Here is another in a series of Travelogues designed to inform anyone interested about our travel adventures.
JUST THE FACTS: We were invited by our friends Gregg and Laura Freedman to join them on a 12 day cruise on Crystal Symphony, including time in London before and after, beginning August 15th. Planning for the trip began in the fall of 2006.
Joining us were most of the cast of characters who joined Laura and Gregg on a Crystal cruise to the Mexican Riviera in 2003 (see Viva Mexico on our website frankhall.com). Included were John and June Fee, Rich and Gayla Hutton, Gil and Carol Stromsoe, and Larry and Patty Webber all members of the Arcadia Rotary Club, plus friends Wayne and Pat DuPry, the Freedman’s daughter Hillary and Laura’s sister Mary Anderson.
We began with a 3 night stay in London before boarding the ship in Dover. Our ports included Edinburgh and Inverness in Scotland; Belfast in Northern Ireland; Dublin, Waterford and Cork in the Republic of Ireland; and the British Island of Guernsey before returning to Dover for another 3 night stay in London.
MONEY MATTERS: Back in the high inflation “Carter Years” there was a Wall Street
Bon mot, “Cash is Trash.”
If you’ve been to Europe lately you know the Dollar, trading at an all time low against all foreign currencies, doesn’t go very far today. While Dollars aren’t exactly “trash,” it sure takes a lot of them to buy what it used to take a few of them to buy. The days of getting bargains abroad may be gone forever.
If you’re going to Great Britain or mainland Europe you’ll find that it will take $2 to buy a pound and about $1.50 to buy a Euro. That’s about 50% more than when the Euro was introduced. Here are a couple of examples:
1) A carton of Cigarettes is available in the LAX Duty Free Shop for $30. The same cigarettes in the Heathrow Duty Free was 40 Pounds or $80.
(No, I haven’t started smoking – it’s just an example.)
2) We went to an American Sports Bar chain, “Cheers” in London for a hamburger and a beer. The Price for two of us was about $75.
So, needless to say, we purchased less on this trip than any in memory.
OUR ENGLISH FRIENDS: We went to London a little early to see our friends Ian and Shirley Stewart who live in Horton, Bristol. Ian is a retired Physical Therapist (Physiotherapist) who spent his career with the British National Health Service. We met in Palm Springs 35 years ago and have remained in touch ever since. We try to get together with them when we go to England and they always visit with us when they come to the U.S.
It was great to have someone to show us around who understood the mysteries of the London Underground.
OUR TOUR GUIDES: Laura Freedman planned this trip. She arranged lodging in London and planned our group meals, excursions and tours. She and Gregg have been to the British Isles many times and they made this trip particularly enjoyable. We are grateful that she included us; it was the opportunity of a lifetime. As I describe our many adventures in this travelogue, keep in mind that Laura was responsible.
LONDON: London is one of our favorite cities, second only to New York. There is never any excuse to be bored. Here are some of the adventures we recommend:
1. VISIT THE CHURCHILL MUSEUM AND CABINET WAR ROOM located at the “Clive Steps” on King Charles Street in Westminster near the Parliament Building. This is the actual bunker where Winston Churchill ran the government during “The Blitz.” It contains a complete history of his life, much like an American Presidential Library and Museum. There are many exhibits through which you can get a real feel for the hardships suffered by the British people during WWII. It’s a “Must See.”
2. GO TO THE THEATER: The Theater District in London is second only to Broadway in the entire world. Plays and musicals originating in London often end up on Broadway and vice versa. Or, you can see a strictly British offering, such as Shakespeare at the original Old Globe (now restored) or Agatha Christie’s classic Mousetrap which has been playing continuously since 1974 at St. Martin’s Theatre.
We bought tickets for a play called “39 Steps” which we thought was a mystery, a version of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie. It turned out to be a hilarious comedy in the British tradition of Benny Hill. Go see it if you get the chance.
