Around 05:00-ish, the Regal Princess smoothly glided northerly in the Outter Oslofjord, heading toward port in Oslo, Norway. It was very relaxing to sit on the balcony and watch the sights of the fjord silently slip by the ship. It was a long passage. We did not dock in Oslo until about 10:00 on this gray and rainy day. The temperature was somewhere around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and hazy with low cloud cover. The water had a blue-gray tint. The sea was very calm.
The previous night we slept with our balcony door wide open. I thought that was very comfortable. It was chilly, which made for good sleeping. We could hear the sound of the sea as the ship cut through the water. For me, that was very relaxing.
The scenery from our balcony was beautiful. Some areas were an utterly pristine forest, from the cloudy hilltops, ending at the rocky seashore. Some areas had houses interspersed throughout. Looking at several homes on a hillside reminded me of looking at houses on the hill in Cascade, Colorado. At one point, at the end of Oscarsborg island, there was a military gun emplacement. It is the Oscarsborg Fortress, charged with defending the seaward approach to Oslo.
Marinas, along with colorful buildings and homes, seemed to be everywhere. One must wonder just what life is like this far north.
From our balcony, once we had docked, we saw water taxis of various sizes and ferries continually moving to and from Oslo. We even saw a seaplane go by at one point. The weather did not seem to deter anyone on their travels.
When we got off the ship, we boarded one of the Hop-On-Hop-Off buses that were right by the cruise ship dock. It was raining very hard. We ended up getting off the bus near the royal palace. It was beautiful even though we did not go inside.
We tried to keep the perpetual rain from dampening our spirits. We ended up walking around the palace area of town, seeing some magnificent architecture such as the University of Oslo and the National Theater buildings.
We also saw the Oslo Radhus (city hall). It has an art deco style, no doubt due to construction beginning in 1931. This building is world-famous as the home of the annual Nobel Peace Prize ceremony that occurs every year on December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death. Probably the most eye-catching feature of the building is the astrological clock. The twelve signs of the zodiac are interspersed on the face of the clock. I must say with all of the hands; I was a little stumped on just how to tell the time.
Ultimately we found a store in which to do some shopping for Norway tourist junk. It was easy to find all of the “junk” we could ever want. We found refrigerator magnets, office magnets, moose lanyards, and even moose underwear!
Leaving the shopping behind, we stopped at a street-side cafe on Karl Johans Gate, Egon. Our server, Lorena, was amiable. She was actually from Grand Canary, in the Canary Islands of Spain. She said she had been in Oslo for only one week. When we inquired what had prompted her to come to Norway, she replied she had just gotten divorced. Regardless, she was very happy and quite keen to talk to us.
After having such a large breakfast on the ship, we were not yet hungry. Instead, we shared a pitcher of Ringnes, a Norwegian beer.
When we finished the beer, we got back on the bus and sat through numerous stops. We chose to see the sights from the bus, letting the others hop on and hop off. The bus drove through some rural areas with horses and cattle scattered in the lush green fields. It is a lovely country.
We got off the bus at the cruise ship dock. Directly across the street from the ship is Akershus Fortress and Castle. It cost about $7 for both of us to enter. It was still raining hard, so it was nice to be inside, dry and relatively warm.
The castle, built in 1300, offered a self-guided tour with headphones. Surprisingly, there was a lot of the palace open to visitors. I found it to be the “coziest” castle we have ever toured. I imagine that is due to the much smaller scale of this castle. For example, compared to the Palacio Real in Madrid, the Akershus Castle is more like a country retreat.
There is a royal guard at the main entrance to the castle. There is an active military base still on the grounds. The guard stands stoically, neither speaking or moving…until a tourist tried to pose for a photograph on his right side, his weapon side. He immediately motioned that she must stand on his left. Once that happened, he allowed several pictures.
The castle still houses the royal chapel. In the chapel, one can see the royal box or balcony. That is obviously where the royals sit when they attend services. The seating toward the front were individual chairs. Farther back were some traditional pews.
The royal mausoleum, as one might imagine, is directly below the chapel. Our visit to the crypt reminded me of our trip to El Escorial in Spain.
One of the oddest things I saw were two small pieces of stained glass in the Hall of Olav V. Most of the scenes were religious; however, two stood out. They each looked like characters from the Ghostbusters movie. That was a little strange for something dating from 1300.
When we left the castle, we boarded the ship to prepare for dinner.
Charlotte Amalie, U. S. Virgin Islands – January 7, 2013
***NEWSFLASH*** The U.S. Virgin Islands are officially beautiful!
I asked Leslie if she would like to retire there. She did not say no, but she did not say yes, either. Maybe there is a chance!
