Picturesque Porto

After two days in Lisbon our Viking Cruise itinerary had us heading to Porto where we would join our river cruise ship, the Viking Torgil. On the coach ride to Porto we stopped in Coimbra for a tour of the historic University of Coimbra, followed by some free time in the town and then a traditional Portuguese lunch at República da Saudade restaurant accompanied by Fado music. The university is the oldest in Portugal and one of the oldest, continuously operating universities in the world.

A video recap of our visit to Coimbra

Portugal’s second largest city, Porto holds a place of great traditional importance. The town lends its name to the port wine produced in the region and throughout the nation. Located along the Douro River, the city boasts picturesque neighborhoods, fashionable restaurants and cozy coffee shops. Like Lisbon, Porto has a rich past; its historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A great walking city where you find narrow cobblestone streets brimming with romantic buildings spanning the centuries and a stunning Romanesque cathedral on a hilltop overlooking the river and city.

At the riverside, small barcos rabelos, boats once used to transport casks of wine, paint a charming scene. A major landmark on the river is the Ponte Luís I or Luís I Bridge. This iconic metal bridge, a true engineering marvel, built in 1886, connects Porto with Vila Nove de Gaia. The bridge has two levels, the lower level carries vehicle and pedestrian traffic while the high upper level is for street tram and pedestrian traffic. The upper level offers breathtaking panoramic views of the Douro, Porto and its surrounding areas.

Our ship, the Viking Torgil was docked across the river from Porto in Vila Nove de Gaia, where all the major Port makers have their warehouses. You see all the big names on these warehouses and tasting rooms such as; Sandeman, Taylor, Cockburn’s, Croft. The riverfront adjacent to our vessel is a very lively waterfront area with many restaurants, bars, shops and other attractions. A nearby cable car carries you up to the top of the hill where the upper level of the Luís I Bridge crosses over to Porto.

Some interesting facts about Porto:

  • Porto is one of Europe’s oldest cities, having been founded inBC as a Roman settlement.
  • With its six bridges that cross the Douro, Porto is known as the “City of Bridges”.
  • Two of Porto’s six bridges were designed by Gustave Eiffel before he began work on his famous namesake tower in Paris.
  • Porto is Portugal’s second largest city.
  • In 1996, the city’s historic center was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
  • The city is famous for its historic port wine trade, the center of which lies at Vila Nove de Gaia on the south bank of the Douro River.

Picturesque Porto Slide Show

Picturesque Porto

Lovely Lisbon

Lisbon, Portugal’s capitol and largest city is bursting with culture, history and  tourist attractions. The city is situated along the Tagus River very close to the Atlantic Ocean. This location by the sea is important to Lisbon’s rich history, the jumping off point for the Portuguese explorers in the Age of Discovery.

Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in Western Europe, having its origins as an indigenous Celts settlement around 800BC, also as Phoenician and Greek trading posts in the same era. Then occupied by Carthaginians and eventually become part of the Roman Empire as the city of Olisipo. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Visigoth German tribes occupied much of the Iberian peninsular, including Portugal. The invasion and occupation by the Islamic Moors from North Africa in the 8th Century lasted about 4 centuries until they were ousted by Christian crusaders. The influence of the Moors is still very evident throughout Portugal in the beautiful ceramic tiles (azulejos) that adorn palaces, churches, public buildings, even homes.

In 1755 a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated Lisbon and the surrounding areas.  The Secretary of the State of Internal Affairs at that time, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, popularly known as the Marquis of Pombal, lead the bebuilding efforts. Pombal employed new building codes and methods including earthquake-proof architectural design. Much of what you see in central Lisbon today are the results of this 18th Century rebuilding effort. A large monument at the Praça Marquês de Pombal square honors the Marquis of Pombal.

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From Edward VII Park, the monument to Marquis of Pombal can be seen in the distance. 

We spent the first two days and the last two days of our trip in Lisbon. This gave us enough free time to do some walking around. Lisbon is a hilly city with cobblestone sidewalks and streets, so walking can be a bit challenging for us older folks. Lots of stairs and steep streets will ramp up your FitBit numbers rather quickly. We found the public transit system in Lisbon to be excellent and very affordable. On our last full day we purchased a 24-hour Metro pass (about 6.00 Euros each) which covered subway, buses and the famous street trams.

