Bonus post – Bergen, Norway. 9/3/18

I did not think I would have time to write another post until we got home but I forgot about the five hour layover in Copenhagen. Plus the WiFi in Copenhagen airport is much faster than it was on the boat.

In Bergen we spend much of our time packing and getting ourselves together. We have to put our luggage out in the hall at 10PM tonight and so you have to plan what you need and what you can do without.  But we do have time for a little walk around Bergen and have a local lunch.

The first thing we see on our walk is a statue of Snorri Sturluson. Snorri Sturluson’s writings provide information about persons and events in Northern Europe during the 10th and 11th centuries. He grew up in Iceland and in his writings is information about the discovery of Vinland.

Snorri Sturluson

Passing by Snorri we take a look at St. Mary’s Church. We were interested in looking inside the last time we were in Bergen but inconveniently someone was getting married.

St. Mary’s Church, Bergen, Norway

The construction of the church is believed to have started in the 1130s or 1140s and completed around 1180, making this church the oldest remaining building in the whole city of Bergen. It was at least party destroyed a few times by fire but was always rebuilt.

Drawing of Bergen from 1580 with St. Mary’s Church (Item C)

Unfortunately no photos of the interior are allowed. There are some pictures on the internet though. It has a very fancy altarpiece which must pre-date the Reformation. It is all full of saints and decoration which would not have played well with the strict Lutherans. The Church was under the auspices of the Hanseatic League so escaped becoming a ruin.

Altarpiece of St. Mary’s (photograph by Morten)

There is also an interesting painting from 1676 which has a very Protestant point of view.

Protestant and Catholic praying

If you look closely at the figure on the right you will see a humble man. From his mouth you see a red line going directly to heaven. He is the Protestant. Next to him is a richly garbed man. His red line goes to the Virgin Mary and the saints. There also lines to interests-money, trade, revelry and more. We asked the woman at the desk about it and she told us it was to show that Protestants could talk directly to God while Catholics had to go through intermediaries and their attention was diverted to worldly matters.

After seeing the Church we head over to a favorite restaurant of ours, Bryggeloftet og Stuene. They are famous for their fish soup.

Delicious fish soup

John enjoying a Hansa beer

After lunch we walk along the historic district and enjoy the sunny-ish day. In Bergen it rains 5 out of every 7 days so we are lucky in the good weather.

Old Hanseatic buildings in Bergen

With our packing done we go down to the Chef’s Table for one last meal with all the people there that we have gotten to know. Tonight’s dinner has a Scandinavian theme.

Reindeer consommé with reindeer ravioli

Salmon five ways (really delicious)

Beet granita

Lamb with potato and cabbage (cabbage too strong)

Cloudberry soup with panna cotta and sesame ice cream with a sesame tuille

Then it is goodbye to everyone and off to bed because we have to get up at 2:30 AM!

Pining for the fjords. 9/2/18

Today we are in Eidfjord, a picturesque little town in fjord country. It is so small that there are no traffic lights and are ship parked in front of the hotel here totally blocks the view of the fjord for anyone staying at the hotel.

We take a short bus ride to Hardangervidda Nature Center to learn about fjords and the flora and fauna of the area.

Hardangervidda Nature Center

First we are treated to a short movie showing the beauty of the region and then we go out to explore the exhibits.

John communes with a moose

Across the street from the nature center is a restaurant and the requisite gift shop. They have a novel way of keeping the grass growing on the roof under control.

Goat on the sod roof of the restaurant/gift shop

Fall is coming to this part of the world.

Colorful leaves outside the nature center

On the way back the mountains are reflected in the fjord.

Mountains and fjord

We are back just in time for lunch! The World Cafe is quiet today because most of the excursions left later than ours. As usual we end our lunch with an oatmeal raisin cookie.

Oatmeal raisin cookies

There is not much to do in the town of Eidfjord and even less so today as it is Sunday. I take the time to catch up on my blogs, look out at the mountains and fjord, and concentrate my efforts to try to shake my cold before the long flight home.

We have a really big balcony and we put it to use watching the ship get ready to depart and photographing the beauty of the area as we depart.

Getting ready to cast off the lines

Goodbye little hotel! Sorry we blocked your view all day.

Leaving Eidfjord


Since our cabin is in the back we only see where we’ve been

We pass under this bridge. Both ends of the bridge connect to tunnels

Bridge behind us

John finally finds a waterfall. It has been so dry here that most of the water courses have no water in them

We think about going down to dinner but I really do not feel like getting dressed and eating fancy food. Plus I am trying not to infect my fellow passengers. So we order room service and I get a hot dog. It is weird.

Hot dog with super spicy mustard, ketchup (which I told them I did not want), and relish in a not-hot-dog bun

We go to bed early which is a good thing because around 12:30 AM the seas are so rough that things are clanging around and we are buffeted around for the next four hours.   We have to spend a portion of our time in the North Sea and it is way rougher than the Baltic Sea or the fjords.

P.S. The title of the blog today, Pining for Fjords, is a reference to the Monty Python sketch, The Dead Parrot.

Black gold. 9/1/18

As we pull into Stavanger, Norway a strange sign greets us.

Houston, Stavanger’s sister city

It seems that Houston is Stavanger’s sister city.  Truthfully the only place in Houston that I have been is the airport and that is not a fond memory. Well, maybe they are sister cities because they are both ports. However, the little port of Stavanger is nothing like the busy gulf port of Houston.

Maybe it is because they are both the fourth largest city of their countries. But there is hardly a comparison.
Houston, TX. Population: 2,296,224
Stavanger, Norway. Population: 121,610

No, they are sister cities because like Houston the oil industry is the backbone of Stavanger’s economy. In 1969, a new boom started as oil was first discovered in the North Sea. Stavanger was chosen to be the on-shore center for the oil industry on the Norwegian sector of the North Sea.

With our guide we take a walk around Stavanger.

Charming houses near the harbor from the time when fishing was the main industry

12th century cathedral

Canning museum

“Most colorful” street

Our last stop is the Oil Museum.

Oil Museum, Stavanger, Norway (stock photo)

Inside we learn all about the oil industry in Norway. There are displays about how oil is created, mock-ups of oil rigs, drill bits, and a rather bleak movie. In the movie the son of one of the original oil platform workers goes to visit his father after not speaking to him for twenty years. During the ride to his father’s cabin there are flashbacks to his childhood. He thinks about all the ways that oil has ruined their idyllic country life and made them want “things!” He also realizes that all the money that Norway has now also is a good thing bringing everyone in the country great security. The film ends with father and son sitting side by side looking out at nature and not speaking to each other.

For all the “we are the happiest nation” (which Norway says is them and not Denmark) they surely make some depressing films.

