“Winter with Leaves”
A May Cruise around the British Isles
“Call me Ismael” - Herman Melville; we wander when we can as there is so much world, and so little time. This time, for our May 1st cruise, we packed for cool/cold weather and guessed correctly, as the temps never got above the mid-40s to low 50.
We, Gene & Susan, left Houston Hobby, with a slight delay, (they had to reboot the plane?) April 29th to DFW, and on to an over-night flight to London Heathrow, landing about midday the 30th.
Heathrow to Soho at the “Sticky Wicket”
We decided to cut to the chase, jet lag being what it is, and had booked Heathrow Taxis (good value) down to the Hilton at Ageas Stadium, getting there early afternoon. The hotel is actually built into a Cricket Stadium surrounded by a Golf course. If you don’t know the game of Cricket, I wouldn’t encourage you to explore it too closely, and just assume that it resembles a cross between baseball and croquet!! We did get to watch a Cricket practice out our room window with bowling to the batsman on a Cricket pitch and wickets of course.
“And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by”
We taxied to the Crown Princess, May 1st (about 5 miles), arriving around noon, and had a very quick and easy embarkation with priority boarding. One of the main dining rooms was open where we had a leisurely lunch, avoiding the frantic crowds at the Lido. Our cabin, a balcony on Caribe deck, was ready and we relaxed until Muster Drill. I had hosted a Cruise Critic roll call, so we followed Muster with a Sail Away Party in the Wheelhouse Lounge, as outside was a bit chill. It was well attended, as a number of CC people were there and introduced themselves.
Where getting there is half the fun!!
Guernsey is a tender port so all the ship tenders were used. They loaded the usual 75 or so on tender 21 and set out for shore. Sadly, it’s steering was broke that day and it water bugged us in circles and didoes all over the ocean. It finally got back to the ship, loaded three mechanics and set out again, with the same outcome, more circles and didoes. By this time passengers were turning green from ocean motion, and were considering holding a Muster Drill. They finally wallowed back to the ship and off loaded us on to another tender which worked. Some of the people in the lines behind us missed their tour due to the delay as it caused delays to the whole process.
Guernsey = Blue Bell ice cream
The original Texas Blue Bell was made using only milk from the Guernsey cow. The Guernsey and the Jersey, on the next isle over, have the highest butterfat content of all the dairy cattle (took Ag in HS). There are few cattle left on the island, as it’s about 90% developed, and is considered an off-shore banking and financial center much like the Caymans. Immigration is limited to those who can prove that they have a job when they arrive, or enough money to sustain them.
We joined about 6 others on an island tour with “1st call Taxies” that circled the island. Those who read or watched “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” might be somewhat disappointed at the island’s modern development as there is little wild sea coast left. There are still a number of German observation posts and gun emplacements, however. Besides driving around the island, our guide took us into a 4,000-year-old barrow from ancient people on the island and a unique chapel built of cut glass.
We had an excellent lunch at a local pub, fish and chips with panko bread crumbs, picked up some wine for the cabin, and it was time to get back to the ship, but not on tender 21 I’ll tell you!
Our goal today was Blarney Castle and the Irish countryside with Ecoach (Butler tours). We wound our way through Cobh & Cork out to Blarney Castle, which almost resembles a theme park as you arrive at a woolen mill which advertises the most Irish souvenirs in Ireland. Also, there were a couple of Pub/restaurants, and ticket purchase (we had skip the line) with public rest rooms. You next stroll through forest gardens and streams to the castle, and it is beautiful; set on a hilltop surrounded by battlements and some discreetly hidden gift shops. Since there was a long line to kiss the Blarney Stone, I asked the wife if I needed to get in it. She replied that the Stone ought to be kissing me?? We roamed for about an hour with the wife taking pictures and then back to the visitor’s center where I enjoyed a pint of Irelands best while the wife visited the woolen mill. My son says that drinking Guinness is like eating a loaf of bread, and he might be right. We explored the Irish Countryside, had a pub lunch in a historic port town, picked up some wine for the cabin and returned to the ship about 5.
We ported two days in Dublin which is about right, as will be explained. The ship didn’t dock until 11 AM but there was no rush as we planned a leisurely day riding the HoHos and had an evening event. We taxied into the city to the Hop-On Hop-Off office where we purchased tickets and also “jump the line” entrance to the Guinness brewery. Dublin is a city of young people. It was a Saturday, and young families were everywhere pushing babies in strollers and doing what they needed to do. Our first stop was Dublin Castle where the wife got some shots of the building as it is now used as Govt. offices.
The next “God help me” was Guinness!! In retrospect, you should find a local pub have a pint and salute Guinness at a distance. The Guinness Store House is a 7-story exhibit with stairs, little A/C, and 1,000 of your closest friends!! It is a very nice history of the Stout with grains and a water fall, the brewing process, and a free pint at the end. When we reached the top of the tallest building in Dublin (I could have used a Sherpa), the wife took pictures when she could get near a window, as a Fire Marshall would have a coronary with the crowds in that building. They were mostly young Irish who must consider it a pilgrimage or some such, children and all. When we finally fought our way out of the building it was getting late afternoon so we hopped the HoHo, so to speak, and got off near our evening adventure, Irish Nights at the Belvidere Hotel.
