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Trains and boats and planes...Stockholm and England

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I received such great response on a trip to Sweden last year, and hoping for more of the same now. There are three of us travelling again...my wife and I and my 22yr old son. Here's what we know so far. We need to be in Sweden to visit an exchange student we hosted in the U.S., for his graduation week of June 5th. We will again visit relatives I found in Sweden after that, and the clincher is we will return to the U.S. on the Queen Mary 2 transatlantic cruise from Southampton, England, on the 24th of June.

The cruise is the only thing we have booked right now. Tenatively I found a reasonably priced one-way flight to Stockholm on Iceland Air for $423.00, from NYC... But, we are open to many suggestions as we could then fly to Southampton, take a train back(we could allow up to a week for this). Or should we fly into London, rent a car to return, or book train passage? We will have luggage, as we'll pack tuxedos, and finery for the cruise, along with hiking clothes for Sweden!

We like the idea of using the train, but are unsure about connections through all the countries in between. As far as the car, I'm not afraid of distances, as I just finished driving 3500 miles through our Southwest.

Many thanks!
Sunny Sundquist

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    Have you got slightly confused in your wording

    Surely the ONLY underlying option is to fly to Sweden, travel however to Soton, then get the boat.

    Your Sweden-Soton choices don't have to be a choice between train, plane or car.

    - You CAN fly to Southampton (for destinations served, see the Southampton airport website). But since it's only 90 mins or so from Heathrow and Gatwick, you can just as easily spend time in London on the way back
    - There are ferry options between Sweden and Britain (though I think no direct ones any more), and a myriad of train routes. For commentary www.seat61.com: for timetables bahn.de
    - Car isn't really an option: hire companies hate sending left-hand drive continental cars into Britain so the fee is about the same as disinterring Concorde and flying it. There's a theoretical alternative with Hertz called Le Shuttle, where you dump the car at the Channel Tunnel - but the dropoff fee with a Swedish car will kill.

    If you want more flexibility than a train or ferry alone will offer, meander by train/boat, switching to a hired car for a few days for a sidetrip - but make sure you drop it in the same country you picked it up

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    Sorry but it's confusing as to your underlying idea. It reads as if you are travelling to Stockholm, flying to Southampton then travelling back to Stockholm somehow before catching your cruise from Southampton.

    As for driving 3500 miles through our Southwest, you can't treat Europe as "put the cruise control on, turn the radio on & the brain off" type driving. Most European roads are somewhat busier than the empty roads of the SW.

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    "Surely the ONLY underlying option is to fly to Sweden, travel however to Soton, then get the boat."

    Yes, I guess my thoughts were confusing. It sounds like the car idea is prohibitive, but I meant...fly to London, pick up a car, ferry/drive to Stockholm, and return the car in London before picking up the boat.

    I shouldn't have added "back" to the train scenario. We will spend a couple of weeks in Sweden, then travel "however" to Soton. If that "however" is by train, I just want to allow enough time to make connections, and not be late for the boat. We will be lugging more baggage then I like. One or two overnight stays in England would be fine.

    I checked bahn.de but it gave me "unknown tariff abroad", and I really just wanted a cost estimate, and a comfort estimate. We'd really like to try the train option, but not if 5 times the cost of airfare, or out of the comfort zone.

    thanks again, and I'll try not to start new posts just as I wake up...
    Sunny

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    If you go to the seat61 website, specifically http://www.seat61.com/Sweden.htm you will be shown the three train options (overnight, train/ferry and day train, which requires 2 days with an overnight in Hamburg), including fare estimates.

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    Thanks ron, for the seat61 site. I'd already used it for info on the Queen Mary. Now I'm thinking the train/ferry options sound interesting. Anyone out there actually done that?

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    I took the ferry from Harwich to Gothenburg years ago, but I think that route is now discontinued.

    You might be able to get to either Denmark or Norway by ferry from the UK, then use the train for your onward journey to Sweden. Check out the 'DFDS' website to see what routes are currently available - I'm pretty sure it's not as 'doable' as it was a decade or so ago though.

