Homeward Bound – Wednesday, October 2nd

Geoffrey Chaucer, known as the father of English Literature, was credited with the quote, “All good things must come to an end”, back.in the year 1374. I don’t want to believe that, but this particular “holiday” is coming to its end.

Alison and I woke up just after 4am (11pm eastern) to say goodbye to Marion and Barry as their driver picked them up at 5:15 for the trip to Heathrow. Our flight wasn’t until 12:15, with our pickup scheduled for 8:30. We had a quiet breakfast, showered and dressed, finished packing and straightening up the flat, one last time. We saw the driver, David, down in the street, a bit on the early side, so we hefted the bags down the stairs and into the cool morning air for a quick roll across the street and into the Mercedes van. David led a lively conversation around local economics, which spread to the US and our government shutdown and Obama Care. The UK has done well the last year or two. Most Londoners left town during the Olympics, which he said actually made things less hectic for him. The owners of our flat, bought the building a couple years ago, literally gutted, and refinished the retail space on the street level, and at least 3 flats above. The current value of our flat alone is estimated at 1.2 million pounds, or about $1.95 million. Location, location, location. The flat was nice, but I wouldn’t pay that much for it.

The traffic to Heathrow was light, and we arrived in great time – not that we needed to. The USAirways ticket counter was easy to find, and we checked our bags with little fanfare. Security wasn’t bad, either, and we were through security with 2-1/2 hours to spare. Hey, why not shop?! So, we wondered the shops for a bit, including an airport version of Harrods, which surprised me. We made it to the Star Alliance Lounge for coffee, a banana, toast, bacon, and newspapers – and internet access, to occupy the time.

We boarded the Airbus 330, the same configuration we flew to Stockholm 3 weeks earlier, and moved in to our cubicles – 1C and 1F, right next to each other in the center of the plane. We got some orange juice to continue battling our colds, or whatever, and read until we got our meal. Unlike the trip over, we decided to take advantage of the movies this time. I watched Star Trek into Darkness, The Great Gatsby, and rounded it out with The Internship, a comedy about older Google interns, Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. We touched down at 2:55pm.

Immigration was fine, it took forever to retrieve our “priority” baggage, but I’m always thankful when they arrive on the belt, and we stood in long lines that moved at Customs. All we wanted to do was to get down to street level on the elevator, but too many hands pushing unintended buttons, and we ended up traveling all the way to rooftop parking before working our way back down to street level. LOL – several of us were lightly threatening anyone to put their fingers anywhere near the elevator buttons!

Alison and Meghan coordinated timing from the Cell Lot, and it worked out perfectly, and we threw our 100+ pounds of total luggage into the back of the Pilot. The drive home was uneventful, and we got home around 4:30. Lauren chipped in and picked up Zach from daycare and got home shortly after us. Zach gives such good hugs and kisses! Alison presented her gifts, we had tea, and later, said good night to Meghan and Zach.

After sorting a few dirty clothes, the mail, paying a bill or two, calling Mom to tell her we were home, and doing little else – we were shot, and went to bed around 8 – basically a 21 hour day.

And, as mentioned above, all good things must come to an end.

We graduated the Tube-Switching Challenge – Tuesday, October 1st

We intentionally left our last full day in London unplanned, which was actually a potentially dangerous decision on our part. Why? The ladies decided that we should pop over to Harrods Department Store, known as one of the most luxurious department stores in the world. It’s amazing!

To get there involved a sophisticated Tube Switch maneuver. The ladies spent several minutes back in the flat reviewing their Tube maps to determine the best routes. We walked to the Oxford Circus entrance, Barry and I “topped off” our Oyster Cards, and we were ready to go. Started on the Victoria Line down to Green Park; changed to the Picdadilly Line and went two stops to KnightsBridge, popped up to the surface, turned left and found Harrods. Whew! Piece of cake.


