Daylight in Oslo

Happy New Year everyone—welcome to 2019! So… how’s your bucket list coming along? My first blog post of last year, Wave meets rock, featured my “official” such list of five destinations I’d never experienced before. As of today, I’m happy to report two of the five are checked off—yippee!

The first—Alcatraz—made my blog post Bridges, bites & bars. The second—the fjords of Norway—well…starts with a sunrise.

Cruising in

Daylight in Oslo this time of year is limited to about six hours a day—tough to imagine during our recent autumn visit that began with a gorgeous sunrise! The Akershus Fortress & Castle served as the perfect backdrop to the sun’s early morning arrival. And our cruise ship cabin balcony provided one awesome vantage point.

The Pacific Princess docked in front of the castle about 7:00 am; just in time for me to greet the sun! In 2017, as luck would have it, I caught the sunrise in Salem, Oregon the morning of the solar eclipse. (A quick shoutout to my very first blog post: My Eclipse Manners.) And now, here in Oslo (14 months later), I realized the perfect addition to my bucket list: watch at least one sunrise every year from this moment on…

Walking around

Via the ship’s excursion desk, we booked a three-hour walking tour of the city. Conveniently, the tour began just a few steps from the dock. (Also convenient, the sunshine and blue sky would be sticking around for the day…)

As a group, we followed the guide toward the heart of downtown Oslo, which—from our starting point—put the harbor to our left and the fortress to our right. And just where the path along the marina met up with the walkways into town, our guide stopped in front of a park statue depicting a rather famous American: FDR.

Wait—a sculpture of President Franklin D. Roosevelt here—in Norway? Facing the beautiful harbor, FDR’s likeness was erected to honor him for his WWll speech “Look to Norway” and for his support of this Scandinavian country during the wartime occupation. The Norwegian citizens were very grateful for the aid provided by the Allied forces, which ultimately helped liberate their nation.

Continuing into town, our guide introduced us to a famous Norwegian—the city’s patron saint: Hallvard. Featured as the official seal of Oslo on building facades and other surfaces throughout the town, St. Hallvard holds a millstone in one hand and three arrows in the other.

Over the last few centuries, the reasons for these symbolic items have varied, along with the saint’s legend, but our guide shared with us the version that includes Hallvard rescuing a young woman (represented at the feet of St. Hallvard) and the saint surviving the three arrows.

Time for a little True/False! Oslo was once called Christiania.

True!

When you’re king, renaming a city after yourself is pretty doable. King Christian IV, after the fire of 1624 destroyed Oslo, ordered not only the relocation of the city to across the bay but the new name as well.

Continuing our journey on foot, we saw city hall, the royal palace, many beautiful parks and one tiger. Okay, so it’s a statue of a tiger, but a rather famous one with the locals, as it represents the town’s nickname “The Tiger City.”

Before our tour’s end, we enjoyed seeing the contemporary and beautiful opera house—even walked its pitched roof for a better look of the harbor. And—to my delight—walked the grounds of my sunrise castle, having yet one more harbor view.

Noshing on

And now, time to double back to a few merchants we spotted during our stroll through town! My family unanimously chose The Café Cathedral as our lunch place, so we made our way there first. Still wanting to enjoy this beautiful day, we opted for outdoor seating and made our menu selections.

While I ordered something sweet—Verdens Beste—Norwegian national cake, my family went for something savory: Reindeer Pizza. I passed on the option of having a bite, but apparently this Scandinavian spin on an Italian favorite was quite the delicious hit.

Sailing away

With the late afternoon sun closing in on the horizon, our ship began making its way toward open water, treating us to the perfect view of my previously mentioned bucket list item: seeing the fjords! The combination of clear sunny weather and an unobstructed view made the entire event picture perfect.

Whichever bucket list items you’ll visit this new year, I wish you all the best discoveries on your adventures—the planned and the unexpected… J 🌄

 

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Our Amsterdam moments

Cycles, canals, cheese, art and more! When one hears about a certain famous Dutch city, many things might come to mind. For our curious group—having never visited Amsterdam before—we were excited to explore a bit.

The planned main attraction for our day was the fantastic Van Gogh Museum, but our out-and-about discoveries were wonderful in their own right. Eager to see the famed artist’s work first however, we started there…

Spiraling up

The museum. Four of us, in search of our favorite paintings, headed eagerly toward the open-air stairway, winding our way up to the official first floor of the main building. Once there, we fell into the slow line of museum attendees, moving clockwise around the inner walls of the room.

Stopping long enough in front of each showcased canvas to admire and wonder, we encountered our first unexpected discovery: The Potato Eaters.

This darkly toned portrayal of a poor family sitting down to a meal of potatoes pulled from our group a collective reaction of a little sadness, mixed with a bit of sympathy, followed by our surprise reaction: hunger! Suddenly we were hungry for potatoes, and maybe some wine as well, to wash them all down…

As we made our way around floors 1, 2 and 3, I was impressed at being able to see his masterpieces—like his self portrait (the one featured on the museum’s pamphlet)—up close.