Sitting on the ship before we got off for the day’s adventure, we saw numerous yachts in the marina; they were mega yachts. We saw the Phoenix2, a 286-foot yacht built-in 2010; the Nirvana, a 290-foot yacht built-in 2012; and the US$103 million Vibrant Curiosity, a 280-foot yacht built-in 2009. They were all fantastic vessels. Photographs of them on-line confirm they are amazing inside too. The only yacht in these photos I might be able to afford is the rubber zodiac in the lower right corner of the panoramic photo…
The very large Vibrant Curiosity yacht.
Our first destination was Blackbeard’s Castle. It is not a castle; in fact, the brochure even indicates “…it’s unlikely that Blackbeard himself…” was there. Regardless, it was a fun spot.
After we purchased our tickets, we listened to a brief presentation about Blackbeard and some of his antics. Then we were led into their small rum distillery. We listened to another short presentation on their rum-making methods. When that finished, we moved into the gift shop. We each sampled three different types of rum. We tried Blackbeard’s Castle Aged Rum, Bones Rum (complete with a skull and crossbones), and Virgin Islands Blend with peach flavoring. I suspect the last time I had rum at 09:00 I was probably in college!
On this tour, once again, we were lucky. We had gotten out of the taxi at the front door, which was at the top of the hill. There are three other entry points; however, they were all at the bottom of the hill. That meant our self-guided tour was all downhill.
Shortly after exiting the rum distillery and museum we met a live “pirate” near one of the swimming pools. We took some fun photos with him.
Britannia House is on the grounds of Blackbeard’s Castle. It is open for tours. The admission is part of the price we originally paid. It is a beautiful house with spectacular ceilings. The views from the terrace are amazing.
We continued to the World Caribbean Amber Museum. They have hundreds, if not thousands of pieces of amber on display. I found it unusual how lightweight even the most substantial pieces are. The other very unique item was the two-story-high amber waterfall.
Continuing downhill we next found ourselves at the Hotel 1829. The old kitchen is now the hotel bar. We took a break from our walking about and had a beer or two. Our two choices of local beer were the Blackbeard Ale and the Virgin Islands Summer Ale. They were both tasty, although I liked the Blackbeard Ale the best. The Island Summer Ale was a little too sweet for my taste.
During our beer tasting, Tyler and I discovered a backgammon table inside. He and I played a game while we drank our beer.
Next on our list were the “99 Steps”. There are 103 by my count. It seems the U.S. added a few after purchasing the islands from the Dutch in the early 1900s. I am not sure exactly why; regardless, the stairs are still an attraction.
Once we made it down the stairs, we hailed a taxi to take us back to the cruise ship area. When we were dropped off, we made our way to the Butterfly Farm. It is at the south end of the port. It was a little pricey at US$12 per head, but it was a unique experience. By the time we left, I had adjusted my thinking. The experience was well worth the price!
Tomorrow, sea day and a behind the scenes tour of our cruise ship.
Leslie and I had an enjoyable outing today. She had recently been talking with a friend about places to go in Spain. The friend suggested the small town of Pedraza. We decided we would do that today. Tyler opted to stay home. At about 08:45, when we left the house, it was a chilly, gray day. Now and then there was a raindrop on the windshield, but it was not raining hard.
I decided that on the way to Pedraza, we would take the direct route (back roads) and then coming home on the Autopista (Interstate). To help accomplish that I sat the GPS for the small town of Miraflores de la Sierra. We had gone through there once before when we went to the small village of Rascafria. This time we decided to stop and have a coffee. After walking around a little, we ended up at la Parroquia Restaurante (Parish Restaurant). That was at about 10:00.
I ordered a café americano. Leslie asked for a café con leche. Also, we decided to have pan con tomate. That is toasted bread with a tomato-based sauce that goes on as a spread. They serve olive oil and salt with it. The tomato sauce is cold. While we were waiting for the toasted bread, the bartender gave me the coffees. I took them to our table and went back to the bar to get a small black pan with two cubes of bread. It looked like cornbread; however, it was sweet. I asked the waitress for the name of the bread. She said it was biscocho (biscuit). I told her we liked it, so she brought us two more pieces!
Just after we finished the biscocho she brought the pan con tomate. The bread comes dry, with a dish with the tomato sauce. The sauce also contained small diced onions. One drizzles olive oil on the bread first. The sauce is then spooned on and spread. Lastly, one lightly sprinkles salt on top. It was delicious. Quite frankly, that surprised me because I had tried it before and did not like it. It all cost only 4.50€ (US$5.50).
