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¡Hola, Havana!

In late 2017, Tom and I and our traveling friends, Felix and Jane of Dallas, sailed from Miami to Havana on the Norwegian Sky to take a peek at this island country so close to Florida. While much of the old city is in a sad state of disrepair, there is something photographically charming about derelict infrastructure. Take a look at what I mean in this video slide show:

¡Hola, Havana!


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.

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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.

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


Handicapped marchers

The line of disabled marchers was several blocks long


Oslo’s architecture is geometric and photogenic

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Apt Bldgs

Apartment Houses


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A cruise through the Oslo Fjord



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A walk in the park across the street from our hotel

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Norwegian Bandstand

Norwegian Bandstand (get it?)


Architecture of yore


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The old fortress

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Nobel Peace Center

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

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Street art related to the Nobel Peace Center



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

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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.

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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:

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


Our guide in Cagliari, native son Guglielmo. Bellisimo!


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

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Inside Cagliari’s fortress

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And we did!

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

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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.

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



Just like days of yore, traffic stops for herded goats

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

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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.


















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.


The Relais Santa Anastasia vineyard

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Our group enters the winery

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Our group enjoying the wine tasting

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The gate to Castelbuono’s medieval Old Town

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Castelbuono regulars

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Our group gathered for a manna tasting in the Old Town

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

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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.

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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

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Mamma and her piglets

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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.

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

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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.

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

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


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

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The Black Madonna

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Closer Up

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Another version of the Black Madonna


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