Things to do on the Royal Princess

life ring on the Royal Princess

On the Royal Princess, the ship itself has a variety of things to do without going to organized functions, but of course the daily newsletter called Princess Patter offers up plenty of those as well.

people dancing in the piazza

The daily schedule included things like games and dance classes, which we passed on. We did sometimes see other people in dance classes in the piazza, taught by our very enthusiastic cruise director who must have been in pretty good shape since he sometimes had several classes in a row.

relaxing in the enclave (spa thermal suite)

I tended to start my days at the gym, which luckily was open 24 hours, though I only knew that because one of the crew said the published open hours were just when it was staffed, but that the equipment was available anytime. I really didn’t need any staff there to run on a treadmill in the early morning so that information was greatly appreciated. I did wander about the ship in the very early morning one day because that’s a good time to get photos of places around the ship without anybody in them. Apparently my sisters and I did not spend enough time investigating what the ship had to offer in the evenings though because we totally missed the fountain show. We’d bought the spa thermal suite package and spent a lot of our free time onboard there and didn’t check out a lot of other options.

water fountain show video kiped from the internet

I did wander past the Princess Live show studio sometimes, but not usually when there was anything going on there and didn’t check out any of the shows. Apparently they film all sorts of different things like culinary shows, comedy, live concerts, and game shows to broadcast on the ship channel on the cabin TV’s. We didn’t spend much time in our room and I don’t recall actually ever turning on the TV other than to look for information so we did not catch any of their shows.

almost all the seats in the Royal Princess theater are good seats

I did go to a few of the organized events. We had invitations to the past guest gold and ruby level event. Attendance came with a show and free drink. The show was an actual singing and dancing performance in a shorter version of a nighttime production show. We had great seats and thought there wasn’t a bad one in the house, but when we went to an actual evening show we got there pretty late and nothing was left except for seats near the front off to one side by a speaker so we discovered that there are a few not so good seats in that theater. The free drink came in the form of a gift certificate to use later so it was the gift that keeps on giving since we got to enjoy their show at the event and then enjoy whatever drink we wanted later at a bar of our choice. We went to one on the edge of the piazza and had entertainment in the form of the dance class going on at the time while sipping on wine, daquiri, or piña colada depending on which sister was doing the sipping.

cooking demonstration in the theater that was part comedy show, part cooking

One day they had a cooking demo and galley tour that one of my sisters attended with me. Their cooking demo was more comedy routine than serious cooking, but they did show how to make a couple things. The chef also mentioned that he made 100 different kinds of potatoes and sure enough in the galley tour there were plates of all manner of potato dishes lined up along the edge of the counter the whole way, each with a little tag saying what it was. Not that I remember any of the names, but there was certainly a whole lot more than baked, mashed, and French fries.

galley tour with potatoes prepared 100 different ways

Like every attraction everywhere, the galley tour exited into a gift shop. Since the galley isn’t actually connected to any of the ship’s shops it was a makeshift gift shop in the dining room, but a gift shop just the same.

paper airplane contest with hoop, runway, and airplane marshall

Other events we attended included a paper airplane contest and a champagne fountain. The paper airplane contest was quite different from those I’ve done on other cruise ships where you just try to throw it farther than anyone else. Royal Princess actually had a little runway set up, with a crew member dressed as the aircraft marshaller who waves little lights around and directs the airplane where to go. There was also a hoop. The objective was to throw the airplane down from a balcony where it was intended to pass through the hoop and land on the runway. The hoop was pretty close to the balcony so the plane would have to drop down quite a lot and then go forward to get through. Only a couple people made it.

medal for a perfect landing

My plane sailed directly over the hoop and made a perfectly centered landing in the middle of the runway so they gave me a medal for a perfect landing even though I missed the hoop. Most people’s planes veered off to the side, completely missing the hoop and landing nowhere near the runway so very few people got medals. One person got one for going the farthest with a plane that sailed completely across the piazza and would have gone farther still had it not hit a wall.