It was wonderful with Irish folk music and step dancing, a good dinner and wine by the glass with cruise friends.
Dublin Day II
“I don’t think my heart can stand another ewe!!” Sheep Herders lament
Do you ever tire of cities?? Same ole public buildings, cathedrals, and museums?? We have, so it was time to see the country side, the Emerald Isle, and it didn’t disappoint. This time with two other cruise friends Susan and I taxied into Paddywagon Tours for a trip out to Kilkenny and the Wicklow Mountains. It was a wonderful day with emerald green pastures full of sheep with Grose hedges.
Our first stop was Glendough, the ruins of a monastery from the 1100s. It was wonderful to walk and see it in the crisp cold air. You could spend a day here hiking as there were three lakes in the glen and numerous trails. There were also very good facilities (hotel etc) as well.
Off to Kilkenny, or almost, as our bus blew a tire. But, no problem, there was a 2nd behind us on the same route with 30 empty seats. Cruise passengers had priority. The first bus limped into Dublin about two hours later than ours. Kilkenny was the ancient capital and featured quite a nice castle, a lunch at a good restaurant, and two bottles of wine for the cabin. It was close to 2 hours back to the ship, but it was a beautiful day in the country.
Belfast Northern Ireland
This one was a bit difficult; less than 5 miles from Belfast our 14-passenger bus, a Mercedes, blew an engine. But once again no problem as they had a replacement there shortly, and it was on to the Giant’s Causeway, a unique headland of Columnar Basalts that cooled into hexagonal crystals.
We saw the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge and had a good pub lunch before returning to Belfast.
We completed the tour with a visit to the Titanic dry dock, interesting, but a barn where the cows are gone, then back to the ship after 7 in the evening.
It was a rainy morning with a grey mist falling over Greenock on the Firth of Clyde, the port for Glasgow, as we set out with Discover Scotland tours on another wonderful adventure. The first stop, the rain was very slight, was at Loch Lomond, a beautiful lake where we walked a village and down to a dock to the calm waters and the silence of nature. Have you ever wondered about the term “Skyfall” the title from a Bond film? It means that when the waters are so calm that they mirror the sky above and this we found reflected in the Loch.
This was a good start, as our next destination was Stirling Castle, one of the most famous in Scotland and most visited, where we rejoined tourism as we know it. Susan bravely shot the castle with her camera as there were heights and voids that were out of her comfort zone.
We then visited the village of Callander where we lunched in a “Tea Room” favored by the locals, small, with shared Formica tables. I had a steak and haggis pie served in a pastry, as this was also a bakery for scones. Haggis, dear reader, is when you stuff a sheep’s stomach with mutton and oatmeal, and boil it until it turns to mush. The steak and gravy in the pie, (remember Marie Callender?), provided the flavor. We picked up some wine for the cabin while there, and set out for Glasgow. It is the third largest city in the UK but we didn’t spend much time there as we were due to get back to the ship.
My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart’s in the Highlands a chasing the deer,
Chasing the wild deer, and following the roe,
My heart’s in the Highlands where ever I go.
In Invergordon, on the Firth of Cromarty, we were picked up by Highland tours at the ship for a trip through the Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Skye. Our first stop shortly after viewing the ruins of Urquhart Castle was Loch Ness where my wife wanted me to dabble my fingers in the water to tell her how cold it was while taking pictures. (She gets double indemnity if I’m eaten by a Sea Monster!!) The Highlands are beautiful but still in their winter colors of brown heather and pale brown grasses on all the hills and mountains, some of which are snow capped in the distance.
The Eilean Donan Castle, one of the most photographed in Scotland, was our next stop on a crisp cold day in a land where they see the Northern Lights.
While winding through the glens of Scotland, we turned into a road that said Single Trac, you guessed it, a one lane road going to the ferry on the Isle of Skye. There was some backing and pulling over in a dance with on coming traffic, not that there was much.
Here I should perhaps mention that the highways of Ireland and Scotland are not wide, as most two-lanes don’t have room for a stripe in the middle. But they get you there with the occasional four-lane to take you back to a city. Scotland’s are marginally better.
The ferry to the Isle of Skye is the last “Turn Table” ferry in the world. It is a motorized barge with a parking platform on top which rotates to turn the cars in the opposite direction from which they boarded, in order to offload. It is only a short distance to the Isle itself. We drove through the hills of Skye to a small village for a pub lunch (sound familiar); it was actually more of a café with an order line and shared tables. Following lunch, we saw a little more of the Isle and returned to the mainland via a modern bridge and eventually back to the ship.
