I spent one summer studying in London with the interior design department of my college. One night, after a trip to Windsor Castle my roomate sighed, "I wish I had prepared like you did. I wish I was as well read as you are." I was a little embarrassed to tell her my source of information:
The Bobbsey Twins at London Tower. Yep, they go to Windsor Castle, where they see Queen Mary's Doll House, and there are lots of model soldiers for sale. Or so I remember.
Of course, I had learned about England from other books - there were the Happy Hollisters mysteries, and then there were those regency romances that I secretly loved, and the Agatha Christie novels, and... Of course, I loved E. Nesbit, too. And, in all fairness, I did spend one day retracing the Thomas Hardy novels and Bronte novels; I'd read Austen and other greats. But, in general, the day-to-day knowledge of How England Works came from those childhood mysteries.
My mother recently reminded me of this story. I'm planning a trip to Paris, and was trying to figure out where to stay and how to get around. She asked, "Didn't the Bobbsey Twins go to Paris?" They probably did. I don't remember that episode. I remember Naples, and Japan, and Greece, but I don't remember Bert and Nan and Flossie and Freddie eating croissants in front of the Eiffel Tower.
A year ago, I was in Greece. Wow. My cousin was working on her doctorate there. I visited Athens, and Olympia, and Delhi. And I spent one afternoon walking around Athens taking pictures of the locations where Helen MacInness' Decision at Delphi took place. I also had studied carefully by reading Mary Stewart's "My Brother Michael."
Once, when I was traveling through suburbia in Connecticut, I came across "Silvermine Road." Two of Edward Eager's books take place near Silvermine Road - I had no idea it really existed. Wow. I felt as though I suddenly knew suburban Connecticut.
So now I'm getting reading to pack "Mrs. Arris Goes to Paris" and Elizabeth Cadell's "The Corner Store." I've watched the Dr. Who episode of "City of Death" (takes place in Paris). Literate or not, I'm ready for my Big Adventure.