In Search of Vikings

From cunning seafarers to merciless warriors, the myths and legends of Vikings have captured the imagination for generations. It is documented that they reached faraway shores from Newfoundland to Constantinople, yet nowhere else in the world can you truly get a sense for their fascinating way of life than in Norway.

Norseman’s Capital

Today’s Oslo buzzes with energy from modern neighborhoods, cutting-edge food and the most technologically advanced way to board a Viking ship. The Viking Planet is Norway’s first all-digital museum that combines 4D and virtual reality to transport you back thousands of years to the Viking Age.

Through innovative and fascinating exhibits, you can learn about shipbuilding and navigation, weapons and wars, religion and mythology, and much more. You can even interact with holograms of Viking warriors to boot.

For a more analog experience, you may be inclined to visit Oslo’s popular Viking Ship Museum, home to three burial ships that were found as part of archaeological finds. It was the practice of Vikings to bury individuals of status within a ship and surrounded by ornate gifts, like swords and helmets, as well as oxen or horses for them to use in the afterlife. However, at the time of this writing, the facility was undergoing extensive renovations. The Norwegians plan to reopen this attraction in 2026 with an expanded space nearly three times the size of the current museum.

Further Afield

If you plan to visit before the reopening of Viking Ship Museum, an hour south of Oslo you can see a replica of the intricately carved bow of one of the excavated ships at The Slottsfjell Museum. Additionally, the museum’s Viking Hall displays Norway’s fourth Viking ship — The Klåstad ship – the only preserved ship outside of Oslo. It is well worth the trek, as this is the area where the burial mounds were first discovered. Plus, you can see an actual replica of the Klåstad in the harbor of Tønsberg, which was built using tools and construction methods authentic to the Viking Age.

Nearby, an archaeological team has also uncovered five Viking longhouses at the site of Gjellestad, where a Viking ship was once discovered. These were the typical homes of the Iron Age, and its size was reflective of the social status of its owner. They were constructed out of basic materials and their roofs slightly resemble the bow of a ship. Among these longhouses found at Gjellstad is one of the largest ever to be recorded in all of Scandinavia.

Venture Beyond

Inspired by the Vikings’ passion for travel, you may find yourself continuing your exploration of Norway in Stavanger. There, you can really get a sense for the way Vikings lived. Long before its official founding as a city, the sheltered area surrounding Stavanger was an active agricultural and maritime community. A drive out to the reconstructed farmhouses in Ullandhaug provides a fascinating introduction to life at the height of the Iron Age, centuries before the Viking king Harald I defeated the last of some 29 regional princes to create the Kingdom of Norway in 872.

Near Trondheim fjord, you can journey to the small islet of Munkholmen. Not only is it a wonderful spot for a respite, but it also has a fascinating connection to the Viking Era. This remote land served as a prison during the Viking Age and later a monastery. A bit more inland, you can also witness the sacred site of Stiklestad. This was the location of the most famous battle in Norway where Viking king Olav Haraldsson was killed.  

In the northern coast of Norway, you’ll be amazed by the Lofoten Islands and the far reaches of Viking culture. There is a captivating museum called Lofotr Viking that offers insight into the role of a chieftain. It showcases the archaeological finds of a 272-foot longhouse – now the second largest of its kind after the recent discoveries at Gjellestad.

The Legacy of the Viking Age

During the height of the Viking Age, the Vikings were a force to be reckoned with in European history. Viking culture was unique because it was not tied to a country, there was no central government and they did not attempt to build a cohesive empire. What they had in common was that they hailed from the Scandinavian region in what is now Norway Finland, Sweden, and Denmark.

However, as European lands became controlled by centralized leaders and defended by trained, standing armies, they were able to defend against Viking raids. Two hundred and fifty years of history came to a halt in 1066 at the Battle of Stamford Bridge where a final attempt to reclaim a portion of land from England was met with a resounding defeat of the Norwegian Viking king. Yet, the era has become almost legendary and left a lasting legacy on the world.

In Search of Enchantment: Tenerife’s Anaga Mountains

The term Isleña, meaning island girl in Spanish, is what we call my grandmother. A term of endearment exclaimed whenever she walks in the door. ¡Llegó la isleña! (The island girl is here!) I grew up thinking it was a reference to our Cuban heritage, but when I became more inquisitive about our family’s lineage, I discovered that her nickname was a tribute to her Canary Island roots. Her father emigrated to Cuba from Santa Cruz de Tenerife and the nickname, along with a strong emotional connection to Spain, was passed down to her.

