Oslo, Norway – A Scenic Port to Visit

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I have sailed in and out of many scenic ports but one of my favorites is the approach and departure through the Oslo Fjord into and out of Oslo, Norway.

Oslo
Sailing out of the port of Oslo, Norway

Beautiful seaside homes dot the landscape making this a picturesque port to visit.

Oslo Home
Seaside Home

This was my first visit to Oslo and, although it rained heavy during my entire visit, the weather cleared as we were leaving port giving way to some of the most beautiful scenery I have seen.

Oslo Landscape
Colorful homes

The iconic Dyna Lighthouse, located on a reef, is reachable only by boat.

Oslo Lighthouse
Dyna Lighthouse

At first, because of the shape of it, we thought this was a private cottage before discovering it is, in fact, an active lighthouse having been established in 1875.

Oslo Lighthouse
Dyna Lighthouse

We saw lots of pleasure craft like this one heading in to port.

Sailing in Oslo
Pleasure Craft Heading in to Port

If you are lucky enough to own one of these gorgeous homes along the shoreline in the Norwegian capital, you can simply back your boat up to the front lawn and park it!

Oslo
Parking the Boat in Oslo
Oslo Homes
The colors of Oslo

The scenery changed from the higher density of the city to more rural landscapes like the one below.

Oslo
In the Mist

We enjoyed our time in Norway and hope to visit again with better weather.

A Visit to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London

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I was in London for a few days in May, enroute elsewhere in Europe, and some time after I booked my trip, I did some googling to see what events might be on in the city while I was there.  When I discovered that the world-famous Chelsea Flower Show was on, I was quite excited but figured that I would not likely be able to get tickets which, by that time, had been on sale for some period of time.  I couldn’t believe when I was able to successfully book tickets online for an early evening visit!

I have to say that nothing could have prepared me for the extravaganza that is the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show. Nothing. It is massive and boasts extravagant flower displays from around the world like the one pictured below from Thailand – thousands and thousands of flowers imported from Thailand especially for this show.

"Thailand, Land of Buddhism", 2015 Gold Medal Winner, Chelsea Flower Show
“Thailand, Land of Buddhism”, 2015 Gold Medal Winner, Chelsea Flower Show

The annual 5-day garden show has been held on the grounds of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, London, since 1913. While no longer the largest flower show in England (that title belongs to Hampton Court Palace) it is, however, considered the most prestigious and famous and is visited by members of the Royal Family.   Our tickets were valid for a three-hour visit and it was overwhelming to see the fabulous displays. We could easily have spent an entire day.

"Thailand, Land of Buddhism", 2015 Gold Medal Winner, Chelsea Flower Show
“Thailand, Land of Buddhism”, 2015 Gold Medal Winner, Chelsea Flower Show

The creativity of the displays was a sight to see!

"Thailand, Land of Buddhism", 2015 Gold Medal Winner, Chelsea Flower Show
“Thailand, Land of Buddhism”, 2015 Gold Medal Winner, Chelsea Flower Show

While there are a number of outside displays and a large number of stalls/booths selling anything and everything to do with gardening, the main focal point is the Garden Pavilion tent erected especially for the show. To give you a sense of the magnitude of this Pavilion, the RHS website states it covers 2.9 acres of land and has the capacity to hold 500 London buses! And, it was all filled with beautiful flowers and floral displays!

Many nations send representatives with floral displays to compete at the Chelsea Flower Show. For the sixth consecutive year, Thailand has won the gold medal at the show. In 2015, their Thai Buddhism design theme was “Thailand, Land of Buddhism” which featured tropical botanical gardens.

The show features horticultural displays, creative gardening ideas, and promotes rare floral varieties, new plant species, and future trends.  We knew there would be lots of flowers but we also found lots of ideas for outside living like this garden room.

The photo below shows the interior of one of the garden rooms on display – I’d have taken this one home if it would have fit in my luggage for transport back across the Atlantic Ocean!

The one below with the big screen TV is not too shabby, either!

Who wouldn’t want a patio table with a built in barbeque! Perfect for outdoor entertaining.

