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



Oslo : Mostly Outdoors

Las Chicas are eager to visit Norway for the first time. Another leg on the Interrail pass proves to be a little less about comfort, as NSB (Norges Statsbaner or Norwegian State Railways) changes us, unannounced, to a bus. Some three hours later we land in Oslo, drag our bags through the train station and are greeted by one of many sculptures to come.


An ultramodern city full of amazing art, architecture, great food, masses of water and forest, and only one full day to explore. So we make the best of the remaining afternoon hours because the sun isn’t setting before 10, and take a stroll through the city nearby.


We don’t go far before we encounter one of the many trendy pop-up restaurants for dinner. Beer, sweet potatoes fries and Thai curry will do the trick.

IMG_3236After dinner we continue on our walk, past fountains and flowers.


6B879536-1F44-4B60-84FE-0F7083FF1552the Parliament building, called the Storting or Stortinget in Norwegian meaning the “great assembly”,

2AC6A937-8049-44F1-BDE1-F52C7A5F5076and onto the Royal Palace.

IMG_3247Behind the palace we find water and mushroom-like creations that amuse us.

0B39EE1A-8B36-4337-A92C-BF9A4E129EE5We also enjoy some of the local street art.

“The Priest” by street artist Dolk, who we discovered in Malmo.

The art of a local eatery close to the hotel.

After a short sleep, we head out into Oslo. We have many great tips from the Visit Oslo website. Architecture and outdoor sculpture parks should keep us busy for the better part of the day.

First to Frogner Park, where the Vigeland Sculpture Park is located. We join multitudes of tourists at the entrance to see the 200+ sculptures. Gustav Vigeland created these wonders over a period of only 20 years from 1924-1943 and donated them to the city of Oslo; the land was donated free to display this collection. The theme is focused on family and the human condition.






3435BE1D-9676-4C6E-9FED-A5EF95A9F4A1Some pieces are a bit startling, like the series depicting the struggle between reptile and human. With the exception of the one embracing a woman, it appears the lizard is battling with or consuming the human. One source suggests the reptile represents evil and reflects the struggle of the human condition.




596D7646-878B-40C8-AD60-F2364DFF9C1DOnto the lighter side, here are a few of our favorites.

83DEE129-7DDA-4FA4-AC7B-1723DE7F8F84The fountain, originally designed for the outside entrance of the Norwegian Parliament building.

The Wheel of Life,  a sundial positioned at the very end of an 850-meter axis.


The Monolith, 14.12-meter high, a symbolic sculpture consisting of 121 intertwined human figures.

Next stop, Oslo’s waterfront and the Aker Brygge Wharf, previously an old shipyard. The boardwalk is full of  many fabulous restaurants, but we choose gelato for our noontime refreshment,

IMG_3302while enjoying the SUPs in the harbor.

IMG_3300We head to the Astrup Fearnley Museum, designed by starchitect Renzo Piano.


Surrounded by water and the second sculpture park of the day,  Tjuvholmen Sculpture Park, we opt for outside art and bypass the inside collection.

Onto the Oslo Opera House, with a few local sights on the way.



It’s a bit warm to take advantage of this sauna boat.


A favorite, the olfactory history moment.


Oslo Opera House, home to the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, designed by a local architecture firm and the recipient of many awards.

Many interesting features,


with great rooftop views,

IMG_3348including the ever-present cranes dotting the city and building the future Oslo.

IMG_3346Onward we test the pedestrian bridge,

A30A286E-800F-411B-A7D0-AE1D4E4BC30Cwith its interesting views of the Barcode district, 12 buildings designed to resemble a barcode.




Evening is quickly approaching and the third sculpture park awaits us. Another trip on Oslo’s impressive transit takes us to the bottom of the park, with many surprises ahead.

Shortly after entering the park we encounter sculptures by some well known artists:IMG_3368
Auguste Rodin’s “Cariatide Tombee Á Lúrne”

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, “Venus Vistrix”

Salvador Dalí, “Venus de Milo Aux Tiroirs”

What a special evening this turns out to be. We amble up hills and around bends to discover other unexpected treasures. The park is open 24/7, with little or no apparent security. It’s an amazing collection.

