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Prague and the rest of Europe are coming!…..  Until I get everything updated, just click on “Filter” below and then any of the pink pins on the map to see an entry.  You can slide the map around to see the whole world.  Also, click on any picture to make it larger.  But I’m sure you already knew that….

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Venturing through The Fjords

Venturing through The Fjords

Sojdefjord, Norway

June 12015

I’ve always wanted to go through the Fjords.  When I was 23, I wrote up a list of places I wanted to see before I kicked the bucket, and “Norwegian Fjords” was on that list!   I wasn’t sure how to approach it though.  My friend in Oslo gave me a wonderful itinerary for 3-4 nights in the Lofoten Islands, but there were many moving pieces and I didn’t have the time or energy (or money, frankly) to do something that cool and adventurous.  So instead I went for the self-managed (no guide) 1 day trip from Bergen to Oslo, arranged by the Norwegian State Railways (NSB) called Norway In A Nutshell.  Essentially the NSB sells you tickets for a train from Bergen to Voss, a chartered bus to take you from Voss to Gudvangen where you catch the waiting ferry (see below). The ferry takes you for 2 hours along the Sognefjord and drops you off at Flåm where you take a special train waaaaaaaay up the mountain to Myrdal, which is just a rail way station, sitting at about 2,800 feet.  Then you catch the regular train back to Oslo.  8:30am to about 9:30pm.  Long day but as you’ll see below, MUCH fun!





Shot from a racing train, from Bergen to Voss. Not a shabby front yard view, is it? Of course, this is JUNE.


Once you get to Gudvangen, you hop aboard this mighty vessel, the Fanaraaken. It’s a working ferry, taking cars and cargo, but mostly tourists.


We hadn’t even gotten on the boat yet and look at what we see!


Also at Gudvangen, notice the Viking Ship in the middle distance with Viking tourists hanging off it.


Random Sognefjord view. The day was overcast and occasional rain, but that just added to the atmosphere. Cool too, around low 50s.


More fjord! Did you know that there live sea mammals here? Seals and porpoises. We didn’t see any, but I could just tell they were underneath the surface, mocking us.


No roads can reach these fjord side villages, the only way is through the fjord. I’m not sure what they do for a living but this was one of several villages along the way.


Seagull in the fjord! National flag of Norway too.


Another village. I liked the red houses.


Early June, time for the fruit trees to blossom!


This may be out of sequence, but this is the view from the bus we took to catch the ferry. That there’s a farm down there. With the height of the flanking mountains, and the fact that they are so far north, these folks have figured out a way to live with out sunshine.


Taking the special train from Flam to Myrdal, we passed lots of amazing waterfalls, this being one of them. The water was, as you might guess, cold and clear. I could see the bottom of the fjord clearly when it was only 10-12 feet deep.


And then there was this. A hulder dancer!


Up at Myrdal, 2,800 feet, it was still winter! No roads come here, the hardy people who inhabit these cottages have to take the train to get here.


Stark. Bleak. But strangely beautiful.


June in Norway. Remember Munch?

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Bergen:  Gateway to the Fjords!

Bergen: Gateway to the Fjords!

On the Norwegian West Coast

May 292015

What’s a trip to Norway without a cruise through the mountains and fjords that make up that harsh and beautiful land?  Well, right.  So I flew over to Bergen on Friday afternoon to catch the Norway in A Nutshell all day tour from Bergen to Oslo the next day (more on that in the next post).  And I got there early enough to nose around and take some pictures for you!   Temps were in the 50s with rain/cloud/sun/rain/cloud/sun…
















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Flew 3.5 hours from Barcelona airport to Oslo airport. Our flight plan took us over France, and even Paris, which was fun. The plan was to meet and stay with my Michigan PhD friend, and she had given me instructions several trains to take to get to her. My problem, was that the Spanish SIM card I had acquired in Granada didn’t have roaming turned on, so I had no mobile data network access. So I’ve been learning to be super prepared to find a place before, and to download any maps before I leave wifi. Anyway, I find her and her husband, who I also know, drove me around town being really good and hospitable hosts! They even had a picnic packed so we drove up to the site wehre they hold many international winter sports events, a big old ski jump, cross country track…fun. Stayed at their very nice house out in the suburbs so I got to see how Norwegians live. I like how they live. Other highlight: visited the Viking Museum, toured the outdoor village of traditional Norwegian homes and buildings, went to the Edward Munch museum where I saw his painting, the Scream, along with Van Gogh paintings, which were in special exhibition.  I was impressed also by the price of everything – a glass of beer was $10!  Hard to get on a cheap drunk at those prices.



