A Tropical Stay in Soufriere, St. Lucia

It was mid-August and too hot to think about snow when my husband suggested we might want to book a tropical getaway for the following winter, but he was spot on. We began to look at maps and talk to friends and finally decided St. Lucia was the place – a less-visited island where there would be plenty to see and do.

One of the first things on my list was a day of scuba on the island’s colorful reefs. I had read about parrot fish, creole wrasse, peacock flounder and giant barrel sponges, and I wanted to get underwater with them. My husband decided he would learn to dive, too. So, instead of one day on the reefs, we spent three with the scuba shop at Anse Chastanet – he in lessons and me on boat dives. By the middle of the week, he was a certified scuba diver, and we had enjoyed our first dive together with barracuda, fire worms, lobsters, butterfly fish and golden eels. 

Unfortunately, we also saw several invasive and poisonous lionfish on the reef. This beautiful creature has few natural predators and easily takes over local environments. We were told that they had come to the Caribbean from places near Florida where negligent fish tank owners had emptied them into the sea. Also a problem in the Mediterranean where they slip through the Suez Canal from the Red Sea, laws are being created around the world real-time to figure out how best to manage these fish. Spearing, so far, has yielded good results but remains illegal in most places.

That’s too bad, because it turns out they are delicious when properly – and safely – prepared.  We have found a few restaurants in the islands that serve them, but most don’t because they are hard to keep in regular supply since poachers are their primary source. Hopefully laws will soon exist to help get this invasive species off the reefs and into the restaurants. 

We were lucky enough to be at a small boutique hotel where a lionfish cooking class was on the menu of excursions and events available. We signed up with Chef Wesley who showed us how to manage the lionfish’s dangerous barbs, filet and pan sear it. The light fish cooked quickly, and its small filets were delicious with a local herb and pepper salsa, a little banana ketchup or just nestled in a corn tortilla. It’s still not clear if we were more excited about cooking the fish or eating it. 

Once well versed in the sea life around St. Lucia, we wanted to learn more about the land. This volcanic island burbles with boiling hot springs and offers mud bath experiences to visitors who exfoliate in volcanic mud and then rinse in mineral springs said to make them look years younger. There, we walked along the sulfur springs that give Soufriere, St. Lucia, its name. The French word describes many volcanoes in the Lesser Antilles because early explorers identified the rotten egg smell around them and called it Soufriere, or sulfur air. At this, the world’s only drive-through volcano, we could certainly appreciate the namesake odor. The volcano has a history of activity every 200 years or so, and the last event was in 1766. We were standing in the spot where this sleeping volcano will again erupt one day. This is also the area of St. Lucia with the most activities for visitors. 

Just down the road, we wandered through the verdant Diamond Botanical Gardens where poinsettias, pathos, snake plants, and many others that can only survive in carefully tended pots where we live are thriving in a lush jungle. Tucked into the rainforest there is also a steamy waterfall colored by minerals from the nearby volcano’s waters. This stream feeds three of an original 12 baths that were built in 1784 for Louis XVI’s troops and are now open to garden guests who want to enjoy the waters’ legendary effects of youth and vigor.

Soufriere and its rich soil near the sleeping volcano were once home to a sugar plantation that, over time, evolved into a banana and cocoa plantation. We walked through the Morne Coubaril Estate’s traditional 18th century Caribe village with a knowledgeable young guide who pressed sugar cane into a sweet liquid, the foundation of local rum. He also showed us how cocoa beans are fermented on banana leaves, dried, roasted and prepared to make chocolate. Naturally, he let us taste several varieties of the resulting St. Lucian rums and chocolates. 

On the edge of the sleeping volcano’s caldera are two looming volcanic plugs, Gros Piton and Petit Piton. The Pitons are the logo of St. Lucia and visible from most parts of the island. One afternoon we drove to Vieux Fort at the southernmost tip of St. Lucia and visited the 730-foot-tall Moule-a-Chique lighthouse there, the second tallest in the world. Its original hilltop structure is weathered and dismantled, but harbor police remain present to monitor local waters for safety reasons – and to ward off would-be smugglers. 

It was nice to have the Pitons orient us to our home base from anywhere on St. Lucia. We talked to hikers who had enjoyed Tet Paul, a nature trail up Gros Piton, but we were happy to have explored both Pitons underwater on this trip. As we watched the sun set behind them over a creole dinner on our last evening, we raised a chocolate garnished dirty banana cocktail in honor of the bananas, rum, chocolate and people that gave this island its rich and delicious history. Their cuisine, we had been told, is a blend of heroes and colors – mild but delicious when combined, it is so good because it is made with love. 


Where to Stay: The Green Fig is a boutique hotel with marvelous service, food, and Piton views, but bring earplugs on weekends when loud parties might echo in town – a concern Soufriere hoteliers are addressing.  www.greenfigresort.com  

Where to Dive: Anse Chastanet Resort www.scubastlucia.com 758-459-7755   

Get Around: Erane Alexander with Elegant Concierge can provide transfer and private tours – islandelegantconcierge@gmail.com or WhatsApp 758-519-9233.

Taste Chocolate and Rum: Johnathan at Morne Coubaril Estate www.mornecoubaril.com

Lesley Frederikson is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.


Ushuaia at Bottom of the World

On our way to and from an Antarctic adventure on the National Geographic Explorer vessel, my husband and I had a little time to spend in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. It was an unexpected part of our expedition, but we found it was a city worth visiting in its own right and wished we had budgeted more time to enjoy it. 

Our first taste of the city was from a tour bus between the airport and a waiting catamaran that would be our introduction to the Beagle Channel. As we drove through town and then into Tierra del Fuego National Park, our guide shared with us some of the details that make this part of the world so unusual. Often a rainy climate where winds can blow up to 75 miles per hour, this is the only place in Argentina where the mountains, sea and forest all come together. This makes excellent terrain when rain turns to snow for visitors to ski, dog sled and enjoy music events that celebrate the longest night of the year in snowy June. The Andes make a sharp turn here at the southern tip of the continent and begin to run from west to east and then underwater down to Antarctica. 