champagne fountain

One evening there was a champagne fountain in the piazza, on a formal night when everybody was dressed up. People waited in line for a turn to pour champagne into a cup at the top of a pyramid of stacked champagne cups where it flows down the stack filling other cups along the way. Once everyone has a turn they pass out the cups to anyone who wants one, but we didn’t wait around for that. They had other special events in the piazza other nights. We saw all the balloons in a net one day ready for a balloon drop, but forgot about it by the time evening came around.

jogging track

The ship had a lot of other things to do, but we didn’t do any of them. We talked about going to afternoon tea, but never got around to actually doing it. We had early dinner and tea was served fairly late in the afternoon so it would have been a lot of food in a short amount of time. We also didn’t venture up to the sports deck, which has a jogging track, ping-pong table, game lounge, driving range, lasar shooting range, and basketball court. We did not go to the casino or any of the public freshwater pools or hot tubs. If we hadn’t bought the spa thermal suite package we may have gone to a hot tub, but since we did we used the spa pool instead. We never went to the nightclub either. We’re not really nightlife people. Relaxing in the enclave (spa thermal suite) in the evenings is more our style.

afternoon tea on Royal Princess (internet photo)

Music and dancing could be found around the ship, and of course it had quite a selection of bars too. Regardless of what people are into most can find something they like to do onboard. There’s also an art gallery and sometimes art auctions. The elevator bays all had video displays. These interacted with the medallions everyone had instead of a key card. They had additional functions besides room key card and onboard purchases. You could use the video displays for things like getting directions from where you were to where you wanted to go, finding out where your shipmates were, or playing video games.

Royal Princess ship model Christmas tree ornament

We did wander through the shops, where I got a Royal Princess ship Christmas tree ornament to add to my collection of other ship ornaments. We looked at the necklaces and bracelets they had to put the ship medallions in that were used on that ship instead of key cards, but they wanted too much money for them so we just stuck with the free lanyards for our medallions.

seawalk on the Royal Princess

The ship had a seawalk which curved out from the main deck and had a glass floor so you could see the sea beneath your feet and the side of the ship over the rail when walking there.

pro photo

When sailing with my husband we always avoid photos, but with my sisters we tend to seek them out in case we buy the photo package since it costs the same for everything whether there are a lot or a few. We visited the photo stations they had set up around the ship in the evenings several times to add a few more onto the stack. They merge some of the photos into fancier displays, but don’t usually use the ones we’d pick for that if we were given the option.

Lido deck movie screen

Besides the nightly theater shows, there were also movies out on the big screen on the Lido deck. If we’d gone to any of those we might have seen the water fountain show, though I don’t know that for sure.

surf & turf

Eating is of course something people do on cruises, and food is always plentiful. Between dining rooms, the buffet, the piazza café, and other little eateries as well as room service passengers aren’t likely to go hungry.

ship’s shops and casino

So basically the ship had a lot to do, but we did very little of it. We had lots of fun in our own way onboard and of course at the port stops too.

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Rhodes, Greece Cruise Port

MSC Lirica in Rhodes, Greece – there are some ruins and a seawalk right at the port

Rhodes was once home to one of the wonders of the ancient world – the colossus of Rhodes, a giant statue which stood at the harbor. This replica of the ancient Greek sun god Helios was built by Charles of Lindos to celebrate Rhodes’ victory over an unsuccessful siege by Cypress in 305 BC. Construction took 12 years, starting in 292 BC and completing in 280 BC. The statue was stood about as high as New York’s Statue of Liberty, the tallest statue of the era.

ruins of the 14th century Church of the Virgin of the Burgh inside the walled city

Some of the iron and bronze used in its construction came from weapons left behind by the army from Cypress. The statue only stood for 54 years before falling in an earthquake in 226 BC. The earthquake also did significant damage to the city and to buildings at the harbor. The colossus lay on the ground for over 800 years, and even broken was so impressive for its time that people still came from far away to see it. In 653 AD Rhodes was captured by Arabs who melted the fallen statue down and sold the metal.

