EUROPE August 2013
Last summer we came to the realization that we weren’t getting any younger. If we wanted to see the world before we needed walkers we had better get on with it. We set aside the month of August 2013. We had heard good things about the Baltic Sea cruises and after talking with our friends Buddy and Rosalie decided this should be the centerpiece for our trip. We decided to leave a week early to take in the sights around London and then added a bus tour around Britain and Ireland through Globus Tours for after the cruise. As the date approached to leave our lives became hectic as we prepared for our one month long international adventure.
Wed July 31st/Aug 1st: We fly to London!
Cousin Ruby deposited us at the airport around 11 a.m. for our 1 p.m. flight. While waiting to board the plane they asked if there were two people seated together who would be willing to trade for exit row seats. Hmmm – extra leg room…. Up went our hands – (somebody had to volunteer) and so we flew with a lot of leg room. We changed planes in Atlanta which required transit from concourse A to F. You know they spend millions on their underground transit system but were too cheap to put up signs to help unfamiliar travelers. On the other hand we needed to walk anyway and stretch our legs. We joined our friends from San Diego and after an 8 hour flight in our 2 by 2 foot seating space we arrived in London Heathrow Airport the following day. This represented an 8 hour time shift for us. It was so hot and muggy when we got off the plane we wondered if we even had left Atlanta. It turns out that it was a record-setting hot and humid day in London. There were long lines in the passport checkpoint but we made it through after a chat with the agent (who wanted to know our itinerary in some detail). A “Russian police” team was near us in line – probably some type of sports team? (We found out later that a huge bike race was going on in London the weekend after our arrival). After clearing customs we found our way to the shuttle bus. Then we drove for half an hour picking up passengers. We still had not left the airport (which is just huge). Some of our questions about England I'm sure will be answered at some point: Do they have pound stores instead of dollar stores? Are English muffins popular?
The trip from the airport to the motel was kind of a blur as we kept nodding off. Or as Buddy described it - we looked like a bunch of bobbleheads.. We do vaguely remember our bus driving on the “wrong” side of the road and most of the buildings/houses made of either brick or stone.
We checked into the motel and after showering and settling in we seemed to get a burst of energy and went exploring. Butch was looking for pounds believe it or not. A kind gentleman offered to show him a functioning ATM. At this point he left us and after using the ATM he found a sandwich shop and made his way back to the hotel. Meanwhile the rest of us walked along to see the Houses of parliament and Big Ben.
Then on to purchase our oyster cards in order to use the public transit system (in particular the “the tube” which was an underground rail system). Then we proceeded to get lost. The streets were not in a grid pattern and so this was certainly easy to do. Our short walk turned out to be a long hike but we finally figured it out and found our way back. After that we went out to eat sandwiches and we all crashed in bed about 730 pm.
A couple of notes as we walked about:
- at the crosswalks there are BIG signs on the road to look RIGHT before going (since traffic will be coming from the left side of the street most of the time)
- there are very cute red phone booths
- there are bikes with blue Barclay’s bank signs you could rent from racks all over London
- there is a definite lack of public free toilets!
Friday, August 2: Walk, walk, walk, people, people, people
Buckingham Palace and the London Eye
With our biological clocks out of whack we could not stay awake past eight o'clock last night and found ourselves up and alert by 5 AM this morning. We went to a local eatery for breakfast and experienced tea with milk (“white tea”) and the breakfast plate which included eggs, sausage, hashbrowns, thick (pretty much raw) bacon and beans! Wonderful toast and drink was included for 4 1/2 pounds apiece.