Our primary objective was the famed/”awesome” Harrods Food Court. A simple Wow is justified here, and we spent most of our alloted time in this area. We individually spent time wandering the store, which was an experience in itself. There were almost as many sales floor people as there were customers! Barry came across, but didn’t buy, an 80″ ultra-high definition TV for a mere $35,000.

The return trip via the tube was almost second nature. We made two stops once we popped to the surface at Oxford Circus. The first was to experience Fish & Chips, so we stopped at Garfunkels, which we had targeted earlier in the stay. The deep-fried haddock and chips (french fries) also came with roasted lemon, tartar sauce and “mushy peas”. And, we all sampled another local beer. The fish – eh. The chips – OK – applied some vinegar to them, in addition to catsup. Mushy peas – not bad, actually. Each couple shared a “sticky toffee pudding” serving for desert – not bad.

The last stop was John Lewis on Oxford Street – for which we partook of their reputable food court (super market) multiple times throughout our visit for wine, cheese, prepared dinners, fruits and vegetables. We were so full from our Garfunkel’s visit that we decided to eat in for our last dinner. Very good food.

While heating the dinner, Marion and I dumped and shared pictures – almost 4,500 of them – from cameras and smart phones. The ladies also confirmed our pickup times with the driver, and checked in with the airlines. The wireless router in the flat got a LOT of activity during our stay, and performed like a champ. We had two laptops, 3 iPads, one Kindle, and 4 smart phones. Are we hip or what? We all started packing, too. As things quieted down after Alison and Barry headed for bed, Marion donated a reasonable amount of her time bringing me up-to-speed, sort of, with The Master Genealogist program. Ugh. There is so much work to do!

Off to Maidenhead to see Margaret, September 30th

Personally, one of the things I’ve been looking forward to is seeing Margaret Horley, who I haven’t seen since 1975, the year Alison’s father died, and we were in the UK as an extension to a business trip with Scott Paper Company. Margaret was married to Barney Horley, a cousin of Marion, Alison and Trevor, and has two children, Simon and Lucy. Alison and Marion had visited Margaret and Barney in May, 2013. Sadly, Barney passed away in June of cancer – very quickly, although he had been sick for at least a year. Alison and Marion were very fortunate to have seen Barney one last time, and Margaret told us that it meant a great deal to him to have seen them.

Marion called as soon as we arrived in London and we schedule a lunch for Monday, September 30th. Our objective was to travel the 25 miles due west first via tube and then transfer to the train. No problem. The total trip was about an hour and a half, and Margaret picked us up at the station in her Volvo, and we drove approximately 10 minutes to her house, through lovely surroundings.

She has been in the house for more than 30 years, and Lucy lives a short walking distance from Margaret. Both Lucy and Simon were working on Monday, so we didn’t have an opportunity to see them.

Margaret prepared a wonderful lunch for us. One of her 4-legged charges, a Shitsu named Tia was very cute and playful. Margaret has up to 8 or so dogs that she keeps an eye on from time-to-time. After the main course, we went for a nice walk along a much milder and tame Thames River – although explain tame to those whose houses were flooded not long ago!

We returned to the house and had tea and delicious Welsh cakes, and we talked about family history and genealogy for some time. Fascinating – and I actually knew some of the people they were talking about. “Lunch” lasted a long time and we caught the 7:32pm train back to Central London. Long day – good time.

“Basil, what are you doing, dear?”

On our list of things to do while in London was to attend the Fawlty Towers dinner theater. Marion and Alison had attended the luncheon version in May, 2013, and loved it. Barry and I wanted to give it a go, too. I had the least exposure to this benchmark BBC comedy series, which made only 12 episodes – six episodes each in 1975 and 1979, so…. Alison and I watched almost all of them on Netflix, so I/we would be prepared. The famous John Cleese starred as Basil Fawlty, who along with wife, Sybil, owned a fictional hotel known as Fawlty Towers. Hilarious – more later. But, that wasn’t until 6pm

What to do with the rest of the day. Well, we relaxed, first thing in the day, then decided to do the bus tour / hop on – hop off, of London. In the melee around the popular bus tour corners, we inadvertently purchased tickets on The Original Tour, which included a boat tour on the Thames. We sat on the open-air top deck with our tourist headphones, and even with our jackets on, it was a bit cool in the morning. The bus wound through the popular sites of Central London, and we sat on the bus all the way to the exit for the Thames River Cruise, which was down by Big Ben.