Our other Van Gogh group favorites leaned toward the flower category: Almond Blossoms, Sunflowers and Irises.

After completing our circle of the third floor, it was time to find our own travel sized replicas to take home. We headed to the gift shop on the main floor, and found several portable souvenirs.

The museum held one more fun surprise for us: a cafeteria—one of the best I’ve seen—displaying bags of potato chips, next to (of all things) a wine-by-the-glass dispenser! We gladly selected our treats and found a table. With our potato/wine craving satisfied—what are the odds?!—we made our way outside…

Floating down

The canals. Bordering streets, homes, businesses and parks, Amsterdam’s waterways are as much a traffic medium as its roadways for moving people around the town. Pre booked, we boarded our vessel for a mini canal cruise.

Time for a pop quiz! Over how many kilometers of canals are in Amsterdam?

  • 50
  • 75
  • 100

Answer? Over 100 kilometers of canals—and more than 1500 bridges.

What a fantastic way to see the sights! Navigating the narrow canals, we enjoyed observing the building facades, and other waterside attractions, up close.

Wheeling around

The most bicycle-friendly capital city in the world, Amsterdam’s urban population of 1 million plus means that bicycles are everywhere. Pedestrians beware! While walking around, we kept a vigilant eye on the noted bike paths.

In the mood for a different kind of wheel, we stepped into the Amsterdam Cheese Deli. Samples, sandwiches and several savory flavors of my absolute favorite dairy product were everywhere! Unable to resist, I picked a wedge of Gouda. Good. Stuff… 🧀

Known for lots of activities and consumables that aren’t exactly legal most places elsewhere, Amsterdam has it all. In broad daylight. In shops that stand alongside other more

mainstream businesses. Not our thing, but a curiously entertaining observation for us nonetheless as we strolled up and down the canal bridges and sidewalks.

All in all, we loved our day of Amsterdam moments—every art-filled, oddball, scenic and tasty bit of it. J 🥔🍷

A Victorian getaway

Walkies. Tea. Places to see. Victoria is a very beautiful—and very walkable—city in British Columbia. Located on the southeast tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria shares the Strait of Juan de Fuca with Washington State as a natural border between Canada and the US.

Getting there is half the fun when you travel aboard the Victoria Clipper. And if you book your trip through Clipper Vacations (like we did), your transportation and hotel—even afternoon tea, and other events or tours—can be bundled together.

Going for walks

The Clipper docked at 254 Belleville Street on Victoria’s Inner Harbour a little after 10:30 am. From there, we rolled our suitcases just 800 ft. along the street to 463 Belleville: the Hotel Grand Pacific.

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Conveniently our room was ready at this pre-check-in hour (most likely due to our mid-week arrival), so we were able to unpack our bags and relax a bit before venturing out. Shopping, restaurants, attractions—all just down the street! So, where to first?

Seeing the sights

When was the last time you saw a Woolly mammoth? Okay, to be fair, when was the first time? If you don’t possess a working time machine and have yet to see such a mammal up close, visit the Royal BC Museum. Continuing along to 675 Belleville, the museum was a short but scenic walk from our hotel.

The mammoth—think ginormous stuffed teddy bear—resides in the museum’s Natural History exhibit. Items from our more recent history, like that of Captain George Vancouver, his discovery of this corner of the world and its native people (while he searched for the Northwest Passage), can be seen and explored in the walk-through Human History exhibit. An old west harbour town brought to life. Very cool!

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Our first stop inside, however, was the IMAX Victoria Theatre’s show “Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs” (Amazing!), followed by a walk through the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit. Truly breathtaking images! I enjoy museums, and this happens to be one of my favorites.

Up for a slightly more ambitious walk, we made our way 1.6 miles from our hotel and the Inner Harbour along Government and then Fort Streets to a cozy manor at the top of the hill: Craigdarroch Castle.

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Built during the Victorian era, this National Historic Site was first home to the coal-wealthy Dunsmuir family. It has since served Victoria in many capacities, but today its rooms feature furnishings and amenities that were part of everyday life for the Dunsmuir clan.

If only the walls could talk! Listening to Darren—a castle guide—entertain questions about the colorful history of each family member, I began to visualize their very Victorian day-to-day life inside these beautiful rooms.

Wealth has a way of building castles and legacies. Or in some cases, a worked-out limestone quarry. But combine the empty quarry with a clever green thumb’s idea—financed by her family—and voila! The Butchart Gardens were born.

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In 1904, Jennie Butchart turned her husband’s old quarry and cement plant into the Sunken Garden. She soon added other gardens, all featuring many plants, flowers, and other delights that Jennie and her husband Robert brought home from their many travels abroad. The Butchart family loved to entertain visitors, naming their vast estate “Benvenuto”—“Welcome” in Italian. Today, the Butchart Gardens are a National Historic Site, seen by almost one million people each year.

Nearly 20 miles from downtown Victoria, these lovely gardens were a bit out of our desired walking range, but the desk for CVS Tours, located at the Fairmont Empress Hotel, was rather convenient—just a few minutes on foot for us.

