Vaduz, Liechtenstein

Hotel Vaduzerhof in Vaduz, Liechtenstein

Liechtenstein

Liechtenstein is a German-speaking 25 km long principality of about 60 square miles between Austria and Switzerland. It’s known for its medieval castles, alpine landscapes, and villages linked by a network of trails. The capital, Vaduz, is a cultural and financial center. Liechtenstein is the 6th smallest country in the world, and one of the wealthiest. Bordering Switzerland and Austria, it is landlocked by landlocked countries, making it one of the only 2 double landlocked countries in the world (the other being Uzbekistan.)

government building

The area has been inhabited since the Neolithic age and was once part of the Roman Empire. Over the centuries it had a number of different rulers and and occupying nations. It became an Imperial Principality in 1719, and a sovereign state in 1806. Many people left due to poverty in the early 19th century, with economic conditions starting to improve in the mid 1800’s, and worsening after the first world war. The boom in the economy didn’t come until after the second world war when the country quickly became industrialized. It is currently one of the wealthiest countries per capita in the world with an average annual income over $700,000. Though the country is known for banking, manufacturing still plays an important role in the economy. Money in Liechtenstein is the Swiss franc, whose value is currently slightly higher than that of the US dollar.

Vaduz Castle

Liechtenstein’s capital city Vaduz sits on the Rhine River near the Swiss boarder and is home to Vaduz Castle, a royal family residence perched high on a hill overlooking the city and dating back to the 12th century. It has been the official residence of the Prince of Liechtenstein since 1939. The castle is the symbol of Liechtenstein. The town’s other most notable building is the Cathedral of Saint Florin built in 1873. There is no railway station in Vaduz, but a short bus ride from nearby Switzerland will get you there.

mountain view in Vaduz

Things to do in Vaduz

Start at the Liechtenstein Center tourist office where you can find out all sorts of information and things to do. See Vaduz castle, visit museums, see the giant postage stamps painted on the sidewalk, look for fine arts, see the cathedral, or try wine tasting at the Prince of Liechtenstein winery. Picturesque scenery is pretty much everywhere. Ride the city’s tourist road train for a narrated tour of some of the town’s main attractions. Visit the Mittledorf area or the red house for a look at traditional architecture, check out the chocolate shop in the town center. There’s also a main square and town hall. Outside of town there are hiking trails.

quirky seating outside a café in Vaduz included a gondola

All of that information came from online before our trip. When we actually got there we went to the tourist office and found out that some things are seasonal and were closed or not operating during our visit. You can’t go inside the castle, though you can go up the hill for a better view of it from outside.

Cathedral of St Florin

The Cathedral of St. Florin was built in 1874 on foundations from an earlier medieval site. It was originally a parish church, but given cathedral status in 1997. It is also referred to as the Vaduz Cathedral. Tourists are allowed inside when the church is not in use.

inside the cathedral

Our hotel, which was called Hotel Vaduzerhof, was at the edge of an area called
Städtle, which had all sorts things like shops, restaurants, and even museums surrounding a town square, and all connected by wide walking pathways and no roads. There are government buildings at the far end. Since the hotel was at the edge and on a corner it had roads on two sides. It was a nice hotel and the room was pretty spacious.

Städtle

Our hotel room had a balcony and a view overlooking the main square of Städtle. The square had an outdoor ice arena which had no activity going on other than what looked like people working on it when we first walked by so we thought they were just getting it set up. Later on people were skating there. After dark they added colored lights and music. We could also see a bit of Vaduz Castle, perched on the edge of a cliff high above.

view of the skating rink at night from our hotel balcony

The hotel was either fairly new or recently remodeled. The rooms were very clean with modern decor. It had more outlets than the older hotels we had been in so far, and better lighting, but still no USB ports. The room had a big very modern bathroom and beds with the same sort of individual sleeping bag style sheet/quilt combo the Swiss places had. There was a desk, closet, and luggage rack. There were a bath towel and hand towel for each person, but even this nicer hotel had no washcloths. I don’t know what Europeans have against washcloths. They are quite useful when you want to get clean after all. There was just some sort of all-in-one soap, shampoo, and bodywash combo in the shower so it was a good thing I had some individual toiletries of my own. My hair would have the feel and consistency of straw if I used that sort of combo product on it. The hotel had free wifi of a faster speed than some of the other places we stayed. Unlike most hotels in Europe, this one had free breakfast. While common in American hotels, this was the first time we found it anywhere we’ve been in Europe, though our next hotel in Innsbruck, Austria had a nice free breakfast buffet too. This was before Covid so they may not have it any more.

room in Hotel Vaduzerhof

Other things generally included in American lodgings, but missing nearly everywhere we stayed on this trip are a coffeemaker and a clock. Not that I drink coffee, but it is a means of heating water which is useful for making things like tea – or instant oatmeal in places that don’t serve breakfast.

residential street in Vaduz

Of all the places we went in Europe this trip Vaduz was the hardest to get to and had the least to do. Unless you want to go to Liechtenstein just for the sake of going to Liechtenstein (which is why we went there) it’s not really worth the hassle unless you have  time to explore beyond Vaduz. I would have enjoyed the trails if we’d had time to hike them and known where to find them and how to get there. Some tourist activities like the tram train that takes people to all the sights are just for summer. Some of the buildings look genuinely ancient, others look like they are more recently built, but in the older style as if they were made to look old. Some are entirely modern.

this crazy art museum was just up the hill from our hotel

We only stayed one night in Vaduz and arrived mid afternoon so we just walked around looking at stuff and had dinner at a Chinese place, which had quite good food. We found a Swiss chocolate shop with some different things than we had seen in Switzerland so we gave it a try and they were really quite tasty.

chocolate shop

When I looked up Liectenstein online before our trip, everything I found said that there was no train station in Liechtenstein, but it was a short bus ride there from the station at Buchs, Switzerland. We had to take an extra train to get to Buchs from Sargans, which was about a 9-minute ride. At Buchs we found no bus directly to Liechtenstein, but we could take one to Schaan and get to Vaduz on a different bus from there. As it turned out the bus from Schaan also went to Sargans so we could have skipped the extra train to Buchs and taken a bus directly to Liechtenstein from the train station in Sargans.

foot bridge

The other thing nobody mentioned when I was looking for information before the trip was that there is more than one bus stop in Vaduz. It stops about every couple blocks all the way through town. Only Vaduz Post actually said Vaduz on the scrolling readerboard on the bus that listed all the upcoming stops, but the driver started announcing Vaduz this and Vaduz that several stops prior. Vaduz Städtle was where we should have gotten off as that was right by our hotel, but we didn’t know that at the time and got off at Vaduz Post which seemed kind of central and like a main stop. Google maps then said we had to walk back a few blocks to get to the hotel. The weather was nice that day and it wasn’t too far so it wasn’t really a problem.

there are giant postage stamps painted on the sidewalk in Städtle

We had an early train the next morning and avoided the hassle of having to catch 2 different busses as well as not having to depend on them to get to the train on time by taking a taxi to the station since there were no Ubers in Liechtenstein. The hotel people arranged for the taxi in the evening so all we had to do the next morning was go outside and meet it.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2020

 

Posted in Europe | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The $6.95 Shore Excursion

People's Square in Dalian, China

flowers in pots made to look like a garden at People’s Square

Shortly after booking our 28-day cruise from Vancouver BC, Canada to Shanghai, China on Holland America Westerdam I browsed through the shore excursions offered for the journey to get some sort of an idea about what we’d find in the various ports. While we do occasionally book ship’s excursions, in most ports we just do our own thing. Looking at the excursions they have is a good place to start for information about things available to do there though even if you aren’t planning on booking any so I often look through what the ship has available just to see what’s there.

