Hey, I’ve Been There!!

by Jackie Houchin

Hi all. Are you ready for a tome? (I don’t mind if you skim this post!) If you hate reading about vacation itineraries, I hope you won’t cringe as you begin this. But it really IS about books & reading.

I’m bouncing off my fellow Writer in Residence friend, Gayle Bartos-Pool who wrote that wonderful post last week about how reading fired and inspired her own successful writing history. Her last words “Read On!” were terrific.

I am a prolific reader. I LOVE to read or listen to books. A while back, I wrote about The 52 Bookclub Reading Challenge that I’ve been in for three years now. Each of the 52 books must match a book category that the moderators come up with each year. So far, I’ve met the challenges. For this year I have but 14 of the 52 yet to read, and it’s just June. 52 bookclub page

However, I’ve read many, many other books in 2022. And when I say read, I include print books, eBooks, and audiobooks. Non-fiction, novels, inspirational books, study books, and children’s books fill in the gaps around my favorite genre – mystery.

So, when my husband and I went on a 23-day cruise in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, I decided to read a book set in every country we visited, including the ship itself, and a jet plane.  What fun!  I’ve read 13 and have about 6 left to read.

 I began this quest waiting at LAX for the flight that would take us to Portugal to meet our ship (with a stop in Montreal). I started with Agatha Christie’s DESTINATION UNKNOWN. (We knew where we were headed, but hey, you never know – as the protagonist in that book soon found out!)

We spent so little time in Lisbon, Portugal, that I haven’t considered a book set there, but I just recently came across 300 DAYS IN THE SUN by Deborah Lawrenson or A SMALL DEATH IN LISBON by Robert Wilson. Not sure I will get to them. They are a bit long. But who knows, maybe.

 As for that 4-hour stop in Montreal, I chose A DISAPPEARANCE AT THE BONNE NUIT HOTEL by Dominique Daoust, about a young female newspaper reporter who goes to Montreal in search of that “big story.”  It’s the first book of a trilogy.

(This is yet to be read.)

Our ship docked in five ports in Spain, with a stop at Gibraltar (a British Overseas Territory) after the first. I read Aaron Elkins, UNEASY RELATIONS, set in and on that famous rock. Wow, what fun to follow Gideon Oliver, the bone detective, up the cable car to the top for a really scary view, and then inside to St. Michael’s cave where stalactites come together to form of figure of an angel. There is a lecture hall beside it and Gideon spoke there!  It totally makes a difference reading a book when you have BEEN THERE!

 I read A FATALITY IN SPAIN by Blake Pierce, which is set in Barcelona (also in Pamplona). Oh, yes, I definitely remember that weird Antoni Gaudi modernistic church in town! And the dancing “giants” with the wooden heads!  Reading the story…I was there too, hearing, seeing, smelling. (Although we chose to wear a mask there because of the packed crowds in the streets.)

I am currently reading MISTAKENLY IN MALLORCA by Roderic Jeffries, an Inspector Alvarez mystery. It’s number one of 37! (And perhaps I’ll also read HOTEL MALLORCA; AN ELAINE PEARSON MYSTERY by Susan Linden Emde, if I finish the rest in good time.  It looks very interesting.

We also docked in Seville, Malaga and Cartagena, Spain, but I’ll maybe be happy with the two books I have already for that country.

By the way, I am also reviewing each book I read on my new and very simple WordPress blog – Words and Reviews blog.

 At Marseilles, France, we took a bus an hour inland to Avignon, France.  Since high school French classes, I’ve always dreamed of “dancing on the Bridge of Avignon” as the children’s song goes. Finally, after 50 years – I did it!   To remember that beautiful time in Provence, with everything lavender, I read, TO PROVENCE, WITH LOVE by T.A. Williams. More of a light romance than mystery, the protagonist is a writer and teacher, who came from England to write the biography of an elderly Hollywood film star. (Rosemary Lord, you would like this one!)