So Norway is busily raking in the 78% taxes on the oil profits while becoming more and more a green energy nation. They are not interested in using the oil but have no problem with selling it. Each Norwegian’s share of the profits works out to about 1.5 million NOK. (8 NOK to $1 USD). This sum is put into a trust for the good of the Norwegian people and a percentage is spent every year for their benefit.

Later we enjoy the sail away from our balcony.

Sailing away from Stavanger

Dinner tonight at the Chef’s Table. Our menu is called Xiang and is inspired by Cantonese and Huaiyang cuisine.

Amuse bouche – a gingery hot and sour soup paired with a Sauvignon blanc and semillon blend

First course – fried prawns with Gavi di Gavi from Piedmont Italy

main course – wok-fried beef with a Brazin zinfandel

On our own. 8/31/18

We decide today to go off on our own for the short time we will be in Aalborg. We are feeling the pressure of being herded around in groups where we only get to see a quick smorgasbord of what a town has to offer. It feels rather adventurous and slightly radical to duck the groupthink and act independently.

We head into town with the plan of catching a taxi out to the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art. Avoiding the tour groups we find a taxi with a pleasant driver who takes out to the museum.

Old town center in Aalborg, Denmark with Viking tour group on the left

The first thing that catches my attention is an outdoor installation of clothes apparently drying on clothes lines which give the impression of Tibetan prayer flags. The point of the prayer flags is not to send prayers to the gods but to send positive messages out to people everywhere. I am feeling pretty positive that this is the right place for us to visit today.

Outdoor installation at Kunsten Museum called Bird on a Wire by Katrina Kaikkonens

Inside we are met by the pleasant ticket seller who gives us the low down on the art and its arrangement in the museum. On our way to see the exhibit, The Power of Color, we stop to admire a painting by Max Ernst, a co-founder of the Surrealist movement in Paris in the early 20th century. These birds on a dark background have a madonna and child vibe to them.

Bonjour Satanas, Max Ernst, 1928

The main indoor exhibition is named The Power of Color. The premise being that without color there is no art and that art can be distilled down to formless works of pure color and still communicate with the viewer.

I wish I had taken a picture of the information plate next to this painting. It reminds me a lot of the work of a friend of ours work. The faces morphing into petals and the splashes of color are very reminiscent of Alison Kendall’s works.

From the exhibition The Power of Color

27 Problems, John Korner, 2005

I really enjoy this sculpture done by French American Artist Niki de Saint-Phalle who has made these colorful creations called the Nana sculptures. I could swear I have seen this Big Nana somewhere as a logo to an event or tourism.

Big Nana, Niki de Saint-Phalle

Another favorite is Two Watchers V by Lynn Chadwick, 1967. It reminds me of the Three Sisters (or Gossips) rock formation in Arches National Park.

Here are a couple more we enjoy –

Saint George and the Dragon, Olaf Rude, 1918

#20 Chinese Girl

Finally as we are walking out we see out the window a group of high school kids goofing around like kids anywhere (except maybe blonder.)

Danish school outing to the Kunsten Modern Art Museum

The nice lady at the desk calls a taxi for us and we are whisked back to the town center and after a stop at the local church we are back at the boat before it leaves without us. We have had a lovely morning on our own.

Later we have dinner at Manfredi’s, the very mediocre Italian restaurant. Everyone raves about it so there must be a lot of bad Italian food in their hometowns. I start with a Caprese salad thinking it will be a safe choice.

Caprese salad which tasted fine but way out of proportion

John likes his lemon and rosemary risotto especially with the addition of olive oil

My chicken Parmesan – big and dry

John’s mussels-sent the first lot back because they were way overcooked

But we have a nice chat with the restaurant manager and a couple glasses of grappa and finish a pretty good day.


Good day for mermaids. 8/30/18

We are in Copenhagen, Denmark where it is a good day for mermaids, and also for fish, ducks, and umbrellas. The weather has really been superb with no rain and temperatures in the upper 60’s and low 70’s during our trip. But today it is raining. We don our weather gear and go looking for the Little Mermaid.

Straight from the pages of Hans Christian Anderson it is the Little Mermaid forever gazing towards land looking for her prince.

We spend the next two and a half hours with Sherman, our guide, as he walks us around Copenhagen and lets us in on the secret of why Denmark is the world’s happiest nation. Could it be their glorious past? They have a lot of statues reminding them of it.

This is a statue about the mythological founding of Zealand, the island where Copenhagen is situated. Swedish King Gylfi promised Gefion all the territory she could plow in one night figuring she would only be able to manage one acre. Crafty Gefion turned her sons into oxen and plowed up a lot of land which they threw into the sea creating Zealand. The hole became Lake Varnen in Sweden which is about the same size and shape as Zealand.

Gefion driving her four oxen sons to plow the land for Zealand

And then there are the statues of former Fredericks.

King Frederick V who spent so much money that he had to keep having wars to grab land from Sweden that he could sell back to them

King Frederick IX who started the welfare state and encouraged women to have a place in the work force

Finally sometimes it is good to put up a statue to remind you that you (Denmark) did some terrible things in the past that you wish to atone for. This statue of the slave, Queen Mary, was erected this year.

I am Queen Mary is a depiction of a female slave who started a rebellion on St. Croix (at that time under Danish rule) in 1878. Even though slavery was outlawed in 1792 it continued in the Caribbean well into the 19th century.

Sherman tells us that the Swedes are their sworn enemies. It seems like Sweden and Denmark have been feuding for years. Really? It is hard to tell all these blond people apart. Even though Sherman tells us that Denmark has become very good at surrendering, we can see traces of their militarism.

Changing of the guard at the Queen’s palace

Look! A cannon and a windmill at their Citadel

Finally here are some army personnel standing at attention after riding their bicycles to headquarters

Maybe churches make them happy? Denmark is mostly Lutheran although not so many people attend services.

Marble Church which isn’t really marble because King Frederick V did not have enough money to finish it

Alexander Nevsky Russian Orthodox Church built in the late 19th century because Princess Dagmar married the tsar-to-be Alexander

As we wind up the morning tour we must face the fact that although they pay 50% of their income in taxes in exchange for free health care, generous maternity/paternity leave, free higher education (actually the government pays you to go to college), job retraining if you quit a job you don’t like, old age pensions, liveable wages, etc. they are not miserable. In fact they are the happiest nation in the world.

During our afternoon tour we find some other reasons they are happy, great food! John and I take the Food Lovers tour which centers around the Copenhagen Market. The guide gives us so many treats that it is hard to swallow them fast enough.

At the end of today we are feeling pretty happy too!

Revelations. 8/29/18

Today instead of taking the train to Berlin we opt for a simpler and shorter outing to Rostock. It is not so much the place that is memorable but a person, our guide, Johannes. He is a graduate student in modern German language and history at Rostock University.

