Boston: The Freedom Trail

Revere House

Revere House

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.


When I was in seventh grade, I memorized and recited Longfellow’s 130-line poem, “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” Actually, Sybil Ludington, a girl of 16, rode twice the distance of Revere to warn of encroaching British soldiers; however, it is Revere’s ride that we remember. Perhaps Ludington was too difficult for Longfellow to rhyme.

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Boston Public Library – Interior Staircase

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Longfellow Ceiling – Boston Public Library

Find Longfellow’s name inscribed in the ceiling at the Boston Public Library, a building where the lions grace an interior staircase.

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Freedom Trail Route Marker

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Revere Marker

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Hancock Marker – Granary Burying Ground

Revere’s House provides good insight into colonial living, and reminds us how important it is to preserve such historical gems; it was sold and re-sold before being rescued in the early 1900s. Revere is interred in the historic Granary Burying Ground with a modest marker; in contrast, John Hancock’s burial spot has a marker equal to his flamboyant signature. Follow the red line embedded in the streets and sidewalks to pursue The Freedom Trail, a 2.5 mile walk of historic sites.


Preceding Longfellow, poet Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784), is memorialized in Boston at Commonwealth Mall (between Fairfield and Gloucester). America’s first published Black poet, Wheatley is famous for such lines as these:

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African American Museum

” Imagination! Who can sing thy force?
Or who describe the swiftness of thy course?
Soaring through air to find the bright abode,
Th’ empyreal palace of the thund’ring God,

We on thy pinions can surpass the wind,
And leave the rolling universe behind:
From star to star the mental optics rove,
Measure the skies, and range the realms above.
There in one view we grasp the mighty whole,
Or with new worlds amaze th’ unbounded soul. “

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Memorial to the 54th Massachusetts – Civil War

An American-American Freedom Trail includes the “Black 2015-04-12 17.03.51Faneuil Hall,” on Joy Street just above the gold-domed capitol, where visitors can also see the memorial to the 54th Massachusetts, the Black Civil War battalion led by Shaw and popularized in the film, Glory.

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Make Way for Ducklings

One of Boston’s most visited sites is recognition of the popularity of Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. Located in the Boston Public Gardens where Charles and Beacon streets meet, the duck statues are photographed equally with children and adults.

Not surprisingly, many of the good books for travel to Boston focus on the Revolutionary War. Who didn’t read Esther Forbes’ Johnny Tremain when in grade school, or see Disney’s dramatization of it? Although marketed for teens, any adult would find The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing (two volumes) by M. T. Anderson challenging for its multi-genre format and its dark themes about an Age of Reason group of philosophers and scientists who seek to test an African “prince” for his ability to have intelligence.

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Memorial Hall – Harvard

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Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Jane Langdon writes a fine mystery, and Homer Kelly, her detective, is usually found in New England, and in Boston, in particular. Take an architectural tour of Harvard Square (Yard for insiders), and look at Memorial Hall, a gothic pile of bricks, and then read Langdon’s The Memorial Hall Murder (1978). I also enjoyed Murder at the Gardner (1988), set at the lovely Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, where anyone named Isabella can gain free admission. On April 14, a mass is said in her honor as it is done every year.

The Gardner Museum, a Venetian style gallery, was opened while the eccentric Gardner still lived. A friend of Henry James (and some say, a possible model for Isabel Archer), Gardner amassed a phenomenal art collection. It became even more famous as a result of a daring robbery 25 years ago that has still not been solved, and the robbery generated several books, both fiction and nonfiction: The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro; Stealing Rembrandts by Anthony Amore (who is head of security at the museum); Irreplaceable by Charles Pinning; The Gardner Heist by Ulrich Boser.

Henry James’ rather dense The Bostonians provides inside into turn-of-the-century

Old Corner Bookstore

Old Corner Bookstore

aristocratic families. Lighter fare is The Dante Club, a murder mystery featuring Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Boston and Cambridge not only have the longevity needed for a rich trove of literature from which to choose, they also have great watering holes, like Cheers, made famous through TV.



Awakening the Mayan Past — In Mexico


Tulum Iguana

Digging up good literature about ancient Mayan culture is about as difficult as uncovering the ruins overgrown with jungle trees and plants. Some 3,000 Mayan cities have been identified by archaeologists, and 300 have been excavated, but even there, only partial excavations have occurred, resulting in about one percent on view.


