This is another in our series of travelogues about our travel adventures. This cruise sponsored by the Weekly Standard Magazine spanned 10 days in May 2011 with an overnight stay in Barcelona before boarding and two extra nights in London before coming home. Our travel partners were Barry and Marsha Lacy of Atlanta and Palm Beach Gardens who have shared several Weekly Standard Cruises with us in the past.
THE ITINERARY: We began in Barcelona and made stops in Gibralter, Cadiz in Spain, Lisbon in Portugal, Vigo in Spain, Cherbourg in France and Bruges in Belgium before docking in Dover, England for our stay in London.
THE WEEKLY STANDARD: The Weekly Standard is a weekly magazine of Conservative Opinion which is produced by a Writing and Editing Staff that includes William Kristol, Fred Barnes and Stephen Hayes all of whom appear regularly on Fox News and were our hosts for this Cruise. Also along for this cruise were the Publisher Terry Eastland, Writers Andrew Ferguson, author of the recent bestseller, "Crazy U:" Literary Editor, Phillip Terzian; Deputy Editor, Richard Starr; Staff writer and Author of numerous hilarious books, P. J. O'Rourke; the producer of the controversial, but wonderful, movie "Waiting for Superman," Michael Flaherty; and former American Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton.
As usual with these cruises we will deal first with our adventures in port and on the ship. Because this travelogue is being written nearly 10 months after the event, the comments about the Weekly Standard seminars which follow will be devoted to the speakers leaving out the political conversation because it is pretty much dated now.
GETTING TO EUROPE: For those of us living on the West Coast, getting to Europe usually eats up a whole day. There's a 6 hour flight to New York or Washington or Atlanta, a 1 to 3 hour layover then a 9 hour flight to Europe usually London Heathrow or Frankfurt; followed by another layover and a local flight to your destination. All of that can eat up a whole 24 hour day and when you throw in the 9 hour time change, you've lost the better part of two days. There are ways to shorten it, but, if you're one of those Frequent Fliers as we are, you can never seem to get the most convenient flight for you.
This year we discovered a new way to do it. Jet Blue recently began service from our local Airport in Burbank (20 minutes from our house) direct to JFK. We also discovered that Continental has a direct flight from Newark to Barcelona. So, we decided to fly to New York, have dinner at our New York "home" restaurant San Martin on 49st St. near 3rd Avenue, stay the night in our favorite New York Hotel (the San Carlos), get a good night's rest and adjust to the first 3 hours of the time change. The next day after we shopped on 5th Avenue and lunched at Club 21, we boarded an 8 hour evening overnight flight to Barcelona. We arrived rested and after a short nap were ready to go out on the town.
We think we've found the only way to fly to Europe.
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT: We have used a very reliable limo service for years to get us to the airport on trips like this. The fare is usually cheaper than a taxi would be and it's a big saving in both time and money compared to airport parking fees these days. There is another big plus, when you arrive home tired and exhausted there is nothing like spotting your name on a driver's placard, someone who is there to retrieve you and your luggage to take you home while you doze in the back seat.
Patricia and I rose at 3:30 AM to be ready for a 5:30 pick up to make our 7 AM flight. But, our driver somehow thought he was picking us up at 6:30. At 5:35 I called the Limo company and asked where our car was. They called the driver who showed up 20 minutes later and got us to the airport just in time for our luggage to make it and us too. We were the last to board and received a brief sitting ovation from the other passengers. A disaster was averted. But, the near miss points up another advantage of our overnight stay in New York. Had we missed the plane, we still could have kept our schedule; we just would have been 6 hours later to arrive in New York.
EATING IN NEW YORK: I've written a lot about eating in New York and have covered San Martin and Club 21 in previous travelogues. They have both been in the same location for a very long time and both have excellent food. In addition, to us, they epitomize the best of food diversity in New York.
San Martin is a neighborhood restaurant; there are hundreds of them in New York. We always eat there on our first night in "The City," the same waiters have been waiting on us for 15 years. They're always busy, but, we've never needed a reservation, because like many seniors we tend to eat early. It's a half block from the Waldorf Astoria and I'm sure many diners are referred by the Waldorf Concierge. There's also a crowd of "regulars" who arrive early at the bar and eat late. The food is Italian and Northern Mediterranean. On this occasion I had the Risotto Fruta di Mare which was outstanding and Patricia had Veal Parmesan, as always so tender you can cut it with your fork.
