Viking Ocean Cruise Into the Midnight Sun Post #6, Honnigsvag (Nordkapp)

We docked in Honnigsvag with Viking Ocean Cruises, and unfortunately had our first really bad day of weather. I know that we had been substantially lucky before this, given Norway’s preponderance of rain.

 

Honnigsvag Dock When We Arrived

 

As we traversed the countryside it appeared we wouldn’t experience good weather, as our views from the tour bus continued to reflect the rain falling. The further we drove it seemed the more it rained.

 

Crossroads Inland in Honnigsvag

 

When we stopped for the Sami souvenir shop the weather mysteriously cleared up enough to where we didn’t’ need our umbrellas anymore. The Sami people also (Saami) are an indigenous people of Northern Europe occupying Sapmi. The Sapmi area includes portions of northern Sweden, Norway, Finland and the Kola peninsula of Russia. Their lifestyle was controlled by hunting, fishing and trading until the late middle ages. This is when the current framework of the Nordic countries was organized.

 

This young man was not only a local guide who told us about Sami culture, he was also an entrepreneur with around 5,000 head of reindeer. He herded the deer back and forth through channels between islands for summer grazing. He explained how they make use of the entire animal, not just the meat involved. He was definitely a very hard working young man!

 

Sami Entrepreneur

 

The Sami people have lived in partnership with their neighbors for centuries. For the last 200 years there have been many compelling changes in Sámi culture, politics, economics and their kinship with their adjoining cultures. This has been especially true during the latter half of the 20th century. Rivalries broke out over the development of a hydroelectric dam. The announced deal created a major disagreement, as the man made lake generated from the dam would flood the Sami village of Maze. It also would have had an adverse impact on the Sami’s reindeer migration and wild Salmon fishing.

 

Mounted Reindeer in the Sami Souvenir Shop

 

In the fall of 1979, as building of the dam was ready to start, dissidents executed two acts of passive resistance at the construction site located in Stilla. Demonstrators sat down on the ground and impeded the equipment. At the same time, Sami activists began a hunger strike outside the Norwegian Parliament. They were charged with disobeying laws against rioting. The various Sami families of people ended all cooperation with the Norwegian government. Two Sami women even traveled to Rome to seek the Pope’s blessings.  In 1982 the Norwegian Supreme Court ruled in favor of the government, at which point all opposition to the power plant ceased. The construction of the Alta Hydroelectric Power Station was completed by 1987.

 

Reindeer Fur Coat and Other Products in the Sami Souvenir Shop

 

Norwegians were arrested and incarcerated for the first time since World War ll.  It not only succeeded at placing focus on environmental issues, but also on Sami rights. In the end the acts of civil disobedience by the four leaders, Alfred Nilsen, Tore Bongo, Svein Suhr and Per Flatberg (information leader), resulted in each being arraigned with encouraging illegal acts. They were later given fines (10 000 to 20 000 Norwegian kroner) and levied with suspended prison sentences (60–90 days).

 

 

Rock That the Thai King Chulalongkorn Helped Build Nordkapp From

 

In 1907 a king from Siam traveled through Europe and wanted to visit Norway. He was received warmly by King Hakon and Queen Maud when he arrived. This marked the beginning of a friendly relationship between the Siam/Thailand and Norway. The king’s impression of Norway was recorded in several handwritten letters. These letters were later published in a book titled Klai Ban (Far from Home). His thoughts still inspire people of later generations in many ways.

 

He then made his way north to Nordkapp and carved his initials and the year visited in the largest bolder on site. Praya Chonlaut had brought engraving tools but the landscape was too barren except for this one huge boulder. The carpenter and sailors started smoothing the rock. The king drew his initials and the Arabic numbers for 1907. Then the team of five men finished the engraving in no time. Without King Chulalongkorn’s contribution Nordkapp may have never been established nor the North Cape complex built.

 

King Culalongkorn Museum in Underground Nordkapp

 

King Chulalongkorn established the hierarchical system of monthons (political circles) in 1897 in Siam. This had a major impact, as it ended the power of all local dynasties. Central authority was now spread all over the country through a committee of intendants. Local rulers did not cede power willingly. All these rebellions were crushed in 1902 with the city rulers stripped of their power and imprisoned.

 

Memorial Bust of King Chulalongkorn of Siam

 

The construction of railways in Siam had a political motivation, The intention was to connect all of the country and maintain better control of it. In 1901, the first railway was opened from Bangkok to Korat. In the same year, the first power plant of Siam produced electricity and electric lights first illuminated roadways. Both were historical models for the region.

 

Plaque for Thai Museum at Nordkapp

 

The king was known for several actions while he was ruling, but Chulalongkorn was best known for his abolition of Siamese slavery. He associated the abolition of slavery in the United States with the bloodshed of the American Civil War. His last accomplishment was the establishment of a plumbing system in 1908. The King died on 23 October 1910 of kidney disease at the Amphorn Sathan Residential Hall in the Dusit Palace, and was succeeded by his son Vajiravudh (King Rama VI).

 

Book of Letters from King Chulalongkorn in Regard to His Visit to Norway

 

The royal Equestrian statue of King Chulalongkorn was finished in 1908 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the king’s reign. It was cast in bronze by a Parisian metallurgist. Chulalongkorn had visited Europe twice, in 1897 and 1907, the latter visit to cure his kidney disease. Chukakongkorn University, founded in 1917 as the first university in Thailand, was named in his honor. On the campus stand the statues of Rama V and his son, Rama VI. In 1997 a memorial pavilion was raised in honor of King Chulalongkorn in Ragunda, Sweden. This was done to commemorate King Chulalongkorn’s visit to Sweden in 1897 when he also visited the World’s Fair in Brussels.

 

St Johannes Underground Chapel in Nordkapp

 

As we walked through the halls of the underground domain we discovered a unique chapel, “St Johannes Kapell Chapel”. It was very inviting and comforting with its unusual attributes. There was seating for 15 people and is a popular place for weddings. It happens o be the world’s northernmost ecumenical chapel.

 

St Johannes Underground Chapel in Nordkapp

 

The European long-distance trails or paths are a network of 12 long-distance hiking trails that crisscross through all of Europe. They offer more than 34,175 miles of great hiking and every single E-trail or E-path runs through a few European countries, providing the chance to explore country, culture and traditions. One of these numbered long-distance hiking trails, the E1 – with more than 4,350 miles the longest and the first, runs from Europe’s Northernmost point the North Cape all the way down to Sicily. This trail provides a hiker’s challenge par excellence! The marker above signifies its beginning at North Cape.

 

International Hiking Trail Marker
North Cape, Italy
June 4, 2013

 

I will never forget my visit to Honnigsvag Norway with Viking Cruises and the unbelievable wind, as I approached the globe on the point of Nordkapp. It was almost hurricane strength and I was trying hard to stay upright and not crawl on my hands and knees to reach the globe. Once I reached the point it was all I could do to hold my smartphone and not have the wind blow it away. The views were extraordinary and I thankfully had a railing to wrap my free hand around. My DSLR camera was another matter. I’m not sure if you’ve ever had to embrace a railing with one hand and your camera with the other hand, but it is definitely hard to accomplish. Thankfully everything worked out.

 

Nordkapp Globe

 

North Cape or Nordkapp is a cape, not a peninsula on the northern coast of the island of Mageroya in Northern Norway. It is located in Finnmark county, Norway.  The E69 European Highway has its northern end at North Cape. This makes it the northernmost point in Europe that can be accessed by car and makes the E69 the northern most public road in Europe. The cape includes a 1,007 foot cliff with a large flat plateau on top.

 

Obligatory Norwegian Troll in Nordkapp Hall

 

Nomadic Texan at Nordkapp Hall with a Norwegian Troll

 

From this plateau visitors, weather permitting, can watch the midnight sun and views of the Barents Sea to the north. North Cape Hall, a visitor center, was built in 1988 on the plateau. It includes a bistro, restaurant, post office, souvenir shop, a small museum, and video cinema. The North Cape is northern Scandinavia’s most popular travel destination, for good reason. The North Cape is a monumental natural experience, along with breathtaking views, unusual climate conditions, the impressive cliff itself and the fact that one is standing at Europe’s northern end.

 

View of Barents Sea from Railing around Nordkapp Globe

 

The steep cliff of North Cape is often (mistakenly) referred to as the northernmost point of Europe, located approximately 1,307 miles from the North Pole. To be accurate, the neighboring Knivskjellodden point, just to the west extends 4,780 ft farther to the north. The North Cape is the point where the Norwegian Sea, part of the Atlantic Ocean, meets the Barents Sea, part of the Arctic Ocean. The northernmost point of Europe including islands is hundreds of miles further north, either in Russia’s Franz Josef Land or Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, depending on whether Franz Josef Land is considered to be in Europe or in Asia.