Temple of Masks at Kohunlich (close-up on the right)


Previously, RoadWorks visited important Mayan sites such as Copan, Tikal, Palenque, and Chichen Itza. This trip took us to the crowded seaside site of Tulum, overrun by cruise boat tours, but also to the quiet and more notable sites of Dzibanche and Kohunlich some hours away from Tulum nearer to Chetumal and the Belize border. These were easily accessible from the wonderful resort where we stayed for a week: The Explorean Kohunlich. Frankly, we did not know these locations prior to our visit as they don’t have the press of a Tulum or Copan, but they are significant. Dzibanche, for instance, features not only extensive ruins but also a troop of boisterous Howler Monkeys, and the quieter Spider Monkeys. Kohunlich is well regarded for its Temple of Mascaderos—stunning figureheads that retain their ancient coloring.

Dzibanche Temple


What to read to enhance these site visits? By far, the best fictional treatment I found was The Well of Sacrifice (1999) by Chris Eboch. Although marketed as a teen novel, it’s a good read for adults, too. The actual well of sacrifice is located at Chichen Itza, a cenote—a deep pool of water surrounded by limestone. Archaeologists in dredging the well have found traces of human remains as well as precious objects such as jade. The cenote plays an important role in the narrative as a power-hungry priest seeks to take the place of the recently-departed king. For anyone who stands in his way, he tells the people of the city that the gods have ordered a sacrifice. In this way, he removes his rivals, one in particular, Smoke Shell, a young warrior who is enormously popular. Well_cover_from-210

His sister, Eveningstar Macaw, is the main protagonist of the novel, a teen who is knowledgeable of jungle plants and herbs that she gathers for her mother, who is a healer. Will Eveningstar be able to avenge her brother’s death and save the city? That’s a secondary concern as the book’s primary benefit is in revealing day-to-day Mayan life. Admittedly, even scientists do not know exactly what happened in everyday life since the cities were abandoned centuries before, around 900 CE, but murals provide some clues. The author uses what is known to good effect. The Mayan civilization believed in human sacrifice and even blood-letting among its own people; as a result, some scenes can be graphic although nothing in comparison to violence in contemporary films.


Remnants of a ball court, a crucial site in The Well of Sacrifice, where captives play for their honor–and then proceed to their death or to slavery.

The Mayan culture was popularized in the mid-nineteenth century by American John Lloyd Stephens and his artist partner, Frederick Catherwood. Their collaborative work, Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan, is in public domain and still reads very well due to Stephens’ clear prose and Catherwood’s detailed drawings. This 1848 book was very influential in revealing Mayan cities and creating expeditions to unearth them. Contemporary novelist Eboch acknowledges that debt. (By the way, Catherwood’s home in Merida is open to the public.)

A “juvenile book,” The Search for the Silver City: A Tale of Adventure in Yucatan (1893) by John Otis, who penned almost 200 “boys’ books” in the style of Tom Swift or The Hardy Boys, follows two teens who are marooned on the Yucatan after the family yacht catches fire. Along with an engineer who survives, they run into an ex-pat, who has located a lost Mayan city, and who is determined to steal some of its gold and silver. Exploitation of native people reminds us that at one time such colonial attitudes still reigned even centuries after Cortez’s destructive path.

These three books are all available in electronic form, which makes packing much easier. Another possibility is a historical romance by Barbara Wood, Woman of a Thousand Secrets (1999). Frankly, it’s too much romance for my reading tastes. Scott O’Dell, a prize-winning author for young readers, published three novels about classic period Mexico. The first, The Captive (1975), focuses on a Spanish Jesuit, who is taken by Mayans. Unfortunately, it is not in e-book format. His other two novels focus on Aztec and Incas. Likewise, Daniel Peters weighs in with three hefty novels, each focusing on the three major cultures: Mayan, Inca, and Aztec. Another young adult novel is Marc Talbert’s Heart of the Jaguar (1995). I wish I had found Marella Sands’ novels on Tikal before visiting there: Sky Knife (1997) and its sequel Serpent and Storm (2001).