Johannes at the Rostock city wall

City gate with Prussian Pomeranian coat of arms

Johannes’s family has lived in the Mecklenburg/Pomerania area for centuries and they have experienced a lot of history. He is very forthcoming about his family’s role in Nazi Germany. Some of his great-grandparents were Nazis, even higher level Nazis. He told a story of one relative of these great-grandparents who was killed because she was handicapped in some way. When Johannes objected to it, they said that it was too bad that their professor was no longer living because he would have been able to explain it better. In other words, they had no problem with it.

His grandfather who is still living was recruited into the Nazi army when he was 17.  He has a diary that he wrote of his experiences while in the army that he will not let his family read until he is dead. Johannes is hoping to use this diary to write a book about how it was to be a 17 year old conscripted Nazi soldier.  He told us people only talk about their roles in Nazi Germany within their families although it is changing with the younger generation.

As we walk through the pretty reconstructed town of Rostock his commentary puts a dark edge on the scenes.

Pretty reconstructed Main Street of Rostock

Johannes remarks that Germans are masters of building new things to look old.

Only original facade to survive in Rostock

Rostock was part of East Germany. As we drive into the city the suburbs have many Soviet style apartment blocks still standing. Most Soviet statues have been pulled down although there is still a Soviet fountain in the middle of town.

Soviet Happy Family fountain

Since it is a lovely day we decide to stay in town and have lunch. We can make our own way back. We thank Johannes for his frank discussion about Nazi Germany and head into the city government square. Since we are both still having cold symptoms we need to find a pharmacy for cold medications. Rats Apotheke should do the trick.

Rats Pharmacy

Then it is off in search of some lunch. We are hoping for “wurst und kraut und bier” but settle for beer, French fries, and a curry dog. Curry dogs seem to be all the rage in Northern Germany.

Big beer!

Smaller beer

This curry dog must be 18” long! And it is swimming in this awful sweet sauce. There is a sprinkling of curry powder on the veal sausage. I try to eat the ends where there is less sauce. This is a bad experiment!

Worst Currywurst

We buy a ticket for the tram and then transfer onto the S-bahn which takes us back to ship. (It is always a little scary to take transportation that you are not sure whether it will take you where you need to go.) It is a good deal for 2 euros.

Later we have dinner at the Chef’s Table where the theme is Sweet and Salty.

First course Scallops with beets and passion fruit sauce

Entree, Veal medallions

G’day from Gdansk. 8/28/18

NOTE: John tells me that some of the pictures are reversed or upside down on his laptop. Everything looks fine on my iPad. So sorry if this is happening, I do not know how to fix it.

We drop anchor here in Gdynia at around 6 AM and our tour needs to leave at 6:45 AM. We have only a short time here in this area as the ship leaves again at 1 PM and the port where we are anchored, Gdynia, is an hour bus ride from Gdansk. Why all the leading “Gd”s? “Gd” means the place is marshy much like Marshfield, MA must be a marshy field place. John is quite excited to be in Poland since he is half Polish and half Polish Jewish  and is only second generation in the U.S.

Our guide is a chipper older lady who knows a lot about Gdansk, architecture, and history. She lived through the Soviet times and is so excited about having tourists and especially about the many new shopping malls. (I want to tell her that brick and mortars are dying but do not want to burst her bubble.)

Our walking tour takes us from the Golden Gate to the Green Gate along the Long Market Street.

Golden Gate, 1588. Left to right three crests are Prussian, Polish, and Gdansk

Here is a fact I did not know. The original Prussians ethnically were not Germans. They were Slavic Poles and Lithuanians. There was also a large contingent of French Huguenots.

Here is the original gate to the city which is now an amber museum.

Old city gate

When I say old city gate, I mean reconstructed old gate. Gdansk was bombed to smithereens during WWII.

Photos of Gdansk, 1945

And here is what the picture on the left looks like today –

Reconstructed Gdansk

And here is the modern view of the picture on the right –

Gdansk, 2018

Here is an interesting political development in modern Poland. A right-wing party was voted into power recently and there is a large segment of the population who are very upset about it, including our guide. She says people are slipping away from democracy. In protest these liberal groups have been putting T-shirts on monuments with a constitutional slogan.

Neptune in the protest T-shirt with the town hall behind him

Next we have a demonstration about amber and how to tell whether amber is real or not. Real amber, unlike plastic, floats. Real amber can burn like a candle. Or you can trust a merchant who has the “real amber” certificate in their store (such as this one.) So actually the whole amber thing is a shopping opportunity.

Amber demonstration

Since our shopping opportunity is supposed to last half and hour John and I go out into the square and look at some archival photos of Gdansk. We also take selfies.

Selfie with Gdansk background

Now it is time for pierogi making. Yay! We are all ushered into a restaurant where we don plastic aprons and are given a bunch of dough and filling. After a demonstration we are on our own!

How to make pierogis

John making a pierogi

John is happy with the finished product. It must be in his genes!

Best part, though, is that once our group is finished making a whole lot of pierogis, the chef takes them away, cooks them, and we sit down to a pierogi feast. They are stuffed with a seasoned, minced pork and are really good!!

Finished pierogis

After a little more walking around we go to a place called Goldwasser. There we will taste a mighty spirit that has actual flecks of gold in it. Plus we get some snacks to go with it.

Goldwasser with some traditional Polish snacks

On the way out we have a surprise gift! Each of us gets a small bottle of Goldwasser!

Our present of Goldwasser, you can see the flecks of gold in it!

It is almost noon and time to get back to the ship since we have an early afternoon departure. I spend some time washing out some items and taking a nap. We head down to the port talk about going to Berlin the next day. After listening to the port talk about the 3 hour un-air conditioned train ride in each direction and becoming increasingly concerned about our stamina for such a thing since we both have colds, we decide to pull the plug on going to Berlin and opt for a gentler tour to Rostock tomorrow.

Later we have dinner in Manfredi’s, the Italian restaurant on the ship. Tonight’s dinner is more successful than our last foray there. Here are some of things we had –

I start with a carpaccio

John has pasta fagioli

I have what is supposed to be a spicy pasta but is not

John has porchetta which he says is great (much better than the one we made at home)

Looking forward to our visit to Germany tomorrow!

We are all at sea. 8/27/18

In crossword puzzles the answer to the clue “confused or bewildered” is “at sea.” But here on the ship being at sea means that we are stopping at no ports.  So it is a good time to sleep in, hand wash a few things, and go to a couple of talks in the Star Theater where we are always entertained while waiting with 50’s music. Most of the people on the boat are in their 60’s and 70’s and were not bopping to “Throw Momma from the Train a Kiss” when they were teens.

And, of course, eating is a main activity on an at sea day.

I take a picture of our room service breakfast and my lunch but I will spare you.

Here is the view from the front of the boat.

View of at sea day

We go to the Port Talk for tomorrow which is Gdansk . We learn that Gdansk was 90% destroyed in WWII and has now been rebuilt to look as it was. I am wondering if this will be a Gdansk World kind of experience.

