Tag: Palace

Oslo

Oslo

Oslo, Norway – July 8, 2015

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.

At times, in both the Outer and Inner Oslofjords, the rain was ferocious.

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.

Homes along the shore of the picturesque Outer Oslofjord.
Gun emplacement at the south end of Oscarsborg Fortress on Oscarsborg Island. This is in the Inner Oslofjord.
A closer view of the gun emplacement at Oscarsborg Fortress.
One of the buildings on Oscarsborg Island.
The small dock at Oscarsborg Island is visible in the lower right.
The dock area and white hotel at Oscarsborg Island.
A wider view as the cruise ship slips by Oscarsborg Island.
The rugged coast of the Inner Oslofjord.

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.

One of the many ferries we passed on this cold and rainy morning.
I am not sure what building is at the lower left, but it reminds one of something built from Legos.
A lone seaplane flying above the fjord.
A sightseeing boat approaching the port of Oslo.
Sheets of rain plagued our arrival to Oslo.
The Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art at Oslo.
A larger ferry departing Oslo.
City hall as seen from the Oslo port.
As the cruise ship was preparing to dock, Akershus Fortress and Castle came into view.

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.

The rather red interior of the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus at the port of Oslo. The windows on the right are those of the cruise ship.

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.

Det Kongelige Slott or The Royal Palace of Norway.
A closer view of the Royal Palace entry.
Wet tourists on a wet day, walking along a wet street, in front of a wet Scandinavian Institute of Maritime Law.
The front of the Nationaltheatret.
A sculpture on the side of the Nationaltheatret.
An advertisement for some of the upcoming works at the Nationaltheatret.
One of the many trolleys operating in the area.
Some flowers in the park enjoying the rain.
More flowers soaking in the rain.
The rain continued as tourists took in the sights of a small park. The pond is used as an ice skating rink in the winter.

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.

At the end of the street is the Oslo city hall.
The entry to the Oslo city hall.
Detail of the clock at the Oslo city hall.
The fountain at the front entrance to the Oslo city hall.

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.

The sidewalk seating area of Egon Restaurant.
Lorena, our very nice and friendly Spanish server at Egon Restaurant.
My Oslo companion!
Pedestrians passing by Egon Restaurant.

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.

An ornate metal door.
A quaint looking coffee shop in Oslo.
A view of our cruise ship across from some construction.
The Auster Salon and Academy in Oslo.
A view into an office while stopped at a red light in Oslo.
A portion of the Frognerkilen Marina.
Horses in a paddock in the Bygdøy area of Oslo.
A beautiful home in the Bygdøy area of Oslo.
People getting off the bus near a telephone booth in the Bygdøy area of Oslo.
One of the typical buildings we rode by in the Bygdøy area of Oslo.
Some dairy cows in the Bygdøy area of Oslo.
A new complex of offices and apartments.
People were out and about despite the weather.
A typical side street in Oslo.

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 path to the entry point of the Akershus Fortress and Castle in Oslo.
The welcome sign to the fortress. The cruise ship is in the background.
A lonely canon overlooking the harbor.
The ancient canons seem to be trained on the cruise ship.

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.

A couple exiting Akershus Fortress near the royal guard.
A royal guard at one of the entries to the Akershus Fortress.
A portion of the fortress viewed from inside the perimeter wall.
A lonely soul walking in the rain at the fortress.
Our cruise ship awaits.
Looking out of a gun-port at the Akershus Fortress.
A courtyard area within the Akershus Fortress.
The royal coat of arms inside the Akershus Fortress.
A painting and a piece of furniture inside the Akershus Castle.
Detail of some clothing on display in the Akershus Castle.

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.

View of the Akershus Castle Church from the rear of the church.
Detail of the altar in the Akershus Castle church.
The Royal Crest on the altar in the Akershus Castle church.
The Royal seating area in the Akershus Castle church.
The organ at the rear of the Akershus Castle church.
Detail of the end of a pew in the Akershus Castle church.  The monogram denotes King Haakon VII, the great grandfather of the current monarch, King Harald V.
A bible on display in the Akershus Castle church.
Looking through the rolled-glass windows from the Akershus Castle church toward the cruise ship.

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.

Detail of the gate to the Royal Mausoleum crypt of King Haakon VII and Queen Maud as well as King Olav V and Crown Princess Märtha.
The white sarcophagus contains the remains of King Haakon VII and Queen Maud. The years of death were 1957 and 1938. The green sarcophagus contains the remains of King Olav V and Crown Princess Märtha. The years of death were 1991 and 1954 respectively.

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.