Dalian China

once a Russian castle, now the most expensive hotel in town

Port by port I scanned the offerings until I came to Dalian, China. There I found a bus tour called Panoramic Dalian offered for $6.95 per person. Short of just walking around near the ship you can’t do much of anything on shore for that price because even transportation to get somewhere to do something on your own often costs more than that. Not really caring what the tour actually was I booked it, not really expecting the sale to go through since that was obviously an error – but it did. So for the two of us we had a bus tour booked for a total of $13.90. After the booking went through they sent confirmation saying that the sale was complete. When I looked again a couple months later the price for that tour was $69.50. Somebody had obviously put the decimal point in the wrong place on the original posting.

Beida Bridge house

house by Beida Bridge that resembles a castle

I kind of wondered what would happen once we got on the ship, but the tickets were delivered to our cabin as usual and all was well until I looked at my onboard account and found a charge for that excursion at the full price, which meant I had now paid for the same excursion twice. Once at the original discount and once for the full price. Complaining at the front desk about being charged for an excursion I’d already paid for originally just had the girl there saying she’d send a notice to the head of shore excursions and they’d get back to me. I waited a couple days and never heard from anyone so I went back to the front desk intending to set up an appointment with the head of shore excursions.

Green Hill view

view from Green Hill

The guy there that day was much more helpful, saying that a glitch in the system had caused it to charge people for excursions they had already paid for and that the charges would be removed. I asked him to make sure it was the new charge and not the original one that got removed as I had bought it at a fantastic discount and felt they were obligated to honor that price. After all when you buy something at a store they can’t come along 6 months later and charge your credit card 10 times more in hopes that you don’t notice. He clicked a few computer keys, looked extremely surprised, and whispered across the desk in awe and wonder that I had found it at that price. Apparently he did not want any other passengers to overhear or know I’d paid so little. He did agree that since they sold it to me for $6.95 they had to honor the sale. He said it might take a couple days, but the two charges of $69.50 (one each for my husband and I) would get removed, which they did.

People's Square in Dalian, China

people feeding pigeons at People’s Square

Our tickets said to meet in the theater at 9:15 for a 9:30 departure. We got there at 9:00 and still ended up on the last bus. Somehow no matter how early we arrive for ship’s excursions we nearly always end up on the straggler’s bus. This was our first port in China so we had to go through customs. There were 7 busses for this tour. They called the first one early and ours late according to the scheduled departure time due to the length of time it took to get through customs.

Dalian shell museum

giant shell near the shell museum

I’m not sure if they intentionally assign the best guides to the early busses, but it sometimes seems that way. On the rare occasions when we’ve got the first bus we’ve usually had decent guides, but on the last bus we’ve had terrible ones more often than not. Our guide this tour was a young girl fresh out of college where she’d been an English major. She was very nice, quite friendly, and knowledgeable about the places we went, but in spite of her major she struggled to find the English words for the things she wanted to say. Still with that being her only negative issue for a last bus guide she was top notch, and definitely better than a lot of guides we’ve had in other places. (Herculaneum, Rome, and Havana -which had only one bus- come to mind for particularly bad guides.)

windmill

windmill seen from Beida Bridge

The tour was called Panoramic Dalian and had the following description:

Cruise ship description – Visit Dalian from the comfort of a motor coach. You’ll begin with a drive around Zhongshan Square as your guide explains a brief history of buildings lining the square. Built in 1899 by the Russians, this is the oldest square in Dalian. Next drive to the Green Hill where the TV tower is located and enjoy a panoramic view of the Green Hill observation deck. Next you’ll drive through the city and its main street, Zhongshan Road past People’s Square for a photo stop en route to Xinghai Square for a brief stop for photos. This large square was built in 1997 to commemorate the return of Hong Kong to China. The square offers a view of the massive Dalian International Convention Center and nearby Yellow Sea. Continue on with an orientation drive along Dalian’s most beautiful coastal road and enjoy the scenery along with a photo stop at Beida Bridge before returning to the ship.

Zhongshan Square

Is it really a square when it’s round?

The first square we circled around in the bus was actually a circle in the middle of a roundabout in the road.

Dalian, China

pathway leading down from the Green Hill viewpoint

After driving for a bit we stopped at a viewpoint where we could see some sort of cablecar ride going up a hill with a tower on top. The viewpoint had flowers and shrubs and other greenery and a view overlooking the city. It also had a pathway with stairs leading down into a wooded area, but there was no time to walk down the path to see where it went.

TV tower in Dalian, China

Dalian TV Tower

According to the excursion description this would be Green Hill and the tower with the cablecar ride must be the TV tower.

People's Square in Dalian, China

People’s Square

Next we stopped at a large square somewhere in the city. It had green space, many flowers in pots grouped together behind a little white fence so they looked like a garden, trees that must have had some sort of issue because they all seemed to have poles holding them up, large spaces that looked like fountains with no water coming out of them at that time, and a very tall flagpole with a Chinese flag. There were locals there with small children feeding pigeons. By the excursion description this would be People’s Square.

Dalian, China

Xinghai Square

Our longest stop brought us to what according to the excursion description is Xinghai Square. Our guide called it open book square and said it was the opening of a new chapter in China’s history. We took a walk through a parklike area with grass and bushes throughout the square and sculptures along the edges. From there we could see a building that looked like a castle, which our guide said was the most expensive hotel in town now at $200 a night, but it had originally been built by the Russians for their own use when they ruled the area. White sculptures along the edges of the expansive field included windsurfers, hurdlers and a sailboat as well as other things.

Xinghai Square in Dalian, China

open book monument

From there we crossed a street to a giant cement monument next to the sea, which must be what she referred to as the open book. It looked like a place people would love to go skateboarding, but nobody was. It’s probably not allowed.

Dalian, China

horizontal sculpture commemorating the return of Hong Kong to China after 100 years of British rule

Not far from the giant cement book a long ground level horizontal sculpture had a row of footprints down the center. The guide mentioned that it was a monument of footprints commemorating the return of Hong Kong to China after 100 years of British rule. The youngest person’s print came from a 1-year-old and the oldest from a 100-year-old.

Dalian, China

Xinghai Square

Xinghai Square is the largest city square in the world at 1.1 million square meters, which is 4 times the size of Tiananmen Square in Beijng. The area was formerly a landfill with reconstruction starting in 1993 and finishing in 1998.

bridge in Dalian, China

bridge view by the open book monument

There was a view of a giant bridge and some boats along the shore. Xinghai Park alongside this square has an amusement park with rides next to the walkway by the open book monument, and beyond that the Shell Museum, out front of which people could rent peddle cars to ride around the square. The Shell Museum is all about shellfish research and exhibition. It has over 50,000 shells and fossils on display in 4 stories of exhibits.

amusement park in Dalian, China

looking into the amusement park near the open book sculpture

This area would be a great place to go if you had some time to spend there. The park has a lot of other tourist attractions including Sun Asia Ocean World which has sea, coral, and polar environments, dinosaur fossil displays and the world’s longest “submarine channel,” which is an underwater tunnel with fish swimming around it that people walk through, not a channel for submarine navigation. The park also has offshore boats, sea bungee jumping, a water park and a beach. We didn’t get to see any of that other than a glimpse of the amusement park and the outside of the shell museum as we walked from the monuments to the bus.