Palace of the Knights of the Grand Masters

Rhodes lies just 12 miles off the coast of Turkey and is one of the Greek Isles. Rhodes is the name of the main town as well as of the island.

church in the walled city

The city has ancient, medieval, and modern sections with the walled old town its main attraction. It is Europe’s largest inhabited medieval city and contains the palace of the Grand Masters, built in the 14th century by the Knights of St John, also called the Knights Hospitaller. Knights Hospitaller were initially associated with a hospital and cared for sick and poor people. The castle is a tourist attraction now, with a small fee to go inside.

door in old town Rhodes

Over time they became more militant, participating in the crusades and defending the holy land as well as providing escort for pilgrimages to it. Later they were called the Knights of Rhodes and defended against a succession of enemies including Barbary pirates, Egypt, and the Ottoman Empire.

another fancy doorway in old town Rhodes

In 1522 they lost a 6-month siege to Sultan Suleiman the Magnificant of the Ottoman Empire who sent 100,000 men against the island’s 7000 knights.

cat and kittens

Old Town Rhodes could rival Old San Juan, Puerto Rico in the number of stray cats. There are cats everywhere. Locals feed them, and there is a spay/neuter program in place in an attempt to control the population, but we saw kittens in several places around town so they haven’t spayed them all.

there’s a few dogs in Rhodes

A few cats wear collars, those belonging to locals, but most are strays. The majority of them were in better condition than a scrawny dog that wandered by, and it had a collar on. We also saw some stray dogs, who generally looked better than the one with the collar. Way more cats than dogs though.

another one of the many cats we saw in Rhodes

MSC Lirica docked on a pier with a view of ruins running down that pier right next to the ship. You don’t get far – as in just outside the port gates – before running into people offering taxi tours, though their prices were on the high side. Just a bit beyond the port behind the first small building there’s a stop for the hop on hop off bus, with tickets available there.

one of the gates into the walled city

Walk a very short distance beyond that and you come to the first gate into the walled city.

shops in the walled city

The walled city is full of little shops and restaurants, streets made of rocks or stone, people trying to entice you into their store or cafe, old buildings and of course the castle and lots of cats.

open square in old-town Rhodes

There are some open squares within the walled city, but they were not always there. The buildings that once stood in those places were demolished by bombs during World War II.

seawalk outside the old town city walls by the port in Rhodes

The walkway along the seawall runs alongside the city walls on the other side of the street and there are other entrances into the old city further down. The seawall is a nice walk and if you go far enough you come to a more modern town where there are things to do like semi-sub rides. This is a port where there are things to see right off the ship and you don’t have to spend a lot of money to find things to do.

ruins by the ship in Rhodes

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Innsbruck, Austria

colorful buildings

Innsbruck, Austria

Nestled into the Austrian Alps, Innsbruck is the capital of the western state of Tyrol. The name means bridge over the Inn.  It was once a major transportation link between north and south Europe being located along the easiest route over the Alps, with a bridge crossing the Inn River. Winter sports are a major attraction in this city which has both imperial and modern architecture. The Nordkette funicular brings people up a mountain to 2,256 meters above the city center for winter skiing or summer hiking and mountain climbing.

horse carriages may not be a modern mode of transportation, but you can still ride one in Innsbruck

The area has been settled since the stone age, and fallen under a variety of different rulers through the ages. It was taken over by the Nazis in WW2 and suffered heavy damage from allied bombings. Innsbruck hosted the winter Olympics in both 1964 and 1976. More recently it hosted the winter Paralympics in 1984 and 1988, and was the very first host of the youth winter Olympics in 2012.

the golden roof is more of an awning than a roof

Things to do in Innsbruck

Olympic Ski World is a main attraction for winter tourists. People go to the Bergisel Ski Jump for the views even when it’s not ski season. Other things to see or do include riding the funicular or cable cars, or a visit to the medieval old town area, Hofburg castle, the golden roof (which is an awning of gold plated copper, but also a major 5th century symbol of the city built by Maximilian I for his own personal viewing spot), Ambrass castle, and the Cathedral of St James –  a 17th century baroque style cathedral with interior pink marble columns, painted ceilings, and free admission.

old building in Innsbruck

Stradtturn town tower which once housed prisoners is another tourist destination. People can climb it for a fee. Hofkirke is a gothic style church built in 1553. It has bronze statues of Emperor Maximilian 1’s ancestors including King Arthur. The emperor’s grand black marble tomb sits empty as he was buried elsewhere.

view of Bergisel Ski Jump from the Alpenzoo

Innsbruck’s Alpenzoo is the highest altitude zoo in Europe. It has great views and animals native to the alps. Innsbruck also has a number of museums including Swarovski Crystal World, Tyrolean Folk Art Museum and Tirol Panorama. Hofgarten park has walking trails and a little river, formal gardens, a playground, and a beer garden.

