Gondola Ride in Venice

gondola in the Grand Canal

Our 20-day cruise on the MSC Lirica was scheduled from Venice to Dubai so we flew into Switzerland 10 days ahead and did some traveling around Europe by train, ending with 3 nights in Venice before boarding the ship. Although a last-minute change in the embarkation port ended up with passengers being bussed to Trieste 2 hours away, we still enjoyed having a bit of time to explore Venice before our cruise.

someone made use of this flooded building for boat storage

Venice is a city built on small marshy islands in a shallow lagoon. Construction of this unique city involved driving pilings into the ground and topping them with a stone foundation upon which to put the buildings. Between these pilings settling deeper into the ground over the centuries and sea level rising, Venice has been sinking ever since. In some places the lowest level of the buildings has been abandoned for constant flooding, but many are still in use and subject to periodic flooding with high tides and heavy rains.

tourists with slip-over boots in a puddle at Piazza San Marcos (Saint Mark’s Square)

Flood barriers are a common sight across doorways, but when the waters rise higher than the barrier these places still flood. In areas like Piazza San Marcos (Saint Mark’s Square) flooding occurs frequently enough that they place portable raised walkways in high water areas. Enterprising local vendors also sell raincoat-like boots that tourists can wear over their shoes to keep dry when the water rises.

gondola stand

Gondolas are a major icon of Venice, and these long thin paddle powered boats are everywhere. You don’t go far without seeing gondolas tied up along the edges of the canals, or paddling by. The gondoliers don’t all sing though. Some places charge extra for a serenade, others don’t offer singing gondoliers. Once we happened to be on a small bridge when a gondola passed under with the gondolier singing away.

gondola about to go under the Rialto Bridge

We couldn’t go to Venice and not ride a gondola. Our first full day there was kind of rainy so we decided to wait until the next day when the weather forecast looked better. Walking around Venice we had seen quite a few places with gondola stands, though not all of them had anyone there. While crossing the Rialto Bridge we had seen a sizable one next to it, which had lots of boats and gondoliers. It wasn’t far from the bnb where we were staying so we went there.

passing another gondola under the Rialto Bridge

The ride was about half an hour long. We started by walking across one gondola to get into the next one where we sat down for our ride. First we went under the Rialto Bridge. Venice has many bridges, but the Rialto Bridge is big and famous. It also crosses the grand canal. Venice is criss-crossed by many canals of various sizes having been built on a series of swampy islands in a lagoon, but the S-shaped grand canal running through the main part of Venice is the widest and most traveled, being full of boats of all sorts.

going under a small bridge

Whether powered by man or engine the canal boats all have one thing in common. They are long, low, and narrow. They have to be low to fit under the bridges, especially if they go into the smaller canals where the bridges are lower. They have to be narrow to fit into the small canals, and to get past one another even if they stay in the grand canal. Long is their only option for carrying much since they are low and narrow.

gondolier

The gondolier has to have some excellent boating skills to navigate the grand canal around and between bigger and speedier boats as well as to be able to cross it through a steady stream of other boats going by.

gondola in a small canal

He also needs mad skills to get around some of the tight corners without scraping building walls in the smaller canals, to pass other boats in a narrow canal where there’s barely room to squeak by, and to slide under bridges so low he has to duck and tilt the boat so the taller bits fit. Our gondolier didn’t scrape a thing, but we did see some scrape marks on the underside of a particularly low bridge where others had hit it.

approaching a small bridge

We went under bridges we had walked over while wandering through Venice on foot. The route took a loop around some smaller canals and then back into the grand canal where he had to cross through an unending sea of oncoming boats to get to the other side before returning to the gondola stand where we got on. It was pretty amazing that he could make it through the neverending stream of boat traffic, but he did.

gondola stand

When visiting Venice a gondola ride is definitely a must-do. Besides being a major icon of the city, it’s fun to do and a great way to see the sights.

heading toward the Rialto Bridge

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Ohori Park in Fukuoka, Japan

park map

map of Ohori Park at the park

Holland America Westerdam docked at Chuo Wharf, Hakarta Cruise Port in Fukuoka, Japan on what started out as one of those if you don’t like the weather wait 5 minutes days. For the most part it was overcast, but there were sudden bursts of sunshine, occasional short downpours, and sometimes a pretty strong wind kicking up. Waves bounced around the wharf kicking up whitecaps.

Ohori Park

pagoda on the island at Ohori Park

There’s nothing much near the port in Fukoaka/Hakarta, but they did have free wifi and information and maps in the terminal. The port provided free shuttle service to City Hall in town with busses running about 1 every 20 minutes. We decided to see Ohori Park, which is just a couple subway stops away from Tenjin Station near city hall.

Ohori Park in Fukuoka, Japan

Ohori Park

The subway station has multiple entrances and an underground shopping center so it’s important to note where you came in so you can leave the same way in order to know where you are when emerging on street level. The stairways into the subway area often look the same, but they are all numbered. Take note of what number you came in on so you can find the right one when you want to leave. It’s also important to make sure you know which platform to go to for the train line you want and the direction you need to go. Ohori Park is on the Kuko line 2 stops away from Tenjin with a station called Akasaka in between. Since it was painted on the wall which station the train was coming from and going to knowing that is quite helpful in insuring you are on the right platform. The park is at Ohorikoen Station – koen meaning park. This station also has multiple exits so check what goes where to find the right one. (Take exit 3 for Ohori Park, exit 6 for the elevator, or exit 5 for Maizuru Park and the castle ruins.)

Ohori Park

sculpture on the side of the trail on the island

Upon surfacing to ground level from the subway we took a look around to make sure we’d recognize the area in order to find the station again. Which wasn’t hard as long as we left the park the way we came in since the park entrance was not far from the subway. Checking our surroundings we noted a playground near where we entered the park, useful for locating the correct exit to get us back to the subway station when it came time to leave.

bridge at Ohori Park

bridge across the center of the lake

Ohori Park has a trail around a lake that was once a moat to a castle. Bridges to an island in the center make a shortcut right through the lake as well as a pleasant path to walk on. There’s a bike trail and running path around the lake as well. Some pretty good-sized fish clustered around a no fishing sign next to the bridge. Soon a turtle and ducks swam out from under the bridge together. A little red pagoda juts out into the water on its own dock on one side of the island.

no fishing Ohori Park

wildlife at the no fishing sign

Trails off to the side of the lake lead into a Japanese garden near the far end of the bridge from the subway station. Near the playground more trails lead into the area noted as castle ruins, though other than one of what used to be many towers there didn’t seem to be much in the way of ruins there. It did have a section with many little cabanas, some with outdoor furniture and others with picnic tables, and lots of barbecues. Whether those are always there or were just there that day for a race people were in the process of setting up for I can’t say.

homeless in Japan

homeless camp in Ohori Park

Off to the end of the field with the trail leading to the tower we saw what looked like a homeless camp with lots of cats. First sign of homelessness we’d seen in Japan, and we didn’t come across any anywhere else.