 ONE SUMMER IN MONTE CARLO by Jennifer Bohnet is a sort-of mystery and again a light romance, set in the Principality of Monaco.  It featured a lot of action and information about the F-1 Auto Racing circuit. While we were there, they indeed were setting up grandstands, pitstops, and pilon curve barriers for the race that would happen two weeks after we left.

 I was able to take my husband to Florence, Italy – a city I’d visited on my own three times before. Sadly, we were not able to go out into Tuscany for a visit to a vineyard and chateau. (Excursion cancelled.) But I was able to show him around one of my favorite cities, eat gelato, have spaghetti Bolognaise at my favorite café.  (Sigh) I’ve chosen A DEATH IN FLORENCE by Blake Pierce, or DREAMING OF FLORENCE by T.A. Williams.  I’ve read books by both of these authors (A Fatality, and To Provence), so I’m hoping for a different one.  Any Suggestions?

 I read AUNTIE POLDI AND THE SICILIAN LIONS by Mario Giordano, while in Sicily, and we actually took a private taxi to Taormino because of that book. We didn’t have an excursion booked there, and, well, why not?  It only cost E100.00 for the 30-minute trip each way, and a patient driver while we toured the town for a couple hours.  It made the book more real, although we did NOT visit Palermo, where the “mob” lived in the book. Hahaha.

 I have yet to begin DEATH IN THE SILENT CITY by E.M. Ali, but I can’t wait.  I loved Malta from the moment we first docked.  And indeed, the old city has red-stone walls protecting houses in the narrow winding streets just like on the cover. We entered one of those bolted doors with our tour guide, and into a beautiful studio where he was restoring stained glass windows they’d found buried after World War II. I always thought Malta was a part of Italy, but it is a country on its own.

 We had only two “at sea” days between distant ports, so I read two cruise ship mysteries. VANISHING VACATIONERS by Hope Callaghan and PINEAPPLE CRUISE by Amy Vansant.

Both settings in staterooms, dining rooms, decks, lounges, pool, etc., were so very familiar as I roamed our ship – the Nautilus, er, I mean, Oceania’s Nautica.

 Ah, Greece! I finally got to visit the setting of my all-time favorite book by Mary Stewart – THIS ROUGH MAGIC.  It is set on the Isle of Corfu in the beautiful Aegean Sea.  A romantic-suspense mystery that I first read when I was about 13 or 14. I’m sure I’ve reread it a dozen or more times since. I love it.  And now, I’ve seen those lovely clear-water coves and sandy beaches, the castle-like homes way up on the steep mountainside, the winding dirt roads suitable only for a motorbike, the enchanting Corfu Town and the harbor. (sighhh)

I read A CRUISE TO DIE FOR by Charlotte & Aaron Elkins, an art-forgery mystery set on a fantastic mega-yacht, on Corfu, and in Athens.

It reminded me of that sleek, black super-sailing yacht, The Maltese Falcon, docked near our ship in Corfu harbor. Oh, my, what an uber-expensive 180-foot beauty!  Seriously, “Google” this super-yacht by name and you will be aghast!

 I just finished the most fun, interesting, and un-put-downable audio book that I have listened to in a long time. SACRED GAMES by Gary Corby is set in ancient Olympia, Greece in 460 BC. The still-active archeological dig that we visited and loved is portrayed so clearly in this book (the author must also have visited the old Olympic Games site) that I was sharing bits of it here and there with my husband. “Oh, yeah! I remember that!” he would say.  The book is a murder mystery that takes place during the games, and a young Athenian man is the investigator. He has 4 days to find the murderer before the Games end and his best friend is executed. The action, intrigue, fast pace, brutality of the sports, and the setting, well, it was like walking there in person again.

Have you ever done this?  I mean read your favorite genre set in the places you have visited, be they in another part of the world, or nearby?  It’s amazing. It makes reading so much richer. Can you think of a book right now that is set in the last place you vacationed or visited?  Think hard, then go buy or rent it and READ IT.

I can’t believe I actually found a book – another light romance – set in Croatia (and part of it actually in Split, where we visited)!  CLUELESS IN CROATIA by Joy Skye was a fun book, and the scenes in the harbor, in the city of Split, even a mention of the cruise ships there was fun.