Club 21 a New York tradition going back to the Prohibition era, has always been a place where famous people gather and tourists gather to see the famous people. A man must wear a tie to eat at 21, but at lunch they will seat you in the Bar without one. The atmosphere is very traditional, with various types of old fashioned toys hanging from the low ceilings. You will need a reservation, but you can make one on their website or through "Opentable.com." Like a lot of New York Restaurants, it doesn't open until Noon and it will always be crowded, so you probably won't get seated right away. The service is friendly and the food is worth writing home about. It's always listed on the Forbes list of the best places in Manhattan and just about every "Top 10" List.
The first time I lunched at 21 was 1972 and I clearly remember marveling at the menu listing a $12 hamburger, those were the days of the 19 cent hamburger at McDonald's and I wondered if anyone ever bought one at those prices. Well, Hamburger is still on the menu, although the price has increased to $29 and I had one. It was certainly excellent, perfectly cooked and so big you had to eat it "open-face." My curiosity was sated, but it was a long time coming - nearly 40 years. Patricia had a more conventional sandwich and we lingered over coffee to enjoy the atmosphere.
THE FLIGHT TO BARCELONA: We were surprised to find that our "Business Class" seat on Continental was actually a First Class seat sold by them as "Business /First" It reclined all the way to flat and I was actually able to sleep for a little while. I'm usually wide awake on overseas flights. We had steak for dinner and Patricia and I agreed it was the best "Airplane Food" we've ever had. The flight was on time and we arrived in Barcelona as rested as could be. We recommend you try Continental, too.
BARCELONA: We've written often about Barcelona. The unique buildings by the famous Spanish architect, Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926) have to be the highlight of a city tour. One, his masterpiece, The Sagrada Familia Cathedral, is still under construction nearly a hundred years after it was begun in 1915. It won't be completed until the mid-21st Century and the construction site is said to be the most visited spot in Europe. Many of Gaudi's buildings have been named "World Heritage Sites." You can see most of his work in Barcelona and a quick search in Google will provide photos to review ahead of time.
A walk through Old Town along with a stroll down nearby Las Ramblas, the long wide "walking" street, is a must. On Las Ramblas you'll see vendors selling a variety of exotic birds, none of which you'd be able to get through Customs to bring home, and numerous unique "human statues," which aren't for sale, except to pose for your photography. There's a very large Lladro store for collectors looking for hard to find pieces and many stores selling fine Spanish merchandise. You'll find plenty of "truly tacky" souvenirs, too.
EATING AND SLEEPING IN BARCELONA: First, you'll have to adjust to the Spanish life style. Stores are open from about 10 AM to about 1 PM. Then close for a leisurely lunch and Siesta. They reopen at 4 PM and stay open until 7 or 8 PM. Spanish Restaurants often open at 9 or even 10 PM to serve dinner and most people aren't finished eating dinner until after Midnight. That's why you need a "Siesta" in the afternoon.
Lucky for us Americans, the Spanish also invented "Tapas," small portions of dinner fare served as Hors d'oeuvres in early evening. We often dine on Tapas, usually served at the same time as our "Earlybird Special" back home.
On this trip we were only in Barcelona for 24 hours and did not have a memorable meal except for the good company provided by our friends. We did enjoy attending our favorite Flamenco Dance Theatre, El Cordobes on Las Ramblas the one evening we had there. It's great, you'd enjoy it. – You can actually buy tickets online. For restaurant recommendations, check our other travelogues on Barcelona.
Our Hotel, the Casanova, chosen by the Cruise line was one of the worst we've experienced. With Gaudi, Picasso and Dali influencing Spanish art and architecture, you'll find some pretty weird interior decorating, too. Such a place is the Casanova where not a single piece of furniture is comfortable. Lighting is in the 10 foot ceiling making it impossible for women to apply makeup and the shower head is almost directly overhead. If you love "Modern Art" you may enjoy the Hotel Casanova, but, not if you treasure a good night's sleep.
GIBRALTER: A hardy band of wild apes and about 30,000 humans, all British citizens, inhabit this small peninsula attached to mainland Spain. Strategically placed at the entrance to the Mediterranean, Gibralter has been a British Territory since 1710. The Spanish tried to take it back a few decades later, but failed. The Citizens have twice in the last 20 years voted to remain an independent territory and part of the British Commonwealth. The Spanish haven't given up entirely and are expected to appeal to the United Nations one of these days soon.
In the mean time, the apes definitely think the Territory belongs to them. They are quite brazen thieves attracted to shinny objects, so wearing dangling earrings or necklaces on Gibralter is not advised. While the apes are protected by law, nothing on the books protects you from the apes.