Fukuoka, Japan

castle turret in Ohori Park

The lake had a cluster of swan boats and other little boats floating about, but it didn’t look like they were renting any out that day as nobody was using any of them. It may have been too windy for them to be used safely that day.

arch in the park

we found a handy arch to hide under and escape a torrential downpour

Fukuoka castle ruins sit fairly close to Ohori Park, but it started pouring down rain before we got through the park and this time the rain showed no sign of stopping so we didn’t go there. Instead we made our way back to the subway when we caught a brief break where the rain let up enough to emerge from the archway we hid under during the worst of the downpour. Since there is that one turret in the park we did at least see something from an old castle.

brides in Ohori Park, Japan

brides like to pose for pre-wedding photos in Ohori Park, in traditional or modern clothing

Overall Ohori Park is a pleasant place to spend a day, especially if the weather cooperates.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2020
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Exploring Zurich

Zurich old town city view from riverside path

After our late arrival in Zurich due to our plane landing late at Heathrow resulting in a missed connection, we had just had one morning to explore Zurich before catching a train to Lucerne. Since we were staying in the old town area we just went out and walked around. First we went to the train station to store our luggage. The station was just across the street from the apartment where we’d spent the night and check-out time was in the morning and our train not until afternoon.

Zurich main train station

Zurich’s main station is a monstrous multi-level place with shops all over and numerous train platforms. It was much too early to see what platform our train would be on, but I did notice the trains to Lucerne were all on low-numbered platforms in the 6-8 range, which conveniently happened to be quite near the luggage storage locker area, just one level up. Restrooms are also near the luggage storage area, but you have to pay to go in so we never used them. The larger train stations all seemed to have pay restrooms, while the smaller restrooms at small stations were more likely to be free.

one of many luggage locker bays at the Zurich train station

My little carry-on size suitcase and backpack fit easily into one of their lower level large size lockers, but my husband had to work at getting his bigger bag in there, though it did work out in the end. You put stuff in a locker with a green light, then shut the door and it flashes red, at which time you pay on a nearby pad. You get a receipt and the light turns to solid red, locking your things in until you come back. Save the receipt because you need to  insert the end with a barcode into the slot they have on the pay pad for scanning it, which makes the door pop open. Very useful when checking out of your lodgings hours before leaving town when you don’t want to drag luggage around all day.

Zurich light rail

Zurich has a lot of public transportation. There were lots of light rail trains all over, as well as busses, taxis, and uber. We just walked along the river out one direction and back and then out the other way and back. There were trails all along the river and some parks. Lots of people were out for a run or pushing strollers or walking dogs. In the summer there are boat rides, but not in November when we were there.

Christmas bobbles on light fixtures by the river

We saw people putting Christmas balls on light fixtures and some sort of carnival in the midst of being set-up. Where the river widened out into more lake size there was a pretty big marina. It started out with little boats on the end we got to first where the river hadn’t gotten as wide yet, then spread out to bigger boats as the river widened. There were a few ducks and a lot of swans.

cobblestone streets in old town Zurich

The old town area has lots of interesting buildings. There are bell towers that all rang at 11am the day we were there. Old churches and cathedrals send spires skyward, and some buildings look like castles. The road is wide along the river, but if you go up a block into the old town there are narrow cobblestone streets and even narrower alleyways snaking their way between the buildings. Sometimes they open up into a sort of plaza or town square.

meal in a box

We stopped at a little shop for lunch that served something called a doner box, where they piled your meal into a box. Something we’ve never seen before, but we wanted to try something local and it was more affordable than most places around there. Meat choices were chicken or lamb, which was layered with French fries, a sauce of your choice, and a bit of lettuce, tomato, and onion if you wanted it. It was actually quite tasty, and made me wonder if the Canadian favorite poutine which I have never tried may not be as disgusting as it sounds. For anyone who has never heard of poutine, it consists of French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy in its most basic form, and may have other things like meat added. Food in Switzerland was very expensive. We could get two meals in Austria for about the same price as one meal in Switzerland so while we were there we mostly just ordered one thing and shared it. Luckily the portions were usually fairly generous.

short train

We got back to the train station early enough to wander around a bit, though probably only saw a fraction of it as it seemed to go on forever in multiple directions. When the reader board said our train was coming on platform 6 we retrieved our luggage and went out to wait for it. A little short train arrived soon after. Nobody came out to say anything or take tickets, or even open doors, which did not open on their own. People just had to walk up to a carriage and open the door themselves to get inside. Our ticket said we could sit anywhere that was not reserved or first class and not seeing anything that looked like either we just picked some seats and sat down.

apparently sleeping is not allowed in the park in Zurich

Most of the trains we took had luggage racks above the seats that would hold our backpacks and small suitcases like mine, but only a couple of the longer distance trains had luggage racks big enough for John’s large suitcase. He has said since he would pack lighter if we were to travel around by train like that again. Even though we were visiting cold places pre-cruise and warm ones during the cruise I packed light and did laundry by hand along the way because I did not want to drag a big bag around on the trains.

marina in Zurich

After stopping at a couple little stations the train slowed down when there was a much longer one ahead of it on the track. It caught up and hooked into that train so we became the tail end of a long train instead of a little short train. The ride from Zurich to Lucerne was 50 minutes with a number of brief stops, but no need to get off or change trains. Lucerne was the end of the line for our small section of the train and everyone had to get off, but walking past the larger section, which had upper and lower levels in each car where ours had only one, we could see people sitting in there so they either didn’t have to get off or had gotten on very quickly. Perhaps the longer bit of the train ditched our small one there and the rest of it continued on to someplace else.

riverside trail in Zurich

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Jenolan Caves

Jenolan Cave

Jenolan Caves

Deep into Australia’s Blue Mountains lies the extensive and impressive Jenolan Caves. These spectacular caves are well worth a tour. Visitors to Sydney without their own cars can get to the caves by taking a train to the mountain town of Katoomba and a bus tour to the caves from there. Katoomba itself is a touristy town with the Three Sisters rock formation as the best known sight there. Nearby Scenic World makes a great place to visit with the world’s steepest railway and a couple scenic rides.

