Bergen and Norwegian Natural Beauty

Another city on a fjord, Bergen is the perfect starting point for a tour of Norway’s rugged landscape and seascape. First, we take a very scenic train ride from Oslo to Bergen. We have a celebrity sighting in Oslo; lesbian activist and comedian Kate Clinton and her friends are also vacationing in Norway. We introduce ourselves with Mary offering the unimaginative “I love your work,” and Kate tells us they will also be “doing the boat tour.” Then we board our different train cars and never see them again.

Fantastic scenery out the windows of our train, Mary makes 10 videos and after taking about 100 pictures. Here’s a small sample:





We arrive in Bergen, sisterhood of the rolling suitcases, and make our way to the wharf area and our hotel, passing some sidewalk and street art along the way.

These colorful buildings form Bryggen, the historic commercial district. Foundations in this area date to the 12th century, but trading really got going in the 1700s.


The brick buildings look like those we saw in northern Germany, because they were built by the same Hanseatic League merchants. Bergen was the northernmost outpost of the League, and supplied Atlantic cod (easily salted, dried, and shipped) to people throughout Europe.IMG_2771

Tucked behind the colorful waterfront, this house from the 1600s survived many fires and is the oldest in Bryggen.IMG_2793

Las  Chicas eschew cod for  a more familiar Norwegian snack:IMG_2759

The following day, our real Norwegian adventure begins with a mild train ride back to a small mountain town where we board a narrow gauge train that will take us to Fläm and Aurlandsfjorden. Railroading!

En route to Fläm, the train stops beside a giant waterfall where Mary is out the door first to photograph the scene without people.


Then the rest of the passengers disembark to see the waterfall and enjoy a little recorded music and a dancing “spirit of the mountains”. (See video at end of this post.)

After descending to sea level, we arrive in Fläm where our Fjord Safari boat is blocked from view by a giant cruise ship. We brave the souvenir shop with the British hordes, walk along the water and up a hill, then it’s time for Fjord Safari! We dress in fashionable waterproof coveralls, life jackets, hats, and goggles.

The boat is like a zodiac–made for ocean waves, hard bottom, inflatable sides, and ropes to hang on to. Joel, our fuzzy faced captain, steers from the back of the boat, while we 14 passengers sit roller-coaster style in rows facing forward.

We putt-putt past the monstrous cruise ship, Joel guns it and we fly across the fjord in search of wakes so we can bounce and swerve and aim for the fjord’s cliffs. We slow and float and Joel talks about waterfalls and how fjords are fresh water on top and salt water below.


More speedboat racing and swerving, then floating at this village famous for its brown cheese. “It wins awards,” says Joel.


Speed and wind and waterfalls. No rain, and orange-tinted goggles are not necessary.



IMG_2942Joel drops us off at Gudvagen on the Nærøfjorden where we board a van and drive back to the regular train, and back to Bergen. Great memories of the UNESCO World Heritage Area: “The Norwegian Western Fjords.”

We eat dinner al fresco beneath red tents on the wharf, consuming paella and merluza (hake) cooked by Spaniards! And weak 2.5% beer, much to Mary’s dismay.


We brave the rain on the next day, exploring a bit more of Bryggen and its archeological museum.


Map shows the town in 1276



Partially built frame of an old trading ship, and map showing the trading region including Ireland, England, Iceland, Greenland, Scandinavia, Russia, Europe.

Some archeological objects

To end our Norwegian experience, we visit KODE, the modern art museum. At KODE 2, the JC Dahl exhibit shows Norway in its stormy glory of seascapes and mountain storms.


We’re lucky that our fjord adventure did not include raging seas, only clouds and beautiful waterfalls.


Thank you Norway for amazing art, and watery outdoor adventure!

A little taste of mountain music :

© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018



Return to Gothenburg

Gothenburg is the second stop on our Interrail trip through Scandinavia. We reserved a hotel, but surprise! there are two hotels with the same name in different locations. Hmmm… taxi it is. We arrive across the Göta älv river into Lindholmen, home to a tech park, conference center, and our hotel. It’s definitely not the Gothenburg Lisa visited before. So we drop our bags and catch a free ferry back to the action.


Mary’s dream commute: bike + ferry

We have the evening to ourselves before meeting up with Lisa’s cousin Kim tomorrow.  Our walk from the ferry takes us by the harbor.