Ghostbusters stained glass.
Ghostbusters stained glass II.
A more traditional stained glass.
The entire stained glass rosette.
The upper hall in Akershus Castle.
The opposite end of the upper hall in Akershus Castle. This puts the stained glass rosette in perspective.
A room in the Akershus Castle.
A suit of armor on display in the Akershus Castle.
Additional tapestries in the Akershus Castle.
A tapestry in the Akershus Castle.
A sword on the wall in the Akershus Castle.
Several flags on display in the Akershus Castle.
Detail of a royal flag in the Akershus Castle.
Detail of a royal flag in Akershus Castle.
One of the larger reception rooms in Akershus Castle.
A room in Akershus Castle with period furniture.
Another room and fireplace in Akershus Castle.
Detail of a tapestry in the castle.
Louise (1724-1751) of Great Britain, Queen Consort of Denmark and Norway. Married to King Frederick V of Denmark.
Seating for 70 in this dining room in Akershus Castle.
Coat of arms of King Frederick IV of Denmark and Norway (1699 to 1730).
Tapestry detail in Akershus Castle.
A fireplace in Akershus Castle.
The bow of the Regal Princess.
A little bit of civilization by the fjord.
“Illegal Immigration Started with Columbus.” I shall notify the Consul General…
Detail of the handles on the canons near the Akershus Fortress.
The canon seems to be holding the cruise ship at bay.
A boat heading to the dock.
A view of the port of Oslo. Near the top of the hill, one can see the Olympic ski jump installation.
Boats and ships everywhere.
Flowers for my bride to begin our cruise.
A cloudy, rainy day.
A motor yacht going by the cruise ship.
A ferry departing the port of Oslo.
A seagull checking out the photographer.

When we left the castle, we boarded the ship to prepare for dinner.

Paramaribo with my Bride

Paramaribo with my Bride

Paramaribo, Suriname – April 6, 2014

Leslie and I left home, bound for Ogle Airport in Cummings Lodge, Guyana. The airport is only about a 10-minute drive from our home. We arrived right at 06:00 even though check-in for our flight was not due to begin until 07:00. We just sat and watched the sunrise and the intermittent rain.
Even though Ogle is an international airport, it is not very busy. That is because virtually the only planes flying in and out are 12-passenger Cessna Caravans (plus two for the pilot and co-pilot). So even if three full flights are leaving at the same time, there is a maximum of 36 people at the terminal. Most of the Cessna Caravans from Ogle have been fitted with a small cargo-hold under the plane. Regardless, one is restricted to a mere 33-pounds of luggage. At the check-in counter, they weigh both the luggage and the traveler, separately!
We checked in on time, went through passport control, security, and then finally sat down in the air-conditioned waiting area. The waiting area before checking-in is open-air. Through the window, we could see one of Trans Guyana Airline’s Cessna Caravans parked on the apron. Both sides of the engine cowling were propped open. We saw several small planes take off over the hour or so we were there. Ultimately we boarded the lone plane we had seen on the apron.

Our trusty steed…

Waiting to board.

We sat in the rearmost bench seat and were joined by ten other passengers and the pilot. On this particular flight, the co-pilot seat was vacant; however, I have seen a passenger sit in that seat on several occasions in the past. Our boarding had begun at 08:25. By 08:30 the pilot was taxiing on the single runway. The airport is so small there is not a separate taxiway. So, takeoff, landing, and taxiing all take place on the same piece of concrete.
The taxiway dead-ends into the runway at about the mid-point of the runway. Once the pilot was sure there were no planes coming or going on the runway, he pulled onto the runway and turned left. We taxied to the south end of the runway on the runway itself. At the end, there is an additional portion of the paved area that provides enough room for the plane to do a u-turn. As soon as we had turned back to the north, the pilot pushed the throttle forward. In no time we were airborne, leaving the 4,200 foot (1,280 meters) runway below. After gaining about 500 or 600 feet of altitude, the pilot turned right and aimed us at Paramaribo for our 1:15 duration flight.
Except for some very minor corrections on our heading, it is virtually a straight-line flight to the one runway at Zorg en Hoop International airport in Paramaribo. That airport is very similar to Ogle, although it is a bit smaller. The runway there is only 2,559 feet (780 meters). The flight itself was relatively smooth. The approach, as usual, was a little bumpy.
When the pilot touched down, he pulled the yoke so far back the stall warning buzzer went off. That continued for several seconds until the wings finally lost enough lift to allow the nose-wheel to settle onto the runway. That was not Leslie’s favorite part of the flight!
We zipped through immigration, met our driver, and were quickly on our way to the Royal Torarica hotel. I had never stayed there on any of my previous trips. That hotel is much closer to the center of town, which makes it easier to get around to the various tourist sites. En-route, the driver was kind enough to drive by the embassy so Leslie could see it.
Due to the one-hour time change, it was about 11:30 when we checked-in at the hotel. The lobby was a little chaotic because they were preparing to film a commercial for the hotel. We were too early to get our room key, but they were kind enough to store our bags. Once the transaction was complete, I asked them to call a taxi.
The taxi arrived within two minutes. I told the driver we wanted to go to the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral. He said the trip would be $15SRD, about $5US.
On our initial drive in from the airport, we drove by the cathedral and could see mass was in progress. When we arrived by taxi, the mass was over, and people were exiting. Many of the people stopped to talk with and take photos with the Bishop. There seemed to be a real air of excitement.
After exiting the cab, we approached the Bishop and introduced ourselves. He did not speak much English, but he seemed genuinely interested in meeting two travelers from Colorado.
As we prepared to walk inside the cathedral, I noticed some signs or plaques above each of the three entry doors. I could not see what they were as they were each covered by a cloth.
Walking inside, Leslie was awestruck by the beauty of this all-wood, 129-year old building. I, too, am amazed every time I visit. The wood used inside is not stained or finished. Instead, it has a 129-year-old patina that is strikingly beautiful. The stations of the cross and the crucifix are made of wood too. They are painted, which contrasts nicely with the natural wood.
Two of my favorite objects in the cathedral are the pieta and the enamel and gold-colored depiction of the Madonna and Child. The colors are so vibrant. It is a cathedral I shall never forget.
A few other tourists joined us as we walked around the cathedral. It is quite challenging to take in all of the details.
At the rear of the cathedral is a small area that has been set aside to sell religious items. Leslie found a ceramic cross. We bought that cross to add to her collection.