There is really not much to do here. It's a "Duty Free Port," so you can buy liquor fairly cheap and there are the usual number of electronic and perfume stores offering "good" bargains, but, I've never found anything I couldn't resist. So, we found a British Pub on the public square where we ordered a "Pint" of good British ale and enjoyed watching our fellow tourists look for things that THEY couldn't resist. British beer is served warm here (and London, too), but, a good bartender or server will hear your American accent and see that yours is served chilled.
You can take a tour up the Rock, where the majority of the apes hang out, but climbing has never been my favorite sport.
CADIZ, SPAIN: This is the port from which the excursions to Seville leave. On your first cruise to Spain, you'll certainly want to visit Seville. It's historic and beautiful. But, we spent 4 days in Seville on our car trip to Spain, and we'd never seen Cadiz, so we opted to stay and attend Mass in the historic Santa Cruz Cathedral. Our friends the Lacy's took the excursion to Seville and had a wonderful visit there.
Cadiz is the oldest City in Western Europe, founded originally by the Phoenicians in the 12th Century BC, it has been a port city ever since. Columbus set sail from Cadiz on two of his voyages and it has been the home port of the Spanish Navy since early in the 18th Century. The Cathedral was built about 1750 on the site of an original 12th Century version which burned down. It took awhile to build, so it contains several different architectural styles and many of the artifacts from the original 12th Century Church.
The Old Town is truly old, with many narrow winding streets and it's easy to get lost, which we did trying to find the Cathedral. When we finally found it, thanks to some helpful British folks on "Holiday", we just had time to get inside before the Mass started.
I think it's sad to see the decline of Christianity in Europe, (Here in the States, too, for that matter). This was the only Mass in this old Church on this Sunday, and only about 100 people, (about half tourists), attended. It was conducted by a Priest and a Deacon, but there was an elderly man, a "One-man band" if you will, who performed all other functions. He was the Alter "Boy," the alms collector, the usher and the greeter all in one. He was busier than the proverbial "one-armed paper hanger."
We had an undistinguished lunch in the Plaza and enjoyed wandering the streets in the afternoon before returning to the ship. Since it was Sunday, few shops were open, but, most corners were decorated with beautiful displays of flowers and our stroll produced many fine photos.
Cadiz is still a significant port and the harbor is busy with traffic from around the world.
LISBON, PORTUGAL: If you have plowed through this essay hoping you'd find some great suggestions about Lisbon, I'm afraid you'll be disappointed. Since we've been to Lisbon a half dozen times on various cruises, we decided to pass on any of the excursions offered by Holland America.
There are numerous things to see in Lisbon and the surrounding countryside, almost all of them beautiful and interesting. We've been to the mountain town of Sintra (where you'll find the most beautiful Portuguese Pottery), strolled the Beach at Cascais and visited the casino at Estoril. We've climbed to the fortress overlooking the City of Lisbon and toured the great Cathedral. See our previous travelogues for descriptions of these adventures – particularly our cruise from Barcelona to Lisbon in 2006.
The visit to Lisbon was scheduled for two days, so on the first day we took a cab to the Baixa (Downtown shopping area). Unfortunately our visit coincided with their afternoon Siesta and many shops were closed. We did feel that Lisbon had gone downhill since we were there five years ago. More rubbish on the street, more beggars on the corners. We were aware that Portugal is one of the EU countries considered to be near bankruptcy and there did seem to be more empty shops than before. However, we stopped for a Beer in an outdoor dining area on the main square, and it seemed just as busy as in the past.
Barry had made a reservation for us in a famous and highly rated restaurant named simply "11" (using the number as the name). But, it was pouring down rain and we would have had to walk a quarter of a mile or so without an umbrella to the taxi stand, so we decided to have dinner on the ship.
We have loved Lisbon on previous trips and we know you'll love it too, if you're just a bit more adventuresome than we turned out to be on this visit.
VIGO, SPAIN: Vigo is just north of the Portuguese border in the Galicia Region. A port we had not visited before, we opted to take an excursion that would take us to the little town of Tui and its ancient cathedral; the port town of Baiona where the "Pinta" from Columbus' Fleet arrived to announce the discovery of the New World, as well as the Northern Spanish Wine Country.
