As Indigo says to Wesley just before they storm the castle in The Princess Bride: “Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.” That’s how we feel about our Sicily walking tour. So I’m going to start with a summary and some favorite photos and then post more details after that for those who want a deeper dive into our tour of Sicily.
Caspin Tours: The trip with Caspin Tours was remarkable, filled with adventure, fantastic food, interesting hilltop towns, history, wonderful travel partners and caring, knowledgeable guides who created a tour including many of the paths less traveled. Pino was born in Sicily. He immigrated to England where he met and married Caroline, and together they created Caspin Tours. We have been so well cared for by Pino and Caroline who have been leading small group tours in Italy for over 20 years. My parents, George & Sheila, took this same “walking tour of Sicily” with them back in 2008 and convinced us that we should do the same, and we are so glad they did!
The People: Jim and I haven’t done a group tour like this before so we weren’t sure how it was going to work. Our fellow tourists ranged in age from the 40’s to 80’s. Everyone else in our group were from SF Bay area. Our careers spanned from Lawyers, and PhD psychologists to professors, pharmacists/flight attendants, teachers/artists and business people. We just want to thank Charles, Jackie, Jean, Joan, Samantha and our dear friends Greg and Carolyn for making this True Love Adventure trip so special. Because of Jim’s physical limitations we weren’t sure how we were going to do all the hikes that were planned, but with a few tweaks here and there it all worked out perfectly. The comraderie and conversation warmed our hearts and expanded our minds.
The Place: Sicily is a large island off the SW coast or “toe” of Italy. It’s a large island, more than twice as big as the “Big Island” of Hawaii, and almost as large as Vancouver Island. The population is about 5 million, which is a little more than Oregon (4.2 million) and a lot more than Hawaii (1.5 million). It’s very hot and dry in the summer, which is why we planned our visit for early October, when the temperatures are more mild (mid-70’s to lower 80’s) but with occasional rain. There are hills and mountain ridges everywhere, and one large and active volcano (Mt. Etna) on Sicily’s east coast plus the nearby Aeolian Islands which also have smaller, smoking volcanoes. Mt. Etna is 11,000 feet high, which makes it smaller than Mt. Rainier (14,400’) but still very impressive.
The Journey: We began our trip in Palermo, where we did a guided walking tour led by Fabio to begin our Sicily immersion and met up for dinner that evening with Greg & Carolyn. Pino and Caroline picked us up the next day (Wednesday) and over the next 10 days we experienced mountains and ocean, old hilltop towns, winding out-of-the way roads and ancient ruins. We began with an ocean-side hike about an hour northwest of Palermo and ended with a a ridge hike over 4,000’ high above the beautiful hilltop town of Castelbuono (the “good castle”). In between we stayed in: Erice, Agrigento and Siracusa. We also took the ferry from Milazzo to the Aeolian Islands (still volcanic) where we braved a crazy thunder storm on the island of Volcano and then spent two nights at the nearby island of Panarea (perfect in the off-season where we had the usually crowded star-studded island to ourselves), then we traveled to a winery resort near Cefalu and Castelbuono. From their we took the train to downtown Palermo for our last night with Greg and Carolyn. At this moment we are at the Palermo airport waiting for our flight to Rome and our last night in Italy before the long flight home, first from Rome to Montreal and then from Montreal to Seattle.
The walking, the swimming and the food: We walked/hiked between 4 and 7 miles every day. I snuck in 4 swims in the beautiful warm coastal waters of Sicily. Thank goodness we exercised so much because we sure ate and drank a lot of good Sicilian food! Companada (made various ways, always with eggplant) graced our table at almost every meal. Homemade pasta and bread were always abundant. We learned about “first press” olive oil (also abundant this time of year) in all its bright green, peppery glory. Note: never buy “aged” olive oil; olive oil, unlike wine, is best when it is newly made. The delicious local wines flowed at lunch and dinner. And of course we ate lots of delicious fish. We will surely miss Sicily’s fresh goat & sheep ricotta cheese! We’ve never tasted anything like it back home.