Departing the Basilica.
Typical artwork for the stations of the cross.
The main crucifix.
The altar.
Detail of the Pieta statue.
Various artwork at a side chapel.
The Madonna and Child.
View toward the back of the basilica.
Detail of the wood ceiling in the basilica.
The diocesan flag beside the green, white, and red Suriname flag.
Covering the sign at the entrance to the basilica.

The newspapers the next morning shed light on why there had been such an air of excitement at the cathedral that Sunday. It had been an extraordinary mass which elevated the church to a Minor Basilica; no wonder!
Leaving the cathedral, we set our sights on Fort Zeelandia. It was a location I wanted to be sure Leslie saw. Part of the intent of our visit was to eat lunch at the restaurant at the Fort called Baka Foto.
It did not take us long to walk the three or four blocks to the Fort. I am sure it would have taken even less time if I had not stopped so frequently to take photos. The photos do reveal that many buildings within the UNESCO World Heritage Site are in need of repair and restoration. The good news is I did see a lot of properties preparing for rehabilitation, such as the old police station near the cathedral.

Looking east on Henk Arronstraat.
Typical buildings on Henk Arronstraat.
The Suriname flag flying in front of a building on Henk Arronstraat.
The Ministry of Justice and Police on Henk Arronstraat.
Flags at the Onafhankelijkheidsplein or town square.
The Presidential Palace faces the Onafhankelijkheidsplein.
Detail of the coat of arms on the Presidential Palace.
The flags in the Onafhankelijkheidsplein.
Art for sale at a building near the Onafhankelijkheidsplein.
Side view of the “art” building.

When we arrived, we sat at a table on the patio that overlooks the Suriname River. It was very relaxing, in part, because it was so quiet.
We both opted for a glass of Merlot. For lunch, we both had fish and chips. Shortly after we placed the order, I realized I did not have much Surinamese cash with me. I asked the waitress if the restaurant accepted Visa. She informed me they only took MasterCard. In somewhat of a panic, I asked her where the nearest ATM was located. She said it was about five minutes away. I told her I was going to dash out to get some money. She said there was no need to worry. I should relax and enjoy my lunch. So we booth relaxed and enjoyed lunch. We enjoyed it so much we decided to share a creme brulee for dessert. It was wonderful!

The outdoor dining area of Baka Foto Restaurant.
A panorama of the Suriname River and Paramaribo. The Jules Wijdenboschbrug is on the left of the frame.
View across the Suriname River from the Baka Foto Restaurant.
A colonial house across from Fort Zeelandia.
More colonial houses across from Fort Zeelandia.

I left Leslie at the table, and I began walking to get money. I thought to myself how much simpler it would have been if I had just gotten money at the hotel after we checked-in. The hotel is only about two blocks from the Fort. That is where I decided to go. For security’s sake, I did not want to chance a “public” ATM.
When I arrived, I asked at the front desk of the Royal Torarica, where the ATM was located. They told me they did not have one, but there was a machine at the neighboring Torarica Hotel and Casino. That was another block or so of walking. I went inside, got some money, and then promptly hailed a taxi. For just a few SRD, I was whisked back to the Fort. I paid our bill, and we began to look around the Fort.
Fort Zeelandia dates from about 1613, the oldest building in Paramaribo, began life as a Dutch trading post. The Fort was held for a time by the French and then the British. In 1667, it was taken back by the Dutch and Christened Fort Zeelandia. According to a sign on the property, that was the same year New Amsterdam (present-day New York) was traded for Suriname. It was not a very defensible structure as it changed hands many times. It was even sacked by a French pirate, Jacques Cassard, in 1712. Regardless of its history, it is a site well worth the visit.

Waiting for her husband at the well in Fort Zeelandia.
Detail of a roof in Fort Zeelandia.
One of the Fort Zeelandia cannon at the shore of the Suriname River.
View toward the central courtyard of Fort Zeelandia.
The Fort Zeelandia pharmacy is still on display.
Detail of the pharmacy.
A man walking toward the Baka Foto Restaurant.
An old building near Fort Zeelandia.
The “I Love Suriname” sign near Fort Zeelandia.
Door to an old building near Fort Zeelandia.
Detail of an upper window crisscrossed with barbed wire.
The remnants of the old storehouse at Fort Zeelandia.

