Posted by: kimberlysullivan | June 20, 2017

My first opera visit in running gear and sneakers – in Oslo

Oslo Opera, NorwayOn a visit to Oslo, Norway, I was a daily visitor to the opera. In theory, this shouldn’t be odd as I love opera and try to go when and wherever I can.

But a busy work schedule meant I didn’t actually have time to ever get to a performance, not even one.

Oslo Opera, NorwayNevertheless, my daily visits were carried out like clockwork: at dawn. I visited the Oslo Opera early each morning to jog over its distinctive ‘flat iceberg’ shape.

For this opera house is known for its distinctive modern design, with its sparkling white Carrara marble plunging dramatically into the Oslofjord … very much like an iceberg.

Oslo Opera, NorwayConstruction on this opera house began in 2003, with a design competition won by the construction firm Snøhetta.

It was completed in 2008. Not surprisingly, the design won the EU’s Prize for Contemporary Architecture.

Oslo Opera, NorwayThe sloping roof is wide and a walk up provides striking views over Oslo. A jog up becomes urban hill training, but I always had time to catch my breath at the top for views over the Scandinavian capital just waking up.

I was told that concerts are sometimes played directly on the roof.

Oslo Opera, NorwayThe marble is topped by an exterior of cool glass, with glimpses inside of warm oak.

It looked very inviting – and I can’t wait to get back (both for morning jogs and evening performances, the latter not in running gear and sneakers, obviously).

If you’re in Oslo, be sure to make it to the opera. For other Oslo tips, see my earlier posts on jogging in Oslo, visiting the Nobel Peace Prize Museum and Oslo’s City Hall.

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | June 16, 2017

I need to write!

Pen writingEvery year I set writing New Year’s Resolution writing goals for myself, and this year I’ve apparently been a very, very, very bad resolution-keeper.

It’s not that I don’t write lots. I do. But it’s for my day job.

What I’ve always been good about is carving out a bit of free time evenings and weekends for creative writing. This year, it simply hasn’t worked out that way as demands at work have become all-consuming  slipped into those precious evenings and weekends.

This weekend I am finally managing an escape to our place out in the mountains. There I love taking long walks, riding on mountain bike trails with my kids, and WRITING!

Let’s hope the mountains inspire me – as they usually do – because I need to get back into the rhythm of getting those words on paper.

What about you, writers? Do you go through slump periods when you’re not very productive? When this happens, how do you revive your old writing habits?

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | June 13, 2017

Oslo’s City Hall

Oslo Town Hall, NorwayI’ve already written about my trip to Norway’s capital. I’ve written about my early jogs around Oslo  and my visit to the Nobel Peace Prize Museum.

But during my visit for work, I was lucky enough to attend a gala dinner at Oslo’s City Hall – the same venue where the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate is feted each year.

Oslo Town Hall, NorwayThe town hall – at least the interior –  is easily recognizable around the world …. even to those who have never been to Oslo.

For it is here that the annual Peace Prize Award is held each December.

Oslo Town Hall, NorwayIn 1918, the international competition to win Oslo’s new City Hall was won by Arnstein Arneberg and Magnus Poulsson, but it was only inaugurated decades later – in 1950, for the 900th anniversary of the city.

Apparently, it took years for Oslo natives to appreciate this modernist, dark brown brick monument.

Oslo Town Hall, NorwayThe celebrated hall where the annual ceremony is held for the Peace Prize each December was decorated by famous Norwegian artists, including Henrik Sorenson, whose ‘Work, Art and Celebrations’ occupies an entire wall.

It is the largest fresco in Europe, occupying an entire wall of a room that measure 1519 square meters.

So even for all of us who are not Nobel Laureates, it’s well worth a visit to Oslo’s town hall when you are in this Scandinavian city.

Oslo Town Hall, Norway

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | June 6, 2017

Emperor Tiberius’ impressive seaside villa, Sperlonga

Emperor Tiberius'Villa, SperlongaI’ve already written about how much I love the seaside town of Sperlonga,  and wandering its beautiful, twisting streets.