The History: Sicily is the melting pot of the world. Almost all of the native Sicilians are a beautiful mixture of the various cultures that conquered the island over the past 2,500 years. We hiked to the isolated Genoese cave with 12,000 year-old cave drawings. Then we visited ancient hill top towns with churches that were transformed through the ages from Greek to Roman to Muslim to Norman to Spanish and then back to Roman architecture over the past 2,500 years. Many buildings combine all the influences. Our tour included the beautiful mosaics of the Roman Emperor’s Villa Romana de Casal in central Sicily where it was buried in a mud slide over 1,000 years ago and only recently rediscovered. Our wonderful guide Lorenzo taught us the history of the giant Temple of Zeus in Agrigento, which was the largest Greek Temple west of Greece in the centuries before the Christian era began. We visited two of the largest Greek Theaters and Roman amphitheaters. And our final hike brought us to the ancient hilltop town of Castelbuono, still vibrant and authentic.
After this post we’ll send out more detail and photos for everyone. But this is a good start! Ciao for now! Fawn & Jim
I’m having trouble starting the blog about our past week in the Puglia region of SE Italy. We’ve experienced relaxing down time, great touring, interesting history and wonderful hospitality. Southern Italy seems more rural, agricultural and relaxed than Northern Italy. One of our tour guides described the culture of Puglia as closer to the Middle East than to northern Europe, but we doubt that’s true. Southern Italy, like northern Italy, has a strong Catholic influence, the people are friendly, many people dress stylishly and the food is predominantly pasta and pizza.
To get here we had a full day of travel from Tromso to Oslos to Zurich to Brindisi. All our flights were on time and our luggage made it safely. The sun shined brightly as we took off from Tromso in the Artic Circle but the clouds increased as we flew south and the rain poured as we loaded up our rental carto drive south to Otranto, about 90 minutes away. But working together, with our IPhone GPS and only a little glitch we made it safely to our beautiful stay at the Masseria Muzza, a 500 year old villa that has been converted to one of the small hotels that dot the agricultural lands a little north of the ancient harbor town of Otranto.
We were guided to our room by the friendly staff, and welcomed with a bottle of champagne and a large bowl of fresh fruit. You have to love Italy! Our week in Norway was spectacular, but there was definitely a shortage of fruit and fresh greens. Yum!
The staff here is more like family than a typical hotel. They couldn’t have been nicer or more accommodating. The food was scrumptious and the surroundings peaceful. The entire area is former agriculture fields that now have a lot of small hotels on expansive acreage. At the cafe overlooking the fields we met several lovely travelers from America, England and Australia. Three had been to Seattle and all of them had eaten burgers at Dick’s Drive-Ins! Another “small world” experience.
After a restful first day, we toured the ancient port town of Otranto with our lovely guide Pamela. She grew up and lives in Otranto. Everyone knows everyone in this small area. Her husband serves in the Italian Navy as an intelligence officer, but is home most weekends. Otranto is small, very walkable and a great introduction to the area.
The main cathedral has a spectacular mosaic depicting the tree of life and a Dante-themed story. I thought it would be a great middle school or high school project for students to create there own story with more current characters. Amazingly, this church is in use and people just walk on the mosaic.
The ocean water is spectacularly clear near Otranto although the temperature was swimmable but a little colder than we expected. On the day we left Otranto to head further north, we went back into the old town to take a particular picture for our grandson Robert’s “Flat Stanley” project. After finding a magic parking space near our destination we got out of the car just in time to witness a wedding procession complete with live music!
After leaving Otranto we drove a couple of hours north to Torre Canne, also on Italy’s SE coast, but fairly close to several classic Italian “hill top” cities including the five we visited: Gravina, Matera, Ostuni, Locorotondo and Alberobello.
On the way we stopped and walked around Lecce. I was in search of a little artisan shop that sold amazing papier-mâché earrings. Pamela our guide was wearing some. She gave us the address. Amazingly, the GPS took us very close and we found a parking spot. We road the elevator up near the Cathedral to get an amazing view of the city.
Torre Canne is an oceanfront area popular with British tourists. It’s nice, with a narrow but long walkable beach, but it was much less intimate than Otranto and the beach was a bit muddy compared with the lovely white beaches at our condo on the west coast of Oahu in Wainaie. But the people at the “Canne Bianche” hotel where we stayed were very nice, the food was good, and it was a great base from which to explore the old hill towns.
