A few days after arriving home. 9/7/18

It is a few days after we arrived back in the U.S. The flights home seemed pretty easy and even the 10 plus hours from Copenhagen to San Francisco went by relatively quickly. Sarah was at the airport to pick us up and we are busily struggling with jet lag. I slept until 4:30 AM today, so I am making progress.

Jet lag from Jasmine Tea blog

I just finished reading through what I wrote and I can tell you that without this blog I would definitely forget stuff. John and I were just trying to remember what the bathroom looked like in Oslo with quite a bit of trouble. And John remembers everything! So even if you do not want to have a blog, having a travel journal should be a must! The nice thing about a blog is that you put your pictures into it and it helps with the remembering. I have been doing this for about 13 years on WordPress and I highly recommend it. It doesn’t just have to be for vacations as you can also chronicle birthdays, holidays, and any other event that is important to you.

Writing Apps and Blogging Tools for Today’s Writers and Bloggers | 2018

Of course I am probably a little obsessed. I also have a food blog that I write everyday. I have about 80 followers who occasionally will say they like something I have written or have a comment. For me it acts as a food diary and dinner inspiration. So if you think I put too many food pictures in my travel musings, this other blog is full of food only!

For instance, here is a picture from the post about dinner last night.

Vegan chickpea, vegetables, and ditalini soup/stew

I’ll be posting more travel later this year when I celebrate my birthday in Italy.


Europe hurts. 8/19/18

When we traveled to Europe with our kids in 1998, Jonathan was victimized by a culture that made things too small, too stick out-y, just too foreign! He was constantly bumping into or tripping over small pieces of Europe. On that trip he coined our family phrase, “Europe hurts!” The tradition continues. But more on that later.

Since John and I are still in backwards land sleeping-wise, we are up with the early bird breakfast eaters today and are on the subway to our first destination before 8 am. Luckily we are going to see a park and it is open 24/7.

The Vigeland section of Frogner Park features 212 bronze and granite sculptures designed by Gustav Vigeland. These sculptures, all naked, are mostly of people expressing various human emotions. An over 300 foot bridge lined with sculptures, a sculptural fountain, and a sculptural monolith are the main features.

Welcome to Vigeland!

It is a beautiful Sunday and even before 9 AM Norwegians and tourists are out in force. We are glad we have come early. Here are some of the sculptures we especially like.

There are many of these tall columns topped by humans struggling with serpents

On the bridge are running children…

a happy mother and baby…

an embracing couple…

and a man struggling within a circle.

I stop for a photo with my favorites, yellow roses!

Next is a fountain held up by burly men and surrounded with bronze trees with children playing within them. In the distance is the monolith.

The Monolith is up a hill with a lot of steps. I look from a distance while John climbs up for a closer look. It is composed of interlocking human figures.

The Monolith

Statuary by the Monolith include a mother playing horsey…

and two old men.

Vigeland Park is getting very crowded and we decide it is time to go. We walk back to the subway stop and head in towards the city to the King’s Palace. The current king is King Harald V and he lives here with Queen Sonja. We can tell that they are home because the flag is flying above the palace.

The royal palace in Oslo

And now for the Europe hurts part…

After leaving the palace park and crossing a small street I go to step up onto the sidewalk and my evil left knee crumples and down I go. This comes as quite a shock to me and I lie on the sidewalk for a moment. People in passing cars stop. They want to help. I do not want help. I just want to wallow in my pain on the sidewalk. I get into a sitting position and try to wave them away. “I am okay!” I shout. The word okay is understood in all languages. Finally they move on. But I cannot get up. John tries to pull me up but my knee is not taking any weight at the moment.

Norwegian Home Health Aides to the rescue! Two young women carrying backpacks arrive on the scene. They ask if we need help. I explain that I have fallen and I cannot get up. (I say this literally.) But I will be okay and sooner or later I will find a way to get up. They say we are strong Norwegian Home Health Aides and we help people get up all the time. With this each grabs a hand and I am on my feet! Or at least one foot. I am a little hesitant to try out my knee. Turns out the knee is fine and they lead me over to a place to sit down. They ask me again if I am okay, not in any severe pain? I answer I am okay and they say adios and go on their backpacking way. (Actually, they just say goodbye in their perfect English.)

I can see the headlines in tomorrow’s paper, “Plucky Yank shakes off tumble with the help of strong Norwegian Home Health Aides! International incident averted!!”

Not ones to let a little falling down stop us, we continue on to the National Gallery to look at some art. This is the museum which houses Munch’s The Scream as well as a bunch of other stuff. There are a lot of stairs here and the kindly staff lets me ride up in the freight elevator. I am not oblivious to the irony.

Here are some works that we liked –

Hey look what we found, a Saint! This is in the Russian icon section. The informational plaque says it is Saint Nicholas of Zaraysk but we can see from the little pictures surrounding the Saint that it is actually our old friend, St. Nicholas of Bari.

St. Nicholas of Zaraysk

La Coiffure by Edgar Degas

Edouard Manet (1832-1883). French painter. View of the 1867 Exposition Universelle, 1867

Still life by Pablo Picasso, 1927

And finally Edvard Munch’s famous painting, The Scream, or how I felt after I fell down.

The Scream by Edvard Munch

When we finish up at the National Gallery we decide to take the subway back to the hotel and have a little re-grouping time. However, Europe hurts is not done with me yet. As I go to step onto the subway car the doors close and I am smashed between them. Ow! I actually make an audible noise. The doors, having figured out that perhaps not all the passengers are completely on board release and reopen. (Thank God) So now both of my forearms are totally bruised.

Around 3 PM we walk over to the train station again and have lunch at Bella Bambino in the fancy food hall.