Chinese street cleaner

street cleaner on the coastal highway

Next the bus took a scenic drive along the coast. One thing we did not see was much litter alongside the road. It’s not that Chinese are so much cleaner than most of the rest of the world, just that they have someone to pick it all up – which we saw in the little old guy pushing a cart along the edge of the street cleaning up anything he found.

Beida Bridge in China

Beida Bridge

When we got to Beida Bridge the bus stopped to let everyone out for a walk across the bridge, though a few people chose to stay on the bus. The bridge offered great views of the sea and a windmill. About halfway across there was a peek-a-boo view of the city and on the far side a castle-like house clung to the side of a cliff. From the parking lot on the far side there was a distant view of a lighthouse on a cliff above a beach with some buildings between cliffs.

Beida Bridge view

city view from Beida Bridge

This tour allowed us to see a lot of the town that we would not have gotten to on our own and to know that Dalian would be a nice place to visit with more time to spend there. Probably the best $13.90 I ever spent, especially considering the transportation alone would cost more than that if we explored the port on our own on anything other than our own feet. Our guide also had some interesting things to say. One of them was how thrilled her parents were that their one child was a girl rather than a boy. Apparently it’s tradition for the parents to buy a house for their sons, but since her parents had a daughter they could afford to do some traveling while their friends with sons had no money for that sort of thing.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2020
Posted in China, Holland America, Shore Excursions, Westerdam | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Packing Light

packing for a month-long journey on land and sea in a carry-on size bag, backpack, and travel purse (plus a waist wallet for keeping important stuff safe on the trains)

Before our cruise on the MSC Lirica from Venice to Dubai, we decided to fly into Switzerland and make our way to Venice by train with several stops along the way. Not wanting to drag a large suitcase around on the trains, I decided to bring only what I could fit into a carry-on size bag, backpack, and travel purse. Further complicating the issue of bringing a limited amount of stuff for a month-long trip, we needed cold weather clothes for traveling through the Alps in November, hot weather clothes for the middle east, and things to wear on the ship.

one side for clothes, the other for shoes and everything else – and this bag has a flap that will zip over that side keeping it all secure

Of course the easiest way to lighten the load is to wear the things that take up the most room like boots, jacket, and the thickest pair of warm socks. Layering a sweatshirt under the jacket helps too. Whatever is worn is not packed so that frees up the amount of space those items would have taken. Bringing along laundry supplies like handwash soap and a clothesline is essential as there is no possible way to pack that light and have enough clean clothes to last the entire journey. We did make sure to book a BnB in Venice with a washer/dryer so we could have everything clean before boarding the ship, but for the rest of the stops along the way and once on board it was handwash and hang to dry. (Cruise ships do offer laundry service, but it costs a fortune and this particular ship has no self serve guest laundries.)

boots go with warm clothes for Europe and formal enough clothes for the cruise

The key here is to pack clothes that can be used for multiple purposes rather than used only for a one-time event. Running clothes and formal wear are prime examples of things with a single purpose. For those things I normally have entire outfits just for that, including shoes. Those clothes and shoes are not something that would be used for anything else, so for this trip they’d be excess baggage. My solution for that was to get an ankle-high pair of black sketchers boots that are warm and comfortable enough to wear around Europe in the cold, but look nice enough to use as my formal night shoes. Black dress yoga pants and a not-bulky sweater type shirt don’t take up a lot of space, look decent enough to wear to dinner on formal night without being too fancy to wear other times, and each can be dressed down further when combined with other things.

a t-shirt turns into a long-sleeved shirt with long johns, and the formal night shirt turns casual paired with jeans while the dress yoga pants go casual paired with the t-shirt

I cut down on the long-sleeved shirts needed by packing a couple lightweight long-johns shirts of the nice-looking silky variety that don’t take up much space and can be worn under a t-shirt in cold places. Then the t-shirt can of course be worn on its own in warmer areas so it does double duty. For running clothes I brought pants that aren’t specifically for running, but will work for that and can also be worn other times. One long-sleeved and one short sleeved running shirt that can also do double duty completed the ensemble. The long-sleeved one looks nice enough to wear to dinner, and the short-sleeved one works as a t-shirt or even as a swim-suit cover up. Speaking of swim suits, the bottoms to the one I brought are actually athletic shorts so can be used in or out of the water, and the shoes are sketchers go trail ultra which can be worn for running or just for walking around places.

for warmer climates the same t-shirt without long johns and paired with shorts

Even though we didn’t go to the most pick-pocket prone parts of Europe, we did get some theft proof backpacks for traveling around by train. We also had waist wallets which you can wear underneath your pants to protect the really important stuff like passports and credit cards while traveling. Our suitcases were hard-sided iFly bags, which have no outer pockets, just a central zipper with 2 ends that can be locked together. So nobody could take anything from our backpacks or luggage when we weren’t looking. They’d have to steal the entire thing which would have been hard not to notice – except on the one train where the only luggage rack was by the carriage door rather than above the seats. Those precautions may not have been necessary this trip, but there are places in Europe where they absolutely would be so it’s better to be safe than sorry. Of course when your important items are accessible to pickpockets if they are any good at what they do you may not even notice at what point your possessions disappear. If your things are not where a pickpocket could get them you might be among them and never know it.

running clothes that can be worn for other things besides running

The backpack is mainly for electronics. I downsized from a laptop to a tablet, plus phone and small camera. On the plane it also held some cold weather things like a hat, gloves, and scarf for arrival in Switzerland and one change of clothes on the off chance that my luggage got lost. My suitcase is carry-on size, but not a carry-on for the plane because a month’s worth of toiletries is more liquids than a carry-on allows. The sunscreen alone is in too large of a bottle for carry-on, but since we were planning on going snorkeling during the cruise coral safe sunscreen was an absolute necessity.

non-running outfits made by pairing running clothes with other things – even making an outfit for black & white night on the ship without bringing anything for that event

Different people have different needs in what they bring, but the important thing is to bring luggage that is appropriate to your travels, and pack things with more than one use when you need to save space. While you might get tired of wearing the same things so often by the end of the trip, it definitely beats dragging around a bigger bag on the trains.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2020
Posted in Europe, Lirica, MSC | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Seattle Center

Space Needle

the Space Needle is the highlight of the Seattle Center and the symbol of Seattle

The highlight of the Seattle Center is the symbol of Seattle itself, the Space Needle, built for the 1962 world fair, as was the Seattle Center itself. Back then it was the tallest building in Seattle, but now it’s not even close.

inside the Seattle Space Needle

a bunch of Aussie kids by the glass wall on the space needle’s observation deck

Recently renovated, the observation deck now has slanted glass windows all around the outer walkway of the upper level and at the time we were there a stairway down to a revolving glass floor on a level that used to be a restaurant. The walls around the floor don’t move, nor does anything beyond a small section of carpeted area next to the glass floor. Sometimes the moving part goes all the way to the inner wall, but other areas have alcoves or other features like the stairway to the upper level or elevator back to the ground that stay in one place. It can be disorienting trying to find your way back when the things you saw when you entered that area are no longer near to the stairway.

inside Seattle's space needle

revolving glass floor in the space needle

Any level of the space needle offers 360 degree views of the city, the waterfront, and other things at the Seattle Center like the Pacific Science Center, Chihuly Glass and Gardens, and the former EMP (Experience Music Project) now called the Museum of Pop Culture. In the slow season you can go right up the Space Needle after getting your ticket, but during busy times there can be a long line. Walking around and looking out from different areas of any level provides a variety of different views. In the summer when there are cruise ships at the dock you can see them from the space needle.