On our first full day, we drove 90 minutes to the NE to visit the ancient towns of Gravina and Matera on our own. Both were featured in the recent James Bond Movie “No Time To Die.” In Gravina, just like locals — with the help of our GPS and dropped pin here — we navigated the city roads, found street parking and made it back to our car after a lovely exploration. Without the the dropped GPS pin we would still be walking around Gravina looking for our car!
The old Roman bridge in Gravina is remarkable and worth seeing. In the Bond movie they filmed the car chase scene combining this bridge with some of the very narrow stairways in Matera. Movie making is so fascinating!
From Gravina we drove SW about 30 minutes to Matera, which is the most amazing place we visited here in SE Italy. Matera is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site because it has been continuously inhabited for 12,000 years, making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in human history (along with places like Damascus, Jericho, Athens, & Luxor). Matera was an ideal location for ancient humans because it had water, large grazing areas for sheep and goats, and generally temperate weather. Unlike these other sites, however, Matera was never a great and powerful city-state. Instead, it was almost always a small backwater community.
Finally, in the 1950’s, the post-WW2 Italian government realized that thousands of poor people were still living there in cave dwellings that they shared with sheep, goats and pigs. Of course, they had no electricity or running water, but they did have an ingenious system of underground cisterns that collected the rainwater during the rainy season so that there was sufficient water during the dry summer months. While this was an advantage during ancient times, in modern times it was associated with extremely high infant and child mortality rates, with typhoid and other ancient diseases still running rampant there in the 1950’s.
To address the situation, the Italian government forced all of the cave dwellers to move to rent-free apartments about two miles away. Although many took some of their animals with them, over time they adjusted to their new housing situation and joined modernity.
We explored some of the old caves that are still in Matera and walked up the hill to the more developed part of the town, where “classic” Italian buildings were built over the original caves centuries ago. We scheduled a last minute group tour through the Trip Advisor app. Our guide loved Matera and even earned his college degree in ancient history at the local university. He gave us a marvelous 3 hour walking tour starting in the old caves and then walking up hill into the “classic” parts of the old city (which is now adjacent to a very modern Italian city).
Even though Matera is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Matera didn’t really become popular with tourists until 2003 when Mel Gibson produced “The Passion of the Christ” and decided to film it in the ancient part of the Matera (because even in 2004 the ancient city was still so undisturbed by modern civilization that looked more like ancient Jerusalem than modern Jerusalem). After the film became popular the crowds started coming. The crowds only increased when the ancient part of Matera was also used to film first “Wonder Woman” movie as well as the most recent James Bond movie.
As the ancient part of Matera became more of a tourist destination the Italian government began encouraging entrepreneurs to rent the caves (for up to 99 years) and redevelop their interiors as small B & B’s, museums and restaurants. Although the rent is low, redeveloping the inside of the caves in accordance with strict building codes, and adding modern amenities like running water, sewer, heat and air conditioning is very expensive. But tourists seem to love the little B&B’s so there is a lot of construction going on “behind the cave doors.” It’s still not a place to stay for more than a few days, but it is a fascinating place to visit.
We drove home via the backroads instead of retracing the more traditional freeway route. Once again, we took the path less traveled, but as usual it was worth it. Thanks to the GPS and Jim’s fantastic driving, we made it back to our hotel a little after dark. The day was long, but so worth it and we had a bowl of soup and salad before going to sleep.
Life goes on back home and I was hoping to wake up in the early Saturday morning (late Friday night in Seattle) to see if the Mariner’s could beat Oakland and qualify for the playoffs for the first time in 21 years. I knew Saul, Jasmine, David, James, Robert and many of our friends were at the game. I woke up at 4:30 AM and listened with my headphones from the 4th inning game until they won in dramatic fashion in the bottom of the 9th inning. It was so exciting!
Ryan Davis from the Seattle Times described it well. “After flailing at a 3-1 slider and fouling off another slider from right-hander Domingo Acevedo, Cal Raleigh didn’t miss the third straight slider thrown to him. He launched a majestic fly ball deep into the night. As it climbed toward the right field stands, his teammates and 44,754 raised their hands in anticipation for jubilation. The ball smacked off the windows of the “Hit It Here” Cafe and turned T-Mobile Park into beautiful bedlam and joyous chaos with the Mariners 2-1 walkoff victory.”
Here’s my Happy Dance on the deck of our hotel room and a photo of the family in the ballpark. I rushed in and woke up Jim to share in the celebration.