Fancy food hallen

John has a fritatta

I have carpaccio

John wants to go out again and visit the Opera House but I am done. I lie down and go to sleep instead. Here are his pictures from his adventure.

Oslo Opera House is also home to the National Ballet

Several art projects were commissioned for the interior and exterior of the Opera House. The most notable is She Lies, a sculpture constructed of stainless steel and glass panels. It is permanently installed on a concrete platform in the fjord adjacent to Opera House and floats on the water moving in response to tides and wind to create an ever-changing face to viewers. (Wikipedia)

She Lies

John comes back and we both sleep some more. We know that it is not the right thing to do and that we will pay for it later but we cannot help ourselves. Around 9 PM we get up and go downstairs and have a comforting burger and fries with a beer at the hotel bar.

Surprisingly good burger and fries at the Eufemia Bar

It is now Monday morning and we are on the train to Stockholm. Just want to report that I am a little sore but really none the worse from the fall I took yesterday.







Unplanned spontaneity 3/14/18

Using our time until check out to the fullest, this morning we visit the St. Ilario complex. It is not far from the Arch of Trajan and is a very ancient, small building dating from the end of the 6th or the beginning of the 7th century. It was used as a church and later a farmhouse and thus has not been much changed through the centuries due to continual use. Inside there is a multi-media presentation which explains all the bas-relief carvings on the arch of Trajan. He was a much beloved leader who secured the Roman Empire borders, was emperor and yet still was humble and like a common man or soldier.

St. Illaire with the Arch of Trajan in the background

Many buildings have re-used pieces of Roman buildings after the fall of the Empire. This piece looks like it was some sort of serpent.

Our ride to Canosa di Puglia should take about an hour and a half and we arrive around 1 PM. First we look for somewhere to eat. We can find nothing. All there seems to be are grungy, graffiti filled streets. We decide to head to our hotel to see if we can check in. The hotel is situated among the grunge and everything is behind locked barriers. We go to our not very pleasant rooms and wonder what to do next. The proprietor says there is a restaurant next door so we go to there to find some lunch. The restaurant is also behind a steel grill. John presses the intercom but no one answers.

We decide we do not want to stay in Canosa di Puglia even if there is a penalty for it. John tells the guy behind the desk and they argue but we are not staying. That’s it. Sorry but this is our vacation and we are not staying somewhere like this for three days. We leave. I do not know what will happen next but I will keep an eye on our credit card account.

We head to Bari with much lighter spirits. We stop at an Autogrill and have another okay lunch. There are some weird choices that you can make, though.

Odd sandwich-y thing with French fries

Sarah and I have pizza with peppers

John has lasagna

We have been talking to John about ditching the Alfa at the Bari airport and getting a car that is a bit more driveable in Italy and Sicily. He asks for a picture of him with the Alfa.

John and the Alfa Romeo

We decide that instead of one night in Bari we will make it three and add one additional night onto Lecce to make up for the three days we were supposed to stay in Canosa di Puglia.

After much struggle due to a bad accident right in front of our hotel, we settle into our new digs. Our room looks over the Adriatic Sea. We are so glad to be here.

Our room with balcony overlooking the Adriatic Sea

Tonight our happy hour is happy indeed. We have a glass of wine and order the salami plate which ends up being enormous and more than enough to do for dinner.

Ginormous salami plate

August 21, 2017 – Eclipse

When I was planning this vacation I went day by day figuring out what we would be doing and where we would stay. I got to the next to last day and decided that somewhere mid-Oregon along I-5 would be best. Only when I could not find a single hotel that had vacancy did I wonder why Oregon was all booked up. John and I pondered about this. Was there some big event happening? Were all the colleges going back to school on the same day? Finally John had an aha moment, the eclipse!

So I had planned the perfect vacation with its climax at the moment of total eclipse somewhere near Salem, Oregon. We were offered eclipse glasses early on at the Museum of Eastern Idaho so we were prepared.

We leave our hotel in Chehalis, Washington early hoping to avoid the Portland, Oregon rush hour travel. Strangely there is no traffic at all around 8 AM. Maybe all the Intel people have the day off to watch the eclipse. About twenty miles north of Salem we start running into some traffic and decide to take some back roads and camp out on the side of a country road to watch the eclipse. Our plan is working perfectly. The eclipse starts and I am ready with my iPhone to snap some pictures but the sun is too bright. So I take to putting my eclipse glasses over the lens. Here are the results –

About 1/4 eclipsed (the little mark to the left is just a reflection)

1/2 eclipsed

Nearly fully eclipsed

Total eclipse

So obviously I am not very successful with the picture taking. I guess you would need a much more sophisticated camera than an iPhone. Shucks. Here is a picture from NASA showing what it actually looks like from Madras, Oregon.

NASA photo of the total eclipse as seen from Oregon.

We do take some pictures of John and I looking comical in our cool eclipse glasses called “The Eclipsers.”

Here I am staring at the sun

Here’s John staring at the sun

Here are some of my impressions about seeing a total solar eclipse. First, it happens really slowly. It tkes a long time for the moon to move into position. As it approaches, the sky begins to get a twilight kind of appearance. Then you notice the wind pick up a little and it starts to feel cooler. Finally when the sun it is totally eclipsed, it is dark but not totally pitch dark. There is still enough light coming from the edge bits to make things seeable. It only last for a minute or two before the moon and sun begin to part and the light comes back really quickly.

This is an awesome experience and the perfect end to our vacation. And because it is so worthwhile and special I am not going to complain about the monumental traffic where it takes us 4 hours to go 60 miles!

