I am not much of a traveler. Sometimes I think I'd like to go to the British Isles, Southern France (briefly), Sicily, somewhere random like the Winter Palace... All those fascinating and beautiful European places that I read and write about. Then I start to think about plane flights, motion sickness, lack of home, lack of kitties, lack of family, lack of church, and my fancy for traveling goes "Meh." Maybe one day I'll do some traveling, but in the meanwhile I find it nicer to confine my trips to the page, read or written.
The other day I was thinking how vastly different the scenery is between my two historical novels, The Soldier's Cross and The White Sail's Shaking, the one set in the 1400s firmly on land (except for a Channel crossing), the other in the early 1800s at sea (except for the frequent pit stops). Many writers tend to stay in a specific comfort zone, like the Wild West or a fictional place nearby where they live, but it is great fun to venture into other places. A great deal of research work is involved, too, I'll grant, but it is also rewarding to try to paint a picture of different lands. There's such a lovely amount of variety to be had in the world.
Fiona, the main character of The Soldier's Cross, has always dreamed of visiting the White Cliffs of Dover; it is the only place she has ever wished to go. She gets her chance when, seeking an audience with the Duke of Gloucester, she travels to Dover. Standing on the cliff top on a clear day, one can see the northern coast of France across the Channel, particularly Calais. An age-old symbol of Albion, the White Isle, the Cliffs have held off many an invasion. Dover was also the site of the Roman fort Dubris and two lighthouses, both called Pharos, the ruins of only one of which still remain.
Most of The Soldier's Cross, however, takes place in northern and eastern France. Fiona follows the coast from north-western France to Agincourt, near Calais in the north-east, visiting such places as Cherbourg and the twin cities of Honfleur and Harfleur. She never gets to visit Mont Saint-Michel, which is a pity, since I would have liked to have written it; her boat lands her a little east of the island. But the photo is pretty and gives a good impression of northern France. I personally would prefer visiting southern France, but Fiona never gets beyond the Marne River.
In her travels she also goes to the ancient city of Reims, the cathedral of which was the traditional place for crowning the French kings. She never goes inside the building, only looks at the impressive and ominous exterior. It frightens her more than anything else, both because of its great size and because its very greatness seems to judge her.
One of the first exotic places in The White Sail's Shaking is the Rock of Gibraltar, which Tip finds very grand and very foreboding. While it has a certain charm, especially to someone who has neither seen nor imagined anything like it before, he is quite glad that the American squadron is only passing by and will not be stationed there. The region of the Straits is extremely windy, either with levanters or westerlies, and prone to gales; ships sailing in and out of the Mediterranean are at the mercy of the weather. The Rock is dull and bare, although providing an excellent view of the sea and the northern coast of Africa.
After Gibraltar, the American squadron moves its base to Syracuse, Sicily. The region is full of ruins from the Greek and Roman periods - an amphitheater, the fountain of Arethuse, and various destroyed or converted temples provide some of the main sites, for those interested in history. It also has a pretty view of the Mediterranean from the bay. At the time of the Americans' arrival, the King and Queen of Naples, having been expelled from the mainland by Napoleon's forces, are in exile in Palermo, Sicily.
And then, of course, there is Tripoli. Tripoli is finely situated in a bay on the Mediterranean with the protection of reefs, shoals, and batteries. It is perfect for withstanding attacks, especially as any ships (in the Age of Sail) must wait for the right wind to be able to sail in around the reefs. The city has some ancient buildings with Ottoman-influenced architecture, particularly mosques, but also other structures. As in most capital cities at the time, while the Bashaw lives in splendor (apparently Yusuf was a bit obsessed with his gold; had it carried around with him wherever he went), most of the town lives in poverty. Enslavement of Christians was a common practice, and seamen whose nations did not pay tribute to Tripoli and who did not renounce their Christianity for Islam could look forward to a lifetime of servitude.
And there we have my eclectic mix of real-world locations. Looking back over them, however, I must say that I didn't realize that bodies of water show up so often in my stories...