If you’re going to buy tickets for London Theatre (note it’s theatre and not theater) you can do it on the web. There are dozens of sites to choose from. Our advice is don’t have the tickets mailed to you; pick them up in “Will Call” when you arrive at the theatre. If you order on line you’ll get an email confirmation that you can use to identify yourself. You won’t have to worry about international mail service and you can’t misplace your tickets.
3. GO TO BUCKINGHAM PALACE: Laura had made reservations and paid for the tickets on-line in advance for all of us to tour Buckingham Palace. If you do it this way, you’ll get an assigned time and will be whisked to the head of a very long line when you arrive. There are lots of interesting things to see in the Palace including gifts received by the Queen from various Heads of State. Some are funny, some are serious, but, they’re all very expensive. You’ll also be given an opportunity to wander, within limits, in the Royal Garden where the plump Royal Geese supervise the Royal Lawn care. You’ll also have a chance to buy a Royal Knick-Knack in the Royal Gift Shop.
4. FLY ON THE LONDON EYE: The “London Eye” is a gigantic Ferris wheel built for the millennium to give visitors an opportunity to see London from above. Standing 135 Meters (I think that’s over 400 feet) tall, it is now the most popular tourist site in all of England. The gondolas are huge, big enough to hold 20 people standing or sitting, and the “flight” takes about 30 minutes. Because London is a very old city there are no really tall buildings to obstruct your view of the city from the top.
5. TOUR THE TOWER OF LONDON: This is a lot more fun than I thought it would be. The Tower of London is actually a Castle and a number of other buildings within the castle walls. It has been the Royal Residence, the Royal Fortress and, of course, the Royal Prison in its long history and one of the big attractions is the Crown Jewels. What makes the Tower tour so much fun is the tour guides, the “Yeoman Warders,” or, “Beefeaters.” Dressed in their traditional red uniforms with a Shakespearian ruffle around their necks they provide you with a detailed and hilarious history of the Tower.
You’ll enjoy it, I promise.
6. GO TO ST. PAUL’S CATHEDRAL: The original St. Paul’s was a Catholic Church destroyed by the Great Fire in 1666, St. Paul’s was rebuilt by Christopher Wren who provided it with a dome reminiscent of St. Peter’s in Rome. It’s a magnificent church. From St. Paul’s you can cross the Thames on the Millennium Bridge, for pedestrians only, to the site of Shakespeare’s Old Globe.
7. GO SHOPPING: Harrod’s Department Store is not to be missed. It’s the shopper’s Mecca. It’s a “must do” if you haven’t been there before. Around where we stayed at the Le Meridian Piccadilly, there are numerous shopping opportunities. The famous Burlington Arcade is near Piccadilly Circus, (it’s the Times Square of London, and not a real circus). You’ll find many designer shops nearby on Regent Street and Burlington
Gardens. If price is important, you can just “Window Shop.”
EATING IN LONDON: There is an old joke that in Heaven the administrators are English and the chefs are French. In Hell the administrators are French while the chefs are English. England has not traditionally been known for fine cuisine, except among the natives of course. English food was bland and the English liked it that way.
But, times have changed. For one thing there has been a great influx of immigrants from throughout the British Commonwealth and the former Iron Curtain Countries. Huge numbers of tourists from around the world have descended on England causing a substantial increase in “Ethnic” Restaurants. Italian, French, Russian, Hungarian, Indian, Turkish - you name it.
Sure, you can still get “Bangers and Mash” (English Sausage that has absolutely no taste served with unsalted, unbuttered mashed potatoes) - loved only by natives of the British Isles. On the other hand, you will want to try Fish and Chips, but be aware - while the fish will be boned under that frying crust, it won’t be skinned. It will also come with mashed peas – it’s an acquired taste.
We are indebted to Laura Freedman for recommending famous and terrific restaurants for us to enjoy.
If you make reservations on line, be sure to call the restaurant when you arrive in London to confirm your reservation. One restaurant we visited had cancelled our reservation because Laura hadn’t responded to an email they sent to her home e-mail address on the day of the event. They did make amends and accommodated us, but – a word to the wise.
