Ever wondered what Europe smelled like before plumbing? I’m discovering this very thing in the recently published The Smell of the Continent: The British Discover Europe (Pan Macmillan, $32), which recounts 19th-century British travel to Continental Europe. Oxford historians Richard Mullen and James Munson get into the less savory details of sanitation (a scarcity of bathtubs in France; flea-infested sheets in Sicily; four toilets in a 60-room hotel in Germany).
I’m also learning where Brits went and what they wanted to see, which entailed a lot of the famous sites we visit today, but also included tours to local morgues and mental asylums, as well as the Waterloo battlefield, where enterprising vendors sold “keepsakes” of bones, bits of hair, and buttons of dead soldiers.
The book also shares what Continental natives observed about the Brits, who detested garlic, underdressed at the opera—the men couldn’t get enough of their checkered trousers—and purified their drinking water with sulfuric acid. Food for thought, the next time I’m grumbling on the tarmac.
Jennifer Flowers is an assistant editor at Travel + Leisure.