What Incredible Place Did You Discover From a Work of Fiction?

Great ideas can come from anywhere. And when you’ve got a community as great as Atlas Obscura’s they usually do. Over on Facebook, a friend recently posited this great question:

I wonder if any work of fiction (a novel or a film) helped you discover an obscure wonder?

And the answer is yes! Just because something is a work of fiction doesn’t mean that it can’t inspire curiosity and discovery in the real world! Whether it’s a fictional story set in real places (like The Da Vinci Code?) or a fictional setting that led you to discover it’s inspiration, like Batman’s Arkham Asylum helped me discover the troubling history of the very real Danvers State Hospital, we want to hear about the times that fiction has led you to discover some real wonder!

683px-Cheers_bar%2C_Boston(Image: J. Miers/CC BY-SA 1.0)

In the comments below, tell us what book, film, TV show, song, or other work of fiction led you to a real world discovery, what you learned, and if it gave you a greater appreciation for the fictional work. Your experience may be included in an upcoming round-up article on Atlas Obscura!

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I knew about the existence of Mexicaltitán de Uribe thanks to the Pueblos Mágicos program, but I did not know about its ties to the legendary Aztlán until I read Gary Jennings’s “Aztec”. Aztlán is where the Mexica people that founded Tenochtitlán believed they once originated and where the demonym “Aztec” comes from. Nowadays, Aztlán might be even more important to Chicano culture than to Mexicans.

Didn’t know of Casa Loma in Toronto until I read “Scott Pilgrim”.

Does an album cover count as “work of fiction”? Because I only knew of Battersea Power Station thanks to Pink Floyd’s “Animals” and that made me put it high on my list for a visit to London, turned out to be my single favorite thing I saw in the city.

So much Thailand imagery from Danny Boyle’s “The Beach” has become ingrained in my brain, from the Laying Buddha to the beaches. The movie and book are definitely part of my adult wanderlust, although with the massive tourism overdevelopment that’s happened there I think I’d go to Thailand more for the food than the beaches nowadays.

Finally, I can’t be the only one that saw the name “Svalbard” for the first time in their life in “The Golden Compass”, or first knew of the wonders of New Zealand when the “Lord of the Rings” movies came out.

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I visited Albuquerque New Mexico as well as Dubrovnik Croatia due to my loves of Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, and found some really fun stuff outside of those works in the process.

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Hokitika, New Zealand, thanks to Eleanor Catton’s amazing “The Luminaries”. A sleepy little town today, but with a dramatic past. And they have great sandwiches.

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Schilthorn/Piz Gloria, the setting featured in the James Bond film “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”

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The Third Man Museum in Vienna – a fascinating and comprehensive labor of love run by a private collector and his wife, open only on Saturday afternoons. It covers every aspect not only of the film, but also of its historical context.

(Not sure if the museum counts for this thread - it isn’t in a work of fiction, it’s about a work of fiction - but I learned of it through my love for the film and Graham Greene’s novella, and I thought it was pretty incredible.)

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Monroeville AL, the real hometown of To Kill a Mockingbird author, Harper Lee and Breakfast at Tiffany’s author, Truman Capote is the perfect gem of a place that was the model for Lee’s classic novel renamed as Maycomb. The town square, the courthouse, the hospitality of a small, off the beaten path Alabama town is worth the drive off the main interstates. An excellent Lee and Capote museum, the familiar courthouse so accurately depicted in the movie and the grounds are work a couple of hours of exploring.

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The Alhambra in Granada.

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Wow I need to go to this. My favorite movie.

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Before going (or moving) anywhere I usually do a lot of reading and research – fiction, newspapers, watch movies – not just to learn about things I might want to see or do, but also to develop a trip theme. It doesn’t mean I ignore anything else that might pop up and intrigue me, but it helps to frame an impossibly ginormous experience.

In 1990, I went on a 3-month university credit art history/English lit tour of Europe, starting in Rome and ending in London. Talk about culture shock. My mind was being blown multiple times a day. Three weeks were spent in Paris, and my theme there was to find the Paris of Francois Villon, a 15th century poet (b. 1431, Paris—died after 1463). Oh, boy, did I ever find it – and him.

Our tour group stayed in a hostel converted from a huge old stone 15th century stables/warehouse in Le Marais, and around the corner and down a side street I found a small volunteer-run historical centre who, upon hearing about my theme, asked if I could wait an hour. They found me an English-speaking guide, who took me through all the old buildings and deep into the interconnected cellars, sub-basements/caves deep underneath the present day streets of Le Marais.

This guide was a specialist in early Medieval/Renaissance/Baroque theatre productions and a consultant to movie companies and for historically accurate theatre productions.

It was coming up to mid-November, it was late in the day, and the snow was starting to fall. Those who are familiar with Villon (well-known criminal and ne’er-do-well), know the line, “Where are the snows of yester-year?” one of the most famous lines of translated poetry in the English-speaking world (Wiki). With this guide, I found Villon, I walked streets Villon would have walked, deep cellars he could have theoretically hid out in, or at least saw the exact same buildings he would’ve seen all in the falling snow.

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“Anne of Green Gables” is set in Prince Edward Island and the house, Green Gables, is an important part of their tourism. I was unable to visit it, unfortunately, as we did not have enough time.

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You will not be disappointed! There’s also a movie theater in central Vienna, the Burg Kino, which shows the film (and others) several times a week.

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In the latter part of the 80’s, I read Edward Rutherford’s book “Sarum”. It was a James Michener type history of the Salisbury Plain in England, the land, buildings, people and focused on the generations of one family. I was so enthralled by it that when I went to London, just for a few days, I made sure to take a day trip to Bath, Stonehenge and Salisbury.

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I know that this sounds so juvenile, but we took the Jacobite Steam Train (Hogwarts Express) from Fort William to Mallaig in Scotland. Traveled over the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct, just as seen in the movies, to the wonderful little fishing village of Mallaig, on the west coast of Scotland. What a gem of a town! We would have liked much more time to explore but unfortunately trains run on schedules.

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At the London Film and Comic Con I came across a book called The Stranger’s Guide To Talliston, and discovered this fantasy adventure novel is set inside “Britain’s Most Extraordinary Home” (The Times): Talliston House & Gardens – which is also included on Atlas Obscura! After reading the book you can go on tours with the author through the rooms in the story. How cool is that? Will be booking soon.

Talliston on Atlas Obscura

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Not sure how obscure it is, but, the Amber Room in the Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia. Inspired to go by the book by Steve Berry.

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Several months ago, my husband and I went on a fly fishing/birding trip through northern Arizona, New Mexico, and southern Colorado. I just finished reading Death Comes For the Archbishop by Willa Cather, about missionary priests in the New Mexico territory during the early 19th century. My reading was made richer by being able to visualize exactly what was described in the book-ruins, geography, weather, the light, the air.
I didn’t know what the book was about before I picked it up in a used bookstore in Durango, Colorado (which was talked about in the book). Such good timing to read it just after this trip!

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Berg Frankenstein, Mühltal, Germany. Went there just to see the ancestral home. If you take the light rail to Darmstadt on of the stops along the way is “Frankenstein”, so you can literally take a train that stops at Frankenstein!

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It looks so atmospheric ! , I can almost imagine Boris Karloff lumbering out of the doorway into the night to scare the crap out of some villagers

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Kem Nunn’s Unassigned Territory made me do research on the wonderfully weird Mojave Desert. The unbelievable is real!

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