Then we were off to Buckingham Palace! We were in luck as changing of the guards occurred on this day. (It is an every other day event in August.) It is a very popular attraction and the crowds certainly showed up for it (people everywhere!). The ceremony went something like this: A group of soldiers in army uniforms with a band marched into a fenced courtyard. The fence kept the public back but also partially obscured the view. Out of the formation came two soldiers with swords marching back and forth like on guard duty. One soldier walking with a flag marched the same route but the opposite direction. Several minutes later another group of soldiers wearing red coats and bearskin caps and with a matching band walked in from the other direction. (Note that the bear skin hats prevent them from doing this in the heavy rain) The two groups met with some ceremony and then there was a battle of the bands. The soldiers in uniform marched off in one direction and the soldiers in the red coats and big hats marched out from the other direction. Apparently the guard had been changed even though no one had been left at the Castle. And there were certainly some “bossy” community guards that kept the crowds in order during the procedure. God forbid you should cross the street at the wrong time!
In Cathy's trip research she had discovered the Queen was going to be away in Scotland and that they were giving tours of the Buckingham palace staterooms (for a fee). The tickets were mailed to us previously and we had a start time of 1 PM. When entering the Castle we went through an airport type of screening except for the shoes. I guess they figure you can't put in enough explosives in a shoe to bring down the Castle!
We went through one spectacular room after another. They were the state rooms for entertaining dignitaries of the Queen and there were lavish furnishings, artwork and sculptures. The tour was self-paced with audio provided with headphones. The audio tour was better than we expected. We were overwhelmed by the grandeur and immensity of the place. I would love to show you pictures but they took our cameras away at security. They probably have a book in the gift shop to sell with pictures.
As if that wasn't enough excitement we rode the London Eye and we do have pictures of this! In case you aren't aware, the London Eye opened in March of 2000 and is a huge Ferris wheel like affair with each car a container holding up to 25 people. It takes 30 minutes or so to complete the circle and there are 32 of the “capsules” representing the 32 boroughs of London. We found this to be a great experience with outstanding views of London. That evening we had dinner at a local café and called it a day.
Saturday, August 3
Double decker bus and River tour of London
There is a massive bike rally and race that has disrupted the traffic flow around London. What are the odds - Butch luck! We opted for the double-decker bus tour like this one in Cambridge with the live commentary as we figured they could modify the commentary with the change in course.
We got off at the Tower Bridge and walked past the Tower of London to the pier for the Thames River Cruise.
Butch headed back and the rest of us went to “The Jack the Ripper walking tour”. However this was canceled because of the bike rally so we headed to the Liverpool station to buy our train tickets for Harwich. This is the harbor where we will catch our ship for the Baltic Sea Cruise. We made several errors as we got back on the tube (or underground subway in London). We first got on the wrong train but we were able to get off and get back on the correct train. However poor Buddy was left behind at the station. The good news is that the subway trains come along every few minutes and we were able to get together again at the next station to head back to our hotel. We had dinner out at an organic type of fresh food café (Pret a Manger) - the chicken salad and sandwiches were great!
Sunday, August 4
Tower of London
Today we visited one of the biggest attractions in London - the Tower of London. The Tower of London is actually a huge castle complex that's been formed over the centuries by additions and alterations of the buildings. The White tower forms the core of the complex and was completed in the 1100s.
The White tower:
The history was brought to life by the “beefeaters” tour. Cathy had heard that this tour was highly recommended and boy was she right. The Beefeaters had to have been in the military for at least 22 years to be able to qualify for the job. Our guide was very funny and informative but wasn't sure why he was called a Beefeater. After the entertaining tour we split up to explore the grounds.
Inside the Tower grounds:
We then went to Westminster Abbey but found it was closed on Sundays and so we just walked around the outside of the building. It was beautiful with elaborate detail on the walls. We walked to St. James Park to watch some of the bike racers finish their race. Then back home and dinner out at Pret a Manger again.
Monday, August 5
On one of her previous adventures years ago, Rosalie had met Hillary and John and have kept in touch with them over all this time. They are British and live just south of Cambridge where we planned to meet up with them. We got off to an early start as we had to take the tube to the train station. We had no problems catching the train for the 45 minute ride to Cambridge where Hillary and John were waiting for us.