Nearby is the Santiago de Compostela Shrine, visited each year by many Christian pilgrims, some of whom also trek on to Tui's Cathedral. Construction was started on the Cathedral around 1120 and it was finally dedicated in 1225. During that 105 years Portugal was split off from Spain and the Fathers found themselves staring across the Mino River at the twin town of Malenca now in a foreign country. As with all Cathedrals it has been updated over the years, it was damaged by the famous earthquake in Lisbon in 1755, but unlike all the churches of Lisbon in the South, the building survived. It is simply magnificent and because the town is tiny, it has thousands fewer visitors in an average week. There are many chapels where Mass is still said and a small museum with many artifacts of Spanish and Church history. And, there are some terrific "photo Ops" It was worth the visit.
Galicia is famous for its wines and its flowers. Camellias are a principle product and are in evidence everywhere. Wine grapes are principally for white wine, so the grape vines are elevated high off the ground to maximize exposure to the sun. A new crop is now making inroads; Kiwis grow well in the climate. All of this makes a drive through the countryside very scenic. We stopped at a small winery where we sampled some Galician wines. We weren't motivated to buy any, but, several folks on our bus sent a case home.
Our final stop on this excursion was the little tourist town of Baiona. Legend has it that the town was founded by Greek sailors in 140 B.C. They couldn't have picked a more beautiful spot. The little harbor is chock full of "pleasure craft "and the harbor is surrounded by hotels and condos, much favored by British tourists. The British are famous, of course, for "taking the sun" in Spain on their "holidays." Sitting proudly in the middle of the harbor is the Pinta, no doubt a replica, but not identified as such, so, who knows? It was the first of Columbus ships to reach Spain on the return voyage in 1493 and spread the word of the success of the Columbian adventure.
From Baiona we returned to the ship in Vigo through beautiful rolling countryside. It's an excursion we recommend if you take a similar cruise.
CHERBOURG: This port is the gateway to Normandy. If you haven't been to the Normandy Beaches or the American Cemetery and World War II monument, it's a "must do." The excursion by bus from Cherbourg will take the better part of your day but we can promise you won't get bored.
June 6, 1944 is known as "D Day," the long awaited invasion of Western Europe by American, Canadian, British and Free French armed forces to retake France from her German conquerors. The Germans knew it was coming, but they weren't sure where or when it would happen. American troops had already recaptured Sicily and were marching up the "Italian Boot" in the Mediterranean.
Under the command of General Dwight Eisenhower, the supreme commander of Allied Forces, the Normandy Coast was attacked at 5 Beaches: Omaha and Utah Beaches were the responsibility of the Americans while the Canadians (with help from a British Commando Battalion) took Juno and the British with help from the Free French, Australians, New Zealanders and various European troops stormed Sword and Gold Beaches. The largest, most intense battle took place at Omaha Beach where the German Army was dug in and fortified. It was the largest amphibious landing in history with more than 160,000 men coming ashore on June 6th alone.
At Omaha Beach the German fortifications were the strongest of any point. More than 34,000 American boys landed at Omaha that day and many of them are among the 9,300 graves in the American Cemetery here at Colleville-sur-Mer.
Many of the "German" troops were Rumanian (who had sided with Germany against the Russians) and other Eastern Europeans who were conscripted as the German Army marched toward Russia. They had joined the German army instead of spending the rest of the war in a POW or, worse yet, a Concentration Camp. By 1944 Germany had depleted its supply of young men to fight its war and many troops of German origin were as young as 13 and 14. The Allied troops weren't much older. The majority of Americans buried in the cemetery at Omaha Beach were too young to vote.
Simultaneous to the invasion, the 82nd and 101st Airbourne divisions were parachuted inland in an attempt to rally the French Resistance in the area and put the Germans in position to be sandwiched in between. Unfortunately the Americans were dropped during the night and a dark night at that. Many failed to successfully form into the intended fighting Force because of the darkness. So, undaunted, the stragglers formed their own fighting units or joined up with the Free French to harass the Germans from behind. Over 24,000 troops were airlifted in that night.
OUR TOUR: We went to the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer when we toured France by car with our friends Dick and Sally Deniston some 15 years ago. However, we didn't take a tour and missed much of the experience by skipping it. We recommend you take the packaged tour from your ship or as planned by your tour company to learn the history and geography of the historic site.
You'll start with a visit to the Cemetery and Monument at Colleville-sur-Mer. Your lasting memory will be of all the graves, more than 9,000 of them laid side by side and stretching as far as the eye can see. Each has a white Cross or Star of David as a marker with the name and rank of the young man buried in the grave. There are 4 young women buried here among the 9,000 soldiers and sailors, Red Cross workers who accompanied the troops.
The Monument is beautiful, dominated by a statue dedicated to "American Youth" and a white marble building filled with exhibits and opportunities to learn.
