Category Archives: National Landmark

National landmark or historical place

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

Stockholm, Sweden Part 2 JUN 21, 2023

With too many pictures from day 1, we had to break this blog up into two posts. This is Part 2 of our sightseeing time in Stockholm. Picking up from where we left off on the afternoon of day 1, we next saw The Royal Palace. It is one of the largest palaces in Europe with over 600 rooms and the official residence of the King of Sweden.

Mainly used for business, official events home to several museums, the Royal Family actually lives in another residence outside the city. The Palace was built between 1697 and 1754. It certainly does not have the grandeur of palaces in England, Austria or France.  There are Royal Guards on duty outside.

Charles XIV John’s statue, 1854

The Parliament House is the seat of the Swedish Parliament. The complex is huge, divided into an old building and a new building. The old building was constructed between 1897 and 1905 with an enormous Swedish coat of arms over the central bronze doorway.

The new building is connected to the old building with two large arches.

The Rosenbad complex are beautiful buildings that house the Swedish government and the Prime Minister’s office. The buildings were built at the turn of the 20th century.

The Sager Palace, built in the 19th century is the residence of the Prime Minister of Sweden. It is the building in the middle of the picture.

The Arvfurstens Palace, built in 1794, it has been used since 1906 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Adolf Gustav II (1594 –1632) was the King of Sweden from 1611 to 1632, and is credited for the founding of Sweden as a great power. He led Sweden to military supremacy during the Thirty Years’ War, helping to determine the political as well as the religious balance of power in Europe.
He is often regarded as one of the greatest military commanders of all time, with innovative use of combined arms.

The Royal Opera House was built in the late 19th century and is used for opera and ballet. King Gustav III was shot and killed at a masked ball at the Royal Opera House in 1792.  The murder had been predicted four years earlier when the King anonymously visited a fortune teller.

St Jacob’s Church was started in the 1580s and completed sixty years later. It is a pretty church with a combination of late Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture.

The Grand Hotel, on the city’s waterfront, was Sweden’s first five star hotel. It opened in 1874 and bragged that it was the first hotel in Sweden to change the bedsheets between guests. Notice the American flag.

The National Museum of Sweden is the largest museum in Sweden. It was completed in 1866 and houses over 16,000 paintings and sculptures from the late Middle Ages to the early 20th century. There are around 500,000 drawings and graphics from the 15th century to the early 20th century. It is also the home to Scandinavia’s largest porcelain collection.

Nordiska museet is Sweden’s largest museum of cultural history, completed in 1907.

Sweden lets these robotic lawnmowers run wild

Hotorget is a public square used for open air markets with fresh vegetables and flowers, so common throughout Europe. This square has been used as a market since the 1640’s. Greta Garbo, a famous Swedish actress, worked as a sales assistant in the hat department of a department store that was once located at this square.

For dinner we stopped by a Mexican restaurant. Not great food, but okay. 

By the time we took the subway home and walked to the apartment, we had walked seven miles. We decided to stay home and rest the next day. There are always blogs to write!!

Stockholm’s Unique Buildings

After resting, doing laundry and working on blogs on Tuesday, Wednesday we took the subway back into Stockholm and took the Hop On Hop Off Bus to see other areas of Stockholm. These pictures begin day 2 of our sightseeing. 

The buses were crowded which was made worse by long waits at bus stops. The bus company blamed it on heavy traffic but we think they didn’t have enough buses on the routes for the number of people.

Gustaf Vasa church, 1906

Saturday, is Midsummer’s Day in Sweden. It is a national holiday and is the most important holiday in Sweden, second only to Christmas. In Sweden it is a celebration of the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. People celebrate with picnics, family get togethers and many stores and restaurants are closed. Perhaps the upcoming holiday is why the crowds were so large.

The bus took us to some areas we saw on Monday, but it was nice to hear the running commentary on the areas. 