We rode one of those hop on/hop off tour buses and were fortunate to be able to ride on the top of the double-decker bus. Our first stop was the United States World War II Memorial cemetery. It sure gave us an appreciation for the lives that were lost in that war.
After that stop we headed to downtown Cambridge where we saw many, many colleges and heard about the history of the town and the colleges. There are over 30 colleges which are self governed charities in their own right and with their own endowments. These all make up the University of Cambridge which was established in the early 1200s. Apparently this university pretty much runs the town! We got off the bus and started a walking tour of the town and explored one of the colleges (St. John's). Everywhere we went in town there was evidence of very old early English architecture with buildings that are hundreds of years old. Of course most everything was made out of stone or brick and you have to marvel at the craftsmanship considering they had no power or modern tools to build these buildings. The streets were very narrow and in combination with the old buildings we felt we were back in time by hundreds of years.
Next we had our lunch consisting of English fish and chips and warm beer. We see why the English are so fond of it! After lunch we strolled around the central part of the town. The river Cam runs through it and we were quite amused watching the various gondola type boats maneuver around in the river Cam and bump into the walls and each other. We completed our bus tour and arrived at the train station. We had a great day and felt that we dodged a bullet as the forecast had called for rain - heavy at times. At the train station in London we spotted the golden arches and had McDinner.
August 6, Tuesday
Last full day in London
Our travel experience tells us never to pass up a Laundromat and especially with the cruise coming up. We located a Laundromat near our hotel and when our laundry was done (many British pounds later) we went our separate ways. Butch went back on the bus tour around town and Buddy went off to the British Museum. Cathy and Rosalie went to the old operating theater and Museum. There were all kinds of herbs in the museum resulting in a very nice smell. It was interesting looking at the old medical instruments and viewing the “antique” operating theater. We wandered around town a bit after having lunch and then met up with Buddy for the Jack the Ripper walking tour. It was quite interesting walking around some of the non-tourist low income areas (with lots of graffiti) and hearing about the stories and theories related to Jack the Ripper. He was never caught but the murders stopped! (Maybe he died?).
August 7, Wednesday
Travel day to Harwich to board our cruise ship (Royal Carribean – Brilliance of the Seas)
Rosalie and Cathy had mapped out a route involving two of the tube trains to get us to the Liverpool station. The biggest challenge was the train change occurring on the ride from London to Harwich. There was only a five minute time period to climb down a flight of stairs and back up to the other platform. This of course was accomplished with our luggage in hand. In retrospect they did hold the train while everybody (mostly future cruise passengers) made this change. We jumped through the hoops of boarding our ship without problems. After eating in sandwich shops for a week the buffet seemed like a treasure trove of goodies. We went to a magician show that evening and then to sleep in our stateroom.
August 8, Thursday
Day at Sea
Our observation is that when you push your body hard for a few days it is time for power lounging and napping. We went to a couple of lectures about our next port and otherwise spent the day relaxing. We had delicious food and in particular the Atlantic salmon Cathy had was outstanding!
August 9th, Friday
In 1397 Denmark, Sweden and Norway joined to form the Viking Empire with Copenhagen as the capital! As we came into Copenhagen we noticed there were lots of wind farms in the ocean.
For this city Cathy had selected an all-day castle tour and city tour with lunch included. All day meant we had to be ready to go at the starting location at 7:30 in the morning. We discovered quickly that state rooms do not come with alarm clocks. We stopped at the guest relations desk and found out the telephone system could help us. We set the program for 6:15 AM and sure enough we got a call the next morning right on time.
We were organized into groups that went into different buses and off we went on the “right” side of the road. The tour guide spoke English pretty well and she pointed out attractions as we went by them and told us about their significance. We first stopped at sites in Copenhagen including the Little Mermaid statue in the bay which was based on a Hans Christian Andersen story. We also went to the royal winter palace (which is just huge and consists of several large buildings surrounding a large courtyard area). The young guards were very seriously marching about and protecting the palace.
