One of These Things (Tours) is Not Like the Others!

We woke on Monday morning to brilliant blue skies and bright sunshine…we were back on track with the weather, and ready to greet Ireland! Some frou-frou coffee, a quick breakfast, and we were off to Vines to meet our group. There were 11 of us who had formed a group on our Cruise Critic roll call, and we were booked with Butlers Bus. The tour was one of the first I reserved for this trip, and based on the outstanding reviews I was confident we were going to have a fantastic day. Our itinerary was to visit the English Market in Cork, Charles Fort, Kinsale, and see some coastal scenery. No Blarney Castle for us! We didn’t want to deal with the crowds or stand in a long line to kiss the Blarney Stone.

Getting off the ship was not as easy as I expected. In fact, they were directing everybody into the dining room. I wondered if they were trying to pull a St. Petersburg, aka get their tours out ahead of everyone else, but the delay turned out to be waiting for the ship to clear Irish immigration. Once the formalities were taken care of we were off fairly quickly. Soon after we disembarked we found our driver Norbert and we were off.

I had hints pretty early in the day that something was not quite right.🤔 First of all, our bus was the only one that was silver instead of white with the bright blue and pink lettering of the other Butlers vehicles. It also seemed quite a bit smaller than a Butlers 16 passenger bus. Then there was Norbert.🙁 Our “guide” didn’t know what our itinerary was, didn’t seem to want to be there, and worst of all, had the personality of a rock. Conversation was non-existent. Perhaps he needed to kiss the Blarney Stone! As we drove to Cork from Cobh, there was no narration, no explanation of what we were seeing, and very short answers to our questions. We knew before we even got to Cork we had a problem on our hands. On the bright side, it was a beautiful day and we were going to enjoy ourselves despite Norbert.

Our first stop of the day was at the English Market in Cork. Norbert was unable or unwilling to tell us anything about it, but he did recommend we enter in groups of 2 or 3 so we wouldn’t be charged admission. Sigh…as you will see this was the pattern for the day. We followed instructions, and enjoyed about 30 minutes walking around admiring the fresh seafood, meats, and produce. The market is celebrating its 230th anniversary this year, and it is one of the oldest markets of its kind in the world. I would love to have a nearby market like that to shop at.

We left the market and headed towards the coast and our second stop at Charles Fort. Deterred but determined, we asked Norbert various questions about the things we were seeing, but he was having no part of it! I remember asking what we were crossing (I wanted the name of the river), and the response I got was, “a river.”🙄 In hindsight I suppose that was pretty informative, because when we got to Charles Fort we were told to read the signs!😳

Charles Fort is a 17th century star shaped fort that was one of the main fortifications on the Irish coast for centuries. It was used extensively in the Williamite War in 1689-91 and the Civil War in 1922-23. The fort was declared a national landmark in 1973. In addition to the interesting structure and history, Charles Fort offers beautiful views of nearby Kinsale and the rolling countryside.

The fishing village of Kinsale was next on our list, and again we were left to figure things out. Unfortunately, it was lunch time, and we had to spend a good portion of our time trying to find the open restaurants, check menus, etc. Five of us lucked into a great meal at the Blue Haven, but that was after 30 or so minutes of wandering aimlessly through the town. We felt like a Goldilocks group — The first place we tried had seemed to have a lot of potential on Trip Advisor, but we found it wasn’t at all what we expected. The second place would have been great, but there was a wait. The third restaurant we tried was a perfect fit! We had a great meal, but it would have been nice to be able to go straight there to maximize our time. I had something called a Toastie, and Jim had fish tacos that he proclaimed to be the best he’s ever had.🌮 Great tacos in Kinsale, Ireland. Go figure! After lunch we walked towards the bus, stopped for ice cream and at a craft show, and reboarded the bus for our next stop, which was to be coastal scenery.

Not so fast my friend! Norbert said he didn’t know of any place with scenery. Thankfully I had done some research, and I knew from working on our itinerary that Old Kinsale Head was nearby. I suggested that location and Norbert amazingly remembered it existed. I’m glad I was persistent. Not only was the view spectacular, Old Kinsale Head is home to the Lusitania memorial and museum. The Lusitania was sunk by a German torpedo in 1915, resulting in over 1,100 deaths. The remains lie about 13 miles off the coast of Ireland near Old Kinsale Head.

After a mostly silent and hot (the bus didn’t have A/C) ride back to Cobh we were happy to part ways with Norbert! Cobh (pronounced Cove) was formerly known as Queenstown, and is well known for being the departure point for 2.5 million Irish immigrants to the United States between the mid 1800s and 1950. It was also the final call of an ill-fated journey before the crossing to New York. 123 passengers boarded the Titanic here, and only 44 of them survived. The waterfront buildings, streets, and remnants of the tender pier used by the Titanic passengers survive, and the Old White Star line office now houses the Titanic Experience.