After your tour of the Monument you'll be driven the short distance to Omaha Beach itself, it's quite beautiful. If the weather is good, and ours was, you can walk on the Beach and see the German emplacements on the hill. After your Beach visit you'll be driven up to the German emplacements and be allowed to walk among the concrete fortifications from which the Germans raked our troops with fire. Many of our casualties were among those who landed first on the morning of the 6th and it took three full days for the Americans to prevail here.
Then you'll be driven to the other American beach, Utah Beach, where the fighting was much less intense and Americans prevailed before nightfall of the 6th. At Utah Beach there is a café and souvenir store where you'll be fed lunch and be given free time.
Following lunch you'll travel by bus to the village of Sainte-Mere-Eglise, where the 82nd Airborne landed. It announces itself as the first town to be liberated during the invasion. One Paratrooper, John Steele, was stranded on the side of the church when his parachute was caught on the steeple. He spent hours hanging by his harness while German troops took potshots at him until he was saved by the townspeople. A popular movie was made about the incident.
At Sainte-Mere-Eglise (translates as St. Mary's Church) there's a very nice museum, the Airbourne Museum, dedicated to the men who liberated the town. It's a lovely tribute.
At the end of the day, you'll know much more about those brave young people, the "Greatest Generation," who helped guarantee our freedom. You'll shed a tear and probably say a few prayers but, you'll be glad you came to Normandy.
BRUGGE, BELGIUM: Brugge is a beautiful Medieval City on the coast of Belgium in the Province of West Flanders. Belgium was part of the Netherlands until about 1830 when it won its independence. Half the population speaks Flemish and the other half speak French.
Brugge was actually founded in about 1130 and was one of the largest ports in Europe until its channel to the Ocean filled with silt around 1500. The City languished for several hundred years until the new port of "Zeebrugge" on the coast was completed in 1907. The old town was rehabilitated and it became a tourist attraction after the 2nd World War as its medieval architecture was almost unblemished.
Today, Brugge has over 100,000 residents and is really "Eye Candy" to those anxious to see what Europe looked like in the past. There are many buildings including the old City Hall (Stadhuis) on Burg Square and many others all worth exploring along with numerous museums. We toured the city when here on a River Cruise in 2001, so this time we elected not to take a tour, but, rather just enjoy the old town.
When you dock in Zeebrugge you have several choices of transportation to travel the 8 or so miles to Brugge. The ship recommended we take the train which was fast and inexpensive. But the train station is not in old town Brugge, so you'll have a bit of a hike into the historic area. We shopped, although it seemed as if every store specialized in Chocolate. We had a baguette sandwich in a French Sandwich Shop (highly recommended) and enjoyed a Belgian Beer in an open air café. Belgian Beer is second only to German in Europe; you can't leave without trying it. We wanted to take a canal boat, but the town was so swamped with tourists, we didn't have time. We were there on a Saturday, when several cruise ships were docked in Zeebrugge and all their passengers were strolling the streets of old town Brugge.
LONDON: Our last port was Dover, at the base of the "White Cliffs." They are beautiful indeed, especially on a bright sunny day like the one on which we arrived.
Barry had arranged for a van to meet us and take us into central London to our hotel the Renaissance Chancery Court. Unfortunately the van was designed for British Tourists who typically carry one suitcase plus a carry-on when they go cruising. It simply wasn't big enough to carry the luggage of four American tourists each with two bags plus carry-on. We had to hire a taxi to carry the passengers and use the van for the bags.
I elected to ride with the bags in the van and enjoyed getting to know our driver a Turkish Cypriot (Native of Cypress) who came to Britain in infancy and spoke English like a native Londoner. He was worried about his 15 year old daughter who insisted she was going to get a tattoo. "Over my dead body," he said. I guess "Dads" have the same problems everywhere.
THE BRITISH MUSEUM: Chancery Court is very near the Historic British Museum and the Lacey's who are very familiar with the area and the Museum took us on a guided tour. The Museum is home to an incredible array of the most famous historical artifacts in the world.
When we first visited Athens nearly 20 years ago, we visited the Greek National Museum there and were struck by the fact that so many displays carried an explanation that "This is a replica of the original which is in the British Museum." The same was true when we visited the ruins of Carthage in Tunisia. So many of the ancient treasures from the Ancient Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans, were "liberated" by the British to save them from destruction and vandalism and brought to the British Museum for "safe keeping" Most are still there, although the countries where these treasures were originated are now seeking their return.
A visit to the British Museum will expose you to some of the most famous artifacts to be found anywhere. A case in Point: the first item we encountered was the Rosetta Stone. THE Rosetta Stone. Plan to spend at least a day here.