Some of the sights we visited included Belem Tower, Jerónimos Monastery, Praça do Comércio, St. George Castle, Lisbon Cathedral and Edward VII Park.

Enjoying Food & Drink

Making Pastel de Nata

Some visited sights

One of the interesting features of Lisbon is the extensive cobblestone paving of miles and miles of sidewalks. These cobblestones are small, irregular shaped and are hand fitted. On the sidewalk at the southeast corner of Praça dos Restauradores (Restaurant Square) there is a tribute of the pavers who build these extensive works of art.

 Slideshow of LisbonLisbon

Montana Vacation – Part 3

Big Sky – Majestic Mountains – Huckleberries – Friendly People

Glacier National Park

In this final post from our August 1 – 13, 2019 Montana vacation we will share the sights in and around Glacier National Park. We spent several days exploring the park and surrounding areas. The weather during our three days in the park area was clear and hot, but smoke from wild fires in Idaho and Washington did impact some of the photo opportunities.

Red Bus Tour

When we first planned this Montana trip several months ago we wanted to make sure we experienced the “Going to the Sun Road” but had some concerns about doing the drive ourselves. The person driving would need to concentrate on the challenging road and would miss out on the scenery.

In our research we found out about the Red Bus Tours that operate in the National Park. They offer several tour options, one a 4-5 hour tour and another all day tour. We opted for the 4-5 hour tour that goes up the “Going to the Sun Road” as far as Logan Pass, then returns. We made reservations online well in advance of our trip (reservations are highly recommended). These tours are narrated by knowledgeable drivers who provide both factual information plus many entertaining stories along the way. The drivers make many photo stops along the route and these buses have reserved parking at some critical stops, which avoids the crowded private vehicle parking areas. Our 4-5 hour tour was $64 per person and we felt it was money well spent.

Our tour started about 9:15am from the Apgar Visitor Center. The parking lot at Apgar Visitor’s Center fills up fast, so getting there early will assure a spot and not risk missing your tour time.

The Tour Route

The tour buses are restored, 1930’s vintage White motor coaches serving park visitors for 80 plus years. I ended up sitting in the front passenger seat, so had the opportunity to shoot some video along the way. The following is a compilation of clips from the bus tour.

Views from “Going to the Sun Road”
Lake McDonald
Whitefish Lake
Many Glacier Area

Montana Vacation – Part 1

Big Sky – Majestic Mountains – Huckleberries – Friendly People

This year our August vacation was to Northwest Montana. Our visit would include the towns of Missoula, Whitefish and Columbia Falls, touring Glacier National Park, the Bitterroot Mountain area and the Bison National Range.

Kathie and I met up with our daughter Jen, who flew in from DC. So this was a family vacation and during the week we celebrated both Kathie and Jen’s birthdays.

Our visit was during the first 2-weeks of August. The weather was good overall, albiet hot during the days (mid 90’s). At the very end of our visit there were some severe thunderstorms, but these didn’t interupt our plans in any significant way.

This “Part 1” blog will focus on our visit to the Missoula area. A “Part 2” will continue with our visit to Glacier National Park and the surrounding areas.

Missoula

Arriving in Missoula, we spent the first weekend there. Missoula is a fun town, home to the University of Montana. We explored the Saturday Street Market and Farmer’s Market, which were very popular and lively.

The Missoula downtown has some interesting late 19th – early 20th Century building architecture, great area for walking and exploring. 

Flying to Missoula

We flew United from Boston to Denver connecting with a United Express flight to Missoula, about a 2 hours flight from Denver. The window seat view flying into Missoula on a clear day is breathtaking as you follow the valley between mountains on final approach.

Walking around Missoula

Enjoying the street scenes and the riverfront area. This is Lewis and Clark country.

Saturday Morning Markets

Saturdays in Missoula feature an arts & crafts People’s Market on E. Pine St (closed to vehicle traffic) and a large Farmer’s Market on the riverfront next to Caras Park.

Food & Drink

Missoula offers plenty of food and drink options. There are many gourmet coffee shops and very good micro-breweries. The dining choices vary quite a bit from casual to upscale.

The Bayern Brewery was a real treat, serving excellent Bavarian style micro-brew beers and authentic German comfort food. The pilsner draft with a large, home made pretzel, bratwurst and warm German potato salad really hit the spot.