After Croatia we cruised across the Aegean Sea to the East side of Italy for a 1-hour long trip into Ravenna to see the glorious mosaics there. It was an eyes and mouth open wide to see all that fine work. But alas, I’ve found no mystery/ romance books set in this smallish, inland city, or any with Italian mosaics. Do YOU know of any?

Our last port of call was again across the Aegean, in Koper, Slovenia. As I said, I haven’t found a book set in Slovenia  yet. It was a beautiful town as we strolled through it. We bought a wood craft that I hope my hubby can duplicate for gifts for Christmas. We ate gelato, sat by an unusual fountain that reminded me of a dandelion puff! And we strolled by the small sunshine-bathed beach. I bought a little cup at a souvenier shop with the LOVE emphasized in the country’s name sLOVEnia.

Neither have I founda mystery set in Trieste, Italy where we disembarked.  At Trieste when we got off the ship with our luggage, VERY early in the morning, the Nautica was surrounded in the water by shimmering, semi-transparent jelly fish!  It was amazing!

 I hope to read A GIRL FROM VENICE by Siobhan Daiko, or maybe Jennifer S. Alderson’s DEATH BY GONDOLA, or maybe even one of Donna Leon’s more recent Commissario Brunetti mysteries, set in the floating city. We were not able to visit Venice – I really cried about that – but itineraries change and we make do. We did bus to Venice from Trieste and fly out of the Marco Polo Airport to Heathrow on our way home.

 For the UK, I read Victoria Tait’s book two in her new Dotty Sayers antiques mysteries VALUED FOR MURDER set in the CotswoldsAnd I read another UK book since we had that glitch in the British Airways jet – did you hear about that?

An hour out from London to LAX, the plane abruptly turned around, dumped fuel, and hi-tailed it back to Heathrow. It seems the captain was very ill with extreme lower-abdominal pain (appendicitis?) and had to return. Back at Heathrow, we all waited patiently till the paramedics took him off the plane.

THEN – after hours and hours we were bussed to a hotel for a free over-night stay in London, free dinner and breakfast, and then back to Heathrow for another try at LAX the next morning. Because of the additional day in the UK, I read THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE COPPER CORPSE, a Flavia de Luce novella by Alan Bradley set in England.

And finally, I will read DEAR PASSENGER: WELCOME TO MY WACKY WORLD AS A FLIGHT ATTENDANT by Elizabeth Calwell. It’s a very short, humorous little book and will top off my vacation reading adventure.

Okay, this is a really long post I know, and if you skimmed or stopped reading a quarter of the way down, that’s fine.  But, tell me, have you ever done what I did? Not the cruise, but read books set in places you’ve traveled (either before or right after).  Did it make the books better? More fun to read? Can you do it this summer?

And let me know if you know of a mystery/adventure/light romance book set in Ravenna, Italy (or mosaics), Slovenia, or Trieste, Italy!

Author: Jackie Houchin

First, I am a believer in Jesus Christ, so my views and opinions are filtered through what God's Word says and I believe. I'm a wife, a mom, a grandma and now a great grandma. I write articles and reviews, and I dabble in short fiction. I enjoy living near the ocean, doing gardening (for beauty and food) and traveling - in other countries, if possible. My heart is for Christian missions, and I'm compiling a collections of Missionary Kids' stories to publish. (I also like kittens and cats and reading mysteries.)

16 thoughts on “Hey, I’ve Been There!!”

  1. I was fascinated with your ;post all the way to the end, Jackie, so thanks for that literary trip around the world. It brought back many memories as I’ve been to most of those places, too, but not to the Eastern European countries. I spent 7 years in Spain, married there, 2 children born n Madrid, so it is a special place for me. One question- did you leave any room in your luggage for clothes? Those books must have weighed a ton. Thank you, too, for some good ideas for reading. I still miss our train trips together.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jill. Only the Agatha Christie book was in print and I left that one in the ship’s library. The others are ebooks or audiobooks on my phone or mini-iPad.
      Although I loved Greece, Lynn and I were very impressed with Spain.


