Friday, June 2, 2023

Norway: A Happy Place, Ja

Year after year, the five Nordic nations never fail to make up half of the “Top Ten Happiest Countries.” And, if our recent sojourn to Norway is any indication, it is easy to see why. The landscapes are spectacular; the food is delicious; the people are kind and accommodating. The only thing that could possible make it better would be the opportunity to travel with one of our grown children. Ed and I hit the jackpot! Jack joined us for the week. 

We started our trip in Oslo, Norway’s capital city known for its Viking heritage, Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”, and traditional hand-knitted sweaters. We arrived just as the lilacs, tulips and horse chestnuts were in full bloom on every street corner. 

Our hotel graciously provided an early check-in (much needed after a transatlantic all-night flight) along with a series of amazing breakfasts and late-night aquavits. We spent our days exploring world-class museums and our nights strolling the Aker Brygge harbour and dining in seafood-centric restaurants. For the three days we were there, the sun shone, nearly 20 hours a day. 

From Oslo, we traveled by two trains over the Dovre mountains to the charming port city of Ålesund.

A cold rain didn’t keep us from finding a warm wine bar. The next morning, we boarded a ferry for a three-hour cruise (each way) to Geiranger Village. The sun poked in and out all day, accompanied by a nippy wind. 

We simply bundled up and wore our sunscreen and sunglasses. As we made our way through the fjords, views of snow-capped mountains and sparkling waterfall were breathtaking. Upon landing in Geiranger, we bussed to the visitors' center and then hiked our way down the mountain, following a waterfall. 

Back in port, our challenge that night was finding a way to stay up to catch a late-night ship to Bergen, Norway’s second largest city. 

Thanks to a beautiful sushi supper, we managed to stay up until we boarded the ship a little after midnight (still light in the sky). We slept soundly in our port-side cabins, sailing all night to “the capital of the fjords”.

Cold rain kept us from exploring much of Bergen’s colorful harbor and 900-year-old wharf. Fortunately, we were welcomed into a lovely restaurant in the fish market where we had a late lunch of mussels and fish soup, one of my favorite meals of the entire trip.

An early-morning train the next morning took us to Gudvangen, were we boarded a small electrical powered ship to Flåm. We cruised through Nærøyfjord, the narrowest fjord in all of Europe. Flåm, a small village of 400 inhabitants, was not short on hospitality. Once a big cruise ship departed, we had the town to ourselves and had a memorable meal at the Ægir Bryggeri, the local craft brewery serving up amazing food. 

From there, it was two more spectacular train rides to bring us back over the mountains to Oslo, for one final night, punctuated by an Eritrean dinner and one last Norwegian breakfast. Then it was time to head home to Farm Dover and for Jack to return to Berlin. 


A couple of observations/facts:

All told, we rode four planes, seven trains, three buses, five boats, one tram, and three cabs. We walked more than 112,500 steps.

Norway’s public transportation was clean, fast, reliable and comfortable. It was easy to navigate and most seats included an electrical outlet for charging your phone. Oh, how I wish there was a train from Shelby County to Hazel and Norbert in New Albany!

We booked our independent travel trip through Nordic Visitors, who reserved all our hotels and transportation, making the logistics easy. 

Perfect English is spoken everywhere, but it was nice to hear Norwegians speak their native language; it sounds so relaxed, clear and melodic. 

Ed withdrew $500 in kroner from an ATM in Oslo before finding out that most places only take digital forms of payment. I got really good at tapping for payments! 

The other breath-taking Norwegian experience is the cost of things. Plan on paying at least $12 a beer. I’m not complaining, just come with a high limit on your credit card (see item above). 

Oslo Highlights

Hotel Bristol

Historical Museum

National Museum

Norsk Folkemuseum

Maritime Museum

Arts Restaurant

Lorry Restaurant

Lofoten Restaurant

Mesob restaurant

Ålesund highlights

Quality Hotel Waterfront

Apotekergata No. 5 Restaurant

Cinque Minuti Pizza

Zuuma Sushi and Grill

Bergen highlights

Clarion Hotel 

Fjellskål Seafood Restaurant

Bryggeloftet & Stuene Restaurant

Flåm highlights

Fretheim Hotel 

Ægir Microbrewery

Thursday, April 27, 2023

“Yes, Dear.” “Sure, Darling.”

When Ed and I are off on our travels, he is an exceedingly good sport about accompanying me to any and all botanical gardens that I find along our routes. (“Yes, Dear.”) And I appreciate it. I do. 

And when he says that he wants to visit some Civil War battlefields in Virginia, I just smile and say: “Sure, Darling.” I hope he appreciates it. He says he does.

