proved it had been well-used. Since I wanted to have one I could use equally well and take with us on the trip, I soon bought one (so hard to choose just one!), a different one of course so we'd have a variety of perspectives. Before long Frank brought home a stack from the library and I put the whole assortment on the dining room table, a good, undisturbed place to spread out and really get to know a country.
By the time the trip was only a couple of weeks away, I hadn't done more than riffle pages and read captions under the glossy photos. No worries! We had a 10+ hour flight ahead of us. Plenty of opportunity, really an enforced stillness put to good use, to read the book cover to cover if I wanted.
The book never made it out of my carry-on. First I wanted light reading, then they put out the lights trying to get us west-coasters to believe that it was truly the night we were flying into...and out of! And then, we'd arrived and the journey was in full-swing. For this particular trip, the need to figure out what we'd do was less urgent; we were in the hands of our son for the most part and following a pretty full itinerary of people and places that we simply must meet and see before our all-too-short 2 weeks was gone--and then it was. We were back on the plane and I didn't pretend to read but wanted instead to watch every dvd in British Airways' library, which I did between intermittent attempts at sleep.
Now that I'm home, I love the travel guide, the one we brought with us (and that saved us when we were in the cinque terra without hotel reservations) as well as the couple I'd picked up along the way. The transformation actually began our last night in Italy, in the small family-run albergo in Genova we'd discovered by guide book, waiting up with the only English language literature in the lobby for Frank to return from a midnight city search for overnight parking. It was a Berlitz travel guide I believe and included a concise history of Italy...
What I found then and since I've been home is that now that I've been to Italy, I have context for the travel guides. I recognize places I've been- a town, a chapel, a region- and now I want to know more about it. I'm reading, I'm checking for more info on the internet, I'm jotting down notes from the travel guide in my journal. NEXT time I'm for sure spending more time in this city, will look out for that museum, will detour into that town. I will see the amphitheater's rose-colored walls. I will not miss Poet's Bay where Shelley drowned. Next time, maybe I'll be better guided.