We traveled along the coastline with beautiful scenery and homes. There were people swimming in the water at some locations! The weather was perfect. We went to a castle called Kronberg which was built in the late 1500s on a point overlooking the sound to Sweden. This was quite convenient for the Danish Kings as they could make ships pay tolls as they passed through. By the way, we are nicknaming Europe “the how long you can hold it continent” as we found public restrooms very hard to find. We missed some of our guide’s talk at the castle as we spotted the public restrooms and made a dash for them.
Next we had a Danish lunch where we got acquainted with some of the other passengers. At our particular table it turned out that everybody was American and also from the West Coast.
Then a short drive to the Queen’s fall and spring castle (it must be nice to have more that one palace to live in). The last place we went to was the Frederiksborg Castle. We were able to tour inside as it was also a museum. We were amazed at how immense it was and the detailed craftsmanship evident everywhere you looked. There was a lot of artwork and antique furniture in the many rooms. By the time we got back we were navigating rush-hour traffic and found ourselves to be some of the last returning to the ship.
From the guide we learned that cars are very expensive with a huge taxation on new cars (about 1 and ½ times the cost!) and of course gas was very expensive (10 dollars a gallon or so). We weren’t surprised to see that the city was geared towards bikes with very large protective bike lanes. Taxes are quite high but they receive free medical care and education through college.
Dinner was a very leisurely experience lasting about an hour and a half. After dinner we were able to catch the evening performance (a 60s rock music show – familiar music to us “old folks”).
Note the windmills at sea were seen in the Scandinavian ports.
August 10th, Saturday
Day at Sea
Today Cathy walked a mile around the boat track for the make a wish foundation and donated $10 to the charity for a T-shirt. She was also very lucky and won a $50 gift certificate to apply to an excursion. So of course we had to research the best use of the certificate and signed up for another excursion for the both of us (costing more than the certificate was worth of course..).
August 11th, Sunday
We woke up to a calm picturesque shoreline. It was a beautiful cruise to Stockholm as we were close to very small islands with lovely homes and lots of trees. It reminded us a lot of the Pacific Northwest.
After arriving in Stockholm we headed off for a tour. We did a photo stop or two and then arrived at the dock for a boat tour. The audio had some problems so we missed some of the narration but I'm sure it was probably interesting. It was a wonderful cruise through the waterways around Stockholm. How about this giraffe crane?
A retirement home along the riverway….
Unfortunately there was one lady who was using the toilet when everyone got off the boat. Apparently the boat took off with her in the toilet and had to come back so she could get back on the bus (much to her embarrassment).
The guide spent another hour and a half or so showing us more of the highlights of Stockholm.
It turns out that Stockholm is built on 14 different islands and the harbor actually opens up to some 24,000 islands.
When we arrived at the boat we saw signs for free Internet. We logged on and it worked great for about five minutes and then just disappeared. We gave up and completed the day with naps and then dinner with Buddy and Rosalie.
August 12th, Monday
This was one of the ports where we didn't have an excursion planned. Buddy decided not to go ashore as he felt he was coming down with something. Our first choice for the day was the hop on/hop off bus.
To our amazement there were several of these buses in the parking lot so off we went. They had head phones with a variety of language choices. While on the tour there were a couple of downpours which prompted Butch to skip the off and on part. One of the many churches around…
Meanwhile Cathy and Rosalie did the hopping on and off. They stopped at a Lutheran Church (“rock church”) which had been blasted out of solid rock forming some of the walls. Then to view a modern sculpture in a park (the Sibelius monument dedicated to the composer Jean Sibelius). Next we went to the Olympic Stadium and viewed over the city of Helsinki from the tower. (They hosted the Olympics in 1952). Finally a stop at a beautiful Russian designed cathedral (Uspenski Cathedral). This was unfortunately closed on Mondays but still a sight to see from the outside. Finally an ice cream cone from a vendor without English listings for the flavors (so I made it easy… chocolate). Note – so far all the cities we have been in have had a fair amount of graffiti!