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For the price of admission, CVS Tours provided transportation to the gardens, fun history told to us passengers by our driver, a map of the grounds, and a flower and plant guide. Admission even included a 45-minute stop at the fun-meets-fascinating Victoria Butterfly Gardens. Birds, bees, flowers and trees! And a few other critters too. Between the Butchart Gardens and the Butterfly Gardens, we enjoyed them all throughout this tour.

If you have room in your suitcase for a little local jewelry, stop by Jade (911 Government Street). Mined in upper British Columbia, this beautiful gemstone is crafted in very wearable ways. My weakness? The earrings. Gorgeous!

Stopping for tea

Walking along Government Street, just a little over half a mile from our hotel, we discovered Canada’s oldest Chinatown. And then we wandered into a fantastic tea experience: the Silk Road Aromatherapy & Tea Co. We enjoyed sampling Happy Tea (wonderful stuff!), and talking with the very knowledgeable and friendly tea-expert employees. And of course—making a purchase.

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A little closer to our hotel, we found Murchie’s Tea & Coffee (1110 Government Street), which just happens to sell lots of other goodies too: breakfast and lunch items, pastries, cakes, souvenirs, tea sets and accessories, and of course, tea, coffee and cocoa.

Established 1894, this shop’s founder—John Murchie—had delivered tea to none other than Queen Victoria herself. He learned firsthand the kind of tea his monarch preferred, as well as invaluable knowledge of the tea trade. When he immigrated to Canada, his put his tea and business smarts to the test, launching a successful company that still thrives today.

We managed to swing by for breakfast, and for an afternoon break or two. And yes, returned yet again for some shopping. There is always a line from the door to the counter, but it moves rather quickly. Finding a table can be tricky (unless placing an order to go), so I suggest stopping by between the breakfast and lunch rushes.

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A trip to Victoria is not complete without afternoon tea at the Empress. The Fairmont Empress Hotel is a true icon of Victoria’s Inner Harbour. Residing at 721 Government Street, this was another easy walk for us.

The tea room is beautiful, and the service is excellent. These are simple requirements of this famous place, which help remove any nervousness one might have when in the presence of elegant table settings. The Royal China collection used exclusively at The Empress has its own fascinating history, dating back to 1939 as a gift from the visiting King George VI.

Our choices of tea were presented to us as a book of samples. We could actually see the colorful ingredients for each blend! (The Empress gift shop features many of the hotel’s exclusive blends, along with its own line of honey products—from its own bee hives.)

The towers of treats were mini works of tasty art. We added glasses of prosecco to round out our indulgent event. Also, The Empress very kindly and deliciously accommodated our lactose intolerant family members, so no one went without.

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When the Far East meets a former British outpost on an island in the beautiful, bountiful, great Pacific Northwest, the resulting jewel for us is…? Westcoast Afternoon Tea at the Hotel Grand Pacific. Keeping in step with my walking references, this location was just an elevator ride and a lobby crossing away from our room.

Our server, Tim, shared with us his wonderfully vast knowledge of tea—knowledge he credits to his server training, and attendance at several tea courses given by… wait for it… Silk Road Aromatherapy & Tea Co. Yes! The very store we happened upon during our walkabout in Chinatown. It is also the very company that provides this hotel’s restaurant with its delicious—and now newly familiar—afternoon tea selection.

Are you aware of the color known as auspicious yellow? If so, then you just might understand why all of their teapots enjoy this happy hue. The tower of treats were Northwest delicious, and the teas (and prosecco!) absolutely hit the spot. And the chef substituted goat cheese for my lactose intolerant family members, which made our party immensely happy.

I always appreciate the pride and effort people put into creating quality products such as organic, authentic and traditional teas, then crafting time-honored and new experiences from these qualities to share in celebration with their patrons. Hats off to these merchants and restaurants of Victoria for exceeding our tea-time expectations.

Dining out

If you’re in the mood for Italian, I suggest a stroll to one of Victoria’s quiet neighborhoods where you’ll find Il Covo Trattoria (106 Superior Street). At just a half mile from our hotel, the distance was perfectly walkable.

We chose an early time slot, but the restaurant quickly filled up. Given this was a midweek evening, we guessed the locals were enjoying their favorite dinner place. Excellent food! The mushroom risotto was the best I’ve ever had. Wonderful and attentive service truly made our meal a great experience.

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Hungry for seafood? The Steamship Grill & Bar—directly across the street from our hotel—has you covered. Delicious cuisine and local wines (and great service too), this was the perfect way for us to end our last full day in town.


The Victoria Clipper took us back to Seattle the next day, carrying us, our overstuffed souvenir tote bags and a wealth of new and wonderful memories.

Along with being very walkable, Victoria is a very friendly city too. Even the crosswalk signs allow ample time for pedestrians, and drivers keep their cars well behind the white line. Their kindness is a reminder to me to always be a good neighbor. After all, we’d love to visit again. And again. J 🇨🇦