A novel approach to travel

Here are some of the novels whose images and ideas motivated my wife and me to travel.

• We were awed by the astonishing luminosity of Cephalonia, GREECE, after reading “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” by Louis de Bernieres.

• There is a new translation of “Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes, but any edition should send you to La Mancha, SPAIN. You can follow a “Don Quixote trail” which takes you to the famous windmills, the mountains, the village and the inns of Don Quixote’s adventures.

• I’m sure many readers have visited the castle of Vlad the Impaler in Transylvania. Reportedly, he was the real-life inspiration of the fictional “Dracula” by Bram Stoker. But how about visiting Whitby, in North Yorkshire, ENGLAND? This is where Dracula — in the form of an immense black dog — came ashore in England.

You can be frightened by the attraction Dracula Experience or just visit the looming ruins of the abbey — still resolute against the storms of the North Sea. Enjoy delicious fish-and-chips in the traditional venue or try authentic, oak-smoked kippers (not dyed!).

There are always treats in store. Now, where else?

Laree, France

As I started reading ITN’s request for “A Novel Approach to Travel,” I flashed on the desire I had to see Melk Abbey in AUSTRIA after having read “Name of the Rose” by Umberto Eco, and, lo and behold, that was Mr. Glass’ own “novel” choice. I, too, had an insatiable need to see Melk. I got there in November ’02 on a river cruise, and it was all I could have hoped for.

However, may I correct Mr. Glass’ impression about the library? The library in the novel was not at Melk. Instead, Adso, the narrator of the story, was the abbot of Melk in his old age when he was writing about the events that had taken place in his youth at a fictional abbey in Italy. That’s why the library at Melk seemed so different from the library in the film.

• The silliest excuse I’ve had for “novel” traveling was the 2½ days I spent in summer ’04 traipsing around Shrewsbury in ENGLAND following in the footsteps of the fictional monk detective Brother Cadfael, made famous by Ellis Peters in her 18-plus novels set in and around Shrewsbury and the Abbey of Sts. Peter and Paul.

The series is set in the 1100s during the civil war between Empress Maude and King Stephen. Brother Cadfael was the monastery’s herbalist who, using his knowledge of plants and human foibles, always found the answers to the crime. The books are so detailed about life in the Middle Ages and life in the streets and homes of that town that I just had to go see the places he walked.

On the Internet I found instructions on walking tours that point out the parts of the town used in the books. The abbey and its extensive grounds were real; only the characters in the novels were fictional. The abbey church is much changed, shortened, and no longer an abbey but rather an ordinary parish church since the dissolution of the English monasteries under Henry VIII. The grounds show little left. Much of the abbey and its forecourt are buried under modern gas stations, car parks and homes.

The Church of St. Giles, in Shrewsbury, still stands but was not open on my visit. The other parish churches mentioned in the novels are rebuilt or in ruins, but the town retains its timber-and-plaster charm. The castle of Hugh Beringar fame still stands, again much changed.

Both Adso and Brother Cadfael were Benedictines, and my family’s close friendship with a Benedictine monk and visits to his abbey over my lifetime only made the experiences sweeter.

• It is not truly a novel, but my whole travel experience stems from a book in my youth, my mother’s missal for the old Latin Mass in the Roman Catholic Church. I became intrigued with this whole other language, Latin, and went on to study it.

Books form the basis of so many of my trips to Roman and Greek sites. On study trips that I have taken to ITALY based on Roman poetry, we sat in the ruins of Catullus’ villa at Sirmione and translated Catullus; perched on the ruined walls of Horace’s Sabine farm and translated Horace, then found the Fons Bandusiae to drink from as he did, and wandered the streets of Sulmona where Ovid was born, then rested in a small park with a fountain where we translated some Ovid (1997).

Another trip was based on Livy; we followed the march of Hannibal from Torino to Cannae (1999). Another trip tracked Cicero to his various villas and his tomb in central Italy (2000). Even the river cruise I took on the Danube and Rhine followed the limits of the Roman Empire, and I found bits of Roman ruins in most of the cities we stopped at.

• In summer ’04 I took a study trip of the Romans in BRITAIN from London to Bath and up to Hadrian’s Wall with lots of stops in between. The leaders particularly picked visits in several cities based on the books from Cambridge Latin Texts that focused on a fictional Roman family living in Britain (“Minimus Pupil’s Book” and “Minimus Secundus” by Barbara Bell).

Of course, having read Jane Austen and a host of Regency romances or bodice-rippers, I had to see Bath and the fashionable squares of London.

You may pass on to Mr. Glass that, while Dan Brown may have gotten the Chapel at Rosslyn in Scotland right in “The Da Vinci Code,” he got so many details wrong in “Angels & Demons,” his first book, set in Rome, a city I know well, that I won’t bother trying to read “The DaVinci Code,” his second novel.

Sugar Grove, IL

I often get novels, or sometimes nonfiction books, to read on the plane. On a 1990 trip to YUGOSLAVIA (just before the country fell apart) I read “The Bridge on the Drina” by Ivo Andric. It is a partially fictionalized history of a very old bridge at Visegrád, just inside the Bosnian border. By the time the plane touched down it was a “must see.”

We rented a car in Dubrovnik and made the 8-hour trip over the mountain to where the bridge stood in all its 16th-century glory. We stopped just long enough to take a few pictures, use the facilities in a nearby hotel and buy bread and cheese for the trip back. Then we found a road that was actually finished, so it took just six hours to get back.

I heard that the bridge sustained some damage in the civil war. I would be interested to hear from someone who has been there lately.