The restaurant atmosphere was rustic, with knotty pine paneling. Pine was the choice for the chairs and tables too. While we were there, at any one time, eight locals were at the bar.
When we left the restaurant in Miraflores de la Sierra, I set our GPS for Pedraza. That took us up the mountain via Puerto de Canecia (mountain pass) with a summit of 1,524 meters (5,000 feet). It was cloudy with a little drizzle.
On the way down the other side, we could see there had been a lot of trees cut down. We assumed it was done primarily for fire control. Then, around one hairpin turn, we encountered a logging truck with a crane/boom, and a giant bulldozer. The vehicle was on one side of the paved road. The other lane was taken up by several felled trees. We sat and waited while the workers cleared a path. The boom picked up several logs at once and placed them on the bed of the truck to open our way. The bulldozer pushed several other trees off the side of the road. When they finally waved us through, I had to fold in my driver’s side mirror to make it by the truck.
We ultimately made it to Lozoya, a small town, and began our trip over the next mountain range via the Puerto de Navafria. This summit was a little higher at 1,773 meters (5,816 feet). At the summit, we crossed from the province of Madrid to the region of Segovia. It was lightly raining.
In the forest, on the way down, we kept seeing a sign that said “Zona de Caza Controlado,” which means a controlled hunting area. I am not exactly sure what that means.
We made it to the Village of Pedraza at noon. We parked just outside the city walls and walked into the village through the only gate. Once inside the walls of the town, we walked toward the castle. Along the way, we stopped at several shops.
In one of the shops, la Tienda, located at Calle Mayor 6, we bought a postcard. The postcard was a drawing depicting one of the main gates into the city, Arco de la Villa de Pedraza. The coat of arms above the arch is dated 1561. At the arch, there is only enough width for one vehicle to pass at a time. Just inside the gate are two old wooden doors. They look like they could easily close at any time.
From our vehicle to the castle, we walked about one kilometer. When we arrived at the castle, there was a sign on the door that said the next tour would be at 13:30. It was about 13:00, so we sat near the door and waited. Massive four-inch iron spikes covered most of the door. It looked very formidable.
When the door opened, we paid a total of 12€ (US$14.64) to enter. As it ended up, it was mainly a museum for the painter Ignacio Zuloaga. I had not heard of him before this. He was born in 1870. It seems, he was good friends with the French artist, Toulouse-Lautrec in the 1890s. Beginning in about 1903 he became friends with the sculptor Auguste Rodin. A few years later he exchanged some letters with Pablo Picasso.
Our tour guide said some of the arches in the castle are from Roman times. The villa itself dates from the 15th century.
The tour went through some of the grounds. It included a trip into the cistern, originally used for a domestic water source. Much like the Alcazar in the city of Segovia, the castle is at the point of a cliff, so three sides are impossible to assault. The only possible entry is the one we used.
From the internal courtyard, we climbed the stairs to the upper floor. At that level, we entered into a room with several works of Ignacio Zuloaga on display. Some of my favorites included:
The tour, while interesting, was not worth 6€ each.
When we left the castle, we walked a few hundred meters and found el Corral de Joaquina. While we were walking toward the restaurant, we could smell the smoke from its fireplace. Since it was such a chilly, gray day, it really smelled good.
We went into the dining room and prepared for a good lunch. For the first course, Leslie ordered a mixed salad. It was huge! It contained lettuce, tuna, black olives, onions, tomatoes, and hearts of palm. I ordered the sopa castellana, a hearty soup. The broth is light brown containing bread, lamb fat, diced ham, and a boiled egg.
For the main course, Leslie and I split a bacalao plate. Bacalao is a firm white fish. A large piece, about two inches thick, was in the center of the plate surrounded by several mussels and a couple of roasted red peppers. It was all covered in a light red sauce that tasted like the red peppers. It was incredibly delicious.
When we finished lunch, we opted for coffee instead of dessert. Our total bill came to 35€ (US$42.71), including a half-bottle of red wine. We were delighted with our restaurant selection.
We walked back to our car and headed toward the A-1 Autopista. As we were driving the heavens opened up. It rained very, very hard. We were lucky this did not happen while we were out walking around.
We made it home at about 17:00.