IMG_2352Gothenburg harbor with the large schooner 

IMG_3199View with the “Lipstick Building” in the background

We search for the Customs House. The Customs House was the departure point for Lisa’s grandmother in 1897 when she emigrated to the US, on her own, at the age of 20. Instead we find a Casino that seems to be in its place, but later, with help from Kim, locate it on the backside of the Casino, by the river.


We take a quick detour to Postgatan Street, the place where the immigrants paused while waiting for their paperwork to clear. The next day Kim explains that some never made it out of this area, instead losing their money to gambling, whores, or getting robbed.


After wandering for a while we finally find a street with several restaurants of interest. Where do we eat? El Barrio, the “South American Fusion restaurant.” We devour delicious Bolivian tapas and sweet potato fries, a favorite in these parts.

We get a late start meeting Kim due to the torrential rains. It has not rained for months. Sweden had as many as 80 forest fires simultaneously this summer. We think this is a good sign for the drought stricken area. Kim’s partner Robert joins in the tour.

image1 (1)

A quick history tour before heading to the docks for shrimp and wine. We visit  Postgatan Street again,


and then onto this memorial to Holocaust survivors.

IMG_2357A remembrance of the Holocaust circa 2009

In 1621, when Gothenburg was settled a church was built on this site, named Gustavi kyrka, after the king who had fallen in battle the year before. Later converted into the cathedral, now standing, Domkyrkan, renamed for Gustavi Domkyrka.

A young visitor walks along the map of the old city, laid underneath his feet in stone.

Seahorse unicorn, Mary’s favorite.
Kronhuset, the oldest building in Gothenburg, served as a munitions depot until 1954.

And a quick stop at the city market,


After saying goodbye to Kim and Robert, we head to a nearby Gothenburg Botanical Garden. Among the amazing display of flowers and fountains,

the quiet serenity is quickly interrupted by dance jam/party hosted by DJ Mr. French.


Flashing lights and music so loud it followed us all the way out of the park. We head back to our hotel to relax.  Perhaps we are not the only ones that find some entertainment among the chairs placed at the entrance to the elevators on each floor.

On our last morning we take a walk along the water by the hotel before departing for the Central Station en route to Oslo.


IMG_3229“Kuggen” (Swedish for cog), part Chalmers University of Technology.

IMG_2424Rainbow flags all around celebrate Euro Gay Pride the weekend after we left.

IMG_3232Outside the dining room of our hotel, this sculpture spins slowly in a Göta älv river inlet.

© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018

Malmøhus Slot (Castle) and the Mexican Suitcase

We take in a little bit of Malmø history and visit the Malmøhus Slot, before heading north to our next Swedish destination.


Originally built in 1434 Erik av Pommem, then King of Denmark, Sweden and Norway, this castle, aka Malmøhus Fortress, was important to Danish sovereignty at the time.  The Sound was a vital passage to the lucrative trade of the Baltic region. Rebuilt and renovated several times, in 1658 it came under Swedish rule. And by the end of the 18th century, the fortress no longer had any military significance so was converted into a prison, housing over 1,000 prisoners until 1914 when the prisoners were moved to a new location.

As we head out the gate after being a little bored by this slice of history, we see a large poster advertising an exhibit inside. The Mexican Suitcase: Rediscovered Spanish Civil War Negatives. Perhaps not a topic of interest to many, but Las Chicas, having lived in Catalunya for two years, have developed an interest in Spanish history. Curious about this seemingly out of place exhibit, we pay the admission fee and head inside to investigate.

In December 2007, a Mexican filmmaker, Benjamin Tarver, discovered three boxes of negatives in the possession of his late aunt. These negatives had belonged to a family friend, General Francisco Aguilar González, a Mexican Ambassador to Vichy, France, in 1941-42. Apparently Aguílar managed to smuggle out the negatives in their twenty trunks of belongings on their return to Mexico.

Upon investigation, Tarver discovered the boxes contained 4,500 original negatives of the Spanish Civil War, negatives taken by Civil War photographers Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, Fred Stein and David Seymour (Chim), that had disappeared 70 years earlier.

Pictured from left to right, Taro, Capa, Stein, Seymour (Chim)

Born Gerda Pohorylle, Taro was one of the first recognized female photojournalists. Of German Jewish descent, Taro was raised in Leipzig but fled to Paris in 1933, where she met André Friedmann. The two reinvented themselves as Taro and Capa, and worked together to photograph the Spanish Civil War on the front lines. Taro lost her life in only one year into her coverage of the war, during one of the fiercest battles, the Battle of Brunete. She was the first female journalist to lose her life on the front lines of war.

