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!


John and Jonathan visit the Computer History Museum. 8/1/18

Post written by John

Jonathan and I finally were able to visit the Computer History Museum located in the old Silicon Graphics campus in Mountain View.  We had an outstanding few hours, bringing back many great memories.   Jon decided he would try to take pictures of me with some of the stuff I had actually used.

EAI Analog Computer

This is me with the first computer I actually programmed (Summer 1966 at a high school engineering institute at Northwestern University), an Electronic Associates (EAI) analog system.   It was programmed using patch cords and solved differential equations.  The mess of wires by my shoulder is actually a “program”.



Here is me not with a computer I used, but with books about my first high-level programming language, FORTRAN.  The rightmost book is Daniel McCracken’s A Guide to FORTRAN Programming, which was our text at MIT for the introductory programming course (Fall 1966).  At the top of the stack of books is a FORTRAN text in Russian!

Apollo Guidance Computer

During Fall of 1967 I had a short stint at the Instrumentation Lab at MIT.  This is where I learned industrial-strength IBM System/360 assembly language.  I helped develop tools to enable writing programs for the Apollo Guidance Computer.  That’s it at the top.  Less than two years later, it would be on the Moon.

Diablo Disk Drive

By 1972 I had started work at Data General Corporation writing code for the Nova (to be seen later in this post).  The disk drives that were attached to our machines were Diablo 31 units.  Each platter (shown sitting above the drive unit) was 14 inches in diameter and could hold a whopping 2.5 million bytes.

Family tree of programming languages

I used a lot of high-level languages (FORTRAN, Algol, LISP, Pascal, COBOL, PL/I, C, C++, BASIC…) and wrote compilers for some of them, most notably FORTRAN.  The exhibit on the family tree of programming languages was fascinating.

IBM 7094

Here I am standing with the operator’s console for the IBM 7094.  The first FORTRAN and assembly language (FAP) program I ever actually ran were for this machine at MIT in starting in 1966.  Within two years the System/360 had replaced the 7094 as the teaching vehicle.  Gotta love the earth tones, though.


The first minicomputer I actually programmed for real was the DEC PDP-8.  During the summer of 1971 I wrote some lab control software for the Materials Science department at Northwestern.  In the picture I am re-living the experience of entering the bootstrap loader program from the front panel switches.  Pain then, pain now.

Data General Nova

Next we come to the Data General Nova, the first minicomputer to sell for under $10K.  I wrote and managed a lot of software for the Nova and its successors, the Eclipse, the Eclipse MV (aka Eagle), FHP (aka Fountainhead) and AViiON from 1972 through 2002.

IBM 1130

Taking a step back in time, the is me in front of an IBM 1130.  The Civil Engineering department at MIT circa 1969 had one of these that was available for drop-in use.  Back then this was as close to personal computing as I could get.

Apple Lisa

Finally we jump to the late 1980s and the Apple Lisa.  We got one of these at Data General to try to understand what the next wave of desktop computing might be like.  Sad reflection:  Data General is no longer.  It was acquired by EMC, which was later acquired by Dell.  Apple is now a trillion-dollar behemoth.
Other highlights of the day:
Restored and working PDP-1 from MIT running Spacewar.
Restored and working IBM 1401 complex
Reconstruction of a section of Babbage’s Difference Engine
Displays on large early computers from ENIAC to SAGE.
Development of the IBM S/360 (esp. the Fred Brooks video)
A (non-working) Cray-1.
… and many more
Thanks so much, Jon!

Anniversary celebration, part two. 7/17/18

Today is the actual day of our anniversary. Yay, forty-six great years married and over fifty years since we met! Our final celebration will occur in August when we take a vacation to Oslo and then catch a ship to cruise the Baltic for a couple of weeks. Love all this celebrating!

John and I have modest plans for today. We are driving up to Sonoma Wine Country to visit Jacuzzi Winery, Imagery Winery, and have lunch at Tasca! Tasca! In downtown Sonoma.

We arrive at Jacuzzi Winery around 11 AM. First we are tasting some olive oil and getting our bottle refilled at The Olive Press. Tasting olive oil is as much fun as tasting wine. We choose Arbequina.

Jacuzzi Winery and The Olive Press (photo from internet)

Bulk delicious olive oils – bring back your bottle for a discount! (Photo from internet)

Next we visit Imagery Winery. We used to be Wine Club members here. After tasting some delicious varietals available only from the winery we decide to re-up.

Pretty pathway to tasting room of Imagery Winery (Internet photo)

Since it is heading past one o’clock we make our way to downtown Sonoma to Tasca! Tasca! for an enjoyable lunch of Portuguese tapas.

Some things we shared – ceviche, goat stew, crispy potatoes, and pulled pork sliders

We love their not sweet ice creams – salted olive oil and piri piri chocolate

Great anniversary celebration!