1) RULES is London’s oldest Restaurant established in 1798. Located in Covent Garden, Rules is famous for Game – Venison, etc. Being unwilling to eat “Bambi,” Patricia and I had beef.
Laura arranged for our group of 16 to have a special dining room, famous as the room where King Edward IV entertained his mistress, Lilly Langtree the noted actress. The wine list is international and the food just excellent. You can learn more by checking their website: www.rules.co.uk
2) SIMPSONS IN THE STRAND is famous for its roast beef, and rightly so. Opened in 1828, it has weathered wars, blitz and economic downturns by serving about the best Prime Rib of beef you will ever eat. It’s carved at your table to your exact specifications and is accompanied by the traditional “Yorkshire Pudding.” We thought it was very special. I didn’t find a separate website for Simpson’s but here is a link with more information:
3) LANGAN’S BRASSERIE Near the Ritz Hotel, a half block off Piccadilly on Straton Street, Langan’s Brasserie is a busy and excellent place. I had Steak and Kidney Pie, which I hadn’t had in years, and loved it. At the end of the meal we had strawberries with English Clotted Cream that were “to die for.” This is one of 5 Langan’s Restaurants in London and you can learn about all of them at www.langansrestaurants.co.uk
4) VEERASWAMY is an Indian restaurant on Regent Street near Piccadilly Circus. Those among our number who like Indian food said it was terrific. We’re not crazy about Indian food, so, we’ll take their word for it. If it’s your “cup of tea” you’ll want to go there but be warned it was the most expensive meal we had on the trip – about $150 per person.
5) CECCONI is an Italian Restaurant on Burlington Gardens directly behind the Burlington Arcade. It’s pricy, but, excellent. We’ll go back next time we’re in London.
WHAT ABOUT A PUB? By all means, visit a London Pub. We went to “The Clarence” a half block off Piccadilly. If you’re there during off hours, you’ll have to order at the bar, but, the typical “Pub Food” is very good. We had Fish and Chips (what else?) and a Guinness. During our trip I fell in love with Guinness, the dark ale of the British Isles. I expected it to be warm, it wasn’t. On draft, it wasn’t ice cold, but pleasantly cool. I bought a six pack as soon as we got home.
We also had fun going to a “Sports Pub,” it turned out to be an American Chain – “Cheers” - on a Sunday afternoon when there was an important soccer (football) game on the “tele”. The teams were Manchester United and Manchester City. Every single seat in the bar, plus standing room in the Pub, was packed with Football Fans cheering for their team. It was like being on the 50 yard line: the crowd cheered and booed, leaped up, shook fists and swore at team members who failed to execute the perfect goal.
When the game was over, the place emptied out as if it were closing time. All this excitement and we had a decent hamburger, too. Life is good.
DOWN TO THE SEA: Some smaller cruise ships can navigate up the Thames, but with the larger ones, like our ship the Crystal Symphony, you sail out of Dover. Laura arranged for us to travel by van, with a trailer for our luggage from our hotel to the dock. It takes a couple of hours. Driving through the city, you realize what an incredibly diverse place it is. Caribbean neighborhoods, Indian neighborhoods, Middle Eastern neighborhoods crowd the city center. Also, you travel through historic neighborhoods including Trafalgar Square. But, soon you enter the emerald green countryside stretching for miles between villages. Then, you reach the “White Cliffs of Dover, and, yes they really are white.
A WEE BIT OF GENEALOGY. I have Scottish ancestors on both sides of my family – Hamiltons on my mother’s side and Russells on my father’s. Patricia’s father was 2nd generations Irish – his father was born in County Cork and came to the United States, specifically Brooklyn, in about 1882 at the age of 20.
Neither of us had previously been to Ireland or Scotland and it’s one of the reasons we were so looking forward to this cruise.
SCOTLAND, for the non-traveler (and recent High School graduates who never studied geography), shares an island and a language with England. Aside for those similarities, they have little in common, except that they all stand up for “God Save the Queen.” Scottish people are very friendly, but, they’re understandably distrustful of strangers. They will often not speak until spoken to, and even then are likely to answer your question with a shrug of the shoulders or a head shake. There is, it is said, only one way to be sure a Scot will speak to you and that is to say to him, “Are you English?”