Floral displays were meticulous in every way and not a dead or wilted bloom could be seen.

The different floral species and varieties were well marked.

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The orange tulips below  almost look like a painting.

Spectacular color was everywhere at every turn!

Beautiful begonias in every shade imaginable.

It was so hard not to take a thousand photographs!

The displays below reminded me of decorated cupcakes!

Loved this display of spuds at the show!

Flora in every shade and shape imaginable!

Look at the intricate detail of color in these blooms.

Hard to imagine what nature creates!

I loved the more whimsical displays like the teapot and cupcakes below.

These displays were popular with photographers.  Some 157,000 visitors pass through the show in five days and I’d be willing to bet there were not too many of them who did not have a camera in hand!

Check out the flower-filled cookie!

A teapot pouring flowers!

Don’t discard the old dining room chairs – they make for interesting flower containers!

A flowing floral table skirt.

Atop the lovely tableskirt was a table set for afternoon tea.

A way to re-purpose old books, teapots, and teacups and saucers.

One of several floral arrangement submissions on exhibit from creative floral designers.

Love the lime green shades!

A beautiful autumn-themed display that incorporates many elements.

An old church window frame was the inspiration for this display.

We found the show very well organized and, of course, only permitting so many visitors on to the grounds at a time does control crowds.  We were staying in the Belgravia area of London this time so used the Tube (underground railway system) to and from the show.  There were a number of double decker buses leaving from nearby Victoria Station but traffic in London can be slow moving and it is very congested in the Chelsea area when the flower show is on so we felt the Tube would be the quickest way to get to Chelsea and back to our hotel.

Thousands of people all moving at the same time means you need to have a good sense of direction and know where you are headed.  Some took advantage of the rickshaw service to get them from one point to another.

If you find yourself in London in May when the Chelsea Flower Show is on, I highly recommend a visit.  Just know, though, that tickets must be purchased in advance.  We bought ours online and picked them up at the ticket booth just inside the entrance gate to the show.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief glimpse into the Chelsea Flower Show as it was in 2015.

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Chelsea Flower Show 2015
Chelsea Flower Show 2015

Beautiful Bruges, Belgium

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On my second visit to Belgium, I discovered Bruges, one of the most extraordinary places in Europe.  In many ways, it’s like taking a trip back to the medieval times where time stood still – the narrow cobblestone streets, ornate architecture, and the intricate canal system.

Bruges is the capital city of the province of West Flanders and is located in the northwest corner of Belgium.

The lock house on Minnewater Lake was my first view of ancient Bruges.

On Minnewater Lake, Bruges, Belgium
On Minnewater Lake, Bruges, Belgium

I arrived by coach and, because the streets are so narrow in Bruges and there are thousands of people visiting each day during peak tourist season, large coaches are not allowed in the downtown area.  Just a short walk from the coach parking lot brought us to Minnewater Lake and then in to the hub of Bruges.

The photo below shows the narrow cobblestone streets that are characteristic of Bruges. Cycling is a popular mode of transportation.

Horse and carriage rides are also popular, especially with tourists, and the clip-clopping of horses’ hooves can be heard all around town.

Just be sure you watch out for them as they clip along at very fast speed and take the corners tightly and sharply!

Grote Markt (Market Square) is the nerve center of the city. With its colorful eclectic gabled buildings, there are lots of restaurants and shops available and photo opportunities at every turn.

Grote Mark - Market Square, Bruges, Belgium
Grote Markt – Market Square, Bruges, Belgium

Dining al fresco in Bruges is the norm.

One of the most iconic sights of Bruges is the Halle and the Belfry in Market Square. While we chose not to spend time waiting in the long line to climb some 366 steps up to the top of the bell tower, those who did said it has a most commanding view of Market Square.

It was glorious to hear the carillon  performance emanating from the bell tower as we walked through Bruges.

Look for architecture with construction that dates back to the 1200s like the Church of Our Lady. Bruges is history.

Church of Our Lady, Bruges, Belgium
Church of Our Lady, Bruges, Belgium

Bruges is often referred to as the “Venice of the North” because of its series of canals that wind through the historic city.  I highly recommend one of the short narrated excursions by boat through the canals as it’s a great way to get up close to the ancient architecture of the city.

