Doing Research the Fun Way

I am working on my first mystery novel. No, I haven’t given up writing contemporary romance. In fact, my new series, UnderWright Productions, is about to launch. But I’ve long been an avid mystery reader, especially cozy mysteries. Not sure what those are? Think Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series or the current Pampered Pet series by Sparkle Abbey.

Lello and Irmao Bookstore

Since I’ve only finished a rough draft of the first story, I’m not yet ready to reveal much about this series. But I will tell you it features older heroines. Women who are still quite active even though they’ve retired from previous careers.

I used the recent river cruise my husband I took in Portugal as a living lab to observe my fellow passengers and pick up pointers about this age group. Though none of my “research” was scientific, I did come away with some important impressions.

1. Many seniors in their 70s and 80s, the kind who take trips like this, reflect the same type of energy as my heroines. My cohorts did much better than I on side trips to cathedrals, castles, quaint villages and vineyards, which required significant walking and climbing.
2. Unlike me, many seniors rise early. I was usually one of the last to arrive at breakfast at eight.
3. They know what they want and like and aren’t afraid to express their views. Meals especially. If a waiter failed to bring their coffee or whatever soon enough, they went in pursuit of the supposedly dawdling server.
4. They possess sufficient disposable income to enjoy themselves and purchase memories. Especially cork. Almost every woman on the tour came away with a new cork purse; I got an eyeglass case.

5. Seniors have led interesting lives and pursued fascinating careers in engineering, chemistry, finance, interior decoration, to name a few.
6. Not all couples are married or related. Perhaps the most interesting tidbit I picked up. That will definitely find a home in my books.

The Atlantic Ocean from high in Madeira

The “fun” part of my research was the trip itself. I knew little about the archipelago (group of islands) of Madeira beforehand. I didn’t even realize how far out into the Atlantic it was. A series of hills and mountains make up the landscape, with numerous tunnels allowing internal transit. The place was absolutely beautiful. Flowers everywhere. Along with banana trees, planted anywhere there was space.

Lisbon is a port city on the Tejo River. Its inhabitants are still very proud of the accomplishments of its early explore, Prince Henry the Navigator. To our surprise and delight, we were housed for three days in the Pestana Palace Hotel. I spent Mother’s Day enjoying a Pepsi Light at the private pool. This locale will show up in future stories for sure.

The Pestana Palace Hotel

The Douro River begins in Spain and empties into the Atlantic at Porto in northern Portugal. Our actual cruise started there, after visiting many of the city’s landmarks, including the Lello and Irmao Bookstore, where supposedly J.K. Rowling received inspiration for her later Harry Potter books while she taught there.

Mother’s Day by the pool

The most notable features of the Douro are the high terraced slopes of numerous vineyards, which produce the country’s famous port.

The terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley

At Barca d’Alva, the western border of Spain, we boarded buses and headed for Madrid, stopping off in the university city of Salamanca first to roam parts of the old city.

We only had one full day in Madrid. Much too little time to see it all. Places like the Royal Palace, the Prado, Plaza Mayor and Gran Via will have to wait for future trips. I highly recommend a river cruise for those who prefer to have others organize their itinerary.

Porto, Portugal

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