We did the transatlantic Back to Back with this cruise and had a great time. I submitted a review for the TA as well.
British Isles Cruise
The next phase of our trip was the eleven day British Isles cruise on Infinity. The transatlantic had eight sea days, while the British Isles cruise had two. The tempo was definitely moving up. I prefer a cruise with more ports, but it is nice to have a sea day after 4-5 port days to have a day to relax. The total B2B 23 days was either feast or famine in terms of port days, however, we loved the trip nonetheless.
Our British Isles cruise started when we returned from the Cambridge excursion in the afternoon of 13 May. We entered our new Aqua cabin (9060) which was higher up than our prior deck six cabin. There is an overhang that somewhat obstructs views of the sky, which was only slightly a negative. It seemed to bother DW more than me. I found that for some photos from the balcony that to avoid including part of the overhang, I would use the telephoto feature on my camera.
The cabin door indicated that it was “Concierge” which is another class (lower price than Aqua) with fewer benefits than Aqua. Still, we received the benefits of Aqua, which primarily are eating breakfast and dinner in BLU restaurant and being able to use Persian Gardens (a spa facility with different saunas and a rest area). Every day our attendant brought us canapés in the afternoon and fruit during the day. Also, our cabin included a shower with jets that made for a great shower.
Our cabin was below the deck ten pool area and we occasionally were awakened by movement of deck chairs. One night during a storm, it sounded like they were rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, but most likely it was the winds from the storm that were moving the chairs around. It really was not a big issue, but I can image that some deck nine cabins, particularly under the buffet or a work area might experience more noise.
Eating in BLU was terrific. After the transatlantic, we had done four Celebrity cruises and had always enjoyed the dining in the MDR. BLU was even better. Some of the dishes and desserts were similar or perhaps the same as those served in the MDR. However, BLU seemed to find ways to improve on the typical dishes served in the MDR. Frequently, it was clear that our dishes contained somewhat healthier ingredients, with fewer carbs and heavy sauces. Also, dishes tended to be prepared with no additional salt, but still seasoned with spices (not necessarily hot spices). BLU was a small restaurant on deck five (port side) with most tables for two, but many were very close to other tables. Also, there were tables for six, which we used when we dined at the same time as our new found Aqua friends. We frequently dined with Gene and Susan from Texas and Billie and Bob from Reno, Nevada. It always good dining in BLU, but dining with our new friends made it even better.
Persian Gardens is on deck 10 next to the spa and fitness center. As in BLU, only suite or Aqua passengers may enter. There were three saunas there, steam, desert and Turkish. We used all three and preferred the steam, sometime changing to another. Also, a couple of times we followed up with a few minutes in a hot tub in the enclosed pool area.
The entertainment on the British Isles cruise included some shows that we had seen on the transatlantic. We did not go to any of those except for Jack Walker’s show. We like him quite a lot. Some of the entertainers on the transatlantic did not repeat on the British Isles, but we did have some new entertainers. We had Neal Austin (comedy), Rafael (violinist), Claire Maidin (vocalist and pianist), and Hillary O’Neil a comedy vocal entertainer. All were excellent.
Our first port of call was Le Havre, France. Le Harve is on the Seine river in Normandy. After reading books on the Norman invasion of England in 1066, including one about the Bayeux Tapestry, we opted for the nine hour Celebrity excursion that included the tapestry and D-Day Beaches. The tour cost $208 per person, but it included a great lunch. The excursion was described as follows:
D-Day Beaches & Bayeux Tapestry (LH12)
Paris (Le Havre), France 208.00 USD
Leaving Le Havre, you will drive through the Norman Landscape to go to the city of Bayeux capital of the region of Normandy called Bessin, with a 20 hundred years history. It was the first French town to be liberated after D Day, and was fortunate not to have been damaged during the war. The town has been miraculously preserved through all these years and offers to visitors the charm of its old streets bordered by typical timber framed houses.
There you will admire the world famous Tapestry of Bayeux: known as Queen Mathilda's tapestry, it is in fact an embroidery on a 70 meters ( 230 feet ) long linen cloth. It narrates the causes and the beginning of the conquest of England by William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, who became King of England after the battle of Hastings in 1066. The tapestry is considered as one of the most accurate and lively document to survive from the middle ages and provides detailed information on the clothes, ships , arms and general lifestyle during this period.
You will then have some time to discover the old town on your own, before enjoying your meal in a local restaurant.