Moving on to other major tribes of Mexico, Colin Falconer’s The Feathered Serpent (not to be confused with the Scott O’Dell novel of the same name) focuses on the Malinali, the Aztec woman—a slave to Mayans—who became the mistress of conqueror Cortes. Gary Jennings’ popular Aztec series offers hefty reads. Simon Levack has a mystery The Demon of the Air (2005) that also centers on Aztecs.

National Geographic offers this list of best books about Mayan culture:

By the way, several books about Mayan prophecy circa 2012 came out about that time. These were not of interest to me.

Florida: Land for Sale, Books to Read

Holiday Flamingos at Florida Botanical Gardens (Largo, FL)

Holiday Flamingos at Florida Botanical Gardens (Largo, FL)

“If you believe that, I’ve got some land in Florida to sell you.” The great Florida land grab of the 1920s is a theme in 7000 Clams, a novel by Lee Irby (2005) that moves from gangsterland on the East Coast to the balmy climes of St. Petersburg. No, the “clams” in its title are not edible; instead, they refer to a $7000 IOU signed by the great Babe Ruth, who is heading for spring training in St. Petersburg, a city that still boasts ball fields.

Spring Training Baseball Field - St. Petersburg

Spring Training Baseball Field – St. Petersburg

Perhaps filled with too many characters—a ravishing chanteuse fleeing from Al Capone; crooked cops; a Jazz age coed; a henchman with a heart of gold—the novel evokes an earlier age when The Babe was a god—even if he had feet of clay and was 30 pounds overweight.

Speaking of feet of clay, Beat Generation fans can make a pilgrimage to Jack Kerouac’s home in St. Petersburg (5169 10th Avenue North) or toast him with his favorite drink, whiskey and beer chaser, at the Flamingo (1230 Dr. Martin Luther King St. N), the bar he frequented until he died much too early at the age of 47. Reading his On the Road offers a homage to this trendsetter.

St. Petersburg provides artful outings, including the stunning Dali Museum (go even if you don’t care for surrealism); a fine Museum of Arts with café on the waterside; and a

Dale Chiluly Art Museum

Dale Chihuly Art Museum

collection of Dale Chihuly’s gorgeous glass art. To revel in 1920s style, move on to St. Pete Beach, where the Don Cesar Hotel rises majestically in full pink glory on wide beaches of white sand. Have a drink in the Gatsby Bar, named in honor of author F. Scott Fitzgerald, who stayed there. Stay at the 1928 pink palace for about $200 a night and watch the fabled sunsets.

Don Cesar Hotel (1928)

Don Cesar Hotel (1928)

Florida’s heyday is reflected in the number of attractions on offer in the St. Petersburg/Tampa/Sarasota area. The Tampa Museum of Art features a small but elegant exhibition space and an exceptional café on the riverfront.

Plant Museum - Tampa

Plant Museum – Tampa

The Plant Museum, which is actually a 19th century railroad magnate hotel, is well worth a visit, located on the University of Tampa campus. Its Victorian Christmas Stroll is a delight. The Aquarium gives up close underwater vistas although visiting the Manatee Viewing Center at the power plant in the winter months when these interesting creatures seek warmer waters is another option.


Ringling Circus Museum

Ringling Circus Museum

In Sarasota, the enormous Ringling complex offers a full day of interesting venues in its Circus Museum, Museum of Art, mansion by the sea, and lovely gardens. The mansion, Ca d’Zan means “House of John,” but docents noted it is really the “House of Mabel,” the Iowa farm girl who went on to be a wealthy art collector.

Ca d'Zan Ringling Mansion

Ca d’Zan Ringling Mansion

Florida inspires authors. Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ The Yearling are two classics. Rather than the sad coming of age story that Rawlings penned, try her memoir Cross Creek (1942). John D. MacDonald’s extremely successful amateur detective series featuring Travis McGee—and color-coded titles—are good beach reads. Carl Hiaasen is a great choice for his adult fiction, his titles for young readers (e.g., Hoot), or even his nonfiction like Team Rodent, about Disney’s invasion. (John Ringling preceded Disney, though.)

Peter Matthiessen won the 2008 National Book Award for his Shadow Country, a novel that in itself has a fascinating story. The tale of killer and killed E. J. Watson, Shadow Country is a re-working of an earlier trilogy by Matthiessen, who seems almost possessed by this real-life story of a planter, who was also a serial killer. This 900+page thriller could take an entire vacation to complete.