 

View from Railing around Nordkapp Globe

 

Nordkapp – The North Cape Horn has always been a well-known an important point of orientation for all boats and ships. The rock has had a great variety of names and it was only in the mid 16th century that it was given the present name. The Midnight sun can be seen from 14 May to 31 July. The sun reaches its lowest point between 12:14 am and 12:24 am (00:14 and 00:24) during those days. In 1943, the Battle of North Cape was fought in the Arctic Ocean off this cape, where the Nazi battleship Scharhorst was eventually sunk by gunfire from the British battleship HMS Duke of York  and torpedoes from the Norwegian destroyer HNoMS Stord, and other ships of the British Navy.

 

Children of the World Bronze Sculpture

 

The “Children of the World sculpture was started in 1988 when author Simon Flem Devold, a well known Norwegian writer and friend of children, randomly selected seven children from seven countries – Tanzania, Brazil, USA, Japan, Thailand, Italy and Russia — to visit the North Cape to dream of “Peace on Earth“. The children stayed with families in the fishing settlement of Skarsvag on Mageroya island, At the nearby North Cape they spent a week creating their own motives in clay.

 

Children of the Earth Disks

 

In June 1988, seven boys and girls from as many countries on several continents converged on the cliff to create reliefs of clay with motives reflecting their creativity and emotions. The youngsters who in this manner demonstrated the congenital desire of children everywhere to have a good time and be friendly toward each other, were Jasmine from Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania, Rafael from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Ayumi from Kawasaki in Japan, Sithidej from Bangkok in Thailand, Gloria from Jesi in Italy, Anton from Murmansk in the (former) Soviet Union and Louise from New York City, USA. From the very beginning, they were called The Children of the Earth.

 

Children of the Earth Disk

 

The first child made “an African man”, the second modeled a self portrait. The third made “a beast of the past”, the fourth modeled “a lady with bow in rain and sunshine”. The fifth created a bird of peace, the sixth an image of Christ. The last child had wanted to make a cat, but ended up with a man with a hat and beard. The project was followed through daily broadcasts on national TV. All seven children experienced great fun with no linguistic or other barriers.

 

All Seven Children of the Earth Disks

 

Including the 30th annual ceremony in June 2018, The Children of the Earth Prize has been awarded to a total of 27 individuals (20 women and seven men) and seven organizations. The prize (3,45 million NOK in all), has been given to nine projects in Africa, seven in Europe, four in Asia, four in Central America/The Caribbean, three in South America, three in the Middle East and one in Norway.

 

Barn av Jorden, Children of the Earth Disk

 

In 1989, the original clay reliefs were cast in bronze, framed in granite and erected permanently on the the North Cape plateau. Along with the lovely bronze sculpture “Mother and child”, created by artist Eva Rybakken, they now form a harmonious entity – The Children of the Earth Monument.

 

 

Rainy Day at the Bus Terminal

 

We left Nordkapp and began our ride back to the ship. Along the way we saw several places of business and houses of citizens living in Honningsvag. Of course the rain continued and we ran out of time. All my photos were then shot through rainy windows of the bus, My apologies.

 

Rainy Day at the Construction Headquarters

 

Rainy Day in the Neighborhood

 

Finally the wonderful Viking Sun loomed ahead and we returned to the ship cold, wet and hungry. The good news was we had several experiences in this far northern section of the world that we will remember forever!

 

Viking Sun Docked in Honnigsvag

 

Onward across the Norwegian Sea to Scotland and the Shetland islands. I couldn’t wait to see the miniature horses that this area is know for. Little did I realize how many other attributes the islands had!

 

 

 

 

*** Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking Ocean Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

Viking Ocean Cruise Into the Midnight Sun Post #2, Bergen

We spent our first evening on board the Viking Sun attempting to learn our way around the ship. The first day we remained in Bergen and took the included tour of the city. The city was founded in 1070 by King Olav Kyrre and was named Bjørgvin, which means “the green meadow among the mountains”. We boarded the tour bus and drove around the city watching closely as wooden housing complexes like the one below rolled by. We discovered very quickly how good the tour bus drivers were. Several times we were approached on basically 1.5 lane roads and our bus driver would pull to the side or pull out in a passing area. How they knew there’s an issue ahead is beyond me. I do know that once Kim was rather nervous and she had the window seat as normal. She leaned in to me on one extreme dance with the edge of the road and a 500 foot dropoff. I’m sure that would have helped a great deal if we had fallen over the side of the hill.

 

Traditional Wooden Hanseatic Housing

 

Bergen (Bryggen) became Norway’s capital in the thirteenth century, and from the end of the thirteenth century became a Kontor, or a foreign trading post of the Hanseatic League, along with the London steelyards, Ipswich, and Bruges. The Hanseatic League lasted until 1789 and Bergen enjoyed absolute rights to arbitrate trade between Northern Norway and abroad. It was the largest city in Norway until the 1830s when Christiania, now known as Oslo overtook Bergen in population and business. What’s left of the wharf Bryggen, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, even while suffering numerous fires.

 

This was in addition to a Dutch cargo ship explosion during World War ll. The ship was carrying 120 tons of explosives. It transpired during the German occupation and 150 people died as a result. This was along with a large quantity of historic buildings near the harbor that were damaged beyond repair. The colorful wooden houses located throughout the historic district are gorgeous. They were traditionally painted red, yellow and white, as were buildings in farming lands or fishing areas where incomes were lower than average. This is why so many barns in the country side were traditionally painted red.

 

Mount Floyen Funicular

 

After touring the outskirts of Bergen we arrived back at the base of the Mount Floyen Funicular. These modes of transportation up the sides of mountains are quite common in European cities I’ve learned. What is a Funicular you ask? The dictionary states the following: Noun: “Also called: funicular railways, railway up the side of a mountain, consisting of a counter balanced car sat either end of a cable passing round a driving wheel at the summit”.

 

The Floibanen funicular in Bergen is 2,769 feet (844 meters) long, scales 991 feet (302 meters) in altitude up the side of Mount Floyen and carries over 1, 800,000 passengers annually. The railway was constructed in 1918. The track has a slope that varies between 15 degrees and 26 degrees. Two passenger cars carry 100 people each. The cars are named and painted, with Blamann being blue and Rodhette painted red. Our ascension was non-stop, but on the way down we paused two or three different times to take passengers on and let a small number off. The entire track has six stops and are used frequently by locals living on the mountain side. In addition there are two kindergartens on the mountain. In the summertime and during rush hours only certain departures will stop at all stops.

 

Gift Shop and Restaurant on Top of Mount Floyen

 

The funicular railway is one of Norway’s most famous attractions. The trip starts from the city center, just 150 meters from the Fish Market and Bryggen. The exciting trip up to the mountain is a magnificent experience in itself. At the top we found one can enjoy the spectacular view of Vagen bay and study the cityscape in detail, along with the seaward approaches and fjords surrounding Bergen.  There were a plethora of hiking trails and walkways that led all over the mountain. We couldn’t actually involve ourselves in this activity as we had a limited amount of time on the top. A restaurant, cafeteria, souvenir shop and playground is located on the very top. If you plan on hiking and taking in the lovely flora and fauna you need to catch the funicular on your own and fully explore the trails and vegetation on Mount Floyen.

 

Flora and Fauna Atop Mount Floyen

 

We were able to take a few minutes and traverse several small trails. I was enamored with the ferns and how green everything was on top. These Boston Ferns, as we call them in the United States were simply superb. They looked quite healthy and had obviously soaked up some of the 200 plus inches of rain that Bergen receives every year.

 

Kim and I Atop Mount Floyen Overlooking Vagen Bay

 

The view from almost one thousand feet up is stunning to say the least. I took several photos from the top and managed to persuade a young lady to capture a selfie of Kim and I with the Vagen bay in the background.

 

Moumt Floyen Goat

 

Fløyenguttene (The Fløyen Boys), the Goats on Mount Fløyen, are cashmere goats, and help keep the mountains free of unwanted plant life. The goats spend each winter at Askoy island outside of Bergen. Come Easter each year they are transported back to Mount Floyen. There, along with the Bergen Coastal Association they make an effort each year to maintain the island free of underbrush and undesirable forest growth. The six billy goats are called “Elvis”, Smaen”, “Boots, “Festus Gilde”, Flekken” and “Alf”. They were born in 2011 on Radoy, an island in Hordaland county, Norway. All were all castrated when they were babies. First and foremost they were bred to clear vegetation. They like to keep each other’s company and mostly stay together as a herd.