After lunch, you will drive to the Landing Beaches for an afternoon of remembrance: At 9.15 pm on June 5th, the BBC announced to the French Resistance that the landing was imminent, signaling to the underground to start dynamiting the railways. By midnight, Allied planes had begun bombing the Normandy Coast and by 1.30 am, June 6th, members of the 101st Airborne were parachuting onto German-occupied French soil. The "longest day," also called D DAY - June 6, 1944 had started. The day soldiers, sailors, warship, landing craft, tugboats, and jeeps that had been assembled along the southern coast of England set out for the Normandy Coast, for the landing on the beaches of Juno, Gold, Sword, Utah, and Omaha.
Your tour will start at Omaha Beach, where the American troops suffered heavy casualties in one of the most costly of the D Day Battles. The austere and desolate appearance of the eastern part of the beach makes the invasion scenes easy to imagine, even today.
Then you will then visit the huge American Cemetery of Colleville, overlooking Omaha Beach, it contains 9,387 perfectly aligned white crosses, on a 170 acre plot.
Then, driving along the beaches to Arromanches, a modest seaside resort which owes its fame to the remains of a Mulberry harbour. Our next stop is in Longues Sur Mer, to see the only German artillery battery to have kept its guns, giving an impressive picture of what the Atlantic Wall gun emplacement was really like.
Our tour reversed the order, by visiting the D-Day beaches first. I believe this was done so other busses taking the same tour would not saturate the same areas at the same times. This was one of the best tours that we took on the cruise. Our guide was excellent, the tour was just as comprehensive as advertised and the tapestry was awesome. The visit to the beaches and cemetery was awesome as well as sobering. Many good men died on those beaches. Driving through Normandy near the beaches, our guide pointed out the thick hedgerows along the roads that made it difficult for the allied troops to advance. We saw one of the jury rigged tanks a plow device affixed that was used to breach the hedgerows. When visiting Omaha Beach, we saw a couple of old German fortifications and the steep hill the soldiers had to climb in order to attack the German fortifications. Also, we noticed how far the beaches extended. They seemed to go for miles.
The American cemetery near Omaha was large and included the graves of soldiers that died in other campaigns. The museum at the cemetery was excellent and included an introductory film. On our way to Bayeux we drove through Arromanches, which was Gold Beach in the British section during D-Day. The Mulberry Harbor could still be seen from our bus.
Bayeux was not a large city, but contained a huge and impressive cathedral. It was consecrated on 14th July 1077, by William the Conqueror and built by Bishop Odo, William’s half-brother. The cathedral was improved in the 13th Century. The main event in Bayeux was the tapestry, which is 70 meters long (a small portion of it is missing). It is housed in a building that was formerly a seminary; it had previously been kept in the cathedral. The tapestry is displayed in a u-shaped manner, with viewers walking slowly to be able to view it carefully. We were issued audio guides which described the key features of the tapestry from Harold giving his oath supporting William as the next King of England to the death of Edward the Confessor, Harold becoming King of England, William raising the fleet and army for the invasion, the battle of Hastings, etc. It was awesome. The tour was expensive, but excellent.
St. Peter Port, Channel Island
The next day, Infinity dropped anchor near St. Peter Port, Guernsey Island. This was the one port that we did not dock, but had to tender. Celebrity used its lifeboats to tender as well as a local boat. The process was fairly routine and did not add significant delay. Guernsey is part of Great Britain, since it was one of the Channel Islands a part of the Duke of Normandy’s territory. The mainland portion of Normandy was eventually taken back by France, but the Channel Islands were retained by England. The other primary island is Jersey, which has an intense rivalry with Guernsey. I don’t think it was because both islands have cows named after them. We were told that Guernsey was Norman and Jersey was Breton.
Guernsey as well as Jersey are part of the UK, but have their own parliament, set their own taxes and have local autonomy. We were told by our guide that Guernsey has a 20% flat income tax, as opposed to taxes in the UK that are more than double. This makes Guernsey a tax haven. The island seemed very prosperous. Guernsey and Jersey are also financial havens with banks offering secrecy similar to Switzerland. British Pounds (GBP) are legal tender in Guernsey, but the local Guernsey Pounds are not legal tender in Britain. Still, I acquired a one Pound Guernsey note as a souvenir; Britain does not print one pound notes anymore.
