Category Archives: National Landmark

National landmark or historical place

Kobe, Japan PT 2 MAR 3 2024

On day two in Kobe we had a great excursion with an excellent guide that took us to several places in nearby Kyoto. Kyoto, about an hour drive from Kobe, was the capital of Japan for more than 1,000 years from 794 to 1868. First up was the Heian Shrine, listed as an important cultural property in Japan. Built in 1895 the shrine property has a Tori gate, main gate, castle, garden and a lake, to resemble the 11th and 12th century design periods. In 1976 several buildings were destroyed by fire and rebuilt. We have learned in Japan, over thousands of years, many shrines and temples were destroyed by fire, earthquakes or bombing during WW2.

We enjoyed walking around the grounds, though at 35 degrees, it was cold.

A tree was full of white strips of paper tied to the tree. The wish tree has good fortunes tied on the tree to bring good luck. Another example of Japanese superstitions.

In the garden we came across a happy couple having wedding photos taken.

Next we went to Nijo-jo Castle. Built in 1626, this is from the feudal period and was the home of Tokugawa shoguns. It was struck by lightning and burned to the ground in 1867 and rebuilt in 1893.  What makes the castle unique are the nightingale floors as they are known in Japan. They are a type of floor that makes a squeaking, chirping noise like nightingales when walked on. These floors were built for security so the shogun would hear if anyone came into the castle.

Before entering the castle for a tour we had to take off our shoes while walking on the floors.

Even with socks on our feet were freezing and we couldn’t feel our toes by the end of the tour. We did hear the floors chirping. I did not see the “no photos” sign so I was in the process of taking my first picture when a guard walked up behind me and loudly said, “No photos!!” Almost gave me a heart attack. Here is that picture.

Time for lunch. We were taken to a very nice Japanese restaurant located in a high end hotel. Each place setting had a bento box which is the Japanese version of a boxed lunch. Very nicely done. It included soup, sticky rice, tofu, shrimp, a sweet potato cake and salmon. Chopsticks and forks were provided. Lucky Bill enjoyed his lunch and mine!

Japanese Has Small Vehicles

Our final destination was the beautiful Kinkaku-ju Temple, also known as The Golden Pavillion. Several people on the cruise ship who had been to Koyoto before, said this was their favorite place. It did not disappoint. It is a Zen Buddhist temple that at one time was a family villa. Built in 1397 as a shogun palace, it later became a temple. The pavillion burned down in 1950 and was rebuilt in 1955. It is a three story building with the top two stories covered with pure gold leaf.

Picture of Their Interior Picture

We were not allowed to go inside. A one way path for tourists led past the temple. Our guide told us the guards would not allow people to go part way and then turn around and walk back. The problem was 100 steps that had to be navigated on the one way path. It turns out the steps were not too bad. I hope people didn’t decide not to go because of the steps. It is such a beautiful place, it is a shame they don’t make it accessible for people with mobility issues. There were lots of tourists there but it was not crowded.

Three young Japanese girls were visiting in traditional dress. We asked if we could take their picture and they gladly agreed.

It was a long day with an hour ride back to the ship, but a very enjoyable day. Back at the ship, it was very close to the time the ship was leaving. We had to go through Japanese immigration again (we had to do this every time we left or came back to the ship while in every Japanese port). As we were walking toward the ship we heard a band playing. We were so surprised to see a band and a crowd of people at the top of the cruise terminal with banners and flags to see us off.

On the ship, passengers had crowded all the decks and balconies to wave goodbye. It was quite a party with the crew passing out drinks, appetitizers and blankets for warmth. We quickly joined the crowd. As the band played “Anchors Away”, the people released pink and green balloons and waved goodbye to us. Wow! What a send off. Thank you, Kobe!!

When we got back to our cabin, we had another nice surprise. An invitation had been placed in our cabin mailbox. A coveted invitation for a tour of The Ship’s Bridge, which is where all the ship’s navigation takes place. Bill has been wanting to do this for a long time. We were under the impression tours had been stopped years ago for security reasons. Bill was thrilled. Can’t wait! 

Next up:  The last Japanese port, scenic cruising and a tour of “The Ship’s Bridge” 

Kobe, Japan PT 1 MAR 2 2024

In the last blog I mentioned the captain hinted that bad weather might prevent us from docking at Omaezaki, Japan. Did we get there? The answer is no. The seas were very rough during the night with the wind howling continuously. There is something spooky about a dark night with howling winds. 

The next morning we were not surprised when morning arrived and the captain announced the port was canceled. It was too rough for the pilot boat to bring the local pilot to join the ship, and local regulations required a regional pilot onboard when docking. The port was closed. 

The captain had an unexpected sea day so he slowed the ship down to a scenic cruising speed. A couple hours later we were sitting inside on the upper deck when Bill suddenly saw Mt Fuji. Until now it had been clouded in, but there it was in all its glory. We headed to the open aft deck to take pictures. Just then an announcement was made and everyone headed outside. It was like a big party with people taking pictures, selfies and exclaiming over Mt Fuji’s beauty. Disappointment over the missed port was quickly forgotten.

The rough seas continued all day. At one point we went down to deck two where people were standing in front of the large windows, memorized by the huge waves right outside the windows. We tried to get pictures, but it was too difficult to get a perspective through the glass. I walked through the indoor pool area. There is a retractable roof that slides open when the weather is warm and sunny. Today the roof was closed and it was making a very loud combination of a squeal and bang as the roof flexed in the rough seas. 