One final quirky title to consider: The Young Marooners on the Florida Coast by F. R. Goulding. This 1852 entry is considered an early juvenile novel, featuring a young foursome who exist Robinson Crusoe-like on an island in Tampa Bay. It’s available from the Gutenberg Project for free.

Perhaps buying land in Florida is not such a bad deal after all, particularly if it’s on the fabled white sand with an ocean view.




Washington, DC

WashingtonMonumentRoad Works: Washington, DC

Dan Brown’s 2009 The Lost Symbol is a shoe-in for a novel that clearly features important landmarks of the Washington, DC, where reader-travelers can venture for first-hand experiences. Robert Langdon, our Harvard symbologist from the enormously popular The Da Vinci Code returns to deliver a lecture in The Capitol building but literally stumbles upon the severed hand of his revered mentor, Peter Solomon, an appendage that has been tattooed with various Masonic symbols that lead Langdon on a chase to uncover “ancient mysteries.” Langdon escapes through the Library of Congress. The Main Reading Room of the Jefferson Building of the LOC is part of the path, and this over-the-top architectural gem is definitely worth a stop on anyone’s tour of Washington, DC.

LOCJeffersonDefinitely take the guided tour of the Jefferson Building to learn about hidden Masonic and other symbols. Read the quotes that adorn the walls—all from Thomas Jefferson. Visit the recreation of Jefferson’s Library as well as the rare Gutenberg Bible and Shakespeare’s First Folio. Listen to Groucho Marx tell Johnny Carson that he is highly flattered and proud that The Smithsonian wants his letters.

Langdon and company visit several sites in their attempt to escape the evil clutches of the richly-tattooed villain: the Folger, Metro, National Cathedral, and America’s own Egyptian-style obelisk—the Washington Monument. Will the secret mysteries be found in the Masonic Monument to George Washington near Alexandria? Were the Founding Fathers more committed to Freemasonry than to a new country? If someone can read to the end of this incredible and, frankly, unbelievable narrative, then all will be revealed.

Consider instead President Truman’s daughter’s mysteries. Mary Margaret Truman Daniels wrote (or some allege a ghost writer wrote) several mysteries set in the nation’s capitol, Murder in the Library of Congress (1999), for instance. Since her passing, the series has been adopted by a “co-writer” in much the same way that Dorothy Sayers literary estate signed on Jill Paton Walsh to continue the Peter Wimsey-Harriet Vane series.

DolleyMore satisfying than a Dan Brown thriller are the titles that have a relationship to the District of Columbia. Take, for instance, Rita Mae Brown’s fictional account of the life of Dolley Todd Madison, Dolley (1994), a rollicking good read. She is so obviously connected to the White House, but after her son by a first marriage emptied the family coffers and the intellectually outsized James Madison passed, she spent much of her final days in a house near the executive mansion. A plaque notes its history.  Do visit the Madison family home, Montepelier in Virginia, for the rest of the story.

Certainly, one can watch the franchise Night at the Museum to get a behind-the-scenes look at The Smithsonian. Better still pick up Tony Hillerman’s Talking God (1989), the 9th entry in the Joe Longhorn/Jim Chee series. Henry Highhawk, whose maternal grandmother is a Navajo, is a conservator in the Smithsonian. Both of the Navajo detectives depart from Arizona/New Mexico and wind up in the nation’s capitol. Jim Chee ends one relationship and begins another with Janet Pete, who is the attorney for Highhawk. The novel also features Dr. Caroline Hartman, Curator of the exhibit in the Natural History Museum on “Masked Gods of the Americas.”

Courtyard of National Portrait Gallery

Courtyard of National Portrait Gallery

Speaking of Smithsonian museums, an undiscovered gem for a rest stop is the Courtyard Cafe, a wonderfully open and quiet space for lunch between the National Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum.


Air and Space Museum

Air and Space Museum

One of my very first connections between literature for the road and travel involved The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe (1979). I adored this book, the story of the nation’s test pilots and first astronauts. I challenge any reader to complete the introduction and not be moved. Before the astronauts, there was Chuck Yeager. He broke the sound barrier, and his story is told enthrallingly in Wolfe’s book. See his Glamorous Glennis (a tribute to his wife) aircraft at the National Air and Space Museum. Likewise, the capsules of the inaugural class of astronauts are there. I remember very well getting a pin at my local library, the Warsaw Boonslick Library, in 1960, featuring Friendship 7, John Glenn’s flight. Perhaps that touchstone with my library made Wolfe’s book some 20 years later so very meaningful.