It has more than 2 Million objects in its collection and a tour of the highlights online will take a whole day. We had only an afternoon, so we concentrated on the exhibits from North Africa and Europe.
There were Egyptian tomb artifacts as well as Pagan Gods from Greece and Rome. All perfectly preserved. If you've been to Greece you will know that nearly all the statues of Pagan Gods are broken. The same is true of Turkey and the North African ancient civilizations. That's because the Turks occupied those territories for hundreds of years and found them offensive to their Muslim religion. The ones in the British Museum are intact.
The BBC has done a series of radio and television shows called "The History of the World in 100 Objects." All of those are exhibited in the British Museum.
One other startling thing, admission to the Museum is free. Guide Books and snacks in the Museum will cost you an "arm and a leg" but there is no admission charge. No matter what time you go, there will be a large crowd of people, but, the flow is good and there is plenty of room because the vast majority of their collection is in storage. What a wonderful afternoon it was.
THE TATE GALLERIES: "The Tate," probably the most famous art museum in England
Actually, the Tate is four museums: the Britain Gallery, the Modern Gallery, the Liverpool Museum and the St. Ives. We chose the Britain Gallery where hundreds of classic pieces of British art are on display.
Like the British Museum, the Tate Galleries are open to the public free of charge. However, while the British Museum is free, there are multiple opportunities to "contribute" through various guided tours, the gift shop and many souvenir stands, the Tate is relatively free of solicitation for support. Paintings are beautifully displayed and often breathtaking.
Represented are works from Thomas Gainsborough to John Singer Sargent and every British artist in between. Many will look familiar to you. Included was an original work a copy of which my Mother displayed on the wall in our tiny living room in Bakersfield when I was growing up. She loved it and still had it when she died. It was very nostalgic.
After leaving the Tate we decided on a trip to Harrod's Department Store where the "girls" shopped until the "guys" dropped, and then shopped some more. We didn't actually buy anything, prices were a bit steep, but we had great fun.
THE THEATRE DISTRICT: Our final British adventure took us to the Savoy Theatre in Covent Garden to see the Musical "Legally Blonde." Patricia and I think that London Theatre is only a small step below Broadway. The productions are lavish and the performers are very talented. Many British Plays and Musicals move directly from London to Broadway with no loss of quality. Recently, "39 Steps" and "Billy Elliott" followed long London runs with equal acclaim in New York.
Legally Blonde, based on the hit movie with Reese Witherspoon, was a surprise hit on Broadway. It's about a "Valley Girl" who gains admission to the Harvard Law School and teaches those "stuffed shirts" a few things. The end of the show features a song which focused on whether a character is "Gay." The song has a line that goes. "He's either Gay or he's European." The British audience howled with laughter every time the line was repeated. The show was definitely a hit with the British. We loved it, too.
One final thing about British Theatre drinks and snacks are welcome in the audience. People bought beer and or ice cream bars during the intermission and brought them into the theatre with them - not a thing one would do in a Broadway Theater or even in an American home town playhouse.
EATING IN LONDON:
OXO TOWER RESTAURANT: Our first evening Barry made reservations for us to have dinner in the very "trendy" Oxo Tower Restaurant, which claims the most dramatic view of London. It is on the top of an office tower and truly has a spectacular view of the city and particularly the "London Eye," the gigantic Ferris wheel built as a "Millennium" project.
The restaurant is surrounded by glass giving you the feeling that you're floating over the city. It's very impressive, but one word of caution, if you go in summer and the sun is shining, make sure they give you a table in the shade. The Sun sets very late in summertime London and if the weather is clear it's very distracting.
I enjoyed the Lamb entrée while Patricia liked her Beef Sirloin. The service was very good and we had lots of opportunity to photograph the view.
RULES claims it's London's oldest restaurant and we've been there several times in the past because it's always been terrific. It's also a very short walk from Rules to the Savoy Theatre where we saw Legally Blonde.
We were disappointed on this visit. Patricia and I both had steaks that seemed a little tough and the waiter seemed distracted. But, we've always enjoyed it in the past and it's a London tradition that shouldn't be missed. It's at 39 Maiden Lane in Covent Garden.
LUNCHING IN LONDON? Definitely, go to a Pub.
THE SHIP TAVERN around the corner and up an alley from the Renaissance Hotel is the Ships Tavern a historic and classic English Pub. We had a leisurely lunch of Fish and Chips topped with a "Pint of Guinness." It was great fun and great food, too.