Yesterday, we went with a tour guide and driver to explore the three hilltop cities of Ostuni, Locorotondo and Alberobello. We were glad to have our driver for these cities, which were much less drivable than either Gravina or Matera.
In Ostuni, we learned from our guide about how Napoleon’s system of transporting and using cannons put an end to the usefulness of giant stone walls in Italy’s hilltop cities. The good news is that meant that walls could now be tunneled into to create more apartments for the growing population. Now strolling around the outside of the walls of an ancient city less is one of the most pleasant parts of any visit.
Our tour guide’s favorite place in this area is Locorotondo because it is very clean and quiet with no cars allowed at all in the central city. It is populated mostly by locals, not B & B’s and tourists, and the locals take great pride in their balcony gardens. He calls Locorotondo the “garden city” of Italy.
From Locorotondo we drove on to the more well known Alberobello with it’s many “Trullo” homes, which looks like a blend of hobbit homes and stone igloos. First we enjoyed a lovely vegetarian lunch in a garden restaurant. The food we ate all came from a nearby farm and were scrumptious. The bottle of wine didn’t hurt either. It is rare for us to drink that much wine, but when in Italy . . .
After lunch (and a little tipsy) we toured the Trullos of Albeobello. Interestingly, these strange little homes became popular because as “primitive, temporary structures” they were exempt from the usual real estate taxes levied on brick homes. But 300 years later they are still here. I guess 300 years is “temporary” compared to other structures in this area. Our guide said many people believes Trullos have a mystical energy, and many of them have religious or mystical symbols painted on their stone roofs.
Fun fact of the “seven separations” category. We were talking with our driver, Santos, before lunch and telling him where we were from. He said he knew our area because he had visited Cle Elum. Cle Elum is just 30 minutes further east on I-90 from of our home at Snoqualmie Pass. We visit there quite often to play golf at Suncadia or have a meal at Mama Vallone’s Italian Restaurant. It turns out Santo’s cousin is the Priest at the the Catholic Church in Cle Elum and he has eaten at Mama Vallones! He even hopes to immigrate there one day and open his own restaurant there. We told him to let us know the next time he visits so that we could share a meal at Mama Vallone’s.
We got back around 5pm. Still feeling the effects of the wine and getting up early for the Mariner’s game we were exhausted and still full so we read our kindles, watched some news and went to sleep early.
Today (Sunday) is a restful transition day before we drive back to Brindisi tomorrow morning and catch our flight to Palermo (via Rome). In Palermo we’ll meet up with Greg and Carolyn Call for dinner, explore the city on Tuesday and then head off Wednesday morning for our 10-day walking tour of Sicily. Many people have said to us: “oh Sicily is wonderful!” And “A walking tour sounds amazing.” However, our guide and driver on Saturday laughed when we said we were surprised that the locals here in Puglia don’t believe in stop or yield signs. They said that Puglia drivers will seem like they are from Switzerland when compared to drivers in Sicily! We definitely appreciated the warning and are very glad that will not be doing any driving ourselves while in Sicily!
Another tidbit about this area is that they love Elephant Ear Catcus, and love to decorate private and public areas with and clippings from the cactus (which grow everywhere) as well as ceramic copies. Although these cactus are not native to Italy (they were imported from Mexico hundreds of years ago). But the cactus grows really well here and the locals love it. The other symbol of the Puglia is the flower bud, which is also found everywhere here and always beautiful addition to the scenery.
Today is Saturday and after a rainy night we woke to no rain and lifting clouds. This is our last day to drive around Senja Island so we headed to the part we hadn’t explored yet — Fjordgar. The area we drove through has a lot more farmland and the colors are sadly past peak color now and changing from yellow to brown. However, the fjord at the end of the road was just as dramatic as the others we have seen here.
Still winds created beautiful reflections on the water. While we reflected on the beauty around us, we listened to a philosophical discussion on the EconTalk Podcast between the host, Russ Roberts, and MIT Philosophy Professor Kieran Setiya on his latest book “Midlife.” If you like philosophical discussions, you’ll love it. It’s lovely to have the time to listen to a discussion like this while experiencing the beauty of a place we’ve never visited before.