Space Needle and MoPOP from a nearby playground

When I was a kid and lived in the Ballard area of Seattle we could see our house from the space needle if we used the telescope things on the observation deck. Later as an adult for a few years I had a side job dealing poker for a place that provided casino entertainment for parties. Sometimes those parties were at the space needle. Usually at the 100 foot level, but occasionally at the top. One very foggy night when dealing at the top level one of the party guests asked me when they were going to open the curtains. The space needle has no curtains. In other odd space needle questions, many years ago my cousin once worked at an information booth that sat in the shadow of the space needle. She said the most common question she got asked was “Where’s the Space Needle?” To which her reply was “Look up!”

space needle view

view from the space needle

Besides taking your own photos you can get a group photo on the way in, and there’s a place up top to pose for official photos too. The camera there is automatic rather than manned by a person. There’s nothing stopping anyone from taking as many poses as they want, but unless they have changed it since we were there only the last one will be available for purchase because each time you take a new one it cancels the previous one on your ticket, even if each shot was of a different person in the same group.

space needle virtual ride

bungee jump off the space needle in this virtual ride

Like most attractions you exit through the gift shop. When we were there they had a virtual reality ride which was free to people who had their ticket from going up the Space Needle. The virtual ride was a bungee jump off the space needle, all visual and no actual motion so not an issue for people who might get motion sickness from a real bungee jump. What you see depends on where you look. If you look down you see the ground fast approaching. Look up to see the sky, and all around for different scenery including Mount Rainier if you look in the right direction. Added effects like birds flying around and a float plane headed in your direction bring more depth to the ride. In our party of 10, 9 people enjoyed it including all 5 kids ranging in age from 5-9, most of which would have liked to go again. The tenth person stopped the virtual ride pretty much before it even started, not liking the sitting on the edge of the space needle view at the beginning before the virtual jump. She also did not like being anywhere near the glass while up on the real space needle while the rest of us leaned against it for photos.

butterfly

butterfly garden at the science center

Anyone staying in Seattle long enough to have time to see several things can get a Seattle CityPass that provides entry to 5 attractions for about the price of 2. These are available online or at some of the venues. The CityPass includes both day and night visits to the space needle so long as they are both on the same day, but if you go up late afternoon and stay until dark you can get day and night photos in one trip. Other attractions on the CityPass at the Seattle Center are MoPop, and a choice of the Science Center or Chihuly Gardens and Glass. It also includes tickets for the Seattle Aquarium and an Argosy harbor cruise on the waterfront. Woodland Park Zoo is an option instead of MoPop, but it is in a different area of the city, not close to the rest of the attractions. The zoo is however currently open while MoPop is not. Some CityPass attractions are currently closed because of Covid-19. The CityPass website has info on what is or is not open.

we're not as small as we look

feeling small

The Science Center is geared mainly to kids with numerous interactive displays. We went with 3 kids aged 7, 8, and 9. Two of them were bored at the planetarium show, but they all enjoyed everything else. They might have liked it better had we been there at the right time for the kid’s version of the planetarium rather than the adult one.

Seattle Science Center

gravity well

There are all sorts of different things for kids to do at the Science Center. The fanciest display is the dinosaurs, but that one is more to look at so the kids had more fun with all the things to do. 

kids love Seattle's science center

Daniel at the giant fulcrum

The first room we entered had all sorts of things from funhouse type mirrors to a giant fulcrum and much more. The kids probably would have been happy in that one room for hours, but there’s so much more to see and do so we moved on.

Seattle Science Center

Hannah checks out the singing bowls

Upstairs from the first room we found another room with a variety of things to do. Some were about things like balance or fitness, others about music. It’s a big place with a lot of different rooms of things to do as well as some spilling over into hallways or stairway landings, and a whole other building of stuff across a courtyard.

butterfly garden

if you stay really still in the butterfly garden one might sit on you

The kids also enjoyed the butterfly garden. Even though it is mainly a walk-through and look exhibit they were all in hopes a butterfly would land on them and for Hannah one did. There are double sets of doors going in and out of the butterfly garden. On the way out everyone has to make sure there are no butterflies hitchhiking a ride out on them.

Seattle Science Center

Daniel getting the high score of the day on a virtual reality game

Daniel was in the lead for high score of the day on a virtual reality video game and since we were in that area near the end of the day at almost closing time it’s likely his score held up.

MOPOP

Hannah, Chloe, and Daniel posing with MOPOP in the background – well Chloe is posing anyway

Both my daughter Sheri and I remembered how much fun everybody had at the EMP when it was new and she and her brother were kids, but now that it has changed to the MoPOP nearly all of the interactive musical exhibits are gone. EMP stood for Experience Music Project, MoPOP stands for Museum of Pop Culture. The entry fee used to cover everything, but now they want more money for a couple exhibits so we skipped those.

inside MoPOP

doorway to the fantasy exhibits

Once you go inside it’s obvious why they changed the name from experience to museum because most of their current exhibits are for looking at rather than experiencing. The old sound lab was still there where people can try out a variety of musical instruments. Other than that the kids had the most fun with photo booths, one of which resembled the bridge of a spaceship and the other made fantasy character cards. It’s not all about music anymore either with some displays about TV or movies. We skipped the horror section.  No need to give small children nightmares.

playground at Seattle Center

playground next to MoPOP

Meanwhile some of the glass sculptures in the Chihuly Garden & Glass exhibit look amazing in photos so that probably would have been the better choice, although no matter how interesting objects are the kids would still rather do things than look at things. Which is why they had so much fun at the Science Center. They also had a lot more fun at the playground just outside of the MoPOP than they had in the museum – and the playground is free whether you have the Seattle CityPass or not.

Seattle monorail

monorail at the Seattle Center

There’s a monorail stop next to the Space Needle. Besides providing transportation on a mile of elevated track to Westlake Center downtown, the monorail itself is a piece of history. Like the Space Needle and the Seattle Center itself, the monorail was built for the 1962 World’s Fair. Trains run about every 10 minutes.

on the Seattle monorail

Sheri, Hanna, & Chloe riding the monorail

The original monorails are still running, and were designated a historic landmark in 2003. The downtown station was moved a block north from its original location in 1988 when the Westlake Center was built. Passengers can connect with light rail or busses there.

Seattle's space needle lights up at night

Seattle’s iconic Space Needle lit up for nighttime

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2020

More Blogs About Seattle

Seattle Great WheelSeattle Tourist AttractionsSeattle WaterfrontSeattle Underground Tour,   Ballard LocksFishermen’s Terminal

 

Posted in Port Cities, Ports of Call, Princess, USA, Washington | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Knossos

MSC Lirica in Crete

At our port stop from the MSC Lirica in Heraklion, Greece on the island of Crete, we took a tour on the hop on hop off bus, which had a stop and a ticket booth at the port. One of the stops on the tour is the ruins of the Minoan palace of Knossos.

tourists at the ruins of Knossos

The ancient ruins of the palace of Knossos are the main tourist attraction near Heraklion. There are several layers of ruins there, each more ancient than the last. This site is considered to be the home of the labyrinth of the minotaur of Greek legend.

room at Knossos with restorations done

Knossos was a grand palace, and the capitol of the Minoan civilization. According to legend, the three sons of Europa and Zeus were raised by Europa and her husband Asterion, the king of Crete. When Asterion died the three sons vied for rule. Minos gained the throne with the help of the sea god Poseidon, who sent Minos a majestic bull from the sea in return for Minos’ promise to sacrifice that bull to Poseidon. Minos however did not keep that promise, keeping the majestic bull for himself and sacrificing a lesser one in its place. It is also said that Zeus was in the form of a bull when with Europa, so bulls play a major part in these myths. Some artwork of the area portrays Europa riding a bull.