Katoomba Hotel

one of the sitting rooms at the Metropole Hotel in Katoomba

Katoomba has hotels for those wishing to overnight in the area. The historic Metropole, Katoomba’s oldest hotel, sits just across the street from the train station. Besides reasonably priced spacious lodgings this quirky hotel has little sitting room areas, a library, and a game room. Some meals are available for an extra charge. Katoomba has other hotels and resorts and lodging is also available in a hotel and other accommodations at the caves. There’s also the option of a day trip on a bus tour straight from Sydney.

hotel at Jenolan Caves

Caves House Hotel at Jenolan Caves

The Caves House Hotel has a restaurant and café. At lunchtime they also have some outdoor food stands. The caves are in a large nature reserve and some areas around the cave have picnic facilities for people who bring their own food. There are outdoor tables by the food stands. There are also some bushwalking trails for anyone who likes to hike or needs something to do while waiting for their cave tour besides looking through a couple small gift shops.

bird in Australia

a little bird waited for crumbs left behind by diners at the outdoor tables

Cave tours can be booked online or by phone in advance, or on the spot at the ticket office near the caves. I’d recommend booking ahead to insure space is available on the tour of your choice, or on a busy day in any tour at all. We went on an off-day without prior reservations and found just one cave with any tour openings at the time we were there. We would have had to wait at least several hours for openings on any other tour.

stairway in a cave

there’s a lot of stairways in Lucas Cave

Cave tours vary from the easiest caves with no age limit to some that require a bit more effort to get through with minimum ages of 6 or 10. For more adventurous sorts they do have adventure tours that require some actual caving through small openings and things. These have higher minimum age limits as well as higher prices. The show cave tours are all on pathways, some with many stairways going up and down throughout the cave.

Jenolan Caves

drive through cave and tour meeting spot

We toured Lucas Cave. The tour started at a set time by meeting the tour guide at the foot of a stairway on one side of the drive-through cave we passed through while entering into the caves area. Parking was on the other side of the hotel and other buildings where there is another road leading to the caves. They put the road on a one-way loop shortly after we arrived, which meant leaving by the other road for a longer drive back to our hotel in Katoomba.

cave rocks

rock formation in Lucas Cave

The group on this tour was pretty large, probably the only reason it still had tickets available since it is a beautiful cave. Throughout the tour the guide stopped in various wide open spaces to talk about history of the cave and formations in that area. Between the wider openings pathways that were sometimes quite narrow snaked up, down, and around the cave, often up or down stairs. Lucas Cave has over 900 total stairs.

cave ladder

one small portion of a very tall spindly ladder

People sometimes have weddings in one chamber of the cave. Some places have old ladders, once used for traversing through the cave, but now used only to change light bulbs. Without the cave’s lighting system visitors would find themselves in complete darkness.

underground river

the water is a long way down from the bridge-path on the cave tour

From the walkway in one place we could see far below to the river that had once dug its way through rock, hollowing it out into the system of caves. Later rainwater seeping through formed the stalactites and stalagmites. If you’re not sure which is which just remember that stalactites hold tightly to the ceiling.

inside a cave

stalactites and stalagmites

As water drips through the stone the minerals within form into icicle-like pinnacles hanging from the ceiling. Drips off these stalactites land on the ground below piling up into stalagmites. Eventually as both continue to grow they join together and form a column.

broken column

broken column

One of Lucas Cave’s most famous features is the broken column, split by water flowing through the cave and now appearing offset as if by shifts in the planet’s surface.

cave snow

cave rock sparkling like snow

Some areas of the cave sparkle with the frosty appearance of newfallen snow, a look they obtain from the moisture of rain. Other areas have a thinner wet layer. All it needs is a bit of rain to sparkle for a year or so, but if it stays dry too long it loses the shine and looks more like a place where sealife once lived long ago. In fact actual sealife did live there long ago, but as the waters receded all they left behind were some fossils.

cave rock

everything throughout the cave is similar yet different

Cave exploration decades ago was quite different than today’s tours. In one place that now has stairs they showed a smoothly worn area where people once slid down to the next level. Probably more fun than walking down stairs, but no longer allowed. In another place they called a flat-topped rock Picnic Rock and said people used to have picnics on it. They also had a tendency to break off small stalactites thinking they would take them home as souvenirs, but often dropping them somewhere else in the cave. Even with the current rules, pathways, and boundaries in place vandalism isn’t completely prevented. One chamber had graffiti spray painted nowhere near the path. It’s so sad that some people have no respect for our planet or the wonders it provides.

cave in colored lights

very unnatural cave lighting

In a couple places colored lights shone on some of the cave formations when the guide turned them on, but they look best in their natural color. The colored part near the end of the tour was above some sort of small animal skeleton lying on the rock.

cave view

the pathway in and out of the cave has a narrow ledge with a great view

Tours range from 1-2 hours in the show caves. Most tours pass through just one cave, but a couple of them include two. The way into and out of Lucas cave passed along a narrow ledge with a great view. One person tried to take a photo, but dropped the phone she was holding over the fence. The guide said she’d have to wait until the tour was over and talk to someone at the office because it wasn’t his job to climb the fence to try and get it back. Because it’s not worth risking his life over a cell phone, and of course visitors to the cave are not allowed on the other side of the fence so she could not try and get it herself even if she wanted to.

cave rock formations

although it flows too slowly to see motion shows in the formations

The road down to the caves is a bit narrow which is why traffic is limited to one direction during the peak of the day. It’s well worth the trip even if you just tour one of the many available caves.