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    May I suggest you look into sending your fancy clothes to the ship instead of lugging them around with you?

    DH and I did this two years ago and it was sooo nice to have just what we needed for sightseeing and then find our good clothes waiting onboard for us.

    It would probably mean leaving the bag with someone for FedEx to pick up closer to sailing time, but it was worth it to us to have the freedom of only our travel clothes with us. Plus, it gave us another bag for our purchases at the end of the trip.

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    Thanks, Rm67 and GBabe, and now I have a related question, because the idea to send the fancy clothes to the ship sounds great!! I just happened to check British airways, which wanted $1258 for a one-way to Stockholm, but only $609 for a roundtrip, that stops in London for a plane change. If we only have small carry ons, and just don't take the last leg of the flight, and head for our transatlantic cruise back to the U.S. is the airfare police going to come and get us?

    Thanks!!

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    Now still thinking about one way flight to Stockholm, then taking train from Stockholm to London. Looks like I would have to do at least three separate train bookings? Stockholm to Kobenhaven, then to Amsterdam or Brussels, then Eurostar to London. Wondering how many days I should allow for this? Leaving on the QE2 back to U.S. on June 24th. Maybe take sleeper train form Stockholm? We'll be on the high coast of Sweden, and could catch the train as early as the 14th or as late as the 20th of June.

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    To finish this out, we are booked one-way on Iceland Air, which had the only decent one-way prices at $439 per person to Stockholm. After a couple weeks in Sweden we'll pick up the train on Monday morning in Stockholm, to Copenhagen, from there we have a couchette compartment for night train to arrive Tuesday morning in Amsterdam. We'll stay one night in Amsterdam, catch a 6:10 train to Brussels, where we pick up Eurostar through the tunnel to London. Total cost $292 per person, less the cost of one night stay, because of the night train.

    The other thing I was at first worried about, was too many transfers, but we'll only have 3...one in Copenhagen, one in Amsterdam, and one in Brussels.

    We'll then have 4 nights/3 days in England. Any suggestons for a home base hotel in London, before boarding the Queen Mary 2 back to the states? Not the most luxurious, as we'll get plenty of that on the transatlatic cruise.

    Thanks again to all the repliers!

    Sunny

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    "Not the most luxurious in my mind" means mid-level. In the States I would be thinking Hampton Inn, not Marriott Marquis. I'll look online, but if you have had especially good luck with one, I'd like to hear. We could stay in Southampton the night before boarding the Queen Mary 2...Mostly looking for clean, convenient, and friendly. Was figuring $100-$150 a night.

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    Premier Inn London Kings Cross St Pancras is a place that has been reccommended by a student from Wales that we know here. Would that be considered mid-range? It says it is .2 miles from St Pancras, which would be convenient. 4 night's stay $1100 including 20% VAT and breakfast. Not sure whether VAT is refundable? Thanks!

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    OK, I see VAT is not refundable for hotel stay, which is understandable. So my only question: is there any other options at King Cross you would reccommend? It looks like Comfort Inn could be decent, if one gets a good room. Am I missing anything the booking sites are not finding? Stops we have in mind: walk to Buckingham Palace grounds, Hampstead Heath, Leicester Victorian and Albert Museum, Portobello Road(flea market). Thanks again!

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    a week for train travel between Sweden and Britain - could be sweet - go via Copenhagen, Amsterdam or via Germany to Brussels or Bruges - from Brussels (or Lille from Bruges) hop the Eurostar to London or from the Hook of Holland hop the fast ferry to Harwich, England - so if wanting to see a bit of Europe that could be great and you may want to consider a 3 or 4 country Eurail Select Pass if you just want to be able to hop on any train anytime en route in those countries.

    Great sources of info on European trains IME - www.seat61.com (click on this site's commercial link to RailEurope to get Eurail Select Pass prices) and www.budgeteuropetravel.com and www.ricksteves.com.