The long fight of the Irish for independence is well known. Not as well known is the long struggle of the Scots. (See Mel Gibson in “Braveheart”). Scotland now has its own Parliament and even its own Pound, although the law requires Scottish shopkeepers to accept English Pounds as well.
Scottish humor emphasizes their differences. Example: An Englishman is supposed to have said to a Scot, “In England we feed Oats to our horses while Scotland feeds Oats to its men” The Scot replies, “And in England you have very fine horses while in Scotland we have very fine men.” Scottish Oatmeal, by the way is about the best you’ll ever taste. Patricia says it’s 2nd only to Irish Oatmeal.
EDINBURGH: We actually spent 2 days in port in Edinburgh giving us plenty of time to enjoy this terrific port.
ST. ANDREWS On our first day in Edinburgh we went to St. Andrews, the birthplace of golf. I’ve played golf about 3 times in the last 30 years, but I toyed with the idea of practicing enough to be able to play. Rich Hutton and I vowed we would play, but, two things stood in our way: 1) You have to have a minimum handicap and 2) The price of the golf package was about $800 a person.
So we elected the “walking tour” of St. Andrews which included a guided tour of the 18th Hole of the “Old Course” led by a local resident golfer. We learned that there are actually 6 golf courses collectively known as St. Andrews Links The “Old Course,” was being used for golf as early as 1552 and is now the site of the British Open every 5 years. The “New Course” first played in the 1850s.
Our guide told us that there is a dispute between the Dutch and the Scots as to who invented golf. A similar game with sticks and balls was played in Holland as early as the 15th century. “But,” said our guide, “there is one thing for sure, we invented the hole.”
He also told us they lengthen the course almost every year to make up for the increase in the quality of golf clubs and balls. They now have a hole they reconstructed at 615 yards and, he said, “Tiger was still on in two”
The St. Andrews Golf Courses are owned by the town of St. Andrews and residents can play any course they want, anytime they want for an annual fee of 120 Pounds.
There are several golf clubs, in addition to the famous “Royal and Ancient” and there are even, he told us, two for women. “Separate but equal” still lives in Scotland.
The weather was unusually beautiful while we were there, but, it can be brutal on golfers. The Old Course itself doesn’t look as if it would be hard to play from a distance, because of the absence of trees, but up close you see how uneven the ground is (it looks as if there is no such thing as a good “lie”) and the bunkers are awesome. I’m glad I left my clubs at home.
THE EDINBURGH MILITARY TATTOO: August is “Festival” month in Edinburgh and the most famous part of the festival is the “Military Tattoo” which takes place in Edinburgh Castle. The “Tattoo” is basically a military band concert, but, oh, what military bands they are.
The Festival itself takes place on the long main street leading up to the castle. There are artists, musicians and acting groups all performing during the day but, when the sun goes down attention focuses on the Castle where bleachers have been erected for the public. Tickets for the Tattoo are very hard to come buy, ours were provided by the cruise line. If you plan to attend be sure to get your tickets well in advance.
Included in the concert were the “Royal Pipers” a group consisting of bagpipe players from throughout the United Kingdom. There were Highland Dancers in addition to bands from Taiwan, Russia and Trinidad Tobago. One of the highlights for us was a “Drum and Fife Corps” from Massachusetts. They were a big hit with the predominately American audience. There was even the “Royal Mounted Band,” all on horseback. At the end of the show a single “Piper” perched high on the castle wall played the traditional melody for a fallen comrade.
The Tattoo was definitely one of the highlights of our trip and we highly recommend you see it if you ever plan to be in Edinburgh in August. Just one word of caution, be sure you plan for cold wet weather. Dress in layers and wear a rain poncho as umbrellas aren’t allowed, they obstruct the view of the other spectators.