We left the Fort, destined for our hotel. Our stroll ended with us obtaining a room key and our bags. After a quick change into bathing suits, we went down to lounge by the pool. That was another area that was so relaxing. There was a water fountain that provided that soothing gurgling sound. One could relax at a table, a lounge chair, or a type of twin bed structure with a loose, fabric sunshade.

An old wooden building on Kleine Water Street.
The bridge over a canal on Kleine Water Street seems to have been completed in 1953.
Three men walking along Kleine Water Street.
The Royal Torarica Hotel.
A very colorful business vehicle.

Adjacent to the pool is a Koy pond. There were numerous, large Koy. Besides, there was a much smaller, but more striking, neon-blue fish. The pond was a favorite with guests. Many of them stopping by to watch the fish for a while before continuing on their way.

The swimming pool area at the Royal Torarica Hotel.
Feeding the fish at the Royal Torarica Hotel.

After the pool, we changed and decided to walk to the Torarica Hotel and Casino. It is the parent hotel of the Royal. Both hotels share the same grounds, which are amazing. They are immaculately cared for and full of tropical plants and flowers.
Our ultimate destination was the building/patio area by the river bank. I thought it would be a relaxing place to have a toddy and watch the sunset. When we got there, the bar portion was closed. Undeterred, we took the opportunity to walk out on the pier, which extends into the Suriname River. Before we got on the dock, we could see several people standing on the pier, looking over the sides. Reaching the others, we found they were watching several egrets, and a snake dining on fish.
Most of the egrets were white, but there was one that was a grayish-blue. On one side of the pier, a white egret was letting a snake flush out the fish. The river was low because the tide was out. The muddy river bank was exposed as were numerous holes. The holes ranged in size from a quarter to a half-dollar. Going from hole to hole was a small snake, I estimate it was about 18 inches long. Periodically the snake would completely disappear into a hole. When that happened, the white egret would get reasonably close to that hole, stand, and wait. Now and then a small fish would jump up from the same hole, and the egret would catch the fish.
Something I found interesting was the little fish near the water’s edge. I believe they are mudfish (Gobidae). Many of them were lying on the mud letting the small ripples from the river wash over them. Quite a few were similar in size to the fish we saw the egret eat. Regardless, none of the dozen or so egrets we saw showed any interest in the mudfish.

A white egret on the banks of the Suriname River.
A snake coming out of a hole on the banks of the Suriname River.
A white egret.
A gray egret.
A gray egret.
Small mudfish on the bank of the Suriname River.
A white egret waiting for the snake to flush out dinner.
A white egret still waiting for dinner.
The pier of the Maritieme Autoriteit Suriname (MAS). This is the Suriname Maritime Authority.

I had been on the pier on a previous journey. For some reason, I have always liked boats and ships. The dock allows a good view of another pier just downriver. That is where the pilot boats dock.
We slowly strolled back to the Royal, enjoying the manicured grounds. When we got back to the hotel, we selected two overstuffed chairs on the patio overlooking the pool. We also picked two glasses of wine. It was around 17:30, which meant the late afternoon light was excellent — the commercial crew we had seen when we first checked-in were taking advantage of that light. The team was now filming on the deck of the pool. They had multiple takes of every shot. It was interesting to watch how a commercial is made.

Patterns on a tile roof at the Royal Torarica Hotel.
The top of a palm tree at the hotel.
Detail of a palm tree.
An eastern statue near the swimming pool at the hotel.

Since we had packed so much into the day already, we decided not to go out for dinner. We walked inside and sat down at a table in the restaurant. We ordered a bottle of Casa Silva Cabernet Sauvignon to go with our meal. As the waiter opened and poured the wine, he mentioned that one of the specials that night was lobster. That piqued Leslie’s interest. She had several queries about the size, how it was cooked, and how it was served. The waiter said he would have the chef come out and explain.

The selection to accompany our meal.

Even though we had said it was not necessary, the executive chef, Floris van Noort, was soon standing at our table. He was a people-person, very friendly. He loved Leslie’s enthusiasm. They both acted as though they were long-lost friends.
The tray he had brought to the table was filled with about a dozen servings of lobster. They each looked like they were ready to eat right then. Chef Floris explained that the meat was from lobster claws. He further told how it had been marinated and how he intended to present the dish. Leslie asked if she could have a surf and turf dinner. The chef said that would be no problem, even though it was not offered on the menu.
The first thing we were served was the cream of vegetable soup in a small demitasse cup. It was just a sample, but good none the less.
Not too long after that, our appetizer showed up. We opted to split Gemarineerde Zalm. That is marinated salmon on toast with a sorbet of cucumber and a jelly of cucumber. It was served on a piece of black slate. Chef Floris came with the waiter and explained the dish to us. We felt like royalty! If someone had told me I would eat sorbet of cucumber and jelly of cucumber, I would have responded they were nuts. Well, they were both fantastic!