Our dinner choices included:

  • Plonk, a comfortable wine bar atmosphere featuring a wide selection of wines and a small plate menu ideal for sharing.
  • The Pearl Cafe, a French inspired menu with local ingredients. A very warm, cozy place and we had an excellent server, making it a very pleasant experience. My first Bison tenderloin experience, yum! Reservations are highly recommended.

Other favorite spots in Missoula:

Other Sites Around Missoula

Historical Museum at Fort Missoula

On the site of Fort Missoula, originally established in the 1870’s during the Indian Wars. The fort served as a US Army training base during WW1, then a Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) camp in the 1930’s. During WW2 it was an Alien Detection Center housing Italian, German and Japanese foreign nationals and resident aliens.

Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation

Located outside Missoula, it was a few minutes from our hotel. Very interesting and informative, dedicated to the conservation of Elk herds. The exhibition area has life-like dioramas depicting Rocky Mountain wildlife in a natural habitat.

Garnet Ghost Town

Garnet Ghost Town is about a 1-hour drive east of Missoula. The town is an abandoned gold mining site with preserved buildings and structures. There are volunteer guides on-site who provide historical information and stories.

Remembering the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris

It is so sad to see such an important cultural and historic site ravaged by a devastating fire. As of this writing (Apr 16, 2019), the day after the fire, officials are assessing the damage and while excessive it appears that through heroic efforts of fire fighters and others, important art and artifacts were saved.

The loss of this beautiful cathedral is a blow to the French people as well as all of us who cherish our culture and history.

While the damage is extreme, there is a commitment from the leaders of Paris and France to rebuild and it appears that significant donations are already pouring to support that effort.

After standing tall for over 800 years, through some of the most important historical periods, the Cathedral of Notre Dame may rise again, but I suspect it will be a very long process and the restoration may not finish in my lifetime.

Fortunately, I have had the chance on two occasions to visit Notre Dame Cathedral, once in the Fall of 2010 as part of a Viking River Cruise and again last year, ironically, one year ago to the day of the fire, April 15, 2018.

I want to share some of my pictures of Notre Dame Cathedral from my past visits.

From our October 2010 trip

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From out April 15, 2018 visit

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Christmas Markets….Vienna, Bratislava & Zagreb

Zagreb

When we started planning this year’s Christmas Market trip back in October, we were looking to visit somewhere new. Our daughter suggested that Vienna is a must-see Christmas Market, so we decided that would be a good choice. We didn’t want to limit the trip to Vienna, so with the help of our good friend Google, we saw that Zagreb’s Christmas Market was voted Europe’s best for three years running (that according to Croatia tourist website, anyway). We also viewed an number of VLOG’s from folks who visited Zagreb Christmas Market in recent years and these VLOG’s seemed to endorse Zagreb as a good choice. So we added Zagreb to the itinerary and what also helped with that choice is the fact that Zagreb is less than an hour plane trip from Vienna.

When we did our advanced planning, we booked round-trip air with Austrian Airlines and found a conveniently located hotel using Booking.com. Our hotel, the Palace Hotel,  was about $300 for 3 nights, which seemed quite reasonable for a mid-city hotel. More about prices below.

After spending 5 days in Vienna, we flew to Zagreb on Monday December 3rd. Flight was on time, Zagreb airport was easy to navigate and we used Uber for the ride to the hotel. Our driver Boris spoke perfect English and he gave us lots of tips about foods to eat and things to do and see. The ride from the airport to downtown is about 16km (10 mi) and it took almost 30 min because of traffic. The Uber fare was $16, pretty cheap! By the way, Croatia does not use Euro’s, the local currency is the Kuna (HRK) and the exchange is about 6.5HRK to the dollar.

IMG_20181203_144623-01Welcome to  Franjo Tuđman Airport Zagreb

Our Hotel

I can’t say enough about our hotel choice. The Palace Hotel is a classic hotel in a Art Nouveau palace dating from 1891. The location is perfect, right across the street from Park Josipa Jurja Strossmayera and Park Zrinjevac, two of the Christmas Market venues and a 4-block walk to Ban Josip Jelačić square, the main Christmas Market and shopping area.

Our hotel room was ideal, large and roomy (for European standards) and my biggest measure of a hotel room is the size of the bathroom and shower, this one was spot on. Plenty of room in the shower and strong water pressure. Our room rate included breakfast and the breakfast buffet was huge. Plenty of hot and cold selections, fresh fruits, bread and pastries, it was an excellent spread.