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    I don't think I'd stay near Kings Cross myself. Yes, it is convenient to the Eurostar. But if the ship is leaving from Southampton you'd have a bit of a slog -- Kings Cross to Waterloo to Southampton.

    If it was me -- I'd take a cab from St Pancras to near Waterloo. The County Hall Premier Inn is practically across the street from Waterloo Station. Or -- if you happen to have Marriott points, the much more expensive County Hall Marriott is in the same building.

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    Thanks, janisj, I will take your advice to stay near Waterloo, because we'd like to have an easy trip to Southampton. I do have some Marriott points, so I'll check that out too. Thanks, also PalenQ, as if you look back a few posts we booked one of the train routes you suggessted. Glad to have confirmation that it's a good plan. At Brussels just hoping 45 minutes is enugh time to get us and our luggage to Eurostar. The trip is soon and the excitement is building!

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    Keep in mind that Eurostar trains I think require a 30-minute pre-boarding time to be there and go thru security and customs to be guaranteed a seat - I would try to move up that 45 minute transit time, which is really 15 minutes due to Eurostar requiring 30 minutes at least to enter the gate to be guaranteed of boarding.

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    Thanks PalenQ! This will be our first experience with European trains. We already have our tickets bought and printed, but I'll send an email to Eurostar and see if they can help us.

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    It's not IME that you will be denied boarding if within the 30 or whatever minimum minute requirement for Eurostars it is that you could be denied boarding - I have seen folks come thru the initial entry well within the 30 minutes so if your train is late just go and plead and plead and...

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    Sweden and beyond 2012

    Day 1

    Actually, I should start with Day -2, where I drove to Elizabethtown, KY, so that Mom could stay with my brother John and family, while we were gone. Mom will be 89 this year and living with us for the past two, but she made the four hour early morning trip fine, and hopefully the other four hours with John to Alabama, just as well.

    After a day of rest, we're officially at day 1. Becky and I set out at 5:00 in the morning, and picked up son Jimi at 6:00, before driving another 8 hours to New Jersey. It was a great travel day. On a whim we stopped in Allentown, PA, at the “Starlight Diner”, after seeing their billboard ad. I was able to get a “pork roll” sandwich on rye bread, and French onion soup, that was exceptional, as Jimi and Becky opted for the salad bar. We made it to Aunt Lucille and Barbara's by 3:00 pm. After some good conversation, and the feeding of Buddy the Beagle, we headed out for some Thai food at Meemah's. Pad yam pot, spicy fish, crab rangoon, lemon grass wings, and chicken lettuce wraps were our diversion for the next hour or so.

    Do you get the picture here? We're going to eat our way to Sweden!!

    Day 2 & 3

    After breakfast of fresh strawberries and Bays English Muffins, we were glad to have Barbara's brother Michael shuttle us to JFK Airport in our van. That trip could take 1-3 hours depending on the traffic. Being that it was Saturday, we got there on the short end of that, even with a small traffic accident that was beginning to back up traffic near the Verrazano Bridge. Our only real scare came crossing the bridge, when a 10 gallon plastic gas container came zig-zagging into our middle lane. It must have been pretty empty as it bounced through all three lanes. Michael slowed down just barely in time to let it roll out of our lane.

    Iceland Air allowed international checked baggage of two per passenger at 50 lbs max, plus a carry-on of 24 pounds. Even though this was good by today's standards, we had to leave things behind, and juggle baggage contents around to stay in limits. Oh, and had they weighed my deep pocketed jacket, they would have been surprised that it weighed over 15 pounds. Phew! The easy part was there were no misspelled name trauma this trip, like our first visit 2 years ago, and check-in was a breeze. With very little wait, we were on our way to Sweden.

    We had gotten a great deal on the plane tickets, but realized that was partly because we received seats that didn't lean back because of the safety row. Oh well, we can never sleep much on flights anyway. We changed planes in Iceland, and had about an hour layover. I took a couple of neat photos just before landing, with the moon just appearing to the left of the wing. It was now midnight, but it was not dark at all, and we feasted on gravad lax (marinated salmon) and blueberry high protein juice. By time we took off at 1:15, the sun, which had barely set, was coming back up again already. Soon, we were arriving in Sweden.