 

The goats have been on Mount Floyen since 2016 where they have become accustomed to human contact and don’t shy away from selfies. They seem to love being scratched and petted by all ages. The goats are restricted with the use of modern Norwegian pasture technology, a virtual fence for grazing livestock. If you visit, the authorities ask that you not feed the goats as they receive their nourishment from the mountain greenery.

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Mount Floyen Troll with Kim and Myself

 

We discovered this Troll on Mount Floyen. It was to be the first of many we encountered on our cruise. Little did we know their popularity throughout Norway. A Troll is a class of being in Norse mythology and Scandinavian folklore. In Old Norse sources, beings described as Trolls dwell in isolated rocks, mountains, or caves. They live together in small family units, and are rarely helpful to human beings. The term Troll has been applied to the jötnar, the Ice Giants of old.

 

After riding the funicular back down Mount Floyen we went to the Schotstuene or one of the Hanseatic Museums, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.. The museum tells the story of the Hanseatic League and how they survived and thrived for 400 years in Bergen (Bryggen). There is much more to Bryggen than colorful, old wooden houses and being a popular tourist spot. The UNESCO World Heritage Site Bryggen is in fact a true cultural treasure, wholly unique in a global context. Nowhere else in the world can boast even one wooden house dating back to the Hanseatic period, yet the ‘City of Seven Mountains’ has managed to preserve a whole district, consisting of no less than 62 buildings.

 

Schotstuene Museum Desk from the Hanseatic Period Assembly Room

 

The Museum offers a perspective on the lives of the Hanseatic merchants and their unique trading networks. A visit to Schotstuene or the merchants former assembly room will give one a sense of how life played out during this part of the fourteenth century in Bergen. One can purchase a tour ticket that begins in the Midthuset and continues through the narrow corridors of the UNESCO World Heritage site. Thus taking you back through time and finishing at the exhibition space in Scotstuene, the world’s last remaining Hanseatic assembly room.

 

There are several tours daily in the summer period until September thirtieth. Tours start from Midthuset and last around thirty minutes. Fires and candles were not allowed in the buildings where the merchants worked because of the obvious risk of fire. This is why each of the buildings at Bryggen had a schøtstue or shared assembly room, each with an adjoining cookhouse (kitchen). The former Hanseatic assembly rooms at Bryggen are the last surviving example of their kind anywhere in the world.

 

Hanseatic Assembly Room

 

Hidden under one of the assembly rooms you’ll find what might be Bergen’s best-kept secret: a rare medieval ruin. Dating from around 1280, the ruin has been put on display below a glass floor and is the subject of a special exhibit. The displays at Schøtstuene offer a look into both the Bryggen World Heritage site and the Hanseatic League. Work to restore the museum’s largest artifact, the museum building, has begun. The building is 315 years old and once served as the merchants’ trading hall. Severe damage means the bulwark needs to be replaced and substantially protected for forthcoming generations. This is a very long process, anticipated to take until 2024, as the construction is being carried out using old craft traditions. One can gain an insight into this impressive work thanks to one of the new displays at Schøtstuene Museum.

 

The Shotstuene Hanseatic Museum

 

The German merchants first sailed into Vågen bay in the fourteenth century, and their presence was to have a huge influence on the city. The universal Hansa network reached across many countries and made Bergen one of the largest cities in Northern Europe during this period. Their trading activities meant the Hanseatic merchants were instrumental in shaping the economic, political and cultural development of the Nordic countries. This was in addition to large parts of Europe, all over several centuries. Bergen was the last outpost of the influential Hanseatic merchants. Bryggen was included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1979, and now stands as a dynamic tribute to a bygone trading culture.

 

Vagen Bay with Bergen Highlighted

 

The city is now an international center for aquaculture, shipping, the offshore petroleum industry and underwater technology. Bergen is a member of the Nordic Smart City project and maintains a national center for finance, tourism, media and higher education. Bergen Port is Norway’s busiest in terms of both freight and passengers, with over 300 cruise ships arriving each year bringing nearly a half a million passengers to Bergen, a number that has doubled in the last 10 years. The tourists are primarily from Germany and Great Britain. Next up is my post on Geiranger, one of the most gorgeous spots on earth, in my humble opinion!

 

 

 

 

*** Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking Ocean Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

Credit Cards are the Bomb, Really!

“This post is sponsored by Lexington Law”

 

I can’t tell you how many credit cards I have applied for to gain miles recently. I always try and take advantage of every card with 50,000 or more flight miles offered in exchange for flight miles. I wouldn’t be able to secure these cards if my credit wasn’t superb and above average. If you need better credit, I would recommend you contact a credit repair company as soon as possible. Credit card companies do not like to award these type of promotions unless they are fairly certain you will follow through and uphold your obligations.

 

John Lennon Wall Prague

 

In the past four years I have secured enough miles, by applying and being approved for over eight personal and business cards to travel substantially. This has enabled me to have made round trips to Japan for myself and my son, round trips to Belgium for my wife and myself, an upcoming round trip for my wife and myself to Paris and then Brussels, a round trip for myself to Barcelona and originally a round trip to Cuenca Ecuador for my wife and myself and still have over 325,000 miles available. As a write this blog post, I just had a business card approved for another 70,000 miles which will bring my totals to over 400,000 miles total, if I don’t feel the urge to use some for a spur of the moment week to Europe, Asia or even South America.

 

One of the ways I manage to use the minimum amount of miles each time is to look carefully at the award chart from my flight company and see if I am flexible if the miles used will be reduced by changing the date of departure from Texas or the departure date from my intended destination. This insures I don’t waste my miles. A great example is this upcoming trip that will use 70,000 to 80,000 miles less because I moved my departure date back from Texas five days and my return date I pushed three days. This is for both my wife and myself, so we in essence saved enough miles to make another round trip to Europe by optimizing our mileage usage. We originally were looking at 140,000 to 160,000 miles round trip to Brussels.

 

 

Pastries at Vienna Christmas Market

 

 

Additionally, I always gravitate to Credit cards with no International fees, as we tend to travel almost exclusively abroad. My first trip a travel blogger in 2012 was unbelievable and the fees associated with my credit card that was originally obtained for travel in the US were astronomical. I will caution you and ask you to be observant. If you use your cards at restaurants, ATMs or for transportation please be vigilant and make sure you validate you charges fairly often. My wife and I were in Bratislava Slovakia and we used her Debit card for cash. Immediately Chase Bank notified us that there was suspicious activity on her card and a $600.00 charge was canceled thank goodness.

 

When traveling I would rather use my credit cards for purchases than to carry a giant wad of cash. That’s just asking for trouble in my honest opinion. I would also tell you that it is imperative you make contact with your credit card companies and inform them of your planned schedule, countries and major cities to be visited.

 

Flavors of Gouda Cumin, Truffle, Walnut, Cayenne, LoFat Plain, all from Kinderdijk, Netherlands

 

When I first started collecting miles I was employed and only captured the personal expenditures during a fiscal year. Probably not that much to write home about, but certainly helped me establish my account. Slowly but surely I have been amassing miles in order to hopefully one day hit the million mile mark with my flight account. Certain benefits will become available at that point and flying can become extremely fun again, not the arduous process it is currently. I am excited to hit that plateau one day and begin again. Every time they alter or change the rules I jump on the advantageous items and hold off on those that would impede my progress.

 

I will never forget losing 68,000 miles because I was inactive. I would have already been very close to achieving this goal of a million mile flyer. In those days one could not achieve miles unless you were actually flying. Now just having the credit card, making purchases with it will land you a massive amount of miles over time, especially if you have extraordinary expenses like teeth or medical surgeries. These have helped my get my miles collection nearer my goal. Alas it’s been at a substantial cost from the events of my life, both medically and dental wise. Recently I have expanded to other airlines and started attaining miles from them. Truthfully though the best way to accumulate miles is to have a card that can be used for any and all flight miles programs. My favorite method though is and has been lately, to sign up for the personal and business cards offering large amounts of miles dedicated to my account.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Viking Cruises, Photo of the Day #22

As we walked through Breisach Germany, where Viking River Cruises stopped, we went on a self guided tour and visited the St Stephens Cathedral on the hill. On our return walk we came across this piece of history that stood out, literally from the side of the building. We were told the individual who resided in the upstairs wanted to protect either his daughter or wife from intruders. It was considered a form of a chastity belt. I know I definitely wouldn’t climb the gutter or the pole before, if I encountered this contraption!