The cruise ended down by Big Ben, which began to strike 12 just as we arrived on the boat – very impressive. The “Thames Seaman”, a rather young gentleman earned a handsome tip with his “narrative” of the banks of the Thames. We did have some excitement near Big Ben. We noticed a large amount of emergency activity in the air (two helicopters), on land (screaming ambulances and rescue vehicles), and on the Thames itself with Police and rescue boats screaming down river with lights and sirens blaring. We didn’t find out until later that a duck boat (used for tourism, just like they are on the Delaware River) caught fire and several passengers, we heard 23, ended up in the water, which runs 5 knots in that area – very fast, if you are a person bobbing in the water. Fortunately, there were no fatalities that we heard of.

We walked around the area of Westminster Abbey and Big Ben, wallowing in the history, and tried to find a good spot to eat. Busy, busy, busy. We did hit the toilets, but decided to eat when we got back to the flat. So, we crossed the bridge, with eastern block shell game players all along the sidewalk, to catch the bus route on the other side, and wound our way back to our neighborhood, where we stopped at John Lewis for a few items and walked home. Overall, it was a good touring day — minus formal church and museum tours.

As it turned out, we didn’t have to dress for the Fawltey Towers dinner theater, but we did to a degree. We walked back to our familiar Oxford Circus tube stop and took the tube to the Charing Cross stop, popped up and walked the short distance to the Charing Cross Hotel – the site of the event. I think we were a bit early and the first to check in. We bought a bottle of wine and stood in the bar as others gathered. At almost 6:30, the characters, Basil, Sybil, and Manuel started wandering in, in character, and interacting with the guests. From that point, it was almost non-stop laughter for over 2 hours.


Basil and Sybil Fawlty, and Manuel

But, that wasn’t the only show in town. The NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers and the Minnesota Vikings played a game in London that also started at 6pm. Supposedly, there were more than 10,000 fans from the US and 70,000 or so locals in attendance. The US fans were certainly in abundance over the weekend – many wearing their football jerseys.

A bit of a walk-about in Central London – September 28th

OK, our merry little band has just been in 11 countries, if I counted correctly, in less than three weeks. We were busy, to say the least. London is relatively new to Barry and I, but the ladies are repeat visitors – as recently as May of this year. We had four goals, in my mind, for our four full days in the UK; 1) make the stop in Portsmith (done), 2) visit Margaret Horley, 3) do very basic site seeing without an emphasis on churches and museums, and 4) begin winding down and relaxing.

We got off to a relaxed start this morning with no excursions setting off on a particular schedule. Marion got in touch with Margaret, and set up a lunch date for Monday. We also booked our tickets for the Fawlty Towers dinner show for Sunday at 6pm. So, today, we decided to do a bit of a walk-about, with the idea of seeing Buckingham Palace and the Changing of the Guards, which according to the official website, was to take place on even days at 11 o’clock, and also visiting a couple of addresses where Granny lived, and St. Mary’s Hospital, where Mum and Norman met, and Marion and Alison were born.

It was a perfect day for walking around, cool, but not too chilly, and somewhat overcast, but not raining. And, we’re walking. First stop, Buckingham Palace – from outside the gate. It’s impressive. We got there around 10:15, and decided to hang out – front row center on the fence – until about 10:45, when an official put out a sign that said, no changing of the guard today. Bummer. As we were walking along the side boulevard of the palace, we came across a group of ceremonial horse guards, all dressed up and on these large beautiful horses. OK, we got something from our visit.