For dinner, Leslie made a killer baked chicken. In the cavity, she placed 1/2 of an onion, 1/2 of an orange, and 1/2 of a bunch of garlic, then rubbed the chicken with herb butter. Over that were strips of bacon covering the chicken. She placed the other half of the onion and the garlic, cut-side down in the baking pan. About every 20-minutes she pulled the chicken out of the oven and basted it in its juices. After a little more than an hour, she took off the bacon and put the chicken back in the oven to allow the skin to get crispy. When the chicken was ready, she made gravy with the juices in the baking pan and served it with mashed potatoes and corn. Wow! It was heavenly!
As I prepared for the day’s activities, I thought about my perceptions of Lisbon so far.
Two things strike me about Lisbon, Portugal, the colors and the abandoned buildings. The predominant colors are white buildings with red tile roofs, a real clean simplicity to that palette. Interspersed among the white buildings are buildings with amazingly beautiful ceramic tile façades. The second thing that struck me is the number of neglected and abandoned buildings. One can only wonder if this is a result of the current economic situation in Portugal. On second thought, I don’t think so. Many of the abandoned buildings are very, very dilapidated. For example, a roof may be caving in; an exterior stairway may be falling off; etc. That indicates the buildings were unoccupied much longer than just during the economic situation. It is too bad. If more of them were kept up, this would be a fantastic city.
Since Tyler was still feeling under the weather, Leslie and I went out by ourselves today.
After breakfast, we headed to the Martim Moniz Metro stop. When we came back above ground, we found ourselves in a charming plaza. Near a water fountain in the square flew three flags; the Lisbon city flag, the European Union flag, and the Portugal flag.
The plaza at Martim Moniz.We planned to take Tram 28 up the hill to a point near the Castelo de São Jorge (Castle of St. George) and then stroll through the Alfama neighborhood to the castle. It took a while, but we finally found the correct stop to catch Tram 28. The single tram car dates from about the 1920s, made mostly of wood. I believe the capacity of the tram was only 20 people. It very much reminded us of the small tram we rode in Port de Sóller. I found it interesting that inside the car was a reasonably large sign warning one to be on the lookout for pickpockets.
The tram wound its way through some incredibly narrow, steep, cobble-stoned streets. We were both delighted to have taken the tram because of the inclines. Walking that route would have been a real challenge. We got off of the tram at the Graca stop. From there we could begin to see the fantastic views of Lisbon.
We were not quite sure which way to go to get to the castle, but we finally stumbled across a directional sign. Of course, since the castle sits atop a hill, the direction we had to take was straight up! We finally approached one of the castle walls. It was there that I saw by far the most unusual sign I have ever seen. The sign was metal, flat, and attached perpendicular to the wall. The figure was of a little boy peeing! Below that was the word urinal. Sure enough, below the sign and behind two minimal panels, there was a urinal! In my mind, one must really need to go to stand there in public. Luckily, I had no need!
Nearing the Castelo de São Jorge (Castle of St. George), we found the Arco do Castelo. This particular gate is at the southern end of the castle grounds. The date above the arch reads 1846, so, by European standards, the entrance is a mere architectural babe.
We continued around the corner and bought our tickets to enter the castle. They were discounted by 25% because of the LisboaCards we purchased when we arrived in town. We entered the castle grounds and immediately fell in love with the panoramic views. One could see the 28-meter-tall statue of Christ the King, the April 25th Bridge, the Praca do Comercio, and the Baixa District.
The Ponte 25 de Abril or April 25th Bridge looks very similar to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. No doubt that is because the same company constructed the April 25th Bridge, completing it in 1966.
Many of the views from the castle vantage points include the Tagus River, with headwaters in the northeastern mountains of Sierra de Albarracín in Spain. Some 1,007 kilometers (626 miles) later, it empties into the Atlantic Ocean at Lisbon.
The Baixa District is a beautiful section of the city, laid out in a grid. That is new because of the extensive damage of the 1755 earthquake virtually leveling the town. Today’s estimates rate the quake between 8.5 and 9.0, very massive. The shake, accompanied by a devastating tsunami decimated Lisbon. The rebuilding effort settled on a grid system. Today, it is effortless to walk through the district on wide, boulevards; many of them pedestrian-friendly.
The castle itself is a ruin; however, there is a restaurant and a couple of museums. The overall castle site is quite large. Inside the castle, one can go up into and on top of the towers. As well, one can walk along the castle walls. From those heights, one can see virtually the entire city.
The Romans fortified the hilltop on which sits the Castelo de São Jorge as early as 48 BC. That was the point at which the Romans referred to Lisbon as a municipality. Some of the current fortifications date from the 10th Century. The castle may very well qualify as the oldest site we have ever visited.