CAFÉ ROUGE is not a pub. It's a wonderful French style Restaurant directly across the street from Harrods. Barry and I had excellent Baguette sandwiches while Patricia tried their Eggplant dish. The French atmosphere seemed authentic - lovely meal and a nice break from shopping. When you go shopping at Harrods we recommend you have lunch at Café Rouge.
LEAVING LONDON: There's only one sure way to completely ruin your trip to England; its name is "Heathrow."
We've traveled a lot and in all those trips our luggage has only been lost twice, both times in Heathrow Airport. We've detailed our various "adventures" in Heathrow in numerous other travelogues – and in spite of some cosmetic changes – it's not getting any better.
A few years ago they opened a new departure terminal for American carriers where you are lulled into believing things have improved, but, just when you're ready to say you're sorry for all the nasty things you've said about Heathrow, they load you on a sweltering bus with no air conditioning, no seats and windows sealed closed to take you an interminable ride across the tarmac in mid-summer to the old terminal where you are submitted to all the misery you have come to expect.
Here are a few tips on surviving Heathrow:
- Pay no attention to overhead announcements. They are wrong half the time and you won't understand a word anyway.
- Don't eat in any restaurant except American franchises such as McDonalds. You know the old joke that in heaven the chefs are all French while the managers are British, while in Hell the Chefs are British and the managers French. Heathrow restaurants and snack bars make the joke come alive.
- Do not accept British coins in change unless you plan to spend it immediately or leave it as a tip. If you bring any home you can't do anything with it. It will rattle around in your junk drawer until your next trip to the British Isles.
- Currency exchange rates will kill you. If you have any Pounds or Euros left, take them to the Duty Free Shop. Select a nice bottle of Johnny Walker Blue or Chanel #5 and ask the cashier to apply all your remaining currency and coin against the purchase price, and then put the remainder on your credit card.
- If you have purchased anything in Britain on the promise of getting your VAT Tax refunded at the airport, plan on spending at least an hour finding out where the designated place is to get your refund. It will always be at the opposite end of the terminal from where you are when you ask about it. Also, have them credit your refund to your credit card. You'll lose on the exchange, but if you take a check instead, it will be in Pounds and you won't find a bank back home that will cash it or even let you deposit it to your account.
- If you belong to the Red Carpet Club, Admiral Club, or any other special airline club, it will be jammed with people when you arrive.
- If you are offered a choice of connecting airports take Frankfurt instead.
WEEKLY STANDARD SEMINARS AND CELEBRITIES.
On days when we were "at sea" we were treated to seminars featuring our favorite Weekly Standard "Celebrities." The three who are always on the Weekly Standard Cruises are Terry Eastland, the Magazine's Publisher and Senior Editors Bill Kristol and Fred Barnes.
Bill and Fred appear regularly on Fox News Sunday; the Fox network Sunday News Magazine Show, as well as on the evening news on the Fox News Channel. They are wonderfully approachable people, and very gracious. Bill's wife Susan and their son, a Marine, a very handsome young man, were on the cruise, too. You could tell how very proud Bill and Susan are of their "Jarhead".
P. J. O'Rourke was a huge hit, just as funny on stage as a speaker as are his articles and books. His latest book is titled "Holidays in Heck," a follow up to his "Holidays in Hell." The latter detailed his experiences celebrating Christmas as a war correspondent, while the new one reveals his trials and tribulations traveling with his family during the holidays. His last political book, "Don't Vote, it Just Encourages the Bastards" was a huge success.
In his presentation, P. J. said there are 4 ways to spend money.
- Spend your money on yourself
- Spend your money on someone else
- Spend other people's money
- Or, as done by Politicians spend your money on everybody else.
He observed that he got into Journalism when in college. "If you didn't want to get up early every day and lift heavy things, you only had two choices – you could become a Writer or a Priest."
He's just as funny "shooting the breeze" with his fans over a cocktail in the bar. He was a lot of fun.
Michael Flaherty is an award winning Producer of independent films including "Narnia" and "Charlotte's Web." A DVD of his latest film, "Waiting for Superman" was provided to all passengers before we sailed with the request that we watch it before boarding the ship. We did and became advocates immediately.
The film centers on poor children who are doomed to a lousy education by terrible public schools. It details the results private schools achieve in teaching poor children of all ethnic backgrounds. It places the blame for poor public schools squarely on "Tenure" and the Teachers Unions that protect and perpetuate bad teachers in the classroom.