My trip came close to ending, or at least having greatly curtailed activities while we were walking down the pier to return to the ship. I’m not graceful at the best of times, and if there’s an obstacle or a trip hazard I’m sure to find it. Sure enough, my foot caught the edge of a recessed drain, and down I went with all the grace of Dumbo falling off a bar stool. Fortunately the only thing that was injured was my pride, and with my camera and all my bones intact I dusted myself off and boarded the ship. I was surprised security let me proceed…they were very concerned about the dip in the pavement after they saw me fall, and by the time we got to the gangway there was an officer blocking the spot and making people go around.

One of the first things I did when we got back to the ship was contact Butlers about the problems we had. Even though we enjoyed the day, it was far from what we expected or paid for. We enjoyed ourselves despite the tour, not because of it! The response from Butlers was fast…a huge apology and a full refund. It was explained to me that Butlers had an “internal emergency” and had to contract out for a vehicle and driver for our tour.

Since we got home I have had additional communication with the managing partners at Butlers, and they have assured me they have severed ties with the substitute company (Deasy’s) and will take steps to ensure a situation like ours doesn’t happen again. I’m satisfied with their response, but I would still much rather have gotten what I contracted for. It does bother me a little that I booked almost a year in advance and still ended up drawing the short stick on that day, but Butlers said they don’t consider booking date in their vehicle/guide assignments. Would I give them another chance? Probably, but I would look around to see what other good providers were available. We certainly had a tour that was not like the others!

It felt good to have time to relax for a while. Remember the AWOL “Name Tag Sisters” from Day 1? I contacted them to make sure all was good for the next day since they were touring with us both days in Dublin, and we hung out on the balcony for a while enjoying the gorgeous day until it was time for drinks/dinner.

Sailaway was while we were enjoying fancy martinis in Crooners. We ran out and took a few pictures, but it was cold and windy, so we quickly retreated to the warmth of the indoors and our vodka concoctions!

We learned that the Concerto dining room opened for Anytime Dining at 7:30, so that became our location of choice that night and for most of our dining room dinners. After a nice dinner we went our separate ways…I made a donation to the casino, Jim went to the production show “Colors of the World,” and Deedee and Chip went back to Crooners and on to do whatever night owls do while those of us with less stamina sleep!

We would wake up Tuesday in Dublin and had a two full days and a fun evening planned for our stay!

Into Every Vacation a Little Rain Must Fall

We woke on Sunday to grungy grey skies and rain. What?!? This was a British Isles cruise. We were prepared for rain, but we weren’t supposed to get any!😂 Oh well, rain or shine the show must go on!

We grabbed a quick bite to eat, packed our rain gear and other assorted supplies for the day, and met the rest of our group (8 of us from the Royal Princess) at Vines at 7:30. I had read enough scary reports about tendering in Guernsey that we wanted to ensure we had plenty of time to make our tour. In fact, we had a plan for both directions. We were going to return early in the afternoon to avoid the horrible waits that had been reported. You know what they say about plans, right? But I’m getting ahead of myself…

The morning plan worked like a charm. We never even made it into the Symphony Dining Room for tender tickets — we were early enough we walked right on to a boat! I would say the tender ride took about 15 minutes, and there we were in Guernsey with almost an hour before our walking tour. Thankfully the rain had given way to clouds, so we stowed the rain gear and amused ourselves with free WiFi. Well, most of us did. Jim had to live vicariously through the rest of us since his phone had gone where all overpriced Apple products seem to go on a regularly scheduled basis!😳

Our plan for the day was a morning walking tour with Annette Henry, some quality shopping time, lunch at one of the delicious looking restaurants we had found on Trip Advisor, a walk over to the castle, and an early-ish return to the ship to beat the late afternoon tender lines. The first part of our plan went off without a hitch. We found Annette Henry to be an extremely knowledgeable guide. She is a Guernsey native, so in addition to using props and engaging her audience to tell a story, she also has first-hand knowledge and can convey the information as only someone who’s lived it can do.

We wandered through the beautiful streets and up and down the many stairs of Guernsey, with Annette telling the story of her home as we went along.

We learned about the vennels that were built to provide a fast route from the shore to the center of town. These dark, narrow passageways/staircases provided a quick route for everyone, including pirates, prostitutes, and unfortunately rats carrying the Bubonic Plague. Even today, some of the vennels don’t look very appealing…I decided I didn’t need to explore.

Queen Victoria is revered in Guernsey, as she was the first reigning monarch to visit in 1846. Although Victoria and Albert were already married when they visited, Annette included the story of Victoria’s many suitors, and she used props and some of us to tell the story. Apparently one of Victoria’s would-be husbands didn’t suit her because he had too much facial hair and acne (that was Jim’s role!), and another was dismissed because he was partially blind. I have no way of knowing if that’s fact or fiction, but it was fun, entertaining, and kept everyone engaged.

