Oslo, Norway!

I was raised in a heavily-dominated Norwegian community, many of whose residents were first and second generation Norwegians whose parents and grandparents came to North Dakota as homesteaders. The culture was known to me through many of my friends and the community at large. Syttende Mai was a big deal in Williston. The bank held an open house with free coffee and cookies to celebrate Norway’s Constitution. They had Norwegian folk dancers and everyone came to celebrate.

Yet in all of our travels, we had yet to set foot on what my friend, Craig Hagen, humorously refers to as the Holy Land. Now we have. Oslo, the 1,000-year-old capital, is an easy three-hour flight from Rome, and because our favorite economy airline with an affordable business class, Norwegian Air, has a direct flight here and then a direct flight to Florida, it was a natural three-day weekend on our way home from Italy.

Our hotel, the Best Western Karl Johan (a Norwegian king) was right in the thick of things and an easy walk to the wharf. The neighborhood has a plethora of restaurants (no lutefisk or lefse on the menu! Uffd!) and a lovely park and is home to Parliament and the HOHO stops here. A perfect spot for a weekend with little on the agenda accept taking it all in.

And we took it all in all day and all night because the sun barely goes down now at this latitude at the shortest time of the year. With three large windows in our hotel suite, even with curtains, the 3:30 a.m. light coaxed me out of bed. Tomorrow we head back to Florida after our three-week sojourn to Stockholm, Cefalù, Cagliari and Oslo. We are richer for the experience.

Please enjoy our images of Oslo!

House of Parliament

The first thing I do when I step into my hotel room for the first time is open the drapes. This is what I saw. The yellow building on the left is Parliament.

Tom and Hotel

Tom on Parliament grounds. Our hotel is in the background.

Karl Johangate

Our first morning in Oslo we awoke to a street fair down from our window. Normally, these outdoor restaurants consume the street.

Drummers 2.jpg

The second morning we awoke to snare drums as a disability pride parade marched below our window.

Drummers.jpg

Handicapped marchers

The line of disabled marchers was several blocks long

Architecture

Oslo’s architecture is geometric and photogenic

Glass Bldg.jpg

Apt Bldgs

Apartment Houses

SCENES IN THE OSLO FJORD

Fjord Thru Ship.jpg

A cruise through the Oslo Fjord

Passengers

Sailing.jpg

Homes on the Shore.jpg

Houses on Shore.jpg

Masts.jpg

Ski Jump.jpg

Graffiti.jpg

Sunbathers.jpg

Sunday Relaxing.jpg

Flag.jpg

Walkers and Trees.jpg

A walk in the park across the street from our hotel

Statue and Tree.jpg

TOM Girl Hugging Statue.jpg

 

Norwegian Bandstand

Norwegian Bandstand (get it?)

Dormers.jpg

Architecture of yore

Farm.jpg

Fortress 2jpg.jpg

The old fortress

Feet in the Air.jpg

 

HOHO.jpg

Nobel Peace Center

The Nobel Peace Center where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded each Dec. 10

Nobel Street Art.jpg

Street art related to the Nobel Peace Center

Sailboats.jpg

 

Sttue on Wall.jpg

White House.jpg

 

 

Oslo Opera House.jpg

The stunning Oslo Opera House opened in 2008. You are cordially invited to walk on the roof.

Opera House cu.jpg

Opera House Sculpture.jpg

The sculpture in front of the Opera House is of glass and stainless steel and turns on its axis in line with the tide and the wind, offering changing experiences through reflections from the water. It represents a massive mound of ice and represents power.

Oslo City Hall

Oslo City Hall anchors the waterfront with its twin towers and presence from the 1920s.

Ten forty five light.jpg

Our last night in Oslo and we are rewarded with this stunning light out our hotel window onto the Parliament square. The time of the photograph is 10:45 p.m. Good night, Oslo, and goodbye!

 

Cagliari, Sardinia!

April said, “Join us in Sardinia for a few days after our tour in Sicily ends.” We agreed it would be fun to go to Sardinia, so, sure. In full disclosure, the next step was to locate Sardinia on the map. Then look it up to learn more.

Turns out Sardinia is the second largest island in the Western Mediterranean (after Sicily and before  Cyprus) and is just south of the French island of Corsica. Sardinia is an autonomous region of Italy and its capital, Cagliari, sits on the southern coast. Cagliari was our destination. To get there, we flew from Palermo, Sicly, northeast to Rome, then caught a flight 45 minutes due west.