Back at the ship dinner was unusually fast (45 minutes!). Buddy had skipped it to be able to make the 7 pm show but by gosh we made it too!
August 13th, Tuesday
St Petersburg, Russia
This was an early start. We had a 6:45 AM meeting time and also the clocks were moved ahead an hour. Things seemed to be scheduled in such a way that the customs and passport control would not be overwhelmed. For reasons unknown to us the ship was not cleared for disembarking on time so we were 45 minutes later than scheduled. You can only imagine the lines that we had to wait in going through passport control. We were warned that the Russian passport agents were not likely to smile. It turned out that most Russians didn’t smile much.
The bus tour showed us points of interest on our way to Catherine the Great’s palace. The palace was gigantic, opulent, and lavish and on and on.
We returned to town where lunch was waiting for us. Apparently the typical Russian lunch includes vodka and champagne. We also had borscht (which was beet soup), We had salad, a strogonaff type of meat and gravy with mashed potatoes and a jello type of cake for dessert. The afternoon was spent at various photo sites around town. Note that fast food restaurants are around!
August 14, Wednesday: Day #2 St Petersburg
It was a very rainy start. We headed out of town to the Peterhof palace. We toured the inside of the palace and found it that it was very much like Catherine’s palace. The gardens were spectacular. We arrived at the bridge to witness the fountain ceremony. We were lucky, there was no rain on our garden tour.
We went back to town where lunch was waiting for us again. This time there was also entertainment with music and dancing by the Russians. Of course we once again had vodka and champagne with our lunch. After lunch we went to a massive art museum called the Hermitage. There was artwork by many famous painters such as Picasso and Monet. There were huge masses of people in groups led through a maze of hundreds of rooms. We were all given a unit with an earpiece so we could hear the guide even if we were at the back of the group. This also let us know that we weren’t far from her. Our guide was excellent as she had extensive knowledge about the artists, Russian history, and cultural issues related to Russian life.
It was amazing to realize that we were actually in Russia after growing up with the cold war and the iron curtain.
Souvenir: “embedded dolls” – a series, one inside another
Many, many high rise apartment buildings – very drab without green areas, cafes, etc
Pickpockets are very common – we were warned constantly about them
Gas prices similar to US
August 15, Thursday: Tallin, Estonia
Note: We were moved to a suite because of our noisy neighbors above us thanks to the “squeaky wheel” Butch. It was named – the Andromeda suite- and must have been 3 times wider than our previous stateroom. The bathroom was huge and included a large Jacuzzi tub (which came in handy for Rosalie as she needed some serious soaking time for her muscle injury (?)… It did mean we had to give up multitasking in the bathroom (sitting on the pot while attending to grooming at the sink..). But WOW – a dining room table, living room and bedroom and the great “gold card” which got us into the concierge room for free drinks every day.
After the grueling pace of St Petersburg we took a slower paced do it yourself tour of Tallin. The older part of town (medieval) was surrounded by a stone wall. We discovered that once again there was no such thing as a free public restroom (toilet as they would say or wash closet). However if you bought something at McDonalds you could get the code to their toilet. We hiked up to a church on the hill and then when we came down we sort of got lost. But we had a map and after all it was a very small area in old town surrounded by a wall so we circled around to find McDonalds again along with the bathroom. Then back to the ship for dinner and a wonderful night in our fancy suite.
August 16th, Friday – Day at Sea
We explored our new status as gold card holders – concierge lounge with espresso and breakfast buffet in the morning, private seating in the ship’s buffet area, open bar and appetizers in the concierge room in the evening and special seating areas for the shows. Cathy had a wonderful massage and facial and then went with Rosalie for the formal dinner (she must use those fancy clothes she brought!). Butch and Buddy had a beer and dinner in the solarium.