We took a Celebrity excursion that included a 15 mile bike tour of the island. We crossed over to the North side of the island and came down the Eastern shore, returning to the port. Along the way we stopped to see old fortifications, a prehistoric mound, Le Dehus Dolmen, La Rue du Dehus, Vale from 3,500 B.C, and a church from the 11th Century. DW and I are regular bike riders, so we handled the modes 15 mile ride easily. We rode mountain bikes that were in good condition. We did not need to change gears, since we encountered no serious hills. The ride took us at a slow pace for three hours over much scenic areas. We saw ancient walls dividing properties and roads, as well as gardens and homes of various ages to beautiful sea shore and fields of flowers. The tour is recommended if you can handle a 15 mile bike ride. We learned that there is much to do on Guernsey, so if we ever go back, there is more to see, such as Victor Hugo’s home.
Our next port was Cobh (Cork), Ireland.
I found a great tour on the internet for this port that cost 19.99 Euro booking online. The tour did not include admission to Blarney castle or lunch. Admission to Blarney castle was 10 Euros each for seniors. The tour was described as follows:
Blarney, Kinsale, Cork City & Cobh Bus Tour by Butler’s
Your bus tour departs from your ship in Cobh (Cork) for Blarney where you will have the opportunity to Kiss the legendary Blarney stone and also take in some shopping in the famous Blarney Woollen Mills or simply indulge in the atmosphere in the village of Blarney enjoying some local cuisine
On route to Charlesfort/Kinsale, we will enjoy a driving tour through Cork city passing close by famous landmarks such as The Shandon Bells, The English Market and St Finbarre's Cathedral
The next leg of the trip will lead us to Kinsale, first stopping at Charlesfort to capture the stunning views before heading for the charming Kinsale, dubbed "Ireland's gourmet capital" where you will have free time to explore Kinsale and indulge yourself in an abundant choice of places to eat and drink.
After a nice leisurely lunch, and a wander around the narrow and winding streets of Kinsale, we will sit back, relax and enjoy the scenic drive back to Cobh near your ship where you will have time to visit St. Colman's Cathedral and learn of Cobh's fascinating history before going back to your ship in good time for your sailing.
This tour was a bus tour with about 30 passengers. The only advantage that the Celebrity tour had over this one was that tickets were prepaid, so entrance to the castle and grounds avoided the queue to purchase admission. Unfortunately, the queue was slow. However, we made it through soon enough and enjoyed or visit to Blarney. It took us about 1 ½ hours waiting in line to get into the castle, climb up the narrow steps to the top and kiss the famous stone. It was well worth the experience. The castle is interesting and the views from the castle are excellent. The stone is not a large stone, but just a part of the castle wall. Kissing the stone requires some flexibility, bending over backwards with help from an attendant. You can purchase your photo kissing the stone for an additional cost.
The bus took us through Cork, which we enjoyed seeing. However, the ride to Charlesfort/Kinsale on the coast was even more enjoyable. We were happy to see the beautiful Irish countryside. One thing about the British Isles is the stunning beauty of the countryside. This is true of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. We were taken to Charlesfort, which was an old fort during the Napoleonic era. The British feared Napoleon invading Ireland to incite the rising of it population against the British. It never happened, but the fort and others in Ireland remain. We could see the port of Kinsale from Charlesfort, as well as much scenic terrain. Kinsale was a quant small port where we stopped for lunch on our own. We ate Dino’s restaurant, which specialized in fish and chips. The food was good, but the restaurant did not offer Irish beer. We were told that Irish beer did not go with fish and chips. We got our dose of Irish beer later in Dublin at the Guinness brewery.
Our tour ended on our return to the ship, but not before we stopped to see the St. Colman's Cathedral near the river in Cobh. We had seen the Cathedral when the ship was docking that morning. We make a short visit inside. The building was not old, being completed about a hundred years ago.
Dublin was our next port. We took the shuttle (10 euros each) from the ship into the city. I had purchased seats on the green Hop on Hop off bus (there are two such busses, one green and one red).
Our drop off was very close to one of the stops for the bus. The drop off was at the stop after Trinity College stop. Because the HoHo bus route was clockwise, the stop for Trinity College was at the end of our day. The tour is described as follows:
Dublin Sightseeing Tours, Hop on Hop off bus (green bus) cost 30.60 euros for two booked on-line.