The Royal Dramatic Theater, built in the early 20th century, is the main theater in Stockholm.  Ingmar Bergman served as Director of the Royal Theater from 1960 to 1966.  It has gold sculptures in the front. Unfortunately it was hard to get a good picture from the bus.

We passed by a large city park where young families and friends sat under trees enjoying picnic lunches. The entrance to the park is through a lovely blue gate originating in the 1840s.

“An Aviation Monument” is located in Stockholm’s Karlaplan area. It was given in 1931 by the Aeronautical Society in memory of those aviators who lost their lives during the North Pole expedition and during the 1917 missions. The monument is that of an eagle with his wings stretched out; not to be mistaken with a somewhat similar Nazi Eagle.

We found the Stockholm Hard Rock Cafe and Bill got his tee shirt. Since it was late we decided to stay for dinner, eating outside on their patio.

We then took the subway home, logging five miles walking for the day. Another great day in Stockholm. 

Some observations:

  • Bikes, including electric bikes and scooters are very popular means of transportation in Stockholm. It seems every street corner has them for rent. It was a white knuckle experience several times to see our bus and people on bikes appear to play chicken with each other. The bikers seem used to the traffic and had no fear.
  • Pedestrians and cyclists have their own lanes and traffic lights. But many will go on RED which frustrates the cars and buses.
  • The Swedish people seem tall and very fit. Lots of young families walking and many young mothers with strollers and young children on the subways. The Swedes are not a particularly warm, friendly people, more serious but willing to help if asked. 
  •  It is popular to live on boats in Sweden. 
  • They throw Christmas trees in the lakes after Christmas because they feel it is better for the environment. 
  • Sweden was not bombed during WW 2 so after the war, while other countries were rebuilding, Sweden was replacing buildings to build newer ones. 
  • Stockholm is called “city by the rivers”, and was built on 14 islands. Some older historic homes are now leaning due to unstable foundations and historians are looking for ways to save them.

Up next: Embarking on our final cruise

Stockholm, Sweden Part 1 JUN 19, 2023

On Monday we decided to take a self guided walking tour of Old Town, Stockholm. Using our seven day travel card, we took the subway from our hotel into Stockholm. We exited the subway near the Stockholm Central Station, the 150 year old train station built in 1871. It is one of the busiest train stations in the Nordic region with about 200,000 visitors every day.

Next was Klara Church, built starting in 1572 with a 380 foot tower built in the 1880s. It is the tallest church in the city. There was a charge to go into the church but the kind lady at the entrance waved us in.

The next stop on our walking tour was Stockholm City Hall which is located on the island of Kungsholmen and was completed in 1923.  The building has a bit of a foreboding medieval fortress look. The tower is 350 feet tall and has Tre Kroner, or three golden crowns, at the top. This is the Swedish coat of arms and symbol of the city. The city hall is the location of the Nobel Prize banquet each year.

Before crossing the bridge into Old Town, with the sky threatening rain, we decided to go back to the train station for lunch at a McDonald’s located inside. Yes, McDonald’s. It was close, familiar, easy and inexpensive. With a full day of sightseeing and a rain storm approaching, we didn’t have time to figure out anything else. The rain came down in sheets just as we reached the train station door. 

After lunch we decided we better use the train station restroom facilities before heading to Old Town.  What we didn’t expect was a charge to use the restroom. 10 Swedish krona which is about 98 cents US money. The problem was most of Stockholm prefers electronic payment (credit card) instead of currency. In fact some restaurants have signs saying no cash. So we had not converted any US money to Swedish currency. We had some euros left over so we each took one euro in. The man asked if we had krona and when we said no he looked rather disgusted and took the euros and gave us each a krona to put in the turnstile to get in. We noticed as we washed our hands at the tall sinks there was a sign saying you could not wash your feet in the sink. I would be impressed if anyone could get their feet that high. 

With all that done, fortunately the rain had stopped as we walked across the Norra Jarnvagsbron Bridge into Old Town, also known as Gamla Stan. This island town was founded in the 13th century.  The streets are mainly old cobblestone and difficult to walk on. 