August 17th, Saturday – Gothenberg, Sweden
Gothenberg is the second largest city in Sweden and is quite pretty with red roofs, a lot of greenery, and some canals. We used Cathy’s excursion money she won to go on a tour of the city. It wasn’t intentional but it turns out the tour we went on was designed for the elderly and handicapped with little to no walking involved. The town is known for the Volvo car manufacturing. We heard stories about the kings and wars that brought the town to where it is today. We stopped at a church high on a hill (Lutheran) to take pictures over the city. Cathy remembers it well as it was one of the few free toilets around. We also stopped by a fish market that looked like a good place to eat. There was a cultural festival in town so the bus had some difficulty maneuvering around the crowds. It was nice to return to our new digs!
Floating gardens ?
August 18th, Sunday – Last day at sea
Now that we are really enjoying our new gold card lifestyle in our fabulous suite the trip is coming to an end. We went to a history talk about the British monarchy and Cathy went to the adult talent show with Buddy and Rosalie (only to watch). At dinner the 4 of us were seated with a British couple and had a good time. Afterwards we went to the final show which included a bicycle trick rider and trapeze lady. Then back to the rooms to organize for our departure tomorrow.
August 19th, Monday – Departure from ship to London
The ship was bustling with everyone getting ready to depart by 9 am. Since we just had carryon luggage we could leave anytime that was convenient for us. We met Rosalie and Buddy for breakfast one last time before leaving.
Cathy had already bought our return train tickets. We showed the tickets to the conductor who told us the train that was waiting there would be OK for us. It turned out it was the special expensive express train for the cruise that went directly to the Liverpool station in London! We kept waiting for someone to come around and check tickets on the train and tell us we were on the wrong one but nobody ever did…
Next we had to navigate the London tube without Rosalie’s help. With Cathy in charge we got on the platform and left on the subway. Unfortunately it was the wrong train though headed in the right direction. No big deal (other than carting our luggage up some stairs again) as trains come by every few minutes. Travel agent Cathy had arranged for a free night at a Comfort Inn using our Choice points. It turns out it was in the mid Eastern part of town several blocks from the tube station. Apparently they use different standards for what qualifies as a Comfort Inn in London as it was quite small and basic. However it was clean and came with a breakfast the next morning and met our needs for the one night.
We went for a walk and stopped for “white tea” at an outdoor café overlooking one of the canals in the area of “Little Venice” in London. After a pleasant hour (the weather was great!) we continued our walk along the canal and noted the many long houseboats moored alongside the sides. We noticed a lot of the men smoking huge pipe (“hookah” or water pipes) around town.
A few minor notes:
- The key to the motel room (card) also activates the electricity in the room.
- The elevators are called “lifts” and starts at the G level and then the second floor is 1 and so forth
- At traffic signals the light turns yellow in between the red and green to warn you to get ready to go – we like that idea!
- Oyster cards work great for public transit around London
August 20th, Tuesday – London and laundry
Our highest priority today was to get our clothes washed. When we asked some of the locals around but nobody had a clue where a laundromat was located so we googled “laundromats near me” and located a coin operated selfserve laundromat near our next motel. Just about everything except the clothes on our back were separated into 3 machines. Just a bit over an hour and many, many pounds later (to the tune of about 40 pounds or 60 bucks) we completed our laundry and packed our bags. We should be good until we arrive home!
Next we went to the Hilton Metropole hotel where we found the Globus tour office. We were able to check into our room early and went out for lunch at Pret a Manger (great fresh food). We went on an evening tour called a “Taste of London”. It included a dinner at a traditional London pub with a choice of fish and chips or meat pie and beer or wine. It was good food but really, really noisy with so many people having fun!