August 9, 2017 – Seein’ the sights in Lethbridge, Alberta

We have a lazy morning not getting up until 7:00AM. After a leisurely breakfast we watch the Federer. V. Polanski match at Montreal. Very contrasting styles. Federer won easily, Yay!

Then we left for Fort Whoop-up which started life as a trading post. (Actually this is just a reproduction of the real fort/trading post which was a ways away and got washed away in a flood.) After an informational movie we walk around the site seeing the various artifacts and reading the placards. The main trading went this way – you give me a bison pelt and I will give you some flour and sugar, you give me two bison pelts and I will give you a gun. And of course they also traded whiskey which was lethal to the Native Americans. Finally the Canadian government sent out the Northwest Mounted Police to stop the illegal trade and lawlessness. But a lot of damage had been done to the First Nation (the term they prefer to use in Canada.)

John whooping it up

John feeding a miniature donkey

John, a member of the original 12 tribes of Israel, beside a tribal abode

Interior of the trading room

Whoop-up kitchen

A Boston Baked Beans recipe from 1847

Whiskey smuggler!

Next we stop in at the Helen Schuyler Nature Centre (Canadian spelling) and look around briefly. This is mostly a place for children to come and learn about nature. They have a cool display that plays different bird songs.

Helen Schuler Nature Centre

It’s 2 PM so we had better grab a quick lunch. We stop at a nearby Wendy’s and have a pretty meh lunch. Then we proceed to the Galt Museum. The Galts were the bigwigs in these parts and made a fortune from discovering high grade coal and “persuading” the Canadian Railway to establish a nearby line so they could ship their coal out. It’s why the High Level Bridge was built. Interestingly the High Level Bridge is the highest and longest bridge of its type in the world.

The Galt Museum and Archives

Contemporary railroad art installation at the Galt Museum (High Level Bridge in background)

Time to hurry back to thre hotel and watch some more tennis. Nadal is playing and as usual we are hoping he loses. (He doesn’t)

For dinner we go to Moxie’s which bills itself as a classic restaurant and lounge. By classic I think they mean 1950’s but at least they have updated the menu if not the decor. We have a few small plates to share and a salad. It turns out it is half price wine Wednesday. So we buy a bottle.

Our server is a very chipper young person from Calgary who is studying math to become a teacher in Lethbridge. She gives us some pointers about Calgary and we talk some politics. The Canadians are not liking Trump at all.

She also insists that we must try poutine, the national dish of Canada. We have assiduously avoided ever eating this because it sounds horrific. It is French fries and cheese curds covered in brown gravy. Why bother making crispy French fries if you are just going to drown them in gravy. Perhaps it accounts for all the soggy fries we have come across and not eaten in Canada.

Cauliflower with spicy Korean sauce – so bad we sent it back, mush

Calamari and shrimp, much better than the cauliflower and the dipping spices were good

Sushi rolls. Not exactly sushi since the shrimp was tempura style but the best thing of the evening

Tomorrow we will be stampeding to Calgary.

June 24, 2017 – Bergen, Norway

After a night of off and on sleep we arise and go down to breakfast. Apparently the Radisson Blu is a destination for tour groups so they have to accommodate a great number of people for breakfast.  The breakfast room is less than charming but the food is fine.

Breakfast served in a large event room at the Radisson Blu, Bergen, Norway

At breakfast the baked tomatoes and bread were especially good. John enjoyed creamed herring.

Our goal today is to see the Hanseatic Museum with its accompanying Assembly Halls and Fishery Museum. The sun is in and out early but as we start our walk towards the museum the rain comes and we are pretty much soaked by the time we get there. This is a scenario which plays out many times today. Sun then rain and over and over.

Misty morning with a hint of sun as we walk past the Hanseatic buildings

Mary in front of the reconstructed Hanseatic buildings that Radisson built to use as a hotel in the historic district

Selfie with the harbor behind

We buy the three part ticket which also gains us access to a bus that drives us to the Fish Museum which is our first stop. Inside we learn soooo much about fish and the Norway fishing industry. (See pictures for explanations) At the end we have a good discussion by the guy running the place about fishing but also about basketball. He was a great Celtic fan and as a youth mostly saw tapes from the 80’s about the team.

Cap’n John in front of the Fish Museum

A magnified krill

So many things we did not know about fish! Ear stones are like tree rings for fish!

Looking out a window of the museum

This diagram struck us funny. The names look like IKEA product labels.

Tree roots used to hold the beams up

Explanation of bulwarks in building

Outside bulwarks used to hold up the buildings in the water

Lastly the fish signs for the restrooms

Then we hop back on the bus and go to the Schotstuene or assembly rooms and kitchen. Any place where there were open fires such as a cooking area or a place to stay warm were separated from living quarters for fear of fire. As is, Bergen burned down at least four or five times. The last big fire was in 1955. Most of the stuff that we are seeing are newer constructions from after the great fire of 1702.

Mary outside the Shotstuene

In the assembly room is a pointer used to point at a misbehaving Hanseatic member (probably one of the apprentices). Offenses were written down on the chalk board on the left and punishments or fines were levied later.

These assembly rooms were the only rooms heated since they were separate from the sleeping areas.

This cooking area was so used for an apprentice hazing game known as the smoke game. The apprentices were hung upside down over smelly, smoldering leather.

We wander by an older church and think about going in but there seems to be some sort of ceremony going on so we have to take a pass and decide to have lunch instead. Our lunch is at Bryggeloftet & Stuene which is supposed to have authentic Norwegian food. We order fish soup and beer. It is good and satisfying on this cold-ish rainy day. Highs are only in the low 50s!