At bedtime I told Bill I was physically tired from trying to stay upright all day. It seemed like whatever direction I wanted to move, the ship pushed me in the opposite direction. But neither of us were seasick, and for that we were very grateful. 

The next day we arrived at Kobe, Japan. Even though it was very cold, it turned out to be our favorite Japanese port.

As we arrived in the harbor, a fire boat met us and put on a welcoming water display with changing colors.

Kobe has a population of 1.5 million, making it the seventh largest city and third largest port city in Japan. Several companies such as Eli Lilly, Proctor and Gamble and Nestlé have their Asian or Japanese headquarters in Kobe. It is also famous for a very expensive beef called “Kobe beef”. The beef comes from Japanese Black cattle and is known as a delicacy because of its flavor, tenderness and fatty, well marbled texture. It has only been exported since 2012.

The ship was scheduled to stay overnight in Kobe which gave us two full days to explore. We had an excursion booked for the second day but decided to explore on our own the first day. Bill found a Hard Rock Cafe at Universal Studios located in the nearby city of Osaka. The Kobe Port Authority provided a well-staffed information center at the port terminal. We asked the friendly, helpful staff the easiest way to get from Kobe to Osaka. No problem. Just take the monorail from the port to the train station and then take three trains to Universal Studios Osaka. Bill was confident we could figure it out, so off we went.

Buying tickets for the monorail and trains was easy since they had a button for English instructions and we had plenty of Japanese yen. The hardest thing was trying to figure out which platform each train left from since everything here was in Japanese only. We only needed to ask for help a couple times. They have guard rails that come up and down to stop people.

They also have floor instructions to control the flow onto and off of the trains.

The third train let us out right at Universal Studios where many stores and restaurants were located, including the Hard Rock Cafe. Fortunately, everything was outside the entrance to Universal Studios, so we didn’t have to pay to go in.

We bought Bill a shirt, had lunch nearby and reversed directions back to the ship with the three trains and the monorail. The biggest problem was it was just so cold. We stopped at an outside mall before getting back on the monorail but it was so cold we gave up.

Our appetizer of hot French Onion soup for dinner that night was especially tasty and warmed us up. 

After dinner the city put on fireworks display, we could see from the outer decks of the starboard side of the ship. It was very cold, but the always thoughtful crew were outside handing out deck blankets to drape around us for warmth.

Next up: Kobe part 2

Oahu Hawaii FEB 8 2024

After another rough night sailing from the Big Island to the island of Oahu, we arrived at the port in Honolulu in the early morning. We were welcomed with a beautiful rainbow.

Our goal today was to take the city bus from the port to Waikiki Beach to get Bill a shirt at Hard Rock Cafe. We then wandered around the area looking for a food truck on the beach that had garlic shrimp. When we were on Oahu in 2014 we found a roadside stand on the North Shore of the island that had the best garlic shrimp that Bill had ever tasted.  Unfortunately this time around, we didn’t find any garlic shrimp on Waikiki. To show you how wonderful the crew of Holland America are, that evening on the ship one of the chefs stopped by our table. He asked how our day in Honolulu had gone. Bill casually mentioned that he was disappointed he never found any garlic shrimp. The chef immediately pulled out his notebook and made a note to have garlic shrimp especially made for Bill the next night. He said just tell the waiter. Sure enough, the next evening Bill told our waiter, and sure enough the garlic shrimp was prepared for him. How nice is that!

We had a great view of Diamond Head from Waikiki Beach and even from the ship.

In 2014 we rented a car and spent a week on the island of Oahu. The following pictures are from that visit.

Houses are built everywhere

Houses are built everywhere

Diamond Head is the most recognized landmark in Oahu.  The actual name of the volcano is Le’ahi.  It is believed to have been formed about 300,000 years ago during a single brief eruption.  The broad crater covers 350 acres with its width being greater than its height.  The southwestern rim is highest because winds were blowing ash in this direction during the eruption.  Since the eruption the slopes of the crater have been eroded and weathered by wind, rain, and the pounding sea.

Diamond Head got its nickname because in the late 1700’s, Western explorers and traders visited Le’ahi and mistook the calcite crystals in the rocks on the slope of the crater for diamonds.  Imagine their disappointment when they discovered it was not diamonds!  Because of its panoramic view, Diamond Head has been used over the years as a site for coastal defense. Most pictures of Waikiki will have Diamond Head in the background.IMG_3223


Kalaniana'Ole Highway

Kalaniana’Ole Highway

Halona Blowhole

Halona Blowhole

Eastern shore

Eastern shore


Puu Ualakaa State Wayside Park is on a cinder cone with a breathtaking sweeping view of downtown Honolulu and Diamond Head.  IMG_3228

Overlook of Diamond Head Crater and Waikiki Beach hotels

Overlook of Diamond Head Crater and Waikiki Beach hotels

The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific is otherwise known as the Punchbowl.  The cemetery is located in the Punchbowl Crater, an extinct volcanic tuff cone that was formed 75,000 to 100,000 years ago.  The Hawaiian name is Puowaina which means “Hill of Sacrifice” because the area was first used as an altar where Hawaiians offered human sacrifices to pagan gods.  In 1948 Congress approved funding to make it a national cemetery as a permanent burial site for the remains of thousands of World War II servicemen.

