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.
Leslie and I had a blast today. Our persistence trying to go on a Community Liaison Officer (CLO) trip paid off with our selection to participate in the journey to Murree, Pakistan.
Murree began as a British cantonment in the middle of the 19th century. At some point during its time under British rule, a brewery began operating in Murree under the name Murree Brewery. Today, that brewing operation is now located in Rawalpindi, a large suburb of Islamabad. Since this is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, there are no liquor stores. One can only obtain Murree beer from one of the five-star hotels in Islamabad. Not long after our trip, I did get some of the beer. I thought it tasted a little too hoppy and bitter. However, that is a story for another time.
We arrived at the Embassy in time to have some breakfast in the American Club. In addition to breakfast, we also ordered lunch to go, since the flyer for the trip noted a picnic lunch.With our lunches in hand, we walked outside the Club to the waiting vehicles. We picked a car at random, hopped inside, and soon departed.
Ultimately, the road reduced to just two lanes and began to gain altitude. A river flowed rapidly alongside the way. Unfortunately, I have not been able to track down the name of the river. Regardless, it was a beautiful valley. It reminded me of portions of the Colorado River west of Vail, Colorado.
Frequently we saw long, narrow, stone buildings. Some were one-story buildings, while others were two-story. The CLO Assistant happened to be riding in our vehicle. He informed us those were chicken farms. Unlike chicken farms in the United States, I did not detect any foul (pun intended) odors as we passed. We continued to gain altitude into a heavily forested area. At times, the forest was broken on either side of the road by a small village, with shops and homes built very close to the road edge. As we passed through their lives, the villagers stared at us, no doubt trying to figure out just who was traveling through their town.
Periodically we encountered switchback turns. Many were very tight turns. I do not recall seeing any as sharp in the mountains of Colorado. In some instances, the corners had a divider to keep traffic traveling in the opposite direction from leaving their lane.
The mountainsides became increasingly steep. Looking across the valley, one could see that much of the mountainsides are stepped, no doubt to help control erosion. The CLO assistant shared that those opposite mountainsides were fully forested when he was a child. Now they stand barren, victims of commercial logging.
A little more than an hour outside of Islamabad, we reached our destination, Pindi Point. The attraction to the area is the Pindi Point chairlift. A roundtrip ticket on the chairlift cost 350 Rupees, about $3.50. At that time of day, the only other people present consisted of a handful of chairlift workers.
At the bottom of the chairlift was a sign comparing the Pindi Point chairlift with two others in Pakistan. Some of the points trumpeted facts such as no breakdown or accidents in 24 years; it can operate in winds of up to 120 km per hour (not with me on it); and its gearbox is at least twice as big as the others.
I watched as two people from our group got onto the chair in front of Leslie and me. I decided that if we were there in the winter and if we had had skies, getting on would have been easy. When the chair came around the wheel, we both plopped down. The chair dipped a little, making it hard for Leslie to pick up her legs. One of her legs caught slightly under the chair. Luckily, she was not injured, but it did cause her some pain.
The Pindi Point chairlift is only intended for sightseeing. There is not an associated ski area there.
The ride up the side of the mountain was beautiful but steep. At about the midway point, a worker was standing at a platform. It did not seem to be a chance encounter, but rather, the man’s job seemed to be to stand there. I do not know why he was there. However, he was courteous, smiling, and waving as we greeted him in Urdu.
Near the top, we saw two young men lounging on a blanket under the chairlift. They both enthusiastically waved and shouted as we traveled overhead.
At the top, just like chairlifts in the United States, we had to get off on the run. One of the workers there helped Leslie. She just barely kept from falling. That, on top of the beginning leg drama, had her shaken. That is when we noticed we had several dozen stairs to climb to reach the road at the top. It took a little time, but we finally made it to the way. I openly mused as to why the builders of this beautiful chairlift had stopped a couple of hundred feet below the road.
The top of the stairs emptied into an arcade type area. There were people selling food and water, while others operated booths with games. Another group held onto several white horses. The area bustled with tourists.
Some of the housing we encountered appeared abandoned, but in fact, people did live in them. There was a real feeling of expeditionary living in many places.
The elevation was about 7,500 feet. That made for some very nice, comfortable weather. The road circles the top of the mountain, dropping slightly into the town of Murree. At one point, there was an overlook. Murree is only about 30 miles from the Pakistan/India border. From the overlook, we could see India and snow-capped mountains.
