Mary Clark, Traveler

OKC Marathon – My Favorite Week-end in OKC

OKC Memorial at Night

OKC Memorial at Night 

I have never considered running a marathon.  And until our time in OKC, I hadn’t thought it to be an event to experience as an onlooker.  But the OKC Marathon has changed my attitude.  That weekend in OKC is my favorite.

What distinguishes OKC’s run is its purpose.  The OKC bombing on April 19, 1995 was American’s worst domestic terrorism episode until 9-11.  It shook the city, the state, and the country.  OKC remembered it in a stunning memorial that moves anyone who visits to tears.  But they needed to support the Memorial Museum and the marathon was born.  The date is always the last Sunday in April.

When Cliff and Sherry Scott visited, we stopped at the beautifully lit Memorial the evening before.  Streets were empty and barriers up.  Standing in the quiet space where the Run would begin, imagining the coming morning’s chaos, and recalling the Marathon’s motto of “we run to remember,” was chilling even in the warm night.

We experienced the start of the run on a different visit.  In the early morning darkness, runners began to congregate according to their assigned sections in the line-up.  Wheelchair participants are first, then the speedy bunch with fast times at previous marathons, and down the line to the shortest runs.  Despite the twenty-five thousand participating, all seemed to know where to go.

Before the start of the Run, OKC has a special tradition.  A quiet settles over all the runners for not just a moment or a minute but for 168 seconds, almost three minutes, each second in memory of a lost life in the bombing. The silence was honored by all despite its length.

When the hush lifted, the streets came alive as the announcer counted down to the start of the Run. Touchingly, wheelchairs pushed by family members began the Run.  Next followed the gunners and then waves and waves of runners.


When we bought a house in OKC, we were told the Marathon ran in front.  That had to be experienced to appreciate.  Barriers were set up on our street to prevent traffic, placed the night before. We were advised to move cars to the side streets in case we needed to get out.   By 7:30 a.m., the fastest half-marathon runner was already passing by with his police escort.  We were just three miles from the end of the race.  Runners would continue for the next 5 hours.

In those five hours, much happens.  Crowds line the streets to cheer everyone on.  This year, a cow bell rang out for hours, held by a couple at the corner.  Signs are held by family members encouraging their people to keep up their spirits. An occasional runner will hold a picture of a loved one lost in the bombing.  Our niece, Brooke Ziel, is a committed Marathon runner and she thought this run was one of her most memorable races because of the “amazing crowd support through the historical neighborhoods and the miles with banners of the faces of those lost in the bombing.”

Plug Clem and Ed Clark on OKC front porch.

When Paris friends, Plug and Toni Clem, visited this year, we used our front porch as a viewing stand, shouting to occasional runners to carry on.  We also enjoyed coffee and mimosas and later a brunch. When our son-in-law and boys came to join us for brunch, they had already visited two houses who were having Marathon parties and had another to attend after ours.  It’s a great neighborhood mingling time.

The week of the Marathon also hosts the largest art fair in OKC.  The Festival of the Arts began in 1967 and now fills blocks in front of the downtown Art Deco Music Hall. Money raised supports the arts in neighborhoods, schools, and provides summer classes. The organizers for the original Art Fair had to beg artists to participate.  But today its reputation is well established and artists from all over the United States give buyers choices that include oil paintings, wood carvings, ceramics, outdoor art, jewelry, and textiles.  Music from local musicians play all day and night.  We have enjoyed this festival for years and have the art to prove it.

When you add two of the city’s biggest events to the array of options already available to enjoy in OKC, the week-end becomes full.  The Clems wanted to see the new Contemporary Arts Museum.  The Scotts were interested in the new First American Museum.  And we provided both couples tours of the city that included its two beautiful urban parks.

Because of the OKC Marathon, I now understand the excitement of those events, even when you are not a runner.  I love art fairs and OKC has one of the best.  It’s no wonder I call it my favorite week-end in OKC.

Photos of OKC Memorial by Sherry Scott

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Chattanooga – To be Enjoyed With and Without Grandchildren

Civil War cannon points toward downtown Chattanooga from Lookout Mountain


Driving into Chattanooga from any direction exposes you to an endless number of billboards boasting of Rock City, Ruby Falls and Lookout Mountain.  I feared a town of kitsch. But our first visit to Chattanooga surprised both my husband and me with its lovely setting on the Tennessee River bordered by the Appalachian Mountains.  It boasts a history that includes a geological wonder, Native Americans, the Civil War, development of the railroads and a hit song that can rotate endlessly in your head if you let it.

As with many towns and states, Chattanooga’s name originated from Native Americans.  The Creek words, Chat-to-to-noog-gee, meaning rock rising to a point, was very appropriate for nearby Lookout Mountain. During the Civil War, the mountain top gave the Confederate Army unobstructed views of the valley below revealing a large Union presence.  The leaders knew they had a fight on their hands. A whole slew of generals and majors on both sides fought in and around the mountain.  The Chattanooga battle is considered one of the three most important ones that turned the tide in favor of the North giving them control of the railroads. Today, a beautiful drive takes you to the top of Lookout Mountain for the same wide view of the valley below.  Nearby are hiking trails where you can visualize Confederate Soldiers dug in and Union Soldiers attacking.