Then later we go to a talk about the Bayeux Tapestry which we have seen when traveling in France a few years ago. It is a 70 meter piece of linen embroidered with the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings and William the Conqueror’s ascension to the English throne in 1066. The fellow talking is very informative and has interesting graphics which he stands in front of the whole time he is talking. So that is a bit frustrating.

Afterwards John gets a negroni sbagliato which is like a regular negroni but substitutes champagne for the gin and club soda. I have a sip. It’s pretty tasty.

John with a negroni sbagliato

Our dinner tonight is Venice Carnival at the Chef’s Table. With the exception of the main course the rest of the dishes are red-ish in honor of the Venetian painter Carpaccio whose paintings featured a bright red.

We start with roasted pepper and tomato jelly with a goat cheese latte foam. It is tasty but more in a gazpacho way. The restaurant is slammed tonight and I think the jelly has sat out too long and turned into soup.

Roasted pepper and tomato jelly

Next we have the eponymous Carpaccio. We get some sea salt and olive oil to put on it. I think we improved it.


Next we have a palate cleanser of peach juice foam which they call a Bellini. Meh.

For the main course we have a cod fillet with Jerusalem artichoke risotto and a tartufo foam. It is very good.

Cod sitting on a bed of Jerusalem artichoke risotto wrapped with a Parmesan tuille and covered with a truffle cream

Going to Gdansk, Poland tomorrow!


Soviet Flashback. 8/26/18

Today we are in Tallinn, Estonia. John has recuperated a little and I am only a little sick at this point. Ah, Viking cruises, on four cruises we have four units of sickness. When we travel on our own we are rarely sick. Maybe we should either stay home or only travel on our own.

Anyway, Tallinn is a lovely town with lots of medieval buildings. We do a walking tour with Eneken, a very tall Estonian. One thing we learned from listening to The History of English podcast is that Estonians are not related to Latvians or Letts who are Slavs. Estonians originated from around Siberia and split into three distinct groups after they crossed the Urals-some went to Finland, some to Hungary, and some to Estonia. So their languages are similar.

Lower town of Tallinn

Eneken tells about the school system where children are taught four languages, Estonian, English, Russian, and German. Tallinn is about 30% Russian, a holdover from Soviet days. Russians are made up of modern Russians and Soviet Russians. The older generations still hold suspicions of each other. The Soviets (makes clear that it is not Russians) deported thousands of Estonians to Siberia due to un-Soviet thoughts. Estonia only free since 1991 and the populace seems very patriotic.

Tallinn town square

During our first free time, John stops into a bar where…

he gets a beer for the traditional picture.

During our second free time and because we are not sure there will be enough time to eat lunch we stop at the Peppersack for a snack and bathroom break.

Medieval Peppersack

Pizza pastry

We get back to the ship with about 45 minutes turnaround until our next outing, Soviet Flashback.  We walk back down the long pier and encounter a vintage Soviet bus.

John with vintage bus

This excursion is a tongue in cheek look at life in Soviet Estonia. Our “General” lines us up and checks our passports and makes us march around the bus in an exaggerated fashion. He is quite funny.

Our Soviet General

On the bus he shows us pictures of Katyusha rockets and his beloved leaders, Stalin and Brezhnev, and we applaud. Then we all have a shot of vodka and a gherkin.

General with rocket pictures

After pulling into a parking lot we de-bus and he gets serious and talks about his experiences. His grandfather was deported to Siberia and our guide had to hide in the forest to avoid being drafted by the Russian army where he would have gone to fight in Afghanistan.

Relating poignant moments

After the liberation he worked with the Peace Corp. volunteers where he learned, among other things, John Denver’s Country Roads. We all sing together on the way back.

Singing Country Roads on the way back to the ship

We have a great time on our Soviet Flashback tour and now have a couple of hours until dinner. Amazingly we stay awake. I guess we are over jet lag.

Dinner tonight at the Chef’s Table is called “La Route des Indies” and is centered around spices. It is a really tasty dinner.

I am including a picture of our sesame and curry roll because I did such a good composition

Our Amuse Bouche is a carrot and cardamom cream with a Garofoli Komaros, Marche, Italy

First course is a delicious tuna tataki served with Portuguese Vinho Verde

Palate cleanser ginger and tarragon granita

Main course beef tenderloin with warm spices, mushrooms and purple potato purée with an Australian Shiraz/cabernet

Finally an apple tarte tatin with an Italian Moscato and a dollop of ice cream

The Russians are Coming. 8/24/18

Today we have a BIG day. We need to be ready to go at 8 AM for the lengthy process of getting off the boat and through immigration into Russia. The humorless border agents take a long time looking at each person’s passport and giving out provisional visas. However, after about an hour of rigamarole we are on our bus and heading into downtown St. Petersburg for our tour of the Hermitage.

Even though the museum does not open until 10:30 and it is 9:30, there are scads of people waiting on line in the huge Palace Square.

Palace Square with Alexander Column topped by an angel with a cross and surrounding Hermitage buildings

ALERT! I went to a lot of trouble putting in Cyrillic characters in this next section and now I see they have come out as question marks. I am not taking out my original text.

Nothing to do while waiting in interminable lines to get into the Hermitage? Why not have a ??? ????That’s hot dog to you non-Cyrillic readers. (At last a use for my three years of college Russian!)

??? ??? (hot dog) stand offering ????? ??? (French dog) or even a ??????? ??? ??? (Bolshoi hot dog)

We have tickets that let us in early. But lots of people also have these tickets and we are shuttled from one line to the next.

Early admittance lines

Inside the interior courtyard waiting in another line

It is now 10 AM but even this half hour head start means that there will be fewer people angling for a look at the masterpieces. As someone who has been here when there is no advantage, it is much less crowded.

So we have about an hour and forty-five minutes to look with time out for bathroom breaks. Our guide tells us that if you went to the Hermitage every day and looked at each piece of art for one minute during opening hours it would take eight years to look at everything. So you get an idea of how few items we can look at for less than a minute. It is a little frustrating.

Here are some things that we see –

First we walk down a hall full of czars and czarinas and wives of czars. Then there is a hall with famous generals. Next are fancy reception and throne rooms. One room has a gold peacock clock which has mechanical movement and opens its tail (but not today.) You can click through for bigger renditions if czars are your thing.

We are hurried through the medieval and early Renaissance paintings because we must get to the da Vinci paintings. I am sad that we cannot tarry at the art that I love. The Madonna and Child Enthroned reminds me of the Maesta at the Uffizi. I take a quick detour and snap a few pictures.