Mickey Mouse characters were abundant. One, in particular, pointed the way to the Regency Hotel to passers-by looking for a place to stay.
At the lowest point of the road, we were in a small commercial area. The CLO asked if anyone wanted to do some shopping. Of course, everyone jumped at the chance. Leslie and several others stopped in a little trinket store.
Just across from the store were five or six white horses. I imagine they were there for rent; however, we did not partake. Regardless, I am not sure I could have gotten on the horse anyway. Even if I had gotten on, based on the size of the saddle, some 80 percent of my caboose would have been without support. While I stood and watched, one of the wranglers went to work on the shoe of one of the horses, filing some problems away.
Departing the commercial area, we began the gradual climb along the road back to the chairlift stairs. We walked by a street cafe. I do not know what they were cooking, but it sure smelled good. For fear of stomach issues, I kept my course true and did not stop.
A little further along the way, we encountered another group of horses. They seemed to be everywhere. After that, we saw a man that was roasting what looked like nuts and beans. He also had some popcorn for sale. It was an interesting photo opportunity, but again, we dared not partake. We did not want to take a chance of occupying the bathroom for the next two straight days.
Just around the corner from the cooking vendor, I spotted another rugged-looking home. A cute little girl about five or six years old stepped out of the house to try to determine just what was passing by her home.
Nearing the stairs, I saw a man selling baskets. They were all handmade from local bark and twigs. I bought one that is a good size for bread or fruit. It cost a whopping $2. In the same area, some of the people stopped to partake in the various games of chance. They reminded me of games at local fairs in the United States. They seem so simple, yet one very rarely wins any of the tantalizing prizes on display.
We encountered another likeness of Mickey Mouse. This time he was on the door of a brightly decorated truck, near the Pakistan flag. The Urdu phrase near his head translated to “Heart Heart Pakistan.”
When we made it back to the top of the stairs, Leslie told the tour organizer of the troubles she encountered with the chairlift on the way up. She asked if the chairlift could slow down when we got on and off the chair. Climbing down the stairs, we saw a sign that had an awful lot of Urdu and then one word in English, “Rescue.” That made me a little nervous, but such is the life of someone illiterate in the local dialect.
Much to our surprise, when we arrived at the chairlift, it stood still. Thankfully, the operators granted Leslie’s request. We got on and waited for the trip down to begin. It was just as beautiful as the trip up, but this time, we understood just how steep it was. After clearing the platform, we saw the two young men on the blanket again. They seemed just as excited to see us this time as the last. Another 100 meters or so down from them, we saw three children under the lift.
They asked us for candy or money. If my hands had been free, I probably would have tossed them some money, but, between my camera, backpack, and newly acquired basket, I could not manage anything else.
At the base, the chairlift stopped again so we could get off. Once everyone was down, we walked to a small home about 100 meters from the chairlift. We sat with the others in the dining room and ate the lunch we purchased earlier.
Our next stop was Kashmir Point. Our stop there called for a train ride. The engine of the “train” is a tractor made to look like a train engine.
When we arrived, the small square was bustling with people. A young boy with a hawk on a stick immediately caught our eye. It is the type of bird we see soaring in the Islamabad area daily. I am sure one could have taken a photo with him and the hawk for a fee. I might have done so if our group had not been moving so quickly to the waiting train.
The train, pulling two coaches, stopped. Our group boarded the second coach. Shortly after that, the train departed. Sitting directly in front of us, at the rear of the first coach, was the cutest little girl. She kept looking back to try to figure out just who we were.
The train traveled along a road that circled the top of the mountain. The area, known as Kashmir Point, gets its name based on the fact one can see the Kashmir area from there. The total trip only took about 15 minutes.
On our descent from Kashmir Point, we saw hundreds of Kashmir shawls and blankets displayed along the roadside, usually at turns in the road. They were beautiful, but we did not stop.
Soon, though we were still in the mountains, we transitioned to a four-lane divided highway toward Islamabad. We arrived there when the local schools were letting out. It was easy to see that the children all had to wear uniforms.
Along the highway, I found the roadside signs interesting. They provide the same information as warning signs in the United States, but with a flair for English. I saw signs such as “dead slow” warning of a sharp curve; “speed hump”; “speed camera ahead” warning of radar; and a “falling rock” sign. The falling rock sign seemed necessary as we did see a large rock-slide in the opposite lane.