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Just be sure to watch your head as you pass under the many low footbridges!

The boat excursions generally last about 30 minutes.

To the right in the photo below, you can see red poppies growing alongside the canal.

The canal boat tour passes such iconic sights as the Memling Museum.

Memling Museum, Bruges, Belgium
Memling Museum, Bruges, Belgium

Swans are everywhere and the canal tour boats simply weave in and out between them and, somehow, it works for everybody to use the canal system!

Vendor Markets in Bruges
Vendor Markets along the canal in Bruges

One of the most popular sights along the canal in Bruges is the “Dog of Bruges”, a golden lab in a gabled window at the Côté Canal Guesthouse.  Apparently, the dog spends much of his time resting on a comfy pillow on the window ledge overlooking the canal.

This dog is probably one of the most photographed sights in Bruges!

And, when he is tired, he simply closes his eyes and ignores the thousands of tourists passing his window. It’s a dog’s cushy life!

No visit to Bruges would be complete without a little shopping.  Handmade Belgian lace and chocolates are the two most popular items on most shopping lists.  I still have the lace pieces I bought on my first visit to Brussels several years ago and, of course, added a couple more as souvenirs of my visit to Bruges. You will find lace shops everywhere in Bruges; however, some lace is now imported and is not hand-made in Belgium.  Many shops will have signs posted as to whether the lace is locally hand-made or imported; however, if your goal is to acquire a piece of genuine  handmade Belgian  lace, when in doubt, ask and do shop around before purchasing.

From the moment I set foot in Bruges, I could smell the chocolate! There are a ton of chocolate shops selling quality Belgian chocolate.

There are also some exquisite chocolate designs to be had!

It was really hard to settle on just which chocolates (and how many) to take home!

Everywhere you turn, there is a chocolatier. Bruges is a chocolate lover’s mecca!

This sign in a chocolate shop window pretty much sums it up!

Bruges is a real tourist attraction so, if visiting during peak tourist season, just know you will be sharing its beauty with thousands of other tourists on any given day.

Bruges is definitely on my “places to re-visit” list.

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Bruges, Belgium
Bruges, Belgium

London Eye Offers Spectacular Views of London Landscape

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The London Eye
The London Eye

On my most recent visit to London in May, 2015, I decided it was time to see the city from high atop the Coca-Cola London Eye.

Built in 1999, this giant slow-moving Ferris wheel is located on the South Bank of the River Thames and it provides some stunning views of London, including that of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben as seen in the photo below.

Houses of Parliament
Houses of Parliament

It takes 30 minutes for the wheel to complete its rotation and it moves so slowly that you don’t even realize it is moving. There are 32 glass-enclosed passenger capsules on the wheel and each takes up to about 25 people. There is a bench in the center of each capsule but passengers are free to move about the capsule and most do so in order to get the optimal viewing that the Ferris wheel offers. Because it moves so slowly and smoothly, it’s a great place for taking photos as you can get views from many heights.

Passenger Capsule on The London Eye
Passenger Capsule on The London Eye

Before boarding the Ferris wheel, we went to the 4D cinema experience and I recommend it. It’s a very short presentation and is very well done.

Waterloo Bridge
Waterloo Bridge

During peak periods, there can be long queues for the London Eye. In mid-May, we were at the London Eye around 5:30pm and had about a 20-25 minute wait. They do, however, have different categories of tickets, including fast-track tickets, so best to visit their website for up-to-date details on tickets, prices, and so forth.

The Shard (the triangular-shaped building in the photo below) is London’s highest and best viewpoint of the city. This 87-story skyscraper contains restaurants, offices, and a hotel as well as a viewing platform. I didn’t make it to the Shard this time but it’s on my “to-do” list for the next visit.

Part of the London Skyline including The Shard
Part of the London Skyline including The Shard

There are always vessels of some sort moving along The Thames.

Charing Cross Station is on the right in the photo below and Whitehall Court to the left.