With Luka, Diego and Fabricio Clark on Walnut Street Bridge

Walnut Street Bridge, a former railroad bridge.

Flooding problems for Chattanooga were resolved with the construction of 29 dams by the Tennessee River Authority. Visionary city leaders have restored and improved the downtown historic area and provided walking paths on either side of the now tame river.  When we brought our grandchildren, we walked the Walnut Street Bridge originally used by trains. Now available only for pedestrians and bikers, it leads to a park with a wonderful carousel.

Tennessee Aquarium with grandsons, Diego, Fabricio and Luka.

However, our focus that visit was on Tennessee’s two-building Aquarium.  Both salt water and fresh water marine animals are well represented.  Beginning at the top of either aquarium, ramps gradually take visitors down, visiting different ocean and river settings. Discovering freshwater stingrays from the Amazon River Basin and penguins enjoying fresh and sea water were surprises.

Chattanooga Children’s Museum with Luka Clark

On our first visit, we visited the Hunter Museum of American Art, its eclectic collection and shows reflected in its architecture – a stately neo-classic bricked mansion attached on either side to more modern buildings. However, with grandchildren in tow, the Children’s Discovery Museum beckoned from its quirky fun building just a few blocks from the Aquarium.  While not the most extensive children’s museum we’ve visited, it had enough fun activities to end the day on an upbeat note.

Our grandson, Diego, wanted to visit Rock City – mainly because a friend at school told him about it.  This is an odd tourist destination on Lookout Mountain that has paths and rock gardens.  I thought he wanted to visit a rock store.  That morning the Mountain was socked in by clouds but we still hoped to visit Rock City for the rocks.  However, upon arriving, the mist and fog were so dense, we could hardly see the entrance.  What followed was a search for another rock store ending at the Chattanooga Crystal Store where our grandsons were first exposed to incense, meditative music and crystals and rocks with powers. Fabricio kept asking “what’s that smell” and Luka tried to fill his woven basket to the brim with pretty (expensive) rocks requiring much downsizing at checkout.  As we walked out, Diego wanted to know when we could get some rock candy which is really all he wanted.

Inside Chattanooga’s restored Beaux Art Train station

And then there’s the song – the Chattanooga Choo Choo – made famous in 1941 by the Glen Miller band in the movie, Sun Valley Serenade.  It was a lively dancing piece for the times, especially for a tap dancer.  The train’s sleeper cars are parked at the restored 1901 Beaux Art Train Station. The cars double as hotel rooms and an exhibit.  While we have not yet stayed in one of the sleepers, it is on our “to experience” list.   The song pervades the community, and its words are even engraved on the sidewalk outside the aquarium.

Part of Chattanooga’s success comes from its ability to attract large employers such Volkswagen and the Tennessee Valley Authority that supervises its dams and nuclear energy plants.  If you drive a Passat or Atlas, your car was probably built in Chattanooga.  The plant is expanding to produce VW’s first electric car in the U.S. – the ID.4.  Recognized as one of the country’s 100 best places to live, Chattanooga is not just for Civil War aficionados and tourists anymore.  It has grown up and offers much for young and old.

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Riding the Ferries of Norway – An Ancient Transportation Made Modern

Ferries have always felt like relics of the past – medieval holdovers when roads and bridges were few.  Tolls were often charged.  As the population grew along with the cargo needed to be carried, ferries increased in size until large enough to transport trucks and equipment. Train cars were routinely loaded in much of the world until bridges and freight flights caught up.  Even today, the Alaskan Railroad is connected to the continental United States only by ferries.  But in Norway, the ferry system is alive and well and continues to serve locals, tourists, and remote communities. During our visit, we sampled some of the approximate 180 ferries serving Norway including a cutting-edge electric one.

After a train ride from Oslo to Flam on the advertised “Norway in a Nutshell” route, we emerged onto the town’s docks holding an oversized cruise ship awaiting some of the crowd and our much smaller ferry which would carry us on the Sognefjord, the longest and deepest fjord in Norway.  I had worried about the short connection between the train’s arrival and the ferry’s departure (15 minutes) but shouldn’t have.  All was running like clockwork.  The ferry was less than 100 yards from our train car.

On board was a large space for luggage of all sizes, comfortable seating with views, and a snack bar. We joined a Virginian couple in their booth even as they were continually drawn outside to take photos of the shoreline, including seals sunning on rocks. They were spending the day traveling from Bergen on the coast to Flam and back.

Balestrand’s Historic Kviknes Hotel

Our stop was at Balestrand where the beautiful 145-year-old Kviknes Hotel expected us. It was a most pleasant way to arrive with the hotel only a short walk up the hill. From our balcony room, we watched the Sognefjord in all its splendor and noted the schedules of the larger ferries’ arrivals and the faster express boats that navigate the waters with a choppier ride.

Zigzag walkways allow spaces for viewing for every passenger

One of the largest Ferry operators in Norway is Norled, the world leader in launching electric powered ferries.  Two women lead this effort for the company, Elizabeth Grief and Heidi Wolden. As we often saw in Norway, the commitment to a clean environment was sincere and universal.  All our cabs and uber cars were electric, as required by the government.  Today one-third of Norway’s ferries are electric or hybrid.  When we left Flan a second time to explore the narrowest fjord in Norway, one of Norled’s newest electric ferries carried us.  The design was unlike any ferry I have seen.  The walkways zigzag along the outside of the boat, mimicking mountain trails providing a standing space for every passenger on board for the perfect view of the stunning landscape.