While we walked, we learned about the cost and availability of housing in Guernsey. Housing in Guernsey is divided into two types…local market and open market. Local market housing is restricted to those who are natives of Guernsey, have at least one parent who falls into that classification, or have a partner who is a native. Open market housing is available to anyone, regardless of their citizenship status. It is much more limited than local market housing, and as a result is extremely expensive. Since Guernsey is a relatively small island with limited housing, the rules help control the population at a level that gives all a high quality of life.

We also heard about some of the darker times in Guernsey’s history. On a steep staircase Annette told the tragic story of three women. Catherine Cauches and her daughters Perotine Massey and Guillemine Gilbert were convicted of heresy and sentenced to death by hanging and burning. During the execution Perotine gave birth, and even though the baby was rescued from the flames the bailiff ordered the baby to be burned along with his mother. The memory of these women is represented on a plaque and serves as a glimpse at a dark period in history.

This was another event where Annette called on us to play the parts of the three women, and I’ll be honest…it was a little over the top for me. She even had a noose she used as a prop. I took a photo of the scene complete with the noose around a lady’s neck, but I’m not going to post it because the thought of being burned alive and having a newborn thrown in the fire freaked me out. I enjoyed almost everything about our tour, but that audience participation segment gave me the creeps.

At the top of a hill overlooking the town and the harbor, we heard the story of the German occupation of Guernsey during WWII. 5,000 children were evacuated from the island, among them Annette’s mother and uncle. Other family members stayed behind and endured the hardships of life on an occupied island with dwindling food supplies and increasing tension between the islanders and the occupying forces. Annette shared the story through her relatives’ experiences, photos, and artifacts from the time.

Our tour ended with a demonstration by Annette…she showed us how they used to deal with thieves “back in the day.” I have to admit, if I had been walking by I probably would have done a double-take.😳 I could tell Annette is extremely proud of her home and enjoys helping visitors get to know Guernsey. Her tour would appeal to people of all ages, and it was a great introduction to Guernsey.

Our time with Annette ended about 11:15, and we walked down to a place called Tea & Co. for some genuine Guernsey ice cream. Remember, this is a vacation story, so dessert before lunch is allowed! We decided on a place called Dix Neuf for lunch, and since there were two ships in port we thought it would be best to be there when they opened. We would have been right on time any other day, but this particular day was a Sunday, and Dix Neuf wasn’t open for lunch. As a matter of fact, lots of places — most places — were closed. The husbands were probably more than a little relieved, but Deedee and I were disappointed to have our shopping plans ruined.

We walked back down the hill to the Ship & Crown pub, which was right next door to our ice cream stop. We got there and grabbed a nice table just as they opened, but the seats filled fast. If we had waited to eat I’m not sure we would have found a table. I had a great burger. I don’t remember what the other choices were, but I think everybody enjoyed their lunch.

*The Tea & Co. pictures and the Ship & Crown pictures were downloaded from the internet.

Sometime while we were in the pub it started to rain. Hard. We didn’t think much of it at the time, because we were inside where we were dry and had plentiful food and drink to keep us busy. Unfortunately, the thousands of other people who were walking past the shuttered shops and restaurants of Guernsey decided the rain meant it was time to return to the ship. We had no such sense of urgency and took our time. Once the rain let up we thought it would be a perfect time to head back. We scrapped the idea of walking over to Castle Cornet and went straight to the tender dock. It was then that we discovered the perfect torture that is tendering in Guernsey. The Disney-esque line mostly stood still while hundreds of Royal Princess passengers and hundreds of Brilliance of the Seas passengers slowly shuffled along. The “fun” was doubled when it started pouring again.

All told, it took us about 2 hours from the time we left the pub until we stepped back on the ship. Totally unacceptable, but at least it wasn’t broiling hot, and there were employees walking around making sure things didn’t get out of control. When we finally got to the gangway we discovered part of the problem is that Guernsey really doesn’t have the infrastructure to handle 2 big ships at once. The two ships had to share one dock and one gangway down to that dock, hence the long periods of no movement.

I thought Guernsey was beautiful and interesting, but I would think twice about spending a long day on shore from a ship if it meant standing in line for hours again just to get “home.”

Back on the ship, we hung up our rain gear (preview…we wouldn’t really need it again!😁), and I did a quick load of laundry. We hung out on the balcony and relaxed for a while before dinner. Sunday was the first of two formal nights. We started the evening in Crooners with beautiful scenery and fun martinis, then ate in the Symphony Dining Room about 7:30. I remember dinner was good, but I couldn’t begin to tell you what I had!☺️ I know the dessert had peanut butter in it and it was so good I could have made room for another!