Tree roots grow along the surface of this young land where only a few inches of soil rest on a surface that was covered by a glacier just 20,000 years ago. Beech trees adorned with wild mistletoe make up most of the forest. Sadly, the climate here is inhospitable to trees; it can take up to 300 years for one to fully decompose, and it takes up to 100 years for a new one to grow. A wild plan to increase residency in Ushuaia by introducing 48 beavers for hunters in 1946 went terribly wrong and now up to 100,000 beavers gnaw on those remaining trees without predation. 

Residency in Ushuaia has long been an important goal for Argentina as a way to exercise sovereignty so close to Chile. In fact, the entire territory of Tierra del Fuego is separated from the rest of Argentina by the Strait of Magellan and is only accessible by land on roads that traverse through Chile. Thus, it has been a priority of Argentina’s to entice residents to the territory and establish the country’s position there. The park through which we drove was established in 1960 for that very reason.  

Before that, other efforts had been made toward the same goal. There had been a native population, the Yamana, who had made Tierra del Fuego their home for thousands of years, but missionaries who had discovered them in the 1850s brought diseases that eradicated their population by 1881. Then, the first Argentinian flag flew in 1884. The small settlement the missionaries began didn’t really take hold until Argentina established a penal colony in Ushuaia in 1902 to further promote settlement. The thought was that jailers would bring their families along, and that would motivate schools, stores and businesses to support and grow the small city. 

The prison officially closed in 1947, but now a museum there depicts what life was like for the prisoners who were among the worst in Argentina. Small cells and strict rules were the way of life for up to 600 inmates who inhabited the 386 cells. In the first 20 years of the prison, inmates worked to build up Ushuaia. Not only did they build their own penitentiary, they built the city’s roads, bridges and a 25km train track through town and up to what is now the National Park. Their work groups provided services such as printing, firefighting, electricity and telephones to the rest of the city. It was almost impossible to escape this prison, and very few tried. Their stories are included in exhibits tucked into restored cells there. 

In other wings of the prison, art and culture of the area are highlighted. One exhibit expands on the historical information about the first Yamana people. We had become aware of these fishing people at an interpretive center in Tierra del Fuego National Park, but this museum uses more life-sized dioramas to explain different aspects of their story.  

The prison also devotes space to the special bicontinental relationship Argentina has with South America and Antarctica – one of only a handful bicontinental countries in the world. Penguin species from Antarctica are displayed in icy dioramas and explorers from the Heroic Age of Exploration are honored near plaques detailing their expeditions and models of ships that were important to the history of the area. 

Argentina’s efforts at settlement in Ushuaia have been successful. The population of this university town has grown from 4,600 in the 1960s to over 60,000 now. Downtown, shops sell outdoor gear to explorers headed into Patagonia for hiking or south to the White Continent. A Hard Rock Café serves loyal globe-trotting fans, and gift shops peddle marble penguins and mugs from the End of the World. Argentina still tempts settlers by exempting Tierra del Fuego from any federal taxes, but for us the natural beauty, warm welcome and proximity to so much outdoor fun is enough to lure us back. 


Albatros Hotel: www.albatroshotel.com.ar

Visit the Museums: www.museomaritimo.com

Explore the Park: www.national-parks.org/argentina/tierra-del-fuego

Find out More: www.turismoushuaia.com

Lesley Frederikson is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.COPYRIGHT 2023 CREATORS.COM

Off the Grid in Antarctica

After years of consideration – and several Covid delays – my husband and I decided this was the year to attack our bucket lists with vigor. At the top of my list was a delightful spring trip to Italy full of culture, wine and history. My husband’s was literally the polar opposite; he wanted us to explore Antarctica. It wasn’t something I had ever considered – it’s cold down there – but we had made a pact, so we booked the trip. 

It turns out that Antarctica is actually warmer than our northern home in January, so we chose that month to thaw out on the White Continent with a National Geographic expedition that promised opportunities to get up close and personal with penguins and glaciers. To be safe, we packed long underwear and heated socks with our waterproof pants and boots for wet landings from zodiac boats. A National Geographic parka with cozy liner was included in our trip and waiting for us onboard our ship. 

After much preparation and planning, we flew overnight from Atlanta to Buenos Aires where we were met and taken to a local hotel for refreshing before a tour gave us a brief overview of Buenos Aires. That evening, we met our fellow global explorers at a cocktail reception where we learned about the next steps of our journey. Then, after a sunset dinner in the hotel’s 32nd floor lounge, we fell into bed. 

Our 3:30 wakeup call got us rolling for a charter flight that took us to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost city on the planet. There, we boarded coaches and toured the Tierra del Fuego National Park as we learned about the area’s history and landscape. At the end of the tour, we boarded a catamaran where we lunched and cruised through the Beagle Channel back to the dock where the National Geographic Explorer awaited us in Ushuaia. By early afternoon we were casting off and waving at the last people, cars, buildings and trees we would see for the next ten days. 

Our voyage had favorable winds for the two-day trip across the Drake Passage, so guests bonded and laughed as we lurched around getting our sea legs. Evenings consisted of daily recaps, weather forecasts and cocktails in the lounge before creative and varied meals in the dining room. This pattern continued through the journey. 

Once we arrived in Antarctica, though, our days became so adventure-filled that they ran together. A map in the appropriately named Chart Room was updated daily to show the progress of our adventure. Our first entry was a stop at Brown Bluff, a place where there were too many penguins to go ashore, so we took zodiac rides along glaciers, through “bergy bits,” the smaller icebergs near shore, and got our first whiff of the very pungent penguin poo. We learned that the fragrant feces was an easy way to spot a penguin colony from afar because it is always pink; the same color as the krill the birds rely on for sustenance. True to form, there was a pink tint to the snow on which the squawking birds wandered, argued, rested and fed their chicks. 