The salmon appetizer.

Next up was a bowl of soup, but this was a cream of white asparagus. The chef said the white asparagus had just arrived that day from Amsterdam. He told us we were the first people in Paramaribo to try the white asparagus this season. It was very rich and very delicious. I cannot communicate just how good the soup was.
Our main entree, lobster, and ossenhaas (tenderloin) arrived with another explanation from the chef. The lobster was served on a bed of risotto. The vegetables included peas, green asparagus, and some seagrass (it had a slightly salty taste). He had also drizzled a couple of sauces on the plate. Quite frankly I was a little nervous about the steaks because one was about twice as thick as the other, but Leslie and I had ordered ours done the same way. I thought for sure the thicker steak would be under-cooked. I could not have been more wrong. The certified Angus beef was cooked superbly, melting in my mouth.
We finished our meal with a creme brulee — wow, twice in one day!

The main dish of lobster claws.
The dessert course.
Leslie with her new buddy, Chef Floris van Noort.

The restaurant and the chef were both so amazing we ended up eating there three nights out of the five we were in Paramaribo. I highly recommend the restaurant and the hotel.
One of the days during our stay, we discovered another fish pond. That pond had some massive catfish. Some of their heads looked to be at least one foot across. There was also an arapaima in the pond. They are native to many of the rivers in South America. We recognized it right away because we had seen an episode of River Monsters in which the host, Jeremy Wade, caught an arapaima. This particular fish was around four feet long. They can grow to between six and eight feet in length, weighing up to a couple of hundred pounds.

An arapaima fish in the pond at the Royal Torarica Hotel.

Wednesday, while I was at work, Leslie had a massage. She raved about it so much I decided to schedule a massage for the next afternoon. That was my first ever massage. It was very relaxing. I was shocked at the price, $48US for a 60-minute massage. That seemed very reasonable compared to what I have seen at other hotels.
Thursday evening, after my massage, we decided to try our luck in the casino. There is a brand new Ramada across the street from the Royal. It has a casino. We walked in, looked around, and settled on some of the old-style quarter slot machines. We cashed in $50SRD each for a cup of quarter-size tokens. That is roughly $17US. We made a pact to only use the tokens in our container to feed the machine, saving our winnings. I broke even exactly. Leslie lost $20SRD.
We took what was left and cashed in for paper money. We took that and went to an automated roulette wheel. We played until we both had zero left. It was entertaining, we did get a couple of drinks, and it did not cost an arm and a leg.
Even though I worked each day, this was one of the best excursions we have taken in quite some time.

An orchid on the grounds of the Royal Torarica Hotel.
A beautiful flowering tree on the hotel property.
Detail of the flowering tree.

Suriname on TDY

Suriname on TDY

Paramaribo, Suriname – October 8, 2012

 

The driver dropped me at Ogle International Airport in Georgetown, Guyana this morning to catch a flight to Paramaribo, Suriname. It was at about 07:00. At the ticket counter, they weighed my bag. One is only allowed 33 pounds in one bag on Gum Air, also known as Trans Guyana Airways. My bag was 30 pounds. Much to my surprise, they weighed me too, 1/8 of a ton!

At about 07:30 the customs and immigration area opened. I stood in line to get the exit stamp on my passport. Other residents and visitors must then pay GD2,500 (US$12.26) as an exit tax. As a diplomat on official business, I did not have to pay the fee.

After stamping my passport, I went to an area behind customs and immigration where the x-ray machine and the metal detector are. I did not have to put my bag through the x-ray machine. Additionally, I was ushered around the metal detector. I can only assume all of that happened because of my diplomatic passport. The other side of the machines opened up into an air-conditioned waiting area.

In the waiting area, there were about 20 people. At 08:00, about eight of those people boarded a plane for Letham, Guyana. From the windows, I could see the lone runway numbered as 7/25. The wind was out of the northeast. I saw a Canadian King Air taxi onto the runway. That plane taxied to the end of the runway, turned around, and took off using runway 7, into the wind. As a former pilot, I know that is how it is supposed to work. Much to my surprise, the Letham plane taxied to the runway and took off on 25, downwind! I guess it is OK if the aircraft made it safely!

My plane boarded at 08:25 for an 08:30 departure. The seating on the small Cessna Caravan was two seats for the pilot and co-pilot (although we did not have a co-pilot), three single seats on one side and four bench seats across the small aisle that was for two people each. At the very rear of the airplane was one seat by itself. I was the first on the plane, so I took that single seat. It had more legroom than I have ever seen on a plane before. There was plenty of room on the floor beside my seat for my bag.

Kind of tight quarters in the airplane.

 

As it turned out, there were 11 people on the 12 seat airplane. Once everyone was seated, the pilot turned around and had the following words for us:

“This plane is headed to Paramaribo, Suriname.”

“Our flight time is one hour, 20 minutes.”

“Does everyone have their seat belts on?”

“Are there any questions?”

It was not exactly a United Airlines type briefing.