 

Antiquated Chastity Belt Contraption on an Exterior Drain Pipe

 

I am always amazed with history and what one runs across on the various tours that Viking offers. One never knows what will materialize or show itself, when traversing the streets in Europe. This, by far though, has to be one of the most shrewd applications I have ever seen while touring European cities. I am glad it caught my eye.

 

 

 

 

***Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking River Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

 

My First Manbag Review

 

 

For years I’ve admired the young men in the world that carried a manbag. I watched as they threw everything inside and tossed the strap over their shoulders. Being from Texas I was, to say the least, tentative about the possibility of carrying one myself. I generally thought I would receive snark remarks in regard to my manhood, testimony about my missing boots and general degradation in regard to my lack of masculinity. Fifteen to twenty years ago I wouldn’t even have considered carrying a manbag, for fear of being ostracized by my male friends and shunned by society.

 

Having said all this, along with my travels through Asia, South America and Europe more recently, brought me to the conclusion, that given my age, it didn’t really matter what others think. As one gets on in years, fitting in gets less and less important. I decided I would start the process of looking for a manbag that came across rugged, constructed from hearty materials and a lack of flash. Even though I wore Hawaiian shirts for ages, I am not really inclined to tote gaudy items or accessories.

 

The Satchel Pro by NutSac

 

I came across a company founded in 2009, in Corvallis Oregon. The name of the company is NutSac and it manufactures cool, well-designed, American-made bags. The company name is explained in this direct quote from their Home page. “NutSac was named because the founders realized that you’d have to be a little bit nuts to manufacture in America and compete against cheap products. You’d also have to be a bit nuts to try to source American-made materials. And you’d have to be really nuts to trust that your customers will value your commitment to fair business practices and quality design.”

 

There are round magnets on the bottom corners of flap that folds over the top and secures the bag. This component is appreciated more than you can realize! This additional perk is the icing on the cake and helps make this satchel a superb product! You just toss the flap over and it stays in place without zipping it closed.

 

NutSac Logo

 

The bag is constructed from full grain leather plus has a waxed canvas covering. It comes in this natural color or a black. The bags are hand sewn in the US and guaranteed for life! The Satchel Pro has ample room inside of it as shown in the photo below. I can carry my tablet and all my items that normally go in my shirt and pants pockets.

 

Going through security at airports isn’t a nightmare any longer. I just pull my tablet out, zip the main compartment and walk through the x-ray machine. In the past I fumbled with my glasses, wallet, business card holder, keys, Swiss Army Knife, hand sanitizer, wet wipes, pen, handkerchief, passport and money clip. Now I just send this wonderful bag through on its own. There is a zippered compartment on one side of the interior, two slip in pockets on the other side and an expandable middle section that opens to around two and a half inches wide, more than enough room for my 12 inch Samsung tablet.

 

Satchel Pro Interior Pockets

 

My first venture outdoors was in Brussels recently, when we all went to a neighborhood outdoor organic market filled with all sorts of fresh produce, bread, pasta, sweets and of course waffles. I loved seeing what fruits and vegetables were available and how pricing varied with US prices. One item I came across was golden kiwis. I’ve never had them before. They were delicious. The market also had organic breads, cheese, sweets and of course Belgian Waffles. You know I had to try one and it was so good!

 

Brussels Satchel Pro in the Organic Market

 

On the fourth day in Brussels we went to a park located nearby and ran into people of all ages walking, riding bicycles and treating their pets to some fresh air, along with the fact that it was a rare day filled with bright sunshine rather than the usual gloom and foggy atmosphere. It was a gorgeous park and I couldn’t believe how green Belgium was, especially given the temperatures at night. I thought this rock bridge made for a good photo with the huge felled tree in front of it.

 

Satchel Pro in a Local Park in Brussels

 

On the exterior is another zippered pocket in which I show my new favorite flavor of gum, Trident pineapple. The pocket unzips to the length of the bag and approximately seven inches deep. The shoulder strap can be removed, adjusted in length and is made of heavy duty webbed cotton material that would take a lot of pressure to tear or cut through and with the metal hardware it’s very secure.

 

A quote from the Satchel Pro page describing the bag’s dimensions, “Technology just keeps getting bigger doesn’t it? Not to worry, the Satchel Pro will make your life easier. The Satchel Pro is designed for the iPad Pro or other pro-series tablets. Larger than our Satchel or Mag-Satch, the Satchel Pro has extra capacity for your larger devices. The Satchel fits larger tablets like the 12.9″ iPad Pro and Surface Pro.” The bag is 12.4 x 9 x 2.5 inches and weighs only 1.94 pounds or .88kg. I rarely make such a strong case for travel items and as much as I am for my NutSac manbag, you know it must be a quality product!

 

Satchel Pro Exterior Pocket

 

In the end I am more than pleased with my new manbag and it goes with me everywhere now. I love tossing it over my shoulder and taking off. I am passionate about the quality of this bag and I know it’s going to last longer than I will. Over time it will take on a character of its own with the waxed cover getting scratched and marked by things it comes in contact with. Regardless of my travels this manbag will accompany me where I go from now own. Did I tell you I really love it yet? At the end of the day I am more than pleased with this manbag. It is an extension of me and I can’t believe I waited so long to acquire one. NutSac has several sizes and I am sure you can find one that suits your needs. I highly recommend this product and am so happy I am working with this company now.

 

 

***NutSac sponsored the bag for my review. As always, all opinions, as always, are those of my own.

 

Viking Cruises, Strasbourg

We arrived in the double port of Strasbourg France and Kehl Germany. Having never been in France we decided to take the Viking River Cruises walking tour through Strasbourg. We loaded on buses and the first memory I have from this gorgeous city was driving by the European Parliament. My sincere apologies but I had to take my photo through our bus window. I think it still gives you an idea how impressive it is. The European Union has to be happy with its appearance.

 

European Parliament Through the Bus Window

 

We disembarked from the buses and walked past the Barrage Vauban, a bridge over the River Ill. It was beautiful and serene. The historical bridge was erected in the 17th century by Jacques Tarade and displays various ancient copies of statues and gargoyles from the Strasbourg Cathedral. On the roof there is a viewing terrace and the bridge was designated as a Monument “Historique” in 1971. The bridge has 13 arches and is 120 meters in length and three of the arches are raised to allow navigation. The Strasbourg Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art is located adjacent to the Northern end. One can see the Petite France section of Strasbourg from the roof terrace. The name Petite-France (“Little France”) was not given for nationalistic or architectural grounds. It comes from the “hospice of the syphilitic” (Hospice des Vérolés, in French), which was built in the late fifteenth century on this island, to cure persons with syphilis, then called Franzosenkrankheit (“French disease”) in German.

 

Barrage Vauban Bridge on the River Ill in Strasbourg

 

As we walked towards the Petite France section of Strasbourg and over the River Ill, I captured these passenger boats/taxis. They are fairly common and I can only gather they have to be fun to ride. I noticed that one had its top removed. I would guess when the weather is good they do not cover the taxis and you get awesome views of the city and areas you traverse. We will take one of these taxis next time, and there definitely will be a next time, as Strasbourg is now one of our favorite cities in Europe, much less the world.

 

Passenger Boats/Water Taxis in Strasbourg on the River Ill

 

I was immediately drawn to the half timber houses as our Viking guide led us to the Petite France area of Strasbourg. The half timber architecture strewn throughout the area is magnificent. I couldn’t stop taking photos of the structures. Petite France is a historic quarter in Strasbourg and is located at the eastern end of Grand Ile, the historical center of the city. The river Ill splits up into a number of channels, which run through an area that once was the home of tanners, millers and fishermen in the middle ages. It is now one of Strasbourg’s main tourist attractions, along with being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. The river splits into four channels just downstream from the Barrage Vauban and flows through the half-timbered buildings together with the narrow lanes and footbridges that connect them. The passageways date from the 16th and 17th centuries and are gorgeous to stroll.

 

Viking Walking Tour of the Petite France Area of Strasbourg

 

The sloping roofs of many of the buildings include open lofts where hides were once dried. Three of the four channels flowing through the quarter run over dams that once drove mills and other industries. The northernmost channel is navigable by passenger boats and water taxis. This channel passes through a lock and the “Pont du Faisan” swing bridge is in  the center of the quarter. On the north bank of the river Ill, at the center of the quarter is the Maison des Tanneurs. The former tannery was built in 1572 and is known for its timbered balconies and slanted roofs, where dyed hides were once sprawled to dry in the sun. It was transformed into a restaurant in 1949, the Tanners House is now home to La Maison de la Choucroute, which serves traditional Alsatian cuisine in original surroundings, with the authentic 16th-century beams complemented by ancient furnishings and window boxes brimming with geraniums,  These flowers can be found growing all over Petite France on the Half-Timber houses.