Inn River in Innsbruck

Our train travels in Europe prior to boarding the MSC Lirica in Italy found us traveling from Buchs, Switzerland to Innsbruck, Austria. We got lucky on this leg of the journey having one train making the full distance with no need to transfer. This train was quite different from all the other trains we rode on this trip. It had separate little compartments with 6 seats each. We had reserved our seats in advance and had the ones by the window. This was also the only train on our journey that had a rack over the seats large enough for a full-sized suitcase. There was just one other person in the compartment when we got on, but we didn’t get far before the rest of the seats filled up. A reserved seat was definitely a good plan for this train. As it made more stops people got on, but rarely off and eventually there was someone without a seat who stood in the aisle outside of the compartments for several stops looking quite sad before someone finally got off the train. We were quite happy to have reserved our seats early enough to get the window seats because the scenery through the Alps is beautiful.

booth at one of Innsbruck’s Christmas markets

Innsbruck is a lovely town, surrounded in tall rugged mountains and full of interesting old buildings. We arrived shortly after noon so we had time to walk around and see things on our travel day. We went to the Golden Krone hotel where I had booked a room the previous summer through booking.com. The girl at the desk asked our name and looked at her list and couldn’t find it. I gave her the paperwork I printed out when I made the booking. She went and looked it up on her computer and then said it was cancelled because I didn’t update my credit card info and that Booking.com sent a message saying to do so.

Innsbruck arch next to the Hotel Golden Krone

My credit card info had not changed since I made the booking. Booking.com did send me a number of messages between when I booked 3 of our hotels for that trip through them and when we left for our trip, but none of those messages pertained to my credit card. The only ones regarding Innsbruck contained offerings of things to book to do while there. Later when I checked my email I found the hotel had sent a message just the day before our stay in Innsbruck saying they had cancelled the booking, but since we were traveling and I wasn’t checking it all that often I did not know about it at the time. All our hotels were booked on the same card and none of the others had any issues.

the stairway at Hotel Neue Post had stained glass windows

The hotel receptionist said the hotel was booked full and she couldn’t offer us another room. Just like that we were homeless in Austria with 2 days until our next train even though I had booked all our lodgings months in advance. All she could suggest was to try another hotel, but she wouldn’t even call any to see if they had room. Luckily around the corner and down the way there was a giant sign saying HOTEL in English so we actually knew what it said. We went there. It was called Hotel Neue Post. While more expensive than our original booking, at that point we were just happy to get a room. If the reception area was any reflection of the rooms, this was a much nicer hotel.

room in Hotel Neue Post

It was a nice room too, and this hotel had free breakfast. Like all the other hotels this trip they had the odd sleeping bag type sheet & quilt combo things. Typical of a European hotel there was no coffee pot, no washcloths, no USB ports, and like the last one in Liechtenstein, some sort of nasty soap/shampoo/body wash all-in-one stuff.

view from our hotel room

view from our hotel room looking the other direction

The view from our room was awesome with giant mountains and an old building with a tall spire or steeple in either direction. Giant mountains are the norm for views in Innsbruck as that is what you see anywhere where there is not a building blocking your view.

Christmas market

We took a walk around town and found some of Innsbruck’s famous sites like the golden roof, some old churches, and a row of colorful buildings along the Inn River that reminded me of Curacao. We wandered through a couple holiday markets and got a tasty spiraled potato on a stick at one of them. Passing by numerous restaurants we noticed that all of them had prices about half what they were in Switzerland. Although the language there is German, just about everyone speaks English as well so communication was not a problem.

government building

We didn’t see any of the red-spired churches in Innsbruck that we saw so many of in little mountain towns as the train passed by, but there was certainly no lack of churches. They just didn’t have red roofing. There were also lots of onion domes on buildings, something we rarely saw on the way over.