The Dublin Tour has been carefully designed to give you the freedom to explore and experience the history and culture of Dublin at your leisure. We visit all the main Dublin attractions along our route and these include Dublin Zoo and Trinity College (home of the Book of Kells). Our entertaining Dublin tour guides, who are all accredited by Failte Ireland, will show you the city as only a native can. Your 2 day ticket allows you to hop on and off as often as you wish.
The tour operates daily from 9.00am and can be joined at any of 24 stops, each conveniently located near one of the most popular Dublin attractions. For example, you can join outside Trinity College, leave at the Guinness Storehouse (and sample the product!) and then re-join later. You could even start your Dublin tour in the afternoon and come back to see more the following morning. To enhance your enjoyment we have arranged discounts for you at a selection of the most popular attractions en route.
Our first stop was Christ Church Cathedral, one of the two major Cathedrals in Dublin, the other being St. Patrick’s. Christ Church is older than St. Patrick’s and Anglican. The cathedral was impressive and contained much history. The cathedral was built in the 13th Century with additions in the 14th. After the cathedral, we planned to visit Dublinia, which was an exhibition in Viking and Medieval Dublin. Dublin, like Cork, was founded by the Vikings. However, there was a large mass of young school children at the entrance to Dublinia, so we passed.
Our next stop would have been Dublin Castle, but we were told it was closed due to renovations. The Guinness Storehouse (Brewery) was our next stop. It was almost lunch time, so we stopped there. There was a self-guided tour that was good, except that sometime you could hear the next part of the tour (on a TV screen) interrupting your train of thought. Still, this was just about brewing beer. The tour covered how beer is made and higher levels of the facility covered advertising through the years ending with a modest free taste of the famous dark beer. We finished the tour about lunch time, so we had lunch at the top of the storehouse. The lunch was expensive, but excellent. Of course, we had a Guinness with the lunch.
The HoHo bus took us through the city to Phoenix Park, where the zoo is located, as well as the Irish Republic’s Presidential residence. The park is beautiful and one of the largest walled city parks in Europe. We did not get off the bus, but enjoyed seeing the city, until we arrived at Trinity College. We took a half hour tour at the College, our guide being one of the students. The tour was very good and ended at the building housing the “Book of Kells.” The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript book in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament. It was created by Celtic monks in 800 or slightly earlier. We had heard that queues for seeing the book could be very long, but they were not. Perhaps it was because we arrived at the museum at about 2:30pm. The museum before you enter the viewing room of the book is excellent. Even with a small number of people there in the viewing room, we had to wait to get out chance to view the book. There were two books opened for viewing, as well as other ancient documents. It was well worth the visit. It was amazing how well the colors are still alive, as in the Bayeux Tapestry. After a trip to the gift shop, we found our way back to the shuttle bus and made our way back to the ship. Our next port was Liverpool
At Liverpool, we decided to take a private tour from Busy Bus Tours of North Wales. The tour cost 45 GBP per person for a nine hour tour. The tour was described as follows:
After we’ve admired the Liverpool splendour and skyline we’ll literally pass 10 meters beneath your ship (honestly!) on-route to the mysterious and legendary land of Wales in a 90-minute fully-narrated journey, navigating the spectacular A55 coastal road with its magical stories and mystical legends. On a clear day you’ll see your own cruise liner from Wales berthed up with all those poor souls aboard who decided not to join this tour!
Next is the walled town of Conwy, constructed by the English monarch Edward I between 1283 and 1289 as one of the key fortresses in his ‘iron ring’ of castles to contain the Welsh, it was built to prompt such a humbling reaction with its fabulous wall circuit of over 3/4 mile long and guarded by no less than 22 towers. It is renowned as one of the finest examples in the World.
Conwy Castle is a gritty, dark-stoned fortress built by James of St. George in partnership with the French Richard the Engineer. This castle is the “real thing” resembling exactly what children form from buckets of sand on the beach. It has the rare ability to evoke an authentic medieval atmosphere. The first time that you catch sight of the castle you’ll know you are in the presence of a historic site which still casts a powerful spell. When you go inside…well…need I even comment?
Now, brace yourselves for what BusyBus has become known for (and, we modestly add, have won National awards for) the North Wales Adventure element of the tour. In to Snowdonia National Park using carefully selected routes and taking you well and truly off the beaten track to viewpoints of wonder! You’ll feel like you own Snowdonia in the tranquility and ambience (and adventure) we’ve prepared!
