Fangirl Fridays – Book Travels

One of the greatest joys for me is traveling around the world. I wish I could do it all the time, but, you know, RL interferes. I like to explore new places, people, cultures, and scenery.

Traveling, for me, usually ties in somehow with my love for reading. Random literary memories come to life at almost every place I visit, from historical and literary classics, plays and poems, or novels. Come join me as I reminisce about a few of my explorations.

Take Crete (Greece), for example. Greek Mythology tells us that Zeus was born or raised in a cave, in the Crete mountains, by the Goddess Rhea, to hide him from his father Cronus. Zeus’s father, Cronus, had been told that he would lose his throne to one of his sons, and was so fearful of the prophecy that he ate all his children the moment they were born. Tired of having her children eaten, Rhea hid Zeus in the Diktean Cave and tricked Cronus into eating a stone instead.

I was inspired to hike up those mountains as soon as I learned about the location of that cave. The cave is located on the slopes of Mount Ida, and it took us almost 90 minutes of winding mountain roads to get there. The place was cool, with stalactites and stalagmites, but not very impressive, until I envisioned the Goddess and her little infant, Zeus, there.

Traveling around Greece, I couldn’t help but recall many of the Greek myths I’d read, for example, while standing at Apollo’s temple and visiting the ruins of the Oracle of Delphi’s temple. Driving up and around Pelion (a hook-like peninsula near the Aegean Sea), I could imagine the centaurs galloping around in their natural home. All of Greece is like an open mythology book!

Standing inside castles always fires up my imagination. Standing inside Carcassonne, a medieval castle in France, I could see in my mind’s eye knights in shining armor and ladies in long gowns walking around... Hilltop Carcassonne, in southern France’s Languedoc region, is a medieval citadel famous for its 53 watchtowers and double-walled fortifications. The first walls were built in Gallo-Roman times; major additions were made in the 13th and 14th centuries. Standing inside the walls I pictured many books, from historical fiction such as Ivanhoe by Walter Scott, Katherine by Anya Seton, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, and BernardCornwell books, to fantasies like The Pillars of the Earth series by Ken Follet, The Lord of the Rings saga by J.R. R Tolkien, and a few scenes from the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin.

King’s Landing & Books

I visited the church of St. Sulpice in Paris and looked for that brass line inlaid into the marble floor; I found it along with that shaft of the 11-meter-high marble obelisk, the one from Dan Brown’s book The Da Vinci Code. I am not ashamed to tell you that I also visited Temple Church in the heart of London, the one where Langston and Sophie looked for clues to the riddle they got: “In London lies a knight a Pope interred. His labour’s fruit a Holy wrath incurred. You seek the orb that ought be on his tomb. It speaks of Rosy flesh and seeded womb.”

St. Sulpice & Temple Church

A few years ago I visited The Bodleian Library in Oxford, one of the oldest libraries in Europe, an amazing place in itself that now reminds me of 3 books I read: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (the story begins in that magnificent library), His Dark Materials by Philipe Pullman (Lyra Belacqua, the heroine, lived among the scholars at Oxford’s Jordan College), and one of the library rooms was used as the hospital of Hogwarts in Harry Potter movies.

Hogwarts hospital wing

Going back to Greece for a book that has nothing to do with Mythology: The Island by Victoria Hislop. This is Alexis Fielding’s story, a young English woman who is looking for her Cretan mother’s past, a past she is unwilling to discuss. Her journey takes her back to Crete and to an old family friend who recounts Alexis’s family history through three stormy generations. Spinalonga Island in Crete was the last Leper Colony in Europe. That place is an important character in the book. I visited the island a long time before that book was written, but when I read the description of that restaurant on the beach, in view of Spinalonga island, I recalled the time I sat there with my family, eating keftedes (a Greek dish of meatballs cooked with herbs and onion) and salad, while at the next table a Greek family of about 20 people celebrated a birthday by singing and dancing around the tables.

Spinalonga Island

When I toured Florida with my husband, we visited Key West and went to look for Ernest Hemingway’s home, with the six-toed cats. I was delighted to visit the place where Hemingway lived from 1931 to 1939, a place where he wrote some of his famous stories like The Snows of Kilimanjaro and To Have and Have Not. After the tour, we went on to Sloppy Joe’s bar, where Hemingway was a regular, to have a giant glass of beer in his memory.

Hemingway’s haunts in Key West
A few Wenches mentioned The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova recently. The book vividly describes scenes scattered across Europe and around the Mediterranean, and the comments reminded me that I once visited Ljubljana in Slovenia, the first city the story’s narrator visits with her father. She calls the city Emona, which is its Roman name. I didn’t remember that part in the story until I stood in front of the amazing bronze Dragon above the river bridge. Ljubljana is a beautiful city; I loved the Art Nouveau atmosphere of the old city and the delicious food.

Here is the narrator’s view of the city:

“Near the market, the city’s main square spread out under the heavy sky. Emona, like her sisters to the south, showed flourishes of a chameleon past: Viennese Deco along the skyline, great red churches from the Renaissance of its Slavic-speaking Catholics, hunched brown medieval chapels with the British Isles in their features. (Saint Patrick sent missionaries to this region, bringing the new creed full circle, back to its Mediterranean origins, so that the city claims one of the oldest Christian histories in Europe.) Here and there an Ottoman element flared in doorways or in a pointed window frame. Next to the market grounds, one little Austrian church sounded its bells for the evening mass. Men and women in blue cotton work coats were moving toward home at the end of the socialist workday, holding umbrellas over their packages. As my father and I drove into the heart of Emona, we crossed the river on a fine old bridge, guarded at each end by green-skinned bronze dragons.”

Ljubljana’s bronze dragon

These are a few of my book travels around the globe. I am still looking for new places, new corners of the world that I read about in books. Some of them I can only imagine, like platform 9&3/4 at Kings Cross station in London... But other places dear to my literary heart, such as Fever’s Dublin, Ireland, and Outlander’s Scottish Highlands, I hope to see with my own eyes one day.

How about you, Saucy Readers? I know you like books (you are here, after all). Do you like traveling? Do you think of the stories and characters you’ve read when you travel?


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