I didn’t have much awake left in me by the time we finished dinner! We watched the Champagne Waterfall from above, but didn’t participate. Jim went to the show, but I opted for sleep! It had been a long day, and we had a full day planned for Monday. I fell asleep dreaming about our next few days in Ireland.😴

If You Build it They Will Come!

We woke on Saturday morning to brilliant blue skies and bright sunshine…do you sense a pattern here? Everyone we encountered throughout the cruise said this was the best summer in decades. One person said since 1976…the same year I moved back to the states. I was sixteen. You can do the math!

After a quick breakfast with a waitress who seemed irritated by our presence at 7:00 on a Saturday, we retreated to 219 to pack up our last minute items, and it was cruise time! It took us a few minutes to schlep our bags down a half-flight of stairs and through the maze of carpeted corridors to the elevator, but we made it and were in the lobby at exactly 7:45.

We were one of three couples who travelled together to the port by way of Stonehenge and Salisbury. Woodford Cars/Cruise Connection was our car service, and they were excellent. We had a very comfortable vehicle, an excellent driver, and best of all a loot hauler (luggage trailer) so we had plenty of room to spread out.

The ride to Stonehenge was uneventful. We were early enough on a Saturday that traffic wasn’t bad at all, and we were easily at Stonehenge in time for our 10:00 admission tickets (purchased on-line in advance). I was the only one of the six of us who had been to Stonehenge, and I would be lying if I didn’t say I was shocked by how much it’s changed. Not un-like the popular London attractions, as the site became more visited/crowded it also evolved and became more commercialized. Granted, it’s been at least as long as the last summer with weather like this one since I had been to Stonehenge, but I remember a (dirt?) road leading to a very small parking lot. From the parking lot you could walk to, among, and even on the stones! There was no visitors’ center, no shuttle bus, and if I recall correctly, there were no restrooms! There definitely wasn’t a gift shop!

Obviously, the stones themselves haven’t changed, but the number of visitors certainly has! Jim snapped this picture on my phone. It reminds us of the caravan in Field of Dreams…If you build it, they will come! I’m not sure that’s what they had in mind several thousand years ago, but they built it and now they come!😂

You now take a shuttle from the Visitors’ Center to the stones — drop off is where the old parking lot was. The stones are viewed from a path surrounding them, and the stones themselves are roped off to keep visitors away. Understandable, given the number of visitors and the need to preserve the ancient site. I tried so hard to get a couple shots without people in them, but it was a difficult task!

Putting aside annoyances with how much the experience of visiting the site has changed, it is fascinating. The earliest wood temple on the site dates back to 5,000 B.C., with the installation of large stones starting around 2,500 B.C. It really is incomprehensible to try to picture how the stones were brought to the site and erected.

So, what was Stonehenge used for? A temple? A burial ground? A calendar? The answer is yes to all of those to various degrees. There are probably many more uses that we’re not aware of, and many historians, scientists, and archaeologists have put forth theories of the purpose of Stonehenge. We may never know the answers to many of the questions that still surround the site.

Our visit wasn’t a long one…we were headed to Salisbury and wanted to be at the ship early in the afternoon. We had enough time to walk slowly around the stones, explore the Visitors’ Center sights, and we were off. It was quite a bit more crowded by the time we left, so we were glad we had gotten an early start and purchased tickets in advance. The stream of cars creeping towards Stonehenge was seemingly endless.

Everybody goes to Stonehenge, but from my perspective virtually nobody visits Salisbury, and I’m not sure why. The village is charming, the cathedral is stunning, and then there’s the Magna Carta.

The main section of Salisbury Cathedral was built between 1220 and 1258, with the cloisters, chapter house, and spire added later. The flying buttresses were added some years after the spire to prevent the collapse of the cathedral under the enormous weight of the steeple.

While the architecture inside the cathedral retains its classic style, there is a very notable modern addition. The stunning baptismal font at Salisbury Cathedral was installed in 2008 to commemorate the 750th anniversary of the consecretion of the cathedral.

The Magna Carta is housed in the Chapter House, an octagonal building that was constructed in the years after the completion of the cathedral.

The next 2 pictures are stock images I found on the internet:

There are four surviving original copies of the Magna Carta, and the one housed at Salisbury Cathedral is considered to be the best. The Magna Carta originated in 1215 as an attempt to bring peace between royalist and rebel factions. Although the (quite radical) document didn’t have an impact when and as it was written, it eventually became part of statute law in England. Although the original document concerned the relationship between a monarch and barons, the Magna Carta is also significant in U.S. history as it profoundly impacted the original colonists and influenced the U.S. Constitution.

Photography of the document isn’t permitted, but I found this image on the internet. I was stunned at the intricate penmanship…a lost art these days!

After we left the cathedral, we made a quick stop at a grocery store for some allergy medicine (I’ve never encountered so many things blooming at once anywhere!) 🌺🌿🌻 and we were off to Southampton! It wasn’t a long drive at all, and we were soon pulling up to the Royal Princess!