informational sign at Knossos

Angered by his arrogance and disrespect, the gods punished Minos by causing his wife Pasiphae to fall in love with the majestic bull. Her son of that union had the head of a bull and the body of a man. As he grew, the bull-child or minotaur whom she had named Asterion after his step-grandfather became ferocious and monstrous. Unable to find a suitable source of food as he was neither man nor beast he turned to eating people. Which seems a bit odd since people are not the normal food for cattle or humans, but that’s how the legend goes. Minos ordered the labyrinth constructed as a place to keep the minotaur.

map of Knossos

Meanwhile his only human son was killed by people from Athens, so King Minos demanded repeated tributes of 7 youths and 7 maidens from Athens, all of whom were put into the unescapable labyrinth for the minotaur to eat. Eventually Theseus, son of the Athenian King Aegeus, volunteered to go as tribute, boasting he would kill the minotaur. Both of King Minos’ daughters fell in love with him. One of the daughters gave him a ball of string which he tied to the door on his way in and unraveled as he went, giving him a way out by following the string back to the door. He found the minotaur in the furthest reaches of the labyrinth and was able to kill him either with his fists or with a sword smuggled in depending on who is telling the tale. Even in a myth a sword certainly seems more plausible than bare hands to kill a monster who had no problem devouring all the prior people to enter his lair. However the deed was done, afterword the story says Theseus headed back toward Athens with both love-smitten sisters. He ungratefully left the one who had given him the life-saving string on an island along the way and married the other.

big rock in the ruins

Exactly how old the ruins at Knossos are varies from source to source, but it is likely that the oldest layer was a city dating back to 6700 BC. The old palace was built on top of that  around 3000 or so years later, and the new palace on top of that. These palaces had a tendency to get destroyed, possibly due to earthquakes or enemies, though the final destruction was at the ending of the Minoan civilization with the immense volcanic eruption of Thera (now called Santorini.)

ruins of Knossos

The ruins at the site of Knossos were discovered in 1878 by Minos Kalokairinos. Excavation began in 1900 by English archeologist Sir Arthur Evans and his team and continued for 35 years. They named areas of the palace by what he thought they had been used for. Further study has changed thoughts on some things.

wall art at Knossos

He also restored portions of the palace as he thought they would have looked and those restorations have become part of the history of the ruins, and the reason why there are intact and painted areas on something otherwise so ancient. Whether or not they are entirely accurate, these restorations add interest to the site and add more of an insight to what it may have once looked like than the ruins would otherwise have.

tourist path

There are paths and trails through areas where people are allowed to walk, and occasionally there is even a room visitors are allowed to enter, though most areas don’t actually have enough walls or any roof to make a room, and most that do are for looking in only, not actually going there.

roofed areas for preservation

Some later efforts to preserve the ruins have led to some areas being roofed as the weather is hard on these ancient ruins now that they have been excavated and exposed to the elements.

dogs at Knossos

We saw several stray dogs wandering about the ruins when we were there. None were aggressive and they all looked in reasonably good condition so either they find enough to eat or someone feeds them.

hillside view from the ruins

The hillside above the ruins is lined with what looks like ancient stone walls so the original city may have extended well beyond the area occupied by the later palaces.

Knossos stairway

It cost 8 euros per person to enter the gate into the ruins at the time of our visit. Pathways through the ruins include uneven ground and stairways in various states of repair or erosion. Recent rains also had left some areas in puddles.

the ruins at Knossos cover quite a large area

Some areas are just portions of old rock walls, but many places have interpretive signs which have English as well as another language, presumably Greek, to explain what you are looking at or something about the history of the ruins in general.

large urns

A few spots among the ruins have large pottery urns. There is a cafe and free restrooms near the entrance, outside of the gates you have to pay to pass through.

minotaur at a souvenir shop

Across the street from the ruins a row of souvenir shops lines the roadway. Minotaurs are a popular theme in the shops, but there were also quite a few items with owls and other creatures as well as things like pornographic coasters or playing cards depicting ancient Greeks in compromising positions. Besides a lot of knick knacks and other souvenir type items, some shops had clothing or jewelry and there was a bar/cafe at the end of the row.

ruins and restorations

We saw signs along the road near Knossos on the way back advertising a labyrinth which looked to be a place where people could go and walk through a modern day rendition of one. The bus did not stop by the sign that appeared to be the entrance to it so the existence of roadside signs is all the information I have on that. Google came up with a labyrinth theme park half an hour away in Hersonissos, but nothing near Knossos.

ruins with some restoration

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2020
Posted in Europe, Lirica, MSC | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Social Distance Vacationing

After months at home people are going stir-crazy and want to get out. It’s a lot easier to do for those living in countries that have handled Covid-19 and are now not experiencing many if any new cases. Of course even there approaching travel cautiously is wise in order to keep the virus away. Especially since some countries that had it under control are now seeing a resurgence often brought on by exposure from travelers.

RV camping – internet photo

Local travel is more popular than ever with many people traveling to places within their own country, and even more to places fairly close to their homes. The popularity of camping has skyrocketed as people can bring their own accommodations with them and not worry about anyone else having slept there. Popular tourist destinations can get crowded though, so lesser-traveled destinations are currently a better choice. Choosing a campground carefully also helps as some have private outdoor space and distance between each campsite while others are just a row of packed together parking spots for RV’s. Unless you are alone in an isolated wilderness camping in a self-contained RV is preferential to a tent at this point because the RV has its own bathroom, whereas with a tent in a campground you have to use shared campground facilities.

island cabin

island cabin

Not everyone has an RV, but whether you do or not, private cabins or free-standing BnB’s or vacation rentals are another great option for social distanced vacations or short getaways. These are more likely to offer isolation than a crowded campground and certainly offer more privacy than a hotel. Amenities vary as do prices, but there are so many options through Airbnb, VRBO, and other vacation rental companies that the odds are quite high of finding a suitable place. Just as with camping, it’s best to avoid the usual tourist draws and look for a more isolated experience in less-traveled places.

Olympic Rain Forest

trail in the woods

Destinations with plans for visiting the great outdoors are currently safer than indoor experiences. Providing your own transportation be that by car, boat, bike, or your own two feet are preferable to public transportation at this point too so the safest thing is to look for destinations close enough to home that you can get there on your own and spend time hiking on wilderness trails or visiting deserted beaches, sparsely populated or uninhabited islands, or other places where you’re not likely to see many other visitors. It’s also ideal if you can reach your chosen place in one day to limit possible exposures by not staying in more than one place. Regardless of the end point, be sure to pack masks and hand sanitizer in case you come across other people or spend any time in civilization.

inside a tiny house Airbnb

Many Airbnb’s are operated and maintained by the owner, who is likely spend far more time cleaning it than the time allotted for cleaning each room in a hotel. Either way these days surfaces are likely to be sanitized between guests.

not the usual bnb guest supplies, but you gotta go with the times

Some offer extra amenities, which at this time may include things like masks, sanitizing wipes, or hand sanitizer. Every place is different and some offer private outdoor space as well as the indoor accommodation. Many have kitchens so there’s the opportunity to prepare your own meals, or at least have a table to comfortably eat take-out or delivery. Some even have washers and dryers like a real home away from home. You can even bring your pet if you choose your accommodation carefully. Dogs are more likely to be allowed than other pets so it is easier to find a dog-friendly place than one for other sorts of animals.