John enjoying a lunchtime beer

Delicious fish soup

After lunch we finish up at the Hanseatic Museum where we learn all about trade in Northern Europe starting in the 1300s and lasting until the 1700s. It was exclusively a German affair. The Hanseatic area was an enclave within Bergen where only German men could live and they had to stay separate from the Norwegians. They controlled the trade of cod and cod by-products which were shipped in from the far North and then sorted and graded in Bergen. We see a reproduction of their living quarters and there is a lot of info about cod or “stockfish” and cod liver’s oil, a valuable commondity for lighting lamps. In some areas of the Hanseatic museum, as was true in the Fish museum, there is a lingering odor of fish.

Interior of the Hanseatic living quarters

Hanseatic office

Now it is almost 3PM and I am really tired. We go back to the room where I am pretty much zonked out until 6PM. Then we watch a little television and catch up on the news before  heading down to the bar for a drink and a little light dinner. Here we meet fellow cruising people. They talk to us some. They seem nice, probably a lot nicer than we seem. Anyway we split a hamburger and exit dinner around 9:45PM. It has been a really full day!

John and I split a Norwegian burger and fries


Town Hall Meeting – 4/22/17

Today Sarah and I attend our Congressperson’s Town Hall. Eric Swalwell is our representative. There is a large crowd at Dublin High School. Most of the people there are Democrats, I think.

Rep. Swalwell starts out by relating his experiences growing up and how his parents sacrificed to make sure that he had a good education and could have a better life than they had. Then through a random draw he takes questions from the audience. He tries to insure that what he answers has policy content rather than political content. People ask a wide variety of questions from taxes to immigration to their frustration with government. At one point Rep. Swalwell takes a question from a Boy Scout who is trying to earn his Citizen Badge to become an Eagle Scout.

Rep. Eric Swalwell answers a Boy Scout’s question

It is reassuring to go to this meeting. After all the political posturing and anti-everything policies of the current administration, it is refreshing to hear from people who want to do positive things for the state and country. The crowd is mostly patient and respectful and there is very little yelling out of turn.

Rep. Eric Swallwell

Nathan’s band concert – 4/20/17

John, Sarah, and I drive over to Palo Alto to see and hear Nathan’s band concert. He’s been hard at work this year learning to play the clarinet. We really don’t know what to expect. Early learners of musical instruments are often hard on the ear. However, we are quite impressed by how focused and musical the students are. We see that Nathan is carefully watching the music and looking up to get cues from the conductor.

Nathan playing clarinet

Jonathan tells us that Nathan has been intent on his practicing. The kids are even able to play harmonies and count the rests to come in at the right place. We tell Nathan how much we enjoy the concert and congratulate him mightily. The students are very celebratory at the end of their concert. Probably a little more than I hope for given that they are holding instruments.

Clarinet players show off their instruments

Venice Hurts – 3/25/17 Part Two

Continuation of blog entry for 3/25/17  The internet is working somewhat better today.

We stop for lunch at Ristobar San Polo right across the piazza from San Polo, our next church to visit. Again the bathroom is unusable for the ladies. This one worse than the last. It is a good thing that women have incredible control. The ristobar is a modest eatery and John and Sarah go with the daily special which is bigoli with anchovies. I pass that up for my old standby, spaghetti con vongole. Lunch is okay.

John and Sarah choose bigoli with anchovies

Spaghetti con vongole

We head into the Church of San Polo where the big attraction is Tintoretto’s Last Supper. It’s a busy scene with the table set at an angle, a hallmark of Tintoretto’s Last Suppers.

Tintoretto’s Last Supper at San Polo

I am aching and dragging at this point and basically sit quietly and contemplate the beautiful Madonna and Child at the next church, Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari.

Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna and Child with Saints, 1488

I hand off the camera to John who takes the rest of the pictures in the Frari.

Madonna with Christ child, St. Frances and St. Elizabeth also the Doge and Dogess as donors 1339

Madonna Enthroned with Child, Bartolommeo Vivarini, 1482

The Assumption by Titian, 1518

St. Mark and Saints by Bartolomeo Vivarini, 1474

This is all the sightseeing I can do today. So John and I head back to the apartment getting lost along the way. Venice is such a warren of little streets some of which go somewhere and some of which end in dead ends.

We spend the rest of the afternoon doing laundry and resting. We opt for a simple dinner of takeout slices of pizza.

Medici Chapel, San Lorenzo, and Santa Maria Novella – 3/22/17

This morning we are up and out early. Once again being the early birds we manage to miss large crowds. Our purpose this morning is to go to the Medici Chapel, the monument the Medici built as a tomb for themselves, and visit San Lorenzo, the church that the chapel is adjoined to.  It’s a little cooler out this morning and there is a threat of rain in the air.  On our last trip here the day we visited San Lorenzo was the only time it rained and it looks as though we may have a repeat this trip.  (As it turns out the rain holds off until after dinner when we are caught without our umbrellas at, thank goodness, a nearby restaurant.

We rent the audio tour at the Medici Chapel mostly for its humorous aspects. The architectural jargon in it is so obscure that half the time we have no idea what they are talking about. We tried to bone up on our terms last night and learned about architraves and pendentives but nonetheless when they start in on “lizines” we are lost.

We enter first the Chapel of the Princes where the Medicis are entombed. It is a grandiose octagonal space that is lavishly decorated with precious marbles, statues and even was suppose to contain the Holy Sepulchre from Jersusalem which the Medicis tried to buy and then steal to no avail.

Medici tomb

Ornate floor

The chapel itself has several statues carved by Michelangelo. There are stylized figures of Lorenzo Duke of Urbino and his brother, Giuliano Duke of Nemours. Beneath the statue of Lorenzo are figures of Dawn and Dusk and beneath Giuliano are Day and Night, all carved by Michelangelo. Both male figures are done, according to the audio guide, in the unfinished manner, or better known as just never completed.