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

It is a very lovely, peaceful setting with beautiful views of Honolulu and Diamond Head.

How does one even begin to write about Pearl Harbor, such a hallowed place? The USS Arizona Memorial is built over the sunken hull and honors the 1,177 crewmen who died.  The memorial was dedicated in 1962 and the hull is a tomb for over 900 sailors who died inside. IMG_3242

Display of what the USS Arizona looks like underwater

Display of what the USS Arizona looks like underwater

The names of all those who died are on a wall inside the memorial

The names of all those who died are on a wall inside the memorial

Some survivors later chose to be buried inside the memorial

Some survivors later chose to be buried inside the memorial

Also nearby is the USS Oklahoma honoring 429 sailors who died when the ship capsized, as well as the visible hull of the USS Utah Memorial commemorating its 58 dead.

The ships in red were sank during the attack

The ships in red were sank during the attack

Bill took a tour of the Battleship Missouri Memorial which was docked nearby.  The USS Missouri was launched on January 29, 1944, and is the last U.S. battleship ever built.  She is three football fields long and towers over twenty stories tall.  Most importantly, after joining the battle of Okinawa, she became the site of the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945.IMG_3244 IMG_3253 IMG_3254 IMG_3255 IMG_3258 IMG_3259 IMG_3262IMG_3260

The attack on Pearl Harbor killed 2,400 people and sank or damaged 21 vessels and 323 military planes.

The North Shore area of Oahu is made up of beautiful beaches with dramatic mountains  towering above the shore.  This area is famous for its “pipeline” waves, the massive waves you see at the beginning of the tv show “Hawaii 5-0”.  It is a surfers paradise.  We saw larger waves than we had seen on other parts of the island, but the massive pipeline waves usually occur during the winter months.IMG_3396 IMG_3402

Turtle Beach with no turtles

Turtle Beach with no turtles

Watching the world go by

Watching the world go by

Nuuanu Pali State Wayside Overlook which at an elevation of 1,200 feet had amazing views of Oahu from a stone terrace on the edge of cliffs.  The Hawaiian word “pali” means cliff.  This area is of historical importance to the Hawaiian people because on these cliffs in 1795 is where King Kamehameha won a battle that united Oahu under his rule.  The battle was fierce and during the battle hundreds of soldiers lost their lives, including some who were forced off the edge of the sheer cliffs.

Impressive view of windward O'ahu from Nu'uanu Pali State Wayside (cliffs) at 1200 feet elevation

Impressive view of windward O’ahu from Nu’uanu Pali State Wayside (cliffs) at 1200 feet elevation

A view of Waimea Valley and the northern shoreline from the Puu O Mahuka Heiau on O’ahu

King Kamehameha the first

King Kamehameha the first

The statue is of King Kamehameha the Great (1756-1819), perhaps Hawaii’s greatest historical figure.  There are four statues of the King; this one in downtown Honolulu, on the Big Island at his birthplace, another in Hilo, and in Washington, DC.

We sailed out of Honolulu at 11:00 PM, so no whale watching on our last sail away in Hawaii.

Next up: eight days at sea as we sail towards Guam, including crossing the International Date Line. What day is it????


Lisbon Portugal Part 2 JUL 8, 2023

Lisbon has many beautiful and interesting places to visit. We decided the best strategy was to buy the 48 hour Hop On Hop Off bus. What we didn’t know was how much the long waits for the trolleys and buses would really slow us down. Another complication was due to it being high tourist season, the lines to get into many places were ridiculously long, often in the hot sun. So we could only do what we had the time and energy to do. 

The Lisbon Cathedral is Roman Catholic and the oldest church in the city. Built in 1147, it has survived many earthquakes and been renovated several times. It suffered major damage during the 1755 earthquake and underwent a major renovation at that time. There was a small entrance fee of five euros.

Inside were several Gothic tombs from the mid 14th century.

Tomb of María de Villalobos, wife of Lopo Fernandes Pacheco

Up a steep flight of stairs was the treasury with national ancient jewels and relics. Picture taking was not allowed and there were security people watching over everything. 

Another church, possibly our favorite, was the Estrela Basilica. We went in there on a whim while we had time waiting for the next bus. Queen Maria I of Portugal ordered it built as a fulfillment of a vow she made to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is the first church in the world dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, one of the most well known and practiced Catholic devotions. The church was constructed from 1779 to 1789.

We went into the National Pantheon which turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. Built in the 17th century, it was originally the Church of Santa Engracia and was converted into the National Parthenon in 1916.  The inside was not nearly as beautiful and elaborate as we expected. Many famous people are entombed here including Presidents, famous singers, writers and sports athletes. Of most interest to us were the tombs of explorers Vasco de Gama and Henry the Navigator.

Belem Tower, also called the Tower of Saint Vincent, is a 16th century fortification built along the Tagus River. It was the point of embarkation and disembarkation for Portuguese explorers and was considered the ceremonial gateway to Lisbon.  Constructed of limestone, it has a bastion and a 100 foot four story tower. We wanted to go inside and climb up the tower, but the line of people waiting in the hot sun was very long. A tourist sign updating people said the current wait was one hour.

Nearby was the Monument of the Discoveries, built between 1958-1960. The monument celebrates the Portuguese Age of Discovery during the 15th and 16th centuries.