Another favorite venue in Washington, DC is at the American History Museum: Julia Child’s kitchen. The exhibition has gone through a couple of remodels since I first visited it—no doubt based on its enormous popularity and the commercial success of the film, Julie and Julia. Any number of books provide a wonderful basis for viewing her actual kitchen, assembled intact from her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts: Julie and Julie, naturally, but perhaps more appropriately, My Life in France (2009), or the remarkable correspondence between Julia Child and her friend Avis DeVoto, As Always, Julia (2010). I  also admire two other books, one from her personal assistant on her PBS show, Nancy Verde Barr’s Backstage with Julia (2008), and the other from her cookbook editor, Judith Jones’ The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food (2008).

Plugging one more off the beaten path site, I recommend a stop at the National Botanic Center, just down the hill from the Library of Congress. In December, the annual model train display is revealed. For 2014, the theme was lighthouses and sailing ships. It’s a wonderful sanctuary–interesting, and educational.

Washington, DC is such a fertile site for so many narratives: the Civil War, Civil Rights, presidential and Founding Mothers. Here’s to fruitful reading in the District of Columbia.







Bay of Kotor–Historically Important Naval Base

Every once in a while, a title pops up in the search for Road Works Books that fits the bill exactly. Starling Lawrence’s Montenegro (1997) is that book for travel in the country just south of Croatia. As with Croatia, Montenegro had been part of Tito’s Yugoslavia; in 1992 during the dissolution, Montenegro remained within Yugoslavia, along with the Republic of Serbia. In 2006, Montenegro split from this alliance and became an independent state. Montenegro is so named for its very dark forests that cover its mountains. Its history is also dark with contested borders that came about with conquests around it: Ottomans, Venetians, Austrians, French.

The complicated relationships among these Slavic areas (Yugoslavia means south Slav) is illuminated through Lawrence’s novel, which focuses on one family and takes place prior to World War I in 1908. But the narrative begins in Connecticut in 1988 as Toma/Thomas lies dying, recalling how events conspired to bring him to America through his mother’s vision of removing him from a life of sectarian conflict and probable early death.

Toma is the only surviving son of the Pekocevic family, headed by the war hero Danilo. The patriarch has engaged in many battles with the Turks and displays the heads of his enemies on pikes in the outer reaches of the family compound to demonstrate his prowess—and to cow future adversaries. A Romeo and Juliet style romance is the undoing of Toma’s family. (Montenegro is largely Orthodox while Croatia is Roman Catholic, and Bosnia is primarily Muslim.)

IMG_1738Into this mix, rides Auberon Harwell, a young English gentleman sent on a mission to assess the area’s political situation while posing as a botanist. He arrives in Cattaro (the present day Kotor, and there begins his rather naïve journey to the mountain valley where the Montenegrins live on the border with the Turks. The two dozen hairpin turns that Harwell must navigate are still visible above Kotor. I counted these while sitting on a park bench eating the very fine local olives and strawberries from the market. A side note, given the earlier visit to Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Croatia: Harwell passes through Dukle/Doclea, the purported birthplace of the Emperor Diocletian.

What is helpful to the modern reader who has difficulty understanding the strife among these countries is the “Idea of the Great Serbia,” a kingdom that brings together all Slavic areas, with Montenegro as its heart. Harwell notes that this glorious idea lies in a previous state that is more than 500 years old but seems as though it were yesterday for the Serbs. This deep-seated belief in a united state explains much about why these countries have engaged in conflict, most recently in 1991-1995 in the “homeland” wars. The quest to be members in the European Union (EU) means that on the surface, the governments are to lay aside past conflicts and be friendly. For some, it is difficult to forget.

IMG_1706IMG_1730The family farm compound where we enjoyed a Dalmatian platter of prosciutto (aged at least 18 months in the smokehouse), cheese, and wine featured framed photographs of the buildings with their roofs destroyed by Montenegrin bombs. The walk we took along the Herceg Novi promenade featured a spray painted sign “Kosovo is Serbia.” Kosovo

The novel Montenegro is one of those books that I would never have picked up casually, if not for a visit to the country itself. That would have been a loss as it is an intriguing story–if at times difficult for its tragic turns–that is written with style and grace.