Robert Capa, aka Friedmann, was a prominent photojournalist in the 20th century. Born to a Jewish family in Budapest, he fled Hungary for Berlin at the age of 17, because of his leftist activities, and enrolled in journalism school. He then moved to Paris in 1933, where he met Taro and Stein.

Third in the crew was Fred Stein. Also born a German Jew, Stein fled to Paris in 1933, when he was unable to practice law in his home country. In Paris he worked as a photographer and kept company with intellectuals such as Hannah Arendt.

Chim was born Dawid Szymin in Warsaw Poland to a Yiddish/Hebrew publishing family. He took to photography early and traveled to Paris to attend the Sorbonne. Recognized for his political  photographs, he photographed the entire Civil War in Spain, but from a distance, centering in on the complexities of the political landscape of that time.

The photographs tell the story of war from a variety of angles: the soldiers and their families,



the political climate, still not well understood by many today.


Translation: Workers! There are only two ways to win the war. Fight with determination at the front, and work tirelessly at the rear. Comrades, work intensively and with enthusiasm! So we will win!

The suffering and destruction,

People pressing against the gate at the morgue, waiting for news about their relatives.

Following a major air raid in Valencia

and images of a proud people supporting their country. (Below: Soldiers working alongside farmers in the fields.)


Taro’s photos depict some of the most hideous results of the war, including her photos from the morgue. They are a bit too much for me to photograph.  Instead, here is the comment attached to these photos,

“Taro showed the atrocious consequence of a new kind of war, in which the civilian population became the main target of enemy forces.”

The content of the exhibition was made into a documentary, “La Maleta Mexicana” (The Mexican Suitcase), available on Amazon. You can read more about the story and related information,  A Secret Archive: On the Mexican Suitcase

© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018

Visiting Prague: The Heart of Old Europe

Prague calls to Lisa and she hops a train to this majestic city on another 3-day weekend in May.

Prague well-known for its red roofs,


and the famous Charles Bridge,


holds many secrets and surprises for this first time visitor.

I arrive before noon, and step right into a vintage car show outside the train station.

Throughout the weekend I see many of these restored vintage Czech cars, from the 1920s and 30s, carrying visitors around the cobbled streets of Prague.

My hotel is in Old Town Square, Staroměstské náměstí, (can’t possibly pronounce it), but a fabulous location.


Among the famous sites here is the Astronomical Clock,  sadly down for repair until some time summer, 2018. (Photo below from a sign.)

With only a weekend available t me, I have an endless number of choices. The architecture alone could occupy my entire visit.

From Romanesque,

IMG_1110Basilica St. George on the grounds of Prague Castle

to Renaissance,


IMG_1090Schwarzenberg Palace near Prague Castle


IMG_1064Inside St. Nicholas Church

and Art Nouveau,

IMG_0962.jpgMunicipal House

the city abounds in different styles of architecture. The most frequent I see are examples of Gothic architecture.

IMG_0744Towers of Church of our Lady Before Tyn behind other buildings in Old Town Square

IMG_1126IMG_1130St. Vitus Cathedral, on the grounds of Prague Castle

Tower, Charles Bridge

IMG_0833Powder Tower, modeled after the Charles Bridge Tower

IMG_0868Old New Synagogue

One area of interest is the Jewish Quarter, Josefov. Friends have recently visited Prague and recommend a visit to several of the area synagogues. Unfortunately, I arrive on a Jewish holiday and many buildings are closed. So I walk the streets and take in the bits of history from the outside.

The Old New Synagogue, pictured above, is the oldest active synagogue in Europe. Dating back to 1270 it is one of Prague’s first Gothic buildings.

I walk by the Old Jewish Cemetery. The cemetery was in use between the 1400s and 1700s, but was closed in the late 1700s when all burials inside city limits were banned for hygienic reasons.  A multitude of markers representing as many as 100,000 people interred, crowd one another. The cemetery reportedly has 12 layers due to the limited space of the time and the prohibition in Jewish law of moving remains.


Across from the cemetery, I see a more lighthearted site: the Golem Bakery. Golem is a mythical creature in Prague legends, known to be a protector of Jews.


Before leaving the Jewish Quarter, I visit one more gem, the Spanish Synagogue, Španělská synagoga, built in Moorish Revival style. 

