I’m a big fan of travel through books. Especially to places where I don’t want to suffer the actual discomforts (the cold rainy mountains where mountain gorillas dwell; the slopes of the Himalaya where people have actually died; the claustrophobia of a space capsule; the horrors of battlefields) or places that no longer exist (such as the America that Lewis and Clark saw, with its unspoiled Great Falls, its thousands of bison, its grand flocks of passenger pigeons).
But I’m also a big fan of seeing things for myself. My imagination could never do justice to the wonderland that is Yellowstone National Park; the ruins of Pompeii; deserts full of saguaro; the glow of lava; the silvery green of sagebrush; cathedral light filtered through old-growth forests; the ruins of Pompeii. Before I traveled in person, I did not know the Eiffel Tower was brown (photographs make it look sometimes silver, sometimes black, sometimes golden), nor that chickens roam freely throughout Hawaii, nor what snake tastes like, nor how big the Delicate Arch is, nor how small the Mona Lisa is. I didn’t know the metallic smell of mine tailings in the West, the blue of the Tyrrhenian Sea. I didn’t know that snow and flowers coexist in Northwestern mountains in the summer. I didn’t know how many different kinds of palm trees there are, nor the fragrance of the evergreen forest in Glacier National Park, nor the smoky air and constant helicopter noise of wildfire territory, nor the bomb craters that still exist at the beaches of Normandy.
Sometimes you can only read about it. And sometimes you can see, hear, smell, taste, touch it for yourself.