A Taste of Croatia

fishI often purchase a cookbook following a trip as recipes truly give a flavor of the country. A Taste of Croatia (2007) is an exceptional example, as author Karen Evenden provides not only recipes but also narrative about their three-year residence along the Dalmatian Coast in their sailboat. These charming stories enliven the cookbook and evoke memories of my own much shorter-term sailing journey.

Reviewing the cookbook also gives me an opportunity to sing the praises of the Croatian’s dedication to impeccably fresh fish. The selection is served whole so that diners can look the fish in the eye, literally, and ensure that it has been caught that day. Expect to have a platter of fish brought to the table for the selection. On Korcula Island, when I reserved mid-afternoon for that evening, the waitress asked what we wanted: mussels for one and grilled fish for three, I replied. “What do you have?” She didn’t know as the boat was just coming in. The owner’s purchase of the catch of the day was dictated in part on our request. We were not disappointed.

veggiesFish markets are common on the coast. The one in Split is in an ideal location, adjacent to a therapy hospital that features sulfur springs; the aroma keeps flies away. By noon, the fish markets generally have closed, so it’s best to be there early. The same is true for fruit and vegetable markets, and we found wonderful produce in every town we visited.


Wine & Olive Press - Diocletian's Palace

Wine & Olive Press – Diocletian’s Palace

In addition to excellent fish, Croatia is also known for its olive oil and wine. In both instances, families produce sufficient quantities for their own use—and then may sell what is left over. There is not a vibrant commercialization of either.


Courtyard restaurant

Courtyard restaurant







Although we didn’t see any porkers in the fields, the presence of prsut–what we’d term prosciutto–and other cured meats was ubiquitous. A fabulous meal could be made on these smoked cold cuts, local cheese, and olives—along with hearth made bread.

smorgasbord plattersbreadA Taste of Croatia provides a good read–even if we won’t have access to such fresh fish when back at home.


Diocletian’s Palace

Diocletian’s Palace

IMG_1550Diocletian was infamous for his persecution of Christians but famous for retiring successfully as an Emperor–as opposed to dying in office or being assassinated. His retirement home and mausoleum, built in only ten years, is the highlight of a visit to Split, Croatia, a coastal town. The Palace is a living antiquity as locals took over the place with the fall of the Empire some time after Diocletian’s death. Ironically, his private apartments house churches.

Although an amazing historical site, it’s rather surprising that more fiction has not been set in its confines. My initial search yielded a satiric piece in Apocryphal Stories by Karel Capek (translated by Dora Round) and an epic poem, Diocletian’s Palace, by Neda Miranda Blazevic-Krietzman (2008, 147 pages, PB). It’s also included in Rebecca West’s wonderful Black Lamb and Gray Falcon, her description of a trip around Yugoslavia in 1937; the first part focuses on Croatia, and thankfully, much of it can be accessed through Atlantic Monthly, which serialized parts relevant to a Croatian voyage.

An aside: A Traveler’s History of Croatia is often recommended as preparatory reading, but I much preferred Rebecca West’s history. G. B. Shaw termed her one of the best writers of the 20th century, and Starling Lawrence (author of Montenegro and an editor at Norton) concurs in his armchair traveler recommendations.

IMG_1548Although mature readers might not turn to fiction written for young adults, the novel that truly embraces Diocletian’s Palace is The House of Hades (Heroes of Olympus series, Book 4), by Rick Riordan (2013). The young heroes—half mortal, half god—face adventure and potential harm in its pages. The bust of Diocletian that the boys accidentally break can be seen in the lower floors of the palace.

At noon daily, the “emperor,” his wife, and the guard make an appearance and “welcome” visitors. Diocletian has the right note of disdain. A cappella choirs of men entertain the choirs with more modern greetings, called klapa music.





A word about Split. My desire to visit Croatia centered on seeing the famed walled city of Dubrovnik, picture postcard perfect. George Bernard Shaw said, “If you want to see heaven on Earth, visit Dubrovnik.” It truly is beautiful; however, it is rapidly becoming a museum city, filled with restaurants and souvenir shops and as many as 15,000 visitors per day. The tourism industry in Croatia believes that 8,000 visitors is sustainable, but mega-cruise ships dump passengers within the city walls for shoulder-to-shoulder tours, particularly crowded in “the season,” which begins mid-June and extends through the very hot months of July and August. Ghastly.