Large cruise ships are available to travel Norway’s coast and many Americans have enjoyed those trips.  Hurtigruten, a Norwegian company, has created a combination ferry and cruise ship to travel those waters.  We signed on for two nights leaving Bergen at sundown on the Nordkapp and arriving in Trondheim two days later.  This was not as luxurious as some cruises.  No outside balconies were available.  But some of the amenities of a larger cruise ship included shore excursions and large buffets of local fish such as smoked salmon and trout and even reindeer. An upscale restaurant had a talented chef and fix prix dinners. Plastic ware was forbidden throughout the ship. At one port, I watched residents leaving the boat and mail being delivered and local cargo loaded, illustrating the duo purpose of the ship.  A car deck was also available.

Few Americans were on this scaled down cruise boat, but many Germans and English were.  The queen of England had died in England during our voyage and all citizens of the Commonwealth were invited forward to sing the national anthem, God Save the King. We also met a few Norwegians, including a woman who had visited her daughter in Bergen and was returning home to Trondheim.  A young Swiss woman joined us on our excursion into a much smaller fjord seldom traveled. When we came ashore deep into the fjord, the waters were still, mountains snow covered, and flowers blooming – Norway at its finest.

In addition to outfitting most of its ferries with electric power, Norled is also testing a hydrogen powered ferry with hopes it will be in service within the year.  If successful, it could be a game changer for the ferry industry, an industry thousands of years old but one that continues to serve.  And now it’s leading the way into a greener world.  The waters and marine animals of Norway will be the beneficiaries of this effort as will tourists looking for beautiful views.

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Homegrown Drag Queen, Shangela, Takes Center Stage at Dallas Event

Shangela  with high school friends, Ryan Baggerly, Catherine Hayter Duke, Abby Trout Banks, Holly Kilgore Lose, Shangela, Julie Shelton Hays, Sydney Davis Devoe, Stacy Lambert Nobles, Ellen Clark Pogemiller, Laura Mercy Dawson.

While most of my stories are of places distant from Paris, a recent outing closer to home to Dallas provided an experience worth telling.

One of the greatest ambassadors that Paris, Texas has is DJ Pierce, a graduate of Paris High School, who never fails to mention his hometown in his shows and interactions with stars.  Unless you have followed his career, the salute to Paris may seem insignificant.  But check out his 1.6 million followers on Instagram to understand the breadth of his influence.

At his Fully Lit show in Dallas recently, sponsored by AT&T, the devotion of the sold-out crowd illustrated the reach of this rising star whose stage name is Shangela.

The crowd poured into the Majestic Theater in downtown Dallas, some decked out in rhinestones and stilettos but most in casual comfortable clothes- sons with mothers, husband and wives, husbands with husbands, wives with wives, groups of friends, singles.  The majority were in the age range of 30s to 50s. I stopped some for pictures and short interviews.

Mary Clark with Kelexis Davenport

Shangela Fans dressed for the occasion

“How did you first discover Shangela?”  Those with the longest connections remembered him from the Rose Room, the iconic Dallas drag queen venue where Shangela first did back up dancing. The drag queen host of the Rose Room, Kelexis Davenport, was there to support her protégé. Thanks to three seasons on RuPaul’s Drag Race, the well liked Drag Queen Contest, many of the crowd had first connected with Shangela there.  More recent converts came from the HBO show, “We’re Here”, a series of touching stories played out in small towns or communities that were not LGBTQ+ friendly.  A woman dressed in thigh high gold sparkly boots noted that she never cried but wept at every single episode of “We’re Here.”

But it was Shangela’s appearance on “Dancing With the Stars” that had awed everyone in attendance in Dallas. A fan from Gilmer, Texas said he was there to see the famous “death drop” highlighted on the last episode of “Dancing With the Stars” where Shangela suddenly dropped to the floor with one leg extended straight out and the other leg bent behind her, her back flattened with the rest of her body. The next morning she was interviewed on ABC Morning News for her performance and in particular, that move.


The Dallas show featured dancing, storytelling, a short contest for the next drag queen in the audience, and shout outs to those in attendance.  She asked all Paris people to stand, and the crowd went crazy.  Actually, the crowd responded heartily to everything.  They clapped, laughed at her stories, cheered her escapades to introduce herself to stars such as Beyonce and Lady Gaga, and shouted out appropriate answers to her questions.  I recognized my ignorance of many trendy songs and shows but loved the crowd’s enthusiasm. I was struck by her ability to relate to the crowd, talking of her early embrace of shopping at Ross’s, and then with her newfound wealth laughing at flying first class where she entertained herself by endlessly moving her seat up and down.

DJ has been a good friend of our daughter’s since elementary school.  Her high school group of friends traveled from all parts of Texas and Oklahoma to reunite with their classmate and support his rise to stardome.   The success of Shangela was years in the building with DJ appearing in movies, TV shows and commercials before Shangela hit it big.  His ambitious journey upward was and is fueled by his humor, confidence, charm, and a genuine graciousness – an acceptance of all and fear of none.  Old friends have enjoyed his quick wit for years and now it has gained him many followers.