You don’t go many seconds in London without seeing the iconic red double-decker buses.  The ones in the photo below are on Westminster Bridge just in front of the Houses of Parliament.

You’ll never be lost for time if you can see Big Ben!

The Royal Festival Hall is in the photo below. The London Eye is a great way to situate yourself within the layout of London and its famous landmarks. You can also get a good view of Buckingham Palace from the London Eye, too.

In our short time on the London Eye, the weather kept changing. One minute the sun was shining and the sky was bright blue and the next, it looked like a storm was rolling in. After exiting the London Eye, we walked a short distance along the Thames and then went up on to the Westminster Bridge which we walked across to the Westminster Underground Station to get the tube back to Belgravia where we were staying on this trip. It was a neat experience to walk alongside the Houses of Parliament.

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Afternoon Tea at London’s Intercontinental Park Lane Hotel

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Since my first visit to England in 1985, I have had a love affair with London! I find it’s a city that, no matter how many times I visit, there is always something new to see and to explore.

There are the usual iconic attractions that remain largely unchanged over the years – the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, Harrods, Fortnum and Mason, and the list goes on. One of the most British of traditions – afternoon tea – has also endured over the years and, if anything, has grown in popularity with different age demographics. On each visit to the city, I ‘take tea’ at a different venue. My latest visit just this past May took me to the Intercontinental Park Lane Hotel near Hyde Park for afternoon tea.

This hotel offers a high-end traditional afternoon tea on a regular daily basis and, in addition, designs several seasonal teas throughout the year. Their new “Scents of Summer” afternoon tea had only been available four days prior to our arrival and we found it was a treat for all the senses.

"Scents of Summer" Afternoon Tea. Photo courtesy InterContinental London Park Lane Hotel
“Scents of Summer” Afternoon Tea. Photo courtesy InterContinental London Park Lane Hotel

This is not your ordinary afternoon tea with the traditional egg and cucumber sandwiches.  Expect attentive (but not intrusive) and knowledgeable service to go along with tasty and artfully prepared food that takes afternoon tea up a notch. Servers will offer tea pairing recommendations for each course of the afternoon tea that is served complete with a glass of bubbly. For my complete review of this tea experience, visit my sister blog “My Island Bistro Kitchen”.

In the meantime, here are some photos of the afternoon tea to whet your appetite.

We sampled three different teas during the afternoon, one to accompany each course.

We started with the rose pearl wheatgrass palette cleanser.

Then, these four tasty pinwheel/scroll sandwiches were presented in the shape of a butterfly.

Dainty buttermilk scones arrived at the table accompanied by dishes of Devon clotted cream, wild strawberry jam, lemon curd with pink peppercorn, and Bergamot-infused Earl Grey butter.

And, for the finale, take a look at the presentation of the dessert course. Everything you see in the photo below is edible, including the pebbles!

The dessert course was accompanied by a glass of Moët & Chandon berry floral Rosé.


If you are in London this summer and go to only one afternoon tea, I recommend the Scents of Summer at the Park Lane. Do plan to allow about three hours to relax and fully enjoy and savour this exceptional afternoon tea in the hotel’s Wellington Lounge.

The price per person of the Scents of Summer afternoon tea experience is ₤45 + gratuity (generally about 15%) which, at the time of writing would total approximately $100. (CDN) per person.

The Intercontinental Park Lane is located at One Hamilton Place, Park Lane, London, England, W1J 7QY (Tel: +44(0)20 7409 3131). Reservations are recommended for afternoon tea. For more information, visit the hotel’s website at http://parklane.intercontinental.com/wellington-lounge-afternoon-tea.html

My thanks to the Park Lane for the opportunity to experience Scents of Summer Afternoon Tea and for the fine hospitality. My afternoon tea at the Park Lane Hotel was complimentary for the purpose of conducting a review of the new Scents of Summer offering. However, this in no way influenced my opinions of the afternoon tea experience which are purely my own.