Lucas Cave

rock formations in Lucas Cave

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2020
Posted in Australia, Explorer of the Seas, Port City Side Trips, Royal Caribbean | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Touring San Francisco

sailing in and out of San Francisco means crossing under the Golden Gate Bridge

After the Royal Princess docked in San Francisco, my sisters and I went out to the pier to meet with our cousin and her friend who live in the area. We hadn’t seen our cousin for quite some time so it was nice to have a chance to visit with her. They took us around to see the sights for the day. Our cousin’s friend is quite knowledgeable about the area and its history.

one of San Francisco’s historic streetcars

First we took a streetcar down to the ferry pier, which used to be a major means of transportation, but now is more of a mall with lots of shops and a greatly reduced ferry schedule, though it does still have ferries. Streetcars run along the waterfront and though they are a historic means of travel, they are not the same thing as San Francisco’s famous cable cars. The city has a collection of vintage streetcars from around the world. The fare is pretty cheap and it was fun to get a chance to ride on a piece of history. Streetcars run on rails and are powered by an onboard electric motor and have trolley poles attached to the roof to obtain power from an overhead wire.

shop in the ferry terminal building

There are some interesting shops at the ferry pier, and it had public restrooms which we were told can be hard to find in San Francisco.

ferry terminal building and little booths across the street

From there we walked a short distance past some little tent booths with things for sale on to a bus stop were we waited for the Big Bus tour, which is similar to the Hop on Hop Off bus, but the busses are bigger. City busses also use that bus stop.

sightseeing on the big bus tour

While we waited a middle-eastern looking man came over to the bus stop and started yelling at us that blondes are stupid in some sort of lame attempt to start a fight or in his mind put a group of women in their place or something. We weren’t sure if he was high on some sort of drugs or just an extremely obnoxious person. We didn’t rise to his bait, though it was tempting to say something like stupid is as stupid does and we’re not the ones insulting strangers. I’ve been to a few countries in the middle east, and none of the people we saw there acted that way.

big bus double decker bus

We moved a bit, but he came back and started yelling the same thing again, insistant on harassing us until my cousin took out her phone and threatened to call the police. Then he left. In all my travels around the world I’ve never ran into anyone like that before. Other than pickpockets and thieves most of the people we’ve come across are generally either friendly and helpful or just ignore everyone they’re not with. Occasionally we’ve come across someone loud, rude, or pushy, but never before been intentionally harassed.

riding a tour bus across the Golden Gate Bridge

The bus came and in spite of it being cold and windy, which it often is in San Francisco, we went upstairs and sat in the open top section. We stayed on the bus for quite awhile seeing the sights around town and going over the Golden Gate Bride. So we went both under and over the bridge in the same day.

gateway into Chinatown

We got off the bus in China Town by the China Gate. The driver said San Franciso has 3 China Towns. Wikipedia says there are 4. This one had shops selling jade, giant statues, fancy carvings, intricate tables, and huge geodes just the other side of the gate. All manner of shops selling everything from cheesy souveniers to food, jewelry, and clothing followed. Down the road pagoda style towers on top a couple buildings and strings of Chinese lanterns gave the area a real Chinatown look. The very Chinese looking lamp posts added to the effect.

inside a beautiful, but definitely not Chinese church in Chinatown

We wandered through an old church in China town, which had a very beautiful interior and lots of gorgeous stained glass windows as old churches tend to do.

building with a pagoda on top across the street from the old church in Chinatown

We had lunch at a small Chinese restaurant with good food. My sister wanted to see Lombard Street and I wanted to ride a cable car. The bus driver had mentioned taking one from Union Square to the top of Lombard, which seemed like a good idea since we could cover both those things that way. My cousin called for a Lyft ride, but her app was out of date and she couldn’t specify the size of car. The one that showed up was too small for everyone so I called an Uber instead.

Union Square

It dropped us off in Union Square. There were repairs or issues of some sort with the cable cars in that location that day and they were only running farther up the track. A free shuttle bus picked people up at the cable car stop and went to the first station where we could catch the cable car.

historic cable car in San Francisco

San Francisco’s historic cable cars are the last manually operated cable cars in the world and are a national historic landmark listed on the national register of historic places. The cable car was smaller than the streetcar we rode earlier. There is no engine or motor on the cable cars themselves. They are powered by electric motors that pull cables running through a trench beneath the street in a slot between the rails. These were originally steam-powered. The cables move at a constant 9.5 miles per hour. The cable car conductor (called a gripman) uses a lever when they need to manually make the cable car’s gripper grasp or release the cable. They need to grasp the cable to make the car go and release it in order to be able to stop. Foot pedals control the brakes.

Lombard Street

We rode the cable car up and down some hills until it reached the top of Lombard Street where we got out. Lombard Street is famous for the winding section of switchbacks on a steep hill. On the way the conductor explained that the reason for the crooked street was that back when it was built the brakes in the model T cars people drove at that time couldn’t handle a straight road that steep.

stairway for pedestrians on Lombard Street

The road snaked back and forth down the hill so the old cars back in model T days would be able to stop. It’s a narrow road and down is the only direction cars are currently allowed to take. There is a sidewalk with a series of stairways for foot traffic. There’s also a sign proclaiming it to be the world’s crookedest street.

Fay Park

From there we walked down to Fisherman’s Wharf. On the way down we came across a little garden that looked like it belonged to a house, but had a gate to the sidewalk with a sign that called it Fay Park and stated hours that it was open to the public. One of my sisters had wanted to go to some sort of park or garden so we took the opportunity to go to this one. Though quite small it had some pathways and benches and lovely flowers. It looked like someone put quite a lot of time and care into creating and tending it. It was originally private property that was professionally landscaped. It was renovated by the city after it was given to them.

Fisherman’s Wharf sign

Once we got to Fisherman’s Wharf we did a bit of shopping before stopping for a snack of real San Francisco sourdough bread at Boudin Bakery, the home of the original loaf and holder of the mother sourdough starter. The fermentation process breaks down some of the gluten so some people with mild gluten sensitivities can tolerate sourdough bread even if they can’t eat regular wheat bread. Celiacs and those with gluten allergies or strong sensitivities still have issues with it though, especially since most commercial sourdough breads are higher in gluten than the old-fashioned variety.