    Have you ever had one of those things happen that you thought was a problem, but later were glad about? We started gathering our 50 pound suitcases, when we noticed we were the last ones left in line, and missing one humongous blue suitcase. After watching the conveyer cycle three times with unclaimed luggage, we went to claims and sure enough our blue honker was delayed. Worried that our waiting friends would think we missed the flight, I turned on my cell phone and interna$$$ional roaming, to let them know we arrived. Now the good news...Had the suitcase arrived, we would not have had room to load it in their car! Later, that evening, the airport delivered it to their house, tuxedos and elegant gowns intact, at no extra charge.

    The Engströms fixed us breakfast, let us take a nap, and then proceeded to give us a first hand tour of Uppsala. It was raining, so rather than walk into town we drove the short distance to the centrum, then, walked amongst the quaint shops, ducking under awnings and an old bridge over pass to dodge some of the raindrops. We went into the cathedral first and were plesantly surprised by the choir practicing for an evening concert. Later again, we lucked out by stepping into a symphony concert at the university. Don't you just love those unplanned highlights, that would have caused so much stress to pre-plan? After rhubarb cheesecake, some Swedish lessons, and yes, bow-tie training(Ludvig needs this for graduation ceremonies), we are exhausted again and head to bed.

    Day 4

    After a good night's sleep we are better adjusted to local time, which is 6 hours ahead of us. I work on sorting the photos I took yesterday, while eating a breakfast of cereal with liquid yogurt, toast with butter, Swiss cheese, and salami...and of course, kaffe(coffee)!

    A strange thing, is that my web browser will only to google.se here as opposed to google.com. In the U.S. I can go to either site, but it was nice as it updated my weather site to Stockholm. I found a good website to learn tying a bow-tie, and in a half an hour, I have one ready for Ludvig to wear to graduation.

    Håkan, Jimi, and I went to the equivalent of home depot this morning to shop for wooden boards to build a picnic table for Ludvig's graduation party. The building store we went shopping in had some neat looking windows and doors, that I have yet to see back home, so people stare as I take pictures. Jimi and I surprise Håkan by getting the boards in through the trunk, and over the top of the front passenger seat of his Audi, while he is returning the cart. This allows the trunk to close completely.

    By afternoon, we were on our way to Gamla Uppsala, or the old part of town. It reminded me of our Native Indian mounds in Ohio. Some ancient Vikings are buried there, but also the new is mixed with old as a church is built on the site of sacrificial rituals. Then, behind this is Disagården a farm museum that depicts what life was like in the late 1800's. From there we drove back to modern Uppsala, and lo and behold, found a bakery where we could sit down to eat. Eating is still a common theme here!! Princess cake and more kaffe!

    Stopping at a used book store, I found and purchased a Swedish translation of the bible, and two other books, before returning to Ludvig's house. There, we began to prepare again for Ludvig's graduation party as Britt said, “we will put up a sail on the back patio.” I just assumed that it lost something in the translation, and they meant awning. Shortly afterward however, Håkan starts unfurling an actual sail, that they had replaced on their sailboat. Once again, I forgot that the Swedes are so much better at English, than I will ever be at Swedish. Somehow we avoided winning a Darwin award, as we survived ladders, makeshift tools, patio furniture, and a lame power drill, joining together in this project. We just hope the wind does not stir up too much tonight!!

    It's evening, and in the vardagsrum(livingroom), Jimi serenades us on the piano. Time to kick back with a meal and a corona paired with a slice of lime!

    Day 5

    Ludvig's graduation day!