Our plan for the afternoon is to rest so we can stay up through the night and photograph the Northern Lights. But first, we enjoyed another lovely dinner at the ABO and got to chat more with Sebastian who works there and is from Argentina. He is a traveler of the world and is now working in Norway. In future years he hopes to visit and work in Australia. We wish the US would do a better job of welcoming hard working, friendly people like Sebastian who would like to work legally in the USA for a few years.
The best time to see the Aurora in the Fall is between 10pm and 3am. As we hoped, the clouds cleared and the stars appeared around 9pm. The Big Dipper was very high in the sky and the North Star was almost directly overhead — very different from how they appear near Seattle. So we gathered the camera equipment and headed outside. Our Aurora show began with a little area of light that steadily spread out into a big circle that filled most of the sky immediately overhead. That lasted for about 10 minutes, then faded away, and then the process repeated over the next 3 hours in the form of various streaks and swirls of light, and one that looked like a giant torch. It was by far the best Aurora display we had ever seen, but the people who worked at the Aurora Borealis Observatory said it was nothing unusual. But we were enchanted, and look forward to future trips to the Arctic Circle to see it again.
Today (Sunday) we drove back to Tromso and on the way did a quick excursion down another fjord to get a better look at a couple of glaciers that we saw from the main road. While we were there we encountered a family herding their sheep down the road to a new pasture. The sheep didn’t like being herded down the road but they were very happy with all the tall grass when they got to the new pasture.
Tomorrow morning (Monday) we leave the Arctic Circle behind and head south to Brindisi in SE Italy. It’s a long travel day with tight connections in both Oslo and Zurich. Hopefully, everything will go smoothly, but whatever happens we plan to enjoy the adventure. We are excited for the next part of our journey but a little sad to leave this remarkable area. We will definitely stay longer the next time we visit the beautiful fjords around the City of Tromso in Northern Norway.
We left Oslo to fly to Tromso, which is well north of the Arctic Circle, where we rented a car and drove to Senja Island. The flight was easy, although checking bags is all manual with very little explanation. It’s a good thing we are experiential, go-with-the-flow learners.
We planned our trip to Senja Island and the Aurora Borealis Observatory to hopefully see the Northern Lights. We had know idea our adventure was going to lead us to the most phenomenal Mountain views and spectacular autumn colors. We met some other tourists who had seen the Aurora on Monday night, but that was when we were still in Oslo. We hope to see them soon, but it’s been very cloudy here so far.
The Aurora Borealis Observatory is a remarkable property. We learned about it from Facebook. They livestream the Aurora and we first watched the stream while we were visiting there last year. They are just experimenting with opening the property in “Summer” meaning mid-September. This place has a lot of potential and our little apartment is lovely. But so far the Aurora is taking back seat to the incredible scenery. The cool autumn weather is perfect for hiking, there are no mosquitos at this time of year, and we’ve been having a lot of fun exploring the area in our rental car.
Yesterday we drove to Bergstbotn and Tungenset. The road there is narrow, with no center line but frequent turnouts, and takes you through tunnels to the beautiful fjords and occasional beaches.
The narrow roads and tunnels were a bit nerve racking for Jim. But he managed his stress beautifully with smiles and laughter.
What a stunning and surprising day! Rolling hills, rugged mountain peaks, and forests of aspen and birch exploding in color everywhere. Over a relatively short distance I had to ask Jim many times to park in one of the many turnout so that I could take another photo.
We were on the NW edge of Europe at latitude almost as far north a Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope of Alaska. And yet, as many people have told us, the Gulf Stream current from the Caribbean keeps the area much warmer than North Alaska —- warm enough for deciduous trees and farming! There are so many small farms here, it was totally unexpected! We strolled the beach and tested the water — it wasn’t that much colder than Puget Sound — amazing!
And the moss and ground was amazing — it was so soft and spongy. I’ve never felt anything like it.
Today we drove to the nearby Anderdalen National Park for another day of color and beauty (and my crazy hiking hair!)
September 17: We woke up Saturday morning to beautiful sunshine and the challenge of what to see first. Oslo has so much to see from sculpture gardens to an Olympic Ski Jump to museums of all kinds.
Not that we needed to eat anything after the meal we ate the night before, but our reservation at the “Thief” included a great breakfast buffet every morning, so we started our day with coffee, pastries, fruit, yoghurt and protein before heading out.