Madonna and Child Enthroned, Sienese artist, 1320-1325

The Annunciation by Filippino Lippi

The two da Vinci paintings are lovely Madonna and Child works. The early one has the BVM looking barely old enough to have a child. It is very crowded and the light from the windows reflects off the glass covering the paintings. Our guide says we should not try to take pictures and just get the image from the internet later but there is something about taking your own pictures.

Madonna Benois (Madonna and Child with Flowers) Leonardo da Vinci

Attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, Madonna Litta, 1490

Next we hurry by a Michelangelo sculpture, The Crouching Boy, 1530-1534. Perhaps my picture should be titled Boy Crouching While Americans Don’t Look at Him.

Crouching Boy, Michelangelo, 1530-1534

Now if we can just wait another ten minutes until the bathroom break we can see a Caravaggio and then the Rembrandts.

Caravaggio, The Lute Player, 1596

The Hermitage has a fabulous collection of Rembrandts. While the guide talks I walk around looking for a couple of my favorites.

Rembrandt’s painting of his wife as the goddess, Flora, 1634


It is around noon and after our promised bathroom break we walk across Palace Square to the new section of the Hermitage holding Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings. People are beginning to ask when we will have a little sit down and lunch. Not until 2 PM says our guide.

I ask John if he is having trouble with allergies because he has been sneezing a lot. No, he says, I have a cold. DANGER! DANGER! Not only do I not want John to be sick but I got pneumonia on a Viking River Cruise. I do not dare get sick. Right now, though, it is just my knee that is troubling me. It has been hurting since I fell in Oslo. We have been going up and down a lot of stairs today. I am having trouble bending it.

Nevertheless we soldier on. The Hermitage has a large collection of Impressionist paintings. There were two citizens of Imperial Russia that had large collections starting from the beginning of the movement. When the  Revolution came in 1917 the Soviet government kindly expropriated the collections and put them in the Hermitage. So most of the art they have was created before 1917.

Here are a few I liked –

Claude Monet, Seine at Asnieres,1873

Camille Pissarro, Boulevard Montmartre in Paris, 1897

Table in a Cafe, Pablo Picasso, 1912

Dance, Henri Matisse, 1910

So now it is 1:30 PM and we finally get back on the bus to ride to the Storage Facility for the Hermitage. Only about 10% of the entire collection is in the display rooms of the Hermitage the rest of it is in this state-of-the-art storage and restoration facility. But first we have lunch in the canteen.

At this point my phone punks out because it has been surreptitiously updating itself and I cannot get back to taking photos until I go through some protocol that needs WiFi. So I cannot show you our delicious (sarcasm) lunch which was done in color-blocking that Mondrian would be proud of. We had dark red borscht, a plate of white meat chicken in a white sauce with white rice, and a dark brown chocolate muffin with chocolate chips. It was the reddest, brownest, whitest meal I have ever had.

We are not allowed to take pictures at the facility so let it suffice for me to say that we saw some old frescoes, fabulous antique clothing, a bunch of old furniture, and restored royal carriages.

Imperial carriages in the storage facility (photo from internet)

We are pretty tired out by the time we get off the bus, go through immigration again, and head up to our room. We decide on room service and an early bed time tonight.




Finland, Finland. 8/23/18

Today we have a lovely day in Helsinki. I think I am going to have to put some of my pictures in a smaller format because I have so many pictures of food!!! Our excursion is a Taste of Finland! Unlike yesterday’s tour this one was much better with a personable docent and lots of great information.

Helsinki indoor marketplace

We start at the Old Market which is full of wooden stalls with lots of Finlandish taste treats. There are pastries, canned game, reindeer, and all sorts of fish.

We get to have a taste of smoked reindeer and this is followed by a sit down tasting of delicate gravlax and crawfish and chili mayonnaise on Swedish rye.

Crawfish in chili mayo and gravlax on rye

We have some time to look around on our own. John and I take the time to walk around the market but also have a little sit down with a cup of cappuccino.

Story is a coffee chain like our Starbucks

Then we venture to the outdoor market. There is lots for sale here. All sorts of fruit and vegetables, prepared foods, and items for the home. It is hard to imagine holding this fresh air market when the temperature is way below zero. Our guide tells us that sometimes when visiting dignitaries visit their president whose palace is right across the street he takes them to the outdoor market to sit and have a cup of coffee and a treat.

Outdoor market…

right across the street from

President’s palace.

The outdoor market is a wonderland of berries and mushrooms plus cooked items, clothing, and housewares.

All sorts of berries

Chanterelles and porcini

Finland is 70% forest and 20% lakes. The Finnish people are allowed to go foraging and fishing for no fee everywhere.

We now have some free time to look around the market and the surrounding area. We go to the Town Hall (free bathrooms!), the Presidential Palace, and the Uspenski church which used to be Orthodox when the Russians were in control here.

After meeting up again with our party we walk to Senate Square and either the square is so big or the population of Helsinki so small that everyone can fit in it. There is a statue to Czar Alexander II because he was nice to the Finns and let them have some autonomy. The Helsinki Lutheran Cathedral is also here.

Helsinki Cathedral in Senate Square

We board our mini-bus and take off for a short tour of the city when our guide realizes she has left two people behind. This is the second day in a row that our tour has lost people. After a while they are found and we hurry back to the boat.

Dinner tonight is at the Chef’s Table where we further ingratiate ourselves by talking about Croatia with the Croatian manager. John actually hints that he may be a distant cousin of the owners of Pilato Winery. We have no shame but now we do have a standing invitation to eat at Chef’s Table. Mission accomplished.

Dinner tonight is Asian Panorama. Here are some of the dishes –

Chilled King Crab with coconut foam paired with a Ponte Prosecco Trevino

Lobster and Chicken Shu Mai plus a Tuscan La Pettegola

Peking duck wrapped in an egg pancake. We change their suggested wine to a Villa Santera Primitivo

On to Russia tomorrow!

Viking Life. 8/22/18

We start today with some breakfast room service which allows us to avoid the crowded early morning food scene. The food come like a big puzzle all fit into a large tray.

Breakfast tray

Today is our first excursion and we are supposed to learn about Viking life. One thing I notice here in Scandinavia is that they try very hard to paint Vikings as explorers and adventurers rather than marauders. We get on our bus and fight through a lot of morning traffic to Viking Aliv! which is kind of a hokey Viking theme attraction.

Approaching Viking Aliv

At Viking Aliv we see mock ups of Vikings, Viking houses, Viking food, etc.

Guide pointing out a (not real) rune stone

Statue of a Viking

A few things we do learn are that the word “window” comes from the Vikings. Their homes had no chimneys, just a triangular eye at each end for the wind to pass through or “wind eye” which morphed into window.

Diorama of Viking house

Two other factoids are that Viking sails were woven of wool and that Viking helmets had nose pieces but no horns. The German composer, Wagner, was the inventor of horned Viking helmets.

Hornless Viking helmet

We also go on a ride through a Viking story, Ragnfrid’s Saga, which tries to be Disneyesque but fails.