Here are many monuments we saw during our visit.

King Dom Joseph I (1714 – 1777)

Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, Marquês de Pombal (1699 – 1782) Secretary of State for the Kingdom

King John I (1357–1433)

The Great Heroes War Memorial

Afonso de Albuquerque (1453 – 1515), 1st Duke of Goa, Portuguese general, admiral, and statesman

On July 12th, an Uber was promptly waiting at our door at 6:45 A.M. for our ride to the airport.  The Lisbon airport could teach other airports about efficiency. We quickly checked into Air Portugal and dropped off our bags, went through security and passport control, and still had plenty of time for a leisurely breakfast. Well done, Lisbon!  Our nine hour flight to Miami was uneventful. We had one meal and one snack that were both truly awful, but at least they gave us food and drink. Either no food or bad food was what we found on all our flights this year, including our flights to and from Israel in the early spring. 

After the scary landing in Lisbon, I was apprehensive about this landing but all went well.  Looking out the window of the plane, we were happy to see Miami, a little fuzzy with the hot, humid weather.

After collecting our luggage we went through passport control where a friendly official welcomed us home. We picked up our rental car for the five hour drive home.  Miami is definitely not our favorite place to drive home from. It was good to be home! 

Thanks for following along with our travels. We had a wonderful time, visited many beautiful and interesting places, saw amazing scenery (especially in Norway) and met many kind people along the way. 

We don’t have any trips on the horizon, but we have many places still on our very full bucket list. 

See you next time! 

Bill and Diane 

Lisbon Portugal Part 1 JUL 7, 2023

We disembarked from our final cruise in Stockholm on July 7th and took an Uber to the airport.  Air Portugal was over an hour late opening their check in desks to process our checked bags. There was a very long line at security with only two TSA officials working. At one point one machine broke and they herded us into one even longer line. At this point we realized we would not have time for lunch. Even after arriving three hours early, we were still rushed through no fault of our own. After security we had a really long walk to our gate where Bill was able to grab a Coke and tuna sandwich at a little nearby mini mart. Good thing since nothing on the flight was provided but expensive food and drinks. After all that, our flight was still an hour late leaving. 

But that isn’t the end of the story. When we were coming in for a landing I remarked to Bill that we were coming in too fast. We could see the ground getting close but the plane wasn’t slowing down. We hit the runway hard with a bounce and the pilot had to put the reverse thrusters on hard to slow us down. It threw everyone hard against the seats in front of them. With crying babies and screaming children, for several terrifying seconds I didn’t think we would stop before the end of the runway. As we got off the plane I told the flight attendant standing at the door, “That was the worst landing I have ever experienced”.  Her response was, “Me too!”

With no skyway, we had to leave the plane by walking down steps and then boarded a bus to the terminal.  After getting our luggage we re-evaluated how to get to our apartment. Our original plan was to go by subway and then walk to the apartment. When Bill checked the cost of an Uber, we were pleasantly surprised at how cheap they are in Lisbon. We could actually travel by Uber cheaper than the cost of two subway tickets. We were happy and relieved at this point in the day to take the easy way to the apartment.

We arrived at the apartment and were apprehensive when we saw the outside entrance located in an alley with garbage cans overflowing with trash. But when we went inside we were very pleased with what we saw.  It had a nice size sitting area with an attached bedroom, fully equipped kitchen with a stove, oven, dishwasher and large refrigerator. Only thing missing was a microwave. The bathroom was large with a big shower. Best of all it had air conditioning that worked. Unusual for Europe. 

Lisbon is the capital and largest city in Portugal with a population of 545,800.  Around three million people, or one fourth of Portugal’s population, live in the surrounding area.  Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world and the second oldest European capital city after Athens. In 1755, two thirds of the city was destroyed by a powerful earthquake. 

Lisbon is called the “city of seven hills” and I had read about how steep and hilly Lisbon is. But nothing prepared us for reality. It felt like everywhere we wanted to go was uphill. More hilly than San Francisco! And it often felt like going downhill was almost as hard on the hips and knees.  The cobblestone streets are very narrow and all the sidewalks are made of small tiles that can be slick, especially when wet. Fortunately we had no rain.

Those hilly streets really wore us out. The heat didn’t help. We quickly realized we wouldn’t get far walking, so we bought a 48 hour Lisboa card. Somewhat pricey, but with the card we had access to the bus, subway, train, tram, as well as free or discounted entry fees into several of the top attractions.

We had a love hate relationship with the trams (known as tram line #28). Operating since 1914, they are an iconic part of Lisbon and a favorite of tourists. Unfortunately, we were there during high tourist season and the trams were always packed. Packed in like sardines, we usually had to stand as we hung on, weaving up the steep narrow streets with hairpin turns. The streets are so narrow we saw a tram driver holding a mirror on a short pole out the window so he could be sure he didn’t hit a car that had not parked close enough to the curb. It seems different tram drivers had different rules. Some let you exit from the front or rear of the tram. Some drivers had a rear exit only policy. We missed a stop because it was so crowded we couldn’t get to the back to exit. And you never knew what policy a particular driver had until time to get off or by watching the locals. One rant here is the lack of courtesy by tourists. While the trams are a favorite of tourists, they are also a means of transportation for the locals. It seems some tourists have an entitlement attitude regarding seats. I saw many young tourists sitting and never offering their seats to elderly locals, including a man with one leg. It was shameful and bothered us every time we rode a tram. Why haven’t young people been taught simple courtesy for the elderly and handicapped? 