Shangela has become a notable ambassador for the Drag Queen community – the first to walk the red carpet at the Oscars (she played a drag queen in A Star Was Born), the first to perform on Dancing With the Stars, and the first to attend a White House bill signing.  She’s had dinner with Vice-President Kamala Harris and was recently placed on the advisory board of Southern Methodist University where DJ graduated with honors.

Although dressing in drag has been enjoyed for thousands of years, it was often on the fringe of acceptance.  But the American Drag Queen community has become more mainstream as the entertainment part of that world has been discovered and appreciated.  Shangela looks nothing like DJ but underneath the phenomenal make-up creation is the same warm and friendly personality that has charmed us and now the world.  And it was evident in Dallas.  Everyone loved her.

Mary Clark with Shangela’s high school mentors, Nancy Waldrum and Kay Grubbs


Mary Clark and Shangela enjoying her favorite cookies from Linda Hayter, mother of high school friend, Catherine Hayter.


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Elephants Galore

Elephant Family at sundown in Botswana. Photo courtesy of Gary Kramer

I confess to a long-held affection for elephants with their floppy ears and unwieldly trunks.   I’ve seen them in India still used as beasts of burden, in Vietnam as a tourist attraction around ruins and in zoos circling their small enclosures. But in protected parts of Botswana, these largest of land animals move at their pace wherever and whenever they want.

First Sighting of a family of Elephants in Botswana

After landing on an isolated landing strip in the Okavango Delta, Botswana, we were loaded into two jeeps and set out for our first late afternoon drive through the diminishing light. Not five minutes later, our driver called out “elephants to the left.” And there they were, two adults, two adolescents and a baby, moving through the high grass and woods, ignoring us as they looked for forage. Without our guide’s help, I wouldn’t have seen them as their neutral grey color blended into the camouflaged background. Our eyes became sharper as the trip progressed.

Baby Elephant at Watering Hole in Botswana



Elephants serve many purposes in the wild and receive comfort from various parts of nature. They are herbivores and will nibble on the flowers of day water lilies, tear off tree bark for its calcium and knock down trees to eat leaves. This effort maintains open plains and provides walking paths for other animals. They use the shepherd tree for shade and to take off mud.  Watering holes are created by elephants as they dig for water.  The hole fills and provides soothing mud for their skins and an underwater environment for small water creatures.   A large fever berry tree is poisonous to most animals but not elephants or giraffes.  Its roots and leaves can treat an animal wound like an antiseptic.



Lumbering elephant through camp in Zimbabwe, interrupting our cribbage game. Photo courtesy of Gary Kramer

Mid-afternoons in camp were usually accompanied by elephants following well-worn trails nearby, providing silent entertainment from our porches.  In one possession, mothers nudged their little ones to keep up and not be distracted by food. On our last afternoon in camp, while playing cribbage with my, brother, he looked up and pointed behind me.  A lumbering elephant casually passed by not more than 10 feet away heading to the nearby river.  The staff had warned us of the path through our camp used by elephants and hippos whether we were there or not.  Even growing towns have trouble stopping elephants from following their age-old highway.  Many a garden and wooden fence had been trampled down by undeterred elephants.

Honey Comb Elephant Skull

Elephant bones were easy to identify by their size but also because of the honey combed skulls, so designed to keep their heads lighter to carry.  They go through six sets of teeth as new ones push out the old ones.  After the last set is worn down, so is the elephant.  Culling of old or “extraneous” elephants has prompted much debate over the last 30 years.  It was banned completely for a while and recently allowed in Botswana where a limited number of old bulls are set aside for hunters who pay large sums for the experience.  This brings in money to the countries to continue their conservations efforts.  Poaching, though, is still a problem.





Photo Courtesy of Gary Kramer

Only twice were we examined by elephants with a more sinister gaze.  Both involved our being in their paths. During a day game viewing ride, a large elephant stood at the left edge of the road, daring us by his stare to go any further.  Our driver stopped and we observed. When the giant animal was convinced we were not advancing, she crossed the road, followed by smaller members of the family. We watched them strip small trees of their leaves and then with almost a nod to us, they moved on.  An angrier response came from the matriarch of a herd crossing the road at night when our jeep with lit headlights approached.  She flapped her ears, making several mock charges with a trumpeting sound.  Our driver, Chester, revved up the motor honking the horn and turning off the headlights, allowing the blinded elephant to see again. After a tense stand-off and when the last of the herd had crossed the road, she turned aside without a backward glance, knowing she had protected her family. Chester admitted it was a tense situation, but he knew how to handle it.

Botswana, with the second strongest economy in Africa, relies heavily on the photo safari tourist trade.  It also has the largest number of elephants in the world, possibly even too many.  We witnessed native villages built for local tribes to entice them away from hunting wild animals and to protect them against charging elephants.  They receive a portion of the entry fees from the nearby national parks.  Environmentalists and politicians have strong opinions on the way forward to maintain sufficient levels of elephants and economic development, but I am convinced all want the lumbering tusker healthy and safe.  And, despite seeing them every day of our ten-day photo safari, I never grew tired of their presence.

Zimbabwe’s anti-poaching truck. Guides often help the government units on location of possible poachers.