From there we go to an actual Swedish history museum where we see real rune stones, burial sites, and gold ornamentation of the Vikings.

Real rune stone

Actual gold necklace rings and helmet

We would have liked to stay longer but our time is shortened due to the fact that our leader has miscounted heads and left someone behind at Viking Aliv! and we have to go back and pick her up.

Finally we go to a restaurant, Sjatte Tunnan, in Gamla Stan, the old town, which is kind of a pretend Viking dining hall. We have a glass of mead and a pate that is made in the shape of a pear with a lingonberry sauce. It is pretty tasty!

Meat pate in the shape of a pear and lingonberry sauce

We get back in time for the mandatory safety drill and a quick lunch before we head off through the Stockholm archipelago.

John tries a new lunchtime beer


The archipelago is quite lovely with small islands with summer homes upon them. We do some relaxing on our deck and watch the world go by. Until tomorrow morning we will be steaming our way to Helsinki, Finland.

Stockholm receding in the distance

Islands and summer homes

John relaxing on our deck

Tonight for dinner we are going to the other of the Viking Seas’s premium restaurants, Manfredi’s. We have a mostly bad meal. The positive things I can say are that the bread is very good, once he got past the errant bones John’s sea bass is good, and the dessert we make for ourselves, Parmesan with honey, are all good. Here are some pictures –

Good bread!

Tough calamari and shrimp with shells (I tried eating a bite with the shell on, not good)

John’s semi-boneless sea bass with fregola

Mary’s very Marsala veal Marsala with tired asparagus and not crispy potatoes

Dessert we made up for ourselves – slivers of Parmesan cheese and honey plus grappa!

Slow train ride to Stockholm. 8/20/18

Our train this morning leaves at 5:56 AM but it is no problem because John and I have been up since 2:30 AM. Oh, jet lag (shaking my fist!) We leave the hotel in plenty of time (5:10 AM) to find our train at the station which is just across a plaza from our hotel. We arrive on the platform at 5:20. Better early than late! Around 5:30 the train rolls in.

John watches as the train rolls in

Finally at about 10 minutes to 6:00 they allow us on the train. It is pretty packed. The train takes a little over 5 hours to get to Stockholm. Oslo and Stockholm are only 250 miles apart so the train averages less than 50 mph. However the train is equipped with WiFi so I finish my blog and do some puzzles. We also get a little boxed breakfast with wooden utensils.

Bread, kefir, muesli, apple juice and ham and cheese in the train breakfast box

Shortly after 11:00 AM we are in Stockholm. Our hotel is very near to the train station and they have a room that we can have right away.

Our very Scandinavian room at the Radisson Blu Waterfront Hotel

The view out our window

After getting ourselves settled and trying not to fall asleep we head out to Gamla Stan, the oldest section of Stockholm (the island pictured on the left above.) John is super vigilant that I not fall down today.

We have chosen Matgatan for lunch today. It is highly rated on Yelp! Even though there is zero ambiance and the stools we sit on are super-uncomfortable, the food is quite good. We each order the pulled pork “burger” that comes with cole slaw and crispy potatoes. It is quite a bit of food. We should have split one order. Even John cannot eat it all. He must still be full from our train box.

John in traditional beer pose

Pulled pork, cole slaw, and crispy new potatoes

After lunch we walk around for a while but it is Monday and as is typical in Europe almost all museums and attractions are closed. We try to find a church to look at but strike out. Since we are both really tired we head back to the hotel around 3:00 PM.

Narrow street in Gamla Stan

The House of Nobility in Gamla Stan

As we enter the hotel we notice that their restaurant is the RBG Bar and Grill. Any restaurant named after the Notorious RBG will be our landing spot for a drink later today.

The RBG Bar and Grill

As it turns out we are really tired since we got up so early and not hungry so we make coffee and tea in the room and have an early night. Here is hoping that we will sleep better tonight.

Boarding the ship tomorrow!


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.







Munch, lunch, and more – Oslo. 8/18/18

After a really abysmal night’s sleep we are excited to start our first full day in Oslo. We start with the hotel’s very large and free breakfast buffet. While John eats herring of all sorts and drinks copious amounts of coffee, I settle for a more traditional European breakfast known to us as lunch for breakfast.

Little hot dogs, salami, bread with delicious butter and salad with beets

After breakfast we walk about outside to test the weather (upper 50’s and threatening rain) and see some sculptures that are nearby.

John asking a jolly looking man for directions but only gets a stony gaze

I help out a very tall man by holding his hand to cross the street (everyone here is VERY tall, btw)

We don’t know what this is but John needs his picture taken next to it

A sculpture from the hotel lobby is of a naked woman embracing a man who appears to be floating in a coat and hat

We walk over to the train station and buy a 24-hour pass for all transportation modes. Being senior citizens gets us almost half off! We take the T-bane to the Munch Museet where we see an all-Munch exhibition that has been shown recently in San Francisco and NYC.

John outside Munch Museet

One of the first paintings we see is Puberty. It is a touching painting of a young girl entering puberty looking afraid and vulnerable. The bed plays a large part in many of Munch’s paintings. It is a transitional piece between life and death, health and sickness, and in the following painting childhood and adulthood. Other themes are smell and shadows.

Puberty, 1894

Here in Death Struggle the bed plays a significant role again. The colors behind the mourners’ heads turn from wallpaper into their own emanations. The blanket covering the dying person is red or is it blood?

Death Struggle, 1915

This next painting shows a weeping mother with a deformed and sickly baby. The baby has inherited syphilis. This painting crossed the line with critics of the day. Mostly, though, we take this photo because the baby looks like an alien.

Inheritance, 1897-99

In Red Virginia Creeper we see a house mostly in red. Is it fire, blood, the vine or just a nightmarish vision seen through the eyes of the man in the foreground?

Red Virgina Creeper, 1898-1900

Munch’s painting, Despair, is reminiscent of his most famous work, The Scream, which is not part of this exhibition but we will see it tomorrow at the National Gallery.

Despair, 1894

Finally, the exhibition’s eponymous work, Self Portrait. Between the Clock and the Bed, is from the end of Munch’s life. It is filled with the symbols of his work-the bed which is a transition to his death, a clock symbolizing the passage of time, the nude depicting sensuality and vulnerability, the bold colors, and Munch himself. (As an aside we now understand why our room at the hotel is decorated in turquoise and chartreuse.)

Self-Portrait. Between the Clock and the Bed, 1940-1943

It is getting late for lunch and it has started raining when we emerge from the T-bane.  John gets turned around and we head off in the wrong direction which leads to a little unhappiness. But we finally make it to Bacchus Spiseri & Vinhus for lunch. It is in old quarters, built in a bazaar which surrounds the Oslo Cathedral.