No trip to North Wales would be complete without a stop at the “capital”, Betws-Y-Coed (prayer-house in the woods). Interestingly, whilst right in the centre of Snowdonia National Park, an exclusion boundary has allowed this fairy-tale town to flourish into the centre of outdoor tourism in Wales. With its many shops, cafe’s, pubs and locals, it simply can’t fail to impress!
Our tour on BusyBus was one of the best of our trip. We set out for Wales with the music on the bus “Ferry cross the Mersey” by Gerry and the Pacemakers. Fortunately, our bus did not need to ferry across the Mersey, since we took the tunnel under the river. During the tour our guide played music from Liverpool’s Beatles and other music connected with this part of Britain. We heard a lot of Welsh singers, like Tom Jones. Our guide was excellent. He explained that Wales had 9,000,000 sheep (one in 2000 were black sheep), with only 3,000,000 people. We played a game called “black sheep.” The winner spotted the most black sheep. They were rare until we came across a pen loaded with about ten black sheep.
Our first stop in Wales was Conwy. The main event there is a huge castle, built by Edward I in the 13th Century. It was a measure to subdue the Welsh, who had revolted in recent years. The castle (we paid our own way into the castle at 5 GBP each) was in something of a state of ruin, but was still impressive. It contained many towers that soared up high. There were royal apartments for the King, when he visited. The adjacent town was enclosed by a high wall, connected to the castle and most of the buildings in the town were hundreds of years old. It was a very scenic and very interesting place to visit. We loved it. After leaving the castle, we proceeded into Snowdonia National Park, and viewed some of the most beautiful scenery on our trip. Highland Scotland was awesome, Wales was on par. We stopped in the part for photos of the mountains, which reminded me somewhat of the North Georgia mountain, although more scenic and with more sheep. Our bus then took us to the small Welsh village of ” Betws-Y-Coed. I didn’t see a university there or any noticeable numbers of coeds, but the town was very quaint and the surrounding low mountains and vales were spectacular. We had lunch there and wandered around the city. There was a rail station there, accounting for the large numbers of people in the town. Apparently, many from England come to the town for a visit. We then returned to the ship with only briefly going through Liverpool. Our next port was Belfast, Northern Island, which is a part of the United Kingdom.
For Belfast, we decided to take the “troubles tour” instead of the Giant’s Causeway, which is a natural wonder some distance North of Belfast. The Celebrity excursion was described as follows:
Belfast - Past, Present & Future (BW09)
Belfast, Northern Ireland
You'll travel thru areas that mad news headlines but today form part of interesting & popular experience. The Murals are popular attraction. During ?Troubles,' popular art played role in proclaiming loyalties of Belfast's 2 intransigent communities. You'll see Falls Road & Shankhill Road & tiny streets, scenes of rioting during troubled times. You'll see shipyard of Harland & Wolff. You'll journey outside city center to view Stormont Parliament Building. You'll see landmarks that played part in development. Note: must walk approx. 50 yds. over even surfaces with steps. Tour order may vary. No shopping stops on tour. Stop for photos only. No interior visits made.
Our guide was excellent and managed to cover the delicate history of the “Troubles” as well as explaining some of the history prior to the 20th Century. We visited Unionist (Protestant) and (Nationalist –IRA) Catholic neighborhoods as well as the old prison and courthouse that were used extensively during the troubles. Also, we saw the Ulster Parliament Building, which was impressive. Both areas of the city had many murals that demonstrated the political views of the artists. Viewing the murals did give us some insight into the thinking of both sides of the conflict. The conflict legally ended with the Good Friday Agreement. The Agreement was approved by voters of Ireland in two referendums held on 22 May 1998. In Northern Ireland, voters were asked whether they supported the multi-party agreement. In the Republic of Ireland, voters were asked whether they would allow the state to sign the agreement and allow necessary constitutional changes to facilitate it. The people of both Ireland and Northern Ireland approved the agreement, which came into force on 2 December 1998. The violence has largely ended and the IRA is not a partner with the Unionist in the local autonomous government of Northern Ireland.
We learned that 30 years ago the Protestant population of N. Ireland was two thirds of the population, with one-third Catholic. Now, the populations are nearly equal, with 46% Protestant and 42% Catholic. Protestants are not having the children to keep up their percentage. This may ultimately lead to N. Ireland joining the Irish Republic, since the Good Friday agreement provides that at such time as the majority decides to do so, they may leave the UK and join the Irish Republic. Our guide told us that some Catholics may vote to stay in the UK, since the unemployment rate in Ireland is double that in N. Ireland.