Everything in Oslo is easily accessible by electric trolley, electric train, electric ferry or just walking. We began by walking to explore everything nearby along the wide pedestrian promenade that runs along the waterfront.
It was funny because this Saturday was the annual Oslo marathon. It’s a big deal here, and there were at least 1,000 athletes participating, including some very fast ones. Some of the runners do all three races consecutively: first the full Marathon, then the half Marathon and finally a 10K. The competitors who do all three races consecutively looked awfully tired when they finished, but apparently it’s very popular to compete in all three events among the local athletes, where pushing yourself beyond the limit of ordinary endurance is common. We would never do that ourselves, of course, but it was fun to watch all the runners and the pomp and circumstance of a major marathon.
Our hotel is not only beautifully located, with great views, but it has a wonderful spa with a lovely small swimming pool. We had scheduled a spa swim and I felt bad going inside given the beautiful weather, but Jim was right. My body loves to be immersed in warm water (I’m a Pisces you know!) and I have never seen a pool like this. The pool is lined with aluminum and beautifully lit in a way that makes it appear to be shallow at the opposite end of the pool even though the depth is completely uniform. There were also two steam rooms and a big sauna. After our midday swim we took another nap as we continued our quest to recover from jet lag.
It was hard to choose to go inside with the nice weather, but after another walk we chose our first museum: the Noble Peace Prize Museum. It’s beautifully presented. And although it isn’t perfect and the awards are occasionally given for political reasons rather than merit, Nobel’s innovative idea of creating an international prize for those who work for peace and to advance science was way ahead of its time and most of the winners are truly amazing people. You can even take a kind of Nobel Peace Prize personality test to discover what kind of peace prize winner you most resemble.
On the way back to the hotel we ate a light snack at a restaurant called “The Salmon”. Norway’s salmon farming industry uses these restaurants for public relations. This restaurant even has a small attached museum area and film they ask you to see after you finish your meal. We watched the video. It was top notch propaganda. We have no doubt now that farmed salmon from Norway is the key to feeding the world’s growing population. Do you know that more people have eaten salmon than live in all of Asia? Apparently that’s true!
We tried to see if we could get any football on the TV. The answer to that was no. However, the sports channel in Oslo had some very interesting programming. They were covering a chess tournament where the players (#1 Magnus Carlson and a much younger American challenger) sat across from each, but couldn’t see each other because both players were using computers with big screens to register their moves and monitor their respective remaining time available. Meanwhile, the whole scene was being live streamed on the video gaming platform Twitch, complete with live commentary by several chess experts, who used their own giant video chessboard to analyze the latest moves and future possible moves. Finally, IBM’s Watson computer was generating updated odds with every move as to which player was more likely to win, lose, or draw. The odds shifted back and forth, but even though Magnus Carlson had a 90% chance of winning near the end, the young American somehow avoided a loss and earned a draw. Now, we are chess nerds, but I’m sure we weren’t the only ones who found the whole broadcast quite compelling.
September 18: We woke up in the middle of the night early Sunday morning (our time) and streamed the Husky vs #11 Michigan State football game which was played Saturday afternoon Seattle time. Woof! But after listening to the Huskies’ amazing first half performance we just couldn’t stay awake anymore. Sunday morning in Oslo there was sunshine once again so we decided to head out to the “Vigelandsparken” or Vigeland Park. This park represents the life’s work of the sculptor Gustav Vigeland and includes more than 200 life size human sculptures displayed in a very large park setting. I couldn’t stop taking photographs. It’s definitely a must-see if you ever visit Oslo.
We love our hotel, but the hotel coffee – it stinks! So when a local walked by us in the park with her venti-sized coffee we asked her where we could get a coffee like that. It turns out it was only a short 5 minute walk away! So that’s where we went next to get delicious lattes as good as any at Starbuck’s before we returned to the sculpture park for more park walking and photography.
After the sculpture park we took the trolley and a commuter train up to the Olympic ski jump that overlooks Oslo from a hill that is about five miles away and 1,000 feet above Oslo’s waterfront. Jim loves trains, and we both love skiing, so we were both thrilled with the journey. And WOW the ski jump is so much fun. I can imagine how great it would have been with all the Olympic energy. After riding up the elevator to the top I noticed that lots of people were zip lining down. This isn’t usually my thing, but it looked like so much fun that I convinced Jim to join me on the quick 30-second, half-mile ride to the bottom. It was a blast and we were both so glad we did it.