Visiting Civil War battlefields: That’s what we’ve been up to since last Saturday when we packed up the car and headed east through West Virginia to Virginia. We picked a beautiful time of year to drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains. The redbuds, dogwoods, rhododendrons and azaleas were in full dazzling bloom.

Our itinerary took us first to Hawks Nest State Park in central West Virginia for a night before heading to Charlottesville, VA, where Ed graduated from law school, stopping along the way in Lewisburg, WV, for Sunday church and Lexington, VA for a late lunch. 

We spent Sunday afternoon wandering around the much-changed University of Virginia grounds, looking for the Rotunda and the old Law School, and buying VIRGINIA teeshirts for Norbert and Hazel at Mincer’s at The Corner.

The next morning we headed to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home. Rather than tour the house, I convinced Ed that we should sign up for the gardens and grounds tour (“Yes, Dear”). What beautiful flowers! What weed-free vegetable gardens!

After a stop in Orange, VA, for lunch, we made our way over to Fredericksburg. Over the course of two days/nights, we toured the Chancellorsville battlefield (April 27-May 6, 1983), the Fredericksburg battlefield (December 11-13, 1862), walked the Sunken Road, paid our respects at the Fredericksburg National Cemetery, and wandered around  Chatham Manor (served as Union headquarters and hospital). We also explored the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library. 

On Wednesday, we headed toward home, stopping at the Appomattox Court House, where Lee surrendered to Grant on an April morning 158 years ago. 

Later in the afternoon, we stopped to hike Virginia’s Natural Bridge trail. The next morning we wound our way through the mountains of West Virginia and then coasted the rest of the way home. 

So here’s where I’ve landed with my thinking on these hallowed Civil War sites. It’s important to remember the carnage of that terrible war. I think of all the women who lost sons and husbands. I think of the gruesome conditions at the camps, on the battlefields and field hospitals. I think of the destruction of homes and towns and families.

I admire the honor and respect shown by Lee and Grant in bringing the war to an end. I’m grateful to President Lincoln for preserving the United States as one nation and for ending the institution of slavery.  I rejoice for the four million slaves who were freed. 

But mostly I am full of sorrow that this war ever happened and that we as a nation felt such animosity toward our neighbors and were unable to find peaceable compromises to our disagreements. It is my fervent hope that we learn from it. 


Here are some links to the hotels where we stayed, places we visited, and the restaurants we enjoyed. 

Hawks Nest State Park in Ansted, WV

Old Stone Presbyterian Church in Lewisburg, WV

Lunch at Niko’s Grille in Lexington, VA

Oakhurst Inn in Charlottesville, VA

Dinner at The Local in Charlottesville, VA

Monticello in Charlottesville, VA

Lunch at Provisions Market Table in Orange, VA

Kenmore Inn in Fredericksburg, VA

Lunch at Soup & Taco in Fredericksburg, VA

Dinner at FoodE in Fredericksburg, VA

Dinner at Orofino in Fredericksburg, VA

Chatham Manor in Fredericksburg, VA

Chancellorsville Battlefield

Fredericksburg Battlefield (walked the Sunken Road)

Thomas Monroe’s Library and Memorial Museum in Fredericksburg, VA

Appomattox Court House in VA

Lunch at County Smoak in Lynchburg, VA

Natural Bridge State Park (VA)

General Lewis Inn in Lewisburg, WV

Briergarden in Lewisburg, WV

Dinner at the Stardust Cafe in Lewisburg, WV

Miles traveled: 1025

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Sunny Mexico

About this time of year, I get the itch to go away for a week or so. I long for sunshine and blue skies; for exotic food and drink; rich colors and textures; for music and a language that I am moved by — but barely understand; and finally for unplanned days and romantic nights that come from exploring a faraway place. 

We found just such an offering on our most recent trip to the mountains of central Mexico, exploring the colonial towns of Querétaro City, San Miguel de Allende, and Guanajuato. We fell in love with each of these places: their colorful palettes, majestic churches, shady plazas, and lively historic centers. Each day we awoke to a cloudless sky beaconing us to wander the cobblestone lanes, discovering the treasures of each town. 

While they are located within an hour or so of each other, they each offered a personality as different as each of my sisters’ is to me.

Querétaro City

Our first stop was the UNESCO World Heritage town of Querétaro, to which we arrived 12 hours later than scheduled (thanks to mechanical delays by American Airlines), which meant that we arrived just in time to lay our heads down at our lovely hotel.

Breakfast at our hotel: La Casa Del Atrio

We spent the next morning walking the streets, stopping for a coffee, a delightful lunch at Meson de Chucho el Roto, followed by a tour of the Calendar Museum. That evening to celebrate Valentine’s Day, we took an Uber to the outskirts of town to the very hip beer garden: Cerveceria Hércules

Al fresco lunch
Cerveceria Hercules


San Miguel de Allende

Voted the 2021 World's Best City (by Travel & Leisure magazine), San Miguel does not disappoint, as it is indeed very beautiful. With cobblestone streets that rise from the city center, it boasts the most rooftop restaurants of any town its size. We stayed near the top of one of the main streets, about a six-block hike up hill, in a beautiful hacienda with only six guestrooms.