The film was released into theaters, but the Teachers Union's turned out in droves to picket and protest theaters that showed the film. In the spirit of "Free Speech" they managed to cause the withdrawal of the film from public theaters and now you will only see it if you buy the DVD, which we suggest you do. It's available on Amazon or Barnes and Noble and it's very inexpensive.
In Michael's presentation he talked about the Teacher's Unions efforts to ban the film and the many new non-profit schools aimed at poor children popping up all over the country.
One of the examples he gave of communities rebelling against bad education was Compton, in the South Central Los Angeles. A California law allows communities to "take over" their failing schools. An initiative to take over the Compton schools passed with a majority of 65%, but, the Teacher's Union filed suit and a California judge threw out the election as "flawed." This is typical of the Teacher's Union and of California Courts.
John Bolton, the former American Ambassador to the United Nations, is a brilliant man, who has unparalleled knowledge of the Middle East. He appears frequently on television.
We had the privilege of having dinner with John and his wife one evening on the cruise and found them both to be very charming people. His presentation centered on the problems posed by Islamic Extremists and specifically by Iran's desire to have nuclear weapons. Nearly all of his predictions have proven accurate in the months since the cruise.
Stephen Hayes is a senior writer on Weekly Standard who often appears on the Fox News Channel. He is a very personable guy who is very down-to-earth and as likeable in person as he is on Television. He is from Wisconsin and a huge Packer fan.
The crisis in Madison, Wisconsin, caused by public employees protesting their loss of "Collective Bargaining Rights" by taking over the state Capitol had just concluded and Stephen's analysis helped put the issue in perspective. Governor Scott Walker now faces a recall election as a result of continued agitation by the Public Employee Unions.
Governor Walker's argument is that government workers can still join the union if they want to, they just won't be compelled to belong. The protest was perpetuated by students from the University of Wisconsin, just a few blocks down the road from the State Capitol who were given extra credit by their professors when they joined the protest. Republican State Senators were attacked as they came into their offices and Democratic Senators left the state to avoid having to vote on the measure. Efforts to Recall Supreme Court Justices and Republican Senators have failed. But, the Union which has access to unlimited taxpayer funding by the dues extracted from their members continues to press the case.
Andy Ferguson, a feature writer for Weekly Standard, spoke on his new book, "Crazy U" about his son's efforts to get into college. It details the ridiculous procedures that so called "elite" universities put in place as obstacles for parents and their kids. In writing the book he went to some top schools including "Harvard" to interview Placement Directors and participated with other parents in seminars by high priced consultants aimed at getting kids into top schools. The Ivy League schools are the most difficult and many deny that they keep statistics on how many of their students are "Legacies," the children of rich and generous Alumni. Harvard admits that one-third of its students are Legacies.
A primary means of determining worthiness is still the SAT score. To understand what his son was going through, Andy actually took the SAT test. He said he discovered that his brain had atrophied. His score was only slightly higher than a lobotomy patient. The test itself is now pure "Political Correctness."
Andy is a very funny writer and an equally funny speaker. He said most parents just want their kid to come away from college "knowing how to do something" and make a living. This is not what the faculty at the major university wants of its students. They want to create more "left wing crazies" to "Occupy Wall Street."
Since coming home I have read Andy's book and highly recommend it to anyone who has a youngster in high school. Andy's son by the way was accepted into the University of Virginia and is more interested in the girls in the sorority next door than he is in his professor's politics.
In talking about the upcoming Presidential Election, Fred Barnes reminded the audience that whoever was going to end up with the Republican Nomination would be someone no one was talking about at the time of the cruise. This has certainly been the case.
Fred also told a story about a very superstitious horse player (is that redundant?) who celebrated his 55th birthday, which happened to be on the 5th of the month, by going to the track. He went to the corner of 5th Ave and 55th Street to hail a cab and discovered the Taxi's number was 55; he arrived at gate 5, went to window 5 and bet $5 on Number 5 in the 5th Race. Sure enough, the horse finished 5th. So much for predictions made 18 months in advance of an election.
We always love the Weekly Standard Cruises and plan to take one scheduled for July 2012 from New York to Bermuda and back to New York. If you are interested, and you're a Conservative, you should join us. You'll find details at www.twscruise.com
THE MS EURODAM
A final word about our Ship - we've said unkind things in the past about ships in the Holland America Line, so our cruise on the Eurodam was a pleasant surprise. The food in all venues was better than we've experience on other Holland America Ships, specifically on the Maasdam and the Veendam. The crew, particularly the servers, were better trained and provided a pleasant experience. We will look forward to another cruise on the Eurodam.