The first site on our Old Town list was The Norstedts Building, a Swedish publishing house. The building was constructed between 1882 and 1891 with a striking tower and spire roof that casts an impressive silhouette amid the Stockholm cityscape.

The Burger Jarl’s Tower is a former defensive tower built in the 16th century.

Along the waterfront was a cute statue of Evert Taube, a much beloved balladeer in Sweden. He is so popular there are three statues of him in Stockholm. Little did we know when we snapped the picture!

Wrangel Palace was next. We discovered there are lots of palaces in Stockholm! This palace was once part of the Old Town’s defensive fortifications in the 16th century and later the largest private residence in Stockholm. When the Royal Palace burned down in 1697, the Royal Family moved here until 1754. Today it is home to the Court of Appeal.

The pink Stenbock Palace nearby, built in the 1640’s, also houses the Court of Appeal.

Birger Jaris is an important Swedish statesman who played a large role in the formation of Sweden in the 13th century.

Riddarholm Church is one of the oldest churches in Stockholm and is the burial ground for Swedish monarchs for over 600 years. The church suffered a major fire in 1835 and then acquired the lattice work iron church steeple.

The House of Nobility was constructed between 1641 and 1672 as a place for Swedish nobility to host events.

Bonde Palace, built between 1662 and 1673 is another former noble residence. It was in disrepair and almost torn down, but public opinion saved it. It has now been the home of the Supreme Court since 1949.

We walked down Vasterlanggatan, the Old Town’s most popular shopping street. It used to be part of the old defensive walls of the town. Today it was crowded with tourists. In medieval times this area was home to many copper and iron merchants and their workshops.

We came to Marten Trotzigs Grand, Stockholm’s narrowest street. It consists of 36 steps and measures only 35 inches at its slimmest point. Bill and I walked up the steps. At the top were several tourists waiting to walk down. Too narrow for passing.

On the corner of this street is a runestone in the wall. The stone dates back to the Viking Age, possibly 11th century,  and is one of the oldest items found in the city. A little souvenir shop nearby sold imitation runestone.  Three runestones were found in Stockholm. This one on the wall, as well as a second one on display in the Museum of Medieval Stockholm. The third one was in a church stairway and has been lost over time.

Next up was Stortorget, the main square in Old Town. It is the oldest square in Stockholm with colorful 17th and 18th century buildings. It is a popular meeting place for locals. The most important building in the square is the Nobel Museum. It was built in 1778 and was formerly home to the Stock Exchange for more than 200 years. The Nobel Museum opened in 2001 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prize awards and to celebrate the winners. The Nobel Award is named for Alfred Nobel, an inventor, entrepreneur, scientist and businessman. He established the foundation in 1895 when he left much of his wealth to the foundation in his will. Alfred Nobel was the inventor of dynamite and blasting caps that are still used today.

Stockholm Cathedral was high on our list of places to visit. We don’t usually pay to enter churches but we made an exception with this gem. Built in 1279, it is one of the oldest and most important landmarks in Sweden. It was here that Swedish reformer Olaus Petri spread his Lutheran message around the kingdom. It is the site of royal coronations, weddings and funerals as well as religious services and concerts. It has a 217 foot tall clock tower that is a visible part of the Stockholm skyline. The inside was surprisingly made of exposed brickwork.

The church has a collection of medieval as well as contemporary art, including a metal statue of St George and the Dragon. Wood, iron and gold leaf were used to carve the statue, including elkhorn for the dragon’s scales. The statue was consecrated in 1489 as an altar monument to the shrine of St George.

The altar is made of silver and ebony and was donated to the Cathedral in the 1650s.

There are two Royal Pews from 1684 that are only used by members of the Swedish Royal Family.

Most of church floor includes tombstones.

Sarcophagus of Jesper Kruus (1577-1622) stood out near the altar.