Fisherman’s Wharf

We had intended to go to the part of the wharf where the sea lions hang out, but ran out of time to do that before our dinner reservation. While it would have been fun to see them, we have all seen sea lions before.

view out the back of the cable car

Another uber ride took us to a restaurant called Firefly, who’s nearly all gluten free menu gave us lots of choices of what to eat for dinner. We rarely eat on shore since we can have good food on the ship without the added cost, but since we were hanging with a cousin we rarely see we did it this time. Her daughter whom two of us hadn’t seen since she was a child also lives in the area and joined us for dinner so it was nice to have a chance to visit with her too. It’s amazing how fast a day goes by. Luckily we had no all-aboard time as the ship overnighted in San Francisco, but it got pretty late by the time we finished dinner so they all went home and we caught an Uber back to the ship.

Lombard Street

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
Posted in Port Cities, Port City Side Trips, Princess, Royal Princess, USA | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Where’s the Ship?

Boarding in Venice Trieste

Venice Grand Canal

Venice

Venice is Italy’s city of canals, built on a series of islands in a lagoon. The original lagoon dwellers were fishermen living on the then marshy islands. Others retreated there to avoid various armies after the fall of Rome. The lagoon protected them the way walls protected other cities of the era because people not local to the area did not know where to find the safe navigation channels to avoid running their ships aground if the invaders happened to  have any ships – which they generally didn’t, leaving the islands unreachable.

canal in Venice

This isolation from the political upheavals of the mainland eventually allowed the Venetians to thrive rather than just survive. Venetians were early explorers, traders, and sailors. San Giocomo, the first church, was built on the islet of Rialto in 421, and is considered as the traditional founding of the city. Architecture of the city is based on pilings driven into the ground supporting the stone slab foundations of the buildings. Between these pilings sinking and water levels rising over the centuries the original ground floors of some buildings are flooded and unusable. High tides and storms flood places like the famous San Marcos square frequently enough that they put portable raised sidewalks out so people have somewhere dry to walk. Raincoat-like boots that pull on over people’s shoes are a popular item sold by vendors around the area.

Venice is a city of canals, bridges, and narrow alleys

Cruise ships visiting Venice currently dock at Stazione Marittima at the western end of the city near Tronchetto, where many tour busses arrive. There’s a parking garage there where visitors who come to the city by car leave their vehicles, as there are no roads through the islands that make up the main part of the city. There is a movement to dock ships elsewhere or change their entry route to the port, but the alternate route requires dredging and the alternative ports need infrastructure before either of those things happen. Meanwhile the amount of ships visiting Venice has declined and the largest of cruise ships don’t go there.

Bridge of Sighs – where prisoners crossed between Doge’s Palace and the prison for trial or execution

Things to do in Venice

In this city with canals for roads, gondola rides are the quintessential experience. Architecture is the main attraction with places like St. Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace. Piazza San Marco is the main square, and the Rialto Bridge and Bridge of sighs (named for the sighs of the condemned said to have been heard from the bridge as they crossed between old and new prisons or to execution) are also attractions. There are museums, and local cuisine featuring seafood from the lagoon is an attraction in itself. Seafood, pasta, and pizza restaurants are mainly what is found around Venice. Even the little place near where we stayed ran by Chinese people served pasta and pizza rather than Asian food.

Vaporetto public transport boat

Since there are no roads transportation is on foot or by water. Public boats called vaporettos function like a water bus transporting people across Venice. It’s not a big area, and walkable if you can find your way through the labyrinth of narrow alleyways and bridges. Here and there signs direct people to the major attractions and Google maps is quite useful if you don’t want to feel like a rat in a never ending maze.

Doge’s Palace

City passes are available for 24, 48, or 72 hours with entrance to museums and churches, Doge’s palace and the option to add on public transport. Besides the vaporettos, transportation is available by water taxi and from Alilaguna, which has both public transport boats and cruises to specific places.

Morano Island glass factory

Other highlights are a visit to Morano island to watch glass blowing or going to the beach on the island of Lido (so that’s where the Lido deck name comes from, which is the name of the pool deck on many cruise ships). More points of interest include visiting the mostly abandoned island of Torcello with ancient buildings and walking paths through a nature preserve or see the Jewish ghetto where all of the Jewish people of Venice lived during the time when they weren’t allowed elsewhere in the city.

a lot of the open squares in Venice have an old well

Boarding the MSC Lirica

We spent 3 nights at an Airbnb in Venice before the start of our cruise, which was supposed to begin there. On the night before boarding we got a call from our travel agent at Vacations To Go saying that our port of embarkation had been suddenly changed from Venice to Trieste, 98 miles away. Luckily we did not have to get there on our own, but rather were to go to the port in Venice as planned where MSC would have busses to take everyone to the new port from 10am to 3pm.

the entrance to our bnb in Venice was through this wooden door in a narrow alley

From our bnb in a residential area of the Santa Croce district, it was a short walk to the San Stae vaparetto station where we could catch a boat to the end of the line stop, one beyond the train station where we had first arrived. There were busses at that stop, but not the ones from the ship, which were at the port. To get to the cruise port you have to walk a bit to a building that says people mover. There you pay for a ticket to ride an elevated shuttle train out to the first stop, which is for the cruise port. The second stop is Tronchetto.

boats in Venice are long and narrow to fit through the many canals

The people mover doesn’t go straight to the port. You have to walk a bit from there. The gate guard looks at your ticket and says which terminal to go to. If the ship actually ports there it would be at the dock and you could probably see it, but there were no ships at the dock the day we were there. Since ours got transferred elsewhere we walked down to the end of the terminal we were directed to. They had an open entrance into the building and people to take the luggage at the farthest possible door. Then we went on through the terminal until we came to a place upstairs where they checked tickets and passports and assigned bus numbers according to the order people came in.