  2. What an interesting concept, Jackie. I’ve always read books about every country or region I’ve traveled to, but they’ve been travel books. I even developed an order for them – I’d begin with picture books, for images often inspired me more than words. Then I’d move on to the more opinionated guides, and finally the highly detailed ones that offered turn-by-turn road trips. Do they count?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Of course they do! I like the idea of picture books. If you read these travel books before you travelled, you’d know what you wanted to see. If you looked through them afterward, they’d bring sweet (or maybe not so sweet) memories. We tried to get a travel book for each port of call. Lynn likes non-fiction. Now THOSE were heavy carting home!!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Suzanne. If you read the books afterwards, it helps to keep those sweet memories alive. It’s also fun to read them on your trip….if you are a fast reader. We made that one extra trip in Sicily because of the book I was reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Jaxon, What an adventure and I don’t mean just your trip. All those books were an adventure on their own. You must be a very fast reader. I also want to know how you carried all those books and how long did it take you to gather them prior to your trip. As for reading while on vacation, the only book I remember reading while on a vacation was Atlas Shrugged when my Mom and Dad and I went to Spain after I graduated from high school. Right now, even though I don’t travel anymore, I am reading The Chronicles of Narnia. That’s a trip. I enjoyed your journey. Read On!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gayle, I didn’t take all those books along – only Destination Unknown. All the rest were/are on my Kindle or are audiobooks which I can read or listen to and put away in my back pocket. I downloaded a couple from Amazon while sailing. I didn’t plan out all of them BEFORE going, and am in fact reading some now. (What sweet memories they bring to mind.) I think I only read six while on the ship or in the long hours on the planes. (a couple were novellas) I’m enjoying a bunch of them now. PS: I actually listened to another book from Germany, even though it wasn’t on the cruise. I had started it and wanted to know how it ended.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Wow, I’m definitely impressed! And how you had time to read so much while traveling and sightseeing indicates you didn’t sleep much. I have read some books about places I’ve visited and would like to visit–especially about Alaska these days since I’m writing some stories set there. After all that… what are you reading now that you’ve been home for a while?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Actually I didn’t read most of them WHILE traveling – only a few on Kindle or Audible. And I really suggest reading them AFTER you visit a place. It causes you to remember the sights and fun you had there. I have about 4-5 of them yet to read. And I’m in several Reading Challenges, so I have other lists to read (whew!). Now all I need is time!

      I’ve already bought your first book set in Alaska. I have a couple others too. I plan to read THESE before next summer (2023) when we are taking another cruise to Alaska (13 days).

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Hope you enjoy my book. And I’m jealous! I’m eager to take another cruise to Alaska but don’t have any planned yet.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh, Jackie! Wowie zowie(sp)! I am blown over by all the books you read, and particularly how they fit with your travels. I’ve followed some of your travels on FB, not online as much as used to be, but I didn’t really realize how much you were also reading too. You are a TRUE traveler and reader. Much admiration from a couch potato TV watcher. Read on!, as Gayle said earlier.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are so fun, Madeline! I love to read, and a LOT of it is audible, so I can work and walk and drive and listen to books. I did NOT read all these ON the trip. A few, but now I’m catching up, and so enjoying the memories.
      In my other 52 Book club challenge, I have to read “Advise and Consent” which is over 35 hours of listlening. YIKES!! I hope I don’t wait till the last minute!!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m seriously impressed, Jackie. 52 books. Wow! But I love your idea of reading a book set in the country you’re visiting – so I feel I tagged along with you on your cruise. Of course, because the Mediterranean countries are my ‘go to’ reading for relaxation and escape. So I’ve read a lot of them. But now I have additions to my Kindle list. Thanks for such an escapist post!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think we missed being in Greece together by a week or two. That would have been fun. I love reading about foreign locations, but having BEEN THERE is even better. I have so many books on Kindle, Audible/Chirp, and on my bookshelves, I could do nothing but read and be busy for a couple years! And there are always new ones coming out by authors I love, by author-friends I love, and more in series that I love and want to continue.l

    Liked by 1 person

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