 

 

Maison des Tanneurs, home of the Tanner’s Guild

 

There were several classic, historic restaurants in the Petite France area of Strasbourg and the section is quite well known for its Alsatian food. Alsatian cuisine incorporates Germanic culinary habits and is distinctive by the use of pork in various forms. Alsace is also well known for its “foie gras” made in the region since the 17th century. In addition the region is known for its wine and beer. Alsatian food is synonymous with festivity, the dishes are significant and served in generous portions and it has one of the richest regional kitchens. One of Viking’s “optional tours” was a guided tour in which passengers sampled Alsatian flavors and met food merchants, a French sommelier and a local chef. A second optional tour was tasting Alsatian wines at a local winery. As I do not indulge, we passed on these two options. Other passengers were thrilled with their optional tours.

 

Lohkas Restaurant in Petite France Section of Strasbourg

 

After walking through several sections of Petite France we came upon a plaza that contained the “Carrousel Palace” and a monument dedicated to Johannes Gutenberg the German printer who introduced printing to Europe with the printing press. His introduction of mechanical movable type printing to Europe started the Printing Revolution and is regarded as a milestone of the second millennium. His major work, The Gutenberg Bible (also known as the 42-line Bible), has been renowned throughout history for its immense creative and academic characteristics.

 

 

Viking Walking Tour to the Side of the Gutenberg Monument and Carrousel Palace in Strasbourg

 

We left the plaza and took a side street that led directly into the Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg. The Cathedral is largely Gothic construction and the architect Erwin von Steinbach is credited with its design. It is among the world’s tallest churches and was once (1647-1874, 227 years) the tallest in the world. The north tower, completed in 1439 is 142 meters or 466 feet tall. It remains the highest structure built in the Middle Ages. The projected south tower was never consummated and as a result, with its characteristic disproportionate form, the cathedral is now the number one landmark of Alsace. One can see 30 kilometers from the observation level of the north tower and the view extends from the Rhine river all the way to the Black Forest.

 

 

Strasbourg Street Leading Into the Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg

 

As we walked towards the Cathedral we passed this souvenir shop with plenty of stuffed storks for sale. In this part of Europe the Storks has a prominence not reflected anywhere else to my knowledge. You see nests all over on telephone posts, roof tops and on top of steeples. They are treated very reverently by the locals. After almost disappearing in Europe early in the twentieth century, the country made the stork population growth a high priority with postcards, art, tableware, textiles and  two Stork based theme parks in Alsace all dedicated to the White Stork. Breeding in captivity has vastly increased population and storks are featured of the decor in many Alsatian villages and towns with horizontal wagon wheel on the top of poles and chimneys being provided as base for storks nests. They even nest on power-lines.  ….and of course, in Alsace, like elsewhere in the world the storks main job is delivering babies!

 

 

Strasbourg Stuffed White Storks

 

Bredele are biscuits or small cakes traditionally baked in Alsace and Moselle, France around Christmas time. Many varieties can be found, including new ones, so that assortments can be created. Pain d’epices (gingerbread) comes in all sizes and shapes and is baked year round. From the traditional Gingerbread man that children love to bite the head off of, to the funnel shaped cakes pictured below on the top shelf. We were very fond of this particular shape and brought several dozen home to give as presents. Unfortunately for our waistlines we chose to devour many of them.

 

Pain d’epices (gingerbread) Shop

 

Most passengers took optional tours, ate at a traditional Alsatian restaurant or shopped for other goods. Kim and I shopped for sweets, cakes, chocolate and gingerbread. My oh my did we shop. Four bags later (filled with every concoction you can imagine) we left to meet up for our bus return to the ship. We barely could carry all the goods we bought and were flabbergasted at the actual number of items we acquired!

 

Strasbourg Biscuit and Cookie Store Where we bought an Entire Shopping Bag of Cookies

 

We entered this chocolate shop that had two free flowing chocolate fountains. Of course one was a milk chocolate flavor and the other dark chocolate. I knew I was in heaven! After walking about five steps I started picking up chocolate candies, including various bark items. We then walked a few more steps and started choosing our truffle flavors. We could have shopped all day, but stopped after obtaining boxes of chocolates for family and friends (and yes one for us) we got to the register. It was hilarious as the shop was empty when we entered, but filled it up in a few minutes and we almost couldn’t check out because it was so crowded. The cashier was having trouble with her credit card machine and a line formed, frustrating her a great deal. We finally finished our transaction and left before buying the entire store!

 

Strasbourg Chocolate Shop with Fountains of Milk and Dark Chocolates

 

Construction on the Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg began with a Romanesque style in 1176 and was basically completed in 1439. In 1225 a unit from Chartres suggested it reflect a Gothic style of architecture and portions of the nave, already begun, were torn down and replaced with a Gothic construction. The Chartres group influenced the sculptures, statues and especially the front or west side of the Cathedral. This entrance is trimmed in ornate decorated figures. These characters are representative the Gothic era and are considered a masterpiece from that period in history. The tower is one of the first to rely substantially on craftsmanship and whose construction is inconceivable without prior drawings. Strasbourg and Cologne Cathedral together represent some of the earliest uses of architectural drawings.

 

 

Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg Exterior Western Front Door Trim

 

Like the city of Strasbourg, the cathedral connects German and French cultural influences. The eastern structures, still have very Romanesque features, with more emphasis placed on walls than on windows. In 1505, architect Jakob von Landshut and sculptor Hans von Aachen finished rebuilding the Saint-Lawrence portal outside the northern transept in a distinctly post-Gothic, early-Renaissance style. As with the other portals of the cathedral, most of the statues now to be seen in place are copies, the originals having been moved to Strasbourg’s Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame.

 

 

Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg Side View

 

In the late Middle Ages, the city of Strasbourg had managed to liberate itself from the domination of the Catholic bishop and became Protestant in 1539. This reign only lasted a short period until September 1681 when Louis XIV of France annexed the city and a mass was celebrated in October 1681, in the presence of the king and prince-bishop signifying a return to the Catholics. The interior was redesigned according to the Catholic liturgy. In April of 1794 the “Enrages” who oversaw the city government started trying to tear down the spire, until the city’s citizens overruled and saved the tower.

 

 

Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg Interior View

 

During World War II, the cathedral was seen as a symbol for both warring parties. Adolf Hitler who visited it in June 1940 and intended to transform the church into a “sanctuary of the German people”, or a monument to the Unknown Soldier. On March 1, 1941, the French General Leclerc made the “oath of Kufra”, stating he would “rest the weapons only when our beautiful colors fly again on Strasbourg’s cathedral”. During that same war, the stained glass was removed in 74 cases and stored in a salt mine near Heilbronn, Germany. After the war, it was returned to the cathedral by the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section of the United States military.

 

 

Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg Interior View Stained Glass Windows

 

The cathedral was hit by British and American bombs during air raids on Strasbourg’s center in August 1944, which also heavily damaged the Palais Rohan and the Sainte-Madeleine Church. Repairs to war damage were completed only in the early 1990s. In October 1988, when the city commemorating 2000 years of foundation by Argentoratum (the ancient French name of Strasbourg in 12 BC), pope John Paul II visited and celebrated mass in the cathedral. This event was also an occasion to celebrate the Franco-Germany reconciliation. In 2000, an Al-Queda plot to bomb the adjacent Christmas Market was prevented by French and German police.

 

Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg Interior View

 

On the way back after purchasing massive amounts of sweets, cakes, gingerbread, chocolates and cookies we ran across a flea market. It was interesting to see the various items displayed for resale and what held the interests of the French shoppers. Some pieces were typical and expected, but some were gorgeous and unexpected. We were thrilled to run across this open-air street market.

 

 

Strasbourg Flea Market Near Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg

 

As we boarded the Viking Eir and dropped our bags in the room I discovered a new found love for yet another European city. Strasbourg is a destination, given time, we will return to. I love the Alsatian foods, the sweets and the lovely and outgoing people. It warms my heart to this day to think about our experiences in the wonderful French city of Strasbourg. Now it’s on the Breisbach Germany before and our visit to the Black Forest!

 

 

 

 

 

 

***Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking River Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

Viking Cruises, Photo of the Day #18

This will be my first post from our most recent Viking River Cruise, “Rhine Getaway”. I can’t begin to tell you how awesome this trip was. We were treated like royalty, encountered wonderful architecture. learned a vast amount of history and almost couldn’t digest all the fantastic attributes of this recent journey abroad to Europe. Thankfully Viking was able to soothe our wounded frustrations after a beleaguered start. Our flight from DFW was delayed by mechanical issues and we arrived three hours late. It is wonderful to have a warm, damp washcloth handed to you as soon as you enter the Longship Eir and the wash away all your tiredness and dirt from traveling. Viking knows how to soothe life’s irritations.