The river cruise was absolutely beautiful with a warm summer evening on the open deck upstairs and a full moon. It is a different tour at night with all the bridges and buildings lit up with lights. Unfortunately Butch did not bring his camera as we had already done a river cruise with pictures during the day (darn!). As we started the boat tour the full moon was just rising over London Bridge. The narrator was very informative and the captain was very cooperative in holding up the boat to hear Big Ben chime on the hour. After the boat trip back to the hotel for sleep!
August 21st, Wednesday – Day #1 Bus tour (Stonehenge, Bath, Newport)
It was an early start for the day. Our suitcases needed to be outside the room by 6:45 am and breakfast started at 6:30 am. At 8 am we loaded up with some 40 or so passengers. Our guide Clive pointed out highlights as we left town. He impressed us as both knowledgeable and funny. Our first destination was Stonehenge. It was one of those places you hear about all your life and now we were actually there. We had an audio tape to listen to as we wondered around the site. It is in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere. But it was impressive to hear the theories about what the stones meant and the stories of the huge undertaking to haul these huge stones from so far away. WOW!
Then we went to Salisbury for a look around and lunch. We next went to Bath and toured the old Roman baths and museum. Bath is beautiful with terraced sandstone buildings and a river going through town.
Finally we headed to Newport, Wales and the motel. Though Wales is part of the United Kingdom they speak their own language. We had a delicious dinner included in the tour (Atlantic salmon) with some lager. Then off to our room and sleep! Quick note: bathroom sinks usually have separate faucets for the hot and cold water with a plug for the sink. Also note the tour is really well organized – we just need to show up where and when they tell us and the details are all taken care of for us.
August 22nd, Thursday – Day #2 Bus tour (from Newport, Wales to Waterford, Ireland via Ferry)
None of the wake up calls happened but fortunately we woke up anyway. Not so for some of the jet lagged passengers who had to make a mad rush to make the bus. We drove to the Welsh capitol (Cardiff) and toured the Cardiff castle. The grounds were enclosed and quite large and the castle was impressive (though not on the same scale or luxury as the St Petersburg estates).
We took a ferry ride across St George’s channel (along with our bus). The ferry was huge and included a child’s play area and several eating establishments. The ride was smooth and took us about 4 ½ hours. Note – we have to switch to euros for a few days so we found an ATM near the motel to collect some.
August 23rd, Friday – Day #3 Bus tour (Waterford – Avoca – Dublin)
We had an early breakfast and then took a short walk to the Waterford crystal factory. It was a very interesting tour through the process of making crystal stemware and other objects. The molten glass was handled with extreme care and grace (and lots of experience – there is a 5 year training period). Like most tours you finish up in the gift shop. We are now the proud owners of a crystal seahorse (the “mascot” of Waterford). It was a big box for a little seahorse!
Next we went to the oldest hand weaving mill in Ireland and toured their small work area. A side room we suspect was where most of the production occurred (automated). We had a very delicious lunch of meat pies and scones.
Then off to the Glendalough Christian monastic site established in the 6th century. This was our first significant rain on the tour but Cathy just put on her windbreaker and walked outside with the tour while Butch decided to wait on the bus. Mostly it was just piles of rock but a large circular bell tower remained (built in later years) and one of the very small rock buildings. Our bus tour guide, Clive:
We continued to drive through the beautiful Irish countryside with rolling green hills dotted with sheep and cattle (and trees and bushes separating the pastures). We arrived at our hotel and then were whisked away to the Irish cabaret evening. Apparently it was the main show in town as it looked like a tour bus parking lot. The dinner was great and we were entertained with dancing, music and comedy. Butch has a new joke to tell: “Do you know the difference between in-laws and outlaws? Outlaws are wanted! Ha ha”
August 24th, Saturday – Dublin, day #5 of bus tour
We assembled in the morning and had a tour of Dublin including a visit to Trinity College to see the 1200 year old Book of Kells.
When we got back to the hotel we had some time to ourselves so we walked about and Butch took photos. There were a few bridges – one looked like a harp!