Our First Sea Day
Thank you, Jesus, as we’re running on empty and need the rest. Rest did come with responsibility, however, as it is time for our Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle. I had sent invitations once we were on board, and had rented a mic for the event. The ship provided Skywalkers and a cash bar. It went well with probably 60 in attendance. The officers introduced themselves and spoke about their area of responsibility. We finished with the attendees getting to say who they were, where they were from and what was their favorite port. A good time was had by all. The rest was a sea day as we try to avoid the Lido for meals, and we don't do the shows, but some wine and dancing in the evenings.
We awoke anchored off South Queensferry on the Firth of Forth, the port for Edinburgh. Our tour for the day was with Go Scotland but first we had to tender ashore. Oh My God, they were shoving us on to Tender 21, but surely, they had got it fixed. Oh no they didn’t, as the pilot used the two engines to steer and we wallowed like a sick hog under a famous railroad bridge which was trying not to get hit, and finally to shore. In every case, we were met promptly by our tour guide, and today was no exception.
We begin by driving out in the country to Roslyn Chapel founded in 1446. This is beautiful with gothic design and elaborate stone carving throughout. The Knights Templar came here to fight alongside the Scots. It is said that they buried both the Arc of the Covenant and the Holly Grail under this chapel. While you are down there, you might find Jimmy Hoffa and Amelia Erhard as well!!
Traveling through Edinburgh on the way to the castle, we saw many famous sites as Trinity College one of the world’s oldest.
Why did they always stick castles on hill tops? Yeah, yeah, I know, as they didn’t trust their neighbors and probably had some pretty good reasons not to. We trudged up the hill from our small bus, and quite a hill it was, where we had jump-the-line tickets as there were 1,000 of our closest friends taking selfies and trying not to fall off the battlements!! The castle is still an active military base and fires a 1 O’clock gun, much to the consternation of the pigeons, and the benefit of the hundreds of tourists gathered to watch it.
A fine time was had by all as Susan shutter bugged the edifice and we moved down hill (thank God) to where the tour group met for an hour and forty-five-minute walking tour. Something my walking ability told me not to do, as I got a new hip last Fall. So, I bought two bottles of wine for the cabin, and retired to a convenient pub/restaurant for lunch and relaxation. Those of you of the culinary nature would enjoy exploring “Toad in the Hole”, a shell of Yorkshire pudding layered with mashed potatoes, with three “bangers” pork & Haggis sausages, topped with caramelized onions and a brown gravy!! It was a hearty dish although hardly heart healthy, and in the States, subject to a Surgeon General’s warning!! Susan joined the walking tour, taking in historically significant sites as well as the Greyfriars Bobby statue, a haunted cemetery and Harry Potter points of interest. We regrouped, boarded the bus and circled Arthur’s Seat, a small mountain that hung over the city. We stopped by Holyrood Palace where Elizabeth stays when in Edinburgh, before returning to the tender port.
As luck would have it, a commercial tender seating more than a hundred was a comfortable ride back to the ship. I did keep a wary eye out for “Sea Cow 21” as I had vowed to sacrifice my place in line, and it was long, if offered another ride with her.
The Second Sea Day
I really don’t recall much about this day as there was no agenda and no pressing need to have anything but three meals in the MDR as for once on a cruise, we never visited the Lido. We did attend the Capt.’s party as it was the last formal night, and did book a future cruise at a discount while on board as we are thinking a Northern Alaska visit with seeing Denali this next time with perhaps a night in a Princess lodge.
Le Havre France
Paris and Normandy are the two attractions here but, as I’m a Marine from a Marine family, Normandy wasn’t our war. We declined seeing Paris about 300 miles away as I felt that the French needed no help turning over cars and setting them on fire. We opted to visit a local mall, Docks Vauban, where Susan did her last gift shopping and we enjoyed a three-star grill where the French did what they do best, cook!!
The Longest Day
We had opted for a Princess transfer from SOHO as we had an early 12:15 flight. No one wants you off the ship more than the cruise line, so we met to disembark @ 6:30. As the traffic was interesting, we made Heathrow by around 9. After check in and airport security, I can confirm they are even more intense than our own, as I lost a can of shave gel. We had a leisurely brunch and boarded for our 91/2 hr flight to DFW, which arrived on time. After the ordeal of Customs and Security all that was left was the short hop to Houston, right? They loaded us on the small plane on time and then sat there in a sweat box for close to an hour waiting for them to get more fuel that they might run the air conditioners among other delays. Even with that amount of time my luggage missed the flight and was delivered the next day. Thus, from the ship’s cabin to home made about 21 hrs of travel.
I’ve mentioned a few mechanical problems that occurred on this vacation, and have visited with God about them from time to time, but none posed a serious threat to us or our travels so let the cow chips fall where they may as it was a wonderful cruise.
We hope that this has been informative and helpful for those of you traveling to this part of the world and until I write again.
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind at yer back not be yer own.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
Gene & Susan Read Less