Lisbon also had several funiculars throughout the city. A funicular is a cable railroad, especially one on a mountainside, in which ascending and descending cars are counterbalanced. The fare was also covered with the Lisboa card. They were used more to get up steep hills rather than to get around the city. We rode one up and then back down just for the experience.

Similar to what we saw in Vietnam and Thailand, they also had tuk tuks, also called rickshaws, available for hire. They were brightly decorated to catch the eye of tourists.

We often settled for less desirable restaurants near the apartment because we didn’t have the energy to walk up another steep street or take another crowded tram. I think visiting Lisbon off season would be much nicer, but the steep streets will always be there. It is so hilly that the closest subway station is about ten stories underground. We often had to take several escalators followed by steps to get out of the subway onto street level. After seeing those, I was especially glad we didn’t try to take the subway to our apartment from the airport. And even more grateful we didn’t have to lug suitcases up or down those steep streets!

Portuguese National Theater

We did visit the Hard Rock Cafe located in a beautiful old building in a nice area of Lisbon along a lovely tree lined boulevard. We bought Bill a shirt but also had a nice meal before taking the subway and tram back to the apartment.

Lisbon is an old city, and it is a very dirty city. Trash is piled everywhere, with overflowing trash cans. The streets are littered with trash and cigarette butts. On several occasions we saw dogs on leashes urinating or having a bowel movement on the sidewalk with no one picking it up. It surprised us that people didn’t take more pride in their neighborhood communities and the city. 

In spite of all this, Lisbon is a picturesque city with much to see. It would take weeks to see everything there if we had the strength.

Saint George’s Castle, erected in 48 B.C.

The Rue Augusta Triumphal Arch was built between 1755-1873 to symbolize the strength of Lisbon as they rebuilt after the earthquake.

On the light poles throughout the city they have the symbol of Lisbon which is two crows standing on the bow and stern of a ship facing each other. This symbolizes two ravens who protected the body of the patron saint of Lisbon after he was martyred.

Lisbon has its Golden Gate Bridge called the 25th of April Bridge. Ironic since Lisbon is so similar to San Francisco in terrain. It commemorates the date of the Carnation Revolution in 1974 that overthrew the Salazar’s Estado Novo regime.

Overlooking the bridge and the city is the Sanctuary of Christ the King, inspired by Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer. Built in 1959, it was erected to express gratitude because the Portuguese were spared direct destruction during WW2. 

On Sunday they had the World Bike Tour event which closed some streets and clogged others.

We have much more to share of Lisbon in the next posting.

Next up: More Lisbon Portugal Part 2

Helsinki, Finland JUL 6, 2023

The last port of our last cruise was Helsinki, Finland. This country’s geographic position has led to competition between Sweden and Russia for domination over Finland in the 18th century. After 1807, Russian influence prevailed in Finland. Finland declared its independence in 1917, resulting in an uneasy relationship between the two countries. The relationship was in bitter conflict during WW2 when the two countries were on opposite sides. After the war ended, Finland tread a careful path during the Cold War. Today, Finland is a member of both the European Union and NATO. Russia said Finland, by joining NATO, was making a mistake and hurting its relationship with Moscow. Interestingly, six percent of Finnish residents speak Swedish exclusively. Swedish is a mandatory subject in schools. Most of Finland’s signs and street names appear in Finnish and Swedish.

We decided to take the Hop On Hop Off Bus in Helsinki which conveniently picked us up at the port. 

We visited Senate Square with a Lutheran Cathedral on the hill. Built from 1830 to 1852 as a tribute to the Grand Duke of Finland, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia.

Helsinki Cathedral

Grand Duke of Finland Alexander II

The City Hall was built in the 19th century.

The Presidential Palace had guards standing watch. It is one of three official residences of the President of Finland. It was built between 1820 and 1845.

The Parliament House was constructed between 1926-1931.

In 1952, the Summer Olympics were held in Helsinki. The stadium is mainly used for concerts.

The tower of the stadium is 238.5 feet, the measurement of the length of the gold medal win by Finnish Matti Jarvinen in the javelin throw of the 1932 Summer Olympics.

We visited the beautiful Uspenski Cathedral. It is the largest Greek Orthodox church in western Europe and was constructed between 1862-1868.

The sea fortress of Suomenlinna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built on six interconnecting islands. It was first used by Sweden in 1748.   It was surrendered to Russia in 1808 and remained in Russian control until 1918 after Finland proclaimed its independence.

The Sibelius Monument is made of more than 600 hollow steel pipes welded together in a wave like pattern. It is dedicated to Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. The design of the monument is to capture the essence of his music.

K. J. Stahlberg played a central role in the drafting of the Constitution of Finland in 1919.  He was also the first president of Finland from 1919-1925.

On Market Square you can find vendors selling fish, vegetables, fruit and crafts.

After finding a geocache, we caught the bus back to the port. Helsinki was a nice city, but it did not have the wow factor of many other European cities. 

Next up: Lisbon, Portugal 


Tallinn, Estonia JUL 5, 2023

Early in the morning of June 5, the ship entered the Gulf of Finland and sailed into the port of Tallinn, Estonia. For a change, we actually arrived 90 minutes early. Estonia and Finland are separated by the Gulf of Finland. The cities of Tallinn and Helsinki are only 50 miles apart. 

