Top 10 homes of literary history
Sunday, October 19, 2014

Left:  Hans Christian Andersen Birthplace,  Odense, Denmark



History and literary buffs will rejoice as VirtualTourist members uncover the list of the "Top 10 Historical Homes From Literature."
Hans Christian Andersen Birthplace, Odense, Denmark
It was in the small town of Odense that the great fairytale writer Hans Christian Andersen was born. His family moved two years after his birth to what is now known as Andersen's Childhood Home. Though he had not lived in the first house long, it has become part of a museum devoted to him. The museum contains many original writings and copies of Andersen's books, sketches, paper cutouts and collages. VirtualTourist members say you may well wonder when trying the door why the house is locked. Yet, looking through the window, you will see people and various artifacts inside. There is no information on the door how to get in and yet everybody seems to know where to find the entrance. So just follow the others and they will show you the way.
Anne Frank House, Amsterdam, Netherlands
During the Holocaust, Anne Frank and her family and friends lived in the attic of Prinsengracht 263, now commonly called the Anne Frank House. Anne's father, Otto, also conducted his spice business from this building. The doorway to the attic was hidden behind a moveable bookcase, constructed especially for this purpose. The men and women who worked in Otto's business knew of the hiding place and they supplied the eight people with food and news of the outside world.
Anne's struggles during her two years in hiding were detailed in her diary, which after the war became the international bestseller "The Diary of Anne Frank." On August 4, 1944, Anne's hiding place was betrayed. The people in hiding were deported to various concentration camps and only Otto Frank survived. After his release from Auschwitz, Mr. Frank was presented with his daughter's diary. He said it revealed a person he did not know; her thoughts and words were not those of the young girl he had known.
Today, the rooms of the Anne Frank House still evoke powerful emotions. Quotations from Anne's diary, historical documents, photo enlargements, film clips and memorabilia that belonged to those in hiding bring to life the events that took place here. Anne's original diary and other notebooks can also be seen in the museum.
Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California
Eccentric multimillionaire and legendary newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst built this extravagant mansion, known as Hearst Castle, on a beautiful plot of land along the coast of Big Sur. The main structure, called Casa Grande, is more than 60,000 square feet and features a huge medieval dining room, a pool designed after Roman baths and a main sitting room full of European artwork. Guests were welcome at all times and they could stay at one of the three guesthouses, or take advantage of the Casa Grande's 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms and 19 sitting rooms, but there was no room service. And all guests were expected to take dinner with Mr. Hearst and the other guests in the main dining room.
While staying at the house, visitors were welcome to use the Neptune Pool, a huge swimming pool overlooking the Pacific Ocean and framed with actual Greek ruins that Hearst imported from Europe, or they could enjoy the huge collection of animals at the world's largest private zoo. Constructed between 1919 and 1947, Hearst Castle has been designated a National Historic Landmark and the Hearst Corporation donated it to the state of California, which turned it into a state park.
Birthplace of Dracula, Sighisoara, Romania
It is generally accepted that Bram Stoker's famous character Dracula was based on the historical figure Vlad Tepes, also called Vlad Dracula and Vlad the Impaler, whose hometown is Sighisoara, Romania. As ruler, Vlad earned the title "Impaler" due to his propensity to punish his victims by impaling them on stakes and displaying them publicly as a warning to those who transgressed against his strict moral code. Vlad is credited with eliminating 40,000 to 100,000 Europeans this way between 1456 and 1462. But he is also revered as a hero by Romanians for fending off the Turks, who were invading his country.
For those travelers interested, you can visit Casa Vlad Dracula, which now houses the Museum of Medieval Arms on the first floor and a restaurant downstairs serving such delicacies as Tepes Steak covered in blood (tomato sauce), which you can wash down with Dracula blood to the accompaniment of human screams and creepy organ sounds by way of background music. Should you have the urge to roam the town at night dressed as Dracula, there are souvenir shops where you can purchase the necessary cape and other gear.
Juliet's House, Verona, Italy
Perhaps one of the most famous literary characters is Shakespeare's Juliet from "Romeo and Juliet." Although she is most likely a fictional character, that hasn't stopped her from having a house and a balcony in Verona. It is believed that this house belonged to a 14th-century Veronese family, which just might have been one of the families Shakespeare had in mind when he wrote the famous tale in 1594. VirtualTourist members say that for couples traveling, one person should pay the small fee to stand on the balcony while the other takes a picture of them from the courtyard.
Maison Victor Hugo, Paris, France
In 1832, Victor Hugo, author of "Les Miserables" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," rented an apartment in Paris where he lived for 16 years. It is now a museum with exhibits on his life. Entrance to the apartment is free, with a small charge to see the exhibitions on the first floor. On the second floor, where he lived, you will find some of his personal collections of art and manuscripts, and interestingly, the apartment is now laid out to allow guests the opportunity to experience his whole life. VirtualTourist members say it's well worth a stop and for most visitors probably the only time you will be able to step foot in an apartment in the Place des Vosges section of Paris.
Down House, Downe, Kent, England
The home for many years to noted scientist Charles Darwin, the Down House in Downe, Kent, is where Darwin developed his theories of evolution and wrote "Origin of Species." The home itself is a beautiful building and houses a museum. Downstairs, you will find all the rooms restored to the way they were when Darwin lived there. VirtualTourist members say the billiard room, where he used to clear his mind by playing billiards with his butler, is particularly interesting. Outside, you will find gardens, a greenhouse and a plot of land where Darwin would conduct experiments. You can also take a stroll along Darwin's "thinking path" where he used to go and meditate on his theories.
Karen Blixen Home, Kenya
Karen Blixen was famous for her novel "Out of Africa," which was a tale of her adventures in her beloved Kenya. She led a tumultuous life, but one that made for a very good story. Fortune brought her to Kenya, but her love for Kenya is what made her stay and call it home for as long as she did. "Out of Africa" is the autobiography of the life and times of Karen Blixen, an unwitting foreign transplant brought to Kenya by her husband to help him run a coffee plantation. Blixen was eventually left on her own and abandoned by her husband to manage the plantation and during her time in Kenya she managed to win the affections and respect of the people. The home is now a small museum. VirtualTourist members say that it's worth reading the book before visiting so you can imagine what took places there.
Washington Irving's Sunnyside, New York State
Washington Irving, America's first internationally famous author and writer of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle," wanted a romantic home along the river where he could relax and write. His choice was Sunnyside in New York. Located right along the Hudson River, this bright little house was just what he had imagined. With wonderful views over the river from many of the rooms in the house and the veranda area as peaceful a place as you could find, it's no wonder he was able to feel inspired here. VirtualTourist members say to take a walk around the grounds and then take a guided tour through the house to see where this great writer found his inspiration.
Green Gables Heritage Place, 
Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, Canada
The "Green Gables" house on Prince Edward Island was originally owned by Lucy Montgomery's grandparents and is a modest home set in a wooded setting. She moved there at an early age and the home and her experiences in the area formed such a strong impression on her that the home became the basis of her well-known 1908 novel "Anne of Green Gables."
At the home there are guides from the Canadian National Park Service on hand to answer any questions and show you how Lucy and her grandparents lived in the early 20th century. More interesting than the house, VirtualTourist members say, is the hike along the Haunted Woods and Balsam Hollow, which Lucy talks about in her book. The trails, just like the house, have been well preserved. As you walk along the two trails you can't help but think about how Lucy developed the memories that are now in her book.
(c) 2014, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC
This column was printed in the October 19, 2014 - November 1, 2014 edition.

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