After a cup of cappuccino to waste time until the church opens, we head to the church of San Lorenzo. The church, originally consecrated in the 300’s and reconscecrated in 1059 and then redesigned in the 15th century, is mostly whitewashed now with a few existing earlier pieces.

View of interior of San Lorenzo (with Sarah in lower left)

One of the paintings is a 1450 Annunciation by Fillipo Lippi. We learned from the audio guide at the Uffizi that Lippi was a priest who had a scandalous liaison with a nun and their  offspring was named Fillippino Lippi who became another famous painter. The beautiful face of the Madonna is a representation of the nun and the cherubic angels are his son.

Annunciation by Fillipo Lippi, 1450

This painting by Raphael has three saints with their identifying attributes. On the left is St. Stephen who was martyred by stoning. He has a rock on top of his head. In the center St. Lawrence, the patron of saint of San Lorenzo, is shown with the grill on which he was roasted. On the right St. Leonard is shown holding fetters or irons.  He is the patron saint of prisoners. During his life prisoners would invoke his name and be freed.

Saint Lawrence between Saint Stephen and St. Leonard by Raphael

We have enjoyed our morning at the San Lorenzo complex and now decide to go back toward the apartment and eat lunch at the downstairs trattoria Marone and then have a little rest before heading out to Santa Maria Novella, church and museum.

Around 3 PM we are off to Santa Maria Novella, the last stop on our Florence tour. The church, the adjoining cloister, and the museum is full of art treasures and funerary monuments. Especially famous are frescoes by masters of Gothic and early Renaissance.

Works from the interior of the church –

Annunciation, Nero di Bicci, 1455

Trinity by Masaccio, 1424

Crucifix by Giotto 1288-89

Decoration on the tomb of Strozzi, Pieta and Saints, Gaddi, 1375-95

Maggiore Chapel, frescoes of scenes from the life of the Virgin, Ghirlandaio and workshop, 1485-90

Work from the Spanish Chapel –

Christ’s descent into Limbo

Detail of devils looking on in Limbo

King David, Moses, John the Baptist and others in Limbo waiting for resurrection

From the museum –

Cloister frescoes now restored in the museum. Adam and Eve by Orcagna, mid 14th century

We have accomplished much of what we wanted to do while here. We head back to the apartment to pack and have one more slice of pizza in Florence.

On to Venice tomorrow! (And hopefully better internet!)


Battling crowds at the Uffizi – 3/21/17

Yesterday we saw a ticket office when we were at Orsanmichele where you could buy tickets for the Uffizi. You have to pay a 4€ service fee but it guarantees you a time slot and you do not have to wait in the gargantuan line to get in. Our tickets were for 9:30 AM. When we got there the regular line was so long that the crowd was cheering every time the guards let in a few people. This is March. I cannot even imagine what it will be like in the summer when there are a lot more people and it is hot!

The line extends back a long way

Anyway we get in right away but it is really crowded and hot Inside. First thing you have to do is climb a massive staircase which is the equivalent of more than 4 stories. Luckily we survive this. Then the battle begins to try and see the artworks. The biggest problem is the tour groups and the school groups. When twenty or so people set up camp in front of a painting there is no way to see around them. You must strategically wait for the split second when one group leaves and rush in to establish position before the next group sets up shop. The kids under 10 are not quite so bad because you can see over their heads and they are generally well behaved (remarkably) but the teens are busy slouching around and more coolly disinterested. The groups of adults are worse. They are busily taking pictures of one another smack in front of the paintings. Since in this situation I am not at my best I actually tell some guy that I got a nice shot of his wife in front of a Botticelli.

Well-behaved Italian kids learning about art (this does not seem like an American class trip)

Thanks lady for standing in front of Botticelli’s Primavera so we could all take your picture

Rant over. The art is wonderful and worth the waits and hassle. You truly get to see the development from the stiff Byzantine cartoon paintings of the early 13th century slowly move by the end of the century to more realistic body forms and perspective thanks to greats like Cimabue, Daddi, and Giotto. In the next 100 years art changes rapidly until you end up with real people in real landscapes.

Giotto’s Madonna and Child (around 1300)

Cimabue’s Madonna and Child (around 1300)

The paintings and frescoes are almost exclusively about religious subjects since that was really the only thing allowed. Occasionally you might see a mythical subject used in an allegorical way to underline a religious precept like a personification of a deadly sin and how you are going to hell.

The purpose of much of the religious art is to educate a populace who is largely illiterate. Going into a church is like stepping into an illustrated comic book of the Bible. Saints and their miracles are like modern day super heroes. Everyone has their favorite whom they are devoted to. Their saintly lives decorate the walls from their births to their often gruesome ends. The people of the times understand every gesture, position, and color. They know the significance of each animal, plant, and object. So what looks like the same old same old Madonna and Child, Crucifixion, or Last Supper is actually imbued with subtle meaning by a hand gesture or a peacock.

St. Cecilia went around baptizing people in the 2nd to 3rd century even after her husband and brother-in-law were executed for doing the same. She was tortured in baths of extreme temperatures by the local prefect but did not die. So an executioner tried three time to hack off her head but it refused to come off so they left her to bleed to death which took three days. In the meantime people came and collected her holy blood and were converted to Christianity.  (Master of St. Cecilia circa 1300)


St. Nicholas throws in three bags of gold to provide dowries for three young women who would become prostitutes if they had no dowries (Lorenzetti circa 1330)

St. Matthew exposes magicians accompanied by dragons (Orcagna 1370)

The crowds thin out the deeper we go into the museum. The tours and school groups only view the “greatest hits.” So there are a lot of people surrounding Giotto, the Botticellis, Michelangelo’s one painting, and da Vinci. The Perugino, Caravaggio, and even Raphael works are often bypassed. We enjoy our time at the Uffizi immensely.