Cagliari immediately impressed us as newer than the cities and towns of Sicily, with later-vintage buildings. But the aesthetics belie its status as an ancient city with a long history, having seen the rule of several civilizations. Beneath the modern city is a continuous stratification attesting to human settlement over the course of some 5,000 years.

During the Second World War, Cagliari was heavily bombed by the Allies. In order to escape from the danger of bombardments and difficult living conditions, many people were evacuated from the city into the countryside. In total 2,000 people died and 80 percent of the buildings were damaged. After the war, many apartment blocks and recreational areas developed and Cagliari is as you see it today, with over 500,000 people living here.

Our wonderful guide, Guglielmo, took us around the city and the outlying area for two days, treating us to gorgeous coastline views and tasty Sardinian cuisine, along with historical notes. This is the southern Sardinia we saw:

Sardinia Six.jpg

The Sardinian Six: Tom, Liz, Chef Gaetano, April, Marilyn and John, funseekers all!

Giully.jpg

Our guide in Cagliari, native son Guglielmo. Bellisimo!

Urbanscape.jpg

Yenna Piazza.jpg

Yenna Piazza, where we stayed and gathered daily to begin the day

City Wall Gate.jpg

Inside Cagliari’s fortress

Enjoy Sardinian Wines.jpg

And we did!

Bell Peppers.jpg

Check out the size of these bell peppers in the supermarket off the piazza

Food Street.jpg

 

Weird Tree Landscape.jpg

 

fishmonger with swordfish.jpg

A market is always on the agenda when you are with Chef Gaetano. We found the fishmongers in this Cagliari market to be hams for the camera.

Fish eye 2.jpg

Dangling Octopus.jpg

Live Eels.jpg

These eels were alive and squirming around. Chef Gaetano picked up one and scared “the girls”

Prawns.jpg

Goatblock.jpg

Just like days of yore, traffic stops for herded goats

Tree Flowers.jpg

Beach from Cliff.jpg

Sardinia’s coastline is rugged and the water is clear and bellisima

Beach Umbrellas.jpg

Beach Goers.jpg

Water Fun.jpg

Caligary sunset over rooftops

Buonanotte, Cagliari!

 

 

Cooking With Chef Antonio!

A special treat for our small group on chef Gaetano’s tour was preparing our lunch under the tutelage of Sicilian Chef Antonio Sireci at his hillside headquarters in the country overlooking the sea. We observed the making of fresh ricotta and tuma cheese, and we made ricotta pesto with almonds and mint for bruschetta, the ricotta cream for cannolis, fresh pasta, fresh tomato sauce and panella (chickpea fritters). And then we ate it.

IMG_4010.JPG

IMG_4055.JPG

IMG_4019.JPG

 

IMG_4012.JPGIMG_4015.JPG

 

 

IMG_4027.JPG

IMG_4030.JPG

IMG_4031.JPG

IMG_4035.JPG

IMG_4039.JPG

IMG_4060.JPG

 

IMG_4049.JPG

IMG_4063.JPG

 

Mountain Towns Near Cefalù

Our last few days in Cefalù were spent doing day trips to medieval mountain villages in the region. It is clear to us that these places are not tourist destinations, and it gives us a chance to see Old Sicily, off the beaten path. That’s the reason for being here. Big buses could not negotiate the narrow switchback roads that lead you up the mountains.

Walking tours, a winery visit, a stop at a sweet shop, a slow food farm tour where cheese and ham are produced and a legendary church were all on our agenda. It was a real treat to get this glimpse into rural Sicilian culture that is missed by cruise ships and big tour companies. Our group of 11 plus a local guide fit just right.

CASTELBUONO  The name means good castle, and the town is built around a medieval castle dating to the 14th century.  As we made our way up the mountain to a winery, we passed ash trees that are tapped for the biblical manna. This region is the only place in the world that produces manna, and we even went to a manna museum to learn how it is produced from tree sap to the final product, that apparently is good for most anything that ails you.