there’s an elephant in the bedroom

In this time of social distancing the best way to travel is choose an appropriate destination and accommodation. Have fun while there, but don’t forget to take the usual precautions like wearing masks and frequent hand washing or sanitizing. After all getting sick is never any fun, especially not when trying to enjoy a much-needed vacation while you may not be near familiar medical facilities – or any depending on the remoteness of your chosen location.

tiny houses work great for a free-standing Airbnb

While staying in an Airbnb, Vrbo, or other guest house, remember that you are a guest in someone else’s house. Abide by the house rules for that home. Don’t rearrange the furniture or the dishes in the cupboards, don’t unplug the TV cable, turn off or change settings on motion lights on the porch, take anything with you that belongs to the house when you leave, or do anything destructive to the home or property. All of that should go without saying, but sadly there are people out there who are inconsiderate or downright destructive. Many Airbnb’s have guest books which are likely to contain helpful information about things to see and do in the area as well as house rules and important information about the home and how to access the amenities there.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2020
Posted in Randoms | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Dalian, China Cruise Ship Port

Dalian cruise port

Westerdam in Dalian

Dalian

People might not expect to see colonial Russian architecture in China, but Dalian – a modern port city on the Liaodong Peninsula, at the southern tip of China’s Liaoning Province – was founded by the Russians in 1898. Russian style buildings (not surprisingly) can be found along Russian Street. Zhongshan Square also sports colonial buildings in Renaissance and other styles. It’s the second largest city in the province and the largest seaport in northern China.

Dalian, China

view from Xinghai Square

Xinghai Square is the largest city square in the world. The name means Sea of Stars.

Dalian, China

view from the open book monument of a former Russian castle, now the most expensive hotel in town

Dalian is a popular tourist destination, more so for travelers within China than with visitors from overseas. The city proper is less industrial than neighboring cities, keeping most manufacturing to the industrial zone. It has parks, gardens, beaches and some hotels and coffee houses marketed to non-Chinese tourists. Locals mainly speak Mandarin and are not likely to know English, though there are enough who do that English-speaking tour guides are available for cruise ship excursions.

street cleaner in China

a bus passes a street cleaner

Public transportation is available in the form of busses, trains and taxis. Taxi drivers may not speak English so have your destination in writing. Watch out for illegal taxis which tend to overcharge. The best taxis have blue or white lights on top. Make sure the driver uses the meter to avoid overcharges. Avoid taxis with yellow lights on top as they are the lowest ranked.

map of Dalian, China

Dalian city map

Things to do or see in Dalian include a zoo, aquariums, museums, scenic and historical sites, mountains, and parks. Spring and fall are the best times to visit as summers are warm and wet and may experience monsoons. Winters are windy and cold. Dalian has many parklike squares, often with historical connections.

city view from Dalian cruise port

view of Dalian from the Westerdam

Dalian Cruise Port

Dalian is the biggest cruise ship port in China. It’s within walking distance of town if you don’t mind a bit of a hike. The port provided our ship with a free shuttle to the Friendship Store. Taxis are readily available and can take passengers on tour to places of interest. A guide book or map with both English and Chinese characters for each location is quite helpful for communicating with taxi drivers on what you would like to see. Currency is the yuan. One US dollar is currently worth nearly 7 yuan. Money exchange is available at banks and ATMs, or you can exchange money on the ship, but it is easiest to get money from your bank before leaving home. Your bank isn’t likely to have Chinese money on hand so ask at least a week in advance of the departure date for your trip. Most of the ports we visited had money exchange at the terminal, but occasionally they weren’t open so it’s best to come prepared.

lighthouse in the port of Dalian

lighthouse at the end of the cruise ship dock

Restrooms in the port have squat toilets rather than the western style sit on toilets most cruise ship passengers are accustomed to. There also is no toilet paper in the stalls and the holder at the restroom entrance was empty when we were there so be sure to bring your own tissue as you may not find it available in other public restrooms either. The squat toilets are recessed into the floor and you squat over them, similar to going out in the woods if you’ve ever gone hiking, camping, or trail riding far from public facilities. Mainly you just have to make sure your shoes and clothing are out of the way and aim for the bowl. From the looks of the floor surrounding it not everyone was successful in that endeavor. Perhaps they have not previously found a need to squat in the woods. This style toilet is likely to be found in public areas in China.

windmill

windmill in Dalian

While there is a lot to see in Dalian, the best things are not in walking distance of the port.

shore excursion in Dalian, China

cruise ship excursion enjoying the view near Beida Bridge

Our ship had just 4 excursions offered in Dalian. Favorites: visited a family’s home, a nursery school, an aquarium, People’s Square, and had lunch. Highlights: also visited a nursery school and People’s Square as well as Beida Bridge and Labour Park. Tram Tour: started with a walk through Russian Street and then took a tram tour through eastern Dalian with lunch and a stop at Sea & Star Square. Panoramic Dalian: had scenic drives through town and along the seashore, with a couple viewpoint photo stops, a walk through Xinghai Square, and a walk across Beida bridge.

Dalian, China

view near Beida Bridge

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2020
Posted in China, Holland America, Ports of Call, Westerdam | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Covid-19 – It’s Not Over When It’s Done

While our world is stalked by a killer virus, some countries did a good job keeping their numbers down and others didn’t. A worldwide crises like a pandemic definitely shows what a difference how the leadership of a country responds makes in the volume of cases that country experiences and the amount of time it takes to recover.

masks – and a neck gaiter  doubled over to make two layers, which can easily be pulled up over the face on the go. This comes in very handy for runs or trail hikes since you can just have it around your neck and then pull it up over your face if you see anyone coming.

Meanwhile, the citizens of the world are more than just statistics. They’re all individual people, all with their lives disrupted to various extents, the worst of course being those who became deathly ill or whose close family or friends died.

With the range of severity varying from no symptoms at all to life-ending, there’s no standard experience to being a victim of the virus, but for those who do experience even mild symptoms the after effects can linger long beyond the time they are actually sick with the virus.

With the advent of the antibody test it’s now possible to for some people to find out whether or not they had Covid early on – even if it was way back when it was thought to be confined to the Wuhan area of China and just referred to as Coronavirus. A negative result doesn’t mean you never had it though. Besides the possibility of false negatives, according to an article I read there are apparently more than one type of antibody and at least in the USA anyway they are mainly testing for the one that disappears fastest.

Things that were thought to be colds, flu, or pneumonia at the time have since been discovered to have actually been Covid-19. We live in a county with less than 100 recorded cases and no deaths. Back in February my husband was sick in bed for a couple weeks with an unknown respiratory illness of which he never sought medical care at the time, though I would check sometimes when he was asleep to make sure he was still breathing. None of the many now known symptoms of Covid – or Corona as it was called at the time – had been published yet other than basic things like a dry cough and respiratory issues. He had the loss of taste and smell, congestion, fever, and vivid dreams as well as the cough, but at the time he hadn’t mentioned most of those symptoms as they hadn’t been associated with any disease at the time and we thought he just had the flu or an extremely severe  cold.