Some beautiful works of art we saw –

Gentile da Fabriano “Adoration of the Magi” 1423

Fillipo Lippilippi “Madonna and Child with Angel” 1460?

Botticelli “Birth of Venus” 1485

Michelangelo “Holy Family” (Doni Tondo) 1507

Raphael “Madonna and Child with St. John” (Madonna of the Goldfinch) 1506

Leonardo da Vinci “Annunciation” 1474

Titian “Venus of Urbino” 1538

Caravaggio “Bacchus” 1596

Having been on our feet with a lot of people for over four hours leaves us pretty exhausted, thirsty and hungry. We decide that we will pick up some sandwiches on the way back to our apartments. This way we can put on some comfy clothes, take our shoes off our achy feet, and lounge around while eating lunch.

John and I tell Sarah we are opting out of any late afternoon’s activities and she can make plans on her own. She makes her way over to the Pitti Palace for some more art viewing and we do laundry, read books, do crosswords, and take naps. Hey, it’s a vacation not a total art marathon!

Later we go out to Bussola for pizza! Mmmmm, the crust is so delicious! Reminds me of the Jersey shore pizza of my youth. Here people eat entire pizzas themselves but John and I decide on a salad and to split one. We end with vin santo and cantuccini, small Florentine cookies.

The Accademia, more than just Michelangelo’s David – 3/19/17

Today was a rough day for everyone. Sarah woke up at 12:30 AM and could not go back to sleep and my back, knee, and feet were aching. It was a rough day for John because he had to put up with our grumpy selves.

We start early and arrive at the Accademia (art museum) shortly after they open. As the day advances they often have colossal lines and we want to avoid that. We walk in totally unimpeded by crowds. Although taking a look at the David is something one wants to save like dessert, we decide it is best to enjoy this fabulous piece of art before the hall gets too crowded.

The setting is quite impressive. You walk down a rather long room that has many of Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures to a rotunda where the David stands bathed in light from above. Even though the David is plastered on everything here from aprons to beer steins, when you see the sculpture in person it takes your breath away.

Michelangelo’s David

Such a beautiful face!

I think my favorite part is his hand

Okay, so after we can tear ourselves away we head back down the hallway to see some of the unfinished sculptures. They appear to be struggling to free themselves from the their marble blocks. You can see the the bold chisel marks, the small gouges, and some polished parts as well.

I feel a visceral desire to throw of this stone entrapping the “Prisoner’s” head

The Accademia showcases works from the 13th century to Mannerism in the 16th century.  Michelangelo may be the star of this collection but there are lots of other great pieces. Here we find Job again but all dressed up and with a sign that says in Latin “He is my savior.” No doubt that God won and Satan lost when it came to testing Job’s faith.

Moses is often depicted with horns in Renaissance art. Is it because he was Jewish? Probably not because the translation about Moses from the Aramaic states that he had two rays (horns) of light emanating from his head, 15th century.

Moses with fire-y cornu or horns

Here’s a 15th century Annunciation. They were still working out proportions.  If Mary stood up she would hit her head on the ceiling!

If the BVM stands up she will hit her head

Ever wonder why people think that dinosaurs and people existed at the same time? This picture of St. Michael slaying the dragon supports the idea that dinosaur-like creatures and humans were wandering around during Biblical times.

St. Michael and a dragon

In the work below, Perugino of the expressionless faces has painted the bottom of the Deposition. His younger counterpart, Filipino Lippi has painted the top. Look at the gaily streaming sashes more representative of some happy event. This is the mullet of paintings – All party in the top and all business in the bottom.

Perugino/Lippi mullet painting

This painting of Santa Barbara (identifiable by the tower next to her) was X-rayed before restoration….

St. Barbara’s rediscovered 6th toe

….it was discovered she had a 6th toe!

Santa Barbara’s sixth toe

This little gallery of paintings from the 13th and `14th century illustrates how quickly art was changing.

Needless to say we were very thorough looking through the Accademia. And now we are very tired. It is well after lunch. We decide to go to the new Mercato Centrale . It looks like the beginnings of a wonderful food hall.  There all sorts of purveyors and we pick up some meat, salami, and bread. We also stop for some Malaga gelato!

Mercado Centrale


I am dead on my feet. We decide to go back to the apartments for a little sit-down and end up falling asleep until supper! Tonight we dine at Buca Mario, a restaurant where John and I ate our first meal in Florence with his Oracle comrades. It is the fanciest place we have been to. After dinner it is no problem to fall asleep.

S. Trinita, Ognissanti, Brancacci Chapel, Museo del Duomo and more! 3/18/17

(I am currently using my phone as a hotspot and hoping that I won’t burn through too much data…Later…that did not work either so I am laboriously typing this on my iPad mini which is the only device that I can get connected to the WiFi. It seems like any device updated to iOS 10 is impervious to the WiFi here)

Sarah and I have been up since 4 AM which does not bode well for the day. We make a quick breakfast of bread and cheese before we start our sightseeing.

We leave the apartment around 9:30 AM and make a quick stop at the Church of Santa Trinita on our way to Ognissanti. Among the things that we enjoy are a 14th century fresco of St. Jerome in his study. It is a change from seeing him out in the desert being a hermit with only his lion as company. I love all the doodads around his desk – a pair of spectacles, a pair of scissors, a ruler. I see he has left his cardinal’s hat up on a shelf above him. This work is by a painter of Ghirlandaio’s workshop and done in the mid to late 15th century. Another standout is a wooden crucifix from the 1200’s which has a modern look to it.