Leopard seals rested on floating ice nearby. The colonies for them are bountiful buffets where they can fill their bellies on fresh penguin that are forced to pass them in search of food. On shore, penguin parents take turns with the chicks. One parent will stay to feed the baby – up to 40% of their own body weight in regurgitated krill – while the other braves the waves to swim out for a refill. Often the birds approach the water in large groups to push past the danger zone and will leap out of the water to gain speed as they catch a quick breath. The result is a sea that pops with penguins coming and going from the colony. Two lucky zodiacs provided safe refuge for penguins who decided to leap right up and into them. 

The National Geographic staff worked hard to find shelter from sporting winds that threatened to foil our zodiac trips and other planned activities. In Croft Bay they settled into a place that has not been available to any ship before because it has always been frozen. While we kayaked among icebergs and took a polar plunge in the below-freezing water, the crew sent out zodiacs to map the bay and found that previous explorers had miscalculated the shoreline because it had always been snow covered. A still bay for our playtime felt fortunate, but at our evening recap we learned these details that made the open water seem a little less lucky. 

Another day we visited a shack on Snow Hill Island that had once provided shelter to six researchers from Sweden who became stuck there in 1902 for 22 months before being rescued. The uninsulated, tiny shack is now a testament to the Heroic Age of exploration in Antarctica. Coincidentally, orange tents near the shack were home to Argentinian researchers who now work there. 

On Deception Island, we hiked up the side of a volcanic crater. We had previously learned about the first planes in Antarctica that had launched from this island’s s-curved runway and the active volcanoes that quashed any more long-term structures there. That evening we saw footage that the crew’s divers had taken of massive bone piles that remain on the bay’s floor from the active whale and seal hunting that had also once stationed there. 

Of course, there were more penguin colonies to walk through where naïve birds inspected us curiously. We also found waterfalls at which to marvel, whales to photograph and opportunities to take in the massive ice structures that float silently by in places that only two years ago were frozen solid. It was a serene relief to be away from the bustle of first world life, and after a crossing back to Argentina that was more of a Drake Shake than our gentler southbound passage had been, it was a shock to see people, cars, buildings and stoplights. But memories of the peace on Antarctica remain, and with them a renewed sense of how important it is to protect them. 


National Geographic Explorer goes off the beaten path for true Expeditions. They partner with Lindblad Expeditions, but for the best service contact Natural Habitat Adventures to book the trip. www.nathab.com

Lesley Frederikson is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.


Bold and Beautiful Buenos Aires

My husband and I recently had an opportunity to spend a long weekend in the city of Fair Winds in Argentina, Buenos Aires. This current name is an abbreviation of the city’s original name, Ciudad de Nuestra Senora Santa Maria del Buen Ayre by Spanish explorers who recognized the fresh air in the original malaria-free port of San Telmo, named for the patron saint of seafarers. 

On a day-long private tour we visited this original port area and were surprised by cobbled streets and brightly mismatched buildings that harken back to the humble origins of this neighborhood. Originally an immigrant barrio first settled in the 1500s, the neighborhood eventually became a rough shipyard area. By the mid-1800s, it was largely filled with Italian immigrants. They could not afford paint for the rough shacks they built there, so they used leftovers from boats in port and cobbled together patchwork exteriors. More immigrants arrived from all over Europe, and in this raucous mix of culture the Argentine Tango was born. 

During our tour of the capital, we saw many of the wide boulevards and giant mansions that added to the city’s unofficial title of Paris of South America, and our Porteño guide took us deeper. Locals are called Porteños, or People of the Port in Spanish. Their Parisian ties began in the late 1700s when the French revolution influenced fashion and culture. Then, in the mid-1800s, a series of epidemics moved wealthy families out of the crowded city center to Recoleta where they built elaborate French-styled mansions. An especially large wave of Spanish and Italian immigrants moved into the neighborhoods they had vacated, and while Spanish influences had diminished after Argentina’s 1816 independence from Spain, Italian influences blossomed. The city’s pizza shops are said to be the best in the world, and hand gestures on the street reminded us of a recent trip to Rome. But other European influences also remain in places like Palermo’s meticulous Rose Garden, designed in 1914 by a French landscaper. 

Unfortunately, the growth and abundance of this city came to its knees with the 1929 stock market crash in the United States and still hasn’t recovered. Wealthy families who relied on cattle and agricultural trade were ruined and ultimately forfeited their mansions that now house embassies and other endeavors. We lunched by a fountain in the dappled courtyard of The National Decorative Arts Museum, a renovated mansion that is home to a small signed bronze Thinker by Rodin and a maquette of a fireplace section the artist had designed for this grand home. 

Rodin’s work is also featured just a few minutes’ walk away at the free National Fine Arts Museum. Tucked between rooms of paintings and statues from world-renowned artists are two rooms entirely devoted to Rodin. There we saw his drawings, small casts and large sculptures. I was particularly captivated by the small bronze and large marble sculptures of The Kiss. Elsewhere the galleries were laid out somewhat chronologically to illustrate the influence of time on the evolution of art.

Once in this Recoleta area of Buenos Aires, one is almost honor-bound to find time to wander through its cemetery. Once an out-of-town vegetable garden for priests, this 13-acre cemetery was eventually absorbed by the city and became another place where wealthy families demonstrated their affluence. Stained glass, sculptures and extravagant details adorn the mausoleums of presidents, military men, aristocrats and even the famed Evita Peron whose political impact is still felt today in families who remain divided about her.

Farther out of the city, Argentine culture takes a more relaxed turn. One afternoon we visited the Tigre Delta and had succulent fresh fruits served in a cup of orange juice at the Port of Fruits, the docks where fruit once entered the city of Buenos Aires. It is now an area of interior design shops, produce stands, craft stalls, and the wicker, cane and reed markets that are local specialties. We hopped on a tour boat that wound through the world’s fifth largest delta where there is no running water and groceries and water jugs are delivered by a market barge to summer cottages that now pepper the shores of this meandering estuary. 