Anniversary celebration. 7/14/18

Our anniversary is on the 17th but we are celebrating today nonetheless. Actually we are sort of celebrating all week as we plan to go up to Wine Country on the actual day.  We are married 46 years which sounds like a long time but to us it does not seem that way. We are still enjoying each other’s company (even though John has been retired for 15 years!) Obviously we chose well.

Our plan for our celebration is to drive out to Half Moon Bay, have a lovely dinner at Navio, the fancy restaurant in the too-expensive-to-stay-there Ritz Carlton. A room there after you add on the taxes, parking, and resort fee would run around $1200. One night!! Even in our heydays I do not think that John and I could get enough benefit out of a room that cost that much!

We are staying at a hotel on the beach up the road about 6 miles. It is soooo cheap, only $400, and it really isn’t much to write home about – leaky shower, uncomfortable bed, no carpet on the floor, meager breakfast, etc. But most places want you to stay two nights so this is the best choice. It does have a lovely view of the Pacific Ocean.

View of the Pacific out our window

John and I get nicely dressed for our dinner date. We head to the Ritz Carlton where it costs $40 to park your car. We are a little early and sit and have a glass of wine while we watch all the presumably rich people walk by.

When we are seated for dinner we decide to get the tasting menu with wine pairings.

Here are pictures of most of the dishes. I forgot to take a picture of the orecchiette because I am always so excited about pasta. It was not well done in any case, our least favorite dish.  🙁

Amuse bouche #1, hamachi and cucumber

Funny story about the next amuse bouche – there is a nice couple seated next to us. They are celebrating their 12th anniversary. We end up having a pleasant conversation with them as he is a recently hired doctor at the Kaiser facility that we go to. He is very gung-ho about his new practice. Anyway he orders the tasting the menu with the wine pairing (his wife who is pregnant just has a salad or something). We have already finished our second amuse bouche when he gets his. The small bite is an avocado cream, uni, and caviar in a buckwheat shell. The whole thing is sitting on a rock with seaweed decorating the plate. Our table neighbor eats the buckwheat shell with its goodies, determines that the rock is merely a non-edible rock, and eats in one mouthful all the seaweed. This is tough looking seaweed. He chews and chews and chews and chews. I think it is growing bigger in his mouth. Then with what can only be described as a Herculean effort he swallows the whole giant wad of seaweed. I am amazed he did not choke to death. Way to save face, though.

Amuse bouche #2, uni over an avocado cream with caviar in a buckwheat shell.

Ahi tuna ribbons with mustard fruit, black sesame, and basil

Next is the unfortunate, unphotographed orecchiette. It is supposed to be prepared ala cacio e pepe. Something other than pasta water, cheese, and pepper has been added so NOT AUTHENTIC! Plus the orecchiette is thick and grainy. This is a major fail.

Moving on…

King salmon with pumpernickel, sorrel, and smoked onion

Rabbit with foie gras, morrel mushrooms, and fava beans

I am so happy to see that there is only one small dessert. So often half the tasting menu seems to be half dessert.

Cappuccino coffe mousse with vanilla creme

We have had a really good dinner. The plates were quite small and we do not feel like we are going to explode. Our waiter comps the $40 parking fee (yay!)

Happy Anniversary to us!


Jon, Nathan, and Sam visit Utah. June, 2018

Each year after school is out Jon, Nathan, and Sam visit Utah for a week. This year is no exception. They are coming a little later this year since Jon has some work obligations. We are hoping it will not be hot.

It is so exciting to see them emerge through the secure area of the airport. We and they are all smiles.

Jon, Nathan , and Sam at the St. George Airport

An important area is food for growing boys. I start out with their Beeba favorite macaroni and cheese. I also make pancakes with Ryan’s recipe so they will be sure to like them. I appreciate their loyalty to their mom when they say mine are good but are lacking the magic touch of their mom’s. I feel, though, that during their visit I am out of sync with what they want to eat. They are craving a lot more sweets than I am used to having around. I try making hamburgers and tater tots, sausages, spaghetti but nothing seems very palatable to them. When we go out to eat they really are not interested in eating what they have ordered. Maybe they are homesick. We also have a disastrous dinner at the club where the chef would not say that there were dishes without the chance of contamination of peanuts even though there were none on the menu. Nathan is so upset.

Yum, macaroni and cheese

A successful dining out experience was at a Mexican restaurant in Kanab

Since I am having a lot of trouble with me knee, Jonathan takes Nathan and Sam to the big pool a couple of days. The kids also really enjoy playing video games in their room. We watch the movie Clue altogether before breaking out the board game for several spirited games. Jonathan wins two games and Sam wins two. We also play the matching card game, Set, and a few rounds of Scattergories plus Blokus.