St. Jerome in his study

13th century crucifix

Walking further along down the Arno River we come to Ognissanti (All saints). The main attraction here is a Ghirlandaio Last Supper. Ghirlandaio was a teacher of Leonardo Da Vinci whose own Last Supper is in Milan. There are similarities.

Ghirlandaio’s Last Supper

The Apostles are grouped in threes and fours while the main focus is on the group of Jesus, the sleeping John, Judas and Peter. It is before Judas makes his fatal move towards the bread which marks him as the traitor but probably after Jesus has told them all that one will betray him. Peter is identifiable by the knife in his hand with which he will attack one of the soldiers later.

Central group from Ghirlandaio’s Last Supper. L. To r. S. Peter, Jesus, S. John, Judas, some Apostle

At the table each item has symbolism. The apricots on the left of the table symbolize sin while the lettuce nearby symbolizes repentance. The cherries refer to Christ’s blood and the oranges at the other end of the table refer to Paradise. Each tree, bird, and gesture has meaning.

Apostles in discussion. Apricots and lettuce on table.

Oranges and cherries on the table

After enjoying the wonderful Last Supper at the Ognissanti we make our way across the river to Santa Maria del Carmine and the Brancacci Chapel. The frescoes were commissioned in 1423 and were painted primarily by Masolino and the young Masaccio. Filipino Lippi completed the works in 1481 to 1483. The frescoes relate the life of St. Peter. There are also two frescoes depicting Adam and Eve. You can see the big difference between the more static figures of Masolino and the dynamic figures of the much younger Masaccio.

Masolino Adam and Eve

Masaccio’s expulsion of Adam and Eve

This is also true of the frescoes of St. Peter.

Elegant figures and flowing fabrics in Masolino’s Healing of the Cripple and Raising of Tabitha

More realistic people and situations in Masaccio/Lippi’s The Raising of the Son of Theophilus and  St. Peter enthroned


We’ve been going strong and mostly on our feet all morning and it is time for some lunch. We walk over to the Piazza Santo Spirito and to the restaurant Osteria Santo Spirito. We’ve stopped here for lunch almost every time we’ve been in Florence since we first visited in 1994. Usually we all have rigatoni with tomato sauce and ricotta salata but today we are game to try something different.


Now we are really tired. Both Sarah and I have been up since 4 AM and are badly in need of a nap. So we head back across the river and to the apartments. We immediately fall asleep like the dead for a couple of hours before my alarm summons us for more sightseeing at 4 PM.

We walk over to the Duomo and buy a combination ticket to see it, the Baptistry, the Museum of the Duomo, and a couple of other things. The Baptistry has closed already so we head into the museum. We have 48 hours to visit all the sites on our tickets.

Florence’s beautiful Duomo

The Museo del Duomo has been totally redone since we were last here.It is chock-a-block full of historic and artistic wonders.It includes older pieces from the early church plus other more ancient finds from the time of the Roman Empire and even back to the Etruscans. There’s a lot of great stuff about how the cathedral was built as well.

Original Baptistry Doors of Paradise. These doors faced the cathedral. When a newly baptized person stepped out these doors, they walked between the Baptistry and the church in an area known as Paradise. Biblical scenes in bas relief

Can you imagine being the stone carver given this daunting task? Each one of these pieces had to be carved by hand and then assembled to make a door surround.

Etruscan funeral block used to the build the cathedral, 5th century B.C.

Everything that was lying about was used.  It was easier and cheaper to use already chiseled out blocks. I’ve seen other churches where Etruscan carved blocks were repurposed, especially in Tuscany which was an Etruscan state. Early (and later) Christians used the existing frames of buildings to be their foundations. Often Roman temples are found under Christian churches in Italy,

Found under the floor of the old duomo was a Roman tomb. This is a 3rd century carving of Mercury guarding the doors to Hades.

Older decorations in the cathedral included bas relief plaques with bible stories and with the allegorical figures of the arts and science. Church styles change and luckily the church administrators deemed these pieces worthy of saving. (God creating woman)

Michelangelo’s carving for his own tomb.

The fabulous Donatello wood carving of Mary Magdalene

Mary and Sarah outside the Campanile in Florence

We have had a very full day and even though we succumbed to a nap in the afternoon we are really tired and decide to just eat some bread and cheese in the room before retiring (at 8 o’clock!)

Sent from my iPad mini




What seems like our annual trip to Italy plus first day adventures – 3/17/17

I am not going to say a whole lot about our trip here. Flying internationally these days is like childbirth. The only reason why you do it more than once is because you forget how bad it is. Our misadventures include a very warm cabin temperature for 10 hours, a security re-screen at Heathrow which makes us almost miss our connection that we had an hour and a half to accomplish, a man throwing up in the aisle between Sarah and my seats, and an endless passport control line in  Milan where we vie with the passengers of other flights for superiority while standing in line. Other than those things? A piece of cake.

We get to Milan and catch a taxi which brings us to our hotel, The Hotel Berna. The Berna has an excellent location near the railroad station which will be handy tomorrow when we start our journey south to Florence.

After a fitful night’s sleep for Sarah and me, we go down for our hotel’s award winning breakfast. Wow, it is really good!

Breakfast st Hotel Berna

Then we catch a taxi to the Pinacoteca di Brera. We spend about three hours enjoying ourselves in the museum. Here are some of my favorites:

Ran across this saint in Arezzo last year and did not know who he was. Today question solved at the Brera! This man got the rawest of all deals in the Old Testament. Horrible afflictions were given him in a wager between Satan and God. The leperous saint is Giobbe or in English, Job.