IMG_1559Fewer people know about Split, which has residents who live and work in the ancient town. Walking its narrow, cobblestone-paved byways is a treat. If a stream of water comes from above and lands in a receptacle in the middle of a square, look up to see a provocative sculpture—what might be termed the Mannequin Pis of Split.

Fish Market

Fish Market







IMG_1604For even less crowded venues, Trogir provides relief. Hvar Island, named one of the ten most beautiful islands of the world, can be congested on one side but quiet on the opposite. Island hopping by ferry or other boats can be a relaxing experience, certainly true in the three-masted ship that housed 25 other passengers in a Road Scholar tour that I took.

IMG_1609The Dalmatian Coast is stunningly beautiful. I recommend viewing it from an Adriatic Sea perspective—on the deck of a small ship.




Road Works Books: Croatian Literature for Travel:

RoadWorkBooks: Croatian Literature for Travel:


The armchair traveler stays at home and travels vicariously, following Emily Dickinson’s observation, “There is no frigate like a book.” That’s a fabulous way to expand knowledge about distant places and cultures. Even better is to actually go.

My philosophy for choosing literature for travel is based, in part, in anticipating the trip in advance and gaining pleasure from the research. When I choose titles, I compile a list, such as the one that follows, and then winnow to the titles that I truly will read. For some countries, there is a fulsome list—as in Croatia—while others may feature slim pickings (e.g., Honduras).


Croatia presented challenges typical to many such lists: an emphasis on themes of conflict, particularly the homeland wars of the 1990s. While these can be very good reads, they may not be particularly wonderful ways to relax during the trip. As a result, I tend to choose lighter fare, although rarely fluff. Increasingly, I look for e-books that will not add to baggage weight. I’ve also had very good luck in finding free electronic versions via Project Gutenberg. I do take care with books that have not been through a review process with a reputable publisher. I’m supportive of writers getting their words out to a wider audience, but the results may not be disappointing.

Travelers may not be very familiar with Croatia; I certainly wasn’t except for the fact that I very much wanted to visit its wonderful walled city, Dubrovnik. But here are a few tidbits about the country.


  • Croatia has 1246 islands.
  • The White House was built of marble brought from the island of Brac.
  • Marco Polo purportedly was born on Korcula Island in the 13th century.
  • It’s the home of the necktie, which began as the kravata (cravat to the French), the famous tie worn by Croatian soldiers in the 17th century.
  • Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), who advanced the theory of alternating current and wireless communication, is Croatian.
  • Slavoljub Penkala (1871-1922) invented the first mechanical pencil as well as the fountain pen.
  • James Joyce taught English in northern Croatia—Pula—in 1904-1905. Word has it that he taught badly.
  • Agatha Christie spent the honeymoon of her second marriage in Dubrovnik and Split. She set Murder on the Orient Express on the segment from Zagreb to Istanbul.

Here’s the list of literature I selected for a trip along the coast of Croatia that began in Split and extended through several island stops to the justly famous Dubrovnik. (Recommendation: do not travel in Croatia in high summer when the crowds are dense and the temperatures soar. Prefer May, September, or October.)


Croatia Literature

* indicates the titles I chose to read.
*The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric (paperback) – winner of the 1961 Nobel Prize in Literature; historical fiction covers generations from late 16th century to beginning of WWI. But, the Drina River is set in Bosnia. Although Andric lived some time in Crotia, this title is notable for its author’s Nobel Prize.
The Tiger’s Wife – Tea Obreht – (2011, pb, Kindle): Named one of best books of the year: “Natalia Stefanovi, a doctor living in an unnamed country that’s a ringer for Obreht’s native Croatia, crosses the border in search of answers about the death of her beloved grandfather, who raised her on tales from the village he grew up in, and where, following German bombardment in 1941, a tiger escaped from the zoo in a nearby city and befriended a mysterious deaf-mute woman.”

The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna (2007, PB, Kindle)—Forna won the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for an earlier novel. In this one, an Englishwoman with her two teen children work with a local man to rehabilitate a dilapidated cottage in a village. Secrets of the past revealed.