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The Finns – A People in Between

Helsinki Cathedral, Finland

I don’t know why Finland has always beckoned.  Its location between Russia, that looming communist country to the east and the very liberal Scandinavian presence on the west was intriguing.  Both sides have claimed its territory – Sweden for 700 years between 1150 and 1809 and Russia from 1809 to 1917.  Even as an independent country, Finland considered itself as the broker between East and West – ex.  Helsinki Accord in 1975 that helped end the Cold War by confirming countries’ boundaries and their inviolability.  But I wanted to know more about its people, themselves a mix of east and west.

From our Helsinki guide, the joke is that Finns didn’t need Covid for social distancing.  They come by it naturally. An individual’s privacy is respected.  However, our County Court at Law Judge Bill Harris, who lived in Finland in 1980-81, described them as quiet at first but quite amicable and generous when you get to know them, even referring to them as “friendly Germans.” They are modest, don’t talk salaries and are not showy in their dress.  Even in central Helsinki, their largest city, the streets were quiet.  Three on a road is considered a traffic jam.  Because of the tough winters, most of their parking is underground which facilities can double as air raid shelters.  Helsinki is known as a façade city with its buildings beautifully maintained on the outside and modest on the inside.

During our morning at Senate square, few people walked through even as it is considered their most important historical center with the largest Lutheran Church on one side and government buildings around.  Our guide often sees the country’s young female prime minister, Sanna Morin, strolling through the square without bodyguards.   She had caused a small uproar recently by hosting a birthday party at the official Prime Minister’s residence that included late night dancing and drinking.  Most Finns thought she deserved her privacy for the party with a few grumbles about how “it looked.”  I wished our presidential grumblings were about something so small.

Homes in Helsinki with flagpoles

Finns are proud of their flag and fly it on many occasions – some official and come by custom – including Mother’s Day, Poet’s Day, Day of Finnish Literature, and a day to celebrate Finnish music on the birthday its most famous composer, Jean Sibelius who wrote “Finlandia”, a nationalist symphony to support their independence struggle against Russia. We saw flag poles on most of the homes awaiting the next holiday.

A very active college student with patches indicating her activities

New college students

Children have strong early years as new parents are given a “baby box” worth about $400 that includes a mattress that fits in the box for an early crib and baby needs such as diapers, body suits and bathing products.  A parent may stay home the first year with a 70% salary guaranteed. College is also paid for. In a park near our hotel, a group of new college students wore bright clothes with patches indicating their various activities in the university.  They were celebrating the beginning of the school year and shared their enthusiasm with us.

  Because of its tough winters, the Finns have embraced saunas. They are found everywhere – homes, hotels, public saunas and even one of the cars on its famous Ferris Wheel has darkened windows to provide privacy for the sauna inside.

Entry of Oodi Library in Helsinki

The most impressive building we saw in Helsinki was the new Oodi library that calls itself the “living room for its people” and reflected the communal need of the Finnish people to share resources.    On the circular stairway are painted the groups whom the library serves – including the poor, strangers, the spiritually enlightened, orphans, the depressed, dreamers, stargazers and even the henpecked – meaning everyone. On the third floor, we had a wonderful cappuccino at the coffee bar as we watched a group of young mothers and their small children talk and play in a circle.  Baby strollers filled a nearby area.

Downstairs bustled with young people who took advantage of the free video game arcade, computers, printers (including 3D printers), and sewing machines.  Musical instruments and hand tools could be checked out.  Six to seven thousand patrons use the library daily, including some who dine at its restaurant.

Discussion of the Ukrainian war was inevitable. Many cruise ships had cancelled their trips since Finland is so close to Russia, hurting their tourist industry.  Wealthy Russians had entered Finland overland so they could fly to other parts of the European Union.  Since five percent of the population still speaks Russian, there was some small support for Russia. But the country itself decided to support Ukraine and had broken their years of “pro-west neutrality” by requesting membership in NATO.  They recognize their actions are “poking the bear” but are willing to take that risk and for that, they must be admired.

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Scandinavian Churches Reflect Its History

Viking Stave Church near Vic, Norway

Churches are constantly repurposed.  In Istanbul, Turkey, St. Sophia’s began as a Christian Church, morphed into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest in 1453, became an historical structure in 1934 and is once again a mosque as of 2020.  Even in Paris, we’ve seen churches change their allegiance from one denomination to another and commercial buildings become churches. It’s a different way to track a country’s history, spiritual path and changing culture. We experienced this on a recent trip to Finland and Norway.

Uspenski Orthodox Church in Helsinki, Finland

The first church on our Helsinki tour was Finnish Orthodox, the Uspenski Cathedral, built in 1864 when Finland was a Grand Duchy in the Russian Empire.  Perched on a hill overlooking Helsinki and its surrounding waters, the church easily looks it part as the largest orthodox church in Western Europe. Reflecting its past, the cathedral’s golden cupolas and redbrick façade give notice of the strong Russian feel inside.  We climbed the steep steps past two gypsy beggars, pushed through heavy wooden doors, and came into a dimly lit space glittering with a decorative gold leaf altar.  Russian dedications remain on the walls.