After the zip line we walked to the nearby mountain-style restaurant and had an early dinner while enjoying truly magnificent view. When we made our way back to the train station we met another two people. Both of them had just ran the Oslo marathon and one was from Kirkland! She of course new about Dick’s Drive-Ins and was so excited about our newest restaurant at the Crossroads Shopping Center in east Bellevue. Once again we all marveled at how wonderfully serendipitous travel can be because, as everyone who has been to Disneyland knows: “it’s a small world, after all!”
Sunday was a very full day and Jim fell asleep almost immediately that night after putting his head on the pillow. I read a bit and then got to video with James and Robert, who were just waking up to start their day in Seattle. Technology is amazing!
September 19: We both awoke on Monday feeling more rested. We feel like the jet lag from traveling through 9 time zones is finally fading. We can’t believe it, but we woke up again to sunshine. It was a bit chillier (ranging from the mid-40’s to the high 50’s), but truly glorious.
Today the ferry was our mode of transportation as we traveled from the waterfront promenade to a nearby island that holds many maritime museums, including the “Fram” museum and the “Kon Tiki” museum. The Fram is a large, extra-sturdy wooden sailboat that was specifically constructed in the late 1800’s to be locked in sea ice for several years, so that the polar current could take it very close to the North Pole. Before the currents pulled the ship south again, dog teams would try to reach the pole. The mission was unsuccessful, but the ship survived. After many subsequent trips to both Artic and Antarctic waters, the ship was retired, pulled out of the water and the current museum built around it. The historic ship is presented with videos and lighting that make it seem like its still sailing dangerous, iceberg laden seas as you board it and explore it. Launching specially designed ships to unknown territories reminded us of NASA’s Apollo Missions to the moon. What an amazing display of courage for the crew to risk their lives in a wooden boat, over 3-6 years, to advance science by testing theories about the survivability of ships trapped in crushing sea ice, along with the reliability of Artic currents, drifting ice flows, and the ability of a small crew to survive the harsh conditions and complete isolation of multiple Artic winters.
After the Artic Exploration museum we went on to the Kon Tiki Museum where the story is shared about the Norwegian scientist and explorer Thor Heyerdahl who couldn’t really swim and didn’t really like water, buttried to prove his theory that ancient Peruvians populated the Polynesian Islands by building a large raft with a primitive sail. Most scientists said that such a voyage would be impossible, so Thor built the Kon Tiki using native balsa wood trees, ropes made from vines, and a primitive sail with the hope that the typical easterly current and easterly windwould carry themall the way across the open ocean from Peru to Polynesia. Most scientists thought they would fail, just like most of the early Artic explorers. But they proved it was possible by doing it themselves, catching fish along the way and drinking rainwater that they mixed first with seawater to extend their fresh water supply. It’s such an amazing story. I had no idea balsa wood even came from a real tree. But there was a sample of a balsa wood log and you could pick it up and see for yourself how remarkably light and buoyant it was. So even though the “experts” thought it was impossible, Thor and his small crew proved them all wrong by reaching the Polynesia Islands in less than 60 days.
After the morning museums we took the ferry back to Oslo’s central waterfront promenade for another yummy coffee and then exploration of the medieval fortress and the WW2 Norwegian Resistance Museum. In April 1940, Norway was one of the first western European nations conquered by the Nazis, but the civilian population continued to resist until they were finally liberated by allied troops in 1945.
For dinner we tried a nearby Indian Restaurant “New Delhi” and enjoyed excellent food and service at a reasonable price. The variety of food we have eaten of the last few days has been excellent, from local gourmet, to salmon, to handmade Italian pasta and fresh cheese, to the yummy local sourdough breads, yummy Indian food, and of course, gelato! It makes us think about the Brad Paisley song “American Saturday night” but with an Oslo twist. The world is such a diverse, amazing, and tasty place!
Tonight, I worked on this blog while Jim was able to conference in to his quarterly Dick’s Drive-Ins board meeting. It’s amazing how technology brings the world together.
September 20th: Our last day in Oslo. Time to do the newly opened National Museum and the ornate City Hall before swimming one last time and packing up.