We moved on through Picadilly to the entrance gates to Hyde Park, which was very busy with walkers, runners, bikers, families, etc. Hey, it was Saturday, after all. It was good to see a large public park being used. Marble Arch was our destination, and from there, we worked our way over to Connaught Street, where Mum’s grandparents lived. It seems that the house was close to Mum’s school and not too far from Mum’s house. Now, the storefront is a rug store.

From there, we walked over to Praed Street, to the house Mum lived in. Her father was a furniture / repair shop owner. The store was on the ground floor, but furniture pieces were all throughout the house for customers to browse, so they always had to keep the house straightened up. Today, the storefront is a souvenir shop, and the basement, which used to be for material storage and a workshop, was lost just under 10 years ago to the subway system. The most impressive site to me was right across the street from the Praed Street house, and that is St. Mary’s Hospital, which still appears to be going strong. Mum was a nursing student and nurse at the hospital, and she met Norman Williams there at the hospital. Wow. And icing on the cake, St. Mary’s is where both Marion and Alison were born.

On the edge of the neighborhood, we came across a couple of police dressed in vests and carrying automatic weapons — not the norm for London. We casually spoke to the gentleman and learned that they were part of a protection detail for “a former Prime Minister” that lives nearby. Nice. All-in-all, we walked close to 5 miles according to Google Maps.

Along the way, we did come across a couple of characters – and some nice cars.

We stopped at John Lewis and bought a couple of prepared “dinner for 2” meals, and enjoyed a quiet evening.

Goodbye Marina – Hello Southampton and London, September 27th

The Marina docked in Southampton, UK around 7am. We said goodnight, not goodbye, to our bags by 10:30 last evening, and all passengers were expected to be out of their cabins by 8am. The four of us were up, shared one last breakfast in the Grand Dining Room, and were ready to disembark promptly at 8am. The bags were well organized and easy to find, and we had been cleared by Immigration three days earlier. Nice and easy.

Marion had arranged for our driver for the day, Steve, who had been a career printing papers salesman, until he lost his job. He worked for the equivalent of airport parking – for cruise terminals – for three years, and then formed his own business, New Forest Platinum Tours, which ranges from being a taxi/executive transportation service to a tour guide service of the New Forest area. Interesting 60 year old guy. He was our driver for the day, which basically meant picking us up at the cruise terminal, getting us to Portsmith to view a needlepoint done by a young Mr. George Records back in the mid-1800s, and to view some documents provided by the HMS Warrior and HMS Victory regarding George Records, who joined the Royal Navy when he was either 14 or 16, I believe. Marion made all the arrangements with the authorities, in advance.

We arrived in Portsmouth, and were a bit early, so we walked around memorials for the Titanic and sailors, in general. We found the navy yard and were directed to Security, where we got temporary photo id badges for entry to the library’s reading room, and were picked up by one of the library’s personnel. The needlepoint was amazing, to me. It was very detailed and creative, and contained two photographs of the young man, which considering it was the mid-1800s was amazing to me. Marion is the historian, but this relative served on both the Black Prince and on the HMS Warrior, which was the first iron-hulled, armored warship build for the Royal Navy, http://www.hmswarrior.org/, commissioned in 1860, and was decommissioned May 31, 1883 – never having fired a shot in battle.

Being a legacy of the ship, we were offered a free tour by one of the super guides. This was extremely interesting. The Warrior was a full sailing ship – yet was also powered by steam, with interesting design considerations, like lowering stacks to allow full sails, and raising the propeller to reduce drag and increase speed when under full sail. You truly got a feel for what life on board was all about – the positioning of the leadership/command of the ship from the crew – with the marines in the middle. It had a full laundry, kitchen, etc. Fascinating.