Finland has long considered itself a mediator between the East and West.  Five percent of the population still speaks Russian.  Recently though, it moved towards the West by requesting membership in NATO. It’s no surprise then that the Uspenski Cathedral had severed ties with the Russian Orthodox branch and has aligned with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, Turkey.  It was the first church we encountered that had changed allegiances according to its country’s history but not the last.

Names of Donors to ornate carved pulpit at St. Mary’s in Bergen

Ornate Pulpit at St. Mary’s, Bergen, Norway

In Bergen, Norway, St. Mary‘s was originally constructed as a Roman Catholic church dedicated to St. Olav.  After the Protestant Reformation under Martin Luther came to Norway in 1539,  almost all Norwegians converted (willingly and not so willingly) and St. Mary’s became a part of the Church of Norway, a Lutheran affiliation. It is the oldest church in Bergen, surviving partly due to German merchants who dominated the community from 1408.  They displayed their wealth, using St. Mary’s for this purpose.  As our guide noted, we don’t know who carved the ornate pulpit, but we do know who donated for its construction.  Their names are listed in the church and a few paintings remain of individual donors.  Today, it still holds Lutheran services, but Anglicans meet on Sundays also.


Viking Stave church in Vic, Norway

Norway is famous for its Stave Churches, striking in their design and age, and loved for their Viking history.  Despite TV series to the contrary, Vikings eventually converted to Catholicism but built their churches based on their woodworking skills and the attributes of their trees.  The distinctive black exterior was a result of tar from charcoal used to seal the wood. Layered roofs kept the snow weight distributed and carvings of dragons and snakes appealed to local belief in warding off evil spirits.  We took a ferry across the Sognefjord to Vik, and walked a mile to the Hopperstad Church, one of only 28 stave churches to survive, most lost after the 1349 plague. Hopperstad had to be reconstructed after extensive damage from deterioration and lack of care. Today, it is occasionally used by the Church of Norway, a Lutheran denomination.

As we approached the Trondheim, Norway Cathedral, firetrucks and ambulances circled the church with firemen in gear moving towards the church, lugging their fire hoses.  A cleric in robes noted our concern and assured us it was a drill. Considering the history of the cathedral and the destructive fires that had destroyed various parts of the campus over the years, I thought it wise to be prepared, especially with vivid memories of Notre Dame in Paris burning.

The cathedral has several claims to fame other than its beauty.  It was used for royal coronations and St. Olav, the patron saint of Norway, is believed to be buried on the grounds.  Of course, it began as a Catholic Church, changing allegiance after the Protestant Reformation.  Today it calls itself ecumenical, but the services are of the Lutheran order.  Recently restored (again), it’s as pretty a cathedral as I’ve seen.

Recognizing that many taxi drivers in Norway and Finland are immigrants, I asked one from Eritrea if there were any mosques in Bergen.  He acknowledged home mosques (meeting in a member’s home) were available, but the only permanent mosque was in Oslo.  An Ethiopian driver talked of the small Ethiopian community in Trondheim.  For their special occasions, they rent secular space.

I’ve seen a tiny mosque occupy commercial space in a medina in Morocco, an Episcopal church become a theater in Clarksville, and a synagogue occupy the lower floor of an apartment building in Jerusalem.  All these reflect the changing culture and needs.  The Scandinavian churches are no different.  Times change and churches follow.

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Encounters with Animal Royalty – the Lions of Botswana and Zimbabwe


African Lion (Panthera leo) by, 530-934-3873,

It was his eyes that drew me in – focused on the distant horizon, unblinking, looking for what he was hearing.  A mature Botswana male lion, the largest of the big cats in Africa, had stopped suddenly, fifteen yards away, intensely still, listening.  Gazing outward, he moved his mane from side to side, passing indifferently over our near presence in the open-air jeeps.  Turning to his left he moved into the meadow, gradually fading as if he were Shoeless Joe Jackson in the movie, Field of Dreams, his sandy coat indistinguishable from the tall grasses.  When he reappeared, he knew where he was going, across the field, towards the stream.  After first roaring to scare off any crocodiles, he entered the waters, swam a short distance, re-emerging to shake the water off.  And, again, he disappeared into the grass, hopefully to find his mate. This was not our only encounter with the African lions, but because of his proximity, it is my strongest memory

African Lion (Panthera leo) by, 530-934-3873,

Since my return, I’ve been asked if we were afraid being that close to the king of the jungle.  Truthfully, I wasn’t.  They seemed accustomed to our presence and disinterested in what we had to offer.  And, despite movies to the contrary, lions don’t create the most danger to humans in Africa.  That distinction would go to mosquitos that kill hundreds of thousands a year.  Lions aren’t even the most dangerous big animal in Africa.  That would be the hippopotamus which takes down 3,000 humans a year. Lions come after elephants and crocodiles, killing 200, primarily by sick males or when its testosterone levels are up in musth.

But lions are a danger to every other animal in Africa as they can wrestle down antelopes with ease, cape buffalos with some effort and with a little help from other lions, even a giraffe or elephant.  We saw two leopards squeezed in some branches of a tree, having been chased by a lion that was still roaming the area.  The Okavango Delta in Botswana is known for its large Cape buffalo herds.  They like the water and lions don’t but have adjusted to be close to such tasty fare.  There’s also a large population of impalas, cousins to our deer but with more dramatic horns on the male and a white circle on their rumps.  Impalas are the breadbasket for the animal world of southern Africa, including lions, and they are the most common animal we saw.