Tallinn is the capital and most populous city in Estonia with a population of 454,000.  It is 200 miles west of St Petersburg, Russia. Unlike Stockholm, Copenhagen or other metropolitan cities in Europe, Tallinn has an old, medieval feel that was a nice change.

Tallinn’s Old Town is one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe, but it also has the highest number of startup companies per person among all the capitals and larger cities in Europe. It is the birthplace of many international high technology companies such as Skype.

Parliament Building

The first archaeological traces of a small hunter-fisherman village here was from 5,000 years ago. It was part of the kingdom of Denmark in the 13th century. In 1285 it became part of the German alliance cities and was fortified with city walls and 66 defense towers. In 1561 it became part of Sweden.  During WW1 and WW2 it was occupied by Germany but after extensive bombing it became part of the Soviet Union. In 1991 it received its independence from the Soviet Union.

We took the ship’s shuttle to the city center. Once again the ship charged 10 euros per person for something I think they should provide free of charge to their guests. 

We decided to explore on our own rather than taking a Hop On Hop Off Bus. Tallinn was an interesting, beautiful city. We can usually judge how much we liked a city by the number of pictures we have to sort through when doing the blog. We had lots of pictures for Tallinn.

Tallinn’s Old Town is an intact medieval 13th century town dating back to the Middle Ages, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The cobblestone streets are very hilly and there are lots and lots of steps.

We were able to enter the St Olav Church, built in the 12th century and then rebuilt in the 14th century. It is named for King Olaf II who was king of Norway from 1015-1028, also known as Saint Olaf.

The Alexander Nevaky Cathedral was our favorite church and Bill took a great picture of the outside.

It was built to honor Russian soldiers who died during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877.  It was built between 1894-1900 when Estonia was part of the Russian Empire.

We walked to the top of a hill with a fantastic view of Tallinn.

The Town Hall is the oldest town hall in the whole Baltic Sea region and Scandinavia.

Tallinn also has the oldest pharmacy in the world, opening in 1422.  It is still a pharmacy today.

When the bus got back to the entrance of the port, a guard got on board and we all had to show him our ship identification card. We have not had that happen at any other port this summer. Usually security just checks us at the port gate as we walk back to the ship.

By the way, all the plastic drink bottles throughout Europe and the United Kingdom have an attached cap that doesn’t come off.  Think how many billions of caps, separated from their bottle, are littering the planet. Wonder why this hasn’t caught on in our part of the world??

Next up:  The last port of our last cruise, Helsinki, Finland

Copenhagen, Denmark JUL 3, 2023

On July 3, we visited Copenhagen, Denmark. We left our last port three hours late due to high winds, but the captain managed to make up one hour and we arrived in Copenhagen only two hours late. The wind followed us with winds gusting up to 40 mph in Copenhagen. More on that later. 

We decided to do the Hop On Hop Off Bus and fortunately they came right to the pier to pick up passengers. It ended up being a good deal since the ship was charging 16 euros round trip to take their shuttle bus the 20 minute ride into the city. Personally I think this is a service the cruise line should provide free of charge. Anyway, for just a little more, we got the ride into the city and the benefits of the Hop On Hop Off Bus. 

I read that even though Denmark is the smallest of the four Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland) the country of Denmark is one of the most advanced and progressive in the world. They have set the goal of being carbon neutral by 2025.

Denmark is just over 200 miles long and 75 miles wide. Very little of Denmark is much higher than 100 feet above sea level, with its highest point only rising to 567 feet. 

Copenhagen, pop 605,000, is a city of monuments, statues, steeples, squares and pedestrian only streets. When crossing the street you need to watch out for the bike lane as well as the traffic lanes or you might very well be knocked over by a bike.

Christian IV (12 April 1577 – 28 February 1648) was King of Denmark and Norway

In the above statue Christian was know for many buildings with towers. In the statue the towers turn upside down are the reflections of the towers in the city’s canals and moats.

Christiansborg Palace

Copenhagen City Hall

Copenhagen, like many of the Scandinavian towns and cities, began as a small fishing village. By the middle of the 15th century it was the capital of Denmark. Today it has a very efficient bus service as well as electric trains and a subway.

Major Mode of Transportation is Bicycles

To us, Copenhagen did not have the WOW factor of many other cities we have visited such as Vienna and Stockholm. Perhaps if we had visited Copenhagen at the beginning of our trip instead of near the end, we would have felt more dazzled by the city. Instead the buildings, including the churches and palaces, seemed rather drab. There were many statues, but mostly of men on horses. Felt rather redundant by the end of the day. It was a day of contrasts.

We met the nicest employees of our summer travel at the Hard Rock Cafe, and the rudest bus driver of all our travels. My jaw dropped at his rudeness. 

Our tour began by riding on the bus listening to the commentary about the city. Several headphone outlets didn’t work leaving people scrambling for seats with working outlets. Don’t get me started on that aggravation throughout the day as the buses were crowded making it more difficult to change seats. Bill said he counted five cruise ships in port today.

Lille Langebro a cycle and pedestrian bridge

We got off at the stop with the Marble Church and Rosenborg Castle.