 

Kinderdijk Windmill on a Cloudy Day

 

On our first day sailing after leaving Amsterdam we arrived in a small community of Kinderdijk, the Netherlands. Everyone knows the Netherlands is associated with windmills, but I had no idea of the complexity of their operations or that individuals still resided in some of them. It’s an unusual sight to see the inside of the windmills and how close quartered they are. One thing is for sure people who operate and live in the windmills have to be very dedicated. They are constantly on call for any and all wind! There were 19 windmills in this Unesco granted area, so designated in 1997. All were originally built in 1740. Imagine the weather and abuse these mills have undertaken and are still standing.

 

 

 

***Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking River Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

Viking Cruises, Photo of the Day #13

One of the most memorable places visited on our Viking River Cruise was the Melk Abbey in Melk Austria. It was a rainy and miserable day and wasn’t pleasant until we entered the abbey. As we toured the Cathedral shown below it became quite obvious that this was a special tour and one that I would remember forever. The frescoes and the Monastery’s Church with the pulpit shown in my photo, was gorgeous in my mind. You see a great deal of churches across Europe, but I would have to say that the Melk Abbey has some of the most captivating and interesting art that I have seen. In addition if you like to read and are interested in books, especially rare publications Melk has a treasure trove.

 

The library was established in the twelfth century and contains 1,888 manuscripts, 750 books printed before 1500 (called incunabula), 1700 works from the sixteenth century, 4500 from the seventeenth century, 18,000 from the eighteenth century, with a total of around 100,000 volumes with the newer books are included. About 16,000 books are located in the main library room, which has the fresco by Paul Troger (1731/32) on the ceiling.

 

Melk Abbey

 

Melk Abbey is a Benedictine abbey above the town of Melk, Austria overlooking the Danube river and next to the Wachau valley. Several remains were placed in the abbey including Saint Coloman of Stockerau and members of the House of Babenberg, Austria’s first ruling dynasty. The abbey was founded in 1089, that means it’s over one thousand years old! The frescoes in the church were done by Johann Michael Rottmayr. I could have spent days and days viewing the original manuscripts housed in this aged repository. As it was rainy and freezing outside the regulated temperatures inside the abbey felt ideal.

 

 

***Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking River Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

Viking Cruises, Photo of the Day #7

 

I haven’t kept up with my Photo of the Day series lately and have had a few medical issues, a first grandson born, with a trip to Japan to see the little guy and I thought it was time to get back in the saddle so to say and start producing again. I love Viking River Cruises and can’t talk enough about this great company. Their service, staff, tour guides, on-board staff and food is without reproach IMHO! So without any further adieu here we go with another Viking Cruises, Photo of the Day.

 

Szechenyi Chain Bridge

 

The Szechenyi Chain Bridge is a suspension bridge that spans the Danube river in Budapest Hungary. It separates the the two cities of Budapest with Buda on the west side and Pest on the east side. It is one of the most photographed bridges to my knowledge in Europe and perhaps the world. It is located on the Buda side near Gresham Palace and on the Pest side near the Castle Hill Funicular that leads to Buda Castle.

 

It is constructed of cast wrought iron and stone. At a length of 1,230 feet, a width of 49 feet it remained in place until World War II. When the Germans retreated they blew it up on January 18, 1945. Only the towers remained. The bridge was rebuilt and reopened in 1949, one hundred years from it’s original opening.

 

The bridge is was designed by William Tierney Clark in 1839. It was a replica of sorts of Tierney’s earlier Marlow Bridge that spanned the River Thames in Marlow England. It was the first permanent bridge in the Hungarian Capital when it opened in 1849, directly following the Hungarian Revolution.

 

A few cool facts in regard to the bridge’s popularity. A Hungarian stunt pilot actually flew upside down under the bridge in 2001. The stunt has become a habit in the Red Bull Air Races of today. It is featured in the following movies, I Spy, Au Pair, Walking with the Enemy, and several other generic Spy movies. Katy Perry uses it in her music video “Firework”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

***Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking River Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

Viking Cruises, Photo of the Day #1

 

As I barrel towards the sunset, my body reminds me daily of the aging process I am facing head on. There are days I spring out of bed (just kidding, I don’t think that has actually transpired in decades!) and hit the ground running (LOL, not in twenty years have I run, except my cardiac stress test every three years). Other days it is hard to find the floor as I roll out of the bed.

 

 

The older I get, the more I treasure the little things in life, like two days ago when our youngest son Chris was in town and decided to stop by to ask me to go to lunch. Of course I had already eaten (just my luck) and had an appointment I couldn’t miss, so we only got to see each other for a few minutes and he left. That made my day and put me on cloud nine (translation from Texan, “very happy”). The good news is he was able to eat with his Mother and see her briefly before going back to Dallas.

 

Viking Longship Modi

Viking Longship Modi

 

My first photo is a picture of the Longship Modi, the wonderful accommodation on our first cruise with Viking. This photo shows a portion of the famous Széchenyi Chain Bridge in Budapest, Hungary, directly behind the longship. The Modi was built recently and we thought it was grand 5-star lodging. Our stateroom was very comfortable and actually larger than I expected, with a nice balcony to drink morning coffee on. We would take another cruise in a heart beat.

 

There is a saying “Some days you eat the bear and some days the bear eats you”! I love this for some odd reason and it’s my perspective on life. The other day, with seeing my son, I definitely “ate the bear”! After Chris left I started thinking of ways to write more, as some of you may or may  not know, writing doesn’t always pour out of your brain. There are days it flows smoothly, days it’s like a raging river pouring out by the gallon and days where no matter how hard you put forth the effort, nothing comes out and it’s like you have two blocks of concrete tied to your feet and being pushed overboard. Basically no matter how hard you try or what amount of effort you put forth, nothing comes out!

 

 

The third scenario has been commonplace recently. Then I thought about a series I had earlier in my career, called “Photo of the Day #???” This series motivated me to write more often and put forth effort with writing, centered around the photo I chose for the day. I checked back and I was at Photo of the Day #79. Then I thought about the hundreds, maybe thousands of photos I took on our Viking River Cruise in December. Why not do a feature series of the various photos I took in Europe? So I am starting a new series as of today with hopefully a photo daily, maybe more than one and if I get tied up with the concrete blocks I may miss a day or two.

 

 

Most days the verbiage will be less than today, but the photos will be original. I realize how fortunate Kim and I were and there are some readers that will never get the opportunity to take a trip with Viking River Cruises. Hopefully by sharing photos it will give you a minute taste of river cruises. Consequently, I am sharing photos with you from our experience and I sincerely hope you enjoy! Thank you and be kind to each other!

 

 

 

 

***Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking River Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

Lewis N. Clark Travel Gear Review

Several months ago Lewis N. Clark, a travel accessory company, asked me to try out and review four products. Since I rarely do reviews I decided to really put these items to use and give them a good workout to determine their quality and value. They have accompanied me to Asia, Europe and two of the items I use daily. I am satisfied they have all been put through a sufficient testing period.

 

Lewis N. Clark Featherlight Packing Cubes

Lewis N. Clark Featherlight Packing Cubes

 

The first item is the Featherlight Packing Cubes. Every trip I have made abroad I have stuffed these three cubes with my socks (small cube), my underwear (medium cube) and my undershirts (large cube). This meant, as you can see above, they were loaded with as many items or changes, as I could pack. I am not one who likes to pay exorbitant prices to have my laundry done. I also dislike washing my undies in the sink, unless there is no other choice. I like that the cube can be transferred from your luggage to the dresser, with hardly any effort.

 

 

In the past year I traveled to the Yokohama and Tokyo area of Japan; Barcelona, Costa Brava, Girona and Seville in Spain; Istanbul Turkey; Rimini, Sicily, the Aeolian Islands and Milan in Italy; London England; Budapest Hungary; Bratislava Slovakia; Vienna, Durnstein, Linz, Melk and Salzburg Austria, Passau Germany and Prague in the Czech Republic. This is over 20 cities around the world and not once did the cubes present any issues. The zippers are all in very good working order. The mesh is still in one piece on all three cubes and holding my underwear in. One can use the cubes for anything you need to stay organized while traveling. I highly recommend the Packing Cubes and they have helped me stay efficient with packing, on all my travels.