We dropped off bags, were upstairs in the terminal quickly, and we were met with CHAOS! There were people everywhere, and as it was after 2:00 we couldn’t figure out what the problem could be.

I’m so thankful that we had priority boarding. For us there was no real wait, We checked in, slowly made our way through security (we were stuck behind some of the people you never want to be behind in a security line🙄), and we were on the ship. For those without priority, the wait was substantial. We found out the gangway had been out of commission for over an hour, and check-in had come to a complete stop. I’m glad we had been out touring, because it saved us an uncomfortable wait in a crowded terminal!

Our cabin was C429, a mid-ship mini suite with an extended balcony. This wasn’t the first cabin I chose for this cruise, or even the second, third, or fourth! I originally booked a deluxe balcony, but after our cruise on the Regal last fall we decided we wanted more storage space and moved to a mini-suite. After that, I changed decks and sides of the ship several times until I finally landed in a great location. The mini suites on the Royal class aren’t huge, but the storage was more than adequate for us, and I liked being able to put everything away. Obviously these pictures were taken later in the trip when we were well settled in!

Just a side note…when we got home we had a message on our answering machine from Princess. They called after we left for London because they wanted to offer us a complimentary upgrade. We missed it because they had our home number and not my cell number.😢 Lesson learned! In the future, I will make sure my cell phone is the primary contact number!

A quick look around, a couple dinner reservations, and it was time for lunch with Deedee and Chip. We went to Alfredo’s and enjoyed salads, Calzones, personal pizzas, and Eggplant Parmigiana. And Sangria. Lots and lots of sangria!🍹Somehow we all ended up with our own carafe because we were told it was a bargain! Oh well, we didn’t have to drive!

Muster was next, and it was reasonably painless. We were assigned to the Concerto Dining room, so since we didn’t have to bring life jackets 👏🏻 we went straight there from Alfredos. After muster I ran to our cabin to do a quick freshen up and grab my camera, counted suitcases (yay, everything was there!), and headed up to the Outrigger Bar for our Cruise Critic Meet & Greet/Sailaway Party.

We had a good turnout, but we also encountered a problem. There were several no-shows. Unfortunately, two of the no-shows were sisters who had very enthusiastically volunteered to make name tags.😰 It really was difficult to put names with faces without the tags, but we did the best we could. I was also a little worried because the sisters and their husbands were on two tours I had arranged and at least one more from the roll call. The next day I called the name tag volunteer who said she went to the wrong place. I had my doubts, because the day/time/location were well publicized, but decided to believe her. Sadly, my doubts would prove to be well-founded, but that’s a story for another day.🤔

Jim and I didn’t do much else on boarding day. We stayed at the Outrigger for quite a while. I wanted (needed) to get unpacked and put everything away, and by the time that task was finished it was getting late. We ran up to Horizon Court for a dinner snack, and went to bed early. We had six more days of touring before a “day off” and I knew from experience I would need all the sleep I could find!

I seldom sleep better than I do at sea, and June 30, 2018 was no exception. I attempted to type notes for my blog, but after falling asleep at the keyboard three times I gave up and called it a day!

All Around the Town

We woke on Friday morning to brilliant blue skies and bright sunshine…the weather couldn’t have been nicer. We started with a quick breakfast at the hotel, and were happy to finally meet Cathy and Bob who were going to be on our cruise. Cathy and I had been e-mailing and planning for months, and it was great to put faces with names.

I’ll tell you right up front that both of the tours we took on Friday were a bit of a mixed bag. Our first activity of the day was a walking tour of Notting Hill and Portobello Road Market with Discover Walks.

It was a short, easy trip on the Tube to Notting Hill Gate Station where we were to meet our guide (in a distinctive pink vest) outside Exit 1. Let’s start with the fact the directions were wrong…Exit 1 brought us up from the Tube on the wrong side of the street. Then let’s talk about the distinctive pink vest our guide was wearing. Wait! You guessed it…there was nobody in a pink vest anywhere in the area.

We had been asked to be at the meeting place at 9:50. Finally at about 10:10 I called the emergency number. The person who answered was very concerned that she couldn’t get in touch with her guide and not at all concerned that we were standing on a street corner waiting for a prepaid tour and didn’t seem to have a guide. Looking back, I think the office dropped the ball on communication, because just after the conversation ended our guide (without a vest or any other identifying garment) approached us.

We had a nice stroll, but I don’t feel like we really learned anything about the area. Our guide was more of a companion than a guide — he largely left us to our own devices unless we asked about something. The conversation was pleasant, but not particularly informative.

Portobello Road Market probably came the closest to my memories of any of the things we saw in London. As a teenager, I loved Saturday outings to Portobello Road for embroidered shirts and armloads of cheap bangles. That part hasn’t changed! You can still purchase all kinds of embroidered clothing and inexpensive jewelry. The only things that really seemed different to me were the houses behind the stalls have been fixed up, and the market stalls now line the sides of the street instead of filling it.