Taking our adventure the opposite direction into the pampas, we spent an afternoon on an estancia, the Argentine version of a working ranch. Gauchos with jaunty berets led us on horseback through scrub brush and among cattle, and afterward we sat on rustic benches sipping beer and nibbling empanadas in the shade. Later, we were served a lunch that included seven roasted meats and bottles of local Malbec by those same ranch hands. We capped off the afternoon with traditional dancing to a lively three-piece band. 

Our guide had mentioned that Argentinians are passionate people when he suggested we take in a tango show. What had begun in La Boca as a forbidden men’s dance with its roots in the waltz eventually incorporated women into its sultry tangle. It is true that the culture, food, wine and history in Buenos Aires are passionate, but it is the people who bring that passion to life, and in that night of tango, we felt its intensity thrum through us with each movement of the powerful dance. 


Book a Guide: Emiliano Rossi emilianomartinrossi@gmail.com

Where to Stay: Miravida Soho Wine Bar and Hotel www.miravidasoho.com

Take in a Tango: El Viejo Almacen viejoalmacen.com.ar/eng/

Enjoy an Estancia: Estancia El Ombu de Areco www.estanciaelombu.com/en/

Decorative Arts Museum: www.turismo.buenosaires.gob.ar/en/atractivo/national-museum-decorative-art

National Fine Arts Museum: www.bellasartes.gob.ar/en/

Lesley Frederikson is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.



I’d never seen a bathroom with such a tiny shower in it, and I wasn’t quite sure about the closet-sized kitchen that was three steep marble steps down from the rest of the apartment. But marble floors, arched ceilings and worn stone stairs intriguingly recalled the apartment’s period as a monastery for the thousand-year-old church next door. And when our young host pulled open the wooden shutters and glass doors onto the balcony overlooking the Arno River in Florence, Italy, I knew we had booked the right place. 

From that balcony my husband and I enjoyed our morning pastries, afternoon coffees and evening wines overlooking the Arno. Our view from the south bank of the river meant we were always shaded and looking out at the warm Tuscan sun shining on everything around us. Beneath us, boaters and paddle boarders rowed up and down the Arno. To our right were crowds swarming the Ponte Vecchio, snapping selfies and shopping for jewelry. And to our left were even more visitors on the Ponte Santa Trinità with their cameras aimed back toward Florence’s oldest and most famous bridge. 

The nearly 700-year-old Ponte Vecchio is, indeed, very photo worthy. The only bridge in Florence to survive the retreating German army’s destruction at the end of WWII, images of it are splashed on souvenirs as the standard bearer of Florence. Along the length of the bridge, an elevated walkway remains that once connected the royal Palazzo Pitti with Palazzo Vecchio through what is now the famed Uffizzi Gallery. The nearly kilometer-long Corridoio Vasariano was built in 1565 when Grand Duke Cosimo I de’Medici wanted to move between his two palaces privately elevated above his subjects. Thirty years later, the smell of butchers and tanners plying their wares on the bridge became too much for his son who made a decree that only jewelers and goldsmiths could operate there. The decree still stands, and now almost 50 tiny shops line the bridge with sparkling windows that lure tourists from around the world. 

With only three days to explore the city, our historic home base allowed us to access to all we needed. Shops, cafes, wine tasting and wandering were all within a few steps of our heavy wooden front door. We began with a wander across Ponte Vecchio with its glittering windows to the famous Uffizi Gallery through which the Duke’s private corridor once ran. Braced for overwhelming crowds, we were delighted to find very manageable groups moving through corridors of marble statues between which stone benches welcomed the weary. We had purchased the gallery’s app for our phones and were able to listen and read about many of the most famous paintings and sculptures for a fraction of the cost of a guide. 

So much history and art can be overwhelming in one day, and we found ourselves becoming embarrassingly jaded about the magnificent pieces we were seeing. It was time to find refreshment in a place where we could absorb all we had taken in. Fortunately, Piazza Della Signoria is just steps away. There we shared gelato and admired the Loggia dei Lanzi, an open-air sculpture gallery that once held public ceremonies but now is home to impressive bronze and marble statues more than 700 years old.

The next day we stayed on the south side of the Arno and walked to the Palazzo Pitti, the palace that served to prove the Medici power in Tuscany when it was purchased in the 1500s. Originally built in the 1400s for a local banker, the palace changed hands several times over the centuries and also served as the residence of the Habsburg-Lorraines. It became home for the new King of Italy from 1865-1871 when the country’s capital was briefly moved to Florence after unification.

With such royalty and wealth coursing through the Palazzo Pitti, it is easy to imagine how opulent and grand the rooms are. Each has an intricately designed ceiling with countless paintings by myriad masters. We came early in the day and found ourselves alone in several of the rooms where we pretended we were the royalty of yore as we wandered among paintings and sculptures. Part of the Palazzo’s tourism success lies in its excellent planning. Museums on different floors house art and treasures in separate areas so that guests can balance their time. 

And if the indoor treasures are not enough, the garden behind the palace is equally breathtaking. We saved it for day three of our tour so that we would have time to really soak it up. Families with picnics and couples on blankets found dappled sunlight in quiet spots. We wandered up Boboli Hill and down through the gardens marveling at the grottoes, statues and fountains. The Medicis had created this first Italian garden in a manicured style that would be replicated for centuries, and subsequent inhabitants of the Palazzo expanded upon it, each adding their own touch. 

That evening we strolled up to Piazzale Michelangelo where we toasted with a bottle of wine at sunset to the most magnificent view of the city. Passing a bronze replica of Michelangelo’s David, we marveled at all we had seen in this city of art where da Vinci, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Galileo and Dante found inspiration. It was a lot to absorb. Fortunately, we had rubbed the bronze nose of Il Porcellino, a sculpture in the Mercato Nuovo, on our first day in town. Tradition says that this will ensure our return to Florence – a good thing, since we have so much left to see.