Rialto Bridge

We left our bnb at 8:30am figuring to get there early to try and get on the first bus. We arrived around 9ish and ended up on bus #3 so they obviously started far earlier than 10:00. We waited awhile until our bus was called, which was when enough people had arrived to fill it. The driver said it would take an hour and a half to get there, but it actually took a bit over 2. The scenery most of the way was road construction and a highway wall. When we finally got to the shore there would have been some nice views had it not been quite foggy and raining too hard to see much.

gondola in Venice

At the port we ended up in a long slow moving line because the people from the first 2 busses had been waiting in a room there and were just turned loose to head for the ship when our bus got there. The line at the scanners and passport check would move a little, then stop, move a bit again, and stop some more so it took quite awhile to get through even though we weren’t terribly far back in the line. Finally we got through and had a bit of a walk down the outside of this terminal until reaching the end where we had a short distance to go out from under the sheltered side of the building before reaching the stairway up to the ship. Luckily it had stopped raining by then because for awhile on the bus ride over it was such a downpour we’d have been soaked in just that short distance and our luggage didn’t get to our room for hours so we would have had nothing dry to change into. It did finally arrive long after all the rooms around ours got theirs, so at least it made it on the ship. First loaded in the truck, last off. It was probably well buried under the luggage of everyone who got to the port after us. If you have things you think you might need before your luggage gets delivered it’s a good idea to keep them in your carry-on, but it hadn’t started raining yet when we checked our bags.

Trieste

looking down from the ship to stuff getting loaded onboard in the port

We didn’t see anything of Trieste other than what we could see from the ship, but this is what MSC’s daily planner had to say about it:

view of Trieste from the deck of MSC Lirica

Trieste is in the heart of the gulf of the Friulian coast, rising to the boarder with Slovenia. Its ancient origins date back to human presence in prehistorical times. It is currently one of the greater harbors on the Adriatic. The city has many historical buildings, and the Castle of Miramare which is the symbol of Trieste. The castle was built in 1850 as a residence for Austrian Prince Maximillian of Augsburg. It is surrounded by a park and currently has a butterfly garden.

gondola

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Hakata Cruise Port in Fukuoka, Japan

Hakarta Port, Japan

view of the Port of Hakarta from the Westerdam

Fukuoka, Japan

Fukuoka sits on the northern shore of Kyushu island in Japan, with the sea to the north and mountains surrounding the other 3 sides of the city. Fukuoka has a major industrial area and is one of Japan’s ten most populous cities.

The area’s climate is humid subtropical with hot wet summers and fairly mild winters that rarely see snow or temperatures below freezing. Annual rainfall reaches about 63 inches with the wettest period from June to September. Typhoon season runs through August and September. Spring is generally warm and sunny and fall (beyond September) mild and dry. Japanese money is the yen, and it is over 100 yen to one US dollar.

Because of its proximity, Hakata was historically important for contacts with the mainland. Some unwanted – like Mongol invasions. In 1268 Kublai Khan of the Mongol Empire started sending envoys to Japan who continuously refused to accept Mongol rule. The mongol ruler’s invading force of 1274 was thwarted by severe storms and their own incompetence. Mongolian emissaries sent in 1279 as an envoy were not only refused, but beheaded, spurring another attack in 1281. Outnumbered by more than 3 times, the Japanese defenders were no match for the invading Mongols. The Mongol army made it 9 miles on land before severe weather again thwarted their efforts. This typhoon was later referred to as the Kamikaze (divine wind) and is the origin of the name of the World War II suicide attackers.

Hakarta Ferry Terminal

the ferry terminal is at a nearby wharf, visible from the cruise ship

The historic port remains busy in modern times. Besides the thriving container ship port, they have quite a lot of visits from cruise ships heading for Busan, South Korea which at 200 kilometers away is closer than Tokyo, or Shanghai, China 900 kilometers distant.

There’s a bit of everything in Fukuoka for tourists from beaches to modern shopping malls to ancient temples, a wooden Buddha, and even the ruins of a castle. None of it is right at the port.

Westerdam in Fukuoka

Port of Hakata

Hakata Cruise Port

Hakata and Fukuoka once were separate cities, but have joined into one city now. Though the city as a whole is called Fukuoka, the port district is still referred to as Hakata.

Ships visiting Fukuoka dock at either Fukuoka Chuo Wharf or Fukuoka Hakozki Wharf. Chuo has 2 berths for cruise ships and is where the majority of them dock. Hakozki has one berth where cruise ships can dock. It is the biggest wharf and mainly used for cargo ships. Freight from there can easily be moved by rail, air, or highway as all are nearby.

Bayside Place Fukuoka, Japan

Bayside Place (internet photo)

Passengers are not near town at either wharf. Chuo is 4 kilometers from the downtown area or railway station at Tenjin or Hakata Station which is a major transportation hub. Hakozki is even farther at 5 k away. The closest attraction to Chuo Wharf is Bayside Place, 2.1 kilometers away where the ferries dock. Besides ferries, Hakata Tower, a museum, a shrine, food, lots of shops, and an aquarium it has things to do like harbor cruises and a nightly laser show.

The Holland America Westerdam docked at Chuo Wharf. Other than a grocery type store there isn’t much but industrial buildings near the ship. We looked out onto a container port from the ship. The port provided free shuttle service to City Hall, which is in a downtown area with lots of shopping and just a few blocks from Tenjin subway station. People wishing to take the bullet train to Nagasaki or elsewhere were advised by the shore planning staff to take a taxi to Hakata station.

welcome to Fukuoka

welcome crew in the port building

The port had free wifi and a visitor’s information desk with maps and people to answer questions and give advice on how to get places. It also had a long above ground tunnel sort of thing to walk through before getting to the port building, which did provide a wind break for an otherwise windy walk between the ship and the building.

Ohori Park in Fukuoka, Japan

Ohori Park

Things to do in Fukuoka

If you take the shuttle to City Hall, the Tenjin area nearby has lots of shopping as well as food, a shrine, and a park. Fukuoka is famous for its ramen and has lots of places to eat it. With the subway station just a few blocks away people can also explore other areas on their own. Fukuoka has over 3000 shrines and plenty of museums. Ohori park is just a couple subway stops away and has gardens and a lake. The park is next to the castle ruins.

Japan subway

subway in Fukuoka

If you’re into robots you can interact with them in Robosquare at the city science museum near Ropponmatsu station, about 8k from Chuo wharf. You can get there by bus from Tenjin station. The museum is just a few blocks from Momochi Seaside Park, a kilometer long manmade beach near Fukuoka Tower.

Canal City is a popular large shopping mall complete with a canal and fountain shows.