It was getting late, and we were hungry, so we called Steve, and while he was getting ready to meet us, we grabbed a few sandwiches and drinks, and met him at the curb. From Portsmouth, it was a 60-90 minute drive into Central London, which Steve wasn’t entirely familiar with. I became navigator, using Steve’s GPS, and Marion backed me up with use of her European smart phone. It seemed like a long way around, but we got there in one piece.

Getting to the flat at 58 Maddox Street, practically at the corner of New Bond Street (had to say it), we met Ricardo, who is the management representative for this flat, on the first floor, or one level up from the street. Ricardo is from Brazil, and very smooth. He showed us around the flat and all the really cool appliances in the kitchen. After settling in and connecting all our devices, we ventured the 3 or 4 blocks to John Williams Department Store and their well-known food court (super market), grabbing a couple bottles of wine, bread, wine and some essentials.

After dinner and sitting around for a bit, we were tired enough to hit the sack.


Bruges, Belgium – September 26th

IMG_3069 Three-way Canal Intersection
3-Way Canal Intersection

Bruges is the last stop before steaming to Southampton, UK to end our cruise.

Bruges. I like the way Bruges just rolls off the tongue. The last time were in Belgium was 1975, when Alison and I were in Brussels on business with Scott Paper Company. Wow – 38 years ago!

We sailed into the port and docked at 7am. The port is relatively small, and the cruise ship(s) are mixed in with containers and military, etc. They did have a passenger bridge, which was nice, but virtually nothing on the docks – when you’re ready, hop off the boat and get on a bus.

Bruges, as we know it, is relatively small, but goes back to the 11th or 12th century. It is known for its chocolate, lace, and piggy backs on Antwerp for diamonds – and, simply, being quaint, which it is. There are three sections to Belgium; the Flemish 60% (Dutch), French 30%, and the smallest portion of less than 10% German. The population of Belgium is about 11 million, and Bruge, the second largest city is, well, small. They got into shipping / transportation rather late in the game, with their ports being built, bombed, re-built, bombed again, and re-built again. At this point, they are expanding the port resources, which will be good.

After a vigorous walk on the deck, and breakfast in the Grand Dining Room, which was almost empty, we reported for our excursion departure at 9:45. Bus #19 departed at 10, and we arrived in Bruge by 10:30. The first portion of our excursion was a walking tour of the city; quaint squares, churches, changing architecture, 300+ Madonna statues, a review of the city, then and now. It was all good stuff, but you could tell that we were all “excursioned out”. We had an OK 30 minute canal tour – with a younger/satirically funny guide, which was a nice break.

More walking, and we landed at our designated meeting point, and given almost 2-1/2 hours of free time for lunch and shopping. It was actually warm enough – with our jackets on – to sit at an outdoor restaurant in the square. Barry and I had macaroni and ham, Alison had lasagna, and Marion had a Panini. We also had a local beer. Did you know that each kind of beer has its own glass? The beer was good and the food plentiful. For dessert? What else, we shared a couple of Belgian Waffles.

We managed to find the square and the meeting spot, on-time, extended our group walk by another several minutes, and made it back to the bus, and on to the ship by 4pm or so. Our room was made up, as usual, but it was sad to see our suit cases on top of the bed, a reminder that we have to pack and leave our bags out for pickup by 10:30 tonight. With mixed feelings, we are ready to leave the ship, but not ready to give up the somewhat luxurious lifestyle!

Amsterdam, Netherlands – September 25th

Ahhhh, Amsterdam. My first time, and all kinds of expectations, including windmills, the red light district and legal smoking houses, etc. But, not really. We were assigned to Bus #20 for this excursion, and Vera was our guide.

Minor point, but one of the things I noted during this cruise was an increase in the number of excursion outfits that provided emergency numbers when you are in-country. Hey – just in case. Vera also passed out a local candy – a coffee and a butterscotch toffee hard candy that were wonderful. In fact, we ended buying some in a store at the end of the day.