Despite all my visits to this gorgeous beach spot, I only recently made it to the museum and ruins of Ancient Rome’s Emperor Tiberius, who ruled from 14-37 AD.

Emperor Tiberius'Villa, SperlongaFor Tiberius, aside from having a great eye for seaside real estate, knew a thing or two about escaping Rome’s hot and humid summers.

This little get-away to the south was his favored summer retreat, and he built his villa with its caves housing farmed fish and spectacular, Classical statues, depicting scenes from Homer’s The Odyssey.

Emperor Tiberius'Villa, SperlongaAlthough many remnants of these colossal statues were discovered in the grotto, many were damaged and it is largely plaster casts you will view in the adjoining museum.

Still, these are impressive, and helpful to understand how imposing they must have been in this cavern on the edge of the sea.

Emperor Tiberius'Villa, SperlongaLittle, too, remains of the villa, but its size and location clearly show how impressive it would have been.

There are beautiful views out onto the sea and to the town of Sperlonga on the other end of the beach.

When you are in the pretty town of Sperlonga, take time to see the impressive museum and cavern of Emperor Tiberius’ villa.

Emperor Tiberius'Villa, Sperlonga

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | May 23, 2017

Alpine art-deco splendor in Ortisei, Italy

Ortisei, ItalyI’ve already written about my fantastic skiing holiday to the Dolomites, in northern Italy’s Trentino-Alto Adige province, this past winter, and the town in the Val Gardena where we made our base, Selva di Val Gardena.

But the ‘historic’ town – always feels funny to use that term in Italy unless a town spans back millennia –  in the Gardena Valley is Ortisei, also known by its German name of Sankt Ulrich or its Ladino name of Urtijëi.

Ortisei, ItalyThis town’s past as a summer and winter sports destination began in the 1860s. This is when better road connections were created to and from the railway routes, thereby facilitating access to tourists who wished to come and admire this beautiful and picturesque corner of the Italian Alps.

The location was popular with English tourists and those of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Germany. Both summer and winter sports were practiced here.

Ortisei, ItalyMany of the buildings were built at the end of the 19th century, and have an art deco look and feel that isn’t as evident in other towns of the valley, which were developed more recently.

The churches have the traditional and distinctive onion dome more common to Austria than to Italy. And, in fact, German is widely spoken in this region, and Austrian specialties are found on the menus. Italian and Ladino are other official languages in Val Gardena, and English is widely spoken.

Ortisei, ItalyIt’s a pleasant place to visit, and I’d love to get back to do some hiking in the summertime.

As you can see from the accompanying photo, the gondolas link you to neighboring ski slopes. Those visible right from town connect you with the Alpi di Siusi, and the ones found on the other side of town bring you back to Santa Cristina and Selva – and the Sella ronda I’ve already written about, which can take you off to numerous valleys and trails around the Dolomites.

So enjoy pretty Ortisei the next time you are in Italy’s Val Gardena. You’re certain to love this art deco Alpine hamlet.

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | May 19, 2017

Does an author owe something to her readers?

hand writingAs a reader, there are many types of books I don’t like. If a book isn’t well written, it’s an easy write-off for me. If it’s not a genre I enjoy – most action/spy novels or science fiction fall under this category for me – I’m not expecting much either, even if they are well written.

But there are books I think could have been good, but which I nevertheless loathed, and often I wonder if these authors (in my mind, at least) broke a pact with their readers.

I’ve already written about poorly researched books. I can forgive  a few flaws and mistakes in setting or location – it happens to the best authors. However, a book riddled with errors – such as the one I read supposedly set in Rome – makes me feel the author hasn’t done her job and is letting down her readers.