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Afternoon Tea at Intercontinental London Park Lane Hotel
Afternoon Tea at Intercontinental London Park Lane Hotel

The Majesty of Greenwich National Park in Prince Edward Island, Canada

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Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada

While each of the national parks in Prince Edward Island (PEI), my home province on the East Coast of Canada, is beautiful in its own way and you will find natural pink coastal sand dunes and soft sandy beaches in each, there is something extra special and breathtaking about Greenwich National Park. I often refer to it as the jewel in our crown of national parks. That’s why, when I am asked where is the one place I recommend visitors go on PEI, I inevitably say Greenwich.

Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Sand Dunes at Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Sand Dunes at Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada

Greenwich National Park is located near St. Peter’s Bay in the eastern end of the Island. This is less than one hour’s drive from the Province’s capital of Charlottetown. Greenwich is the newest of the Island’s national parks having just been established in 1998. The park is actually comprised of three main components: 1) The Interpretative Centre (where you can also buy your park pass); 2) the system of walking/hiking trails; and 3) the beach.

 

Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada

There are three trails in the Park and they range in length from 1.25km to 4.5km, return. My favorite is the one that has the floating boardwalk over shallow Bowley Pond which stretches alongside magnificent towering wind-sculpted pink sand dunes.

Floating Boardwalk over Bowley Pond at Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Floating Boardwalk over Bowley Pond at Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada

To reach this boardwalk, you will need to walk through a fairly level groomed trail that meanders through what was, at one time, an agricultural field and then a short jaunt through a wooded area. This will lead to the boardwalk with its spectacular vistas of the pink sand dunes contrasted against marine blue water from any angle. Be sure to bring your camera.

Floating Boardwalk over Bowley Pond at Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Floating Boardwalk over Bowley Pond at Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada

Through this wetland, look for a wide variety of bird species that call Greenwich home. What birds you will see will vary on any given day so it’s impossible to say which species you will see during a visit.

Common Tern at Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Common Tern at Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada

 

Sandpiper at Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Sandpiper at Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada

 

Blue Heron at Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Blue Heron at Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada

At the end of the boardwalk, a short climb up a set of sandy stairs will lead you to a perfect view of one of the nicest beaches you will find anywhere.

Beach at Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Entrance to Beach at the end of the Floating Boardwalk at  Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Beach at the end of the floating boardwalk at Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Beach at the end of the floating boardwalk at Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada

From the vantage point of the beach, and during fishing season, you can also watch the boats returning from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to a nearby harbour with their catch of the day.


If you don’t wish to do the hike through Greenwich trails and would sooner go directly to the beach, there is a separate entrance about 1 km down a clay road from the Interpretive Centre (note park fee applies to use this beach). There is a lengthy boardwalk from the parking lot to a section of Greenwich Beach. You will also find restrooms, outside showers, and changing facilities along with a kitchen/picnic shelter.

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There is also a high set of spiral stairs leading to a lookout that will give you a spectacular 360⁰ view of Greenwich. During the main summer season, this beach also has a lifeguard on duty at prescribed hours throughout the day.

Beach at Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Beach at Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Beach at Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Beach at Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada

Special Note:
While the trails, for the most part, are on fairly flat terrain, there are some uneven, rough grounds (especially on the short trek through the wooded area and the climb up to the stairs down to the beach at the end of the floating boardwalk trail) so be sure to wear suitable hiking/walking footwear. As well, note that you will be sharing the beauty of Greenwich trails with the Park’s natural inhabitants so be sure to bring along some insect repellent. Also, it’s a good idea to bring sunscreen and water for the hike.
Season:
At time of writing, the trails are officially open from May 17th to September 30th.
Cost:
Parks Canada sets annual fees for its national park passes. Day and season passes can be purchased at the Greenwich National Park Interpretative Centre. Note that a season pass will also give you access to the other national parks on PEI. Visit the Parks Canada website for details.
How to Get There:
From Charlottetown, take Route 2 East and travel to the Village of St. Peter’s Bay. Take Route 16 North toward Cable Head and turn West onto Route 313 to Greenwich.

Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Greenwich National Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada

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Greenwich National Park, PEI, Canada
Greenwich National Park, PEI, Canada

Travel Diary of a Prince Edward Island blogger who travels close to home shores and away to distant shores

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