    The Swedish celebration of high school graduation is much different than what we have in the U.S. The first I saw this, was when Ludvig was staying with us as a foreign exchange student. He showed us a youtube video of students, jubilant and dancing to loud music, riding in huge truck beds or wagons through the streets of Uppsala! Ludvig's class will do the same, wearing caps of white with black brims and gold lettering, that resemble captain's hats in the U.S., and there will be plenty of spilling of beer. The beer part also happens in the U.S., but not with the parents watching! ;-)

    There is no separate ceremony that parents and friends watch to see and hear the diplomas given out, but we wait outside for the graduates to run out at the end of the school day. It is a crowd that they have to wade through, but we make it easier by holding large 2' x 3' pictures of them as small children. The graduates wear suits and dresses, but no matching gowns. There is plenty of picture taking as they find us, then we go to our own parties, as the graduates take to the streets. They drink beer, and champagne, but not the truck driver. The penalty for driving with any trace of blood alcohol is severe. 0-.5% is a fine and loss of license, over that is jail time.

    The only snafu in the whole celebration, was that the truck Ludvig and his classmates rode in was about an hour late. But, it seemed that nothing could get in the way of their excitement, when it finally rolled in. Then it was time for the adults to party at the Engströms. There were platters of spicy deli meats, shrimp, finger sandwiches, cheese stuffed peppers, pasta salad, olives, dinner rolls, oh yes...and tårtar(cakes)!!

    Rune, Ludvig's farfar(paternal grandfather), made me sit down next to him and speak every Swedish word I could muster (as he spoke even less English). My son, Jimi, was a hit with Ludvig's farmor(paternal grandmother), as he played classical music for her on the piano i vardagsrummet (in the living room). We met many friends and family of Ludvig's at the party, and I hope we can remember most of the names! Ludvig returned home shortly, and the champagne was poured as we toasted Louie's future.

    I forgot to mention that Becky, Jimi, and I walked into town earlier that morning, and found a nice Antikvarit(used book store) and bought a few books in Swedish...children books, a Tolkien series, and “the Da'Vinci Code”, the latter being one I have read several times in English.

    Day 6

    June 6th was National Day in Sweden, which is about as close as you can come to 4th of July in the U.S., It's been celebrated since 1916, and officially became a national work holiday in 2005. We celebrated it by going in to Stockholm to see the changing of the guard at the castle. It was made even more special because Håkan was once one of these guards, though before they wore the regalia as seen in my pictures. Britt and Becky posed next to the guard on our side, and then we tried to elbow our way to the main festivities. The Swedish royal prince was there to give out awards, but the most impressive part to me was the guard band that played in full uniform while parading on their horses.

    We had taken the train from Uppsala to Stockholm Central, as it's easier than getting a car down there. It also gave us a dry run for our eventual train ride from Stockholm on the high speed DJ liner to Copenhagen. On the way to the castle we did some fönster handlar (I call that window shopping). We walked by a band of accordion players, and saw several people in period dress. I snapped a picture of one fellow, all decked out, including white judicial wig, especially because he was on a cell phone at the time. Don't think they had those back then!

    We ran onto a second-hand store while in Gamlastan, which made all of us Swedish-Americans happy. The older clerk knew very little English, so it was a nice challenge to my puny Swedish skills. I purchased two dvd's, and a couple more books. One, on the post office, was grattis marked 0 kr. You don't see that very often!

    Lest you think we had changed our theme, there was still eating going on. We wanted to go to a small cafe, who's name when translated means, “Under the buckeye”, but the crowd/wait made it unreasonable. So, we found a bakery that also had light lunch fare, which left room for efterrätt (dessert).

    Next, Håkan and Britt took us to Skansen and the Djurgården. This was cool in several different ways, not the least of which was traveling there by boat. Boating must be in my Swedish blood, as the relatives I have here run boats for a living, as did my grandfather on the coast of New Jersey. The Engströms also have a sail boat that they enjoy.

    The Djurgården is many acres of park, with animals, shops, and demonstrations of old Swedish life. The neat thing is I had been reading about them in my Swedish grammar book, and now we were here in person. To top things off, the royal family was to be here, and after much sightseeing and walking, we found a nice vantage point to see them parade in by carriage. I'm sure there was security, but it was nowhere near as intrusive as I've seen in the U.S., and the family was going to pass by within 20 feet of us. Still, we only had a few moments to catch them with our cameras.