            More on the Uffizzi Gallery, Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens – www.uffizi.it/en

            Get the app – www.uffizigallery.app

Cross the Ponte Vecchio – www.visitflorence.com/florence-monuments/ponte-vecchio.html

Stay with a View – Email Ilkay Tusoman at termaotelcilik@hotmail.com for links to her historic apartments in Florence. 

          Taste the wines – www.obsequium.it/en/

Lesley Frederikson is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.


A Walk Through Time in Ancient Rome

It is the quintessential symbol of Rome, printed on mugs, pencil cases, T-shirts and canvas bags all over the city – the Colosseum. Every movie filmed in Rome includes a shot of the protagonists zooming around its lofty arches a la Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday. On a recent five-day tour of Rome, my husband and I knew this had to be at the top of our list, and planning the particulars of it led to something of an education. 

I soon learned that a tour of the Colosseum almost always comes with an afternoon wander through the Forum because of their proximity to one another. I also learned that my Shakespearean idea of Caesar being murdered on the steps of a building called the Forum was misguided. The Forum was actually a five-acre commercial heart of ancient Rome filled with social, political and religious buildings. This was the center of government as far back as 700BC and was in use into the 700s AD. And while the Forum was, indeed, the seat of government during the time of Julius Caesar, the senate house there was not in use at the time of his death. It had been burned to the ground and was being renovated and rebuilt by Julius Caesar himself. In fact, he was about a mile away in a neighborhood called Largo di Torre Argentina at the Roman Senate’s temporary location when he was murdered by fellow senators on the Ides of March, 44BC – a mistake they soon lamented when all of Rome deeply mourned his death. 

With my myths dispelled and a realization that I had a lot yet to learn, I booked a tour with Paola Puecher, a Licensed Tourist Guide with the city of Rome whose knowledge of the history, geography, architecture and art of the city have been tested through oral and written exams. She did not disappoint. 

My husband and I met Puecher and four other visitors at a coffee shop just outside the Colosseum’s metro station where we had enjoyed a cappuccino and pastry in preparation of what turned out to be a marathon, not a sprint, through ancient history. She began our education immediately with a history of the giant structure. Built in the first century AD by Emperor Vespasian, the Colosseum was meant to be a gift to the people of Rome on the site of Nero’s former Golden Palace. In fact, a colossal golden statue of Nero that had stood in that space became the structure’s namesake – the Colosseum. As many as 60,000 people could fill the Colosseum in about a half hour with their numbered marble coins for reserved seating. And with the first historical use of zig-zag stair cases to improve the flow, visitors could be evacuated in only five. 

A trip into the tunnels beneath the main arena was a rare treat worth a few extra Euros. From there we could see the aqueduct that originally brought water to Nero’s pleasure lake that had once shimmered on this spot. We also saw some of the 28 hoists that slaves operated to lift animals, people, supplies and even boats up into the giant arena. With three daily events, occasionally in a flooded arena, the Colosseum was built in 10 years to bring the people of Rome together; it remains 2000 years later bringing people together from around the globe.

Just across the road from this iconic structure we stepped further back in time to Palatine Hill, one of the seven hills that form the boundary of Rome’s ancient city. Legend says that demigod twins who had been raised by a she-wolf argued over the location and leadership of the city, and when Romulus killed his brother Remus in 753BC, Rome was born – on Palatine Hill. From there the community grew sprawlingly until Julius Caesar decided to get things organized in 55BC. It was he who concentrated shops, public offices and buildings in one location to create the city center, the legendary Forum. 

Not long after, Emperor Augustus and his wife Livia built their palace atop the hill. In Latin, palatium simply means building, but after the home they created on Palatine Hill, the word palace evolved to mean an opulent residence of someone in power. And this one does not disappoint. With fountains, a private amphitheater, aqueducts, pools or courtyards for almost all of the 10,000 rooms, and more than 200,000 servants to cater to them, Augustus and Livia’s 52-year marriage was luxurious, and walking in their space felt like a privilege. 

The rest of the Forum nestles at the bottom of Palatine Hill. Puecher expertly guided us down the cobbled roads while bringing the ancient city to life with her words. The basilica we saw had been handed over to the Christians after Emperor Constantine converted in 312AD, and its distinctive shape became the template for all Christian basilicas thereafter. In another building, she pointed out little hooks hanging in alcoves painted with Christian frescoes. This had once been a pagan temple, and the hooks had held sacrifices before Rome’s abrupt change in theocracy. 

Time is clearly visible in the Roman Forum where the lower parts of buildings are in much better shape than the tops. Puecher explained that the Forum fell into decline when Constantine moved the capital to Constantinople, and eventually it was abandoned. It crumbled in earthquakes and landslides, and it was even used as dumping grounds with detritus so deep that the bottoms of the ancient buildings were protected from environmental decay and from architectural scavengers who stole marble to build, among other things, St. Peter’s Basilica.  

It wasn’t until the late 1800s that restoration of the Forum began in earnest – a recent past for this ancient neighborhood. As we walked with Puecher down Via Sacra, she told us that this had been the Sacred Road of ancient Rome that had proudly guided visitors past religious temples and grand buildings into the very heart of the Forum. We commented reverently about the many layers of history that existed in this one location. 

“Yes,” she replied with her head tossed back in a laugh, “Rome is like a club sandwich – so many layers!” 


Hire a Guide – Paola Puecher is available at paola.puecher@libero.it

Book a Small Group Tour of the Colosseum Underground, Arena and Forum – www.viator.com

Lesley Frederikson is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.


Exchange Experience in Frankfurt Rhine-Main

When my daughter began German classes in middle school, we could not have imagined how much the experience would add to our lives. Four years later, we hosted a student from Germany; we were preparing for my daughter to go there when the coronavirus pandemic spoiled everyone’s plans. In the summer before she started college, we decided to re-create part of that canceled tour, and I got to go, too. 

We knew the student who had stayed with us, but now both of us would be staying with her family, so we were excited and a bit nervous. The wide smiles and warm hugs that greeted us in Frankfurt set the tone for a marvelous adventure. 

