Spring Break for Book Lovers

Whoa! Spring Break came & went way too quickly!! My oldest daughter, Kayla, is in her junior year of college and doing her spring semester abroad in Vienna, Austria. What a perfect opportunity to visit her during our Spring Break! I took my youngest daughter, Becca, since we're on the same school schedule. While I knew we'd have a fabulous time sightseeing, I did not anticipate our trip reinforcing our joint love of reading!
What you need to know about us is that our family LOVES reading. I mean, really LOVES reading. We have books stuffed into bookcases, books on the floor next to our beds, books on dressers, books in the bathroom. . . well, you get the idea. (Not to mention our Kindles are loaded at all times!) It made a mom's heart swell, when a few years ago, Kayla excitedly called me from New York, "Mom! I'm at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and I saw the fountain where Jamie & Claudia took a bath & picked up the coins!" (a la From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg) We had read that book together 10 years earlier, yet she was still so thrilled to be there!!

So imagine our great delight, when we were on a tour of Prague (Czech Republic) last week and came upon THE Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square. It was built in 1410 by a clock maker and a professor of mathematics and science. There are 3 clocks on the tower: the astronomical dial, representing the position of the Sun and Moon in the sky, a calendar dial with medallions representing the months, and "The Walk of the Apostles", a clockwork hourly show of figures of the Apostles. The history of the clock is very interesting, but it is THIS clock that the novel, Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkoski centers around. The astronomical clock in the book was commissioned to be the tallest and most magnificent tower in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic). It purported to control the weather, but the power-hungry prince needed to be stopped! Becca & I had just read the book a couple of months ago, so it was fresh in our mind. We couldn't stop staring at all the dials and clocks, as they were so well-described in the book!
Prague was such a beautiful city, full of history. The architecture and the Charles Bridge over the Vitava River is magical. Although not having to do with books, another memorable place was the John Lennon Wall. The Lennon Wall is not only a memorial to John Lennon and his ideas for peace, but also a monument to free speech and the non-violent rebellion of Czech youth against the Communist regime. It is rumored that these youth shouted, "Give us John Lennon, not (Vladimir) Lenin!" (founder of the Communist party)
After Prague, on to Austria. I could not visit Austria without a visit to Salzburg, setting of The Sound of Music, my all-time favorite movie!! Becca & I had just re-watched the movie before our trip, so each scene was still clear in our minds. We were beyond excited to see the Von Trapp home, the gazebo ("I am 16, going on 17. . ."), the church where they were married, and the fountain Maria danced around ("I have confidence. . ."). Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and had the inside scoop on the "real story" of the Trapp family and their escape. You can read about it from (Frauline) Maria's book, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.
We spent the rest of Spring Break in Vienna, where I just loved watching Kayla confidently navigate us through the city & speak enough German to communicate with people in stores and order in restaurants :)  One of our first nights, we saw La Boheme at the Vienna Opera House. It was splendid and looked everything like an opera house should! Becca was transfixed by the orchestra and watching the conductor; we had recently read Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan. It is a fantastic historical fiction novel stretching time periods from the Great Depression until after WW2.  It's about a harmonica that travels from character to character, as the music gives them the confidence and perseverance to sustain through challenges. The story ends with all the characters intertwined and performing in an orchestra at Carnegie Hall. Becca plays the violin in our school orchestra, so she was carefully watching the musicians during the opera. 

There is also wonderful museum in Vienna called Haus der Musik (House of Music). (upper left picture below) It's an interactive sound museum that has everything from rooms on the science of sound and hearing, as well as featured composers, and even an exhibit with Zuben Mehta, world-renowned conductor, where you can lead an orchestra with a censored baton. 
Vienna is another city where there are palaces everywhere! The most famous is Schoenbrunn Palace, home to the Habsburg dynasty since the 17th century. It was the center of court life, including the first performance of 6-year old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for Empress Maria Theresa. As soon as we heard this, Becca & I began grinning and nodding our heads. We were standing in the room where Mozart performed; a couple years earlier, we had read about his meeting of Empress Maria Theresa in The Magic Treehouse: Moonlight on the Magic Flute. Now we felt like we were present at the time, too! As we walked outside the palace into the "backyard", we entered The Vienna Zoo, the oldest zoo in the world.  "Oh my goodness, this is the menagerie from the book!" Becca exclaimed. Also in Moonlight on the Magic Flute, the animals in the palace's  "zoo" escape and Jack uses the magic flute to lead them back to where they should be. We were so excited (this is why I LOVE historical fiction!!)
We also went through Empress Elisabeth's (known as Sisi) quarters in Schoenbrunn Palace and listened to an audio tour all about this beloved empress of Austria. Becca was fascinated by her story, filled with tragedies. As soon as we got home, Becca ordered her book,  Elisabeth of Austria: The Princess Bride . 
One of my favorite places was the Austrian National Library. It's every book lover's DREAM!! From floor to beautiful ceiling are rows and rows of books. There are illuminated hand-written books and breathtaking frescos and ceiling paintings. It is enormous! I want one of those sliding ladders. . . This is the library that inspired the Disney's Beauty and the Beast library!
I could go on & on (I did take over 500 pictures during Spring Break)!!  What a memorable week we had together, especially experiencing some of our favorite literature settings and scenes! Have you ever visited a real place that you've read about in a book? My goal is to one day do the Laura Ingalls Wilder trip and relive her pioneer journey! 


  1. wow! i love reading about your travels through the eyes of your favorite books. i too have visited some of my favorite imagined places from books and also i enjoy visiting the places where the writer writes---which to me is also very magical. thanks for sharing! i MUST get mark a copy of echo as i brought him home the most amaZZZing harmonica from germany last summer!

    1. Yes, you must get Echo! It's an awesome read!! I love that you got Mark a harmonica; can't wait to hear him play!!

  2. Your trip sounds amazing, and your connections to books that you and your children have read is very clever! I am sure that I have visited many places that were settings in books. Holden visits Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall in Catcher in the Rye. How about Journey to Ellis Island? Make Way for the Ducklings is a children's book set in Boston. High Tide in Hawaii is yet another one! Harry Potter World counts, right!?

    1. Harry Potter World definitely counts :) I'm so excited a new one is opening near me next month!! When I was at the Peabody Hotel in Orlando years ago, they have ducks that line up & walk through the hotel & it reminded me of Make Way for Ducklings, too!