My friends took me up here for a lovely salmon sandwich picnic after I landed. They claimed that the sunny clear skies would not last, so no time to waste! This is looking southwest over Oslo.


No surprise, but the sun stays up very late in the summer in Norway. Just 200 km north you get midnight sun. This setting of homes in the10:00pm “dusk” struck me as lovely.


What you’re looking at is the international ski competition venue here in Norway. In winter, this is covered in snow and is the cross country skiing course.


And this is the ski jump and biathlon shooting range.


And these are Olympic hopefuls, practicing their technique. They didn’t just shoot, they practiced unslinging their rifles, setting up, breathing and then shooting, and then packing everything. They’d do the whole routine, which makes sense. Just cause there’s no snow doesn’t mean you can’t practice!


My friend Marianne took me to the Viking Museum which houses two Viking ships discovered in the 1920s here in Oslo. It was a burial site, and a veritable treasure trove of these boats, food, art, tools, clothing,…everything a departed hero might need in the after life. Even a few sacrificed bovine. These boats were NOT that big and yet…..

Viking Ship Museum, Oslo


….this is the range these Vikings took back in the years 800-1100, ish. Great distances!


Viking shoes! This was before their contract with Nike began.


Along with the many folk art found with the boats, were four posts with animal heads, like this. The curators still have no idea what they meant or were used for. But they’re pretty cool.


Obligatory, “See, I WAS there!” picture.


The Outdoor Museum is a really nice reconstruction, with original buildings, of traditional Norwegian villages from around the country. I can’t really add much value by way of description that you can’t see for yourself, so I’ll just present a few pictures.

Open-Air Museum, Oslo


I can say, about this one, that they raised the farmouses so rats and other vermin would have a harder time of eating all the stored food.


I like grassy roofs!


Crazy story about this woman. See below.

On the trip I took from Bergen to Oslo, via the fjords and valleys through the mountains, the Flåm train makes a stop halfway up the hill.  We all pile out to look at the really cool waterfall, but it seems a bit odd. All of a sudden, music blares out from what looks like an abandoned hut on the hillside up o the right.  And then…out pops a woman who does a dance, and then another one pops out on the other side of the house, then another pops out on top of the house, then another pops out in front of the house.   I don’t think ANYONE had any idea what was going on.  I think I heard a loudspeaker from the train saying something but it was so garbled, and probably in Norwegian, that we got no information.  More dancing and music.  Then it stopped and we all got back on the train, puzzled.

Next day, in Oslo, I go to his museum and start talking with this woman, as i am won’t to do.  (I’m behaving more like my dad every day, which is frightening).  Anyway, she’s a docent here, and seems to know a lot about Norwegian “stuff”, so I ask her if she has any idea what we saw on that hillside.  Well!  She does!  In fact, she’s a dancer by profession and was one of those hillside dancers for three years!!!  What are the odds?  So she happily explains that it was the dance of the Hulder, sirens of the underground troll who lure men to their deaths.  Good thing I didn’t know that then.  So, I guess my Dad is on to something….talk to strangers!


What visit to Oslo would be complete without viewing of Munch’s “Scream”? And so here it is. The reason it’s a little tilted is that just as I shot the picture a guard game up and startled me by telling me picture were not allowed. The nerve…





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Barcelona:  Gone Gaudi

Barcelona: Gone Gaudi

No, They'd Rather NOT Speak Spanish

May 232015

Took the bullet train from Madrid to Barcelona, 386 miles in 3 hours. Now that is speedy!  Super smooth too.   Stayed at an airbnb very close to the Barcelona Football Club stadium, and since they were in the Champions League finals against Juventus (they eventually won), it was a pretty exciting place to stay. Highlights: catching up with a Norwegian friend of mine from the Univ Michigan PhD program who happened to be attending a conference in Barcelona that week, seeing all the Gothic and Gaudi inspired architecture, wandering La Ramblas, and having dinner outside every night. I did a LOT of walking in Barcelona. Also went to the Erotic Art Museum. Ha! Fun fact: did you know that Spanish is not the first language there? It’s Catala, which is a cross between Spanish and French.