Portobello Road Market in the mid 1970s:

Portobello Road Market today:

Street art near the market…

From my trips to Portobello Road as a teenager in the 1970s, I remember Notting Hill as being fairly run down. Like many other parts of London it’s been cleaned up, the homes have been renovated, and it is now very trendy and expensive. I know the movie had something to do with Notting Hill’s popularity, but given the location and beautiful old townhomes the revitalization would have happened anyway.

Walking through the area today, you would never guess Notting Hill was the scene of a race riot in the late 1950s and the carefully restored, colorful townhomes were once run down multi-family dwellings that were considered to be some of the worst slums in London.

Our guide took us to see the Grenfell Tower…the scene of the horrendous high rise apartment fire that killed 71 people in June of 2017. I’m not sure how I feel about the inclusion of that site on our tour. While it was a tragic event, the description of events turned to tales of ethnic cleansing and murder, putting a damper on the morning.

Shortly after we visited Grenfells we made our way back to Notting Hill Gate Station where we ended the tour. As I said earlier, it was a pleasant morning, but we could have done the same thing on our own with a little time on the internet to get some background information. I highly recommend touring the area, but I don’t think Discover Walks enhanced our experience at all.

We got back on the Tube headed to Embankment for lunch and our afternoon tour. We ate at Gordon’s Wine Bar, an ancient establishment on Villiers Street near Embankment Tube Station. It was a great choice! Gordon’s has a large outside seating area, so while the inside was so dark and dreary I could barely see where I was going, outside it was warm and sunny and perfect! I thought the food was great…a big hunk of bread, a slab of English Cheddar, Parma ham, butter, olives, marinated tomatoes…yum! I’d choose that for lunch every day if I could!

Our afternoon tour was with London Walks. They offer a wide variety of tours every day, with no advance booking required. You just show up at the designated location a few minutes before the scheduled time, pay £10 per person, and off you go. Our meeting place was just outside Embankment Tube Station.

We had chosen the Sherlock Holmes tour, and for me this was also a mixed bag. I had taken a Sherlock Holmes tour 5 years ago when I was in London on a Tauck Tour, but I didn’t realize Tauck had made special arrangements to turn the tour into a game just for our group. I had something like that in mind when we decided on the tour, but ours was just a regular walking tour.

Don’t get me wrong. Our guide Richard was very knowledgeable and a fantastic story teller. I enjoyed listening to him. There were just too many people for me to really enjoy the tour. I think we ended up with about 40 in our group, which can be kind of hard to manage walking through the streets of London. Richard was excellent about making sure everyone could hear his main talking points, but we didn’t get any of the side conversation we’re accustomed to on smaller walking tours.

I witnessed something interesting and a little scary during our walk. We were on The Strand not too far from Covent Garden…standing in a big half circle around Richard. A pick-pocket(?) dressed as a little old lady started trying to mingle with our group, which was loaded with people oblivious to their surroundings. I think the woman thought she had hit the jackpot, because the number of ladies in our group with open bags was astounding. I spotted her and immediately walked to the other side of the circle, making sure the potential thief saw me and knew I was on to her. She kept moving, but I kept her in view until Richard was done and we moved on. I told the would-be victims about it as we walked to our next stop, and they were shocked to think they had almost been robbed.

I don’t walk around cities paranoid, but I always try to be aware of my surroundings and take reasonable precautions like a secure bag that’s difficult to get into in a hurry. London is probably hardest for me, because I’m so comfortable there and I always feel safe, but I still keep my bag zipped and carry it so things like cash and credit cards are extremely difficult to get to. These ladies who were almost robbed had no clue…bags wide open with contents plainly visible. It’s no wonder I hear so many stories about people being pick-pocketed. They make it easy!

After our tour we went straight back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner.

Six of us walked to the Kensington Hotel and had a leisurely, relaxing dinner at the Town House Restaurant. The pictures of the restaurant are from the website. I only remembered to photograph dessert!

As much as we were tempted to stay out and have fun, we didn’t finish dinner until after 9:00, and we needed to get back to the hotel and re-pack. Why does it seem like even though I work hard to keep things neat and do minimal unpacking, getting ready to board a ship after a few days away is always a chore? I finally finished getting everything ready to go long after Jim was asleep. I joined him in Dreamland so that I could get at least a few hours of rest before our Saturday morning 8:00 departure.

Up next…on to Stonehenge, Salisbury, and our ship!

This is Not the London I Remember!

I’m going to start with a nod to Charles Dickens, because while our second day in London was not a tale of two cities it was certainly a tale of two vastly different experiences in completely disparate parts of London. Parts of our day were the best of times and other parts of it were the worst of times, or maybe it just seemed that way in the heat (and crowds) of the moment.