A historical novel I recently read had much promise in the first chapters, but I hated it and considered it a chose slogging through it. This is a shame, since I am predisposed to enjoy historical novels, and the author clearly put much work into it. Nevertheless, in thinking about it, I realize there were several points that made it difficult for me to enjoy this book:

  • Every piece of historical research gathered by the author was crammed into this book. I get it, I really do. I adore history. I majored in it undergrad, and I’m endlessly fascinated when I learn some fascinating new historic trivia. But an author must learn what to include and what to leave out. This book had lots of random facts and tidbits that had absolutely nothing to do with the story, but I had the sense the author had learned it and so she needed to throw it in somehow. This can be a fine line. If it happens once or twice, as a reader I may overlook it, but in this novel it never stopped.
  • Characters in historical fiction who seem suspiciously like 21st century counterparts. This is always tough for me in historical novels. An author probably wants to hook modern readers, and even to show that many universal themes and emotions are similar across centuries. Up to there, great. But when it’s off, it’s off. The protagonists were simply annoying, pushing ideas and stances that might be widespread today, but would not have been when the story was set over 150 years ago. An author can still show that characters are more progressive on issues than those around him or her, but I think you do have to reflect the time period in which you are setting you story to know what would have been revolutionary thinking, and what is downright absurd. If you are writing historical fiction, I believe an author does have to make an effort to understand the thinking of the time, and reflect that in her work.
  • ‘Forcing’ the reader to buy the sequel. I disliked this book, all excruciating 750 pages of it. I kept hoping it would get better, but it didn’t. Perhaps foolishly, I am loath to give up on books. There was one thread of a mystery that actually kept me reading til the end until *poof!* The book ended, mystery unresolved. I only learned at the end that it seems the author is writing a series. However, even if it is a series, surely an author must follow an unwritten rule that a reader has invested time in your book and the major conflict must be resolved within the novel. Other threads can be left open and carried into other novels, but don’t make your reader slog through all those pages just to fade away with nothing resolved.

What about you, readers? Have you read novels that disappointed because you felt the author broke a ‘pact’ with his or her readers?

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | May 16, 2017

The long trip down San Patrizio’s well, Orvieto

San Patrizio's well, OrvietoI love the Umbrian town of Orvieto, perched up so dramatically on a hilltop. I’ve already written about the views over the town from the Moro Tower and the town’s Etruscan Museum, with its stunning views over the cathedral, but there’s plenty more to see when you’re in town.

If you’re coming in by train and take the funicular up to the town, before you walk the short distance to the center, take time to visit the 16th century well, San Patrizio.

The well was constructed by Antonio Sangallo il Giovane. It is 53 meters long and 13 meters wide, with two impressive spiral staircases – the masterpiece of this project – and 70 windows illuminating the well.

San Patrizio's well, OrvietoAs you’ll notice quite quickly in Orvieto, this walled town was in a strategic position on the road to Rome. It had clear views over the countryside and strong walls, but in a siege, water is crucial. San Patrizio’s well allowed for quite a bit of stockpiling, and it is a technical and aesthetic feat of architecture – as one expects in Italy. : )

The idea for building such a well came in 1527, after the Sack of Rome, during which time Pope Clement VII took refuge for some time in Orvieto. Supposedly it was Pope Clement himself who feared another attack and wanted to make Orvieto completely sufficient and able to withstand future attacks. An ample water supply was key for this strategy, and so the building of the San Patrizio well began.

San Patrizio's well, OrvietoPope Clement never got to admire this spectacular well, which was finished in 1537,  three years after his death.

Originally the well was called the Pozzo della rocca (the Well of the Rocks), but it was later changed to the Pozzo di San Patrizio, after the well-known Saint Patrick’s Cavern in Ireland, otherwise known as Saint Patrick’s Purgatory.

The well has a continuous water source, the underground spring of San Zeno.

It’s a long walk down – and up – but well worth a  visit when you’re next in Orvieto.

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | May 12, 2017

Women’s fiction vs romance. One author’s discovery

Question markIn this very informative post on the Writer’s Digest site, romance author Linda Goodnight discovered, once she submitted a story proposal to her editors, that her story was not romance but women’s fiction.

In this post, Women’s Fiction or Romance? The Differences, and 5 Reasons Why They Matter, Goodnight explores the differences between the genres.