Douglas, MI

In 1972 I was in Venice, ITALY, on a cold, gray, misty fall day. When I asked at my hotel for a boat to the Lido, they thought I was crazy. How could I explain that a German was luring an American to an Italian beach?

From the moment the boat started off, I was in the early 1900s of Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice.” I had been deeply moved by Mann’s book. His eloquent writing, the unrequited love felt, the culture of the times: all came back to me as we approached the Lido over choppy waters.

The beach was deserted, of course, but I pictured the sunny shores, the dressing cabanas, the children and their parents in their quaint bathing costumes.

Then we came to a wall with large letters written on it: “VIETNAM VINCE NIXON ASSASSINO” (“Vietnam wins; Nixon is an assassin”). I was jolted back to 1972.

New York, NY

I would consider myself a prolific reader. That said, there would be hardly anyplace I would go that would not also be a location that appeared in a book. When I am visiting a place, I find books (usually of fiction) that were set in the cities involved.

I visited Budapest, HUNGARY, with a copy of, I believe, Michener’s book “Bridge at Andau,” about the 1956 uprising, in my hand. I could better feel the rage that inspired the Hungarians to revolt against Russia, resulting in the deaths of many of the patriots.

While in Venice, ITALY, I read the detective novel “Dead Lagoon” by Michael Dibdin, enabling me to shudder even more when I walked the streets at night. But where were the cats? In the book they were everyplace; in reality, in October ’04, they were not around.

While in CUBA in 2003 (with a sanctioned program), I went looking for all the sights that Hemingway used in his writings (also Martin Cruz Smith and even Graham Greene).

I find that reading the book just before the trip, or even while I am at the location, makes the experience much more poignant than just perusing a travel guide.

Pinehurst, NC

In 2003 I took a group to ITALY, and “must visits” were San Gimignano (the movie “Tea with Mussolini,” starring Cher, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith and based in part on Zeffirelli’s autobiography) and Cortona (“Under the Tuscan Sun” by Frances Mayes).

Toledo, OH

We visited the Provence region of southern FRANCE a few years after reading Peter Mayle’s “A Year in Provence.”

After a half-day visit to the hilltop village of Roussillon (and a long lunch), we realized how close we were to Ménerbes, the village in which Mr. Mayle lived and the subject of his first book.

Traveling through the small town that preceded Ménerbes, the main street became more and more narrow until, even with both side-view mirrors tucked next to the car, we realized that safe passage was impossible. Backing the car four blocks was made more difficult by the jeering locals.

We never got to visit Ménerbes, but the attempt took us to a very unspoiled part of Provence.

Houston, TX

A book that sent me on a travel adventure was “The Sign and the Seal” by Graham Hancock. When I was traveling in ETHIOPIA in the late 1990s, I learned of the legend of the first Ethiopian King Menelik, son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, and how as a young man he supposedly visited his father and “stole” the Ark of the Covenant and took it to Ethiopia. We toured Aksum and saw the building where the Ethiopians believe the Ark is kept today.

Other tour members recommended reading Graham Hancock’s book to learn the different theories about how the Ark could have arrived in Ethiopia. One place that was mentioned several times in the book was the Chartres Cathedral in FRANCE. Hancock explores the mystery of who is represented by the carvings found on the cathedral (possibly the Queen of Sheba).

So in 2003, on a stopover in Paris, I rented a car with my friend and we drove to Chartres. Following Hancock’s directions, I found the café La Reine de Saba, where I bought a guidebook and asked directions to the Queen of Sheba carvings on the exterior of the cathedral.

We found the small statue of the queen on the South Porch and a large one on the North Porch. Nearby we also located the carving of a wagon carrying a box which is supposed to represent the Ark of the Covenant.

I spent hours studying the sights of Chartres, which I might never have seen if it hadn’t been for the mysterious theories found in Hancock’s book.

I would also like to revisit Rome, this time to look up carvings by Bernini described in Dan Brown’s “Angels & Demons.”

Avoca, MI

A cookbook caused us to take a wonderful journey in 1974. The title is “The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth” by Roy Andries de Groot. Mr. de Groot, a blind journalist, accompanied by his guide dog, journeyed to the valley of Chartreuse (specifically to Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuse, 20 miles north of Grenoble, FRANCE) with the naive notion of discovering the very secret formula, guarded by the Carthusian monks who make it, of Chartreuse liqueur.

During his stay in the Alpine valley, he lodged at the auberge of the book’s title, at that time run by two old French ladies, who cooked marvelously and initiated Mr. de Groot into the joys of living in this isolated valley.

He visited the parts (very limited) of the monastery of the Grand Chartreuse that were open to outsiders and toured the manufacturing facility in nearby Voiron. He spoke with the three monks who knew the formula, which had been passed down through the brotherhood over the centuries. They were not about to reveal it.

During this time he fell in love with the wild meadows, towering mountains and, most of all, the cooking of the auberge owners. The book is one-half the story of his search for the formula and one-half the recipes of the auberge itself — and wonderful they are.

We visited the valley and stayed at the very simple auberge. The ladies had retired to the coast, but the new owners used many of their recipes. We walked the mountain valley, visited the monastery of the Grand Chartreuse and took the tour at the Chartreuse factory in Voiron and were not disappointed.

The area is quite magical, lonely, majestic and sparsely populated except in winter when the skiers arrive. There is a small church in the village with wonderful modern oil paintings covering the walls illustrating many of the psalms; several lithographs of these paintings now grace our walls.

We, too, fell in love with the valley and have returned many times over the past 30 years just to walk and “be there” again.

Santa Barbara, CA

Coming up: Books inspiring Britain travel.