Wednesday, November 16, 2011


The fall weather this year was pretty seemed much warmer than last fall.  Thank goodness!

It's only November, you say?  So, why did I use the past-tense verb "was" when describing fall?  Shouldn't fall still be happening in November?!  

Nope.  Not here, at least.  The freezing temps have come out to play, the trees are now naked, and a thick, gray layer of clouds has settled over Oslo.  But, so far it's still better than last year.

Anyhow, here's a farewell to the gorgeous bit of fall we got this year...

Thanks to Silje & Pierre, we spent a weekend in a cabin at beautiful Hafjell, near Lillehammer.  I forgot the memory card for my camera, so the pics were limited.  Regardless, we spent the weekend with an excellent group of friends - thanks to the Strobe o'Clock crew for an amazing time! 
We stopped in Lillehammer on the way home, to visit the site of the 1994 Winter Olympics.  It was a teeny town, but quite pretty.

Olympic remnants.


Excellent mural.

A slew of fall photos around Oslo...

And the Moment of Zen: The amazingly ridiculous dance party we managed to get going at a cabin in the middle of nowhere.  I'm sure there are embarrassing pics somewhere out there, but trust don't want to see them.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Paris, and Queuing Up

We have a running list of places to visit in Europe before heading home to the U.S. (and it seems like we add more all the time), so I'm constantly trolling the calendar and flights to see what we can squeeze into the schedule for a reasonable price.  

When checking the flights back to Oslo from Tuscany, I researched to see if there was anything that would work for the weekend on the journey back...

...and I found an $18 flight to Paris.  

Done and done.

Kate stayed in Italy to finish up her trip, and Ken flew to Paris from Oslo to meet me for the weekend.

I had the morning and afternoon to explore a bit before Ken arrived.  He's been to Paris a couple of times, and this was my first visit.  So, knowing that the chances of getting him back into the Louvre were extremely slim since he'd already been, I spent the morning there.  

It was massive.  And gorgeous.  

I didn't take any pics inside the Louvre.  There were people taking pics next to every single piece of art, and I wondered if they were planning on setting up camp in there for the night, since it takes long enough to get through most of it while zooming through.  I opted for the zoom approach.

The beautiful Louvre.  It feels gigantic inside, and looks even more gigantic outside.

Still going...

After the Louvre, I headed to the d'Orsay.  And arrived to find the museum was closed due to a strike.  Well, shoot.  I just had to wander the streets of Paris in the sunshine, then.  Okay...

Charm.  Everywhere.


Clock on the d'Orsay.

Love love love the flower boxes and blue skies.

Gorgeous/delish bakery just down the street from our hotel in the Latin Quarter.  

Opera cake from the bakery...heaven.

Ken arrived Friday evening.  So I pulled myself away from the bakery, and we found a random restaurant where we enjoyed a "cheaper" (yep, Paris seemed a little more reasonable compared to Norway...who would've thought?!) and delish dinner.

After dinner, we had beers with Steven, a friend of mine from elementary school who's living in Paris for a bit while working toward his Ph.D. in French Literature.  It was fun to catch up and reminisce about growing up in T-town. 

Man beers, and girl beers (with glow sticks!).

The next morning, I decided to check out the d'Orsay again to see if the strike was over.  Alas, it was still closed.  So I took a long walk, and Ken went for a run.

Lone pic from the walk.  (Let's face it, I also did some shopping during the "walk" sans husband...)

After Ken's run, we headed up to Montmartre...such a fantastic area.

Gorgeous Sacre Coeur.

Fall wall in Montmartre.

The Eiffel Tower was next on the list...

A little hazy on the approach.

But very nice when we got there.  

A few notes regarding our headwear in the photo above:  

1.  Yes, it says "PARIS" on Ken's hat.  He needed a white hat for his Halloween costume, so he purchased this hat solely because the "A" in Paris was a bedazzled Eiffel Tower.  And he wore it only for this pic.  Too bad they didn't have a coordinating fanny pack for this hat...

2.  Yes, I'm wearing a beret in Paris.  It was frigid outside that morning, so I popped into Benetton (new love) on Champs-Elysees to see if they had a simple hat.  Lo and behold, they had a wall of cute berets in different colors, and I didn't really dig the other hats in the shop.  I only wore it until it warmed up a bit outside, then put it on again in mockery of Ken's bedazzled hat for this photo.  I'll now wear it in cities other than Paris, hopefully without feeling like a goon.

3.  Yes, we took these hats off immediately after taking the pic.

Pretty door on the walk back to the hotel.

LOVED this building.

We had a little time to explore before our flight the last day, so we visited Notre Dame and did a final lap around part of the Seine.

Beautiful Notre Dame.