Meanwhile I tried to stay healthy and took the cold-preventative Zicam to try and ward off whatever was plaguing him. I ended up with what I thought was a lingering cold anyway. I was never sick in bed, but did start with a fever and massive headache followed by an on-fire feeling sore throat, cough, vivid dreams, something weird with my toes which at the time I attributed to my shoes rubbing when I run, and a profusely runny nose. I’ve got allergies and always have a kleen-x handy, but needed a pocketful of them during that time. That was likely my saving grace as to not having worse symptoms since that was likely bringing the virus out and there have been articles saying one of the things helping reduce the severity in some Asian countries besides wearing masks is the fact that a high percentage of the people there frequently perform sinus rinsing with neti pots or similar apparatus. Rest assured that all of those tissues made it into the garbage can when I got home. I’m not one of those disgustingly rude people who throws used kleen-x alongside the road or trails littering the countryside and possibly infecting others. Just as bad are the people who bag their dog poop and then just leave it there. There’s no kleen-x fairy and no dog poop fairy either that will come along and clean up the mess, people need to take care of their own garbage themselves. That goes for the rest of the litter people throw around too. If you can carry it/have it in your car full, there’s no reason you can’t hang onto it once it’s empty until you come to appropriate receptacles for garbage or recycling.

John’s most likely Covid encounters were either because he had spent several weekends working over at his parent’s house in preparation for his mother returning from a nursing home so the virus could have come from that nursing home, or from working in a store’s booth at a boat show during that time, or from a poker tournament. People he knew from both the boat show and poker tournament later tested positive for Covid-19, and an unknown respiratory illness had spread through the nursing home. The poker game was in our county, while the boat show and his parent’s house (and mother’s nursing home) are all in a counties with a much higher incidence of Covid-19.

Who me?

This was long before masks and social distancing, way back when it was still just called Coronavirus and before anyone really knew it had already spread beyond China. I still took my dog out for a daily walk or run every day, but my dog is a heeler and they are known for being overreactive. Piper is especially unpredictable in her reaction toward other dogs. We’ve been social distancing as long as I’ve had her. Long before social distancing was a thing so I most likely did not spread it to anyone. We go early enough in the morning that we often don’t see anyone anyway. Other than our daily trip out to the trails and dropping pre-labeled packages off at the post office I’m somewhat of a hermit. Even at the grocery store I’ve always preferred to avoid aisles with anyone else on them whenever possible. Besides them being in the way, if the other person is a heavy smoker, has smoked recently, or wears patchouli or too much perfume I can’t breath anywhere near them. Breathing on the laundry soap aisle is an issue for me sometimes even if nobody else is there because of all the smells wafting off of the scented products.  (I only buy unscented ones.)

I’m not sure how long the actual virus lasted, but the “cold” went on for a couple months before most of the symptoms gradually retreated. Five months later though I’m still fighting a bit of a sore throat with one slightly inflamed tonsil and the other with a white spot like you get with strep throat.

John got over the initial illness in a couple weeks, but was feeling poorly for a couple months after. He had two major sinus infections that piggy-backed onto the Covid requiring several rounds of antibiotics. At times it was so severe he couldn’t even stand up without becoming so dizzy it made him nauseous. At one point he couldn’t even keep water down for 3 days. He’s had all sorts of problems with his ears and salivary glands as well as his sinuses ever since. Neither a cat scan nor an MRI could pinpoint the issue, but he did test positive for Covid-19 antibodies 4 months later so now we know he definitely had the virus. He was asked to return in 3 months to see if they are still there as currently nobody knows how long the antibodies will last. In spite of all the issues he’s had by official standards John’s case would also be considered mild since he was not hospitalized. The doctor did say they are finding that in mild cases like mine you may not get antibody protection for very much time at all. Possibly only about 3 months. There are articles saying that they are finding cases now where people were either re-infected several months later or the virus resurfaced. Then again there are other articles saying that even after the antibodies disappear the virus should be recognized by the immune system of someone who previously had it and their body should respond to make more antibodies quickly. So basically they still don’t really know what sort of protection people who already had Covid-19 have or how long they have it.

It’s really a shame that there are so many people out there who don’t take this deadly virus seriously.  They’ll be sorry if they get it because even with a mild case the aftereffects linger long after the virus is gone. We had it in February and the aftereffects are still with us. Even people who don’t have any symptoms themselves could be the ticking time bomb that kills someone they love. I saw an article just the other day about a 31-year old woman who was in the hospital after attending a Covid party. Unbelievably people actually attend parties in attempts to catch this dread disease. Her last words before she died of Covid-19 were “I thought it was a hoax.” People aren’t dying all over the world from a hoax, it’s real, and so are the lasting effects. There are a lot of articles out there about all sorts of scary things adding to the ever-expanding list of horrible things that can happen after a bout with Covid. Brain issues, heart problems, lasting lung damage, strokes and clotting problems, kidney damage, cognitive issues and even possibly male infertility problems are among the possible long term or permanent effects. Some symptoms people have during Covid like shortness of breath and tiredness often last weeks or months.

these days everyone needs a good collection of masks

It’s not that hard to put on a mask, and not that much different than wearing a seatbelt in the car. Back when wearing seatbelts first became a law in my state I was among those who hated it. I grumbled about it every time I got into the car until the day that seatbelt saved my life – about a month after that law came into effect. Ever after I was grateful for that law. It’s been so long now that most people here wouldn’t think of getting into a car without fastening that seatbelt, and masks in today’s world are just as lifesaving even if it will never be obvious as to who or when.

Some people spout drivel about their right not to wear a mask, but they wouldn’t be allowed into a store carrying a ticking time bomb, nor would they expect to be. Not wearing a mask during a pandemic could be just as deadly. There are those few who can’t wear them due to medical reasons, but then again people who already have medical issues are the last people who should be out exposing themselves to possible sources of infection and would be much better off using pick-up or delivery services to obtain the things they need.

Never has the phrase United we stand, divided we fall been so true as it is now because it will take a united effort of mass participation of everyone doing the right things to conquer this virus. Even the countries who have things under control face the risk of a resurgence if they aren’t ever-vigilant about every traveler arriving in their midst and keeping a watch on any other risk factors. If everyone wore their masks and took all the other recommended precautions like frequent hand washing/sanitizing, social distancing, and avoiding crowds or gatherings we’d have a chance of conquering the virus, but as long as some people continue to care only about themselves and not do those things this plague will continue until some sort of herd immunity is achieved or vaccine developed. In this case it not only takes a village, not even an entire country. It takes the world.

My Cruise Stories 2020
Posted in Randoms | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Mount Pilatus Cable Car and Gondolas

cable car arriving at the top of Mount Pilatus

While staying in Lucerne, Switzerland for a couple days as we worked our way from Zurich to Venice by train prior to a cruise that was supposed to depart from Venice, we took a day trip up Mt. Pilatus, which is fairly close to Lucerne. We started our journey with a boat ride leaving from the docks near the Lucerne train station, and a trip up the mountain on the world’s steepest cogwheel train.

trail on the side of the mountain

At the top of the mountain there’s a gift shop, several places to eat, free restrooms, trails to several viewpoints, the entrance to the aerial cableway, and 2 hotels. The first thing we noticed was a trail on the mountain’s edge. Most of that trail was through tunnels, but it did have window-like openings through the rock and some larger open space viewing areas, from which there were some great views both looking down the mountain and up to the structures at the top.

cable car on Mount Pilatus

From some of the viewpoints you could see the cable cars when they came or went from the top of the mountain. This cableway is called the dragon ride. Ancient myths associated Mt. Pilatus with dragons.

snowy church in the middle of nowhere

We could also see a little white church partway down the mountain in the snow with no obvious way for anyone to get to it.

bar in the middle of the main public room in the big building on top of Mt Pilatus

After hiking down that frozen trail we came back quite cold so we looked around the building a bit, had a hot drink and small snack at the serve yourself café upstairs.