Certain prides are known by trackers.  At our first camp in Botswana, we heard a new pride had been seen in the area.  It was always tricky to find them although they had their favorite hangouts.  My husband’s jeep was the first to see a pride of females and babies, causally crossing the road.  I had “lion envy” as I had not gone out that afternoon.  But the next day, we found two male lions lying in the tall grass.  The head of one was up as he sleepily surveyed the nearby humans.  The other was deep into an afternoon nap with only his raised foot giving him away.  Our guide thought they were brothers and had just eaten.

Botswana has a healthy supply of lions today, thanks to conservation efforts and governmental policies. It is one of four countries that have seen an increase of about 12% in lions as opposed to the remainder of Africa where the lion population has decreased by 60%. The politics of saving the lions is complicated. No one disputes the numbers of lions have decreased dramatically from approximately 500,000 in 1950 to an estimated 20,000 today.  No one argues that Photo Safaris brings in needed revenue and provide employment to many.  And it’s undisputed that lions do kill livestock.  Solutions to declining numbers have included banning hunting completely, breeding lions in captivity for trophy hunting, and predator proof fences.

Anti-poaching efforts also are used by all the countries and we saw a jeep full of soldiers doing just that in Botswana.  Our guide greeted them and told us safari guides often give assistance to the anti-poaching efforts by notifying authorities when they see poachers.

Our last encounter with the lions was in Zimbabwe in a wooded area with a pride of lionesses quietly following its leader.

She slowed down and crouched.  The others followed suit.  Her muscles were taut, and her eyes focused past us where a herd of impalas was grazing.  Slowly, she stood and crept silently forward.  We held our breaths, waiting for a kill.  But the impalas must have had a warning and moved on.  The lionesses relaxed and led the pride on to follow the herd beyond our vision.  It is those moments that need to be preserved for future generations of lions and viewers. Hopefully, the efforts to save the lions will do just that.

Some photos are courtesy of Gary Kramer, our tour leader and photographer extraordinaire.

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Volcano Climbing Becomes a Family Tradition

I’m in the yellow jacked on the right at the top of Pacaya – 1975

View of path and valley below

In 1975, my husband and I spent our honeymoon in Guatemala City where he had a medical study grant. We fell in love with that beautiful, green country that sported mountains, lakes, beaches and three active volcanos, Santiaguito, Fuego, and Pacaya.  Not thinking too much, we decided to climb Pacaya for a new experience.  It had been dormant for a while and was considered an easy volcano to ascend.

My husband and me at the beginning of the climb of Pacaya – 1975

On a clear Sunday morning, we quickly followed the gentle rise of the path that gradually increased its incline.  As we neared the top, climbing became challenging, the dark sandy volcanic soil sinking with every step.  The ground warmed beneath our soles.  And finally peering into the crater, we saw only smoke.  But when we turned around, the valley of Guatemala City lay below.  It was an airplane view except our feet were securely planted on ground, shifty though it was.  Our son carried on the family tradition in 2007 when he was in the Peace Corps there but had to turn around when the heat burned the bottom of his shoes.

Pacaya remains the only active volcano we have ascended but there have been other experiences around the world.  These were recalled after watching “Fire of Love”, a documentary about Marcel and Katia Krafft, two vulcanologists joined by marriage and their love of volcanoes.   The two were fearless and lived for the next eruption.  Wearing astronaut like coverings, they approached moving lava and magna, took samples of hot gasses, and even sailed a specially designed boat on a river of acid.

I learned the difference between red, friendlier volcanoes that are more predictable with lava flows following distinct patterns such as old riverbeds.  Gray ones are more dangerous, unpredictable, spewing smoke like a diabolical cauldron.  Mount St. Helens, in the state of Washington, was a gray explosion that broke off the entire side of the volcano when it exploded and sent rivers of lava down through homes and communities.  The broken crater is easy to view on the airplane approach to Portland, Oregon.

Osorno Volcano in Chile’s Lake District

My encounters with volcanos over the years cover several countries.  Since 75% of the world’s volcanoes reside in the Ring of Fire, a 25,000-mile chain that follows the outline of the Pacific Ocean, I have flown over many dormant and active ones across Central and South America, with the most dramatic being views of some of Chile’s 2000 volcanos. In 2014, we hiked around part of Osorno, a perfectly formed volcano in Chile’s lake district.

From my home in Quito, Ecuador in 1973, I could see Cotapaxi, a sculpted volcano along the Pan American highway.  Behind me was Pichincha, a peaceful volcano during my stay but one that erupted in 1999 covering Quito in several inches of ash.  I also regularly passed the snow-covered volcano, Cayambe, third highest mountain in Ecuador, on my way to visit my Peace Corps brother in Otavalo.  The bus always stopped in the town of Cayambe which had food stands selling the local potato soup served with popcorn on top.  I have introduced that recipe to grandchildren.

In Costa Rica, Arundel was quite active, warming the hot springs for swimming at Hotel Tabacon near its base.  Each pool posted its temperature with some too warm for me to enter. The hotel staff offered to wake us in the middle of the night if there were volcanic eruptions.  During the day, large boulders could be seen tossed out of the crater.