The bus back to the airport was the most extreme case of line-cutting we've experience on this continent (queuing up in a civilized manner doesn't seem to be a priority in many places here).  We've put aside our line-waiting politeness during this season of our lives, and now make it a game to test our line-cutting skillz as well.  It also makes situations that would normally tick us off during long bits of travel quite entertaining, since we can make snarky remarks to each other about ruining our chance for the cut, getting our game face on for the cut, not edging ourselves in well enough to keep the others at bay, etc.

You have to experience the game yourself to truly appreciate it.  So, next time you're in Europe, don't get irritated when people cut.  Just cut in line yourself, and  

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tuscan Goodness

I really wanted to join Kate for part of her Italian adventure (twist my arm).  So, after my weekend in Amsterdam, I flew to Tuscany to meet her.  

As we landed in Pisa, the Mediterranean called to me with its siren song from the window of the plane.  It was an absolutely gorgeous, warm day, so I took advantage of the opportunity to sit on the beach for a bit.  Viareggio was a 20-minute train ride from Pisa, and the trip out of the way was totally worth it.  I rolled up the sleeves of my dress and sat in this bliss for a couple of hours...

Who would've thought it was mid-October?

This was a good decision.  

As the sun started to fade, I walked back to the train station and headed to Siena to meet Kate. 

Insanely beautiful sunset while waiting for my transfer at the Empoli station.

I arrived in Siena just in time for dinner and a walk before Kate and I crashed at our cute little hotel.  The food in Siena was the best I've had in Italy.  Here, we both ordered glorious pasta dishes (Kate: tortellini with ricotta and pumpkin, me: tortellini with fondue and truffle).  They were both amazing, and we definitely ended up at this restaurant for dinner again on our last night in Siena.

We spent the next day walking around and exploring Siena.  It was such quaint little city, and although there were still quite a few tourists there, it didn't seem as overrun as other parts of Italy.  Plus it was October, so that helped.

A few Siena pics...

Gorgeous details everywhere.

Walking around the city walls.

Another fantastic sunset.

On our second day, we found a Chianti tour that sounded cool.  So we rolled out in a van with six other Americans for the day.  

Just gorgeous.

The tour included a stop at a vineyard for wine tasting...yes, please.

This vineyard also aged its own balsamic vinegar, and made truffle oil from truffles hunted by the owner.  I have a slight (read: major) obsession with all things truffled, so my interest was piqued.  We got to sample all of these goodies.  Sensory overload!  I had to stop myself from investing in a small bottle of truffle oil that would've fit so nicely into the liquid allowance of my carry-on bag.  Common sense and frugality took over, and I somehow resisted that little bottle of heaven.  They do, however, have a cooking class that sounds amazing there, so maybe someday I'll have to return...

Keeping my hands busy so they weren't digging around in my euro stash to make a semi-ridiculous truffle oil purchase, I headed outside for a few more pics...

Cute pet pigs.

This place was perfection.

It actually looked a lot like Oregon wine country.  Shh...

The last stop of the tour de van was San Gimignano.  (Yes, I had to ask the van driver how to pronounce it.)

Fun fact: the bushes have capers growing in them.

The amount of gorgeous architecture in Italy is astounding.

Loved the vines.

Medieval towers.

Pretty views everywhere.

Favorite combo: cherry, hazelnut, and pistachio.

I had to head back to Pisa the next morning to catch a flight, so I hopped off the train while Kate continued onto Florence for the rest of her adventure.  I loved getting to spend time with Kate, and getting to spend time with her in such a lovely place was just fantastic.  I was so proud of her for finally taking the time off work and life to follow her travel dreams.

Not knowing when/if I'd be back in Tuscany again (other than for the cooking class and truffle oil purchase, of course...), I decided to explore a bit before my flight.  So I checked out the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Funny, but it wasn't really as grandiose as you'd think a famous tower would be.  Cool that it's leaning, though.  

I also had a little time to make a quick train trip to Lucca, since the city walls are supposed to be interesting.  By the way, the Italian train system is amazing.  They make it so easy to get anywhere, and the trains run frequently.  Thanks, Trenitalia.

The city walls in Lucca were really wide, and they had walking paths and trees on them.  Very cool indeed.

Loving the warm weather and beautiful leaves.

Walking through the city walls to get back to the train station.

All of these places were absolutely gorgeous, and I loved getting to travel with Kate.  I've missed our happy hours, Blazer games, and walks around the neighborhood in Portland.  For now, this was a pretty decent replacement!

Moment of Zen:  the wine, balsamic, truffle oil, and tiramisu tasting at the vineyard.  I didn't take any pics because I didn't want to get distracted from the gloriousness (or look like a rookie).