We also passed a Rescue station. I could only wonder if it was the same station referred to by the sign at the top of the chairlift. Lastly, we saw a sign that we thought depicted Smokey, the Bear. It was a similar message with a different character, Murree the Bear.
We ended up at home in the mid-afternoon. All of the roses in the median of 7th Avenue brightened the end of the trip. We truly valued the experience because the security situation here does not allow for much sightseeing.
We were up at 01:30 to catch our bus to New York City. The bus departure time of 03:00 from Chinatown in Washington, D.C. guaranteed ample time to tour New York City during the weekend with Lorraine and Hillary.
Upon arrival in Chinatown, we found the address was a hole in the wall. Based on the meager $100 round-trip fare for both of us, there were not going to be any frills on this particular journey.
About 20 minutes before departure, the bus arrived. It was full of passengers coming from New York City. Once the bus was empty, the staff quickly set about cleaning the interior. While they did that, the passengers placed their luggage under the bus. When they allowed boarding, Leslie and I found ourselves in the front seat to the driver’s right. At that point, we thought it was a good thing.
The bus pulled away at about 03:10. We quickly found out the bus driver’s “other” car must have been a small, sleek sports car. It was also apparent he had forgotten which vehicle he was currently driving. His quest seemed to be to tailgate every vehicle that was on the highway. If a car had suddenly applied the brakes, they would have been entangled in the bus grill like so many late-night insects. Luckily, there were no incidents, only close calls.
In addition to the bus driver’s “confusion” regarding what vehicle he was driving, he was immune to the concept of not talking on the cellphone while driving. I guess the good news is he had the cell in hands-free mode. The bad news is that only about 20 minutes of the entire four-hour trip included silence.
Our bus did not have toilet facilities onboard, so I was excited when the driver pulled off the highway at a truck stop. He drove by the gas pumps and stopped in a parking area. Surprisingly, Leslie decided to stay on board while I got off to find the bathroom. For some reason, about ten yards from the bus, I turned around and looked at the bus, noting, in particular, the markings on the bus, a very beneficial move. Emerging from the station after my pit stop, I quickly realized the bus was no longer where I had left it, but rather driving away from me. Did I miss the bus somewhere in New Jersey? Then I remembered Leslie was still on the bus. She would have torn into the driver if he tried to get back on the highway. My composure returned. The bus made a big loop and stopped by one of the gas pumps. I got back on the bus wondering why the driver did not stop there initially.
The driver ultimately accounted for all passengers and continued the drive north. The sun made the drive much more comfortable. We began to catch glimpses of the Manhattan skyline. That was exciting as our trip held the excitement of something we had never seen or done before.
The trip hit the next snag when the driver suddenly found the highway closed at one of the tollbooths. Since his regular route was closed for some reason, it quickly became apparent the driver did not know how or where to proceed. The rather light Saturday morning traffic made our predicament a little less nerve-racking; especially since we came to a full stop in a traffic lane on the highway at least twice while the driver read highway signs, and talked on the cell phone, trying to determine which turn or exit to take.
Finally, we made it to the tollbooth at the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel. Emerging on the other side of the Hudson River, the driver seemed to be in familiar territory. A short 10 or 15 minutes later, he deposited all of us near Madison Square Gardens. Leslie and I retrieved our carry-on bags and went to the taxi cue in front of the Gardens.
The taxi took no time to deliver us to the Courtyard by Marriott – Times Square on West 40th Street. Because of the early morning hour, I fully expected to check our bags in with the bellman and then wait until later in the afternoon to get a room. Much to my surprise, the desk clerk handed us keys for our room on the 33rd floor. I guess all of my Marriott points do pay off periodically.
We placed our bags in our room. Leslie notified Hillary we were at the hotel. She arranged to meet Lorraine and Hillary downstairs so we could get some coffee and breakfast.
Once together, we all four set out for Times Square. On the way, we stopped at Duke Deli so Lorraine and Hillary could get something to eat. Leslie and I just had another cup of coffee. I was struck by the “no” sign that was above our table. It contained a seemingly unending list of prohibited behaviors.
After breakfast and a couple of more blocks of walking, we were in Times Square. I found myself awe-struck. Even though one may have seen pictures or video footage of Times Square, it is something else to be standing at the location. All of the sights and sounds nearly overwhelmed my senses. Several things competed for my attention, such as the height and architecture of the surrounding buildings; the crystal ball that drops each New Year’s Eve; the NYPD substation; the neon American flag on the Armed Services Recruiting Station; the dozens of taxis; the throngs of people; and, of course, the ABC Good Morning America studio.