A word of caution: respect bikers and the bike paths! The most striking fun fact I learned was that Amsterdam has 800,000 residents and 650,000 bikes! They are everywhere, and the bikers are not sympathetic to pedestrians or cars. In total, the Netherlands have a population of about 16.5 million. Bikes are everywhere, and innovative, and pragmatic. Many are modified for carrying of infants and toddlers – safely. They are on racks, bullpens, ferries, etc. Everywhere.

Amsterdam is the capital city of the Netherlands. I always thought that Amsterdam was in Holland. Yes, but Holland appears to be the name of two provinces in the Netherlands, North Holland and South Holland, and Amsterdam appears to be part of both. OK. It is, in fact, a low-lying country, with many canals and dams, or dykes.

We have seen a large number of on and off-shore modern wind mills and wind farms throughout the region, and Amsterdam was no exception. We saw only one “traditional” windmill that is really a monument to the old days, in Amsterdam.

It’s a beautiful city. They were not bombed during WW II, which meant that a lot of their buildings remain standing. Many residences actually lean forward and have the arms extending from the top of the building – used to raise items to the upper floors. The town hall is known as the ugliest building in Amsterdam. Taxes were based on the width of the buildings, so it was not entirely unusual to see houses with few, or at least, narrow windows.

The primary objective of our particular excursion was the Ann Frank House (Haus). I have to admit that I did not fully appreciate the story, nor am I going to try to recite it here, but touring the house where the family built a business, then hid in that very building for over two years before being turned in – then, Ann dying in a concentration camp only a month before liberation of that very camp, was striking. She was quite an amazing young girl. Well worth the visit.

The famous Red Light district was not on our tour, unfortunately; however, we passed the suburban version (at somewhat of a distance, in a moving bus). The real deal seems to operate in the evening – after 9pm, but the suburban version starts on the 2nd floor and operates from 8am to 6pm or so. Oh, well. Not much to talk about.

Showering – by guest bloggist Marion

The Shower, with reference objects on the floor - bottle of wine, an iPad, etc. Also had a full bath tub and shower, if you prefer.
The Shower, with reference objects on the floor – bottle of wine, an iPad, etc. Also had a full bath tub and shower, if you prefer.

Spending 2 weeks on a cruise, requires the guests to maintain an acceptable level of cleanliness, which of course 600 years ago on ships like the Vasa in Sweden, did not offer quite the same options. We have traditionally been on ships that have a combined tub/shower, but this ship has a separate shower unit. This shower has provoked a number of humorous conversations.

Of necessity the cabin area on the ship is quite small, and areas for the desk (mini), couch (small 2 seater) and bathroom are spatially configured to be just large enough to handle the activity. Note however that the bed is a regular queen size.

I cannot give you the exact size of the shower, so the next best size reference is attached – a picture of the footprint of the shower with various well-known objects on the base as reference points. It is not a regular square or rectangle, as it has a large corner loped off as well as a smaller one.

I have found that keeping one’s eyes closed helps dispel the claustrophobic feeling, and turning so your arms and elbows reach to the greatest available dimension allows washing the greatest number of body parts. After 10 days of showering, we have finally mastered the art of washing our hair and our feet. One technique we have not mastered yet is how to pick up the shampoo bottle when it slips out of your hand and lands at our feet.

We have seen no recommendations as to how many can shower at one time, but we can unequivocally suggest only one! (Thoughts of two showering together sends us into paroxysms of laughter).


Second Day At Sea – September 24th

Gorgeous sunrise - colors on the water and ships on the horizon.
Gorgeous sunrise – colors on the water and ships on the horizon.

I love days at sea. What are your plans? There ARE NONE!
Actually, we woke up to the beautiful sunrise, started a load of laundry, had an aggressive walk up on deck 15, picked up the laundry, showered, ran down to breakfast on deck 6, and went down to deck 5 for UK Immigration for entry to Southampton. We then walked back up to deck 9 – and it’s knot even 10:30.
OK, so now we get to rest. 🙂
More later.