Fukuoka

Fukuoka near the shuttle drop-off

Shore Excursions in Fukuoka

One of the shore excursions offered from our ship included a bullet train ride to Kokura Castle, and viewing of a tea ceremony plus a view of Yahata Imperial Steel Works and tech industry gallery. Another visited 2 shrines and Fukuoka Tower. One had a gondola boat ride, museum, and lunch. Others included sightseeing the town’s highlights by bus or a visit to a shrine.

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Skechers Boot Review

skechers boots

Being partial to Skechers, as they tend to fit me more comfortably than most brands, I was happy to find some boots made by Skechers when looking for something for a European vacation by train and cruise ship that would be warm enough to wear through the colder regions as we traveled through Switzerland and Austria, comfortable enough to walk around in all day, and stylish enough to wear as formal night shoes on the cruise ship as I was packing light and didn’t want to bring any more shoes than necessary. I actually wore them to dinner every night on the cruise ship, not just the formal ones. And around the ship other times as well since they were so comfortable.

wearing skechers boots in Vaduz, Liechtenstein

These ankle-high faux fur lined slip on boots called Skechers On-The-Go Joy filled the bill. I wore them the entire 10 days of our land trip from Zurich to Lucerne in Switzerland, through Liechtenstein, Austria, and Venice. My feet stayed warm and they were always comfortable to walk in, and for all the train rides from one place to another as well. They are also great airplane shoes because they are soft and comfortable as well as easy on and off, which comes in handy if you have to remove your shoes for security screening.

label from skechers boot box

We had some rainy days and though I stayed out of puddles as much as possible, sometimes you have to step in a bit of water. For the most part I never went deeper than the sole of the boot was tall and they kept my feet dry, though puddles deeper than the sole could pose a challenge for them as they are not rain boots.

skechers boots in the snow

They are also fine for walking through snow so long as you are just walking on the surface. Obviously they are not tall enough for deep snow, and not suitable for playing in the snow, but when we went up a mountain in Lucerne, Switzerland and walked around in the snow on a cold windy day my boots stayed dry inside.

top of Innsbruck in a blizzard in skechers boots

Only once on the entire trip did my feet get a bit wet in those boots. That was near the end of a snowy, rainy day up a mountain called Nordkette in Innsbruck, Austria. The top of the mountain was pretty much in a blizzard and I made it to the top of Innsbruck sign and back with dry feet. Which was a very long 20-30 feet from the door. It doesn’t sound far, but with the wind driving minute bits of ice and snow into the eyes of anyone who dared go outside any distance seemed far. The next level, which was down one of the two gondolas it took to get to the top, was sunny with lots of snow on the ground and we walked around there for awhile. The snow was deep, but we did not sink down below the tops of the boots so they kept my feet dry just fine there too. The next level at the bottom of the other gondola was rainy with slush everywhere. We stopped to check out a small Christmas market before taking the funicular down to the Alpenzoo at the next level, where we had a very long walk in the rain. Somewhere between the slush, rain, and deep puddles some water seeped through the boots, and though my feet weren’t cold, the boots did get wet inside by the end of the day. Of course that was after pushing them well beyond the limits of what they are intended for.

sole of the skechers boots

There were places in that zoo where my husband had issues with his shoes sliding on the slick ground, but the soles of these boots had no problems at all.

skechers on-the-go joy boots

After having put these boots to the test and then some they nearly always made it through with flying colors. I put a lot of miles on them walking around everywhere and they were still in perfect condition for the cruise – where they came in handy as easy on, easy off footwear for walking around on the ship anytime and not just for formal nights. The ship sailed to warmer areas so they were not the footwear of choice for port stops, but that was due to the boots being for colder weather than what we had at those ports, not because of any issues with the boots themselves. Inside cruise ships it’s generally always cold regardless of the temperature outside so for wandering around inside the ship boots always work.

crossing a covered bridge in Lucerne, Switzerland

My feet stayed comfortable in these boots wearing them all day every day and putting a lot of miles on them for many days in a row, which is saying a lot since wearing the same shoes for too long sometimes does sometimes lead to sore feet so I usually try to vary my shoes from day to day. Now that I’m back home they’re still my footwear of choice, and will continue to be until the weather gets too warm for boots.

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Flying to Zurich

riverside scenery in Zurich

Before our 20-day MSC Lirica cruise from Venice to Dubai, we decided to spend a bit of time exploring parts of Europe where we’ve never been. We left 10 days ahead of the cruise, but the flight didn’t arrive until the day after leaving so we had 9 nights to spend there. Googling the best price for the flight put us on British Airways flying through Heathrow in London, an airline and airport we had no experience with. We started with a night in Zurich, Switzerland, then took the train to Lucerne, Switzerland; Vaduz, Liechtenstein; Innsbruck, Austria, and Venice, Italy.

British Airways plane

Flying into London’s Heathrow Airport we had just an hour scheduled between flights and our plane came in 20 minutes late. We were at the back so more time ticked away waiting to get off. It came in at the B gates, with the next flight leaving from the A gates of the same terminal. Getting from one set of gates to the other involved a train ride, a lot of walking, and a trip through security. Why they make people go through security to get from one gate to another is beyond me. Obviously everyone already passed security before getting on the first plane. At some airports they give people with tight connections some sort of assistance in getting to the next plane, whether that comes in the form of a speed pass, an escort, or a bypass of lines. This airline and airport provided nothing but delays.

Heathrow Airport, London

There were long lines at security. They had no priority or speed lines for those with immediate flights so we were stuck behind all the people whose planes must have been several hours distant as it took them about 5 minutes each to put their belongings in the bin for screening, dawdling slowly as if they hadn’t a care in the world and had all day to wait for their next plane. When we asked if we could go ahead of people who had more time before their plane the screener just said everyone there had a plane to catch. He totally ignored the fact that it makes a huge difference if that plane is due to depart in 20 minutes like ours was at that point, or several hours distant as some people’s were.

swan in the river in Zurich

We finally got through the screening, with less than 10 minutes to get to our flight, which was of course at the farthest possible gate from security. We ran all the way to the gate and could see the plane still sitting there, but were told the doors had been shut and nobody else could get on. British Airways is not very helpful. Besides doing nothing to help speed the way for people with a long distance to go and not much time between planes, once you miss it they really don’t care. All the people at the gate would say was to go to the help counter, which was of course quite a long distance from the gate. There they said the next flight was 5 hours away. They gave us each a voucher worth 10 pounds towards the price of a meal, but did not put the gate number on our tickets and would not say what gate the plane would be at, just somewhere in the A gates and to wait until it was posted. The A gate complex was something like an expansive shopping mall spreading out over a large area with lots of shops, some eateries, and here and there a gate thrown in.