We started our day with a fantastic East End food tour with Eating Europe (London). We used the same company last year in Rome and think they provide an excellent product.

The East End of London is one of those areas that has changed dramatically in the last forty years. In the 70s it wasn’t the kind of place that would have appealed to American teenagers…it was filled with dockworkers, laborers, and large numbers of immigrants that had settled in the densely populated area. There was a lot of poverty and social unrest, and quite honestly I think we would have been terrified if we had left our cocoon and ventured over there.

Today, the East End is an area that has been regenerated and reimagined. Immigrants from around the globe still contribute to a rich and diverse ethnic culture. Artists have opened studios, and much of the formerly run-down housing has been renovated into flats. Large townhouses inhabited by master silk weavers in the 17-1800s have been lovingly and painstakingly restored and today are worth millions.

The next three pictures are of Fournier Street with the beautiful townhomes as they look today and as they looked before restoration started in the mid 1980s. I found the transformation of the area to be fascinating, so throughout this blog post I will include pictures of the area as it looked forty plus years ago when I lived there and never saw it!

We ate a light breakfast at the hotel, repacked the still useless Apple product in Jim’s backpack, and left the hotel with more than ample time to be early for our tour. Well, we would have had ample time if Miss “Just follow me I know what I’m doing on the Tube” hadn’t jumped on the wrong train and wound up in Circle & District line purgatory!😳 Yes, that’s right…despite Jim’s warnings I didn’t double check the destination on the train signage, and we wound up at High Street Kensington instead of headed towards Aldgate East.☺️

Confidence is fine, but a little double checking would have gone a long way that morning. Once at High Street Kensington we had about a 15 minute wait before we could get a train back to Earl’s Court, and then transfer to the correct train to be on our way. Fortunately we had allowed plenty of time, so while we weren’t the requested 15 minutes early we did make it to Old Spitalfields Market right at 10:00 and avoided the embarrassment of making the group wait.

Our awesome guide for the day was Flic (Felicity) Wentzel. She was a masterful storyteller and really enhanced our food stops with her knowledge of local history.

Soon after our (almost) late arrival we were off to our first stop, St. John Bread and Wine, for a delicious bacon sandwich. It was served with an interesting house-made ketchup…there was a lot of apple in it, which gave it a very different flavor than typical Heinz. I thought St. John had an interesting looking menu and I would have been happy to return if we had been back in the East End. Their breads alone would have made it worth the trip!

Next up was The English Restaurant, a traditional eatery where we had some wonderful Bread & Butter Pudding. The building has been in this location for many years, and was at one time a wholesale fruit and vegetable store, among other things. The owners used salvaged materials from nearby Christchurch when they created the restaurant’s interiors.

I found some interesting pictures of the same corner and street taken in the 1970s and 1980s. Compare those with my shots of the same locations today!

Bread and Butter Pudding originated as a way to use old, stale bread and not let food go to waste. It was once considered “Poor Man’s Pudding” in England because it was a popular dish among the lower classes. Today it is enjoyed in many countries and is even served in upscale restaurants!

Our third stop took us back into Old Spitalfields Market, where we sampled some cheeses at the Androuet Cheese shop.

There has been a market in this location since 1638, when King Charles gave license for “flesh, fowl, and roots” to be sold on Spittle Fields. The current buildings were constructed in 1887 and refurbished in 2005. Today, the market houses vendors selling crafts, art, vintage clothing, jewelry, and gourmet food.

Despite the fact that we were already full, the tour moved on to Poppies Fish and Chips. Pat “Pop” Newland got started in the Fish & Chips business at age 11, and after 50 years fulfilled a lifelong dream of owning his own shop. Poppies is now a small and very successful chain, but the flagship restaurant we visited was the first, located in the East End where Pop was born and raised. The restaurant is decorated with Cockney rhyming slang sayings…it was fun trying to figure out what they meant!

Fortunately, we did quite a bit of walking and touring the area between stops. We saw the beautifully refurbished townhomes on Fournier Street that were once owned by master silk weavers.

I loved the door knockers and shutter hardware on these homes!

We learned the origin of the saying “on tenterhooks” — it comes from the practice of placing woven cloth on large frames and securing it with tenter hooks so it wouldn’t lose its shape. The open area of the tenter grounds was built on many years ago, but is remembered in the street name.

We saw the Crispin Street Night Shelter that was once filled to capacity each night (now student housing), the streets where Jack the Ripper stalked his prostitute victims, and the Jewish Soup Kitchen that served as a central meeting place for the East End’s large Jewish population until 1992, when it closed after 140 years.

Henry VIII set up an artillery ground in Spitalfields to give local men a place to practice their longbow, crossbow and handgun skills. Although the ground moved in the 1650s, it is still remembered in many local street names, including Artillery Lane and Gun Street.