All the guys playing Blokus

Our outing this year is a trip to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We plan on a few short hikes, mostly around 1/2 mile round trip. I am unable to hike because of my knee but John and Jonathan are gung-ho. Nathan and Sam are less enthusiastic. They feel it is too hot and they are tired after the first foray out to look at the Grand Canyon.  So John and Jonathan go ahead and do another short hike while Nathan and Sam and I look for soda and something else to do. After lunch we drive to another area where the boys and John and Jonathan take a hike to a window in the rock  and a 360 degree look out. We stay the night in Kanab, have dinner at a great Mexican restaurant and decide by vote that instead of going on to Bryce the next day we will return home.

Jon, Nathan, and Sam on the trail

Beeba by the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

The next two pictures are taken in front of the North Rim Grand Canyon Lodge. I think the boys look especially great!



Other things we do during the week is the terrible experience at the Club for dinner. Also a trip to Tuacahn to see a performance of Matilda. Unfortunately the musical play is not as good as the ones we have seen in years past. We also have a celebration of Father’s Day. Nathan and Sam make cards for Daddy and Zayde while they are out playing tennis. We surprise them with their cards later on.

All dressed up for dinner at the club

I think this trip is less successful than the ones we have had in the past. I feel very bad about that. If Jon, Nathan, and Sam want to come back next year, we need to rethink what we are doing. Maybe having a meeting ahead of time to find out what they would like  to do would be a good idea. They are getting older and their ideas of how they would like to spend this vacation are changing.

Mother’s Day. 5/13/18

Today is Mother’s Day! I have invited over the whole family for a cookout to honor the moms and have a good time.

My first special gift is a Swedish tea ring made by Sarah. We have an early morning piece before everyone gets here.

Yum, Swedish tea ring

Sarah and I pose for a picture

Then everyone arrives for our lunchtime cookout. We haven’t seen the kids in a while so it is wonderful to have a visit with them. Ryan’s parents and Leigh also come. Everyone has pitched in and we are eating on disposable plates so there is not too much mess to clean up afterwards.

The moms get cards and hugs and everybody feels loved!

Some pictures from the day-

Jonathan in the kitchen

Jon, Ryan, Alex (formerly Nathan) and Sam

Zayde showing Alex how to cook hamburgers

Mon and Jon

It is a lovely day and now that everyone has left I can sit here and look at my cards and flowers and be happy!

Mother’s Day cards and flowers

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.

Passover celebration 4/1/18

Since we just have gotten back from our Italy trip and there are engagement conflicts for the first two nights of Passover, we have our Seder on third night of Passover, April 1. I always enjoy preparing the food and getting the table ready.

Table setting

Jonathan and Ryan with the kids and Ryan’s sister arrive at 4 PM. The first order of business is some picture taking!

Seder crew

Beeba and Zayde with Nathan and Sam

Back in the house Nathan arranges the 10 plagues on the mantle while Sam directs the action by looking up the plagues on his laptop.

Nathan positioning the plagues with Ryan

Sammy directing the action from the computer


Now it is time to get down to serious Seder business.

Everyone at the table

Jonathan washing his hands while Nathan holds the bowl of water. Sam off camera has the towel.

Sam does a superb job with the Four Questions

Nathan dipping parsley in the salt water

For dinner we have grilled lamb…

Yummy mashed potatoes…

And asparagus.

Sarah’s homemade macaroons for dessert!

We finish up the evening with some hearty “pouring out of wrath” and many songs. This is our best Seder yet!

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.

Spleen sandwich. 3/25/18

No, this is not just an attention-getter. It is a famous Palermo street food. And there are some people in our family who want to try this delicacy. I am not one of them.

We wake up to a rainy day in Palermo. The high today is around 50F and along with the rain, windy conditions are expected. It is a perfect day to stay in, do some laundry, write my blog, and read a book or play games on my iPad. Sarah suggests that she and John go out and find a purveyor of pane di ca meusa, spleen sandwich. I am happy to have them go without me.

Spleen sandwiches

Sarah has found a restaurant, Nino U’ Ballerino that sells them. They have big pots of spleens and other innard parts bubbling away. Their pane di ca meusa is so good they have won the 2017 award for best street food!

Nino U’ Ballerino’s pot of guts

Many tasty things to choose from

The red shrimp award for best street food

All I ask is that they bring me back a can of Pringles to munch on. They stop in at the local supermarket, Conad, and find my Pringle lunch. Sarah strolls around the store comparing Italian to American prices. Most things in Europe are pretty pricy but we have found that bread, wine, vegetables, and pasta in Italy are much cheaper.

Barilla pasta – we are excited when it is $1 a pound at home. Here it is for .69 euro for a kilogram (2.2 lbs.)