One thing about Times Square I cannot imagine is just how many people pack the area each New Year eve. That is not my idea of entertainment. I have zero desire to be in such a mass of people.
The morning before we arrived, Hillary stood outside the Good Morning America studio replete with her poster touting her desire to be the next anchor on the show. She thought she might have been on-air for a few brief moments during the Good Morning America show.
During breakfast, we decided to go on a boat tour of the city. It came highly recommended by Lorraine and Hillary, having done it the day before. We hopped in a taxi and headed to Pier 78. We bought tickets for a 90-minute tour of Midtown. When the boat docked, we waited for the passengers to get off. Boarding the craft, we went to the upper deck, near the stern. We departed close to 10:30.
While waiting for our ship (tour boat) to come in, we saw the motor yacht, Bella Una, pass by Pier 78. The roughly $10,000,000 yacht’s destination was somewhere up the Hudson River. For that amount of money, one can get a 127 foot (38.7 meters) yacht that holds ten guests in five cabins and comes with eight crew. I will keep this in mind for when Leslie and I retire…
From Pier 78, our tour boat traveled south on the Hudson River, skirted the southern tip of Manhattan Island, proceeded north on the East River, passed by the Statue of Liberty, and returned to the point of embarkation. During the trip, a very knowledgeable guide related stories about what we saw from the boat.
Several things struck me; for example, Pier 54. Pier 54 is where the HMS Carpathia docked with the survivors from the sinking of the Titanic. She docked on the evening of April 18, 1912. There were 705 fortunate Titanic survivors on the Carpathia. Today, the abandoned pier still juts into the Hudson River, but it is very dilapidated.
Shortly after beginning our tour, we did have a good view of the Empire State Building. It would have been nice to visit that iconic building. Unfortunately, we could not fit everything into our weekend in New York City that we would have liked to have seen.
The Manhattan skyline is impressive from the water. I think that is because one can get a perspective of the scale of the city, the people, and the buildings. When one is in the city one feels more like an ant in an ant farm; scurrying along narrow paths with hundreds of others. When in the city, it seems one can never see the sky, no matter how high one looks.
I found it very moving to see the One World Trade Center, known as Freedom Tower, soaring to 1,776 feet. I felt very patriotic. I am not sure I could manage to go through the 9/11 museum based on the feelings that overcame me while on the boat, viewing the tower from a distance.
As our boat neared the southern tip of Manhattan, there was a considerable increase in river traffic due to Ellis Island and Liberty Island. Large ferry boats and multiple private watercraft moved back and forth between the islands and Manhattan, each with dozens and dozens of tourists.
When the tour boat turned to go up the East River, we could see the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge in the distance. That is also where we saw a pier with some 14 landing spots for helicopters. One can take an aerial tour of Manhattan, but it is a bit pricey. The helicopters are like flies. I am not sure if it was an unusually busy time or if it was just the norm.
Continuing along the East River, we neared the Wall Street area of Manhattan. It was amazing to see how close the buildings seemed to be to each other. As I wrote earlier, if one is at ground level, it is almost impossible to see the sky.
Our tour continued past the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges; although, not far beyond the bridges the tour boat did a 180-turn and began the journey back to Pier 78. On the way back, the tour boat took a path in the river much closer to Liberty Island. That allowed for some very spectacular views of the Statue of Liberty. Also, since the boat was farther away from Manhattan, there was a splendid view of the skyline.
In between Liberty Island and Ellis Island, an immense yacht lay anchored in the Hudson River. The boat was the Amaryllis. It is a tiny 257 feet (78.43 meters) motor yacht originating from Germany. That means the Amaryllis is 130 feet (40 meters) longer than the Bella Una we saw earlier in the day. I guess that makes the Bella Una a speed boat in comparison.
The Amaryllis will accommodate 12 guests in six cabins with a crew of 23. I am not sure how much it might cost to purchase the yacht, but charters start at US$875,000 per week plus expenses in the high season. If one is whimsical enough to rent in the offseason, it is a steal at US$770,000 per week plus costs! The “plus costs” more than likely include fuel charges. With tanks holding 63,300 gallons of diesel (239,620 liters), one would be looking at US$188,634 to fill ‘er up! So, it appears a week on the Amaryllis is not in my plans–unless they need a barnacle scraper!