Greenock (Glasgow) Scotland
I knew that I was going to love Scotland, when we arrived at Greenock there was a bagpiper playing for the ship as it docked. Even better, after our excursion to Edinburgh at 5pm we attended a show at the ship’s theatre put on by a local group of dancers, singers and pipers. The show was great and at the end the four pipers played “Amazing Grace.” It was awesome. They received a rousing standing ovation. I could fell those Celtic genes in my bones vibrating with the music. But for now, our Celebrity excursion to Edinburgh was described as follows:
Edinburgh, Scotland's Capital GE04
Glasgow (Greenock), Scotland
From Greenock, travel to Edinburgh to commence panoramic sightseeing of major sites. Have lunch on your own & afterwards travel thru Old Town, known as Royal Mile. Drive along Castle Hill, Lawnmarket, High Street & Canongate. See St. Gile's Cathedral. Pass Palace of Holyrood. Continue with visit to Castle. The history of the castle goes back to legendary times and it has witnessed many tense moments during its thousand years. Note: There is extensive uphill walk of approx. 0.5 mile over even & cobblestone surfaces with 15 - 25 steps. Drive to/from Greenock is approx. 2 hrs. each way. Have approx. 1 hr. for shopping.
It was a two hour bus ride from Greenock, which is close to Glasgow on the West of Scotland to Edinburgh on the East. This is the most populated area of Scotland. Most of its 5 million people live near the two lowland cities. We learned about the history of Scotland and its many wars with England, until the Scottish King James VI became James I of England. The countries were still separate under the same crown until the Act of Union in 1707. We learned that Scotland has some local autonomy with a local government like Northern Ireland. The Scottish Nationalist Party has the most seats in the local Parliament and is in coalition with the Labor Party. Apparently, a referendum is planned for next year for the people to vote on Independence. If passed, Scotland with leave the UK but still have the Queen as the Sovereign, as Canada does today, but the country would be totally independent.
Our tour was long and a bit costly, but Edinburgh was worth the trip. Castle Hill is impressive and the Royal Mile is loaded with history. The tour took us to the castle and our guide did a good job showing us around and pointing out key items of interest. We saw the room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth of James VI in the Royal Palace, the Great Hall, Margaret’s Chapel and the battlements all around the castle. We did not wait in line to see the Crown Jewels. We understood that these Crown Jewels were nothing like the ones in the Tower of London.
After visiting the castle, we wandered down the Royal Mile, visiting the St. Giles Cathedral. We had seen John Knox's house (outside only), the statue of Greyfriars Bobby (remember the Disney movie) while on the bus. The castle takes about two hours at a minimum. The tour was good, but did not include lunch, so we found a sandwich for a few pounds and drank our bottled water as we strolled.
Our next port was Invergordon, which was the port close to Inverness.
Again, we were met by a piper at the dock. We had booked a Celebrity excursion that was described as follows:
Highland Castles & Loch Ness (IN07)
Inverness/Loch Ness Scotland
Travel alongside the Cromarty Firth, via Inverness to reach the historic Cawdor Castle. Considered the most romantic in the Highlands, the castle has sheltered the Cawdor family for over 600 years. This splendid castle was originally the fortress home of the Thanes of Cawdor. The oldest part, approached by a drawbridge, is the central tower built around a legendary thorn tree. It is familiar to anyone who has read Shakespeare's Macbeth as it is the scene of King Duncan's murder. Cross the drawbridge and step into Scottish history and the medieval past. The castle feels like a living home rather that a museum. Enter the low doorways, climb the winding stairs, look out from windows set deep in massive stone walls and understand the necessity of the warmth of the beautiful tapestries. See the sitting room in the core of the tower, the forbidding dungeon, the freshwater well and imagine cooks preparing a feast in the original kitchens as you are swept back in time. Lunch is served in a local hotel, after which, you continue to Inverness Capital of the Highlands situated on the River Ness. All Highland roads meet at Inverness, a renowned center of touring.