building in Zurich

There was one spot with lots of seats in front of a giant readerboard where they posted the gates – eventually. They didn’t post the one for our plane until it had already started boarding so in spite of being there 5 hours ahead of the plane it was still a mad scramble to get to the gate on time as it was of course nowhere near that readerboard. At least we were already within the A-gate complex so we didn’t have to pass through security or once again we would have missed the plane. We talked to someone who missed their plane while sitting at the airport waiting in an airport lounge because their gate wasn’t posted in time to get from the lounge to the gate before the plane left. It really makes no sense for an airport to keep where planes will be a secret for so long that passengers have no time to get there from wherever they are once the information is finally revealed. Heathrow is not an airport I’d pass through again given any other option. Nor is British Airways an airline I would choose again if anything else reasonably priced was available. Besides their lack of helpfulness and refusal to post gate information in a timely manner, all of our 4 flights this trip were at least 20-40 minutes late at landing.

building in Zurich

We had just one night in Zurich and had intended to get there in time to spend the afternoon sightseeing as well as the next morning before catching an afternoon train. With the delay in flights it was long past dark by the time we arrived. We stayed in an apartment found on Booking.com called Main Station Studios. It was conveniently located across the street from the train station, which was its best feature. It did also have a comfortable bed. The nightly price there was better than anything else available in that area of Zurich during our stay. That apartment also books through Airbnb. Even with the address printed out on the booking info, our taxi driver had a heck of a time finding it.

this is what they called a kitchen in the Zurich apartment

The apartment was in a building where some units are nightly rentals like the one we had, but others are where people actually live. The cost of living must be pretty high in Zurich for anyone to live in a place like that. Calling it an apartment was a stretch. It had less than some hotel rooms both in space and amenities. The total square footage was actually smaller than the average hotel room. The kitchen consisted of a small counter on one side of the entry hallway, which had a hot plate, a mini-fridge, a tiny sink, and a cupboard.

other than a small table between the wall and bed on the side not shown, this is it

There was no closet, just a rolling rack with a hanging bar and a shelf. The bathroom was spacious, but the main room had barely enough space for a bed and a small table with a couple little chairs. There was no other furniture other than a TV, and no room for any. The room had a window with a Juliette balcony. It was fine as a place to stay for a vacation, but I can’t imagine living there. Replacing the bed with a sofa bed or Murphy bed would make a little living space, but it still wouldn’t be much. At least with the hot plate we had somewhere to heat water for tea, and it did have a coffee maker, something none of the other places we stayed in Europe had. Most had nowhere to heat water at all. There was one towel each provided, but no wash cloths. Apparently Europeans don’t use wash cloths as they are rarely ever available there. Bedding consisted of 2 separate pods that were a combination of sheets and a comforter all together in a sleeping-bag like bundle, which is what we found at all the hotels that trip.

river in Zurich

The city of Zurich sits at the north end of Lake Zurich in northern Switzerland. The picturesque lanes of the central Altstadt (German for Old Town), on either side of the Limmat River reflect its history. The area has been continuously inhabited since the Roman empire, and there is archeological evidence of human habitation as early as the 5th century BC. Zurich is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, but most of the population also speak English, which is very helpful for English speaking tourists. Everyone we came across in Switzerland spoke English very well. They learn it in school starting at the elementary level. Most Europeans speak multiple languages, as do crew on the cruise ships from a variety of countries. The USA is definitely lacking compared to much of the rest of the world when it comes to language education.

Grossmunster

Zurich’s Altstadt consists of Medieval houses, narrow lanes and buildings from the Renaissance period. The double towers of the Grossmünster (Great Minster) are Zurich’s major landmark. According to legend, Charlemagne built the towers at the location where the graves of the city saints Felix and Regula were discovered. Further sights worth seeing include the Peterskirche (Peter’s Church), which has Europe’s largest clock face, and the Fraumünster (Minster of Our Lady), which is known for its stained glass windows by Giacometti and Chagall.

Fraumunster church

Things available to do in Zurich depend on the time of year. Summertime activities include a Riverboat ride or lake cruise (ends October) and a funicular to Stoos-Fronalpstock. A stroll through Old Town works any time of year, and of course snow sports are seasonal to wintertime. Other options which may or may not be open depending on the time of year include Mount Titlis cable car, Rapperswil fairy tale town on Lake Zurich, Rhine falls, Flumserberg mountain, Einsiedeln Abby, Lindenhof fort/park, Mykugelhopf Zurich sweet tour (chocolate samplings), and museums.

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Capilano Suspension Bridge at Christmas

Capilano Suspension Bridge

Capilano Suspension Bridge lit up at Christmastime

Capilano Suspension Bridge spans the Capilano River at Capilano Bridge Park in Vancouver BC, Canada. A free shuttle picks visitors up from 4 locations in Downtown Vancouver. In the wintertime the park is strung with lights for their Canyon Lights display.

Capilano Bridge Park

Daniel in a tree at Capilano Bridge Park

Besides the main bridge over a river and across a canyon, the park has some trails, a gift shop, food, and some smaller bridges suspended between trees.

Capilano Bridge Park

lights near the entrance at Capilano Bridge Park

There’s some trails on the entry side of the canyon, and more across the bridge. The main bridge is 140 meters long and suspended 70 meters above the river. In typical suspension bridge fashion, it does move some as people cross it.

sleigh at Capilano Bridge Park

photo op sleigh

A sleigh on the side of the pathway invited visitors to take photos. It may involve a bit of a wait as lots of people go there in the dark to see the Christmas lights.

Capilano Bridge Park

trees in different areas were strung with lights of different colors

Capilano Bridge Park

red tree lights

Capilano Bridge Park

bell light high in the trees

One area had a series of small bridges suspended between trees.

Capilano Bridge Park

bridge between trees

kid's weather station

weather station in the trees

A little weather station with activities for kids perched on a tree between bridges.

Capilano Bridge Park

bridge between trees

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