Continue reading

Useless travel advice

When traveling, I try to remember important information about the places I visit. However, after a friend called me to ask for my advice on a certain vacation spot, I’ve discovered that the information I have amassed over the years is absolutely no good to anyone.

Seriously. Useless.

Here’s a sampling of my most inappropriate recommendations to date:

Hey, I’ll be in Denver a few days. Anything I should do?

There’s a mall on 16th Street called…the 16th Street Mall. And the airport has the highest quality public bathroom toilet paper that has ever touched my vagina. You’ll be very high the entire time you’re there, so everything will be interesting. If you did Denver right, you’ll come out of your fog while sitting at a roulette table in Black Hawk.

Is Seattle a cool place?

You must be thinking of Portland. Just kidding! Seattle is for cool kids. Make sure you pack plenty of graphic t-shirts and colorful sneakers to match beanies of every color. The true mystery of Seattle isn’t where the mystery soda machine went (Google this later), but it’s that somehow, every store you walk into has an amazing soundtrack. From the Jimmy John’s to the CB2 to any of the 133 Starbucks, everywhere you go, your favorite songs mysteriously blare throughout the establishment. Except in Pike Place.

You lived in Atlanta for a while, do you think I’ll enjoy my visit?

Everything, and I mean everything, is legal in Atlanta. Las Vegas, NV has more restrictions than the capital of the Dirty South. Gun powder in your drank? Coming right up. Walking on the highway? Casual. Outright stealing? As long as you’re white and polite. Dance party in an abandoned, underground rail station? Who needs ventilation?!

Should I plan a family vacation to D.C.?

If by family you mean you, your husband and the twink you share, then yes. Otherwise, there’s nothing for straight people to do in this town.

Where should I stay in Boston?

It doesn’t matter. Everywhere you go, you end up at the same place. It’s like being inside an M.C. Escher drawing, while on some amazing ‘shrooms. Their “T” is the Cadillac of public transportation, but you haven’t lived until you’ve been a passenger in a cab that drives on the sidewalk. Cabbies will do this for five bucks extra. Oh, and don’t stand next to or touch the statue of John Harvard. If you inhale deep enough you can smell why.

San Francisco is so nice this time of year…

San Francisco is nice any time of year. But what is really suspicious to me are the locals. Everyone there is too nice. Like they are up to something. So, if you haven’t been, you should go, seriously, it’s beautiful. Just don’t talk to people. They are aliens. Also, of note, the homeless and vagrant population tend to not be so nice and may, on occasion, toss cups of their urine in your direction.

This year, I’m staying close to home. I’m thinking Houston for a weekend. I have a few friends there and they’re always talking it up.

Houston smells in a way that can cause you to contract cancer through your nose. It’s like getting shot-gunned by 30 chain smokers inside an elevator at the Excalibur in Vegas. Yet, the Margarita’s are amazing. Ah-ma-zing. You’ll need to drink them continuously to soothe the burning sensation in your throat.

I dream of traveling to Hawaii.

Go to Maui, for sure. It’s like walking around in a postcard. From the trees to the weather to the birds, everything is perfect. And it gets really old after a while. “Is that another rainbow? Geez. These gays and their agenda have gone too far.” It is worth it to endure this torture only to have the world’s best hummus at Athens Greek Restaurant in Lahaina. Yes, you heard right. Eat Greek food in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

I know I live 15 minutes away from Miami Beach, but I want the experience of driving a few hours to bathe in the same beach, but a little more north.

Then head to Jupiter, FL. It’s a beach town very, very far from South Beach (a whole 90 minutes up I-95). It is also very, very far from New Jersey (a whole 17 hours down I-95). Making it the perfect place to hide former witnesses from the Gambino crime family trials. There is one fine dining Italian restaurant where dinner for two costs about $200. A price I gladly paid to be seated by Bartolomeo “Bobby Glasses” Vernace’s widow.

I’ve never been to New York City.

