Why you should go to the library on your next vacation

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I just finished reading Daphne du Maurier’s suspense thriller After Midnight, sipping Cretan wine on the balcony of Airbnb I Booked a five night stay at Agios Nikolaos in Crete, Greece.

Reading is the result of a travel enhancement that I stumbled upon years ago. I had some free time in a rural administrative capital in the mountains when it was raining – the bane of lonely travelers. A traffic sign marked something I could identify, “Library,” which I guessed could be the local library.

I rushed in the direction of the sign and found the entrance to the library building open. Sure, it’s quiet, empty, and a little musty, but dry. I found there that the librarians were happy to welcome foreign visitors. I was warmly welcomed and invited to visit a special section of the foreign language book collection.

Librarians who speak very fluent English can use much more than tourist guides: they have literature by foreign authors in the local area. I sampled some in the reading area and had an unforgettable rainy day and it was a great deal.

Travel guides are not dead, but they will never be the same. Maybe this is a good thing.

Since then, if I have a little extra time, whether it’s sand, sea, or good food, I’ll go to the local library. Once, in Smolyan, a small town in Bulgaria, the librarians offered me a library card, and they were so enthusiastic that their collections would be perused. On many occasions, enthusiastic and truly dedicated librarians have invited me for coffee, drinks, and even meals at home.

Here, the stop at Agios Nikolaos will be the longest of my current drive around Crete. The scenic port, with its crowded marinas, pristine beaches, ancient ruins and delicious food, attracts many tourists, so when I found the municipal library of Koundoureios, I assured my greeters that I wasn’t looking for a guidebook. They were ecstatic when I asked them if there was any work in the story of Agios Nikolaos. That’s how I found Du Maurier’s story.

A stop at a foreign municipal library is the perfect way to enrich your travel experience, especially if you discover a literary gem or two along the way. The library itself is usually centrally located, although not a budget priority, and when luggage allowances are more generous, I display a book from my personal collection (I’m a former English professor) for such a purpose.

But good literature is a secondary consideration.The most fulfilling part is the local details of the many authors – they often have Years of experience in places you might visit for a few days – included in their stories. Therefore, it is worth noting to mention the cafe or tram route and include it in your itinerary.

When I started traveling in 1968, resources such as travel guides were published in relation to the degree of research I had on my chosen destination. So when I first went to the library, I was blind and could only find any titles the librarians managed to put in their collections.

But in recent years, I’ve developed a variant that yields similar results and allows me to have the same interaction with helpful librarians. On my most recent visit to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, I searched the internet for “story set in Sofia” before visiting library staff. A website lists 22 English-language books in the city.

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The list gave me a targeted approach rather than my more random approach. With it, I went to the city library, which overlooks a pedestrian square bordered by a modern tram line. I love the circular marble stairs with carved wooden railings and wrought iron columns that climb over the Vazrajdane Theater, which is shared with the old building.

Once inside, I found it easy to find the information desk. Predictably, the librarians there were helpful and engaged. A guy calling himself Peter took me under his wing and we checked out another colleague upstairs and sat at the computer trying to find a title on my list. Peter knew several authors and told me that one of them, Garth Greenwell, also wrote in Bulgarian.

Sadly, our search was in vain, and this is where I think the paragon of kindness lies: Peter calls a friend who has ties to the author. After a brief chat, I was scheduled to receive by email Greenwell’s latest novel, Clean, which is set in Sofia like his last novel, Something That Belongs to You – here’s my trip Another unique memory.

I’ve now searched for the phrase “story set in…” many times now, and there’s always one or two sites with a surprisingly long list. Wherever I am, I am amazed at the abundance of titles. Of course, I can always order it online and read it at home or in my hotel room.

But it’s far more fun to scour the stacks in foreign libraries, often in the company of one or more extraordinary people who volunteer to help. For me, these shared moments are as memorable as any I wander. As my experience in Sofia has shown, the most valuable thing is searching, not books.

Scorza is a writer in College Park, Maryland.

Potential travelers should consider local and national public health directives regarding the pandemic before planning any travel. Travel Health Notice information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map showing travel advisories by destination, as well as the CDC’s Travel Health Notice webpage.

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