In case you are wondering what they thought of the spleen sandwich John found it quite delicious with a bit of a funky taste and soft texture. Salt, pepper, cheese, and lemon finish off the preparation and it is served on a soft sesame bun. He wished there had been a little raw onion served on it for some crunch. Sarah did not make much comment, only that she needed to go lie down to let things digest.

Not much else to report today. Even after their spleen sandwiches Sarah and John were ready to go out to dinner around 8 PM. We got a recommendation from the front desk to try Trattoria Bionda. It is quite full when we get there. Lots of Sicilian families are eating in the front room and several tables of Germans and us are in the back room. There is a German tour group staying at our hotel. The front desk guy probably gave the same recommendation to everyone. The food was good and we enjoyed ourselves.

Fancy stoneware at Trattoria Bionda

Sarah’s penne with eggplant, meat, and mushrooms

John’s rice curry with shrimp

Mary’s veal with a lemon and white wine sauce, roasted potatoes and onions (This was really good!)


In search of Odysseus and more… 3/24/18

As we are leaving Taormina and the lovely Villa Ducale, Paolo says to me, “we see you next year, yes?” And I wonder if I will see these places again. Then Sarah says to me, “you said that last year, too, Mom.”  So too much drama and gloom and doom. I will get my knee fixed and I will back in fighting form next year. That is a promise to myself.

Before heading down the hill and towards Messina we take a ride up to Castelmola, high above already high Taormina. I have been wanting to go up there for years. Unfortunately a    police officer comes after us tweeting her whistle as we stop to take a picture. “NO PARKING!” she yells at us. Since we tend to get at least one ticket every trip, we scoot away and take some pictures as we descend the hill.

Looking down on Taormina from the heights of Castelmola

Usually I have quite a few shots of Mt. Etna but the volcano has been hiding in the clouds the whole time we have been here. There is a little clearing as we descend the mountain and I get a partial picture.

Mt. Etna with snow and probably some steam

Okay, wish one granted. Now on to Odysseus.

”Then seizing two strong spears I took my stand on the ship’s bow, for it was there I expected first to see the monster of the rock…Then we entered the Straits in great fear of mind for on the one hand was Scylla and on the other dread Charybdis.“

As you approach the embarkation point for the ferry across the Strait of Messina there is an exit for Scylla. We have never taken it and I wish we had. I figure that on Sicily there should be a spot for Charybdis. So we drive all the way out to the point, Torre Faro, in search of Charybdis but there is no mention of her. You can, however, see the giant rock which is Scylla. This point is between the spit of Sicilian land and the great rock of Scylla is the narrowest point of the strait and no doubt the most turbulent and dangerous for ships.

The distant large rock in the water on the right is Scylla, and Charybdis is a whirlpool on the Sicily side

We have been trying to time ourselves so that when we get to Cefalu, our next stop, the cathedral will be open. It seems that almost all the churches take the most holy of institutions, the three to three and a half hour lunch break. We decide to take our lunch break too and stop at a rather grotty Autogrill for a salami sandwich.

Haute cuisine

By the time we reach Cefalu, park the car, and take the pleasant walk to the cathedral it is 3:30 PM and time for the church attendants to go back to work.

Pretty seaside town of Cefalu

The Cefalu Cathedral is in a UNESCO World Heritage Site which encompasses Arab-Norman Palermo and The Cathedral Churches of Cefalu and Monreale. These nine sites are examples of the meeting of Western, Islamic, and Byzantine cultures on Sicily which gave rise to new concepts of architecture and showed how people of different origins had a fruitful coexistence (at least for a time.)

The Cefalu Cathedral was begun in 1131 and the mosaics inside were begun in 1145. In the picture below imagine the cathedral without the two spires on top of the towers and lacking the porch facade, both of which were added later, and the church is very much a fortress.

The facade of the Norman Cefalu Cathedral

Inside only the apse is decorated in mosaic. I read somewhere that they ran out of money. They had brought in masters in mosaics from Constantinople and the mosaic artists and the materials were probably pretty pricy.

Looking toward the apse

The mosaic features Christ giving a blessing with one hand and holding the Gospel of John in the other. His face is a little less Byzantine then many others we have seen. Below him are Mary and four angels and then the Apostles.

Fabulous mosaic

Mosaic of Christ Pantokrator on a golden field

After a lengthy look at this beautiful cathedral we head back to the car for the rest of our journey to Palermo.

Sun reflecting on the Tyrrhenian Sea

We check into our hotel, the Best Western Ai Cavalieri in Palermo. It is kind of a big let down after Villa Ducale. We go down to the Graal Bar which we have been to before. Last time when we ordered glasses of wine we got a giant free spread of appetizers. In the last three years they have wised up. We have to pay for the appetizers now and they are not nearly as good but are definitely plentiful!

Un-free appetizers at Graal Bar but still a cheap dinner


Happy Birthday, Sarah!

