Iceland, the Volcanic Island

In Iceland for just a few days enroute to Sweden where we would trace family roots, my husband and I had limited time to explore, so we booked a round-robin excursion near Reykjavik called the Golden Tour. This very popular route visits myriad geologic formations that created this island nation, where tourism has surpassed fishing as the main industry. 

We set out in a small bus promptly at 9am with an enthusiastic driver who clearly loved to share his view of Iceland, and it was a fun one. As he drove, David Jaron gave us a brief geological overview of what we would see. Then, as we approached each site during our 11-hour escapade he went into more extensive detail. 

Our day began with a foggy walk into the Thingvellir rift valley, a place where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates spread apart at a rate of about two centimeters per year. This spread – and all volcanic activity around Iceland – causes up to 500 earthquakes per week. Most are too small to feel, but bigger quakes do happen, and sometimes they can be harbingers of danger ahead. 

The midway point of our walk along this visible part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge was once home to the first parliament in Europe. It was at Thingvellier’s centrally located Lögberg, the Law Rock, that Icelandic families met annually from 930-1798 to discuss important issues impacting the island. In 1944, the space was used again when the then-Governor of Iceland declared the nation’s independence from Denmark. 

Driving away from those mists of time, the sun emerged and we were able to visit a bakery that uses geothermal heat created by subterranean volcanic activity to create a unique delicacy available only near this location where bakers dig holes in sandy shores of a local lake to bake their pots of dough in steamy holes. In 24 hours, they pull out fresh, hot, geothermally baked brown bread to serve with cool Icelandic butter. 

Not far down the road we stopped to watch the Strokkur geyser spray shots of water into the air every few minutes. Signs around nearby rivulets of water warn of their 200-degree danger – and that the nearest hospital is 62km away. A second, larger geyser, Geysir, erupts much less frequently. Its name is where we get the word to describe such hydro-eruptions today. Beyond the two impressive water flares, my group crunched up a volcanic gravel path for a birds-eye view and found a boiling stream that bubbled even as it emerged from the ground. 

We were awed by the geologic power around us, and that feeling continued as we drove to Gulfoss, or Gold Falls, the waterfalls that give this Golden Tour its name. Legend says that a miserly man hid his wealth in caves behind the 105-foot waterfalls here, and fortunate visitors on sunny days can spot the rainbow leading to his wealth. Such was our luck as the roaring falls exhibited breathtaking energy that sent mist up over cliffs onto the surrounding flat landscape. The riverbed itself was created as volcanic heat melted Langjökul glacier from below and its outwash carved the path of this river and its enormous falls from an otherwise flat terrain. 

Kerid Crater is more evidence of the intense geologic activity that created and continues to shape Iceland today. We walked around the rust-colored edge of this 3,000-year-old volcano’s caldera and peered into clear water in its bright turquoise center; both rich colors come from minerals in the volcanic soil.  

The most exciting and interactive part of our day was yet to come. We pulled into the Blue Lagoon for a few hours of soaking in hot, silica-rich water that comes from 2,000 feet below ground. Originally this was a refuse pit for a nearby hydroelectric company that pumped steam from the deep to generate electricity. Once cooled, the steam was cast off as water to sink back into the earth. Unexpectedly, silica in the water formed a smooth white coating on the lava terrain, creating pools of milky blue water. For years, they were avoided as dangerous, but eventually an intrepid young man took a dip and found his eczema healed in a matter of days. It wasn’t long before an entrepreneurial physician purchased the property and began to treat his patients there. 

Today, the pools have a smooth, man-made bottom, but steam pumped from deep below is still injected into the baths to create water that is continuously circulated back into the earth. Swim-up bars offer beverages and silica face masks, the charges for which are logged on waterproof microchip bracelets worn by each visitor and paid for upon exit. 

Our group delighted in the steaming waters, surrounded by jagged black volcanic rock with white silica on our faces as we listened to a guide intersperse folklore and humor into his scientific description of the Lagoon’s history. Fortunately, a multilingual staff had guided us through the preparation process for these baths – showers are mandatory, and jewelry can be ruined if worn in the water. 

Back in Reykjavik for dinner that evening, we marveled at the very active volcanic earth surrounding us there. It is one thing to hear about a distant volcano on TV spilling lava somewhere on the other side of the world, but on this day, we had stood at the brink. We’d peered into a crater, watched unbridled energy shoot high above us and soaked in volcanic steam. In this country, electricity is cheaper than anywhere else on earth as they harness the clean energy around them, and that is what we tapped into on a truly Golden adventure. 


Book an Apartment –

Stop Over a While –

Book a Tour –

Take a Dip –

Savor a Meal –

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


Seeking Family Roots in Gränna, Sweden

When I began to help my husband plan a family pilgrimage to a small village in Sweden 300 miles south of Stockholm, I wasn’t sure what we would do beyond a visit to the local cemetery to make rubbings of his grandparents’ graves. What I soon learned is that Gränna, Sweden, is a quaint holiday destination with plenty to entertain. 