Sarah Sze, “Still Life with Landscape”

Dan Graham, “Pavillion”
Louise Bourgeois, “The Couple”

Hilde Maehlum, “Konkavt Ansikt” (translated, Concave Face)
Sean Henry, “Walking Woman”

In addition to art, we explore archeology.

8A19B9F5-9303-472B-A1CB-7DDC8734637ASteinsetning – Stone Circle
This megalithic structure, once likely 7 stones now 4, was not excavated.

Skålgroper – Cup Marks
These cup-shaped indentations are the most common form of rock art in Norway, dating back to the late Bronze Age or early Iron Age. The natural setting enhances the beauty of everything around us.

But one last surprise.

Fujiko Nakaya, “Pathfinder #18700 Oslo”


© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018

Artsy Cologne

Las Chicas have a surprisingly art-filled holiday in Köln (Cologne). Most famous for the Cologne Cathedral, we enjoy the artistic side of the city beginning with our hotel, Art’otel.

The hotel features art prints of SEO, a Korean-born artist who now lives in Berlin. The colorful theme of her works is water – flowing and making connections.  In addition to prints of her art posted on the walls, each room has a large glass reproduction of one of SEO’s works that doubles as a wall in the shower.


Beyond the hotel, the Rhine River creates its own natural art.



Other art decorates the city, like HA Shult’s  golden winged car on top of the municipal museum.


Or this more solemn remembrance:


One cannot travel in Germany without regular reminders of the violence of the past, and the strength of those who resisted, endured, survived and died.

We continue our art-filled day with a visit to Museum Ludwig, home to an impressive collection of modern art.

The first collection we view is from another Korean artist who migrated to Berlin,  Haegue Yang, winner of the 2018 Wolfgang Hahn Prize. ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) 1994 – 2018, is an overview or survey collection ranging from textiles to journal entries, room-sized sculptures to small collections in cases.

I am moved by a series of journal entries posted on the wall talking about Yang’s immigration to Germany.  She writes,

” A person can be nervous spending even one night at another person’s house. Imagine so much more so in a foreign country. More over, I couldn’t read anything, so was suddenly illiterate. I didn’t know the language so I became deaf and dumb…” 

I have shared these experiences. Art is meant to evoke feeling, to connect people and experiences. But there is no apparent connection in the diversity of pieces in this collection. Regardless, they are engaging.

The Intermediate – Tilted, Bushy, Lumpy, Bumpy – 2016

IMG_1988Sol LeWitt Upside Down – K123456, Expanded 1078 Times, Doubled and Mirrored



The exhibit also provides opportunities to interact with the art.

But this is only the beginning. We enjoy art from Mark Rothko,

Earth and Green, 1955

Helen Frankenthaler,

Stroke of High Tide I, (Flutschlag I), 1974

and one of my favorites, Paul Klee. Klee and Kandinsky have been on our minds lately as we learn about the Bauhaus movement, celebrating its 100th year in 2019.

Hauptweg and Nebenwege (Highways and Byways), 1929

There is also a brilliant collection of Pop Art.  Original works by Warhol and Lichtenstein.



IMG_2024Claus Oldenburg, Giant Soft Swedish Light Switch (Ghost Version), 1966

IMG_2019 (1)
Tom Wesselmann, Landscape No. 2, 1964

Before leaving, Mary takes the opportunity to create some pop art of her own.


© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018




Springtime in Berlin

May is here which means bike rides beneath tree blossoms, in forests, and parks. We also celebrate International Workers Day, May 1, at a street party in the Kreuzberg neighborhood of Berlin.

First, bucolic Berlin and Brandenburg:


Treptow Park bike path and  Spree Park (abandoned amusement park)

Treptow Park tree blossoms


We ride through Grunewald Forest by masses of stacked wood on the side of the road, and see a magic hut that appears and reminds us of fairy tales, but instead houses a conservation education project for students.

IMG_0090Heron in Thiel Park

Sacrower Heliandskirche (church) from both sides of the Havel River.

Off to Kreuzberg for May 1, an international holiday (so no school for Lisa!)