Today is Sarah’s birthday.  We have been celebrating in Italy the past few years. I cannot believe she is 38.  That makes me….old. Anyway she and I are going to have a mom and Sarah day and then later the three of us will go out to dinner.

The Villa Ducale has an awesome breakfast. There are a wide array of choices to munch on while sitting on the porch with a view of lower Taormina, Mt. Etna, and the Ionian Sea. Here is an example from one of John’s plates.

Clockwise from 12 o’clock: caponata, stuffed tomato, egg and herb frittata, eggplant parmesan with frico, and bacon. There are a vast array of normal breakfast things plus a whole table of sweets.

While we are planning on going to the Roman theater down in town, John is planning on taking a hike up to Castelmola, a town high above Taormina. We think he is crazy but on the other hand Sarah and I are planning on walking down the mountain.

Castelmola is the town high up on the mountain

First Sarah and I must walk up the hill to the old church and then descend a twisting staircase down to the commercial part of town and the site of the Roman theater. You can see the Roman theater behind Sarah in the next picture.

Sarah with Roman theater in the background

It is a long way down to the theater on a set of switchback steps especially for someone with a bad knee who is using a cane. But Sarah is a sweetie and holds my hand a lot to help me. Ladies holding hands is not so unusual in Italy.

In the next picture you can see a portion of the switchback stairs and the Roman theater in the distance.

Our starting point at the upper right and the switchback stairs

We are part way down! The theater is on a slight hill near the sea.

We finally reach the bottom and find our way to the ancient theater, buy tickets, and audio guides. We take time for a mom and Sarah selfie and a picture of Sarah.

After a lot of downhill walking and stair descending we are in the Roman theater

Sarah in the Roman theater

I am still amazed that we made it to the Roman theater from the bump to the left of the high point of the mountain.

Sarah looking out to our starting point which is the lump to the left of the highest point in the picture. Wow!

Some views of the Roman theater.

The Ionian Sea through an ancient arch

Another view of the Roman theater

The wind picks up and it starts spitting little daggers of cold rain. We finish up at the Roman theater and find a place to have lunch, La Botte. I order spaghetti with olive oil, garlic, and chiles and Sarah has a pizza with mushroom, sausage, and onions.

I have earned every strand of this spaghetti today

Can Sarah eat a whole pizza? Yes, she can.

Sarah has read about this place, Bam Bar, in Food and Wine Magazine as the best place to get granita. On the recommendation of the waiter we both get an almond granita on the bottom, followed by coffee granita, and then kind of whipped cream on top. For someone who doesn’t like desserts, I am surely doing a good job eating them!

We finish lunch with almond/coffe granite with cream on top at Bam Bar

Later John, Sarah and I meet to discuss the day and tonight’s plans. John has made it part was up to Castelmola but decided it was just too far and steep. He also wrote part of my yesterday’s blog post for me while I was gone. We decide we are just too tired out to go out to dinner and after birthday hugs return to our rooms to collapse.


Rainy driving day. 3/22/18

Mary: Today’s post is written by both John and me.

John: It’s raining as we leave Matera. We drive up out of the Sassi cautiously, make our way to the SS7 towards Metaponto where we pick up the SS106 and drive southwest along the shoreline of the arch of the Italian boot. We have driven on very few good roads this trip, and a lot of bad ones, but this is the worst. Fortunately we cut over to the A3 in Calabria more toward the boot’s instep and head down toward the toe.

We stop for coffee, of course. When we resume, it starts pouring. I am not doing a good job controlling the weather. Fortunately Mary has done a superb job making sure the bad weather falls on a travel day.

Mary: Ever since we heard the ridiculous and anti-Semitic remark by the Washington D.C. city councilor that Jews control the weather, we have been on John’s case to keep the weather pleasant for our vacation. I, on the other hand, am well-known for my magic powers so it is no surprise that it only rains on travel days.

John: Italian civil engineers love tunnels. We go through many very new ones that are wide and well-lit. At Villa San Giovanni we exit the highway (toll-free even for the long stretch we drove) and make our way to the ferry. Thanks to Sarah spotting the critical “Imbarco” sign we catch the ferry with just a couple of minutes to spare and sail over to Messina. We successfully wind our way through Messina onto the Autostrada down to Taormina.

Sailing across the Strait of Messina under threatening skies

While ascending the narrow twisty streets to Villa Ducale I am once again appreciating the automatic transmission of our Opel and the fact that it is a bit less wide than the Alfa Giulia. We arrive at our hotel with only the occasional raindrop coming down. Maybe I have done my job after all.

Sarah enjoying a welcoming glass of prosecco at our hotel in Taormina, Villa Ducale

Our room with spectacular view at Villa Ducale

Mary: This is actually the fourth time John and I have stayed at Villa Ducale. It has become a lot more boutique than when we first came here almost ten years ago. A lot of the staff has changed with the exception of Paolo, the hotel manager. His father, Aurelio, gave John a cooking lesson the first time we were here and Sarah had a lesson three years ago. Sadly we hear that Aurelio has passed away.

