Our Favourite Countries in Europe

From mountain hiking to art gallery hopping

Before we were jubilados (Spanish for retirees) we holidayed in France, Greece, Italy and Great Britain so now we’re visiting other countries


Vancouver, alas, subscribes to what I call “Hello Kitty” street art. Birds, bees, butterflies, sanctioned mural festival art that, for the most part, doesn’t challenge your thinking beyond “where’s the nearest place for a decaf, low-fat, no-sugar latte?”

So it may surprise you, as it did us, to find that in Norway of all places, that Stavanger, the city that oil lifted, is one of the world’s leaders in street art. Art that captures the general mood. Art that illuminates political, philosophical and poetical meanings. Art that propels expression and invites dialog. Not quite the double-shot espresso of street art in Buenos Aires but Stavanger’s is a strong brew that gets your heart pumping.

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I was kicking myself.

Three years ago in Seattle there was an exhibition of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors. Six individual rooms, small and dark. Each one painted with polka dots and pumpkins illuminated by hundreds of LEDs reflecting endless pinpricks of coloured light onto mirrored walls immersing you into a kaleidoscopic wonderland. But I was too late. The exhibition sold out quickly and without tickets, you had to queue for hours with little hope of getting in. I felt even worse when Gail, Ginger and Carol Ann talked about how spectacular it was, despite the fleeting time (only two or three minutes) you had in each mirrored cubicle where only two or three visitors were allowed at a coveted time-slot. So you can imagine how excited I was to discover the Henie Onstad Kunstsenter at Høvikodden outside Oslo has one of Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors on permanent display. Even better, it was a slow day—Magellan and I had Infinity Mirrored Room, Hymn of Life to ourselves for as long as we wanted!

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The Atlantic Road. Or as they say in Norway, Atlanterhavsveien. Worthy of the grand finale in our mini-series of memorable roads.

Magellan and I spent twenty-four hours angling around The Atlantic Road, even though it’s short, zigzagging only 8.3 kilometres over an archipelago of islands. Read more

Circa Diem.

Let’s start with the translation of the Norwegian birthday card Magellan got me:

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The world’s northernmost city. Latitude 69.6492° N. 400 kilometres above the Arctic Circle. Further north than any city in Russia, Alaska or Scandinavia. Home to 80,000 people on two islands, Tromsøya and Kvaløya. Dubbed Paris of the North. Lucky us—Magellan and I drove portions of the highway to Tromsø—three times, in the splendorous light of September.

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Sicily and modern art: seems like an oxymoron doesn’t it? Magellan and I were ambivalent about going to Favara. Mostly because we had found so little about an art complex begun in 2010 that we wanted to see, Farm Cultural Park. Paradoxical name isn’t it? Also, getting there required a triangular diversion that would add considerable driving time on head-shaker backroads. In going, we discovered a pastoral road, a town centre transformed into a Sicilian casbah—and a backstory of how cultural agitators create social change.

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