Workers of the world unite! And drink beer, and eat bratwurst, or Indian food, or anything else.  We join friends from the neighborhood who tell us that the police actually started the street party. Why? Because a few years ago, the May 1  workers/anarchist march through the neighborhood was too destructive–cars trampled, trash cans  on fire, windows smashed. Now there’s live music, alcohol (nothing unusual in this city), people offering free hugs, and a Love Revolution flag troupe.


IMG_0168We also see the club made famous by David Bowie and Iggy Pop back in the day:


After weaving through the masses in dark clothing, we aim for sunshine along the canal. We cross “Hipster Bridge” where millenials lounge; we eschew the 90-minute pizza place (“not worth it,” according to locals), and dive into Isabel Eiscafé for superior ice cream.

IMG_0172Hipster Bridge, Kreuzberg

Dogs enjoy the spring weather too, as Mary discovers on her accidental bike ride through the largest off-leash dog park in Berlin. In the same park, there’s Jagdschloss Grunewald  (palace) and Grunewaldsee (lake).

fc0d375e-bf0c-480c-83a5-38d5493fd997Two women walk 18 dogs!

It’s still chilly in the morning, but Lisa bundles up in brighter colors for her bike commute:


And more flowers to celebrate spring!

© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018

Mallorca: Bikes, Sea and Sun

Las Chicas return to Mallorca after a 3-year hiatus. Despite a rainy start, the sun returns on Day 2 and we take to the roads, crowded and busy with cyclists. But who can complain? The sun and the Mediterranean cast a spell, and on two wheels everything in the world is beautiful.

We ride around Bahia de Alcudia to one  of our favorite Mediterranean overlooks in Can Picafort. On the way, new sculptures augment the sea view.


A04E2A80-BC22-48A4-8E93-010EBBD0FFB7View across the bay back toward the Port of Alcudia:


On our second day of riding, we follow the coast roads around the Bahia de Pollença, first on hills with wild Majorcan goats. We relax on the pebbled beach, small waves rippling over the stones, making us want to nap. Even people in wetsuits find the water too cold for swimming.





A quick lunch stop behind the medieval walls of old town Alcudia, then a pleasant coast back down to the Port and our hotel.


We finish the day dining alfresco with friends from our Barcelona days.


Las Chicas spend the majority of our day on bikes or walking by the sea.  Cyclists are everywhere. We ride in the bike lane on 2-lane highways, quieter rural roads, and our favorite, Ecovies, small farm roads with very few cars.





Unexpectedly we meet friends on the road.

We return to the sea every chance we get. But we only view the water from dry land. It is too early to enjoy the warm waters of the Mediterranean.







© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018






Barcelona: The Great Outdoors

Memories of the sea and parks.

Beaches and parks beckon Las Chicas on our warmer-than-Berlin February vacation.

It’s too cold to swim, but we still head for the soothing sea. We greet the David and Goliath sculpture on our way.


Shoes off, toes in sand, we walk along  Bogatell Beach where we have memories of swimming in the summers, and seeing the friendly beach dog named Guapo, “handsome”, alongside his gay padres. We head out to the jetty and watch the masses of sailboats to the north, and container ships on the horizon.



Longing for more time by the sea we take the train to Montgat, just north of the city, where we have the beach to ourselves. More toes in sand, and even a brief moment of toes in the water!

On our first afternoon in Barcelona, we head to Montjuic, home to Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (the National Museum of Catalan Art) and the 1992 Olympic Stadium.

IMG_1113View from the front of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. with snow-capped Pyrenees!

Up the hill and around the museum, we come across this remembrance from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

The sculptor, Kang Dae-Chul, honors the Korean marathon winner, Young-Cho Hwang. The translation,
” Catalonia country favored by art and history,
Barcelona ancient and glorious city,
Kyonggi-do of Korea, land of eastern tranquility, its bright light unites us,
May this warm friendship be perpetual.”

IMG_1119Running group near the Olympic Stadium preparing for the next day’s half-marathon.

The back of Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.

On the other side of Plaza España we pass, Woman with Bird by Joan Miro, one of our favorite landmarks sadly surrounded by construction fences:


Sunday morning we meet friends for a late breakfast,

followed by a walk in Parc del Laberint, the oldest park in Barcelona.