At the hotel is a superb breakfast, afternoon tea with treats, and cocktail time with hors d’oeuvres. We stop in for a glass of wine on the porch around 6:15.

Hors d’oeuvres

View from the porch

We decide to have dinner at the hotel. We are tired from the long day’s drive. The food here (other than breakfast) is okay and the view is great. Getting down to town involves expensive taxi rides or meshing with a shuttle schedule and that seems like too much trouble tonight.

Fusilli with pistachio pesto for Mary and Sarah

Veal Marsala for John

Matera. 3/21/18

Today is a pretty quiet day for me. It is John and Sarah’s opinion that I should not be walking around the Matera sassi with its uneven pavement, hills, and lots of steps. I spend the morning in our cave catching up on my posting. Sarah and John go to visit the Crypt of Original Sin. I have been there before and it is a lot of uneven ground and sitting on the floor of a cave. Not in my ability zone.

The Crypt of Original Sin is situated in a rocky hollow overlooking the limestone cliff along the ancient Appian Way. Inside the “Painter of The Flowers of Matera” has narrated scenes from the Old and New Testament in a cycle of frescoes dating back to the 9th century. A. D.

Lights in the cave pick up the various paintings. There are three niches depicting St. Peter, the Madonna and child, and three archangels. On the side wall there is the creation story with God dividing Light (depicted by a woman) and Darkness (a young man) and the whole Garden of Eden creation and expulsion. Tying this all together is a field of red flowers.

St. Peter with St. John and St. Andrew

Three archangels

Madonna and Child

Creation story

Sarah and John get back around lunchtime and seem pleased that they were able to go see this amazing 1000 year old work of art. I in the meantime am pleased that I was able to catch up on my blog and have a little alone quiet time.

For lunch we head across our little alley to Osteria Pico. For once I choose something truly delicious.

Since we all need more vegetables we order insalata mista

Sarah’s spaghettoni, is made from grano arso,  blackened oven sweepings. A true dish of poverty.This is served with tomato sauce and beans.


My fabulous dish is ferricelli with pistachio pesto

John’s selection is strozzapreti with pepper sauce and bread crumbs

After lunch Sarah heads off to the cathedral in the sassi. This activity is deemed too difficult for me. She sees some excellent frescoes.

The upper panel of this fresco from the cathedral reminds me of the Final Judgement in Santa Maria Del Casale outside of Brindisi

John and I laze around the rest of the afternoon. After Sarah returns she has a two hour session in the Roman thermal baths at the hotel. Around 8PM we go out in the rain in search of pizza.

At Ristorante La Talpa John and I split a sausage, cardoncelli, and mushroom pizza. Yum!


Sarah has a Pizza Arso (or burnt flour) with chef’s choice for toppings. This is a kitchen sink pizza!

Since we have a long drive tomorrow, we are off after dinner to pack and turn in early.



Trulli. Sassi. 3/20/18

Today we pay a visit to Alberobello to see the trulli, buy a loaf of what is supposed to be the best bread in the world in Altamura, and sleep among the sassi.

About an hour from Lecce in the Itria Valley is Alberobello, home of a large concentration of  trulli. These are traditional Apulia dry stone huts which used to be temporary field shelters or storehouses and were sometimes used as permanent homes for small businesses and agricultural laborers. They were built in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Because they are odd and charming, they have become big business in Alberobello. Some hold B & Bs, or restaurants, and there is even a Trulli church. The most common business, though, is gift shop. There are many, many gift shops selling exactly the same thing although we are told that everything has been lovingly made by someone’s mother.

Some houses houses have symbols on their roofs which are usually related to Christian themes.

Explanation of symbols include a tree cross, the pierced heart of the BVM, Christ, and a host

Famous line-up of Trulli houses

Trulli rooftops with a tiny head of Mary

Trulli schlock stores

John in Trulli-land

Sarah with rooftops

Leaving Alberobello we head to Altamura which is famous for having the world’s best bread. These large boules of bread supposedly looking like priests’ hats have only four ingredients. We need to find a bakery and buy one before everything closes down for siesta. We want to have lunch but I insist that bread must come first or we will be out of luck after lunch. We stop in at Fantasie del Grano and pick up a half kilo loaf. It costs 1 Euro! We will eat it later. (BTW when we come back from lunch every store is closed.)

Now we need to find lunch which is not an easy task and we meander about without finding anything. I know how to find lunch. I did it in Manfredonia and I will do it here too. While my esteemed companions with their smattering of Italian hope to stumble across something, I flag down a butcher outside a market and say,  “Scusi, Senore. Ristorante pranzo?” I find using all nouns works best for me. Well, of course the butcher is happy to help and yells to another guy that we need lunch and he should take us to so-and-so restaurant. The new guy walks us there and, voila, we have lunch.