 

Lewis N. Clark 2-in-1 Neck/Lumbar Pillow

Lewis N. Clark 2-in-1 Neck/Lumbar Pillow

 

The second item is a 2-in1 Neck/Lumbar Pillow. Pardon my face in the photo above, but I think I was tired and falling asleep. This product works very well and I have used it on every plane trip I have taken since acquiring the items to test. It is very comfortable and meshes well around your neck to any position you need. The pillow has many uses. In addition to the obvious neck rest, it can be unzipped, turned inside out and rolled into a lumbar support, which works very well. This comes from an individual with five back surgeries. The last option is to turn it inside out and it turns into a pillow. So if you are in need of any three options I recommend the Neck/Lumbar pillow. It is still in top notch condition after at least eighteen flights.

 

Lewis N. Clark Hanging Toiletry Kit

Lewis N. Clark Hanging Toiletry Kit

 

If any of the items have been over tested, it is surely my hanging toiletry kit. I have used this everyday since I received it and everything is still in great working order. I also have maxed out the supplies in my toiletry kit and it holds up to stretching, heavy weight and sharp items. I carry everything I could use in this kit and the ability to hang it on a towel rod is fantastic. No counter space needed. I carry my aerosol shaving cream, my after shave, bath soap and all sorts of grooming needs, plus my toothbrush and toothpaste. Everything I need can fit in the kit including my mouthwash, shampoo and conditioner. All the clasps, zippers and casings are in good working order and I use it daily. It is a very durable item.

 

Lewis N. Clark RFID Tri-Fold Wallet

Lewis N. Clark RFID Tri-Fold Wallet

 

My last item is the RFID Tri-Fold Wallet. Some men like a dual fold, but for some reason I have always carried a tri-fold. It holds all the credit cards, ID’s and information a person needs. Trust me I carry a large amount of domestic and International cards and I have two medical alert cards inside the cash area, just in case. As you can see above it has 6 credit/business card slots, 2 full-sized bill sections and and ID window, perfect for my business card. It is made from Lambskin and blocks unauthorized scanning of RFID chips, which we use more and more these days! Very helpful in protecting the theft of your identification, from the despicable individuals that thrive on stealing other people’s identities!

 

Overall I was more than satisfied with all four items and would recommend them to anyone in the market for these items. Lewis N. Clark is obviously a very quality company and stands behind its products. I would like to thank Mary Chong, of The Calculated Traveller, for sending Lewis N. Clark in my direction. I am now going  to look into more of their products as the need arises and I recommend you do also.

 

 

 

 

 

 

***All products were sponsored by Lewis N. Clark for testing and review. All opinions are as always, those of my own.

Viking River Cruises, Bratislava

We sailed from Budapest on our Viking River Cruise around 9:00 PM on December 6th. Passengers were invited to view the nightlights of Budapest as we sailed to Bratislava, but we were worn out and frankly it was a little too cold for two Texans to stand on the sun deck of the Viking Longship Modi. So we decided rest was the order of the day and went to sleep in our home for the next week, our stateroom. I sometimes wake in the middle of the night, but this particular night I slept like a baby and never got up, if memory serves me right. I am sure many will tell you that might be debatable.

 

 

 

The next morning we arose early rested and watching the Slovakian countryside roll by. My how that simple venue can be calming and relaxing. As we weren’t to arrive until 2:00 PM in Bratislava, we took our time with breakfast. Afterwards the staff had several options available. One was mandatory, the safety drill at 10:00 AM. Believe me when I tell you they ensure you attend. I was amazed that we could all assemble in such a rapid manner, but it went off as intended and all passengers were accounted for. It was kind of nice to have the cabin steward lay our life-vests out on our beds prior to the safety drill.

 

The staff also offered a tour of the Wheelhouse, a Cooking Demonstration with fantastic cookies and finished the morning with a presentation on coffee, as we were headed to Vienna right after Bratislava. The pastry chef and head chef Martin Carter, gave a wonderful lesson on preparing the cookies, handed out recipes and of course a huge sampling of each of the four cookies. Then we had lunch. Program Director Barry Summers then gave the presentation on coffee, that shared the history of this precious beverage since the beginning of time. It was very educational for this avid coffee drinker.

 

Ruins of War

 

Slovakia has only been a country for twenty three years, after Czechoslavakia dissolved. It has a population of just a little over five million people and Bratislava is the largest city and the capitol. Slovakia then joined the European Union in 2004 and the Eurozone January of 2009. Slovakia is also a member of NATO, the United Nations and is in the Schengen area of Europe. As it is not really a wealthy nation, buildings like this remain and are scattered across the country still, leftover from World War II.

 

Viking Guide for the Shore Excursion

       Viking Guide for the Shore Excursion.  Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

The “Shore Excursion” was scheduled for 2:00 PM and included a bus tour of certain areas along with a walking tour of downtown, the Opera House and the Christmas Markets. Our daily briefing wasn’t until 6:45 PM, so we had plenty of time to see Bratislava on foot and of course the Christmas Markets were a priority!  The photo above clearly illustrates the way all the Viking Tour Guides dress in winter, with the infamous “lollipop” logo of Viking, held high for all to see. Each passenger is given their own headset and you follow at your own pace. Just don’t lose sight of your group’s lollipop!

 

Tunnel Example That Closes at Night. Photography by Nomadic Texan

Tunnel Example That Closes at Night.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

This photo was taken downtown and the buildings are all constructed in an adjoining manner. Foot traffic during the day traverses back and forth through these tunnels, but as there is a small crime issue late at night, they shut the rod iron gates visible at the entrance to ward off criminal elements.  Old Town in which most of the walking tour transpired was refurbished and had excellent architecture in my humble opinion. I was very surprised at the detail and trim.

 

 

Street Art Example.  Photography by Gail Douglas

Street Art Example.
Photography by Gail Douglas

 

One of the new symbols of Bratislava is this fella Cumil, he gives you an insight into the Slovak humor. This photo was taken and supplied by Gail Douglas, as stated. Thank you kindly young lady! She and her great husband Richard, in the yellow jacket above, became friends of ours and we ate many meals with them. We bonded immediately. Great sense of humor and we now exchange emails. Hope to cruise with them again soon!

 

Hanging Citrus Scent Ornaments. Photography by Nomadic Texan

Hanging Citrus Scent Ornaments.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

Bratislava had many booths filled with hanging potpourri items. These were particularly favorable to me, with the various citrus scents, especially lime. It reminded me of a cologne I used to wear back in the 70’s and it is still produced today I discovered. It’s name is Royall Lyme, produced and manufactured in the USA by Brooks Brothers, with permission from Royall Lyme (Bermuda), Hamilton Bermuda. I always loved the lime scent!

 

Blown Glass Booth. Photography by Nomadic Texan

Blown Glass Booth.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

This lady’s booth was  filled with glass products made in Slovakia. Kim lost her red heart necklace when we went through security in London, so I purchased her another red heart from this lady. She was very pleasant and helpful, although I doubt she understood my story exactly.

 

Kim's Spoon Collection. Photography by Nomadic Texan

Kim’s Spoon Collection.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

If  you followed our escapades, you know how the wooden spoons were popular with Kim and at most of the Christmas Markets we visited. If you didn’t, then take a good look at these examples where winter objects were laser burned into the spoons. Even I had to acknowledge how cute they were.

 

 

We were looking at a chocolate booth in the Bratislava Christmas Markets and out of nowhere I noticed a lady looking over my shoulder and right next to me. It was scary. I yelled at her to back away from me. She casually smiled and walked away. I wouldn’t have been this aware normally and without Viking’s persistent warnings. From that moment on I started carrying all my valuables inside my coat in zippered pockets. I have to truly thank Viking for saving me from losing my wallet, passport and money clip. Without their consistent emphasis, I am positive they would all be in this lady’s possession now. Be aware, it is not fiction, it really happens.

 

Wood Nativity Scene. Photography by Nomadic Texan

Wood Nativity Scene.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

As we walked the length of the Bratislava Christmas Markets, we came upon this nativity scene. It was beautifully carved from wood and grabbed my attention. I was taken back by the features and detail involved, with all the figures. It really was a beautiful sight.

 

Neon Running Man. Photography by Nomadic Texan

Neon Running Man.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

We turned around from the nativity scene and ice rink to see this neon running man series of lights. Whoever made it has a great mind and really has creative instincts. Each man would light up separately and timed to set aglow in consecutive order. It truly looked like the neon man was running every time they set him in motion. After several minutes, they turned all the neon men on a the same time and it was brilliant.