The hotel Cafe/bar was a very comfortable space with elegant woodwork, high ceilings and cozy Christmas decorations. It was on the ground floor with large windows facing the park with stunning views of the Christmas Market lights and activities. We would have a glass of wine or cognac and the cost was less than $5.00 per glass!

The hotel had a health and wellness spa and I made an appointment for a one hour massage. That was very relaxing and the cost was equivalent to $38, quite a bit less than what we pay at home.

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Palace Hotel

Getting Around Zagreb

The convenient location of our hotel made it easy to explore the city and Christmas Markets. Everything was within walking distance. Our first morning in Zagreb, we decided to take the Hop-on, Hop-off bus service. This gave us a good overview of the city, plus the audio narration provided some history and context.

We walked to the upper city, some steep roads and stairs to overcome, but we made it. We ended up taking the funicular back down to the lower city, didn’t plan that very well, would have been better going up on the funicular and walking down, let gravity be our friend!

Zagreb has an extensive street tram system, but we didn’t use the trams. There was also a Christmas tram that toured the sights and Santa was the conductor.

010501db3b6ddf1f95d2dfdfd58515f9c60796a5ff The Funicular

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Ban Josip Jelačić Square

Zagreb Christmas Markets

The Zagreb Christmas Market is a bit different than what we saw in Vienna or from our previous trips to Germany, France and Switzerland. The vendor booths or stalls are different, all were white, in contrast to the German style which are chalet-like, dark wood. Another big difference is that the vast majority of vendor stalls were selling food and drinks. Not many crafts, clothing or other seasonal items like in Germany or Austria.

It seems that Zagreb is a party city, lots of people, many young adults, out for drinks and food. But there are also families, young and old. Everywhere you went, there was music playing, some Christmas music, as well as pop and rock. The main venues like Ban Josip Jelačić square had stages and bandstands set up where there was always some live entertainment, like local youth choirs, folk groups, traditional and contemporary musicians and artists. The Christmas Market scene in Zagreb is very lively, lots of energy.

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General Impressions

Some general impressions and observations about Zagreb and Croatia.

Croatia is very affordable, the US dollar goes a long way. When dining out, even at a more upscale restaurant, we never paid more than $50 for the two of us, that incudes the drinks.

The people are very friendly, most speak good English.

Zagreb seems very safe, we did not feel uncomfortable or threatened even when walking around at night.

There are many smokers in Zagreb. It seems that smoking is very popular with younger people.

Overall, we really liked Zagreb and we look forward to visiting other parts of Croatia in 2020 when we do a Mediterranean cruise.

More mages from Zagreb

Zagreb Croatia

Christmas Markets….Vienna, Bratislava & Zagreb

 

Saturday Afternoon in Bratislava

Our side trip to Bratislava was a last minute addition to our Christmas Market tour itinerary. After some online research we found that the train to Bratislava was a little over an hour from Vienna and the trains ran every hour. So off we went to Vienna’s main, bustling train station, Wien Hauptbahnhof. Our round-trip fare was very reasonable about EU10.00 each and it was open seating. We arrived at the main station in Bratislava around 1:30pm and took a street Tram into the city center. Our train ticket also covered city Tram and bus service in Bratislava, so this was a great deal. Train travel and public transportation in general in Europe are very convenient and the trains are comfortable and usually on time.

Bratislava is a quaint, charming small city. It had snowed the night before, a light (maybe 1-2 inches) covering on the roof tops added to the Christmas atmoshere. We left the tram at the city center but we didn’t know where to find the Christmas Market, so when in doubt, follow the crowd. The market was a couple of blocks from the city center at the city hall plaza complex.

The Bratislava Christmas Market was small but very festive, mostly locals attending, although we did see a couple of walking tour groups from nearby Danube river cruise boats. It was a fun Christmas Market, we sampled some of the local food like the palacinka, a crepe like treat with a sweet hazelnut filling. The pozsonyi kifli, or crescent shaped pastries, were delicious. These tasted like shortbread but had a center filling of nuts and spices. And yes, we did try the local version of Gluhwein, called Cierny Medved, or “black bear” which is a black currant mulled wine.

We stayed in Bratislava until after dark and were able to get the 7:30PM train back to Vienna. A fun day at a charming town and Christmas Market.

Enjoy a video recap of our “Saturday Afternoon in Bratislava”

 

Images from Bratislava

Bratislava Slovakia