When we finally returned to the pier, I took a photograph of the wheelhouse. One of the deckhands yelled at me for doing that. Oh well, I guess I have been in trouble for worse in the past.
When we returned from our tour, we hailed another taxi for the trip back to the Times Square area. Since it was time for lunch, we ducked into an Applebee’s restaurant. The lunch was OK, nothing spectacular.
Next on our list: shopping and the store of choice – H & M. By “our,” I do not include me. The store is on Times Square. I contained at least three floors of clothing and accessories. I have never seen a store with so many shoppers. The number of shoppers in the store made it difficult to walk through any part of the store. Hillary did find something she wanted. When the time came to pay, the length of the line for payment would have turned away all but the most intrepid shopper. Lorraine and I hit the eject button. We went out of the store and sat on a bench, awaiting Leslie and Hillary.
While sitting on the bench, I busied myself taking photographs of the store and people walking by the store.
When they emerged from H & M, Hillary said she wanted to visit the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum. I told her I would tag along. Leslie and Lorraine opted for a nap back at the hotel. The museum was near Madame Tussauds wax museum. Out in front of that museum, grabbing the attention of many pedestrians, was a wax figure of Morgan Freeman.
As one might imagine, the Ripley’s Museum was chock full of all sorts of oddities. Hillary thoroughly enjoyed herself. She kept relating how she remembered watching Ripley’s television show as she grew up.
One of the exhibits in Ripley’s Museum that surprised me was the video and associated information on Mike, the Headless Chicken. Anyone might be surprised when confronted with a headless chicken; but, when that chicken is from your neck of the woods (excuse the pun), it is quite surprising. The short story is that a farmer in Fruita, Colorado (our neck of the woods) wanted chicken for dinner. When he cut the head off of the chicken, it did not die. The chicken lived for some 18 additional months before finally dying. It is not known if at that 18-month mark Mike made it to the dining room table. For readers interested in the rest of the story, please check out Mike, the Headless Chicken in a Smithsonian Magazine article from 2014.
Hillary and I made it back to the hotel with only about 30 minutes to spare before leaving for our dinner reservations. A quick change of clothes and we all departed the hotel. Our destination was Bond 45 Italian Kitchen Steak & Seafood. A supposedly short walk from the hotel became a little too much. Hillary very kindly volunteered to continue walking to the restaurant to ensure we did not lose our reservations. Meanwhile, the three of us hailed a tricycle pedal cab. We enjoyed that short ride.
The restaurant seemed stuck in the 1920s or 1930s. The first query from our waiter was not what we wanted to drink, but whether or not we had Broadway show reservations. We replied that we were heading to The Lion King after dinner. That set his pace, which was nice. The rather expensive meal did not wow me as much as the other $100 per person meals I have eaten. I guess I characterize it as particularly marginal with excellent service. A nice touch near the end of the meal was the fresh baked cookies a staff member brought to each table.
The theater to which we headed was right on Times Square, only about a block from the restaurant. As noted above, The Lion King is the play we decided to see. Upon arrival, I was able to get one of the ushers to provide a couple of folding chairs for Leslie and Lorraine. That made the wait more palatable. When the doors to the theater opened, an usher took us up an elevator to our seats. I noticed a bar selling drinks near the entrance. I purchased four glasses of wine. I nearly collapsed when I found the charge for the wine was $120. I can get an entire case of wine for that price!
We settled back into our seats with our “golden” wine and prepared for The Lion King. I must admit I do not believe I ever saw the movie; regardless, I had a reasonable idea of the storyline. The very beginning of the play is striking with the various “animals” crossing the stage in every direction. The costuming to make one believe they saw actual elephants, rhinos, gazelles, etc. was amazing. Exhaustion began to set in toward the end of the performance because of the packed day. Even still, I enjoyed every bit of the play.
After the performance, we exited the theater and “merged” into the mass of humanity that was now in Times Square. There were so many people; one could hardly move. It seemed as though the crowd would carry one along without one’s feet ever touching the ground. In the heart of Times Square, we found the “sisters” of the Nearly Naked Woman from our recent Las Vegas trip; Nearly Naked Patriotic Women. I guess it takes all kinds.
When we did make it back to the hotel, I collapsed.
For breakfast the next morning, we walked to the Red Flame Diner on 44th Street. The diner would be more at home in the middle of Nebraska rather than the center of New York City. That said, the meal would be hard to beat anywhere on this planet.