After lunch, head towards Loch Ness. The loch is extremely beautiful, long and narrow with a depth of 900 feet in some places. Travel through the village of Drumnadrochit and on to the famous Urquhart castle for a visit. Romantics say Nessie lives in a subterranean cave below the castle. The pathway from the bus park down to the lower level of the castle is fairly steep in part, but you can remain on the upper level and obtain fine panoramic views. Next, enjoy the lovely scenery of Scottish Glens each with its own charm as your tour continues towards Beauly noted for its salmon river. Highland hills form the backdrop on the last part of your journey as you travel back alongside the Cromarty Firth to return to Invergordon.
The excursion reversed the order of our visit. We visited Urquhart castle on Loch Ness first, which was awesome. The castle had been ruined to deter rebels use, but it still had towers that we could climb and view the spectacular scenery of Loch Ness and the highland views. We saw a movie prior to viewing the castle explaining the history. Then we drove through Inverness with a stop to take photos (not to visit the city) and continued toward Cawdor Castle, which was the home of a Scottish Earl, now deceased and still lived in and operated by his widow. We had a good lunch prior to visiting the castle and a hail storm took place during lunch. That day, we encountered, a little rain, saw some snow, hail, and mostly sunshine. Cawdor Castle had these massive stone walls door frames that I had to duck to go through. The castle had furnishings and historical items from several centuries. We understood that the Countess lived in the Castle during the winter. We were told that the Countess was a model from Paris over twenty years younger than the deceased Earl. The grounds were well kept up and we strolled through them during the sunny period. A golf course was nearly by and we saw golfers engaged in the game. It was a good tour and I would recommend it to others.
We had another Scottish folk show in the theatre at 5pm after our excursion. It had dancing, singing and pipers as did the show at Greenock. It was good, especially the dancing and singing, but there was only one piper.
We disembarked the ship a little before 9am and were shortly met by Thrifty Rent a Car with our rental vehicle. I rented the care for 2 ½ days in order to see the countryside. We were taken to the nearby town of Colchester, where they signed me up with an agreement for 192 GBP for a one-way drop at Heathrow airport the evening of the 26th(it was the morning of the 24th). It cost me about 95 GBP for fuel while in Britain. Petrol is about $8 per gallon. We had a Range Rover (one of the smaller versions) which worked well, especially since we had a navigation system. The system was very helpful with all the traffic and many roundabouts that can sometime be confusing. We did pretty well driving on the left, with DW assisting in reminding me “left lane” and “this exit.” We found parking was expensive, five hours parking in Windsor cost 13 GBP. One GBP equals about $1.53.
We set out for Lakenheath, northwest of Harwich and northeast of London. We arrived there a little before lunch time. On the way to Lakenheath, we saw the beautiful English countryside that we would see much of in the next three days. The land so very green, tidy and well kept. The British tour guide on the Cambridge tour earlier had said many British complained about farmers growing the bright yellow rape seed (we know it as canola). Somehow it upsets the English sense of what the countryside should look like. We had seen rape seed on many farms in Germany, when we lived there. On our way to Lakenheath and in the town, we saw some thatched houses. We saw many more thatched house the next day when driving in Wiltshire, West of London. Upon arrival at Lakenheath, we parked and located one of the local pubs. We enjoyed talking with the people that ran the pub, who told us that it was over 100 years old. It was likely that DW’s father visited the pub while stationed at the nearby airbase. We had lunch and then tried to go into the 14th Century church in town, but it was locked.
Departing Lakenheath around one pm, we started out for our hotel on the other side of London, near Heathrow. We discovered that London traffic on a Friday afternoon was brutal. Our navigation system kept sending us on detours, because everywhere we went there was gridlock in some way. We did not make it to the hotel until a little after 7pm. I drove in Washington, DC for years, but this traffic was unbelievable. The M-25 London Orbital around London was 117miles, we were told. It seemed as if we saw most of it up close at speeds from 3 to 30 MPH. Our driving the next two days was much better, since it was Saturday and Sunday and we travelled away from London.
We stayed at the Sheraton Heathrow. I selected it for two reasons. The price was very reasonable (70 GBP per night) and the Thrifty Car rental office was at the hotel. The hotel was clean and spacious with all the amenities, but you could see that it was ageing. The restaurant was good, but expensive.
On Saturday, the 25th, we set out early for Salisbury, about 75 miles southwest of our hotel. Traffic was light and we parked in Salisbury. There were not many tourists about this early, but later in the day it became crowded. Driving in the ancient town of Salisbury was stressful, looking for a parking place. We found one, but had no coins to pay for the ticket. I did find a show that gave me change. The people were very friendly everywhere in the British Isles.