old town Innsbruck

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The Micro Cruise

at the launch ramp dock in a marina getting ready to go to the San Juan’s

In these days of Covid 19, taking a cruise on a cruise ship is not an option for most people. Living in the USA where there was never any sort of national plan and covid-fighting was left piecemeal up to individual states we’ll probably be among the last countries where things return to any sense of normalcy. Meanwhile even in states that have tried to do something about it people do get tired of staying home all the time. Many look to local travel or some sort of social distance vacationing as a means of getting away.

outboard underway

While unable to book a long cruise to interesting destinations this year, we do have a small boat mainly used by my husband for going fishing. It’s no cruise ship, but it is a means of getting out on the water. We made plans to go out to Washington State’s San Juan Islands. Some of the larger islands have ferry service, but of course those islands have things you find on the mainland – like people. Many of the smaller islands are private. People live on some of the smaller islands, but in far fewer numbers. Vacation homes often outnumber permanent residences. Some small islands are uninhabited by anything but wildlife. Many are state parks, or have state or county parks on them, some of which are accessible only by boat.

cabin on Decatur Island

My husband’s sister has access to cabins on Decatur Island, so we made arrangements to stay there. Decatur has no ferry service, but people and supplies arrive by island transporter, private boats, or small airplanes. Unfortunately just before our time to go the whole west coast was either on fire or shrouded in smoke. With two businesses and a dog it’s not always easy for us to arrange time to get away and it has to be planned in advance so we went anyway. There were no fires near us, but smoke blanketed the area from fires in our state as well as Oregon, California, and British Columbia in Canada.

Piper on the boat

Traveling from the Strait of Juan de Fuca where we launched out to the San Juan Islands, you are never all that far from land. In normal times it’s a lovely view with water, islands, and mountains in the background. On this trip it was like we were in a little gray bubble. We could see the water immediately surrounding the boat and usually some sea birds, but other than the surrounding haze that was it unless there was an island very close. Traveling along in that lonely isolated bubble a couple old songs came to mind. Smoke on the Water and Your Eyes Have the Mist from the Smoke of a Distant Fire. Navigating by sight was impossible, but the boat is equipped with electronics. On the way home it was even worse with the bubble of sight pretty much limited to the boat itself and the occasional seabird scared up off the water for a good part of the way home even though it had been fairly clear with visibility across the bay near the cabin on the day we left. We had to keep a constant watch for other boats. We crossed several wakes without ever seeing the boat that left them and then came suddenly upon a boat sitting still pulling crab pots and had to make a quick turn to avoid hitting it.

the sun making a brief appearance through the smoke

Had the sky been clearer we may have done more island hopping, but between weather, sea, and smoke conditions we just went out to visit a couple other islands one day and stayed on Decatur the rest of the time other than a bit of crabbing or fishing by my husband, his sister, or our grandson.

Got crabs? After pulling a crab pot any that aren’t legal keepers go back into the water.

We had a cabin for just us and our dog. Our grandson and my husband’s sister stayed in a different cabin with her cats. There was one empty cabin between us and only a couple other occupied cabins, none of which were next to any other occupied cabins. Due to covid the cabins have a 2 day lag time between one occupant and the next so are often unoccupied. There’s 8 cabins total, 2 of which are set a bit apart from the rest, and one used by the caretaker. These are all private cabins, not available for public rentals.

the big island transport boat can drop cargo or vehicles on a boat launching ramp

Though people do live on Decatur, it’s a decent sized island so there’s lots of room for them to spread out. There are no towns, cities, stores, or paved roads there and we hiked quite a lot around the island without coming into contact with anyone. There’s a one-room school, but I don’t know if it is open this year or if the few kids who go there are doing online school now. There was a small store and the building is still there, but it’s closed now.

the small island transport boat picks people and luggage up or drops them off at docks or boat ramps

We stayed nearly a week and had a great time relaxing away from our daily duties. The best thing about a do-it-yourself cruise is that the pets can come too.

our boat on a mooring buoy by the Decatur Head dock when visibility was good through the smoke – sometimes you couldn’t even see the water from the shore and this photo was taken from up a hill

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Crete Venetian Fort and Sea Wall

Lirica through a mermaid sculpture on the seawall, and with the mermaid giving the ship a push

MSC Lirica docked in Heraklion on the island of Crete in Greece. Being a container port, passengers are not allowed to walk through the port area, but rather required to take a short bus ride to the cruise terminal. Following a painted yellow line on the sidewalk leads people past a marina to an old Venetian sea fort and seawall. From there it is not far to the downtown area where there are lots of shops and restaurants.