Properly fueled, the next adventure beckoned. Departing the diner, we saw dozens and dozens of police officers standing around, obviously waiting for something. The street, lined with barricades, would soon be the sight of the annual Dominican Day parade would begin shortly. To avoid the tumult, we jumped in a cab and went to Rockefeller Plaza.
Rockefeller Plaza was another site at which I was awestruck. Previously, seeing only pictures or television footage of these sights made it exciting to see the sites in person. The most iconic image was the fountain with the gold Prometheus sculpture in front of the NBC building. After taking several photographs, we entered the NBC building. The gift shop on the ground floor beckoned us all. Hillary, the future GMA anchor, could hardly contain her excitement. She seized the opportunity to have a photograph made with an antique television camera and a cutout of Matt Lauer.
Our final stop was Central Park, one of the many must-see attractions in The Big Apple. We thought the perfect way to see Central Park was by horse-drawn carriage. The three of us hopped in a carriage while Lorraine found a bench on which to await our return. Our carriage driver was a delightful man from Ireland. As he guided us through the park, he also told us about many of the sights. In truth, he did not steer us so much as the horse led us on the route he had no doubt walked hundreds of times.
At the end of our ride, reunited, we hailed a taxi and went back to our hotel. It was around 11:00. At 15:00, the bus back to Washington, D. C. would leave. I thought it best to travel to the bus pick-up point, thinking we could eat something before we boarded. Upon arrival, we noticed a bus there with several people waiting to board. I checked with the man in charge of the boarding to see if we might be able to get on that bus. He looked on the bus, saw seats available and said we could board. That meant getting back to our apartment at about 16:30 instead of 20:30.
We both enjoyed our visit to New York City, but neither of us thinks we need to return anytime soon. We are not big city people.
This morning I rolled out of bed at 05:00. Why on a Saturday? That’s just my deal, Saturday, Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, any day, a sort of curse.
I knew I had to go to Nigel’s Supermarket to stock up on a few things. I got one cup of coffee down and decided I would immediately head out to see what I might discover as Georgetown began rising to life once again. It was pushing 06:00.
I drove around for a while. As I was heading west on Brickdam Road, I came across an accident at an intersection. A car was right in the center of the intersection. It had sustained a lot of front end damage. The hood had been torn off. On the side of the street, not far away, was a badly damaged mini-bus. It was apparent the left front axle was broken. That left front corner and most of the rest of the left side showed an enormous amount of damage. The unoccupied mini-bus did have a person standing by the car on a cell phone. Several others were standing around. Amazingly I did not see anyone that appeared to be injured. I did not see any police on the scene.
The involvement of a mini-bus in the wreck is not surprising. The mini-bus drivers operate as though they are slalom skiers on a very tight course. They whip in and out of lanes and around cars just like the slalom gates. That is no doubt why the mini-buses are off-limits to us.
Taxi drivers are about the same; although, they usually only have two or three innocent lives on the line, not 15 to 18 (even though anything over 15 is illegal) as on the mini-buses.
Prospective bus passengers stand alongside the road. If they wish a ride, they flag down a mini-bus with a hand signal. Their arm, remaining straight and pointed down, moves away from their side by about five or ten degrees. Regardless of where the bus may be in traffic, if they have room, they will “dive” to the side of the road to pick up the passenger. The passenger tenders their money (usually $60GD to $80GD, US$0.29 to US$0.39) to the conductor and quickly take a seat. As soon as the door closes, the driver is elbowing back into traffic.
If a passenger does not signal the mini-bus, the mini-bus will signal them. Most often the signaling and gesticulating are handled by the conductor. The conductor sits directly behind the left front seat at the sliding door handle. If it is not raining, the window is open. At the very least, the entire arm of the conductor is hanging out of the window. Many times the head is out too. As the bus approaches people, the conductor starts waving his arm and pointing to determine whether or not they want to ride. The driver may help all of this along with flashing headlights and horn honking. During the rush hour, it can be quite a cacophony.
The signaling is not limited to those standing on the left side of the road. The conductor and driver will often signal people standing on the other side of the way. The signals try to decipher if the people want to wait for the bus when it is heading back the other direction.
The buses are all numbered as to their routes. The number I see most frequently is 44, Georgetown to Mahaica. That seems to correspond with where the mini-bus may take on passengers.