We went straight for the cathedral in Salisbury that was depicted in Ken Follett’s “Pillars of the Earth.” There was some work being performed on the cathedral, but we could still see almost all of it. We paid 10 GBP for the two of us, which included a guided tour. The tour was excellent, but we could not go into the tower. Our guide was well versed in the history of the cathedral and English history as well. We learned that Salisbury remains the tallest church spire in the UK, but the spire has tilted about 29 inches off center. The cathedral only has four feet of stone foundation, but beneath that foundation has 29 feet if gravel. We learned that water feeds into the gravel and actually keeps the foundation from collapsing. She took us to a spot in the cathedral where she opened a small hole in the floor and thrust a measuring rod down to check the water level. Engineers monitor the water lever under the cathedral. The cathedral art was awesome on the inside and outside. Apparently, some of the art was painted over by an architect in the past, which is much maligned today. We learned that in the late 18th Century, James Wyatt, an architect, nicknamed ‘the Destroyer’, reordered both the cathedral’s interior and the Cathedral Close. He moved tombs and screens, He demolished the cathedral’s free-standing bell tower and leveled the graveyard. He painted over art on the ceiling and painted columns. The cathedral was again restored by Sir George Gilbert Scott in the late 19th Century, and conservation work has continued ever since.
The cathedral contains one of the four copies of the Magna Carta. The document is written in very small letters. I suppose writing material was in short supply and expensive.
After the Cathedral, we visited a museum of Rex Whistler, who was a prominent twentieth century artist on the British scene between the wars. He was killed in action during the Normandy invasion in 1944. The museum was interesting, but after seeing the Cathedral it was less impressive.
We had spent about four hours in Salisbury, and wanted to move on to Stonehenge. We were unable to program Stonehenge into our navigation system, so we programmed a nearby city and set out. Once out of Salisbury, we saw signs pointing to Stonehenge. It worked, we found it, but our navigation system kept arguing with us, trying to route us elsewhere. Stonehenge is out in the middle of nowhere. There is a small visitor’s building and a large parking area. Admission was £7.20 each. We had a queue that took about 20 minutes, since it was crowded. On our way to the site, we were issued an audio guide, which gave us an excellent narrative of the history of the site and theories on why it was built. The astronomical design of the monument has led some in the past to associate it with Druids, which was inaccurate. It was likely that the site had a practical purpose for a primate society that needed to predict the seasons, but it may have had a religious purpose as well. This is mere speculation.
After taking too many photos at Stonehenge, we drove through the Wiltshire countryside through quaint villages and stunning vistas to Avebury. Avebury is a small English town adjacent to a Neolithic henge monument containing three stone circles. There are many more stones there than Stonehenge and people are allowed to tough the stones. This was something of a bonus, since we had not originally planned to visit Avebury. We were told about Avebury by Dean, one of our Aqua friends from Infinity.
After Avebury, we returned to our hotel. The next day was our last in England. We visited Windsor Castle on Sunday and loved it. The Castle is huge, well kept up and still lived in by something like 120 persons. We had a wonderful uniformed guide for the exterior and grounds, but used an audio guide for the interior. The castle is a must see, in my opinion. It is now as elegant as Peterhof with all the gold, but there is much to see and it is all historical. We were reminded that there was a fire at the castle that destroyed a portion of the castle in 1992. The damaged portion of the castle was rebuilt. Much of the castle was not damaged. I won’t get into all the contents of the castle, but there is a room where the Order of the Garden meets, which was impressive, as was the main hall.
After returning to our hotel, we packed our suitcases, having them weighted by the hotel concierge. We thought we were good to go, but Air France weighed our carry-ons. We were only allowed 12Kilos each for carryon. That was a problem, so we had to check another bag at a cost of 60 GBP. Our flight left London for Paris at 7:!5am to connect to our flight to Miami. We were up at 3:30am, took the 4:31am Hoppa bus to terminal 4, which took about 10 minutes. The queues were already long. Fortunately, we were early, since we had to deal with the weight problem. We arrived in Miami about 3pm, found a car to take us to our car (at a hotel in Ft. Lauderdale) for $80. We then drove home arriving just after midnight.
The trip was great and we were reminded of the home of our ancestors. DW purchased a kilt for one of her Scottish ancestors. We would like to return to those wonderful islands one day. I am confident that I can handle driving on the left. However, I won’t be going very near London while I am driving.