Rosenborg Castle

The Marble Church, also called Frederik’s Church, is not really made from marble, even though that was the original plan. The foundation was laid in 1749 but when the architect died, the plan was abandoned. In the late 1800s construction was started once again but due to a tight budget they were forced to switch from marble to limestone. The church finally opened in 1894, 145 years after the first stone was laid.

We then walked over to the Amalienborg Palace because at noon every day they have the Changing of the Guards. Each day the Guards leave Rosenborg Castle and make the 30 minute walk over to Amalienborg Palace for the Changing of the Guards. By the time we got there, the crowd was three deep with people waiting to see it.

Lonely Guard Waiting For Replacement

Three Guards In This Area were relieved

The  Amalienborg Palace is really made up of four identical palaces around an octagonal courtyard built between 1750 and 1760. The buildings are plain and not very attractive. Queen Margrethe II lives there in the fall and winter. Queen Margrethe has reigned as Denmark’s monarch for over 50 years and is Europe’s longest serving current female head of state. She was Denmark’s first female monarch since Margrethe I ruled from 1376-1412. 

Frederick V (1596 – 1632) was King of Denmark–Norway

After leaving the Castle we walked down to the harbor. It is here that we found the colorful houses along the water that Copenhagen is known for.

1,400 Seat Opera House

It was about this time that a sudden rainstorm came up. We had raincoats and umbrellas but it was raining so hard and the wind was gusting with such force, we still got wet. The wind was blowing so hard it turned our umbrellas wrong side out and they were almost yanked out of our hands but not broken. We managed to take refuge under some trees. People scattered and those sitting at outside cafes struggled to stay dry under umbrellas as waiters attempted to keep everything from blowing off the tables. It didn’t last long, just long enough to get everyone and everything soaked. Not pleasant with temperatures in the low 60s and a cold wind. The wind did help our pants dry quickly.

Statue of Christian V (1646 –1699)

What is peculiar about this equestrian statue is the material could not hold the weight on three legs. The construction had to be strengthened, so a figure of a naked man crouched underneath the horse’s hoof was added.

After lunch we walked to the Hard Rock Cafe for Bill to get his tee shirt. If you are wearing a Hard Rock Cafe shirt, they give you a small discount on a new shirt. Bill forgot to wear his shirt but the cashier gave him the discount anyway. She was so nice. I laughed and told her I had plenty of pictures of him wearing a Hard Rock Cafe shirt to prove he owned one.

After finding a geocache for Copenhagen, we caught the next HOHO bus at the closest stop and got off at our last location of the day, the famous statue of The Little Mermaid, inspired by Andersen’s fairy tale. Hans Christian Andersen lived in Copenhagen most of his life and wrote many of his fairy tales while living there. We had been warned the famous statue was small and it was.

On July 4th we had our last day at sea. We wondered if the ship would do anything to recognize our Independence Day. The ship had an American flag cake on their dessert display in the lunch buffet and at dinner a nice display at the entrance to the dining room. It was nice to see they recognized an important American holiday. Especially considering there are very few Americans on this voyage. I think MSC is working hard to build up their American clientele.

Next up: Tallinn, Estonia 

Stavanger, Norway JUN 30, 2023

Our final port in Norway was Stavanger, population 131,000. We booked an excursion in this port because the places we wanted to visit were not accessible by foot. The excursion was okay but not great. They combined English-speaking people and Italian-speaking people on the same bus with two guides. One guide would speak in English and then the Italian guide would speak. This is the first time this has ever happened on an excursion and it was rather annoying. On the ship they announce everything five times; in English, Italian, French, Spanish and German. I guess on our excursion there were not enough Americans or Italians to fill a bus so they combined them.

We learned quite a bit from our guide even though he only spoke part of the time. Like many towns in Norway, Stavanger has over 6,000 old wooden homes, mainly from the 18th and 19th century. They are viewed as important historical places that are protected and they cannot be torn down. If the owner wants to renovate or change either the inside or outside, it cannot be done without permission.

This area of Norway is very green because they receive over 200 days of rain each year. There is a lot of farming in this area, but only 5% of Norway is farmed. We passed a large strawberry farm on our tour.

When children turn seven years old they begin to learn English. When they turn thirteen they may pick an additional language. They may pick from Spanish, German or French. Our guide said Spanish was the most popular choice. 

By 2030 Norway’s goal is to be carbon neutral. They also want to have electric airplanes for short distance flights by 2040. Norway is a very wealthy country because of its oil and gas production, which is largely owned by the Norwegian government. There is a 75% tax rate on oil and gas profits. The money goes back to the people through pensions and good healthcare. The most popular car in Norway is Tesla. At one time there were large incentives when buying an electric car such as no sales tax on the purchase of the car, free tolls on roads and being able to use the truck or carpool lanes at all times. Those perks have been cut some as more people buy electric cars. They still get a 50% reduction in tolls if they are driving an electric car. 

We went to see the “Swords in the Rock”, three bronze swords standing 33 feet tall planted into the rock of a small hill next to a fjord. They commemorate the Battle of Hafrsfjord when the Viking king gathered Norway under one crown. The largest sword represented the victorious king and the other two the defeated kings. The monument also represents peace since the swords are placed in solid rock and can never be removed.

We visited the Sola Ruinkyrkje church, dating back to the mid 12th century. It was in use until 1842. The church was left in ruins until 1871 until it was acquired in 1907 and then discarded again. It was torn down by German occupation forces in 1940.  Reconstruction began in the 1980s and completed in 1995.