icy stairway to a viewpoint on Mt. Pilatus

Having warmed up we went back outside and hiked up an icy stairway to a viewpoint high above the buildings. Bitter wind up there blew the snow around driving icy pieces into any exposed skin – mainly faces since pretty much every other bit of anyone was covered. This was pre-covid so nobody was wearing masks, but they could have come in useful up there as a bit of a wind break for the face.

viewpoint on the top of Mount Pilatus

Besides 360° views of the surrounding area it had a snow-covered bench next to a sign pointing out the distance to a variety of places. Nobody stayed up there long. We came back down thoroughly frozen – again. If we had planned a winter vacation rather than being on our way to a cruise we definitely would have brought warmer clothes.

it was too windy and cold to go to the higher peak on the other side of the buildings

There was another trail leading to the highest peak, which would have been fun to take on a warmer day. It was a longer trail with quite a bit farther to go than the short one to the high viewpoint so we skipped that one since it was so cold and windy.

inside the dragon ride cable car

When we had first got off the train a long line of people waiting to go down the cableway filled quite a large area of the building. After coming back in from the viewpoint we noticed there was nobody waiting and decided it would be a good time to go down the aerial cableway dragon ride. There were just 5 people in our car, though it could have held many more.

view through the front window of the descending cable car

It was really nice having so much open space in the cable car as people could move about freely for better views or photos. These large cars descend to the gondola station and from there people take the much smaller panoramic gondolas the rest of the way down.

station where you switch from the cable car to the gondola

The gondolas started in a snowy area. You can look out the back and see the view looking back up the mountain as well as looking out the front at the view going down.

looking back up the mountain from the gondola

Partway down the mountain the gondolas passed through another station, which was also surrounded in snow. People can get out there or just stay in as it passes through.

gondolas passing over the snowline on Mt. Pilatus

Somewhere between there and the city it passed over the snowline and just like that the world was green again.

view from the gondola of a house with a giant pile of wood

Homes up there all had quite a hefty supply of wood. One had a roof pretty much covered in solar panels. Another had sheep and goats.

it would not be fun to ride in this utility gondola

We passed by a lot of gondolas going up the other cable on our way down. Most of them looked just like the one we were in, some occupied and some not. Then one odd one went by, some sort of utility gondola used for bringing supplies up the mountain.

the gondolas passed over this place that looked like a resort

Tour busses waited at the gondola station for their groups, and there was a bus stop nearby, but not for the bus back to Lucerne. Signs pointed down the hill for bus 1, which is the one that goes back to the train station. It’s a bit of a walk into the city, but eventually you get to the sign for the bus 1 bus stop. Other busses stop there too, but the ever-changing sign says which is there when one stops as well as which ones are coming and how long until they arrive.

lower gondola station

The bus did make other stops along the way, but there was a screen in the bus that said what stop it was at, as well as which ones are coming up next and the train station is huge and pretty easy to recognize when you get there. It’s one of those multi-level stations with all sorts of entrances, shopping areas, food, and multiple platforms. It also has a bus area, but for long distance busses, not the one we were on which just stopped on the road.

gondolas at Mount Pilatus

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2020
Posted in Day Trips, Europe | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Crete Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour

view of MSC Lirica in Heraklion from the HOHO bus

Hop On Hop Off Bus Heraklion, Greece

HOHO bus

At the cruise port in Heraklion on the island of Crete in Greece, hop on hop off (or hoho) busses wait for cruise passengers near to the cruise terminal. The terminal is not where the ship docks, but the port shuttle brings passengers there from the ship because it docks in a container port and people are not allowed to walk through the port area.

sometimes the bus passes by interesting things

If you just take the hoho bus around as a tour and never get off the round trip takes about an hour. The posted signs at the stops had it coming once hourly, but during our visit they were not going by those signs and just came by every half hour or so at no specific time. When you buy the ticket you get ear phones, which you can plug into a jack by your seat and get narration in your language of choice, and they had a pretty good list of languages to choose from.

if you’re easily amused store names can be entertaining

The narration will sometimes talk about what is coming up at the next stop, sometimes tell tales of the mythology of the local area, and sometimes mention things the bus is going to drive past. When it has nothing to say it just plays music. If there’s no sound at all either the volume (which you can adjust) isn’t turned up high enough, or you got a jack that doesn’t work, which happened to us with one of the jacks for our seat on one bus. Even if you never got off the bus you would get a tour of the area and learn something about it if you listened to the narration.

random corner on the bus route

It just cost 22 euros apiece when we were there so we bought the tickets. Any of the stops where nobody wanted on or off the driver just kind of mentioned what stop it was in passing, but never actually stopped, like the first one between the port and the Venetian castle.

cat on the pathway through the marina

The Venetian castle is near where the marked path for those who choose to walk into town ends at the marina, and is the second scheduled stop for the hoho bus, though the first place where ours actually stopped.

dinosaur museum

Next it stops at a couple of museums. Some people got off at the one with the dinosaur outside. The next few stations the driver just mentioned in passing, though the recorded narration had quite a lot to say about the Jesus Gate, which is one of the gates in the Venetian walls.

Jesus gate in the Venetian wall

The Jesus Gate was more than just a gate in ancient times as the aqueduct that once supplied water to the city ran through it. A new arched gate was added in the 1970’s for cars to pass through. The original gate is a few meters west. It was restored in 2014 and now houses a permanent exhibition about the famous Cretan writer Nikos Kazantzakis. The rooms inside the gate were originally used for weapons storage and accommodations for gate guards as well as lodgings for important officials. It got the name Jesus Gate because a small church once sat in that spot.

Venetian wall

The narration also gave some history on the Venetion wall, saying that it was so sturdily built that it kept the Ottomans at bay for over 20 years before they finally broke through and conquered the city, at which time most of the people who had been living there moved to other islands.

ruins of the Minoan palace at Knossos

The bus actually pulled into a parking lot and stopped at Knossos, the major archeological attraction of that area. The ruins there have several layers built atop one another with the oldest layer being an ancient city. Newer ruins were built atop the original city in an older and then newer Minoan palace, rumored to be the location of the labyrinth of the minotaur. All of it is ruins now, with some restorations done in the late 1800’s in the fashion of what people of that era thought things would have looked like before they were ruins. Some preservation has been done since to other areas as well, though more in the form of adding protective roofing, not rebuilding. You do have to buy an entrance ticket to see Knossos. There are lots of little gift shops across the street.

bakery in Heraklion

The next place of interest after Knosses is the city center, also a popular stop for people wanting to get off the bus. The bus route map shows a walking route through the city that goes by a fountain, but we just wandered aimlessly through the streets between shops.

street corner in the Heraklion city center

We got chicken skewers for lunch at a little open sided stand. It was a permanent store, but you get things at the edge of it from outside and only the people who work there can go inside. Dessert was chocolates from a little bakery, ice cream, and chocolate shop.

HOHO bus route map

If you get back on the bus from the city center it had one more stop between there and the port, but the map showed nothing of interest there so it was likely just a place for people to start their journey if they were staying in a hotel nearby.

marina

It’s a nice walk from the port to the city center. The marked path goes along the seashore and passes along the edge of a marina.

old anchor by the marina

We did not get back on the bus after wandering around the town for a while. Instead we walked back stopping at the Venetian castle and then walking the seawall out to the lighthouse before returning to the port. We had lucked out with dry weather for most of the day, but it started to rain while we were somewhere between the marina and the cruise terminal so we were a bit wet by the time we got to the ship.

Venetian castle on the seawall

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2020
Posted in Europe, Lirica, MSC, Ports of Call | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment