We flew out of Shannon airport on our homeward-bound journey. Lynn and I had bought our tickets separately so we weren’t seated together. For the Shannon-Philadelphia leg of the trip I took my seat by the window and a couple of young Irishmen sat beside me. They were on their way to San Francisco, a place where I had lived for eight years. So as the plane lifted off I left their world as they looked forward to visiting mine. They had both just turned 21. Their boisterous excitement was infectious and I laughed with them, caught in their delight.
My trip wasn’t quite over. Setbacks awaited me in Los Angeles when our Philadelphia-LA plane landed late in LAX, where we had a short connection. Seated in the very last row, I had trouble getting past the other passengers, and we had long lines and two slow buses across the tarmac to reach my gate. Lynn was well ahead of me.
By the time I found my gate, panting from my run, there were no passengers left, just an attendant standing alone at the gate. She asked me if I was Janet Fisher. Hopeful they were waiting for me, I answered yes in a gasping voice. She phoned the plane and shook her head at me. “They’ve already left. You’re too late.” No! That couldn’t be. “My friend is already on the plane,” I told her. “I have to be on that plane.”
The phone rang. The pilot had agreed to open the door for me. The plane hadn’t actually pulled away. I broke into tears. The attendant led me to the plane’s door. Once inside, I stumbled down the aisle as passengers applauded with smiling faces. Lynn was beaming and gave me a big hug when I sat down, still crying softly. She had begged them to wait, certain I was coming.
Exhausted, I settled back in the seat for the last leg of our journey, slowly recovering from that arduous finale to a long and wonderful trip—37 days of exploring the world of my ancient series.
During those 37 days I became steeped in the past, as I sought the places that define these stories.
I had the good fortune of meeting several archeologists whose work takes them into the ancient times. And others who simply love their history.
I felt the raw edge of cultures different from my own and the universal embrace of friendly people.
I immersed myself in the book settings and felt my characters walking along these places. As I walked with them I remembered their tears and joys. My own tears came, and my joy.
It took me only minutes to be ready for my early morning flight. I opened the curtains for one last look at my view and clapped a hand over my heart. The sun had risen over the eastern shores of Santorini, and the strains of a melody swept through my mind.
“I’ll see you in the sunrise …”
A few years ago when my muse whispered a story for my series (as told here) I was also inspired to write a song for the book. I’m not a songwriter, but this one haunted me and I eventually wrote it down. The line above comes from that song. As I watched the sunrise in this place so important to my characters the refrain touched my heart.
Now I was on my way to Mycenae, an important location for the series. A knock sounded on my door. The grandmother at my family hotel told me the taxi was there, and I hurried out. Having left too early for breakfast at the hotel I wondered what I would find to eat in the little Santorini airport. At a small kiosk I found fresh-baked pastries and chose what they called a cheese pie, white cheese wrapped in pastry, and they actually had green tea, my beverage choice for morning caffeine. Once a seat cleared in the crowded waiting area I sat and bit into my cheese pie. What a tasty surprise!
My destination was the beautiful city of Náfplio on the Greek mainland, a port in the Peloponnese region today as it no doubt was in Mycenaean times. For my books I call the city Tiryns, naming it for the ancient citadel of Tiryns just north of the docks. With the single square sails of their wooden ships they would have sailed into port in the place shown below. Just envision that boat in the picture a little larger, put a square sail on it, with rowers on either side, and you have the image. A number of my book scenes happen in this port town and I planned several days here.
I couldn’t sail there myself, so before leaving home I’d spent considerable time figuring out how to make the jump from Santorini to Náfplio. From online forums I gleaned what appeared to be the best route.
I opted for a plane to Athens and a bus from there to Náfplio. To catch the bus to Náfplio I had to go from the airport into the sprawling city of Athens. It sounded a little daunting but I wrote down the information on how to find the right bus at the airport to get to Kiffisou Bus Station in the teeming city.
At the Athens airport I went out the door Rick Steves advised and found the ticket booth, hurrying to get in line so I would be able to find a seat on the bus and get to Kiffisou in time for arrival in Náfplio at a reasonable hour. I forgot to buy a bottle of water but didn’t want to lose my place in line. I bought the ticket and was right up front waiting for the bus. When the bus came people swarmed onto it. I don’t know how it happened but by the time I struggled on with my big bag there wasn’t a single seat left and no room in the baggage racks. I faced a good hour’s ride into town clinging to a bar as I stood and gripped my bag. A man sitting in a single seat near the door glanced up at me. He looked like a guy who could handle himself in the dangerous streets of Athens. I wouldn’t have crossed him. But he rose to his feet and motioned toward his seat in offering. I adored him in that instant. Thanking him profusely, I pushed my bag in front of the seat where there was plenty of room, and I sat. That was a long hot ride. My tongue was parched, but I was sitting. Angels come in many guises.
My first stop in Kiffisou station was a place that sold bottled water. The moment I paid for a bottle I took a long swig and let out a heavy sigh. The store clerk grinned. Next I needed lunch and found another cheese pie. That seemed to be my meal du jour.
I was soon surging down the highway on a comfortable air-conditioned bus, my cumbersome bag in the storage space underneath. A beautiful drive through more of the rugged Greek countryside—rocky hills sprinkled with scrubby maquis, patches of olive trees and grapevines. I had to believe this land must contribute to the rugged Greek character, a people embracing joy in the moment with emphatic submission to life’s inevitable tragedies. I remembered the man in blue at the Heraklion bus station. “We don’t worry in Crete.” He might have included the entire nation. Life happens. Meet it with gusto.
As we swung around the coast past the isthmus at Corinth and turned south across the lusher plains I was surprised to see familiar mountains in a place I’d never been, then realized I’d seen this on Google Maps. I looked to the left and there were the ravaged colossal stones of the citadel of Tiryns.
My hotel was an easy walk from the Náfplio bus station—at least until I reached Kokkinou Street, which I knew from Google was not street but stairs. A hot sun bore down on me as I looked up and up to where I must carry my bag.
Many stepped lanes climb like this up the steep slope of the ridge that runs along the peninsula where the old town of Náfplio lies. I have a character in the series who lives up here somewhere, an old trader named Tertulio. That would be Tertulio of Tiryns, one of those supporting characters I so enjoy.
I think I made it to the second landing of this long flight when a group of young people passed by and one of them asked if I’d like help with my bag. Another angel, this one with longish dark hair and beard. He carried it as far as the hotel gate and I didn’t even try to take it up to Reception at the top of more stairs.
Thankfully my room was on a lower level, and someone from the hotel carried my bag the rest of the way for me. Called the Chroma Design Hotel & Suites, it was an intriguing place with friendly people who expressed an interest in my work. I would stay there three of my five nights in Náfplio.
I had hoped to stay a couple of nights near the citadel of Mycenae, the focus of my interest in this area because of the key role the Mycenaeans play in my books. It’s a group of Mycenaean warriors who show up in Crete in the first chapter of the first book, men who will make lasting changes to Crete and perhaps the world. They are three-dimensional people, so it’s a nuanced situation, creating plenty of tension that resonates throughout the stories. I hoped to get a better sense of them as I came in touch with their land.
I never heard back from the one hotel near Mycenae so I decided to stay the extra two nights in Náfplio and do day trips. But by that time the Chroma was booked for those extra nights. I found a nice room for the last two days in the Dias Hotel, where I also met friendly people interested in what I was doing, especially Michael, who has a great love for Greek history. We had some excellent talks, so it all worked out.
From the rooftop of the Chroma I took in the views. Those Mycenaean warriors must have dreamed of visits to this beautiful port city when they had some free time. I know one who did.
I had a stunning view from my breakfast table at the Chroma and could also enjoy sitting in there during the day. The view from my room was lower but nice.
On the top of my list for sites around Náfplio were those citadels of Mycenae and Tiryns. Guidebooks recommend seeing Tiryns first, so I would visit that my first day and Mycenae the second.
Given the significance in my series of the Mycenaeans and their citadels, I’ll devote a post to them in “Going There #6.”
On the other days I visited more sites where book scenes take place. I did the promenade–twice–a walk around the perimeter of the peninsula that juts into the bay. For all the beauty, a harrowing scene occurs just ahead of that arch. The walkway would have been a simple gravel path, probably below the arch.
I visited an overlook on the far side of the peninsular ridge where a scintillating scene takes place. I walked through the city’s narrow streets in the daytime and through the twinkling lights of evening.
And I enjoyed some fantastic meals in the sidewalk cafes and fresh-squeezed orange juice in cafes and at breakfast at the Dias.
This aubergine and feta dish with tomatoes was one of the best meals, served hot in the iron skillet with herbed toast drizzled in olive oil and a huge pile of Greek olives that were almost gone by the time I thought to take a picture.
A volcano long ago ripped through the island of Thera, now commonly called Santorini. It’s a gorgeous Greek Isle just north of Crete and was probably a colony of the ancient Cretans. A line in one of my books expresses a character’s take on the result of that blast.
They sailed into the bay formed by the fierce volcano that tore a hole in the island, where the wash of water had kissed the broken places and turned this into the most beautiful spot she had ever seen. She wanted to feel that healing.
I had visited Santorini in 1995 seeking healing of my own and was deeply touched by the spectacular beauty. I wanted to see it again and explore the gentler coast across from the more famous rim. Now as before I took a ferry from Crete to get the sense of the sea beneath me.