As the author points out, there is often confusion between the two genres because women’s fiction may contain romantic elements, or even a romance as one driving factor of the story.

The important distinction is that it is not the main driving force. In women’s fiction, the central plot surrounds the emotional journey of the main female protagonist(s), and the reader should accompany this character in her personal growth across the timespan of the novel.

Romance should have a Happily Ever After, whereas that is not expected in Women’s Fiction – although there should be a sense of hope at the novel’s conclusion.

Linda Goodnight does an excellent job of classifying the differences between the two genres, and helps clear up some confusion. Happy reading and writing to all – across genres.

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | May 9, 2017

Oslo’s Nobel Peace Prize Museum

Nobel Museum, OsloI was recently in Oslo, Norway for work. I’ve already written about starting my days off right with my morning jogs around Norway’s capital.

Although I didn’t have much free time, I did manage to squeeze in a few tourist visits on my stay. One was the Nobel Peace Prize Museum.

I was passing this museum every day and I went to a dinner at Oslo City Hall – where the prize is awarded annually, so I was curious to visit this museum and learn more about the history of the prize and its recipients.

Nobel Museum, Oslo

2016 Nobel laureate

The museum is in the center, right along the water. It bills itself as not really a museum, but an interactive space. To be honest, I would have preferred the actual thing. The space must be nice for lectures and talks. It seems to be used for photo exhibitions.

When I visited, there was one on the war in Syria and one on  the FARC in Colombia – connected to 2016’s recipient, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. I enjoyed listening to the video of his Nobel laureate speech.

The museum did indeed have interactive displays, and lots of tablets you could touch to read about each individual recipient, but I would have enjoyed some more explanation.

Nobel Museum, OsloThe creation of the Nobel Peace Prize by Swedish industrialist and arms manufacturer Alfred Nobel has always been a bit of a mystery – as has his choice to have the recipient selected by a Norwegian committee and be awarded the prize in Norway – something that has been done since 1901.

If you are looking for any explanations or background history, you won’t find it here.

Nobel Museum, OsloHowever, the hall of Nobel recipients is quite moving – and many of them quite baffling. If you have the patience to tap into each and every tablet, you can read a short recounting of the recipients and the reasons for which he or she was chosen.

Here on the left you can see Norway’s homegrown Nobel laureate, Dr. Fridtjof Nansen – scientist, skiing champion, Arctic explorer, statesman, humanitarian and first Commissioner to what would later become the UN High Commission on Refugees.

Worth a visit, certainly, when you’re in Oslo, but I would have enjoyed learning more about the history of the Prize and the men and women who have become Nobel laureates over the past century.

Nobel Museum, OsloNobel Museum, Oslo

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | May 5, 2017

Book Review: Queen Idia’s Africa – short stories

Queen Idia's Africa -Cordelia SalterI enjoyed this collection of  short stories. These connected stories all imagine a contemporary society in which Africa has developed as a wealthy continent, and is working to finance the development efforts in the lesser developed regions of Western Europe and America.

This overseas development aid is largely intended to stop the flow of desperate European immigrants, risking their lives in leaky boats to reach African shores in hope of a better life. With elections on the horizon, African politicians are under tremendous pressure to show that they are taking a stand against illegal immigration, and bolstering Africa-first policies.

Sound vaguely familiar?

Salter’s sly twist on immigration policies and the international development community is refreshing and clever. Salter is well acquainted with development agenda lexicon, and she clearly has fun turning the tables on many of the modern challenges of the sector – from refugee settlements, to corruption in procurement and distribution, to spoiled celebrities wanting to show up for photo-ops with starving kids, but only those who are photogenic and well-groomed.

Salter covers a lot of ground in this slim volume, and carts out many of the well-worn development clichés. When visiting refugee resettlement camps in the US, only women are provided with work, since men will drink the money away.  A jaded African bureaucrat repeats the same dismissive lines to a desperate European hoping to make a new life in Africa.

A well-written farcical take on serious subjects by an author who clearly knows her subject matter well.

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