The City Hall is a remarkably ornate building and it is where the Noble Prizes are awarded each year. Because they have multiple political parties — not just two — there are about 50 City Council members. The guide didn’t know how many actually and was surprised that we thought that was a lot. The murals and views are stunning and hopefully inspiring.
Here’s just a taste of what we saw at the National Museum.
We ended our day with a swim in the beautiful pool and packed for the next part of our journey. We’ve loved coming here and are looking forward to the next stop in our Norwegian travel way up north at Senja Island to hunt for the elusive Aurora Borealis. The weather looks much less nice, but you never know? And the area looks spectacular. Either way it should be another fun True Love Adventure!
September 14: We were excited about our upcoming trip to Europe but prepared for difficult travel, given all the recent news stories about air travel craziness.
However, our journey to Oslo went perfectly, first to Montreal and Rome on Air Canada, and then on to Oslo via Norwegian Air. We experienced no problems or delays. Yeah! We were still very tired when we arrived in Rome at 9AM local time on 9/15/22 (midnight Seattle time). But we checked into the airport Hilton, took a shower and then headed out to try to get some sun and reset our body clocks to the local time zone.
September 15: Rome was extremely hot and humid. We only lasted until just after lunch before we had to go back to the hotel and close our eyes. We slept for a few hours and then headed into the “Jewish Ghetto” district in Rome for a stroll and delicious dinner. It’s named after the confinement of Rome’s Jews by Italy’s Fascist Government in the 1930’s, followed by deportations to German concentration camps in WWII.
But the beautiful synagogue there survived the war and it is once again a small but thriving part of downtown Rome, including 2,000 year old Roman ruins, lots of kosher restaurants and beautiful piazzas and fountains nearby. We are traveling during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. There are no synagogues on Senja Island. We wish all of you a healthy year and ask your forgiveness for any wrongs we have done. We look forward to the year 5783!
We never saw this area on our first and only previous visit to Rome in 2001. If you are looking for Kosher food, this is the place to go. We ate at a rather old famous restaurant, Giggetto. It was recommended by our travel agent and had a nice view of the ruins. Other than its location and the fact that it is almost 100 years old, the restaurant is known for it’s delicious fried artichokes. Yum!
After dinner we walked about a mile to see the nearby “turtle fountain” and then the very large “Piazza Novana” with Bernini’s famous “fountains of the four rivers” from the mid-1600’s, which includes an Egyptian obelisk from the first century. Both were recommended by our cab driver. On the way to the Piazzo we stopped to enjoy our first gelato of the trip.
The artistic fountains were stunning, especially at night. It was easy to get a cab from there back to our airport hotel where we collapsed. The next morning we set our alarm to get up in time to eat breakfast and walk back to airport terminal for our 3 hour flight to Oslo on Norwegian Air. Again it was easy at the airport and our flight was on time.
September 16: Norwegian Air is interesting. The plane was a 737-800, but there is no first class, the seats barely lean back and the bottom seat cushions are minimal. The flight attendants are nice, but if you want more than a smile, you have to pay extra, including tea, coffee or soda. It was no big deal, just different, and it offers the only nonstop service from Rome to Oslo. After landing in Oslo, it was easy getting our luggage and a cab from the airport to our hotel, “the Thief” (because it “steals you away from your ordinary life”), which is an ultra-modern hotel on the west end of Oslo’s beautiful downtown waterfront pedestrian district.
Julie and Doug were here this summer to visit Julie’s cousin and the hotel was recommended by him. Great recommendation! It’s beautifully located on one of the piers along the waterfront. After checking in, we left our bags in the room and took a quick walk down the stunning waterfront to get some sun and continue to work on resetting our body clocks to the local time zone. Then we slept a bit before going to dinner. The concierge got us the last two seats at a truly amazing Michelin restaurant: “Kontrast.” We rarely dine at fancy restaurants, but this was special. Delicious, artistic food, beautiful presented. I watched the chef use tweezers to decorate each miniature dishes to perfection. We didn’t do the wine pairing, to their disappointment, but we really wanted to stay awake all the way through the several hour culinary experience. We ate enough food for two days, (& paid the price later) but truly enjoyed ourselves despite still being jet lagged. One of the assistant chefs was from Seattle and knew about Dick’s Drive-In. It’s such a small world!
Tonight we hope to work on our jet lag with sleep and tomorrow we will begin our serious exploration of Oslo.