I had only one full day in Santorini, two nights, and had two primary objectives. I wanted to walk across the narrow part of the island to visit the gentler slopes opposite the volcanic rim, and I wanted to see the unusual Santorini grapevines grown in a basketry of branches that shield the vines from Santorini’s brisk winds.
But of course you can’t visit Santorini without taking a moment at the spectacular rim of the caldera filled with the bluest imaginable water of the Mediterranean. Like my character I found this one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen.
I stayed at the Hotel Thira and Apartments, which overlooked the island’s gentle side, a beautiful spot itself, and I came to enjoy each of the three generations of the family who owned the place.
I told the younger woman about my plan to walk across the island from the hotel in the town of Fira near the rim to a restaurant at Exo Gialos on the eastern shore and she assured me it was much too far. Google Maps had it at 2 miles, a 51-minute walk. That didn’t seem too far, but I wasn’t clear on the landmarks or roads, which didn’t always show street names. The route could get much longer if I lost my way. She offered to drive me partway, but I wanted to get the feel of the distance because I had people in my stories walking it and riding up and down the slope on horseback. I wanted to have a sense of that and also find a place for a villa.
I thanked her for her kind offer and sought clear directions. I did have my iPhone and believed I could use the map feature to help me. Together we considered my route and in the morning I set out, planning to have lunch at the Yalos restaurant across the island at Exo Gialos.
The top of the slope was all city streets of Fira, often little more than cobblestone paths winding down the hill. I watched my progress on the phone’s map feature but soon ran into a maze of walkways and didn’t know how to get out.
I could see downhill to the flatter open land where I wanted to go but I didn’t see any way to get there. I saw a guy on a motorcycle and asked him. He pointed uphill, the way he was going. That seemed counterintuitive but I followed and soon found myself in a busy shopping area. When I asked a storekeeper how to get to Exo Gialos, she shook her head. “It’s too far to walk.” I didn’t argue with that, just asked if she could tell me the way. She pointed. “To the bottom of the street. Turn left. That goes straight to it.”
But the straightaway soon came to a stop against a wall of buildings. Checking the phone map again, I found the name of a hotel that appeared to be on the edge of town the way I wanted to go. I asked a man how to get to that hotel–so I didn’t have to hear again how much too far it was to Exo Gialos–and I followed his simple directions. Once I passed the hotel I came out into the open where a broad road crossed the flatter land with wide sidewalks that would take me right to the intersection I sought. Hopeful, I charged ahead.
I came to a crossing with more than one choice and checked my phone map to see if I had reached the right intersection, and if so, which of the roads to take.
No map. No signal at all. My only guide out here had gone blank.
There was a house at the crossing where I might have asked, but a big sleeping dog lay by the gate. I wasn’t going to wake it. I made a guess and took one of the roads that seemed to lead the right way.
By now it was getting warm and I really needed a bathroom. I knew I was heading toward the sea but unsure I was heading for Exo Gialos and the restaurant. A few houses scattered over the land. The road might just lead to one of those. I saw several people going into an isolated hotel and decided to seek help there. The young woman at the desk was friendly but uncertain of the route. A young man came in and she assured me he would know.
An angel with a beard.
First he asked if I had water. I said yes. Satisfied, he gave clear directions and told me Exo Gialos was 30 minutes away. With some hesitation, I asked if they had a bathroom I could use. He kindly agreed. I was saved.
I returned to my trek with high spirits and immediately passed one of the interesting vineyards with the grapevines that had been trained in a circle of branches like baskets, the new growth inside for protection from the wind. Check off one more for the itinerary.
I paused to talk to donkeys that trek up and down the cliff on the caldera’s rim every day, hauling tourists the old-fashioned way.
Farther down the road I saw a man cutting a huge field of grass with a short-handled scythe. He saw me and stood to watch me for a few moments. By the slump of his shoulders I guessed he was seeking consolation. The heat was turning fierce.
I looked back toward the town of Fira on the rim to see the way I had come, imagining my characters rushing up that hill for the moments that awaited them. I also wondered where I had gotten lost in the maze of Fira’s winding passageways. My trek was taking much longer than Google’s 51 minutes, thanks to those detours.
I passed possible locations for a villa in my story. I especially liked the one with its overlook to the sea and vineyards and windbreak of trees. The sight of the water gave me hope. Not too far now.
The directions of the bearded angel in the isolated hotel were good–and the signs he mentioned.
There in print! Signs to my destination. I couldn’t miss it now. And by now I was hungry. I was ready to see that restaurant.
It turned out to be a pleasant place, right on the beach. Music played, the sound becoming one with my thoughts and the wash of the waves. I floated on that sound and rested. For lunch I opted for another Greek salad, this one with a Santorini twist, cherry tomatoes instead of large chunks of tomato, capers instead of Greek olives. Different but good. And of course the wonderful Greek bread.