En route to the park we pass, Velòdrom Municipal d’Horta Miquel Poblet, an Olympic monument built in 1984 in preparation for the 1986 bid for the Olympics.

IMG_8640We enter the park through the jardines, gardens, that include this old estate with it lovely Moorish features.

The labyrinth is formed by tall hedges of shrubbery for us to get mixed up in:

We finally find the way out, and go up the steps for views of the whole maze:


It’s carnival weekend, and we see some kids,

and adults in their costumes:

2 little red riding hoods, and one grandmother/big bad wolf

We have great memories of biking and hiking in Collserola Park, in the hills above Barcelona. It’s close to Lisa’s old school, so we take a walk on Carretera de les Aigues (road of fountains) except in some places it’s called by the Catalan name: “Passeig de les Aigues.”

IMG_1264View of Tibidabo, the highest point in the park. It’s home to an amusement park and Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor (church).

IMG_1262Ciclistas bring back memories of rides along the Carretera.

IMG_1261The  Carretera is part of the Ronda Verde or “green route” for cyclists around Barcelona.

IMG_1259Cacti line the trail downhill to the residential area.

IMG_1250Happy to be in the sunshine, with observatory in the background.

IMG_1266Replenishing from one of the many fountains.

IMG_1270Irises along the way mark spring in Spain!

As we remember, in Barcelona there are messages of pride everywhere.

IMG_1245Gay and lesbian pride on a street in Grácia.

IMG_1146Catalan pride symbolized by the Catalan flag and yellow ribbons for “independencia.” Many Catalans want autonomy from Spain–independence, or something similar. These ribbons decorate trees on Carrer Verdi in Grácia, near our favorite movie theater. IMG_1248Feminist Pride on a shop gate in Grácia: Loose translation from Catalan is “Feminists kick
the the mouth of sexism.”

© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018

East and West Berlin: Now and Then

Berlin Wall transformed into Art Gallery

It’s been quite chilly in Berlin for Las Chicas, with temps dipping into the minus zero Celsius region. Despite the cold, the sun shines and so we take advantage and explore some of Berlin’s history.

On Saturday we walk in the Grünewald (green forest). While enjoying the non-city feel of the forest, we are reminded of the city’s past with Teufelsberg (Devil’s Mountain) in the background. This tower was part of the American and British “listening station” during the cold war.


On Sunday we head to Friedrichshain to see the Oberbaum bridge, a long-awaited field trip. The Oberbaum Bridge was one of the eight checkpoints in the city when East and West Berlin were divided by the Wall. (For those interested in more of the history of Oberbaumbrücke )

On our path from the train to the bridge we cross places where portions of the Berlin Wall once stood.

Originally constructed in 1874, the Oberbaum Bridge stands majestically across the Spree River, a natural divider between the East and West, in the past.  Along with its historical significance,  the bridge became a little more famous in the 1990s German thriller, Run Lola Run. We are intrigued by the bridge that comes across our radar from time to time, most recently while watching the series Berlin Station on Netflix.

On the east side of the Spree River is the East Gallery, a wall covered with paintings dating back to 1990. The wall was originally constructed to celebrate the demolition of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Berlin.  Today we shift into proper tourist mode and weave in and out of tour groups to snap photos of some of the more memorable murals.

Graffiti alters more than a few of the murals. In 2009 there was a major restoration done to refresh and repaint a number of the murals that had been ruined or distorted by the volumes of graffiti over the years.

Some of the murals are quite well known,

“Detour to the Japanese Sector,” originally set in front of one of the GDR watch towers, now stands alone.


This throwback to the GDR shows the Traubant car.


The depiction of a mass of people being squeezed through the wall, representing the opening of East Berlin on 9 November 1989.


And perhaps the most famous painting showing the Soviet and GDR leaders, Breshnev and Honecker kissing, based on an actual photo from Breshnev’s 1979 visit to Berlin. The kiss was an expression of support between socialist countries of that era.

We also enjoyed the different views inside and beyond the bridge.





Molecule Man, in the distance,  is a series of aluminum sculptures, designed by American artist Jonathan Borofsky, one in Berlin, Germany and one in Iowa, United States.



© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018