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

“Did you see any mafia?” people asked when we returned from Sicily.

“You’ll see signs they’re still around, like villages with piles of garbage at their entrances,” said those who had travelled there recently.

“You don’t see the Cosa Nostra in Sicily,” others said. “The power’s shifted to new mobs in Calabria and Naples.”

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Once upon a time long ago when the land was owned by the king, the church and the aristocracy and the Danes ruled Norway, a poor man had an idea. “Why do we not farm on Skagadalen ledge where the grass grows long for shepherding goats, Trolls bother not with snow avalanches and the rush of Seven Sisters Waterfall can be heard across the Geirangerfjord?”

“Outlandish,” exclaimed his wife. “The cliff rises straight as a mast. How will we scale down such precipices to sell our goat butter? The Trolls—especially Bøyg with his evil potions—will hurl rocks and lure us to mountain edges and to our death in the fjord we will fall.”

“Worry not thee,” said her husband. “We will build tree-trunk bridges and attach rope ladders in the most dangerous spots. It is said Bøyg hinders travellers—he will not bother we farmers.”

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It was almost a decade ago our book club started so I don’t recall whether gratitude goes to Teresa, Anna, Susan or Ed (or me?) for suggesting our first read: The Leopard, by Sicily’s Giuseppe di Lampedusa, a classic gathering no dust on my bookshelf so often is it in my hands. Little did I dream that one day I would see Lampedusa’s original manuscript—in the ballroom of the palazzo in Palermo where he lived the last thirteen years of his life.

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“How do you hear about these places?” a friend often asks.

Like Fjaerland. At the end of a remote fjord in Norway. Population 300, the same number as in the Viking Age. Until 1986 accessible only by boat.

In a magazine (Travel & Leisure?) there was a brief announcement of Book Towns: Forty Five Paradises of the Printed Word. I borrowed this delightful book from the VPL right around the time we were planning our trip to Norway. Fjaerland, it said, was “the most dramatically picturesque book town in the world.”

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COVID-19, fractious democracies, a disinformation crisis, no travel: it’s enough to make you scream isn’t it?

Last Sunday The New York Times had this to say:

The image of vocal terror is among our most universal and elemental…In actuality, the most horrifying scream is one with no sound at all.

I think we can agree that the most iconic human figure in western art, the soundless image that best captures our existentialism angst, the image of vocal terror expressing our inner state, is Edvard Munch’s The Scream.

 Norway’s greatest painter—one of the world’s greatest painters—Munch painted several versions of The Scream and since almost all of his 1,100 paintings 4,500 drawings and 18,000 woodcuts, etchings, lithographs, copperplates and photographs are in Norway, we were looking forward to seeing his artwork.

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“Where are you going in such a hurry traveler?”

Good question.

But hardly anybody’s travelling these days Spice you say.

Ah, but we are all, always travelling.

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