THE SCOTCH MALT WHISKEY SOCIETY: Let’s make one thing clear: A Person of Scottish ancestry is not “Scotch,” he or she is a “Scot.” “Scotch” is whiskey, a very special whiskey distilled in Scotland for centuries. There are dozens of distilleries in Scotland and most of the major brands – Chivas Rigal, J & B, Johnny Walker, etc. – are blends of various scotches.
For the real aficionado, however, there is “Single Malt Scotch.” There are nearly 3 dozen distilleries in Scotland each producing its own “Signature” Single Malt. The taste is quite different depending on the area the grain is grown. “Highland” Scotch tastes much different than “Lowland” Scotch and a trip to Scotland is not complete without a “Single Malt Scotch” tasting.
There is an organization dedicated to the love and preservation of Single Malt Scotch Whiskey, “the Scotch Malt Whiskey Society.” There is a Club Room in Leith a suburb of Edinburgh. Both Gregg Freedman and Larry Webber, from our group, are members, so all the men were able to go to the tasting room as guests of Members.
We were instructed on the differences in various Scotches and each of us ordered a “wee dram” of a different Scotch. We then proceeded to pass the glasses around so all seven of us tasted seven different Scotches. We also were able to get an inexpensive (for Britain) hamburger for ten pounds ($20) while we enjoyed the tasting.
There is a Branch of the Society in the U.S.A and if you join you’ll be invited to various events for Single Malt Lovers. Here’s the website if you’re interested:
INVERGORDON is the port for Inverness and Loch Ness, both some distance from the Port. This, of course, is the home of the famous “Loch Ness Monster.” We were told that about a third of the people (mostly Americans) who go to Loch Ness go there to “see” the monster which hasn’t been sighted in some 50 years. This is roughly equivalent to the number of Americans who believe that the WWF (World Wrestling Federation) is on the “up and up.” Frighteningly most of these are Registered Voters.
We understand the Loch and countryside are beautiful, but, we elected just to ride the bus into Inverness, the major city, to look around the town. I did find a Scottish store where I was able to buy mufflers with the plaid of my Hamilton and Russell ancestors. Patricia put her foot down when I looked at the Kilts. There were a few interesting shops, but, not many, and we soon came back to the ship.
NORTHERN IRELAND is very much a part of Britain. Torn by internal strife until about 10 years ago, it is now at peace thanks to the “Good Friday” accords hammered out by an international committee headed by former American Senate Majority Leader, George Mitchell, who is somewhat of a national hero in Northern Ireland. There are 26 Counties in the Republic of Ireland and only 6 in Northern Ireland.
The division of the people of Northern Ireland is blamed on Religion – Catholic versus Protestant. But, it is much more complicated than that.
The British took all of Ireland by force centuries ago and subjugated many Irish people to work as indentured farmers. The poverty of the Irish in the 19th Century exacerbated by the “Potato Famine” caused mass starvation and mass immigration to the New World. Read “Angela’s Ashes” and you’ll see how conditions remained pretty much the same well into the 20th Century.
In Northern Ireland the Protestants are descendants of the English “oppressors” while the Catholics are the heirs of the Irish “oppressed.” So, the problem was, and is, Nationalistic, Ethnic (the English are Anglo Saxons and the Irish are Celts), and Class. (Traditionally “upper class” English and “lower class” Irish)
To say that the fighting in Northern Ireland was “Catholics” versus “Protestants” misstates the case and, in my opinion, is unfair to Christianity, because this conflict is often held up as an example of Christian “intolerance.”
In Belfast we elected to take the “City” tour. We were taken to “Queens University” and to the Parliament, which, uniquely, is in the Belfast suburbs in a very pastoral setting.
The scenery is beautiful, but, the city is still depressingly segregated with the “Catholics” in one neighborhood and the “Protestants” in another. British flags are flown in the Protestant areas and the flag of the Republic of Ireland flies in Catholic areas. While they are now “at peace,” it’s hard to imagine this standoff can continue forever.
A number of our travel-mates loved their tours of the countryside, so, if you go there, that’s what we recommend you do.