It turns out that this hamlet sits on the shores of Lake Vättern and is only a 25-minute ferry ride from Visingsö Island. Legend says that the giant, Vist, created the island by throwing a tuft of grass into the lake for his wife to step upon. Now, this island bustles with tourism in the summer months and offers rich history, too. We came in the off-season, so we missed the traditional horse-drawn carriage tours that have run since the late 19th century, taking sightseers past Iron Age burial mounds, 2,000-year-old stone grave circles and to the ruins of Sweden’s first royal castle Visingsöborgen in the village of Näs. Abandoned and burned by 1318, the fortress ruins still perch on the southern coast of Vinsingsö.

Instead, our group rented bikes for the afternoon. My husband and I teetered around on a tandem until we got our rhythm and were able to pedal up to the local market for picnic supplies and then north to the island’s original ferry landing where tables and toilets invite such lunches. The first ferry, a weekly rowboat, was started in 1783 and ran almost four miles between Visingsö and the mainland. In 1863 steamboats took over the chore, and pleasure-seekers began to enjoy the island’s shops, oak forests and history more frequently. 

Back on the mainland, we learned about Amalia Eriksson, an enterprising young widow who made a business of peppermint candy sticks in 1859 and became known around the country for what she called her polkagrisar. These peppermint sticks are Gränna’s biggest draw, and up to 800,000 visitors come to the town each year to enjoy them. We took it one step further and booked a lesson to make them ourselves, tugging warm sugar into long white ropes that we twisted together with smaller ropes of red sugar. We rolled and rolled them under the guidance of an experienced polkagrisar maker. These thick sticks are not curved into canes as they are in the United States. Instead, they are kept straight and wrapped in paper that is twisted on both ends as they have been for more than 150 years.

The main street of town is full of restaurants and candy shops that all have polkagrisar in their windows. The sticks come in a variety of flavors now that include whiskey, licorice, cloudberry and violet among other more traditional choices. Each shop also has souvenirs of Gränna – including model hot air balloons. This is the other symbol of the town, and the locals are very proud of it. 

To find out more, we visited the Gränna Museum where a video and exhibits are dedicated to Salomon August Andrée’s 1897 balloon expedition to be the first man to the North Pole for Sweden. He joined with two other explorers and gained the financial backing of Sweden’s King Oscar II and Alfred Nobel, of the Nobel Peace Prize. After much planning and an enthusiastic sendoff from Danes Island in the Arctic Ocean, the three explorers launched in a basket loaded with supplies under a balloon filled with helium. They expected the adventure to take less than two weeks. Unfortunately, in their 65-hour journey, they made it only halfway to the North Pole, and from this they never returned. 

It was on takeoff that they initially ran into trouble. The balloon bumped something and was not able to maintain its altitude as they went along. They jettisoned necessary sandbags and lost steering mechanisms they had planned upon to take them to safety; they were at the mercy of prevailing winds. Eventually the explorers came to rest on the ice and planned to walk back to civilization, but ice floes broke up, winter set in, and they all died before they could be saved. It was 34 years before a sealing vessel stopped on White Island and came upon their remains. Now diaries, clothes and equipment from Andrée and his two companions are on display in this museum. 

Back at our hotel, we learned about a waterfall just down a rustic path through the woods toward Lake Vättern near a much smaller village called Röttle. We could hear the rattling falls before we saw them beside an old stone mill. The building had been built by Gränna’s founder, Count Per Brahe the Younger, in the 1650s to make muskets, but by the 1700s, it had been converted to a flour mill like others that had operated on this stream since the 13th century. The Gränna Museum works this mill in summer months and sells the flour it makes in its gift shop along with replicas of Andrée’s ill-fated balloon. 

Our trip to Gränna was quiet and peaceful. The off season meant we had the streets, shops, museums and restaurants mostly to ourselves. But we could feel the bustle that fills the streets of this vacation town in the summer and appreciated the depths of our family roots there. From the stone circles on Visingsö to the flour mills, balloons and peppermint sticks, we felt pride in being a part of Gränna’s rich history in some small way. 


Where to Stay: the Hotel Gyllene Uttern website is in Swedish, but English is used by hotel staff by email at

Make Polkagrisar: Have hotel staff book a lesson at Gränna För Gott

Gränna Museum:

Visit Visingsö:

Get There: Airline into Stockholm or Jonkoping and rent a car 

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


Old Meets New in Gamla Stan, Sweden

It was my brother-in-law’s idea to stay in Gamla Stan for a few days during a family pilgrimage to Sweden. This old town neighborhood of Stockholm seemed like a good place to dip into Swedish history and get a flavor for the old ways. Narrow cobblestone streets led us to our rented apartment, a 500-year-old residence with thick walls that we wished could talk. 

On our first evening, a mysterious and charming guide regaled us with tales of murder and sin in the early days of Gamla Stan as we wound through rain-damp streets. Through his descriptions, we could almost hear wagon wheels clatter and swords clang in the night. He walked us up the narrowest street in the city – a mere 35 inches wide – where violent muggings took place beyond pools of flickering lamplight on dark nights of yore. 