With no questions forthcoming, he turned to his left and closed his door. As soon as the door closed, he started the engine, and we began to taxi. It was precisely 08:30. We took off using runway 7, thankfully!

Shortly after we were airborne, the plane turned toward the southeast. That had us paralleling the Guyana coast. We gradually climbed above the scattered clouds. If I had to guess I would say we leveled off at about 10,000 feet. Overall the flight was incredibly smooth.

The home of the president of Guyana can be seen in the center of the photo on the beach.
Various neighborhoods and the Atlantic Ocean.
The Mahaica River emptying into the Atlantic Ocean.
Looking out of the rear windows of the airplane.

At about 09:05, we crossed into Suriname airspace. I found it interesting to watch the color variations in the Atlantic along both coasts. It ranged from a chocolaty brown to a blue-green in the far distance. The very muddy water along this part of South America is due to the silt carried by the Amazon River and the many other rivers that drain the rain forests.

The Saramacca and Coppename Rivers meet at the Atlantic Ocean.
A coastal marsh at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.
A partial view of the Suriname coast.
Some very odd-looking canals.
Flying over the jungle canopy.

At about 09:50 (10:50 Suriname time) we landed. In addition to being first on the plane, I was also first off of the flight. That meant I was the first through customs and immigration. From there, I walked out into the general terminal area, where the management officer from the embassy met me.

Passing a cemetery on the final approach to Zorg and Hoop International Airport in Paramaribo, Suriname.
Preparing a plane for its next flight.
Helicopter lessons…

After stopping by his home for a little while, he and his wife took me to lunch. We went to an Indonesian restaurant, Sarinah, located at Verl. Gemenelandsweg 187. It is the very first time I have ever had Indonesian food. The atmosphere was very visually stimulating, including two fish ponds. The restaurant is open-air; however, a roof does cover the space.

We ordered three different entrees and shared them family style. One was deep-fried tofu with shredded chicken and rice squares. The second entree was fried but not battered jumbo shrimp. Lastly, we had a spicy (not too hot) chicken dish that served in a dark broth. Also in the soup were slivers of pickles, tomatoes, and other assorted vegetables served with steamed rice. It was all delicious. My first try at Indonesian food was a huge success!

The management officer pronounced the name of the town as something like Pamarbo. That is different than the Spanish pronunciation which audibles each vowel, and one ends up with Paramaribo. Regardless, he says the locals say Pamarbo.

Later that night, after dinner, I went to my hotel room. From the fifth floor, I looked out the window down to the parking lot. I could see hundreds of insects swarming around the parking lot lights. Periodically I would also see several bats fly through the “all-night buffet.”

The view from the Marriott Courtyard.

Bats dining near a light in the parking lot.
Some examples of the Suriname currency.

 

For dinner, I had stayed at the hotel. I had a fillet Mignon, garlic mashed potatoes, and vegetables. It was fantastic. I think it was the best meal I have had since I left the U.S. Before the meal I was served some whole-grain bread with herb butter. That was also wonderful even though I was one of only two people in the restaurant.

My usual breakfast at the hotel was a starter plate of pineapple cubes and grapefruit wedges with black coffee. Then I would get a made-to-order omelet with cheese, ham, and mushrooms. To accompany the eggs, I had a couple of strips of bacon and some spiced potatoes. Always amazing!

The Suriname River.
The river-facing facade of the Marriott Courtyard.

After breakfast I had a taxi take me to the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral. I arrived at about 08:30 to find it closed. A security guard informed me it would open at 11:00.

Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral undergoing renovations.
Detail of the main entrance to the cathedral.
One needs to watch for falling items!
The National Folk Music School is across the street from the cathedral.
Some traffic in front of the cathedral.
A before and after example of some of the buildings in Paramaribo.

From the cathedral, I strolled to the Presidential Palace. It is undergoing a complete restoration. The coat of arms above the main entrance was very ornate.

The Presidential Palace undergoing renovations.
Detail of the crest on the Presidential Palace.

I walked across to the flag square. It is an area in a park that had nearly 30 flags from around the world. I do not know why they used those particular flags.

The United States flag at Flag Square.
There are numerous flags at Flag Square.
Some art at the Parliament Building.

After a little more walking, I found myself in the area of Fort Zeelandia, also the location of the “I Love Suriname” sculpture. Not far away was a sculpture of a toucan bird in front of the Nola Hatterman Art Academy. The art academy was very near the old fort. The fort had been established in 1667, right on the Suriname River. I was not able to go in because it was closed for a local holiday.

The I Love Suriname sign.
Sculpture in front of the Nola Hatterman Art Academy.
The Nola Hatterman Art Academy.
A postal box at Fort Zeelandia.
Detail of the post box.
A statue and canon at Fort Zeelandia.

Leaving the fort area, I walked along the river for a couple of hundred meters toward old town Paramaribo. This area is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, known as the Historic Inner City of Paramaribo. Dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, the UNESCO site notes that Paramaribo’s “original and highly characteristic street plan of the historic center remains intact. Its buildings illustrate the gradual fusion of Dutch architectural influence with traditional local techniques and materials.”

