Feature

This week’s travel dreams: Adventures inspired by fiction

Sicily: Defying the Mafia; Sweden: Crime-fiction heaven; Birmingham, England: Middle-earth’s inspiration

Sicily: Defying the Mafia
Sicilians have been fighting back against the Mafia, and now tourists can join the fight, said Caroline Chaumont in GlobalPost.com. Specialized travel agencies are offering tours that specialize in restaurants, hotels, and retailers that have taken a stand against the Mob, by collectively defying its demands for kickbacks. Committee Addiopizzo, a business alliance whose name means “Good-bye, protection money,” even operates in Corleone, the town immortalized by The Godfather. Traces of the “romanticized” view of the Mafia promoted by Hollywood still remain: If you book a tour through Addiopizzo Travel (addiopizzotravel.it/eng), you might find yourself staying at Terre di Corleone, a B&B located in a stone farmhouse that was confiscated from a former Mob boss, said Katrina Onstad in The New York Times. In Palermo, our guide wasn’t above taking us to the beautiful opera house where Sofia Coppola’s character was offed in The Godfather III. But limiting our stops to Addiopizzo establishments usually required some sacrifice, and our decision to support the movement provided “a tourist’s backstage pass, a bittersweet taste” of Sicily as only its embattled citizens have known it.

Sweden: Crime-fiction heaven
Since crime fiction today might be Sweden’s “most significant cultural export,” it’s no surprise that the country is capitalizing on the craze, said Yvonne Yorke in the New York Daily News. In Stockholm’s “bohemian and trendy” Södermalm district, I joined other fans of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo for a two-hour tour of sites associated with Stieg Larsson’s popular trilogy, which catapulted the late journalist to international fame. Our guide from the Stockholm City Museum filled us in on neighborhood history as we swung by the apartment buildings of the books’ main characters—the Larsson-like Mikael Blomkvist and his punk sidekick, Lisbeth Salander—as well as Larsson’s favorite café. One complaint: The “mostly bleak” Stockholm of the new Dragon Tattoo movie had been chased away by sunshine. I also flew to Skåne, Sweden’s southernmost province, to get a better feel for Henning Mankell’s quieter Inspector Wallander novels. Those books are set in Ystad, a coastal town with a historic center whose cobblestone streets and half-timbered houses date to the Middle Ages. Here, the local tourist office runs a tour that stops at Wallander’s favorite restaurant, located inside Sweden’s oldest hotel. But you can’t fully appreciate Mankell until you’ve stepped outside Ystad. Skåne’s “big skies” and “bright-yellow” fields are as crucial to the Wallander novels as the detective himself.

Birmingham, England: Middle-earth’s inspiration
Birmingham is not just the hometown of J.R.R. Tolkien, said Graham Young in the Birmingham Mail. If you look hard enough around this industrial city, you’ll find landmarks said to be inspirations for the author’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Using an “excellent but hard-to-find” leaflet produced by the city council, I recently took a visitor on the self-guided Tolkien Trail tour, starting at the writer’s childhood home, on Wake Green Road, across from a well-preserved 18th-century water mill. The house bears no plaque, but visiting it “gave us a flavor” of the author’s early life, especially when we wandered into Moseley Bog, a nearby nature preserve. “Once you are inside this woodland wonder, it’s clear how it would have inspired Tolkien’s Middle-earth.” Not far away is the 96-foot-tall Perrott’s Folly, one of two still-standing brick spires said to be the inspiration behind the trilogy’s second book, The Two Towers. At the Birmingham Oratory, we found a plaque for the priest who became Tolkien’s guardian following the death of the boy’s mother. But not until we visited the Plough and Harrow Hotel, where Tolkien once stayed, did we finally find a plaque for the author himself. My companion wasn’t pleased. “I can’t understand,” she said, “why Tolkien’s past in Birmingham isn’t treated more like Shakespeare in Stratford.”

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