The Basilica Santa Maria del Pi, and the venue for a wonderful traditional Spanish guitar concert.


The stage. One thing I love about Europe, all the musical concerts, of all varieties, held in acoustically fascinating churches. No photos during the performance!


Living statues. I’ve seen them all over Europe. They paint themselves up to look exactly like a statue, then hold a pose – seemingly without breathing – until you toss in some money. Then they interact with you. Maybe you’ve seen this genre a lot, but to this local boy it was new.


I couldn’t resist. The Erotic Art Museum was just BECKONING me from La Rambla. And the cross dressing Marilyn Monroe calling to me from the balcony, well I HAD to go it, right? Unfortunately, since this is a family blog, I can’t show you what I saw but let me tell you, it was thorough! Here’s a Picasso they showed, seems SFW enough.


When you’re on a journey like this, in Europe, eating becomes part of the adventure. Here is my Tapas menu…


And here is what I got. It’s hard getting tapas alone, you just can’t order 6 dishes and sample like you can with a dining partner. But I gave it my best effort.


And yes, excellent Spanish wine to go with that meal…In a warm active court.


For the sport minded, I went to football mecca, the FCB stadium. I didn’t go in, seemed like a lot of effort given the crowds, but since I stayed almost across the street, I could hear the crowds roar and fireworks go off when they won a game.


So one of the big deals in Barcelona is a church designed by the artist Gaudi. He was run over by a trolley car in 1920 but they continue to build “his” church, and this is it: Sagrada Familia. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Building and pretty astonishing. Had to get tickets two days ahead.


One of ,many colored stained glass windows.


Main Altar, with Jesus ascending to heaven.


Yellow, gold, blue, red, orange, purple…all colors show up the windows.


Ceiling, looks like vertabrae, right? That’s no accident. Gaudi’s main influence in desing was nature – trees,plants, roots, animal physiology. And much of this work, and other buildings and parks he designed in Barcelona show an almost faithful mimicry of natures shapes.


The organ, or a portion of the pipe part of it.

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Took the 5 hour bus ride ($30) instead of the 4 hour train ride ($80) from Granada to Madrid, and had a good time – the busses her are just dandy!    Stayed with a fantastic family right near the Minsterios Nuevos area, and I used the Metro EXTENSIVELY.   Highlights were seeing the Prado museum with all the official masterpieces, wandering around the Plaza del Sol, touring the Palace, and seeing the precise room and desk where the Spanish king abdicated his throne last year, and…a bull fight. Yep, I went to a bull fight. Cause, why not? I love the pageantry and even liked the fight, until they decided to kill the bull. Then it was just…not fun. I watched 3 of those things and then left. I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy the ending, but I wanted to see if I could see what Ernest Hemingway saw as so noble about it. I did not. (I have a longish draft of the bull fight experience, but I haven’t finished it yet).


The Plaza de Toros of Las Ventas in Madrid. The energy before the bull fights felt like a football game. According to them, this arena is the “Mecca of Bullfighting” in the world.


The bullring shortly before the start. They tickets in the shade are more expensive than those in the sun, and you get to pick: Shade or Sun.


The ceremony is really the main thing I wanted to see, and I got it. All the toreros and matadors of the day, march in, followed by guys on heavily padded horses. The bulls charge these horses who stood their ground and didn’t seem to get all freaked out. That surprised me. As far as I could tell the bulls couldn’t hurt the horses.


Bullfighters prepping.


Matador practicing his moves.


This bull entered the ring and just kinda stared at the crowd. The toreros and matadors spent a lot of time trying to get the attention of the bulls.