We usually sleep flying east and stay awake flying west to help us adjust to the new time zone. With that in mind, I told our host mom we could hit the ground running, so she loaded us into her car and drove us to nearby Wiesbaden for the afternoon. 

This was a swanky town for centuries because of its hot springs. Also here are a high-rolling casino and a shopping district spread through historic cobbled streets. Cafes offer outdoor seating, and metal sculptures along the route are 3D replica maps of the town’s center. We walked through a lush green park lined by elegant old mansions and eventually came upon a water-powered funicular from 1888 that takes visitors up Neroberg hill for a view of Frankfurt Rhine-Main that is unparalleled. 

Our second day in Germany was a workday for our host mom, so she booked a tour of Mainz for us with a guide who explained the city’s rich and complicated 2,000-year history. We learned that Gutenberg perfected his printing press by modifying the presses his family had used to prepare grapes in this wine-rich region. We also learned that Mainzer Dom, the city’s magnificent cathedral, was the only place outside the Vatican ever to be a Holy See — from 975 until 1011. Outside the church we paused at a wide wooden post covered in nails sold as a fundraiser for World War I widows. 

After our tour, we noshed on sausages baked into pretzels with cheese from street vendor Ditsch then headed to the Gutenberg Museum to see the famous Bible and watch a demonstration of how the original press operated. The presentation was in German, so my daughter and her host sister translated the high points, and later the docent gave us the document he had pressed. 

On our way home, we popped into a modern mall, where we found an archaeological dig of a temple devoted to Isis that was discovered during the mall’s creation. We also stopped at the ruins of a coliseum that once held 10,000 Roman visitors who came annually to celebrate Drusus, an important military hero in the first decade B.C. A modern train station nestles against them now, and a silent video is on constant display to show how it once looked and how the ruins have been preserved. 

Later we drove up a winding hill to Laubenheimer Hohe winery to taste local Reinhessen wines. The sun set and moon rose over the vineyards where we ate dinner and watched the twinkling lights of Frankfurt come alive on the horizon. Vinegar, local handkase cheese and onions on bread went well with our riesling and pinot gris wines, and a soft pretzel dipped in savory spundekas was divine. 

With Frankfurt just a short train ride away, that was our next destination. Our daughters joined us for lunch in the oldest part of the city before going off on their own. 

“I just love to meander and find new places,” our exchange mom told me, so that’s exactly what we did. 

Twenty thousand steps later, we had visited a beautiful old church where a glowing bride swept down the aisle on her father’s arm, watched an artist weave bubbles in the air for delighted children by an old city fountain and paused to take in the city skyline from Eiserner Steg, an iron bridge from 1869 where engraved padlocks clipped to railings forever lock in their owners’ love. 

Behind the beauty, however, remains a real element of responsibility and renewal in each of these cities and towns where the fingers of history are long and often painful. They were heavily bombed at the end of World War II, when Allied forces intentionally saved only churches and large buildings to use as landmarks for bombing raids, but much effort has been made to rebuild. New buildings are remade to look like their predecessors or incorporate fragments of statues or detailing that recalls the past while looking toward the future. 

As for us — we are looking to the future, too. Not every foreign-exchange experience provides lifelong friends, but in Germany we found people who will be forever family.


Wiesbaden: www.wiesbaden.de/en/tourism/index.php

Casino Wiesbaden: www.spielbank-wiesbaden.de/en

Nerobergbahn (funicular): www.nerobergbahn.de/home.html

Mainz: www.mainz-tourismus.com/en

Gutenberg Museum: www.mainz.de/microsite/gutenberg-museum-en/index.php

Temple of Isis: www.mainz-tourismus.com/en/explore-enjoy/living-culture/museums/sanctuary-of-isis-mater-magna

Laubenheimer Hohe Winery: www.rheinhessen.de/en/to-eat-and-drink/a-hofgut-laubenheimer-hoehe-1 

Frankfurt: www.frankfurt-tourismus.de/en

Lesley Sauls Frederikson is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Rainy Day in Boulder

Staring at the four walls of my hotel wasn’t an option on a recent rainy day in Boulder, Colorado. I had to get out. Fortunately, I had a rain jacket and a sense of adventure. That, coupled with internet access and a good map, had me heading out to explore some alternate things to do. 

I was only one block away from the famous Pearl Street Mall, an outdoor pedestrian mall with shops, restaurants, cafes and galleries, so I splashed that direction first. Windows full of interesting pastas, funky bowls, funny napkins, cookbooks and candies lured me into Peppercorn. This two-story shop is a foodie’s dream come true with jars of hard-to-find items like clotted cream and vegetables marinated in spices and oils. Toward the back is an area of gourmet kitchen tools and linens to decorate any host’s table. Candles nestle here and there among other products, and a wander upstairs reveals household décor for any taste. 

Back outside, I snuggled my bag of treats under my raincoat and kept going. Plenty of shops on the mall sell rain and hiking gear, and I passed several places where I could have tasted one of the many microbrews that call Boulder home. It was a small place called Smithklein Gallery where a life-sized bronze dog waved me into the store. Oil paintings, glass sculptures and a wind-blown dog happily panting out of a real Volkswagen car door are just some of the pieces on display. 

Not far from there was another gallery called Lolo Rugs and Gifts, but this one had handmade Turkish rugs and brightly colored lamps arranged in various explosions of light and color. Some stood alone, others were gathered into multihued bouquets that hung from sizeable chandeliers. Soaps and jewelry are also sold here, but the magical lamps and rugs stood out as cacophonies of color that stopped me in my tracks.  

The rainy mall exhausted, I hopped into my car to go exploring. Years ago, I used to play “get lost” with my brother when we lived in Los Angeles and would do just that – driving into the Hollywood Hills to get lost and find our way out again; we saw amazing things well off the beaten path. This seemed like a good idea for an inclement day in Boulder, too. 