Being shown the “Europa Hotel” and told that it has been bombed more often than any other hotel in the world (14 times) was not our definition of “fun.”
IRELAND is booming economically. In an effort to attract business, the Irish established a low-tax environment “side-by-jowl” with the Socialist paradise of Northern Europe. Companies are flocking there and there is virtually no unemployment. They’ve actually experienced an influx of Eastern European workers, mostly Polish, to take up the slack of the shortage of native Irish workers.
Irish people now regularly fly to Boston and New York to shop, where their Euro goes so much farther. The government is encouraging the children of the Irish emigrants of the 19th and 20th Centuries to move back “home” to retire.
Patricia was told by our Irish Travel Representative that if she “proves” her Irish ancestry she can have dual-citizenship and get an Irish passport. This would allow her to buy property in Ireland and move there permanently to retire if she wished. It’s certainly worth thinking about; Ireland is about the most beautiful country you’ll ever see.
When you see a “brown” field in California, you know it is NOT under cultivation. If you see a “brown” field in Ireland you know it IS under cultivation as it has just been mowed. It truly is the “Emerald Green Isle.”
DUBLIN was our first stop in the Irish Republic. We didn’t sign up for an organized tour there, but followed our leader, Laura, into the Center of old Dublin for a shopping tour. It was Sunday, so some stores were closed, but enough were open that we were able to buy a few gifts.
After heavy shopping on Grafton Street, home of the original “Molly Malone” statue, we went to “Temple Bar.”
Temple Bar is not a pub; it’s a geographic feature of Central Dublin referring to its relationship to the River Liffey. These days it’s a neighborhood, the only part of the city that remains in the old medieval pattern. It’s referred to as the “Cultural Center” of Dublin.
It’s also the “Pub Crawl Center” of Dublin. And, in Temple Bar there is indeed a pub known as THE Temple Bar. All the other Pubs in the area also have “Temple Bar” as part of their name, but, by the 3rd pint of Guinness you really “don’t give a damn.” It is required, by convention, that you acquire a tee-shirt from THE Temple Bar, and its gift shop full of shirts, hats and mugs, is actually larger than the pub itself. At least it seems that way.
We had a lovely Beef Pie for lunch at “Farrington’s Temple Bar”, a block away from THE Temple Bar. The food was great and it was no where near as crowded.
Dublin is a place we will some day return to spend a lot more time.
WATERFORD: Our second Irish stop was in Waterford, home of the famous
Crystal factory. Because of the currency valuation problem, we were told you can
buy Waterford Crystal cheaper in Macy’s than you can at the factory. So we elected
not to go but to take a shuttle into the town of Waterford. We were
sorry we did, there isn’t much there. All our travel-mates who went on tours of
the country-side raved about how beautiful it was. Perhaps we should have done that,
CORK County Cork was a highlight of the trip for us.
Before we left we had done a little investigating and had learned, by getting a copy of
his death certificate, the birthplace of Patricia’s grandfather - Dunmanway a town of
about 2,500 in County Cork about 50 miles from the Cork City.
We arranged a car and driver to take us there and show us the other sights of County Cork. We were met dockside by our driver, Dermott, who became our friend for a day.
He drove us to Dunmanway, through some of the most beautiful country you’ll ever see. We drove through the center of town, noticing the number of businesses bearing Patricia’s maiden name, Mahoney (O’Mahony in the original Gaelic). Her grandfather changed it to “Americanize” it when he arrived in 1882. Then we went to the little church, St. Patrick’s (what else?) built in the early 19th century. We met and talked to the Parish Priest who agreed to ask the church secretary to research their records for her grandfather’s Baptismal Certificate. Born in 1861, he was a very successful contractor in Brooklyn until his death during WWII.
In the little churchyard was the ancient cemetery where we found many O’Mahony’s including many whose birthdates would indicate a direct relationship with her grandfather. We lit a candle in the church for him, 126 years after he left this village, and somehow it seemed to “bring him home.” This was a very moving experience for Patricia and for me, too.