Lots of standing around. At some point, the bull would get annoyed at the bullfighters taunting and charge cape. The audience was really into this, cheering, or even booing (well, whistling) if they thought a move was good or lame. About this time the trumpets would sound which meant it was time to start killing the bull. And it was at this point that I didn’t feel so good.


First noticed this in Spain but there are these street performance who post as human statues. I’m still trying to figure this guy out.. He holds this posiition for a long time. I stuck around 5 minutes and he was still doing it. Best I can figure is that he’s resting on some rebar thing that works its way up through the leaning chair and through his sleeve. I don’t know. Impressive, though!


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Granada:  Palaces and Olive Oil
May 102015

Decided to wimp out and fly from Casablanca to Malaga, Spain, with Royal Air Marac, rather than go back through Tangiers.  Once in Malaga, I caught a 2 hour bus on to Granada.   Loved the location of my hostel/hotel/airbnb/boardinghouse/whatever. Right down in the old town.  Highlight was seeing Alhambra, a UNESCO World Heritage site, at dusk, (and getting tickets eventhough online it said they were sold out for 6 weeks), and taking an Olive Oil tour, complete with olive oil tasting and tour of groves and old school factories. Did you know that Spain makes 40% of the world’s olive oil, far outpacing Italy and Greece, each with about 20%?  I thought not!      I really liked Granada. Perfect contrast to Morocco.


Downtown Granada! At the end of this street is where I had my breakfasts, usually at 9:30 when the shop JUST opened up. I love hanging around European Old Towns before the tourists show up.


Another street before the tourists. Notice how SHINY an CLEAN the walkways and streets are. This is something I noticed about many countries I visited this year – so much decaying concrete. Granada was the opposite.


Random street singer. He was pretty good too! He’s sitting acros from the big cathedral.


Okay, Alhambra is a UNESCO site and a huge complex of Moorish influenced palaces and gardens, high atop a hill overlooking Granada. As I said, I managed to get daily “rush” tickets even though the online store said they were all sold out. I was given a 5:30pm entry time, which annoyed me at first. But since the sun set at 8pm, I enjoyed Alhambra in a beautiful dusk.


Interior Courtyard.


Interior wall, covered in stone carvings.


Detail of wall stone carving.


Lots of doors and windows with this amazing design, all different patterns, materials and other elements.


Okay, that’s it for Alhambra.  I have LOADS more pictures but if I’m going to get all these things posted, I must move on! Next the Olive Oil Tour!


This is a 300 year old olive tree. The mountains in the background are the Sierra Nevada. The wall is pretty old too.


In the old times before modern machinery, local families would dump their olives in these vats, each family was assigned its own vat.


A donkey would get strapped in and turn this wheel, which would do the initial crushing of the olives, pits and all. It would end up as a paste which….(next slide please)


…get spread out on these pads. The pads would then be stacked up, maybe doze of them, and then…..(next slide please)..


This lever would be pressed down with increasing pressure, to squeeze all the oil out of the olives. This was the much desired “first press”. After the oil was out, they would press it again later for oil to be used for cooking oil or medicines or lubricants or whatever. When it was all gone, the olive (by now pretty dry) paste would be used for fertilizer or animal feed..


This is an olive oil tasting! Just like a wine tasting only, uh, with olive oil. I was surprised how different the oils tasted side by side. You ate a slice of apple between tastings to clear your palate. Not in the picture, a basket of bread to dip into the oil.


A part of the lore of this small ancient olive oil producing village is that the water that runs out of the Sierra Nevada mountains and nourishes the olive oil trees….is also the fountain of youth. So here I am drinking my way to immortality.

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Gibraltar:  Getting to Rabat

Gibraltar: Getting to Rabat

Cross the Straights of Gibraltar

April 182015

I was on my way to Rabat, Morocco to start my assignment with International Volunteers HQ but the is no direct route from Albufeira to Rabat.  For some reason, the market doesn’t exist. The next best way to do make it happen is to take a bus to Seville, spend the night, and then continue the journey the next day. So it was a very brief visit to Seville, but I had a very nice outdoor meal, and it was nice to see signs and speak a language that I kinda know.