My most powerful view of an active volcano came at night on a cruise ship around the Big Island in Hawaii.  Red hot lava could be seen flowing from the Kilauea Volcano into the ocean, sending steam into the air.  The boat kept its distance as the steam could become poisonous as it hits the water.

Diego Clark and Walker Clark carrying Luka Clark. Photo courtesy Dorcas Cristal.

Fabricio, Diego, Luka and Walker Clark eating marshmallows cooked in hot crevices. Photo courtesy Dorcas Cristal

View of Guatemala Valley below Pacaya Volcano – Photo courtesy Dorcas Cristal

Forty-seven years later, almost to the day, the family Guatemalan climbing tradition extended to the third generation.  Our son and his family climbed Pacaya this summer.  Their pictures of the path upward were familiar.  The two older grandsons, 9 and 7, walked on their own.  Our son carried the three-year-old.  This was the third volcano our daughter-in-law had climbed this season.  Marshmallows were provided to roast in the red-hot vents in the heat below.  It is no longer possible to climb to the top of the cone, but the photo of the valley below was the same as ours decades earlier.

While climbing an active volcano sounds dangerous, scientist have learned the signs of an approaching eruption.  Guatemalan officials will shut down the climbing of Pacaya when an explosion seems imminent.  Hopefully, it will remain open to climbing for our next generation.   The view is worth the effort.

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Cape of Good Hope – Africa’s Final Destination

I’ve stood at the base of the South American continent and watched boats pass through the Straits of Magellan. At the bottom of Australia’s continent lies Melbourne, a charming city I explored more for its offerings than its location.  But to best experience the dropping off point of a continent, the Cape Point on the Cape of Good Hope in Cape Town, South Africa delivers with the vastness and loneliness of the Atlantic Ocean surrounding the peninsula on three sides.

The Portuguese initially rounded the Cape in 1488, but they didn’t tarry long. Later, the Dutch recognized the tranquil waters of the False Bay sheltered by the Cape as a good stopping point on their way to their riches in the Spice Islands.  They brought slaves from Malaysia to work their gardens and later rice fields that supplied food to the ships. The English also liked the Cape’s location for their expanding empire.  And, of course, there were the native Kwai Son-Koi people who had been in the area for centuries.  The Cape Peninsula and Cape Town became melting pots of cultures.

The drive around the Cape Peninsula requires two hours excluding an array of possible stops to appreciate the white beaches and blue waters, parks, rugged mountain terrain, and inland towns. Because of the relatively mild winter weather, the Cape is a popular place for second homes, including one owned by Leonardo DiCaprio.  According to our guide, South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world.  Passing around Haut (wood in Dutch) Bay, million-dollar homes overlooked $200 shacks without running water.

On a clear winter day that natives claimed to be like summer, we traveled along the dramatic Chapman’s Peak Drive named for a British sailor, hugging the edge of cliffs where the road had been hewn.  A surprising array of wild animals made their appearance – baboons carrying babies along the side of the road and wild ostriches and domesticated ones grown for their leather.  At nearby Seal Island, sharks could make a feast of the surfeit of seals.  Our guide called it a “McDonald’s drive-through for sharks.”

The most entertaining birds were the hundreds of African Penguins who just showed up at Boulder Beach in 1974.  An elevated board walk takes visitors to the beach filled with the waddling crowd.  There, an impatient mother pushed her mature baby penguin into the cold water again and again.  The baby would quickly circle around and dash out of the water.  Mom wasn’t having it and cut the baby off.  It was quite amusing except for the nearby sea gull that was feasting on a killed baby penguin.  I was startled at the indifference of the other penguins.

At the end of the Cape Peninsula is the Cape of Good Hope so named for the hope that the cape was the turning point east to find India from Europe.  After a funicular ride up to the edge of the Cape, we could finally view the Atlantic from three sides.  Below, a castle like fortress cliff extended even further with waves crashing against it and Black Cape Cormorant bird nests chiseled into its wall.

Behind us was the new Cape Point Lighthouse that functions today to orient ships.  The more traditional lighthouse remains standing but without purpose.  I could only appreciate the thousands of ships that have used the lighthouses over the years as a welcoming sign of a more tranquil bay just around the corner.

Contrary to popular opinion the Cape of Good Hope is not where the Indian, Atlantic, and Antarctic oceans meet.  That point is about 200 miles further east.  But it is the “most south-western point of the African Continent,” a fine title for a remote location. We had our picture taken in front of the sign proclaiming its coordinates.

On the way back into Cape Town, we passed through Simon Town, where a military base on False Bay houses the only three submarines owned by South Africa. False Bay received its name when sailors confused it with Table Bay to the north.  Because of its more tranquil waters, many communities were founded along its shores.  In Simon Town, policemen were protecting health care workers who manned an outdoor clinic giving COVID-19 vaccine shots.  According to our guide, vaccine doubters were numerous here.  Our final stop was for dinner at Fish Bait in Kalk (another Dutch name meaning chalk) overlooking a large marina filled with fishing boats and a sizeable seal looking for a handout. 

I hadn’t expected the wildlife.   The size of the Cape was larger than expected.  And I underestimated the satisfaction of being at the tip of a continent, imagining Antarctica 3,500 miles south, beckoning this traveler to explore her only remaining continent.

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