Quaint interior of Bacchus (from internet)

John has a favorite of his, mussels in cream and white wine with fennel

I opt for a Scandinavian style open-faced sandwich of shrimp, too much mayonnaise, and dill

Next we take a gander at the Oslo Cathedral, home to the Church of Norway which is an evangelical Lutheran sect.

Oslo cathedral

After the intensely decorated Italian churches we have seen, the Oslo Cathedral seems bare in comparison. Although there has been a church on this site since the 12th century the current one hails from the 17th century. There are some 19th century paintings on the ceiling and a Last Supper carving on the altar featuring a very large cooked lamb.

Ceiling paintings of the Nativity and the Flagellation

Close up of altar carving

After the cathedral we stand outside in the spitting rain which is getting stronger and try to decide what to do. Should we head back to the hotel and collapse or soldier on. I am achy and sleepy (not to mention the other dwarfs) and say I would like to go back to the hotel. John says in a relieved voice, I do too. It is late in the afternoon and we are very tired. No one is going to present us with a gold medal for sightseeing excellence so we head back to the hotel and promptly fall asleep.

Dinner tonight is in the bar again. It seems easiest. Tonight we have halibut ceviche and two scallops wrapped in bacon off the small plates menu. It is very tasty and bettter than last night’s selections.

Scallops wrapped in bacon and halibut ceviche

We will have plenty of time tomorrow when the weather is supposed to be very nice to see more of Oslo.

P.S. Munch and lunch do not rhyme.





Happy times traveling to Oslo. 8/16 and 17/2018

Leaving late in the day on Thursday means we do not arrive in Oslo until late Friday afternoon. We are flying SAS for the first time and it turns out to be pretty nice. We start out by being sent to the wrong security area so we have to backtrack and go through security twice! It is the first error of the journey to Oslo but I am resolved to allow ourselves some being stupid time. We just smile as both of us are selected for additional random scanning on our second pass through.

The next error is that the check-in person has written the wrong gate on our boarding pass. We arrive at a deserted waiting area. But no problem. We find the right gate before the doors close. Still smiling! The flight takes about ten hours during which we watch movies and eat mediocre airline food. The airline staff is unfailingly pleasant so that is a real plus!

John enjoying his welcome aboard champagne

We fly to Copenhagen first. On our second flight we are held up briefly on the tarmac due to thunderstorms in Oslo. We are crammed like sardines into the plane. I am trying not to touch my seating partner (who is not John!) We just grin and bear it.

Yay, touch-down in Oslo. We go to reclaim our luggage and manage to lose each other. John thinks I am in a restroom on the opposite side of the cavernous hall and stands patiently waiting for me to come out. I, in the meantime, come out cannot find him, pick up our luggage from the carousel, and finally find him still waiting patiently outside of the wrong restroom. He says he thought there was a really, really long line in the ladies room. Still smiling!

We catch the super convenient and reasonably priced train to Oslo center and head for our hotel which we can see from the train station. Luckily it is merely sprinkling rain for the short walk. Here is our comfortable although color-challenged home for the next three nights. It has a view of the harbor.

Turquoise and chartreuse room at the Thon Opera Hotel

We take showers and do what you are not supposed to do to beat jet lag, fall into a dead sleep. Neither of us have slept for about 25 hours.  We are awakened after two hours by John getting a phone call. Caller unknown. Ha, ha!

It is going on 9pm so we head downstairs, take a quick look around outside (it is quite chilly,) then we settle for a couple of small plates in the hotel bar with a beer.

John in traditional beer pose

Some calamari and a small minced lamb stuffed cabbage leaf

So now you would think we would be so tired that we would sleep well. Hah! First time up 11:30 pm then again at 3:30am. I have been up since then. It is now 5:30 am. But I am happy to have this time to write my blog. Still smiling!


Visit to Utah. 4/14-4/29/18

We enjoy a quiet couple of weeks in Utah. The first week is windy and rainy and limits what we can do but the second week the weather is beautiful.

Our first event is the battle with the geese. Since more of the houses around the pond are occupied full time, the geese have fewer choices to use as their bathroom facilities. Ours has become a favorite. We strike back with our Patriotic Goose Guard! This turns out to be a good deterrent but since we will have to take it down when we depart, we are hoping that the geese will be imprinted with “this is a bad place to go.”

Patriotic Goose Guard

Once John has cleaned off the goose poo from the patio and washed the windows we are all set to enjoy the view out the windows.

John washing windows

But what is this I espy? A giant swan in the pond! I am impressed with how enormous this bird is. I look up information on swans. They are the second largest migratory bird in North America (after some sort of pelican) with a wing span of 10 feet across. They are also nasty tempered and I decide not to go out and try to shoo it away.

Swan-zilla across the pond

The swan swims closer to check out the goose guard

Many of the plants in our yard are blooming. The cacti all around the neighborhood are putting on quite the show this year.

Coreopsis, flowering cactus, and some sort of succulent by our driveway

We have done A LOT of cooking while we are here including two “fancy” dinners.  Fried scallops is always a favorite of mine and the shrimp in saffron Pernod sauce is especially delicious.

Fried scallops with new potatoes and broccoli salad

Shrimp in saffron Pernod sauce served with brown rice and collards and corn

While we are outside cleaning and setting up our goose guard we meet our new next door neighbors Shaleace and Rocky Price. They suggest that we come to dinner the following Sunday. With some trepidation we accept and I make snickerdoodle cookies to take along. We figure that they are LDS so the simple solution of a bottle of wine is a no-go.

Snickerdoodle cookies

They stop by on Sunday to arrange a time and catch us in our sweaty tennis clothes with the house in mild disarray. It is rather embarrassing. They say to come at 5 PM and when we do, we all sit down and eat immediately. We chat with them and their children, Shantay, and Clayton, over chicken and ribs. When dinner is done it is obvious that it is time for us to leave. It’s 6:45. It is a little weird. We go home and have a post-dinner happy hour.

While we are in St. George our nephew Andy’s wife, Brittany, has her baby. They name him Harrison but he goes by Harry. Now there are two new babies. Mike and Becca’s Jack will be the slightly older cousin. They have a little get-together to introduce the babies to each other.

New members of the family, Jack and Harry. Jack is about two months older than Harry.

The rest of the second week is spent playing tennis and doing shopping. It seems like there is always another thing we need from some store. St. George is notorious for not having everything you want in one place. At the end of the week we manage to make a dish that uses up mostly everything left in the refrigerator, Mediterranean Seafood Soup.

Mediterranean Seafood Soup

On Sunday we make the long journey home. Recently I decided it is better to do the whole trip in one day. Now I am not so sure. We end up being pretty exhausted afterwards. One bright spot on the trip is a stop at Mojave Thai Cuisine where we enjoy Spicy Thai Basil Eggplant with Tofu. Yum, spicy and delicious! (And enough to bring some home for lunch.)