In the morning I took that 3 hour bus from Seville to Tarifa, on the straights of Gibraltar. Then I had to hike 15 minutes “thattaway”, which was kind of dicey since my mobile phone didn’t have any working GPS, on account of the international Lebera SIM card I bought in London didn’t do roaming well. Anyway, I found the ferry, boarded, and enjoyed the ride over. On board, they have one Moroccan clerk processing the passports of all several hundred passengers. I was looking at the end of the line, and decided that I did not want to spend my voyage in that line, so I went out on deck and enjoyed myself. When we docked, I went to the line, and sure enough there were only 3 people left. So I got in line, got my passport packed and then headed out in to…..Morocco. Immediately was fleeced by the only taxi driver I could find quickly who would drive me to the back up train station on account of the main station being renovated for the next 12 years. Missed my 1:30 train to Rabat, borrowed a phone from the ticket clerk and called Samad, my connection in Rabat, and told him I’d be on the next train. Eventually I made it. My first inkling of what the next 3 weeks would be like.

I’m sorry I didn’t have much time to take good pictures…I was moving a lot.


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Albufeira, Portugal

Albufeira, Portugal

Time for Some Beach Living

April 152015

It as early April and I wanted to stay warm, so I went south to this seaside town to soak up the “not quite but just west of” Mediterranean climate. For the most part, I got it. Highlights of this week was that there were no highlights. I just relaxed, read, mused, took walks on the beach, ate.


A very nice beach, that’s the Atlantic as it creeps south around the Iberian Peninsula towards the Mediterranean.


Why, you may ask, if it’s such a nice beach, are there no beachgoers? It’s April, still early. Temps in the low 60s.


Lots of shells! Who knew?


The view from my airbnb flat. Just a short 6 minute walk to the each, including the outdoor escalator to scale the cliff.

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Lisbon, Portugal
April 122015

I had a decision to make. If I went back to Kenya, I would have really pushed the whole schedule back a month, and I would basically miss out on most of Europe.  And it would cost a lot of money. Since I had a 3 weeks teaching commitment in Morocco starting April 19, I decided to spend some time in Portugal now instead of tacking it on to Spain later.   So I flew into Lisbon via Ryan Air (fun!), and spent a few days there. Highlight was probably the Sintra tour, a “storybook” region just west of Lisbon. Ate the biggest sardines I’ve ever seen too!

Lisbon reminds me of San Francisco SOO much!  Even to the same cobblestones as we have in the Embarcadero Center!

Lisbon reminds me of San Francisco SOO much! Even to the same cobblestones as we have in the Embarcadero Center!


I found the Sao Domingos Catholic church. The roof had collapsed during the huge 1755 8.0 earthquake that caused damage as far away as Morocco. They renovated it. I took the moment to light a candle to my friend Don (his is the second from the right), and meditate.


Me eating. A happy moment. The ladies behind me were…bemused.


And this is what I was eating. These are sardines. The biggest sardines I’ve ever seen!


Sintra!  Sintra is a fascinating little area, full of European Romantic architecture.  So unique that the UN created a World Heritage category for it, Cultural Landscape.




Whimsical palace with good views. Palacio de Pena. Royalty lived here.


View from Palace de Pena towards Atlantic Ocean.


Moorish influence on wall of Palace.


Typical home entrance in the town of SIntra.


Dave heading into a man made cave at the quirky and mysterious Quinta de Regalaria castle. Was he a Mason…or wasn’t he?

Quinta de Regalaria.



This is the westernmost point of continental Europe. Beyond this there be dragons, well, Americans. Specifically, New Yorkers due West.



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1 Day in London
April 102015

Just a stopover here because I found out buying a round trip from DTW to LHR was cheaper than buying just a one way ticket, might as well fly back to the US from London, right?   So I just did for a day what I do best: wander.  I also ate fish and chips!


A lovely unseasonably warm day to sit on the green, don’t you think?


I got lucky and stumbled into the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace!

Petit Bras Of The Seine At Argenteuil, Claude Monet, 1872.    I got to see this and others at the London National Gallery.

Petit Bras Of The Seine At Argenteuil, Claude Monet, 1872. I got to see this and others at the London National Gallery.

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