The Sound of Blue by Holly Payne (2004 PB): American goes to Hungary to teach English; gets wrapped up with Croatian refugees. In a journey that takes her to Dubrovnik, a magnificent stone city on the Croatian Riviera, Sara contemplates her own identity. (Most likely a “romance.”)


Zagreb, Exit South by Edo Popovic (2005, pb): illuminates lives of diverse but colorful characters adrift in postwar Croatia.


The First Rule of Swimming by Courtney Angela Brkic (2013, PB, Kindle): Magdalena’s search for her missing sister reveals darks secrets of a family caught up in Croatia’s brutal history; begins in Croatia but moves to NYC.


April Fool’s Day by Josip Novakovich (2009, pb and Kindle): dark humor, political satire. The protagonist is born in 1948 on April 1. [Also authored Infidelities: Stories of War and Lust—2009, Kindle.]


The Ministry of Pain by Dubravka Ugresic (2009, pb, Kindle): Having fled the violent breakup of Yugoslavia, Tania Lucic is a professor of literature at the University of Amsterdam. “Relentlessly bleak.”


The Island of the World by Michael D. O’Brien, 800 pages (Kindle and paperback)


The Dealer and the Dead by Gerald Seymour (2014, PB, Kindle), spy thriller that begins in 1992 in a small Croatian village with an arms shipment that goes awry; picks up in 2000.


Ruta Tannenbaum, by Miljenko Jergovic, (2011, PB): Set in Zagreb, between world wars, the protagonist is inspired by real-life figure of the “Shirley Temple of Yugoslavia,” murdered in Holocaust.


Two Tickets to Dubrovnik by Angus Kennedy (2012, self-published novella, pb, Kindle); locales in Croatia and Australia.


Jester’s Fortune by Dewey Lambdin (pb, Kindle) is an 18th century naval adventure in Adriatic Sea for Patrick O’Brien type fans.


The Woman Who Lost Her Soul by Bob Shacochis (2013, PB, Kindle); covers four countries in war; gets to Dubrovnik eventually.


Steffie (Croatian Bridget Jones), a post-modern novel ***

Dancing with Spies by Michael Hillier (Kindle)—self-published thriller

Every Day, Every Hour by Natasa Dragnic (2012, pb, Kindle) romance.

A House in Istria by Richard Swartz (trans 2002, pb) comic novel set in Istria (northern Croatia).

Note: Illyria is an ancient region in modern-day Croatia, and is the setting for Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

Diocletian’s Palace

*The House of Hades (Heroes of Olympus, Book 4), by Rick Riordan (2013, PB & Kindle): this popular young adult literature series, which features Percy Jackson, actually places some of its action in Diocletian’s Palace.

Diocletian’s Palace is an epic poem by Neda Miranda Blazevic-Krietzman (2008, 147 pages, PB)

“The Emperor Diocletian” by Dora Round, Harper’s August 1998.

*Apocryphal Stories by Karel Capek (translated by Dora Round) includes one piece on The Emperor Diocletian.


*Black Lamb and Gray Falcon – (pb, Kindle) Rebecca West’s description of a trip around Yugoslavia in 1937; the first part focuses on Croatia.

Balkan Ghosts: A Journey through History by Robert D. Kaplan (1993, a NY Times Best Book)—Croatia appears in chapter 1.

Croatia (Through Writer’s Eyes) by Peter Frankopan and Francis Gooding (2007, pricey)

*A Traveller’s History of Croatia, Benjamin Curtis (2013, pb). This is a series in which, typically, history profs are contracted to write a readable history. (After reading both, I preferred Rebecca West’s account although it necessarily ends in WWII era.)

Running Away to Home: Our Family’s Journey to Croatia in Search of Who We Are, Where We came From, and What Really Matters, by Jennifer Wilson (2011, pb, Kindle); won Best nonfiction award for its story of Iowa family that uproots and moves to Croatia.

Croatia: Travels in an Undiscovered Country by Tony Fabijancic (1999 pb, Kindle); author’s father is Croatian.

Montenegro Literature

*Montenegro: A Novel by Starling Lawrence (2006, PB); Lawrence was Patrick O’Brien’s editor at Norton. This historical novel set in 1908 gets good reviews.