Vineyard.jpg

The Relais Santa Anastasia vineyard

Group at Winery Exterior.jpg

Our group enters the winery

wine barrels.jpg

Group at Tasting.jpg

Our group enjoying the wine tasting

Castelbuono Gate.jpg

The gate to Castelbuono’s medieval Old Town

Castelbuono oldtown.jpg

Flag.jpg

Castelbuono Men.jpg

Castelbuono regulars

Madonna Pottery.jpg

Stairway.jpg

TOM Manna group.jpg

Our group gathered for a manna tasting in the Old Town

TOM Praying for Manna.jpg

They look as if they are praying for manna for heaven, but in fact they are just waiting patiently to taste it

Garbage Donkey Cometh.jpg

This is Waste Management, Castelbuono-style. The residents of the Old Town live above the streets and lower their refuse by rope in baskets. The donkey’s helper places the trash in their wooden boxes borne by the sweet animal as he walks through the narrow cobbled streets.

french fries pizza.jpg

How to ruin a Margarita pizza: Smother it with French fries. As seen at a Castelbuono pizzeria

SINAGRA   Just outside Sinagra we visited the famous and rate Sicilian black pigs, prized for the salami and prosciutto that is produced from them. The slow-food farm we visited also makes cheese. The pigs are raised organically, and move about the hillsides. in generous pens

Sow and Piglets.jpg

Mamma and her piglets

Sow teats.jpg

Mamma mia! That’s a lot of spigots! While it seems these are a lot of udders, when piglets are born, they each choose a teat and suckle only from that teat. So, let’s say five piglets are born and there are eight teats. Three teats go unused.

Tom and Hanging Ham.jpg

Tom in the hanging ham house at the slow-food farm

Gaetano and Cheese.jpg

Chef Gaetano in the cheese house where cheese is aged at the slow-food farm. The sheep are raised at the farm to make the cheese. Goats, too.

Group Outside Ham House.jpg

The group outside the houses where the ham and cheese are aged

Tom and John on the Farm.jpg

Tom and John down on the farm

TINDARI   The Sanctuary of the Black Madonna of Tindari captivates pilgrims who come to the church based on the local legend that the lagoon below the church was created after a pilgrim who came to see the Black Madonna refused to pray to the Madonna because she was black. The woman accidentally dropped her baby into the ocean and the Madonna made the land rise to save the baby. The sands of Marinello have taken shape of the profile of the Madonna.

THE SEA

The Sanctuary of the Black Madonna of Tindari sits on prime real estate on the sea

LAGOON.jpg

The lagoon where legend has it the ground rose up to save the baby and took the shape of the Madonna

Black Madonna.jpg

The Black Madonna

Black Madonna cu.jpg

Closer Up

TOM Black Madonna

Another version of the Black Madonna

TOM AND ANGEL.jpg

Tom thinks he found his angel outside he Sanctuary of the Black Madonna. Liz isn’t so sure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Erice, Sicily!

Erice may well be the sweetest town in Sicily. In the 1950s, young Maria Grammatica was placed in the care of nuns who schooled her in the art of baking. In 1963, at the age of 14, they released her into the world, and in a short time she began earning her living doing the only thing she knew—baking. At 76 years old, Maria is the most famous pastry chef in all of Sicily and beyond, having led pastry classes internationally, including the United States. She still bakes in her popular pasticceria in the medieval hill town of Erice, population 25,000, and we climbed the old city’s steep cobblestone lanes to meet Maria and observe her pastry skills. We found her to be entertaining and engaging, as well as talented, even through an interpreter.

Maria Cookbook

We had a cooking class with Sicily’s most famous pastry chef, Maria Grammatica

Maria Cannoli 2 filling

Maria uses fresh sheep’s milk ricotta cheese to make her famous cannoli filling that she pushes with a spoon into her handmade cannoli shells. Yummy!

Maria and group

Putting the finishing touches on the cannoli. Fresh candied orange peel is a final touch, after the ground pistachios. Bits of chocolate chips are also an option.

Maria Cannoli

A heavy dusting of powdered sugar and it’s good to go

Chefs Smooch it Up

Chef Gaetano and Maria smooch it up. Take a walking tour with us through the medieval hill town of Erice. It was a two and a half hour drive from our HQ in Cefalù, and made for the perfect day trip off the beaten path in historic Sicily.

Cobblestones in Erice

Get your walking shoes on for these uneven and hilly cobbled streets. The square pattern is one we hadn’t seen before.

Chiesa Matrice 15

Wet veered into a side alleyway and were surprised by the 15th century Chiesa Matrice

Flags

Secret Garden

A secret garden in Erice

Flower Window Boxes

Tom Peeking.jpg

Tom finds another secret vignette

Shopping

Outdoor Cafe.jpg

Everyone dines alfresco in Sicily

Window.jpg

 

Marzipan lemons and oranges look like the real thing

 

Onions

Even the onions are bellisimo! in Sicily

San Pietro Church 14th.jpg

The 14th century San Pietro Church

Apse Ceiling

Erice.jpg

Looking down from Erice. We rode a cable car 20 minutes to the valley below from the hill town.