The sign as one approaches the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is old town Paramaribo.
Flowering hedge.
The Presidential Palace is just across from Flag Square.

As I continued along, I ultimately found myself at the entrance to Palmetuin (the Palmtree Garden). The Palmetuin has hundreds of enormous palm trees throughout the garden. It was a beautiful setting. Several people were preparing for a festival celebrating Maroon Day. The booths set up when I arrived were selling food and drinks. I thought for sure there would be some artists or craftspeople there, but I did not see one. I did discover later that there were in fact crafts at the festival; however, by that time, I was back at my hotel, out of the rain. Now that I know what happens, maybe I can do a better job of catching the action next year.

One of the entries to Palmentuin Gardens.
A canal in the Palmetuin Garden.
The Orange Blues Bar is just across from the park.
An adventure rentals business.

Maroon Day celebrates the signing of the first treaty between the Dutch colonists and the Maroon peoples on October 10, 1760. The Maroons were made up of six nations of peoples indigenous to Suriname.

After sitting on a bench for a while and watching the people, I began my trek back to the cathedral. When I arrived, it was still not open. Shortly a man did come and open the doors and windows of the cathedral. I walked in and found myself in awe. According to the Suriname people, this is the largest wooden structure in the Caribbean, maybe even the tallest wooden structure in all of South America. I think the people of Guyana would take exception to these statements. I have heard similar descriptions of St. George’s Cathedral in Georgetown. I have not yet been to that cathedral so I cannot offer my own opinion.

There has been a cathedral (or church) at this site since 1824. The cathedral in its current form has been around since 1883. A full restoration of the interior of the cathedral was recently completed.

The twin towers at the front of the cathedral are about 40 meters tall. I am not yet sure how that compares to the one in Georgetown. One thing I am sure of is the color. The cathedral in Georgetown is white, very common in the Caribbean. The cathedral in Paramaribo is a yellowish color, really quite appealing.

Above the central aisle from the entrance to the altar were eight large chandeliers. Along the sides were another 20 smaller chandeliers. Those were all hanging from the cedar wood which is everywhere inside the cathedral. The unfinished cedar wood planks and the nail stains make for some interesting and eye-pleasing designs. Each of the planks has its unique color, obtained over the last 225 or so years of naturally curing in place.

The interior of the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral.

Another view of the cathedral.
The very large crucifix in the cathedral.

There was a multitude of hand-carved designs throughout the cathedral, mostly at the top of columns and along the many arches. Each was very intricate and beautiful.

The stations of the cross are also wooden, and also hand-painted. The three-dimensional quality and the color bring on an almost life-like appearance to the story.

Station I of the Stations of the Cross.
Station II of the Stations of the Cross.
Station III of the Stations of the Cross.
Station IV of the Stations of the Cross.
Station V of the Stations of the Cross.
Station VI of the Stations of the Cross.
Station VII of the Stations of the Cross.
Station VIII of the Stations of the Cross.
Station IX of the Stations of the Cross.
Station X of the Stations of the Cross.
Station XI of the Stations of the Cross.
Station XII of the Stations of the Cross.
Station XIII of the Stations of the Cross.
Station XIV of the Stations of the Cross.
Detail of a part of the ceiling at the cathedral.

Just as impressive and colorful is the large crucifix hanging above the altar. I estimate it is about 10 feet by 15 feet in size. It dominates the open air space above the altar. It is suspended from the ceiling by large cables.

Looking up to the crucifix.

There were just a few items in the cathedral that were not wood; one was a marble Pieta, and the other was a mosaic depicting the Madonna and Child. While these were very beautiful in their own right, they were almost out of place.

Madonna and Child artwork.
The Pieta as viewed by an angel.

 

After walking through the cathedral, I sat in the back pew for a long time just soaking in all of the sights. That also gave me time to sketch the hand-carved design that was at the top of each column.

We saw a lot of churches and cathedrals while we lived in Europe, but this cathedral is by far one of the most amazing I have ever seen.

While I was sitting at the rear of the cathedral, it began to rain. It was one of those Caribbean drenchers. It was raining so hard that I could feel the spray carried in on the breeze from the main door at the rear of the cathedral.

After sitting there for some time, I asked the man that had opened if he would be so kind as to call a taxi for me. He did so. I arrived back at the hotel in time to take a nap.

The side of the worship area.
View toward the rear of the cathedral.
The door to one of the bell towers of the cathedral.

My final day in Paramaribo was a little hectic. At about 13:30, while I was at the embassy, I received an e-mail from Georgetown. It was somewhat cryptic to someone that did not know the back-story (like me), saying something to the effect that if employees felt uncomfortable staying at the embassy (in Georgetown), they could be released by their supervisor to go home. I read that and was both concerned and confused. I responded with an e-mail trying to determine what was going on. The response I received was that there was concern over riots that were sparked by the police shooting a young man. The next thing I knew, I was being asked to get the next flight out of Paramaribo.