Mojave Thai Cuisine’s Spicy Thai Basil Eggpllant with Tofu

We will only be home for a few weeks before heading back to St. George. Jonathan, Nathan, and Sam are flying in on June 3rd for a week+ visit. Looking forward to it.

Final vacation day. 3/27/18

We have one last spectacular sight to see, the Monreale Cathedral. It is the best of all the mosaic-decorated churches rolled into one.  It was begun in 1174 by William II. From top to bottom it is full of glittering mosaics on gold backgrounds.

We leave the hotel in Palermo in the morning and make our way up the steep mountain to Monreale. I must give John a shout-out for a great driving job throughout our trip. He has negotiated the traffic, the narrow roads, the unpredictable driving habits of Italians, and my navigation without getting ruffled. While it is possible to see many of the sights we saw during our trip by public transportation, having a car gives you the flexibility to go a little off the beaten path and set your own schedule and agenda. After we see the Monreale Cathedral we will drive to the Palermo airport and say arrividerci to the car and Sicily.

Following are a bunch of pictures of the Monreale Cathedral. It is so huge that taking pictures is hard and enlarging them afterwards often makes them a bit fuzzy with dulled colors. In order to make sense of the visual onslaught we rented an audio tour to help us.

Monreale Cathedral

Close up of apse

Mary among angels and apostles

The Last Supper

Noah’s ark

The betrayal

Back wall

Biblical stories are told everywhere!

Now we need to kill some time before our flight to Rome. What better way than by having a leisurely lunch at Taverna del Pavone, a restaurant we have eaten at in the past.  As usual we start with salads and them move on to a main course.

Mary – tagliatelle with boar ragu

Sarah – spaghetti with bottarga

John inexplicably orders a plate of chicken. Perhaps he is pining for home.

Goodbye, Sicily

We fly to Rome and spend the night at an airport hotel. In the morning we make our way to London and then the long flight to SFO.

No matter how many times we have been to Italy, I am always looking forward to the next trip. See you in December, Italy!


Palermo, Day 2. 3/26/18

We have a lot scheduled today to make up for losing a day yesterday. We start by walking through an outdoor market on the way to the Palermo Cathedral. Sicily has fertile, volcanic soil and a great climate for growing everything. On the sides of the road and between sidewalk slabs there is fennel growing! Also, being an island, Sicily has wonderful fish and shellfish.

A type of cauliflower, artichokes, fennel fronds, and more

Fish and squid


We round a cornier and see the very Norman looking towers of the cathedral. They look a lot like the towers we saw in Cefalu.

Towers of the Palermo Cathedral

Palermo Cathedral is a mash up of building styles from different ages. It was begun in the 12th century but not finished until the 18th century.

Palermo Cathedral

The beautiful portico on the front hails from around 1500.

Portico entrance to the Palermo Cathedral

Inside any of the older components have been redecorated away. The most interesting thing is the meridian or solar observatory. A small hole was made in a minor dome and the image of the sun is projected on the floor. With this device they were able to fix the time of  the vernal equinox and to provide the correct date for Easter. The signs of the zodiac are a part of the instrument. Of course I take a picture of my sign, Sagittarius.

Solar observatory

My sign, Sagittarius

Lots of church helpers are scurrying around getting the church ready for Easter. We see a guy on a ladder with a long pole shining up some of the decorations.

Man on ladder attending to shining up decorations for Easter

From here we walk to the Palace of the Normans. Much like the Palermo Cathedral it is a building that was added to over the centuries starting with the Emir of Palermo in the 800’s. The building is the oldest royal residence in Europe, the home of the rulers of the Kingdom of Sicily and imperial seat of Frederick II and Conrad IV. But what everyone comes to see is the Palatine Chapel added by King Roger II in 1132. The chapel is a mosaic jewel with influences from Arabic, Byzantine, and Norman architecture and art.

Sarah in the gardens in front of the palace


Palatine Chapel

Back wall – Jesus with Peter and Paul

Creating Adam

Creating Eve (on the right)

St. Paul hiding in a basket

Islamic wall decoration

Hipster lion

Noah’s Ark

Every inch of the Palatine Chapel is decorated with sparkling mosaics. The mosaics were made in the 12th century but they look like they could have been created yesterday.

We look around the rest of the building which is interesting but really takes a backseat to the chapel with the exception of King Roger II’s Hall which is interestingly mosaiced with each mosaic being a mirror image.

Mirror-imaged mosaics in King Roger’s Hall in the Norman Palace, Palermo

Time for lunch! It is hard to escape the “tourist special” kind of restaurant when you are in this section of the old city. We finally decide on Antica Trattoria mostly because they did not accost us as we walk down the street. The lunch is so-so. After seeing the tremendous amount of pasta in a serving I decide on pizza – bad choice. Sarah’s lunch turns out best. She has cacio e pepe.

Sarah’s cacio e pepe

My not-so-good pizza margarita. John’s pizza was about the same except with pepperoni

After lunch we head to Martorana, another church with mosaics. Since no one has checked to see when it is open, we find that it is closed until 3:30 PM. I am somewhat annoyed that my companions never take the initiative to find out when things are open. I have left the planning of the day to them and now we are stuck with over two hours to kill. We stop at the Liberty Bar and Sarah and I have an afigato which is espresso with vanilla gelato. John has a caffe corretto which is espressos with grappa.

Afigato – we should have ordered the espresso and gelato separately because the gelato was a tiny scoop and melted too quickly

Since we cannot figure out how to kill the two hours left, we decide to go back to the hotel for a little rest. I decide to opt out of the long walk back to the church. I have seen it once before and my knee needs a rest. Sarah and John go and have brought back pictures of this little church which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and built in the mid-12th century.

Exterior of the Martorana

Church interior overview

Nativity scene mosaic

Mary death with Jesus carrying her soul to heaven

St. Joachim, Mary’s father

St. Anne, Mary’s mother

Dome mosaic

Two angels

Jesus crowning Roger II

All the buildings we have seen today are part of the same UNESCO World Heritage site that includes the Cefalu Cathedral. Tomorrow we will see the Monreale Cathedral which is the biggest example of this confluence of Byzantine, Norman, and Islamic art and architecture.

For dinner tonight we are going to Sapurito, Cucina Povera e Pizza. It belongs to the Slow Food Movment. We last ate at one of these restaurants in Pompeii . We hope this one will be as good. Turns out later I have some horrible distress from something I have eaten but I cannot say which of today’s foods is to blame.

We share an appetizer of fried artichoke

John has grilled squid that he really likes

Mary has involtini of veal (I think)

Sarah has an ancient grain pizza with pine nuts

We share a small dessert

Tomorrow (Tuesday) we are off to nearby Monreale to see the fabulous cathedral and then we head to the Palermo airport for a flight to Rome. On Wednesday we take the long flights home.