BLARNEY: After leaving Dunmanway, Dermott took us to Blarney where we saw the castle and the long line of people waiting to kiss the Blarney Stone. Kissing the stone is supposed to give one the “Gift of Gab,” something neither of us has ever lacked. So we elected to do our Irish shopping at the Blarney Woolen Mills and have lunch in a local Pub instead. We invited Dermott to join us.
The Pub, Muskerry Tavern, is typical of Pubs outside the major cities. The waitress informed us, “Today we have beef” in a very nice, but, sort of “take it or leave it way.” We took it and weren’t sorry. I had a Guinness to go with it. What else?
COBH: Then we drove to the Port City of Cobh (Pronounced “Cove”) where our ship was docked and from which immigrants from County Cork to America boarded their ships. The town is built on 6 different levels each further up the hill. We went to St. Cameron’s Cathedral. (We didn’t know there was a St. Cameron. Did you?) It is beautiful. Built on the cliff overlooking the harbor, it was completed in 1882, the same year Daniel O’Mahony sailed to his new home in America. He couldn’t have missed it as he waited for transportation to the States.
We speculated that Daniel must have come to this Cathedral before he boarded the ship to America and it may have inspired him to build houses of worship in his adopted land. His firm, Mahoney and Sons, built Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica at 59th Street and 5th Ave in Brooklyn.
THANK YOU, DERMOTT. If you really want to see the area you are visiting in the very short time you are in port during a cruise, arrange a car and driver. Yes, it costs a few dollars more, but the “excursion” prices are not cheap. We figured that if you had two couples the price wouldn’t be a lot more than if you paid for 4 individual people to go on a ship’s excursion.
Plan to hire a driver in at least one port on your next cruise and see if you don’t agree with us. You can hire a taxi or limo when you get off the ship in most ports, but, there is no guarantee your driver will be a qualified tour guide.
GUERNSEY: One of the offshore British Islands, Guernsey is the only British possession that was occupied by the Germans during WWII. It’s a “Free Port” and a place tourists are supposed to find bargains. We didn’t find any and spent about an hour in town before we returned to the ship.
One caution, Guernsey, like Monaco, has its own currency which is practically worthless off the island. If you pay in British currency, they will invariably try to give you Guernsey Pounds in change. Our advice? Use your credit card.
One thing that we found interesting: when the tide goes out on Guernsey, it really goes out. It was low tide when we arrived and the small boat harbor had not a drop of water in it. All the boats, and there were many, were laying on the sandy bottom of the harbor waiting for the high tide to come in and rescue them.
CRYSTAL SYMPHONY: We can’t end without touching on our ship, the Crystal Symphony. I wrote an essay called “On Cruising” a couple of years ago in which I extolled the virtue of Crystal Cruises and you can find that at my website www.frankhall.com. I won’t repeat myself, but will say that the Crystal Symphony has been completely refurbished and it’s beautiful. The cabins seem more roomy, the public rooms are sparkling and the food remains the best at sea. We had just a few little complaints about this trip:
1) we prefer more days “at sea.” We had only two on this twelve day cruise, a
2) There were three “Formal Nights,” at least one too many for our taste. And
3) (this is Patricia’s complaint) they no longer carry St. John Knits in their shop.
The Casino has added new games to keep up with the “Texas Hold ‘em” rage and there always seemed to be “room at the table” when we wanted to play. The “Penny Slots” that the Australians call “Pokeys” have taken over the Slot area. While they appear cheap, you can bet as much as a dollar a pull. They’re a lot of fun with loads of High-Tech features.
The Computer Room has been greatly expanded. You can either pay them to operate your lap-top in your room, or you can pay them to use the computer room, but, either way there’s no excuse for not keeping up with your email. There are knowledgeable people to help you with your digital photos or cure your “high tech phobias.”
This is a great cruise itinerary and a great ship. We recommend it.
IN CLOSING: This was a wonderful trip made special by being in the company of good friends. Our thanks to all of them for putting up with us.