Monthly Archives: July 2023

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