More interesting sights in the Spitalfields area…

4 Princelet Street is a beautifully restored Georgian mansion with a deceptive exterior. The door is frequently used in films. The interior is available for elegant events. You never know what’s hiding behind a door!

This house had a Fire Insurance Plaque — this medallion would have identified the building as insured in the days when each insurance company had their own fire brigade.

We still needed a food break after our walk and our fish & chips, so we sampled English beer and cider at the Pride of Spitalfields pub.

After we left the pub we walked down Brick Lane, which is a smorgasbord of the many cultures represented by its residents and features many examples of the street art the East End is becoming known for.

I’m not quite sure of the meaning of this sign. It seems to be as much about a man in a thong as it is about traffic directions!

At one time the area was predominantly Jewish and Irish, but is now home to a large Bangladeshi population, leading to many referring to the area as Banglatown. The streets were crowded with people from all age groups and walks of life enjoying the beautiful day.

The area is well known for two foods…curry and bagels (or beigels as they’re known over there), and we had great tastes of both of them!

Aladin has been recognized as one of the best curry restaurants in London, and it was there that we tasted three curries…hot, hotter, and hottest! I sampled all three, but I’m really not a curry fan and for the most part they were too hot for me!

Not too far down Brick Lane is Beigel Bake, where we were treated to salt beef (similar to corned beef) on a soft beigel with a gherkin and spicy English mustard. They were delicious, but believe it or not I could only manage a small bite because I was so full!

Our final stop took us to a trendy and popular East End restaurant in Shoreditch — Pizza East. Thankfully, it was about a 15 minute walk…we needed it!

We were served tea and a salted caramel tart, which was so good I temporarily overlooked how full I was and got even more full! Pizza East had a great looking menu and was another restaurant I would happily return to.

Here’s where things went south…Our tour ended about 2:30, and we decided to go back to the Apple Store in Covent Garden to get a battery for Jim’s phone. We made pretty good time getting there and arrived to find they were closed for renovations!😳 Discouraged but determined, we jumped back on the Tube to go to the Apple Store on Regent Street.

It was a good thing we had Oyster cards. We spent a good part of the day on the Tube!

We got there with no problem, but our determination finally became resignation that Jim would be without a phone for the rest of the trip. The wait for an appointment was at least two & a half hours, and with no guarantee of them being able to help we gave up.

P.S. and bit of a PSA about Jim’s phone…he took it to the Apple Store here the day after we got home, and it was completely dead. There wasn’t even a hint of power, and it couldn’t be resurrected.

We’ll never know for sure what happened, but we have our suspicions. It got very hot in the immigration line at Heathrow, and we both plugged in little fans that operate off our phones. Mine (a different brand) worked fine (and still does), but Jim’s kept trying to get going and then quit. We now think the fan was defective and somehow shorted something out. At any rate, that ended up being a very expensive $4.99 fan! I see the offending fans are no longer available on Amazon’s website. Maybe Jim’s wasn’t the only phone that got ruined.😢

So…back to London. By this time it was about 4:00. We were meeting friends at 6:00 near Piccadilly Circus and didn’t want to go back to Earl’s Court, so we were up in the air about what to do. I would have been content to shop on Regent Street, but it was very crowded and I knew that was probably more than Jim could bear. In hindsight, it might have been the smarter move. Instead, I decided we should go to Selfridge’s!😂 My 40+ year memory told me it was a short walk, but my aching feet by the time we got there told me otherwise! We meandered around Selfridge’s for a little while, but honestly at that point we were both hot, tired, and only wanted to sit and relax for a while. Thankfully we found a wine bar in Selfridge’s and were more than happy to do NOTHING for about 30 minutes.

These wine bar pictures are from the Selfridge’s website:

We headed back to Piccadilly Circus about 5:00. I couldn’t face the long walk back down Oxford Street, so we took the Tube one stop🙄 and walked from there. We enjoyed walking down Carnaby Street. It’s still teeming with people, but it’s a lot less Boho than it was in 1976!

We met our friends Deedee and Chip at the Queen’s Head pub for dinner. The bar was packed because of all the people watching England’s World Cup match, but upstairs in the restaurant it was peaceful and calm. We enjoyed traditional pub food, relaxed, and discussed our cruise plans.

Steak and Trooper Ale Pie at The Queen’s Head Pub:

We had thought about pub hopping after dinner, but reality caught up with us. Jim and I had been eating and walking all day and we were tired (and full!). Deedee and Chip had just arrived that morning and they were tired. All the pubs were packed with sports fans cheering for their country. We settled on a nice night cap at the French House, a walk past some of the West End theaters and through Chinatown, then headed back to Earl’s Court for some sleep. As had happened the night before, the sky said daytime but our bodies said night! We had another busy day planned for Friday, so getting to bed early wasn’t a bad thing!

No thanks…my legs were way too tired for that many stairs!