The inbound destination for all mini-buses, regardless of the number, is the main stop at Stabroek Market. It is a well-known part of Georgetown because of the iconic clock tower. The 80,000 square foot market, especially in the interior spaces, can be a site for petty crimes. Regardless, the locals flock to this and other markets around town to buy everything from clothing to meat. It has been that way since the mid-19th Century when the market was founded.
Leaving the central area of town, I made my way to the Water Street area. Water Street parallels the Demerara River. One of the sights in the area are the drainage gates. The gates remain closed during high tide, but after rains or at low tide, the gates are opened to allow the canals to drain into the river or the ocean, depending on their location.
The piers and wharves along the river always have ships and boats tied to them. Georgetown is not a deep-water port. So the ships are either small or only partially loaded. The larger vessels have to anchor off-shore several miles. Then smaller ships go back and forth to unload them.
The mouth of the river is nearly one mile wide. The river and the Atlantic Ocean at this point are brown due to all of the silt carried by the Demerara River and all of the other rivers between the Demerara and the Amazon River. One must travel several miles from shore to find blue-green ocean water.
The Water Street area is also where one finds the Georgetown Lighthouse, dating from the early 19th Century. Compared to other lighthouses I have seen I find this one odd since it is not on the coast or the point of land at the mouth of the river. Instead, it is a couple of hundred meters in from the river and nearly a kilometer south of the point at the Atlantic.
Main Street hints at how beautiful Georgetown used to be. When the garbage is picked up, it does look striking with the stately trees providing a canopy over the central walk in the median. Early on, Georgetown was known as the “Garden City of the Caribbean.” That title no longer holds due to the amount of garbage that seems to be everywhere.
Continuing to circle, I ended up in front of St. George’s Cathedral, an Anglican church that opened in August 1892. The wooden church is said to be one of the tallest wooden churches in the world, at 143 feet. The church was not open, so I was not able to enter.
Shortly before the church, Georgetown City Hall opened in 1889. Were it kept in better condition; it would indeed be a marvel. It has a Gothic style. Supposedly the government proposed that it be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. That has yet to happen.
Making my way back to the Water Street area, I found some fishermen off-loading their morning catch just north of the Water Street warehouses, near one of the drainage gates. There were two boats moored there. Upon the bank was a small truck with bins in the rear parked near a telephone pole guy-wire. The owner of the vehicle secured his scale to that wire. The fishermen brought their buckets and baskets full of fish. They were weighed, recorded, and then loaded into the truck.
I saw two types of fish. The smaller, gray fish was catfish, and they were fairly numerous. The other kind of fish was much larger, maybe three feet long, and yellowish. The locals refer to them as Gillbacka. They did resemble the catfish, just larger. I saw about a dozen of those fish. The Gillbacka is what is known as a “skin fish,” which means they have no scales. They say it is the tastiest of the skin fish varieties.
The fishermen seemed amused that I was there taking photographs. Their amusement quickly ebbed, and they went back to their work.
A line of warehouses across a vacant lot. The building on the left dates from 1871.
I decided it was time to begin to make my way to Nigel’s Supermarket. I chose to drive along the sea wall from the Pegasus Hotel. The ocean was near high tide. The small amount of beach that remained held a lot of garbage, another strike against the “Garden City of the Caribbean.”
In the ocean, one often sees Hindu prayer flags. According to Hindus to whom I have spoken, these are very similar to the prayer candles Catholics light in churches. The Hindus that place the flags may do so as a prayer for someone with cancer or someone that cannot have a child. These are often seen around Hindu homes too.
Hindu prayer flags in the Atlantic Ocean.
Along this part of the sea wall is the newly installed statue commemorating the emancipation of the slaves in Guyana in 1823. It is a nicely done monument. However, I found it odd that the dedication was not on Emancipation Day, August 1. Instead, it was unveiled and dedicated several days later.
I arrived at Nigel’s Supermarket at about 07:40, so I had 20-minutes to sit and wait for the store to open. As it turns out, I did not buy many items; juice, bacon, lunch meat, water, and some vegetables. Even still, that was US$50!
On the way home, I drove by a lumber store. I knew there would likely be horses and carts in front of the store. Sure enough, there was one right in front. Workers were loading the cart with lumber for a delivery. These horse-drawn carts are a ubiquitous sight, sharing the road with cars, mini-buses, and taxis. That sometimes makes for some harrowing passes and near misses.
I was back in the comfort of my home by 08:30.