Sitting Room of our hotel: Hacienda Las Amantes

San Miguel is a magnet for expats looking to retire surrounded by beauty. Nearly 20 percent of its population has immigrated there, mostly from the U.S. and Canada.  I only worry that they will get too tottery to manage the steep cobblestone streets and uneven sidewalks. In the meantime, they seem to be living a wonderful life. 

In addition to the traditional souvenir shops, the town offers a beautiful art and design center, just outside of the historic district. In the evenings, everyone seems to congregate in the main plaza as mariachi bands ply for paid-song requests. The cathedral glows with the setting sun and everyone seems happy. I know we were. 

On our last day in San Miguel, we took an Uber out to the middle of no-where to a prehispanic settlement called Cañada de la Virgen. Our driver dropped us off and promised to return in 2.5 hours. (We couldn’t call him as there was no internet.) On our own, we figured out that tours were offered every hour, and one must have a guide provided by the site. Turns out the next couple of tours were already filled with 80+ high schoolers; fortunately they were able to work us onto one of the shuttle busses that took us to within a 1/2 mile or so of the ruins. From there, we walked. The only other non-highschoolers were a couple from Loma Linda, CA, Joann and Pablo, who graciously took pity on our lack of Spanish language skills and translated for us. We had a delightful day exploring the site.

Cañada de la Virgen


Our last stop was Guanajuato, a former mining town where the the houses — in every imaginable Crayola color — tumble down the hills that surround it. Despite the town’s beauty, it’s not a perfectly restored town. It retains a certain grittiness, presenting itself as a city where people actually live, work, study, and play.

Our hotel: San Bernabé Tres

The tourists seem to come from all over Mexico. We ran into very few Americans, except for Joann and Pablo, whom we had met at the Cañada de la Virgen ruins (see above). We spotted them across the street and they joined us for a before-dinner drink under a beautiful laurel tree. 

Memorable highlights include: Riding the town’s funicular straight up the mountain to the base of the Monumento Al Pipila for a panoramic view of the town. 

Al Pipila statue

The other highlight was stumbling upon an evening music parade through the narrow streets and alleyways, performed by eight talented (and very funny) singers and musicians from the local University. They joked, sang and led the crowd. We followed, stopping at predetermined spots for a drink or bouquet. Highly entertaining.


Callejoneando con la Tuna 


And before we knew it, it was time to head home. Our heads hit our pillows at midnight; the next morning, a red-winged blackbird greeted us — a sure sign that spring is coming to Farm Dover. 


A final note: 

It was nearly three years ago that we last traveled to Mexico, arriving back home just as the world shut down for Covid. We are so grateful that we can again freely travel...

Monday, February 6, 2023

Norbert: How Do We Love thee? Let Us Count the Ways...

Grandson Norbert turns two this week and what a fine boy he is. With those blue eyes, one dimple and an infectious laugh, Ed and I can't help but love him to pieces. And it's not just us. It's his mom and dad, big sister, other grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers and friends. He loves well and is well loved, that's for sure. 

In celebration of his birthday, I wanted to create a board book that helps him learn to count, based on all the things he loves at Farm Dover. Ed offered to help with the writing, Jack and Kasia signed up to illustrate it and Mary volunteered to design the pages. So from Shelby County to Berlin to Brooklyn, we each offered our gifts to make Norbert one very special gift. 

It was a hit. 

Here are a couple of sample page from his book. 

One swing in a maple tree
Push me higher, higher Bee

Two funny greyhounds visiting from Red Hook
They like to come, run and look

Three woodpeckers feasting on the feeder
Way easier than pecking through the cedar

Four raccoons sneaking in the garden
without even asking for your pardon

Five killdeer eggs nesting on the drive
Won't be long 'til the little birds fly

Six tiny mice tucked in the straw
taking a nap, that's all

Seven coyote pups howling at the moonlight
They like to stay up all through the night

Eight wiggling worms breaking up the soil
They enjoy this kind of toil

Nine colorful vegetables and fruits
All the makings for yummy soups

Ten asparagus spears popped up overnight
Oh, what a delicious sight!

Eleven peas in a pod ready to eat
They're so fresh and taste so sweet

Twelve brown bunnies hopping down the trails
All you see are bobbing cotton tails

Thirteen honey bees pollinating flowers
All they need now are some showers

Fourteen juicy strawberries ready and ripe
We love to eat them day and night.


Counting at Farm Dover continues a series of books that we have made for Hazel and Norbert.