Fear not. People that actually live in NYC have seen less of the city than you. My first piece of advice is that unless you have drank water in Cancun, you do not have the proper intestinal bacteria balance to eat a hot dog from a vendor, a cheese pizza from a bodega or a slice of cheesecake from a diner. Continuing on the food theme, stay away from the Pig & Whistle. And, most importantly, you will never get tickets from Tickets for the show you want to see.

Garden For All Seasons: Atlanta Botanical Garden

The trees are not tall enough to obscure the Atlanta skyline, but that’s part of the Botanical Garden’s charm. It’s not an oasis from the city, it is very much the city. One minute you’re in the heart of midtown with music blaring from cars and the next you’re under a lush trellis looking at a dragon-shaped topiary.

The Garden’s cornerstone event is Garden Lights, Holiday Lights, now in its tenth year. It’s the perfect pick-me-up if you’re looking for Christmas cheer. Countless bulbs light up the garden, bringing a smile to even the grinchiest among us.

If you go: 1345 Piedmont Ave NE. Click here for directions and parking instructions.

Garden Lights, Holiday Nights: The 2020 version of this annual event features new safety protocols, so tickets are extremely limited. Get complete pricing, safety information and more.

Is the Membership worth it? : If you’re spending considerable time in Atlanta, I say splurge on the membership. The perks are nice and the family membership pays for itself in two visits.

Sea of Flowers

“It is a land of love and wondrous beauty
Where fragrant flowers ever will grow”

from The Prettiest Flowers by Tim Surrett

No matter how much of a city person you are, there is something magical that happens when you surround yourself in a lush landscape and bathe in the extraordinary colors of flowers in bloom. Luckily, in the Caribbean, you are never too far from being surrounded by natural beauty. Beyond the sun, sea and sand, the region also offers exquisite flora in must-visit botanic gardens and parks. These are a few of my favorite places that feature some of the most unique and picturesque vegetation in the world.

Continue reading

Falling for Georgia Fall

Pumpkin and cinnamon are my least favorite flavors, so I never had a taste for fall…until I got lost in a field of sunflowers, rolled a wheelbarrow full of pumpkins and stood over a waterfall — all in one 70-degree day.

Continue reading

Fall in Love with Boston in 23 Hours

In the late nineties I cashed in a savings bond gifted to me by my godmother and used the $80 to pay for my first-ever flight. The trip was full of firsts: the first time I saw snow on the ground; the first time I got kicked out of a bar; the first time I saw the lights be turned on in a club to signal the end of the night. It was a thrill ride from the moment my cab drove on the sidewalk to when I stumbled into a comedy show headlined by Wendy Liebman to the simplest of delights of buying tulips at a corner shop.

After two decades, I returned to Boston. And in the span of a day, I rekindled my love for the City on a Hill. If you can spare 23 hours here, she may be able to charm you as well.

Continue reading

Twists and Turns in Tenerife: Canary Islands Wine Tour

Good company, good wine, good welcome,

Can make good people.

(Henry VIII, 1.4.6-7)

I boarded a small van with a group of strangers. We exchanged pleasantries and discovered that we were all in Tenerife for different reasons, some for pleasure others for business and me for a little of both. But it was our shared love of wine that was the reason for our paths crossing on this impromptu tour.

Continue reading

Leather at First Sight: Shopping in Florence

Illustration by Explore Magazine

We were about to start our dinner when the notion of love at first sight was brought up. Our group went around the kitchen and shared their views, which ranged from a resounding rejection of the entire theory to a sweet and serendipitous how-we-met story.

Continue reading

Whoosh You Were Here in Madeira

Spread appeared in Explore Magazine

It was a familiar sensation. The feeling of complete surrender, the incessant giggling, and the particular sound that skating over pavement makes. It wasn’t until my toboggan reached the bottom of the five-kilometer hill that I remembered why. I had recreated my favorite childhood pastime (to the detriment of my mother’s nerves): riding a skateboard while being towed by a friend on a bicycle.

Continue reading

Santa Barbara #Blessed

There is something magical about this place. The beach, the cliffs, the flowers, the trees. They all conspire together to thumb its nose at Los Angeles. Yet, Santa Barbara doesn’t need to be compared to another city to be better than. It earns that distinction on its own. If money and means were available to me, it’s where I would call home…at least part of the year.

Continue reading