Our apartment’s exposed beams, stone walls, timber spiral stairs and tight quarters told of those old days, too, but it had been modernized with radiators for cold rainy nights, modern appliances and bathrooms. Rope handrails helped us up and down our stairs, but we needed a Bluetooth key to enter from the street below – a satisfying blend of past and present. 

A tour of the Royal Apartments in the Royal Palace of Stockholm was also a historic and contemporary blend. One room had been designed to emulate Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors and another was used by a long-ago king who invited visitors to watch his morning bedroom rituals. He also invited guests to attend royal feasts, but only as standing observers, in a room that is now used by the Swedish parliament members to meet with the current king and his daughter, the future queen. At her wedding reception, another palace room had been transformed into a disco complete with lights and well-known DJ. 

Back outside, we listened to the military band that accompanies a changing of the guard. Crowds gathered to watch the ritual marching, calls, and presentation of flags and arms, and I could see cell phones capturing the historic ceremony. These guards protect the palace and its 11 floors of more than 600 rooms, and although the king no longer lives here on a daily basis, he uses the space regularly to host receptions, official meetings and visiting guests. 

Not far from the Royal Palace is the Nobel Prize Museum, a modern museum housed in the original stock exchange building from the 1770s. The museum exhibits items donated by Nobel Laureates who each describe the importance of their entry. We learned the great lengths that are gone to in creating unique and spectacular meals for the recipients’ celebrations. One dessert had been made with raspberry seeds that were ground into a flour for a delicate crust. Creativity is essential in cuisine and in attire. A black gown on display was donated by May-Britt Moser who had embroidered on it in silver the geolocation brain cells that had garnered her prize. And hanging over the entire museum is a conveyer belt of banners honoring the hundreds of past recipients since the prizes began in 1901. 

The museum opens onto a square that has a sad history. It was here that the term Blood Bath was coined in November of 1520. The Danish King Christian II had just defeated Stockholm and invited more than 80 aristocrats who had resisted him to dine at the palace with a promise of amnesty. Once they had arrived, however, he had them arrested and marched to Stortorget, the main plaza of Gamla Stan, where they were systematically beheaded. It is said to have taken two days to complete and that a downpour of rain toward its end caused the square to be a literal bath of blood. 

Now, the cobbled streets throughout Gamla Stan are much safer for visitors. Cars are mostly prohibited from driving here and shopkeepers are interested in keeping customers protected and happy. Lost on my first day in the winding streets, three different merchants offered me free WiFi and much-appreciated directions. In their shops we found hand-knit sweaters, glass ornaments, paintings, candies, and Viking souvenirs. My favorite, Dadeli, sold dried fruits and dates that had been stuffed with treats like ginger, nuts, coconut and traditional Swedish licorice. 


Tucked between shops were cafes where cardamom and cinnamon buns lured travelers in for a cup of coffee. Others stuffed crepes with Nutella, bananas and strawberries for afternoon snacking. And at mealtimes there is no lack of selection in Gamla Stan. Tables with candles and cloths spill into walkways in some places, and in others hand-lettered signs lure visitors into glowing cellars with promises of historic experiences in centuries-old locations. 

Our last night in Gamla Stan was spent at one such Viking dinner. We followed shadowed steps into a candle-lit cellar where a man in Iron Age attire seated us on benches covered with furs. My very tall husband was seated in a large wooden chair at the head of the table and given a helmet and sword after a lovely waitress in a gauze dress cheekily draped an animal skin around his shoulders. We were given pottery vessels of beer and ate game and seafood prepared in ways they would have been 1000 years ago. The décor and atmosphere were lively and festive, and a man played period music in one corner to entertain us. Walking back to our renovated old apartment we were grateful for modern amenities like indoor plumbing, comfortable bedding, refrigeration and antibiotics, but it was also fun to pretend – just for a little while – that we could hear sabers rattling in the night.  


Get There:

Old Town Lodging:

The Original Stockholm Ghost Walk and Historical Tour:

The Royal Palace:

The Nobel Prize Museum:

Viking Dinner at Aifur:

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


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.  

Where to Dive: Anse Chastanet Resort 758-459-7755   

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

Taste Chocolate and Rum: Johnathan at Morne Coubaril Estate

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


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:

Visit the Museums:

Explore the Park:

Find out More:

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

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


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

Where to Stay: Miravida Soho Wine Bar and Hotel

Take in a Tango: El Viejo Almacen

Enjoy an Estancia: Estancia El Ombu de Areco

Decorative Arts Museum:

National Fine Arts Museum:

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



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 –

            Get the app –

Cross the Ponte Vecchio –

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

          Taste the wines –

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


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

Book a Small Group Tour of the Colosseum Underground, Arena and Forum –

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


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.



Casino Wiesbaden:

Nerobergbahn (funicular):


Gutenberg Museum:

Temple of Isis:

Laubenheimer Hohe Winery: 


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