Unknown saint from Arezzo

Saint Giobbe identified in Milan!

I love learning new things. Here are a group of saints in what I used to think was just a deteriorating background. But here’s the real story. These rather static figures went out of fashion when the more realistic figures of the Renaissance arrived. The gold leaf was too precious just to discard with the old paintings so they scraped it off and used it again. The orange paint was the underlay for the gold leaf.

Saints on a previously gold background

Here is a painting by Jacopo Bellini, the father of Giovanni Bellini. In Venice we will see the younger Bellini’s fabulous triptych at the Frari. In it the Madonna appears to be practically stepping out of the frame. In this much earlier picture by Jacopo you can begin to see the elements of the son’s later style. The Christ child looks as if he is leaning forward to escape his mother’s arms.

Jacopo Bellini’s Madonna and Child

Finally here is my absolute favorite of the day, Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus. I love the realistic everyday people that Christ and his followers have become in this painting. Christ blesses bread while the others look on wondering what he is doing.

Caravaggio’ Supper at Emmaus

Now we head off to lunch. We settle on the Mo’Puglia Bistrot which has been recommended by someone on Facebook. It is pretty good.

After lunch we catch a cab, pick up our luggage and head to the train station for a train to Florence. The high speed train to Florence takes less than 2 hours. It is comfortable and quick and seems like a good time for Sarah and I to nap.

We are renting apartments in Florence right in the center of the old town. We have stayed here before and except for the terrible wifi that we hope they can fix tomorrow, everything is great.

Our living room in the Prisco apartment

We have a nice kitchen with a great gas stove

Looking across the hall to Sarah’s little apartment

Sarah’s living room

Sarah and I make a quick run down the street to pick up some staples. Sarah is charming talking to the shopkeeper in her rudimentary Italian. Our little neighborhood has it all. Within a block or so are a bakery, butcher, deli, tavern, and restaurant. We head down to the restaurant, Trattoria Marione for dinner. Afterward we head back upstairs and allow our thoroughly jet lagged selves some sleep.

March 12, 2017 – Celebrating Nathan’s 11th birthday

Nathan with cake and Jonathan

Nathan, Jon, Sarah, John and I have a festive birthday dinner at Amici’s after the guys have gone to the movies to see Batman: A Legos Movie. We have pizza and a celebratory piece of cake. Nathan is really growing up and joins in the family banter. He is getting so tall. His next goal is to be taller than Ryan, Leigh, and me.  He doesn’t have too far to go! Plus he is also becoming very handsome. Happy Birthday, Nathan!

March 5, 2017 – Too much water everywhere

In February we discovered a puddle on our floor in the dining room.  It has been raining here A LOT and the water had infiltrated somewhere on the roof and was dripping down the inside of our dining room window. We hadn’t noticed it before but apparently from the paint damage, dripping drops had been going on for a while.  So we called someone to fix it. After a couple of tries we decided it must be fixed and left for St. George on a Saturday and arrived on Sunday. Taking a shower we discovered that our shower which we thought had been fixed was still leaking.

Water leaking from the shower into the dining area

So we arranged to meet with our contractor on Monday to hash out the situation. In the meantime it started raining in California again.  Monday morning we get a text from Sarah saying that the roof is leaking again. Oh no! We quickly reset our meeting with the contractor for the morning, go talk to him (the shower guy had never come to fix the showers), get the car gassed up and leave Monday afternoon to return to our leaky roof problems in California. We were in Utah for less than 24 hours!

Hopefully the roof is finally fixed. At least we think so because here’s what is happening today!

Hail on I-680 near Pleasanton

February 11, 2017 – Hookslide Concert

Today Hookslide sang at the Willow Glen Middle School in San Jose. They are terrific! This is one in a series of concerts and workshops they do with area schools to promote the arts.  All the proceeds except for expenses go to the schools.  The kids, judging by the reaction of the audience, had a great time. We did too!

Hookslide in concert at Willow Glen school

January 28, 2017 – Jonathan turns 40!

There is no way that I can be the mother of someone who is 40 but I guess it just happened while I was not looking. The whole family went out to the Fish Market in Palo Alto. I got to sit next to the birthday boy. I forgot to take pictures but here’s one that I posted on Facebook on the day. It is from when he was 10 months old. He looks a little concerned!

Jonathan at 10 months old


January 13-24, 2017 – A visit to St. George in the winter

John and I decided to get away from all the rain in California by going to Utah where mostly it rained and was cold. Oh well, it was a nice break and we met with our contractor to work out the details of the bathroom renovation.  Mostly, though, we stayed inside and cooked, or did puzzles, although we did manage to play tennis on a couple of days when the temperature got almost all the way to 50F.

Pictures are mostly of various dinners we made.

Here are a few more pictures which are mostly not about food.

Not food, just a picture of the kitchen

Sarah and her friends at the Women’s March in Oakland. I found out too late that there was one in St. George

Artsy shot of chicken and rice curry with sand paintings

There was a lot of snow in the mountains but none made it to the ground in SG

January 11, 2017 – Sam is eight!?

Today is Sam’s birthday! Since he will be having a large children’s party on the Saturday after his birthday and we will be in St. George, Sarah, John and I go over to Palo Alto for a special family party with gifts, cake, and pizza! The biggest present hit is an ant farm given to him by his Auntie Leigh. We have brought some gifts and cards along with the dinner and cake. Happy Eighth Birthday, Sam!

Sam and his ant farm

Sam opening cards and presents

Sarah lighting candles

Happy Eighth Birthday, Sam!