Fortunately, I was in luck. Canyon Boulevard turned into Boulder Canyon Drive and took me up into the Front Range of mountains that make up the westernmost side of Boulder. Steep, rocky inclines flanked me with strong Ponderosa Pines growing straight up their stone slopes and Boulder Creek rushed down alongside the road. Every curve in this windy road was a feast for the eyes. And then, like a gem, Barker Meadow Reservoir opened up in front of me with the little town of Nederland on its far end. 

I later learned that Barker Meadow provides water to the city of Boulder and is a great place to catch trout and salmon from shore, but no boats or swimming are allowed on this shining reservoir that was built in 1910. Those activities would not comply with Boulder’s water regulations. 

Curving around the reservoir I found myself in Nederland itself and decided to stop in for a turmeric tea with honey at the Train Cars Coffee and Yogurt shop. True to its name, the café is literally three train cars put together: a 1905 pullman car, an 1872 circus car that had once been a railway post office car, and a caboose built in 1910. It was off season, so the barista told me I was out of luck for enjoying their signature mini-donuts. But the tea was great, and I was able to drink it in a vintage railroad coach that still had brass window lifts, stained glass windows and patterned red material on the ceiling. I had to wonder how many feet had walked on that hard wood floor. 

Just around the corner on First Street I grabbed a sandwich and some chips at Mountain Peoples Coop after wandering around in a gem and fossil shop and the Rustic Moose where I found Colorado souvenirs for everyone on my list. 

Farther down First Street I found several signs and references to Frozen Dead Guy Days. Evidently, this town made its fame not as the mining town it once was, but because of the frozen man that was discovered in a woman’s back yard in the mid-1990s. She and her son had been carrying her cryogenically frozen father around with them from Norway to California and eventually to Nederland where he was discovered and became somewhat of a celebrity. Now Bredo Morstoe is kept on dry ice delivered bi-monthly by locals and is celebrated in mid-March every year by the entire town of Nederland with their annual Frozen Dead Guy Days festival. 

Historic train cars find new life as a coffee shop in Nederland, Colo. OR—Cryogenically frozen Bredo Morstoe inspires Frozen Dead Guy Days, an annual festival in Nederland, Colo. OR – Nederland, Colo., is a small, welcoming village that has an unusual annual Frozen Dead Guys Day festival. Photo courtesy of Lesley Sauls Frederikson.

Heading back down the mountain pass through the towering pines and rocks, I spotted a sign for Boulder Falls and pulled over with several other cars to explore one of the shortest hiking paths I have ever seen – safe for a drizzly day. Carefully carved rock steps lead up and down into a crag between two stone cliffs where a gushing stream explodes over a cliff and signs warn of imminent death for waders and those who would dare to venture off of the trail. I stood in awe of nature’s sheer strength and permanence. These stones, this creek and even some of the towering trees around me had been there long before I was born and would exist long after my demise. 

Boulder Falls gushes out of a crag in the Front Range of mountains just outside Boulder, Colo. Photo courtesy of G Adventures.

As I drove back to my hotel, the rain gave way to dappled sunshine that peeked down through the parting clouds overhead. Bikers and walkers were taking to the streets again, but my rainy adventure had unearthed things I would never otherwise have seen – through art, humor and the sheer force of nature. 


            Play on Pearl Street: www.boulderdowntown.com

            Navigate Nederland: www.townofnederland.colorado.gov

            Chill with Grandpa Bredo: www.frozendeadguydays.com

            Feel the Falls: www.dayhikesneardenver.com/boulder-falls/

            Lesley Sauls Frederikson is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.


Beating Jet Lag at Brooklands

The best travel tip I ever received was to sleep on flights to Europe and stay awake on the way home. Then, once landed, stay on the destination’s schedule. If you land in London at noon, for example, stay awake until bedtime – even if it means propping your eyes open with toothpicks. Jetlag is more quickly overcome this way.
My English friends know this technique and always help us adjust to their time zone by coming up with a Landing Day activity when we visit. The idea is that we will be so captivated by our experience that we are simply too excited to sleep. Most recently they surprised us with a visit to Brooklands, the birthplace of British motorsport and aviation.
Built in 1907, Brooklands was an extremely modern track with intentionally-banked curves on which British motor sports advancements were showcased until World War II closed down racing in 1939. Aviators, however, had descended upon the track in 1908 and made it into a dual-purpose track and aerodrome. From here pilots were trained and aircraft produced through both world wars and beyond.

Visitors walk through British Motorsports history in Brooklands Museum.

We entered through a gift shop in one of several buildings in what was once a paddock area. Another building was home to original Grand Prix cars along with the gear maintained them. These were the fastest and most cutting-edge autos of their time. Historical documents, clothes, artifacts, flags and maps adorned the rooms.
Moving on, we found vintage motorcycles and bicycles that had been raced on the Brooklands circuit. A volunteer explained that it is his job to polish up the motorcycles for weekend drivers and visitors. In this room were also shiny gold and silver trophy cups of all sizes commemorating records that had been broken at Brooklands. 
It is possible to don goggles and step into one of the cars at the property’s 4-D theater to relive a race from the 1930s with full motion, sights, sounds and smells that would have been a part of the experience.  The theater also offers a 3-D film of the British Red Arrows flight squad and a 2-D film of the Le Mans circuit.

There is much to take in at historical Brooklands Museum just outside London, England.

Outside, we turned a corner to find a field full of airliners that had been built at Brooklands’ aircraft manufacturing facilities – including a Concorde. This was the birthplace of the SST in partnership with France. Interestingly, the British half had been built with imperial measurements and the French with metric. Miraculously, the two halves came together in the world’s first supersonic passenger airliner. We toured the plane and sat in passenger seats for a simulated flight experience.
After our walk-through, we visited the Concorde’s flight simulator where pilots had been trained. It was originally off-site and full-motion, but when it was relocated to Brooklands, the movers unceremoniously cut it in two, rendering it useless.  Fortunately, engineering students meticulously reconnected every wire, and it is now open for visitors who can see what the cockpit was like when the nose of this supersonic bird dropped for landing.

A rare walk beneath the supersonic Concorde.