Swimmers were racing in the channel in front of our hotel (one poor old guy was in the rear and barely making it).
After a very welcome free afternoon (along with a proper nap) we were off to the Guiness brewery for a tour, a beer tasting and dinner. The gravity bar had a great view over the city and a free drink. It was crowded but Butch did a great job photographing the city.
August 25th, Sunday – Day #6 Travel from Dublin to Edinburgh
This was mostly a commute day. We got off to an early start and made our way to Northern Ireland. In Belfast we went out for a short walk and visited a memorial for the Titanic victims (note the Titanic was built in Belfast). After a ferry ride to Scotland we drove along the Scottish coast and then inland to Edinburgh. It was a similar landscape as Ireland with rolling green hills and pastures.
We arrived at the George Hotel where our rooms were ready for us (as was always the case where ever we went). That evening we went to the James Scottish dinner and show. There was a choice of several Scottish dishes and all the wine we could drink! A couple of the ladies at the table took advantage of this and all we can say is they certainly had a great time. Butch asked for a light beer instead and lo and behold received an imported Coors Light. The show had a bagpiper, violinist, and dancers. The violinist sounded like good Ole Opry music and then we found out she has an engagement there this winter. Halfway through the show they did the Haggis ceremony. Haggis is a Scottish dish made of various parts of the sheep (you really don’t want to know) and resembles “fancy feast” catfood. Guess it takes time to develop a taste for it!
August 26th, Monday – Day #7, Edinburgh
A beautiful day! The tour company used a local guide (kilt and all) to take us around the city. The highlight was the Edinburgh castle with its long history and spectacular views over the city. There was a nice little café within the castle where we had a drink and sat looking over the city.
We had another much appreciated afternoon on our own. We stretched out on the bed and it quickly turned into a nap. Then to a side walk café for tea (wine for Cathy) and cake and people watching. Dinner later at the same place with fish and chips and salmon.
August 27th, Tuesday – Day#8, Edinburgh to York
Today was very warm. We were off to an early start and hit the road for York. First a stop at the remnants of the old Roman wall (Hadrians wall). This was built to protect the Romans from northern England and Scotland and was built in the around AD 122!
Then we went into York for a walking tour of this medieval town. Very narrow cobblestone streets! Of all things we spotted a “Poundland” store in this little town (their version of the dollar store). Back at the motel we were delighted to find they had a pool. We had to sign a release to even use it but it was quite refreshing. We met up with a group of our fellow travelers on the patio and had a very enjoyable drink and visit with everyone. Then dinner and bedtime!
August 28th, Wednesday – Day #9 Back to London via Stratford on Avon
We stopped at Anne Hathaway’s cottage for pictures, including a group picture. As we suspected this picture did not come free with the tour so we paid 8 pounds for it. The guy seemed to have a good business model as bus after bus showed up and also had group pictures taken. There was space on the picture to pass it around on the bus so everyone could fill in their names. We also passed around a paper for addresses and emails. Unfortunately we entered .com instead of the correct .net on our email – WHOOPS.
Then we were off to tour Shakespeare’s birthplace. We had lunch in an open air sidewalk café and then we were headed back to London.
Last picture of London from our hotel….
August 29th, Thursday – Day #10 back to Portland
Many, many hours of flying west without the sun ever setting on us. Ruby collected us at the airport to complete our adventure. It took days before we recovered from the 8 hour jetlag. We’re glad we went now while we were able to handle the challenges of the demanding pace of the trip.
A couple of words about the bus tour portion:
Globus did an outstanding job – all details taken care of. Rooms were always ready as were tour guides, dinners and shows. Nice to be able to sit back and let somebody else do the driving all the while feeding us with lots of interesting information while on the road. Our motels were really nice and the included meals which were outstanding. An occasional free afternoon was great too. Downside of course is that you give up flexibility but for our first trip to the UK this was perfect!