After lunch I walked up the beach. White waves rolled onto the black sand against a remarkable backdrop left by the volcano. Ashen sand created tortured formations and left caves the people now barricade for storage. I have some dramatic scenes here and let myself slip into that world of story.
With the heat rising, I took a taxi back to the hotel and saw the way I should have gone. No matter. I made it. I had one night left on this beautiful island and hoped to see one of the famous sunsets. But by the time I went to dinner fierce winds had come up and the haze thickened. I checked out of my hotel that evening because I had an early flight in the morning. My host ordered a taxi so I would have no delays. I would miss breakfast at the hotel but hoped to find something at the airport. Near time for sunset I headed up the slope for one last look at the caldera.
Even with the haze that barred the touch of the sun’s orb on the sea, ruling out a spectacular sunset, I could not deny the softer beauty.
I’ve just returned from a trip to research sites for my upcoming series set in Greece and Ireland and points in between and will be sharing my adventures on this trek over the next few weeks. I started in the wonderful Greek Isle of Crete where I visited the center of the first stories, the ancient ruins of Knossos.
This fabulous site was uncovered about 100 years ago after being buried for some 3,000 years. The archeologist restored parts of the buildings, the unique red columns, steps, and rooms, a controversial practice not accepted by today’s archeologists. But the reconstructions do offer a sense of the place I found intriguing. It was a visit to Crete several years ago that started my whole series. When I saw Knossos I knew I wanted to write about these ancient people known today as the Minoans. So I began to write what would become my opening book in a series.
I visited Greece a couple of times before this year’s trip and Stonehenge in England, and visited Ireland a couple of times as well, but as I continue with the series, new books take my characters to different places in these lands, sites I had not seen before, and I wanted to see those places on this trip.
So, why do I go? I could try to create an entire world in my own imagination, with a little help from Google Maps. But if my setting takes the reader to a real place, I’d like to see and feel the place firsthand. Why isn’t my imagination enough? Well, for one thing the natives tend to get annoyed when you misrepresent their landscapes. But there’s more to seeing a place than getting the description right.
I believe every place has a personality that comes out of the nature of the land, the people who touch it and change it. For historicals, can I feel the echoes of people who lived there before? Echoes of events that affected their lives? Maybe. I’d like to believe so. It certainly seems to happen.
Maybe I’m only reflecting my own feelings off the land around me. But what if there’s a resonance reflecting back? I’ll reach for that. Open myself to it. Let it come in, perhaps in the moment I walk in that place, perhaps later as memory and inspiration slip into my mind.
While in Crete I also visited peaceful Fodhele Beach where a battle rages in one of my books. The water is so clear you can see the rocks in the bottom far out from the shore.
From Crete I went on to the Isle of Santorini, officially called Thera or Thira. Anglicized spellings vary in Greece due to the translations from a language with a different alphabet. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.
Next stop was lovely Nafplio in the Peloponnese peninsula on the Greek mainland. From there I took day trips to the ancient Mycenaean sites of Tiryns and Mycenae itself, home of the warriors who sail to Crete in about 1470 B.C. and change the island forever.
From Greece I flew to Portugal to visit the ancient citadel of Zambujal north of Lisbon and had an amazing experience I’ll talk about in a later post. It had to do with modern-day archeologists working on this site, as shown above.
More wonderful encounters awaited me near Évora in Portugal’s interior.
From Portugal I flew to London’s Heathrow Airport where I met my writer friend, Lynn Ash, who would continue the trek with me.
After a little struggle finding each other (more on that later), we took a bus to the charming town of Amesbury, which is only a couple of miles from the famous stone circle, Stonehenge.
The next day we visited those massive stones, along with a gazillion or so ravens. Caught a couple in my photo. They seemed to add to the haunting aspect of the ancient circle.
From Amesbury we traveled north to the Lake District where we were surprised by the rugged mountains and thrilled to the beauty of the lakes. I got partway up a trail above Buttermere Water, where the outlaws in one of my books hang out. The trail never got much easier than what you see below.
From the lakes we wended our way into Scotland and across to Cairnryan on the coast where we caught the ferry to Ireland, center of my later books, which intertwine with the first three. We finally reached Rosscarbery and the bay I call Golden Eagle Bay for the Golden Eagle Clan of my story whose village lies a short way above this cove.
As daylight dimmed on the bay the search for story sites came to a close. I had a much stronger impression of the places I visit in story. It will take time to absorb all I’ve seen, but already these worlds have become clearer in my mind, and I want to pass that clarity on to my readers. From this overview I’ll share the highlights on my blog in more detail in the coming weeks and hope you’ll join me on this trek from Greece to Portugal to the UK to Ireland, 37 days of reaching into the hearts of lands where my characters roam.