Ristorante Alla Povera Vita

There is no menu just the waiter saying a bunch of Italian so I pick the first thing he says, orchiette with sausage and mushrooms. Sarah has it too.

John has the last thing the waiter says which turns out to trofie with strips of veal and some cherry tomatoes

Unbidden the waiter brings us zeppole at the end of lunch

We have accomplished two things on our list and now we just have to get to Matera and find our way through the sassi to our hotel, Locanda San Marino. The sassi are ancient cave dwellings which originate from a prehistoric troglodyte settlement and are suspected to be among the first human settlements in Italy.  There is evidence that people were living here as early as the year 7000 BC.

Originally the houses were dug into the soft rock on a slope that led down to a river. Although it was an area of  poverty in the 1980s, it has now been regenerated into an area of tourism with businesses, pubs, and hotels. It is a UNESCO site. Our hotel is in this warren of dwellings. We will be sleeping in a cave.

The sassi area of Matera looks rather bleak in the daytime

Our room is nice with all the mod-cons you would expect although some of the walls are actual cave

Instead of going out for dinner we go down to the bar, order some wine, and ask for plates and olive oil. Tonight our dinner is the pane di Altamura, the best bread in the world.

Pane di Altamura and a glass of Chardonnay

Walking back to our cave room, the sassi of Matera look pretty magical.

Sassi of Matera at night

The heel. 3/19/18

Today our plan is to do some olive oil tasting, sip some wine and have a gourmet lunch fillled with local products. Hah!

”The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy! ”

Perhaps a bit heavy, Robert Burns. Plans often go awry but can be replaced by something new and exciting!

This morning we start out with olive oil and wine tasting at Azienda Zacheo.

At Aviendo Zacheo you bring your giant wine container in its wicker basket, put it on the low metal tables, and they fill it with the hoses attached to a large supply of house wine

We are greeted warmly and there is a barrage of Italian which even our best Italian speakers (not me!) are having trouble with.  I am immediately flustered and forget to take any pictures. (Thank you internet for the pictures!) We must have said something correctly because the server pulls out a big plate and some stale bread which she proceeds to inundate with olive oil, a lot of olive oil. She also pours three glasses of wine – red, rose, and white. We are not too taken with the wine but the oilive oil is superb. We decide that we can somehow nestle the olive oil into our suitcases along with the meloncello that we bought in Pompeii.

Delicious olive oil!

This whole transaction took maybe 20 minutes so now we are way ahead of the schedule that I have in mind for today’s activities. We move on to the wine tasting part of the program which is back towards Lecce. This is suppose to occur after lunch and now it is 10:30 AM. We decide to follow one of the brown signs which mean something to see of significance historically. We stop in a town, Martano, in order to see the Cappella dell’ Immacolata and waste some time. This is a bust as the church doesn’t have anything of particular interest to us.

Baroque to the max (Cappella dell’Immacolata)

Italy Traveling Tip: If you need to use a restroom while sightseeing drop into a caffe and order a cafe (espresso). It will cost about 1 Euro. Mostly this is drunk while standing at the coffee bar but there are usually tables as well. Now you have entry to the bathroom facilities. If you are lucky the toilet will be full American but sometimes it is just a bowl and no seat. I think you are supposed to stand over this and pee. We tend to clean them off carefully and perch on the edge. If you are really unlucky it will be a hole in a porcelain surround that you stand over. We have not run into any of these this trip.

So we stop in at Caffe Ficile and use the restroom which has a seat! Yay!

Off we go to our wine tasting stop. John wrote to them on Friday that we were coming on Monday so we are looking for the proverbial red carpet. Before going in we stop for a picture.

Sarah and John in front of Apollonio Winery

We go inside and encounter no one. While waiting for the welcoming committee we take some more pictures.

John in the tasting room of Apollonio

Finally someone shows up and says “chiuso” closed. What? We explain as best we can in Italian that we have written to say that we are coming. But he shrugs and says chiuso. Well, okay, but can we at least buy some wine? Si.

Sarah with our wine purchase

We have had the Apollonio Chardonnay and know we like it and John wants a bottle of red so we buy two bottles and are on our way. It is now noon. We have completed our day’s activities in about two hours. It is still too early for lunch.

We are about an hour away from the bottom of Italy’s heel so we decide to travel down and look at the sea and have lunch. It is a pleasant ride with the Italian fields on either side newly planted and fruits trees blossoming. We reach the very bottom of the heel and take some pictures before finding a place for lunch.

Sarah looking out at the sea

We opt for the Hotel Rizieri for lunch since John and I have eaten there on a prior trip. Once again I choose badly. Swordfish and eggplant? Why did I think that would be good?! John and Sarah decline my leftovers.