We passed ancient reconstructed long houses from an “Iron Age Farm” dating from 350-500 AD. It is the only one of its kind in Norway. It shows what life was like in Norway 1,500 years ago.

We rode past the Stavanger Cathedral on the way back to the ship. Unfortunately not only was it closed, but we couldn’t see any of the church itself since it was shrouded in scaffolding and tarps since it is undergoing a significant renovation.

Near the Ship was Vice Admiral Thorne Horve (1899- 1990)

The harbor where our ship was docked was having a Food Festival.  Our guide said they are expecting 25,000 visitors to this popular festival over the weekend. It is called the “Happy Festival” because food makes people happy.

Many Food Tents

And with that, our time in Norway came to a close.

That evening we headed south in the Norwegian Sea. The first people to sail in these waters were the Vikings in the 1200s. They were the ones who drew the first nautical charts of the area. Bill thinks we both have ancestors who were Vikings. 

During the night we will leave the Norwegian Sea and enter the North Sea.  During the sea day on Saturday we will once again enter the Baltic Sea. 

Next up:  Copenhagen, Denmark


Bergen, Norway JUN 27, 2023

When we booked this cruise which included four ports in Norway, we wondered if it was going to be too much Norway after visiting three Norway ports on our last cruise. After seeing the beauty of Norway, we knew there could never be too much of. This gorgeous country. These four new ports are all different from the Norway ports on the previous cruise. 

Our day at sea from Kiel, Germany to Bergen, Norway was chilly and rainy. Disappointing for those who had embarked yesterday and were hoping to lounge by the pool.  During the morning we crossed the “Skaw Point” of the Danish peninsula of Jutland. This is a famous point because it is where we leave the Baltic Sea and enter the North Sea. We thought perhaps the water would be a little rougher here but we noticed no difference. In the early afternoon we approached the part of the North Sea known as “Skagerrak”. This sea area is famous for being a junction point between the Gulf Stream originating in the Gulf of Mexico and the cold Jutland Current from the Baltic Sea. Around dinnertime the sea became very rough and continued to get rougher during the evening. We went to the nightly show and I wondered how the dancers managed to keep their balance with the movement of the ship. We noticed seasick bags had been put by the stairs on each deck. It doesn’t bother Bill but definitely bothers me. Thank heaven for seasick pills! 

On Tuesday, June 27th we arrived in Bergen, Norway, (pop 286,000) to chilly, rainy weather. Bergen is the second largest city in Norway. It was the capital of Norway in the 13th century. We waited until after lunch to go out and it was a good decision because the weather was warm and sunny. Located between the Hardangerfjord and the Sognefjord, Bergen is nicknamed “Gateway to the Fjords”. We had researched the town and decided to walk around on our own.

The old Hanseatic Wharf at Bryggen, a World Heritage Site, is located by the city’s fish market.  The wharf was built around 1070. We walked through the fish market.

The wooden houses in Bryggen are very old. There are 61 listed historic buildings here. The Bryggen area of Bergen is the third most visited tourist attraction in Norway. As to be expected from wooden houses, there have been many fires in this area so there has been much reconstruction and preservation done throughout the years. The  UNESCO designation was awarded because the area is seen as an illustration of 14th century  merchants and housing which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Above one of the Doorways

Seven mountains surround the city center. You can get to the top of Mt Floyen by funicular Fløibanen and the highest mountain, Mt Ulriken by cable car. In the Klosteret district of the city, narrow alleys and cobblestone streets are found.

The Bergen Cathedral includes the remains of two older churches dating back to 1150.  The church is a long stone church which has been damaged in several city fires. The cathedral was hit by a cannonball in 1665.  The cannonball is still visible in the wall of the church tower.

The Maritime Memorial has twelve male bronze statues of sailors beginning with the Viking Age to the present.

Above the statues are bronze panels representing the spiritual and imaginative aspects of seafaring ranging from Christ to Viking ships to native Americans to sea monsters.

The National Theater, built in 1850, is one of the oldest permanent theaters in Norway.

Ole Bull (1810-1880) was a famous Norwegian violinist and composer. Developing violin skills during his early years in his hometown of Bergen, his reputation secured him concerts throughout Europe.

Narrow streets and alleys are found throughout the city.

We stopped in McDonald’s and each got a chocolate milkshake. Not available on the ship! Even the McDonald’s building is quaint and charming.

The Rosenkrantz Tower is where one of Norway’s most important kings, Magnus Lagabote, lived in the 13th century. The 16th century dungeon is in the basement and the cannon loft is in the roof. The cannons were used only one day, the same battle that left the cannonball in the side of the cathedral.

We also managed to find two geocaches.

Bergen is perhaps the prettiest Norwegian town we have visited so far. 

The ship departed as we were beginning dinner and we got a picture of the Askøy Bridge as we were leaving.  The Askøy Bridge is a suspension bridge that crosses the Byfjorden between the municipalities of Bergen and Askøy in Vestland county, Norway. It is 1,057 meters (3,468 ft) long and has a main span of 850 meters (2,789 ft). Its span was the longest for any suspension bridge in Norway, until the Hardanger Bridge was opened in August 2013. Now the bridge is the third longest in Norway.

The show that night was flamingo dancing. An excellent show. By the end of the evening we had logged seven miles on our watches. We were tired!!

Next up: Nordfjordeid