Since 1527, the Cathedral has been a Lutheran church.

Next up:  Stockholm Part 2

Athens, Greece May 21, 2023

This is our first cruise with MSC cruise line. Our ship, the Splendida, was built in 2007 and is definitely looking old and worn. It doesn’t have activities like the newer ships such as a rock climbing wall, water park, ice skating rink, putt putt golf, etc. The food is mediocre. There is one area in which it excels and that is the nightly entertainment. It is great. In the past we have looked at price and itinerary when choosing a cruise. We will add the age of the ship to the criteria. Not that we need all the sports activities, but newer ships have cleaner, fresher carpets, furnishings, etc.

We were automatically placed at a table for six at dinner for the duration of the cruise. We would be eating with the same people every night for nine nights. There is always a little trepidation that first night when you meet the new people you will be spending two hours with each evening. We really hit the jackpot with our table companions. Two really nice couples, one from Panama City, Florida and the other couple split their time between New Hampshire and Tucson, Arizona. One was a retired school principal and the other a retired school librarian. How perfect is that! The other, retired military. We had the best time each night with these two couples. We often laughed and talked so long our waiter had to come over and gently remind us we had to leave so they could set up for the second dinner seating. We often all attended the evening show together, had a couple excursions together, and they taught us how to play Yahtzee! What a blessing they were and we looked forward to seeing them each day. Hopefully our paths will cross again someday. 

After our disappointment at missing our first stop.at Olympia, Greece, due to weather, our next port was Piraeus, Greece, the port for Athens. We had booked an excursion here into Athens.

Our first stop was the Acropolis and Parthenon. The Acropolis, the sacred focal point of ancient Athens, is a rocky hill containing the remains of several ancient buildings, most importantly the Parthenon.

The climb up the Acropolis was somewhat steep with deep steps, often without hand railings. Fortunately it was paved. What made the climb the most difficult was the huge crowds of people, everywhere, all clogging the pathway to the top. We were told there were five cruise ships in port, making the crowds worse. Coming down was even worse as the crowds grew. At one point we came to a complete stop as there was a bottleneck of people navigating down the steep steps.

The Parthenon is a former temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, who was protector of the city-state and whom Athens was named for. The original statue of Athena has been lost.

It was constructed beginning in the fifth century B.C. Its decorative sculptures are a classic example of Greek Art, as well as a symbol of Ancient Greece democracy and Western civilization. Since 1975 numerous large scale restoration projects have been undertaken and are still going on today.

Nearby is the Erechtheion shrine to Athena and Poseidon, and is said to be the place where the goddess created the first olive tree.

Looking Back As We Walk Down

Next up was the Panathenaic Stadium, the site of the first modern Olympics in 1896. We missed the site of the ancient Olympics in Olympia, but got to see the site of the first modern games. It is the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble. It last hosted the Olympics in 2004. It is used today as a multipurpose stadium. We liked how from this viewpoint we could see the Acropolis and Parthenon.

We rode around different sites in Athens but it is hard taking pictures from a bus window. Athens is certainly high density (pop 3,154,000) with lots of traffic, pollution and the city looks rather run down and tired.

We saw the Monument to the Unknown Soldier with guards, just like ours back home.

Behind that is the Greek Parliament, built in 1842. It was formerly the residence of the Greek royal family. In 1929 it was converted into the Greek Parliament. Our tour guide told us that the May election for prime minister did not produce a majority vote, so another election will have to be held in June.

Bronze Statue of Alexander the Great

Alexander died in 323 B.C. after carving out an empire stretching from Greece to India.

Hadrian’s Gate, was erected For Emperor Hadrian 132 A.D.

This is the Hadrian Library.

As usual there was time left for shopping. While everyone else headed off to the tourist area, we found a Hard Rock Cafe within walking distance and set off there. We were given an hour and made it back in plenty of time.

An enjoyable day in Athens!

Too Many Bags!

Next up:  Ancient City of Ephesus, Turkey