In front of the Spanish synagogue stands one of many tributes to Franz Kafka. Tributes to the Jewish Czech author, born in Prague, can be seen throughout the city.


Kafka looms large in Prague, in spirit and in form, reflected in the large rotating sculpture of his head, created by Czech sculptor, David Černý. (video at end of post)

From Kafka on to another famous icon, I go in search of the John Lennon Wall. In the 1980s, the wall became an unofficial tribute to the singer, with spontaneous graffiti and messages. Although the original art is long gone, I am still drawn to check out the new additions that plaster the wall and provide entertainment to all who visit. One source suggests that the wall actually belongs to the Military Order of Malta, (what?) but clearly no monitoring or oversight exists.

The Yellow Penguins (Cracking Art Group) are nearby on the Vltava River, (they light up at night).

IMG_1036 And the famous Crawling Babies, by Czech sculptor, David Černý, are in Kampa Park.


Near the Lennon Wall I also catch a glimpse of “Devil’s Stream” (still not clear why it is called that) through love locks. Scenes from famous movies including Mission Impossible and Amadeus have been filmed here.

Wenceslas Square brings home a bit more of the cultural history of the area, and reminds me of the not so distant struggle for freedom that took place here, and claimed the lives of many.


The plaques, below, commemorate Palach, who self-immolated in rebellion against the end of the Prague Spring (a time of liberalization, and extended freedoms of speech), followed by the 1968 invasion by Warsaw Pact countries. Zajic, a friend of Palach, also self-immolated on the 21st anniversary of communist takeover.


Sadly Zalic did not live long enough to see the dismantling of communism during the “Velvet Revolution”, that took place just months later.


As I am leaving Wenceslas Square I come upon a small protest and wonder what the nature of it is. I ask the desk person at the hotel, with whom I’ve had several interesting conversations, and she dismisses this as a “paid protest” by Ukrainians living in Prague. Although I don’t fully understand the purpose of the march, it punctuates the new hard won freedoms of the Czech Republic, with the right to free speech and gathering.


A trip to another country is not complete with a mention of food. Prague is a very international city, hosting a wide variety of ethnic foods, I come across a few that dot the streets or show up in the morning breakfast at the hotel.

The first, Trdelniks, cooked over an open fire on the street, a round pastry, similar to a doughnut and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.

Apple Strudl, my favorite,


and potato chips on a stick. A great snack after hours of walking in the heat around Prague Castle.


On my last day I visit Prague Castle. I come expecting a castle similar to what I’ve seen in childhood tales, but instead find a palace-like structure, with multiple buildings including a cathedral and a basilica, all total measuring 70,000 sq. meters. A UNESCO World Heritage site, conceived in the 9th century, the website describes Prague Castle as:
“… a large-scale composition of palaces and ecclesiastical buildings of various
architectural styles, from the remains of Romanesque-style buildings from the 10th century through Gothic modifications of the 14th century. ”

Needless to say, I am not prepared to spend an entire day combing the grounds, and to add to the timing challenge, I arrive at 12 noon, with the changing of the guard, similar to Buckingham Palace.


But I take a bit of time to view what I can of the palace from the outside.



One sign along the way mentions the Golden Lane, Zlatá ulička, named for the goldsmiths who worked there in the 1600s, but originally called Alchemists’ Alley. According to legend, this was a mysterious place where the world-famous alchemist Edward Kelley worked on turning metal into gold. But accounts vary, and some say alchemists were never on the premises. Regardless, I’m intrigued and figure out how to purchase a ticket.

I first come upon No. 22, the miniature house belonging to Franz Kafka’s sister, and where Kafka lived and worked here from 1916 – 17.


Just next door, Zlatá ulička 14, you find the tiny home of fortuneteller,
Madame de Thebes, aka Matylda Průšová, said to have predicted the fall of the Third Reich, and she died during Nazi interrogation.

The final stop is at number 12, which once was home to historian Josef Kazda, known to have saved thousands of Czech films from the Nazis.

Journeying through time and place, it’s now time to return to the present day. I head to the train station with hundreds of other weekend travelers, rich with experience and glad to rest my feet from cobbles for a few hours on the train back to Berlin.


© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018

Inside Split’s Roman Palace and Old City

Before exploring Split’s Roman roots, let’s review Croatia’s complex history after World War II. Post war, Croatia was part of the socialist republic known as Yugoslavia. Not part of the “eastern block,” citizens of Yugoslavia enjoyed freedom to travel without visas, free healthcare and pensions. But the tides turned in the late 1980s with the rise of  Slobodan Milošević in Serbia and the death of Croatia’s longtime leader Josip Broz Tito. Following were 11 years of political, financial, and religious instability and struggle. At the end of this period, Yugoslavia dissolved, but the fight for Croatian independence raged against armies from Bosnia and Montenegro. Although Croatia declared independence in 1991, concurrent with the dissolution of Yugoslavia, independence remained elusive until the end of the war for independence in 1995. 

Las Chicas see remnants of this history in the socialist-era buildings dotting our bus route, in towns like Ploče, where the bus stops for one of our short breaks.Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 2.13.42 PM

The Markarsa bus station seems a bit more Jetson-ny in design with mountains pressing up against the edge of town:


Croatian radio provides the bus trip sound track, 3 American/British pop songs then 1 Croatian song. Occasionally the music matches the scenery: Tina Turner’s “We don’t need another hero,” (theme from Mad Max) for abandoned cement block buildings of communism; George Michael’s ballad “Careless Whisper” for the romantic Dalamatian coastline. Other times, the music makes us laugh, like Dolly Parton blaring from a souvenir stand just outside the Diocletian palace (see video at the end).

As the road twists and turns through coastal towns along the Adriatic Sea, we see how Croatia emerged from these tumultuous times and became a tourist destination with signs  advertising “zimmer,” “soba” or “camere,” rooms for rent. 

Finally, we reach the Split bus station, right next to the ferry dock and a short walk from our hotel.  We enter the Diocletian palace in the heart of the old city.

Centuries of reuse and misuse have transformed the retirement palace of Roman Emperor Diocletian into a maze of narrow passageways and occasional plazas. The old palace now contains  shops, restaurants, bars, churches, museums, apartments and two hotels including ours! We take some wrong turns, then a friendly chef on his smoke break explains to us where to go: past the statue, up the steps, turn, then up again. 

Hotel Slavija is the oldest hotel in Split, and is built over the old Roman baths of the palace. 

Lights on the wall show the location of our room relative to the baths:


The evening hotel clerk tells about great restaurants, that are unfortunately closed on this Easter Monday. But we find a nearby fish restaurant and dine al fresco pretending that it’s balmy even though it’s probably  about 53 degrees. Cats wander by, bicyclists and motos bomb down the cobbles next to us because we are literally eating in the street. The waiter comes bearing a silver tray of dead fish which he plunks down on our small table. Like a dessert tray, but less appealing. He describes all the fish of the day and the kuna (Croat money) per kilogram price which is just too much math for Las Chicas after a long bus ride. 

The next morning, we eat breakfast next to a Roman water pipe that supplied the baths:IMG_1764

Duly fortified, we explore the old city. We check out the cathedral and its baptistry from the 12th century:





The cathedral, built partially with Roman columns and marble from the old palace, is next to the well-preserved Peristyle, the monumental court flanked by temples in Roman times. The Peristyle now hosts formal concerts and informal guitarists entertaining café customers.  Sphinxes, allegedly 3,500 years old, lounge between columns.


Through the vestibule we discover something akin to the Oculus in the Pantheon in Rome. Once covered with a dome, the vestibule has a blue sky ceiling.


The palace maintains an elegance, with an abundance of special architectural features, including the gates in the middle of each wall. The southern sea gate (the Porta Aenea),

eastern gate (the Silver Gate or Porta argentea), western gate (the Iron Gate or Porta ferrea) and the northern gate (Golden Gate or Porta aurea). 


Outside the Golden Gate (pictured above) of the palace, the Croatian people erected their own god-like statue of Gregory of Nin, a bishop who according to legend, was the first to give church services in the national language (instead of Latin) back in 923.

Here’s a 53-second video featuring a Dalmatian men’s choir singing inside the acoustic perfection of the Diocletian Palace Vestibule (view from top). Also, a snippet of the motorized carts used to carry construction material and people through the narrow passageways of the old city.

© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018

Kristallnacht Anniversary


Tonight we pause to remember the anniversary of Kristallnacht, a chilling night in 1938 when Jewish people were attacked by paramilitary forces of the Nazi party. Called Kristallnacht for the night of broken glass from Jewish-owned businesses, buildings and synagogues; a night many Jews were murdered or taken to concentration camps.
Tonight we see roses on Stolperstein (stumbling stone) in our neighborhood in Berlin. We promise to never forget.