We toured the Vickers VC10 that had belonged to the Sultan of Oman with its gold velvet seats and luxurious sleeping quarters, and we peeked in the tiny shack that became the first air passenger ticket booth in the world when it sold a ticket in 1911. Other firsts that happened in the early 1900s at Brooklands include the first British air show and the licensing of the first British woman pilot. Bombed in 1940, it largely survived the war and continued on as one of the most important aircraft production facilities in Britain, with more than 18,000 airplanes of 250 types being built on-site.
Many of the facilities at Brooklands are indoors, a lovely feature for an often-rainy climate. The centrally located café sits in the shadow of the large building that is home to a post-WWII Stratosphere Chamber where aircraft were tested to conditions that simulated those found as high as 70,000 feet, the expected altitude for Cold War-era aircraft being developed on the field. In the same building were scattered myriad aircraft engines and various types of bombs used in WWII with docents available to explain everything.
In another hangar we walked around the Wellington Bomber, a WWII airplane on an ill-fated training mission that had been lost in Scotland’s Loch Ness during a blizzard on New Year’s Eve, 1940. The aircraft was found and resurrected in 1985 and is now being meticulously rebuilt by volunteers at Brooklands. From where we stood, we could see the controls used by the pilots and gunners and imagine them at their dangerous work.
Stepping even farther back in time, the Vimey Pavilion is home to replica airplanes from the early 1900s. One such aircraft, the Roe I biplane, was the first British airplane home-built and flown at Brooklands in 1908 by its creator.
Visiting Brooklands was a marvelous way to beat our jet lag. It turned out to be an excellent off-beat destination to while away an entire afternoon near London – and we didn’t give a thought to being tired.

Off the Road in Door County

There is something refreshing about a brilliant, cool sunrise on a clear Wisconsin morning in Door County. I had just pulled up to a local coffee roasting company and was greeted by the cheery owner who was repositioning pots of bright flowers to better showcase her homey shop and eatery.

At the advice of a friend with local ties, I had arranged to take part in a Coffee College mini-lesson to learn more about the origins, production and consumption of my favorite morning brew. My classmates and I carried steaming mugs of various coffee blends along with us to a comfortable conference room where we began our short lesson. My coffee had an essence of cherry in it – a nod to the cherries that put Door County on the map in the late 1800s.

Roasters add flavor to gourmet coffee blends in Door County, Wisc.

As we would learn from Vicki Wilson, the owner of Door County Coffee & Tea Company and our instructor, where a bean is grown and its specific quality are essential to the flavor of any coffee. On a mural of the world, she pointed to the countries from which her beans are procured and showed us a life-sized example of a coffee tree where she demonstrated how beans are picked by hand. Wilson passed around beans of different qualities and a plate of coffee grounds that exhibited three kinds of coarseness for various brewing methods; I use a coffee press and need a coarse grind, but my husband needs a medium grind for his drip coffee maker.

Along with her hands-on samples, Wilson had an information-packed PowerPoint presentation and answers to all of our questions. Who knew there was so much to learn about this historic and global morning potion? At the end of our lesson, she pointed a remote control at the back wall of the room, and curtains rose to reveal coffee roasters at work in her small factory. In plastic drums along one wall, we watched a worker add flavor to beans that tumbled inside them like miniature cement mixers.

Wilson clearly has a passion for her profession, and she delights in having her whole family involved in various parts of the company she began over two decades ago.

Eyes twinkling with pride – and maybe a touch of caffeine – Wilson said of her initial decision to start the company, “I didn’t know a damn thing about coffee roasting, but I took a leap of faith, and 24 years later, here we are.”

After a creative and hearty breakfast called the Kitchen Sink that included eggs, potatoes and French toast in a sinful and delicious mix, I grabbed a steaming cherry decaf to go and headed north on the peninsula to the Ridges Sanctuary. This, too, was at the recommendation of a friend who knew I was taking a weekend to relax in Door County, and it was a spot-on suggestion.

A lovely, modern interpretive center welcomed me with information about why the area is called the Ridges. Historical documents, satellite images and old photos adorn the walls, and an interactive video explains the area’s topography.

The Great Lake Michigan laps up against Door County’s peninsula at Baileys Harbor, WI, but centuries ago, the lake level was much higher. Each time the lake receded from shore, it left a ridge of sand along the bank that grew trees and bushes and became its own small ecosystem. An aerial view of the sanctuary shows nearly 10 such ridges have resulted from the ebb and flow of Lake Michigan. Between each is a swale of marsh lands, a low-lying area that was once beachfront property before the next ridge was formed.

Visitors enjoy a guided walk through the ridges and swales of Baileys Harbor in Door County, Wisc.

The video helped visualize how these ridges and swales were formed, but it was a guided walk through the sanctuary with a well-educated naturalist that brought it to life. We left the interpretive center on a wooden boardwalk through a lush forest and learned about orchid restoration projects and the difference between deciduous and evergreen conifers. The deeper we pushed into the forest, the more rustic the boardwalk became. We navigated bridges over marshes and padded on mossy paths through forests that varied based on each ridge’s age.

One boardwalk was strikingly different than the rest. It was poker-straight and set in a wide-open swath of clear-cut forest. At either end was a restored structure that I learned were range lights from the mid-1800s. Inside the larger building was a docent who explained that we were in a home as well as a navigational beacon. In its cupola was a bright white light that, when aligned with the bright red light from the smaller building, would guide shipping vessels into the rocky harbor.

The range lights were in service from 1869-1969 when the house evolved into being a minister’s home and then a private residence. Fortunately, it is being restored by donations and has already been re-approved by the US Coast Guard as an operational range light. Who knew there was so much to learn in a northern forest?

For a century, this range light helped guide ships through the dangerously rocky Baileys Harbor in Door County, Wisc.

I was able to walk the range lights’ boardwalk down to a sandy beach along Lake Michigan and dip my toes in its cool water. Tucking into my jacket as the breezes tossed my curls, I savored what had turned out to be a delightful day of relaxing education.