Walking through the grounds, I went through an archway and saw the flag of Portugal flying on the wall. I stopped for a photo. Then I saw the flag of the City of Lisbon. I decided to take the stairs to the top of the wall to take some pictures. Once on top of the wall, I decided I would go to the top of the tower flying the Lisbon flag. As I looked up those stairs, I was surprised to see several people with what looked like some climbing gear. It looked like several ropes went over the side. I thought they must be repelling from the tower. I walked to the other side of the tower and discovered a tightrope stretched between two towers. Shortly after that discovery, a woman in her early 20’s clipped a safety line on the tightrope and walked across. I thought it was stunning. I went to a different vantage point and watched a man walk back in the other direction. As soon as he finished, they quickly dismantled everything and ran away. From that, I surmised their “show” was not legal.
We left the castle, but we were still within the compound walls. We were surprised by the number of feral cats that were there. We also saw a peacock and a couple of peahens. As we continued along, we came across a group of about 15 men and women dressed in medieval garb. They were waiting to enter a museum as part of a presentation. We would have gone into the museum and witnessed the show/performance; however, since it was undoubtedly going to be in Portuguese, we decided we would understand very little. For that reason, we opted out.
We then began to make our way to the exit from the castle grounds. Near the exit, we came across el Magnífico. The sign near him read “el Magnífico, Moedas do Mundo, Coins of the World.” His name was Flurin. He was about 30 years old. Beside him on a display board were numerous coins from which he had sawed out part of the design. For example, in a U.S. quarter, he would saw around the eagle, removing everything else. That would leave the eagle and the circular edge. We bought one for Tyler that Flurin made into a key chain.
When we left the castle grounds, Leslie and I began to wind our way through the narrow streets of the Alfama District. We have been to many places in Europe with narrow streets. However, I have to say these were the most cramped and most maze-like streets we have yet encountered.
On our walk, we found a store, Erva Loira. The name of this store translates to Blonde Herb. I don’t understand that since the vast majority of the store dealt in handmade jewelry. What was not jewelry was handmade clothing and belts. We went into the store. I believe Leslie looked at every single piece of jewelry in that store and she tried on most of them! The store was owned by and the jewelry designed by the young lady that helped us, Marta. She was a slender lady in her mid to late ’20s. She spoke excellent English. She said she had lived in Barcelona for several years before coming to Lisbon.
Her jewelry creations were unique and colorful. Leslie ended up with a necklace made with a thin silver wire. At either end is a long silver bead capped off with a red bead.
A block or two past the jewelry store we found a restaurant, Bellissimo Cafe. We decided to sit there in the sun and have lunch. It was one of the best lunches we have ever had. We started with a plate of fried “stuff.” On the plate was some sort of fried pork in the shape of link sausage. Also, there was fried shrimp and fried cod, both of which had been finely minced, battered, and then fried. I liked all of them. Leslie only enjoyed the shrimp.
Following the “stuff,” we had a bowl of Portuguese soup. The soup had a light-colored broth and contained navy beans, two types of sausage, and some pork fat. It was delicious. For the main course, I had a sanwich mixto (ham and cheese sandwich), and Leslie had a BLT. Both of them came on giant slices of bread. They were both toasted much like a panini.
While we were at the restaurant, people of several nationalities stopped to eat; Great Britain, Finland, France, and Poland. The main waiter was able to speak to everyone in their native language. He was quite a character.
Enjoying lunch at the Bellisimo Café.
When we finished lunch, we hailed a taxi very near where we had entered the castle. We went to the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum). The museum is in a convent dating from 1509, the Convent of Madre de Deus (Mother of God). The museum first opened in 1965. Our Lonely Planet guidebook lists the museum as a “Don’t Miss” site. WOW, is that ever an understatement! The vestry, upper choir, and St. Anthony’s Chapel are still intact and amazing to see.
We are fortunate to have seen many churches in our travels. St. Anthony’s Chapel ranks as the most ornate. The gold-gilded altar, the scale of the construction, the ceramic tile murals, and the numerous paintings mean there is hardly a piece of the plain wall visible.
Since the museum is noted as a “Don’t Miss” site in the Lonely Planet guide, my advice to visitors is not to try to cram it into a day with other sightseeing. To truly explore all the museum has to offer, one should plan to spend most of the day.
When we left the museum, we headed back to the hotel for a siesta.
For dinner, the three of us went to Pizza Hut of all places! Leslie and I enjoyed the wine we had, Vinha das Garcas, Vinho Tinto 2008. After dinner, it was back to the hotel for our last night in Lisbon.