Koules Fortress

Koules Fortress

The fortress was built in the early 1500’s during the Venetian rule of Crete when the appearance of gunpowder in Europe made the previous tower guarding the harbor entrance obsolete. The original tower was demolished and boats full of rocks were sunk as landfill to form the platform on which the fort was built. Besides cannons, the 26-room fort had space for munitions storage, soldiers quarters, and accommodations for officers and the governor. It had its own mill and oven.

cannons and cannonballs

During the Turkish siege of the mid 1600’s the fort did not fare as well as the city walls. While the walls kept the Ottomans out for 20 years, the fort was neutralized early on giving the Turks control of the harbor. The Venetian Republic controlled Crete from 1205 after the dissolution of the Byzantine Empire until 1669 when the Ottoman Empire took control, finally victorious after their 20-year siege. Crete was called Candia during the period of Venetian rule.

viewport in the fort

It cost 2 euros to go inside this Venetion castle near the cruise port in Heraklion, usually called by its Turkish name of Koules Fortress, though during the Venetian period it was known as Castello a Mare or Rocca a Mare. For anyone without walking difficulties, it is within walking distance of the port. Just follow the well-marked yellow line along the pathway to the city center and you’ll be there. The distance from the cruise terminal to the fort is about a kilometer and a half.

artifacts in the fort

The castle (fort) dominates the view for the immediate area near the marina where it sits. Though not a large fort, the inside areas seem vast due to the very high ceilings. It is something of a museum with several rooms containing artifacts. One had a sign about a particular shipwreck near the end of the war just before the French ships left and Crete surrendered soon after.

decorated cannon

Different rooms in the fort have different things. Some have old cannons and cannonballs. Some of the old cannons are quite ornate and one near the shipwreck sign had 1666 clearly carved into it.

upper level of the fort

fort upper level

A stairway leads up to the roof of the fort, which has many raised glass squares that are all skylights letting in light to the chambers below.  There’s also something that looks like a door in the floor. It has knotched walls and some places where crumbling stairways are open allowing people to go higher.

some stairways are open to access the walkway at the top of the fort

upper level of the fort

Other stairways are closed to tourists. Windows to the sea would once have been used to aim weapons at approaching unfriendly ships.

castle and marina

Seawall

view of the seawall from the fort

Beyond the castle a seawall extends about a couple kilometers to a lighthouse. It’s a breakwater for the harbor, but also seemed to be a popular place for locals to jog or ride bikes. We even saw one guy fishing along the edge.

seawall

The inner side is open to the harbour, but the outer side has a wall much higher than the one with the main pathway, though there are a few stairways leading up to the top of the upper wall. There are also a couple small restrooms in the side of the wall along the pathway.

mural on the seawall

About halfway to the end there’s a row of artwork, some painted murals and some metal art sculptures. Most of the metal art is along the wall, but there’s a rusty mermaid out on a rounded-edged wide spot across from where our ship, the MSC Lirica docked. There’s a bench there where people can sit to rest or enjoy the view.

lighthouse out at the end of the seawall

Out at the end besides the lighthouse sitting at the center of another wide round area, there were some large metal pipes going up and down on the other side of the seawall.

wave generators

Climbing up to the top of the wall to look, they still just appear to be large metal pipes rising and falling with the waves – and a windmill, though when I was there the windmill was still.

one of the signs about the wave power project

Down on the main level, what looks like a dumpster on the end as you approach from the pathway has information on the longer front side explaining about the wave generation power project, which is what the moving metal pipes are so going to the end to see the lighthouse is rewarded by something else interesting and different. The power project is a prototype from a German company.

view from the top of the seawall

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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

 

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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
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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
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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

 

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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
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