 

 

Coca Cola Has Names All Over the World. Photography by Nomadic Texan

Coca Cola Has Names All Over the World.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

 

On our way back to the ship, Kim and I decided to enter a local grocery store and see the differences. Slovakia has a genuine taste for fish. At the butcher area half the case was fish. It was fun trying to figure out what some of  the products were. It was also very evident, that some things are the same the world over. We were at the back of the store and came across the soda area. It was a little strange for us to see Slovakian names on Coca-Cola bottles, but really no surprise. Unfortunately my favorite, the “Selfie Queen” bottle, wasn’t in this photograph.

 

A Well Known Embassy. Photography by Nomadic Texan

A Well Known Embassy.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

Before we arrived at the river we ran across this sign at their embassy and I just had take a photo of this crest. I thought it was appropriate, given how famous this microstate on France’s Mediterranean coastline is. Its major district is Monte Carlo and it’s very well known for its Gran Prix motor race, casinos and its fabulous nightlife. We boarded our ship, ate a wonderful dinner and listened to the Bratislava Men’s choir sing Christmas Carols in Slovakian and English both. An excellent end to a wonderful day. We went to our room and knew we would wake up in Vienna, a city I had yearned to see since I first began traveling!

 

 

 

 

 

***Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking River Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

 

Viking River Cruises, Budapest

For four years Kim and I have dreamed of taking a Viking River Cruise together through Europe. I have been disappointed year after year, as it never came to fruition. Neither one of us had ever been to the continent until this year. Miracle of miracles, I have been three times in 2015 and have completely become enamored with its architecture, people and food as a whole. I have fallen head over heels for the wonderful attributes of Europe. Most fortunately I also connected with Viking this year and Kim and I were able to participate in a trip of lifetime. In all our 37 years of marriage and vacations, nothing compares or can measure up to a river cruise with Viking. The overall impression is a 5-star involvement. We will treasure our memories the remainder of our living days.

 

Viking Longship Modi

Viking Longship Modi

 

We were given a list of four cruises to select from and I chose the “Danube Waltz Cruise”. Basically as a result of Kim’s creative abilities and the fact this cruise centered on Christmas Markets. I did not make the wrong choice, as I am sure you are aware, if you followed our escapades on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. We were met at the airport by a terrific native Hungarian who spoke very good English and proceeded to elaborate on a fair portion of the history of Hungary. They loaded our luggage and the superlative service began instantly. We arrived at the Viking Longship Modi and boarded to check in. The staff was friendly, accommodating and impressed me immediately. We were led to our stateroom where we had champagne, water and fabulous fresh cookies waiting for us to arrive. We were hooked right away!

 

Reception Area and upstairs Library

Reception Area and upstairs Library

 

Even though we were worn out from an over 20 hour  flight, we jumped right in for the  “Welcome Walk” at 2:00 PM, after checking into the ship. We walked for approximately 90 minutes and saw a glimpse of the Budapest Christmas Markets and several statues of Heroic individuals, along with a plethora of beautiful constructed government buildings. Most of which escapes my memory since we were exhausted. I was instantaneously mesmerized by the architecture in Budapest. Kim immediately was drawn to the Christmas Markets and the laser cut wooden spoons, as those of you that followed us know full well by now.

 

Wooden Spoons from the Christmas Market, Budapest

Wooden Spoons from the Christmas Market, Budapest

 

Each night the ship holds a briefing of scheduled activities for the following day. We napped right through the first “Welcome briefing” and somehow woke up for dinner. I can’t say enough about the food on Viking and will devote an entire post to Viking food! After dinner we went straight to bed and slept like rocks. To my knowledge we neither one moved after going to sleep. We were worn out. We both woke up during the early morning around 3:00 AM or so, because of the time difference.

 

I have a greater respect for the fortitude of the Hungarian people over the years. They have survived countless invasions, wars and staunch oppressors without losing their desire for Independence. The young lady tour guide on our bus presented it in a humorous fashion, stating countries would come to help and then forget to leave. Our tour was a combination bus ride and walking tour. All along the walking tour Viking has a guide that speaks English very well and instructs you on the various works of art, government buildings and parks you may pass, along with taking us through the Christmas Markets in Budapest. The markets were very crowded and she managed to not lose any people. I thought that was as amazing as her dialogue. On each tour every participant is furnished with a wireless headset in which you receive the tour guides narrative.

 

Marzipan of Many Flavors (Yes we bought some)

Marzipan of Many Flavors (Yes we bought some)

 

We returned just in time for lunch. I must add that the Maitre D’ attends individually to everyone with dietary needs or restrictions. I was impressed beyond comprehension. He stopped by our table, introduced himself and greeted all of us at every meal. He inquired if any of us had any allergies or issues. As I cannot eat certain foods, he privately discussed my needs and told me he would stop by each morning at breakfast and discuss the lunch and dinner menus. Each day he made sure to let me know what was safe for me to eat and helped me choose my appetizers, entree and desserts daily at breakfast. As each meal was open seating I just had to give the waiter my room number. I have to tell you, since I am naturally introverted, sitting with complete strangers was at first a little scary. In the end though Kim and I met fabulous, well traveled people and made several lasting friends. We traded emails, phone numbers in some cases and I really enjoyed the various individuals more than I anticipated.

 

One of the More Creative Packaging for Soap on a Rope

 

Little did we know our journey across some of Europe’s finest Christmas Markets was just beginning. These markets are beyond comprehension unless you have actually seen them. They all are a mixture of various crafts, souvenirs, foods and items particular to the individual countries. One item that was present at every Christmas Market was Gluhwein, both with alcohol and without. We didn’t realize until after Budapest, every market has their own mug and it comes with the Gluhwein! Some passengers collected mugs from every market. What a great way to remember each city’s Christmas Market. By the way Gluhwein tastes wonderful!

 

Buda Castle, as Seen From Our Side of the Danube

Buda Castle, as Seen From Our Side of the Danube

 

After lunch we had a choice between three “Optional Shore Excursions: The Godollo Palace and Gardens, The Dohany Synagogue or The Budapest Spa Experience. Optional tours cost additional funds. We chose to walk back to the Christmas Markets and explore them more in depth and review the remaining optional tours on the cruise. After all our main objective was to see and visit every Christmas Market, in every city we visited. We chose to revisit the Christmas Markets and explored until dinner on the ship. I barely made it through dinner and couldn’t eat my dessert, I was so full.

 

The next day we ate breakfast and joined the “Shore Excursion: Budapest” from 8:30 to 12:30 PM. Highlights were the National Opera House and the historic Heroes Square via a bus and then were able to walk along Fisherman’s Hill to Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church. I learned of the sacrifices the Hungarian people made over the years and how many hundreds of thousands people perished during all the wars collectively.

 

Paprika is One of the Largest Exports of Budapest

Paprika is One of the Largest Exports of Budapest

 

We  loved the bus ride and guide for the excursion through both the Buda and Pest sides of the Danube. Pest is a flat city filled with historic architecture. I love buildings that have survived wars and conquests from outside armies and still are standing. Some had exquisite and detailed trim, which I favor. Overall Budapest was one of our favorite cities and we have pledged to return. Then we hit the retail shops on Fisherman’s Hill and glimpsed the Danube from Fisherman’s Bastion.

 

Handmade Linens Adorn the Shops on Fisherman's Hill in Buda

Handmade Linens Adorn the Shops on Fisherman’s Hill in Buda

 

We learned that all goods labeled as handmade in Hungary, have to be authentically crafted and sewn in Hungary. If a retail shop offers goods from China or another country that basically is a knock off, they stand the chance of losing their business. Obviously it is not worth the risk. The shop that Kim purchased a table linen runner was in fact actually handcrafted in Hungary. Kim validated this by looking at the stitching on the reverse side. I would have never known! She loved the linens and vowed to wait to purchase additional items. Lesson learned. We quickly discovered, if you really like something buy it then, don’t wait or you take the chance of not seeing the item ever again.

 

Matthias Church with Magnificent Architecture, Especially the Roof Tiles

Matthias Church with Magnificent Architecture, Especially the Roof Tiles

 

At the top of Fisherman’s Hill is a gorgeous Roman Catholic church, originally built in 1015. The current building was constructed in Gothic style in the second half of the 14th century and was extensively restored in the late 19th century. It was the second largest church of medieval Buda and the seventh largest church of the Medieval Hungarian Kingdom. The first church on the site was founded by Saint Stephen, King of Hungary in 1015. This building was destroyed in 1241 by the Mongols; the current building was constructed in the latter half of the 13th century. Originally named after the Virgin Mary, taking names such as “The Church of Mary” and “The Church of Our Lady,” Matthias Church was named after King Matthias in the 19th Century.

 

We headed back to the Viking Longship Modi and sailed after dinner to our next destination, Bratislava.

 

 

 

 

***Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking River Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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