Spaghetti vongole

Linguine with swordfish and eggplant (?)

On the way in we have seen signs for the Devil’s Grotto. We decide to go and take a look. It is at the southernmost point on the heel (punta ristola). The path to the point is rather rocky so John and Sarah go ahead and I stay on the sturdier land behind.

Looking east from punta ristola towards the lighthouse

Sarah on the southernmost point of Italy’s heel

Looking down towards the Devil’s Grotto

Mary looking windblown

Later back at the hotel John finds a store and buys some chips and instead of going out to dinner we have a wine and chips picnic in our room.

Instead of grief and pain that our plans went awry we made our own joy!


You can see Albania from Otranto. 3/18/18

Today our plan is to go to Otranto and see the cathedral plus wander around and have lunch. It turns out to be a lovely day with fun, sightseeing, creative time-wasting, and great art.

Since today is Sunday we know that there will be services during the morning at the cathedral. After parking the car we scurry up the hill to the cathedral in hopes of catching some viewing time after Mass and before Italian lunch. As we walk up to the door it clangs shut. Closed until 3 PM.

Otranto Cathedral now closed for the next three hours

So now we are left with three hours to kill. We find a free exhibition where an artist has captured the look of Byzantine icons and frescoes by analyzing brush strokes, hand positions, and facial proportions. He will not allow us to take pictures though.

It is still too early for lunch so we go out into the piazza and look at the Adriatic Sea which is quite beautiful today and take pictures of each other. On our way into Otranto we could see snow-dusted mountains across the sea. Turns out we were looking at Albania which is only 45 miles away. Gosh!

Mary and John in Otranto (my new accessoriy, a stylish cane to take the pressure off my back and knee)

Sarah and mom

Then Sarah gives John and me a lesson in taking selfies. It seems that you have to hold the phone in a certain way so that you can still use your thumb to take the picture. Also hold it high enough so that you are not shooting up at your face which is an unflattering angle. Sarah decides that I could probably use a selfie stick since my arms are too short so my head keeps coming out too big in the pictures. (Which is amazing because I have a small head.) Much laughing ensues.

Too-  big head selfie

John’s selfie

We have wasted an hour so it is time to go in search of lunch. This proves more difficult than anticipated. Places are booked up. Finally we are granted an uninviting table next to the front door and the noisy espresso machine at Ristorante da Sergio. We need to really draw out this lunch. Sergio is not going to be able to turn this table quickly!

We dawdle over our salads rearranging our lettuces and putting our forks down frequently. Fast eating Americans have real trouble eating slowly! Then on to the main courses. I refuse to choose something safe and mediocre today. I can see that Sergio is impressed by my bold choice, linguine ai ricci, linguine with sea urchin!

Sarah and I both have the linguine with sea urchin

John has a massive pile of mussels

We order dessert to extend our lunch. This is a zeppole stuffed with cream. It is so sweet. Sarah and I salt each of our bites to try to make it taste like something other than sweet.

Sea urchin tastes and smells like the sea. Turns out that I prefer food that does not taste like this. At least I tried.

We still have half an hour to go so we buy gelato and sit around eating it slowly and taking more pictures. I do not like desserts and now we have had two in a row!

My stracciatella gelato

We climb back up the hill to the church. There is a crowd waiting to get in. Finally the door is unlocked and we rush in like it is Black Friday at Walmart.

The Otranto Cathedral is a Norman church consecrated in 1088. Those Vikings were everywhere in the 11th century! The most amazing thing about it is that the entire floor is covered by a mosaic done by Panteleone and his helpers. On it are Bible scenes, fantastic animals, the months of the year, and the zodiac signs. It is somewhat blocked because there are pews on it. Amazingly they let parishioners use it like a regular floor!

A picture of the entire floor from a postcard I bought

The Tree of Life running up the middle

An elephant (they had obviously never seen a real elephant)

Satan and a damned soul

Cain and Abel

A lion

Signs of the Zodiac

A siren or as we know it, the Starbucks logo

There is also a grisly side chapel where the skulls of the martyrs of Otranto are displayed. These were 813 inhabitants of Otranto who were killed on August 14, 1480. The mass execution is often explained as taking place after the Otranto citizens refused to convert to Islam when the city fell to an Ottoman force.

Grisly side chapel full of bones and skulls of the Otranto martyrs

Time to head back to Lecce. We go out later for pizza at 9cento around the corner. There are lots of people in the streets even at 9PM, more than we have seen our whole time here.

John in his traditional beer pose

Sarah’s salsicce, nduja (a spicy Italian andouille) and arugula pizza

John and I split a pizza Margarita

Tomorrow no old churches on the schedule. We are in search of a wine tasting, olive oil sipping, local specialties gastronomic kind of day!