By the time I got confirmation that I had a ticket on the 16:00 flight from Paramaribo it was already 14:40. The ambassador’s driver took me back to my hotel. I had not yet packed. I planned to pack that night for my scheduled Saturday morning departure. I quickly threw my things in my bag and dashed down to the lobby to check out. That whole process took much longer than I could have imagined. Part of the reason for that was because the hotel wanted to give me a partial refund of US$88 because of my early check-out.

Finally, at about 15:10, the driver and I departed the hotel for the Zorg and Hoop International Airport. Traffic was against us. Since it was Friday, the government offices closed at 15:00. That meant we were fighting all of that traffic trying to get out of downtown.

We arrived at the airport at about 15:35. The lady we spoke to said that they had closed the flight at 15:30. Even though a seat was available and the departure was not until 16:00, she said she was unable to check me in for the flight. The next best thing was to book me on a 07:30 flight the next day. I asked her to go ahead and do that. She did so and then asked me for US$151 to buy the ticket. I suggested she could use the funding from the ticket for the Friday flight. She said that I forfeited the ticket because I missed the flight. So, I asked if she would take a credit card. She could not. I ended up giving her the US$88 refund I had received and another SRD210 to buy my ticket for Saturday.

When that transaction was complete, the driver took me back to the Marriott. I checked in again for one night. I ended up exactly one floor above where I had been earlier, 614 versus 514.

At 06:00 the next day, the driver took me back to the airport. I made it on the flight and back to Georgetown with zero problems.

Last Time in Segovia

Last Time in Segovia

Segovia, Spain – May 13, 2012

We headed out today with Tio y Tia (uncle and aunt) to the beautiful city of Segovia, Spain. We arrived at about 10:00 and quickly made our way to la Criolla restaurant. It is right beside the aqueduct. We sat there and enjoyed a mixture of full breakfasts and pan con tomate (bread with a tomato sauce).

Sitting outside la Criolla, admiring the aqueduct, and waiting for coffee.
Still waiting for coffee.

It was apparent that the day would be something special. In the central plaza by the aqueduct, there was a merry go round. That is not normal.

With our appetites sated, we decided it was time to explore the town. We decided to climb the stairs in between the tourist information office and the aqueduct to get to the top of the old city wall. After several breaks, we made it to the top with no problems. From that point, we continued toward Plaza Mayor. When we arrived at the plaza, we saw several triangular banners throughout the square. On the banner, there was a large block of a capital “T.” Imposed on the T was a hand that appeared to have strings reaching down toward a small “t.” It reminded us of marionettes. Sure enough, as we walked through the plaza, we saw people setting up for the puppet shows that would follow shortly. The festival is known as Titirimundi. That explains the letter “T.”

Climbing the stairs near the aqueduct.

Many of the buildings in Segovia have textured facades. This is a very good example.
Lighting the way…

Along the way, we came across a traffic jam at a parking garage entry. The reason for the jam was that the entrance to the garage is by an elevator only. With the cars backed up, heaven help a driver who needed to exit at that time — an odd scene.

The queue to get into the parking garage.
Self-portrait while Aunt Ann patiently waits for the nut to be finished.
The initial view of the cathedral.
Plaza Mayor with the cathedral looming in the background.
Window shoppers at the Kukul store.
Detail of the Kukul sign.

We continued beyond the cathedral about a block or so and then began to double back.  From the south side of the plaza, we took the main commercial street, Calle Isabel la Católica.  It became increasingly crowded with people.  About halfway between the Plaza Mayor and the aqueduct, we came across one of the puppet shows.  The puppeteers sang and danced to well known American songs while moving their puppets.  We stood and watched them for several minutes.

A puppet show during the puppet festival.

From the puppet show, we resumed our journey toward the aqueduct. When we arrived at that plaza, Plaza del Azequeo, it bustled with people. Many booths and vendors filled the streets. Also, people were doing various forms of live entertainment. Directly under the aqueduct, there was a small four-piece band and several groups of women. The women wore some traditional costumes. We asked one group whether they had made their costumes or purchased them. Of course, they said they made them all by hand. They seemed to appreciate the fact that we showed genuine interest in their handiwork. They invited me to take a photograph of Leslie with the group.

Each of the groups of women had a sign that had various slogans and depictions of the Virgin Mary. They were preparing for a procession of some sort. We did not hang around to see.

The aqueduct as seen from Calle Cervantes.

A religious festival in progress.
One of the festival participants dancing to the music of the four-piece band.
An intricate headdress.
Leslie with some of her newfound friends.
Two festival participants stop to pose for photographs.

Back at the car, we set the GPS for San Ildefonso. We thought it would be an excellent idea to stop by the palace at la Granja and stroll through the gardens. I was very disappointed there were no flowers in the garden. That made our walk a little anti-climactic.

As soon as we finished our walk, we got back in the car and headed back home.

Some flowers (virtually the only ones we saw) near La Granja.

The Royal Gate entrance to La Granja.
A sculpture in the gardens of La Granja.
The Royal Palace at La Granja.