    The royal family was also going to be onstage just a few hundred yards away, and one again we found ourselves elbowing our way in to gawk from the audience. I waved, as I saw the tv cameras point in our general direction...hope you didn't miss it! But then, they opened up an aisle right beside us to bring the flag bearers in, and the tv cameras followed just inches from us. I'm just sure we made national news! Maybe so. :-/

    Well, transportation back was a little difficult as the security did affect that, so we hoofed it as quickly we as we could to the central train station. We missed the direct train, and had to settle for the roundabout local back to Uppsala. It stopped several times, and we had to transfer once, but at least the company was great! At home, we feasted on much leftover food from the graduation party, and plopped into bed.

    Day 7

    When I say plopped into bed, I meant to say I also turned the laptop on to start “Day 6”. This is as far as I got: “June 6th was National Day in Sweden”, then, Zzzzzzzzz, and I was asleep. When I woke, it was morning and the computer screen still glowed.

    I've skipped over some of the basic day to day experiences, such as: It stays light very late here in summer, and does not get dark until 1:30 in the morning...then the sun is peeking out again by 4 in the morning. The result is we stay up later than we think, and rise earlier than we might. We are eating more than we normally do, but we are also walking quite a bit more, as Uppsala is a good city to do that. Many Uppsaliensera either walk or ride a bicycle to work. Still, I wish we would eat a bit less!

    I'm still learning/practicing Swedish, but it's a bit more difficult as Swedlish is spoken here. Swedes begin to learn English in fourth grade, and if we struggle a little speaking Swedish, they automatically switch to English. My best chance of being forced to use Swedish is with the elderly, who were schooled before English was taught so early as a second language.

    Several words in Swedish are similar in English such as, telefon, atom, baby, gas, etc., but some look like English and have different meanings: mat=food, semester=vacation, and of course the ever popular fart=speed/rate and slut(pronounced sloot)=end/finish. In the other direction, “fan” is NOT a good word in Sweden. Some words are smaller, ö=island, but then some are longer' sjuksköterska=nurse. Bonus section: try this Swedish tongue twister...sju, sjösjuka, sjömän på sjöskeppet, Shanghai! (Seven, seasick, seamen, on the seaship Shanghai!)

    But, I digressed for a moment. Today, we set sail for Sandhamn, actually Sandöen, an ö in the archipelago on the East coast of Sweden. Boating is always fun for me, and it was such a beautiful day, I didn't mind being pointed out as a tourist with my shorts and sandals. I even took my bathing suit with me, but as the water was 20 centigrade, and everyone else had “forgotten” their swimsuits. I didn't swim, but I should have!(I have swum in our swimming pool at that temperature, so it's not like I'm a sissy Swede. See my facebook from March, 22)

    Sandhamn reminds me of Ulvönhamn without the surströmming(fermented herring, you either love or hate). It is an expensive place to live, but lovely place to visit. We had a nice walk on the docks near the harbor, then hiked up to a large rock where we generally just lazed in the sun. We ate smoked mackerel, and drank lite beer (less alcohol, not less calories) for a late lunch, and then it was time to catch the boat back to the mainland.

    After the drive home, Engströms fix a traditional meal of sill(pickled herring), new potatoes, cheeses and bread. Then we have drinking songs, Helan går, for one. Actually it can be a nice way to moderate drinking as you drink a portion only after each song is sung. (Some cheat, and drink the full amount, and repour.)

    Awwk, tiden flygar! The time flies! Det har gåt en vecka redan! It has gone a week already!

    Day 8

    We keep thinking we will sleep in a bit, but it just isn't happening. Sunny has brought solight väder to Uppsala so we decide to tour Linaeus gardens. Linnaeus was a famous Swedish botanist, who named over 6000 species of plants, and tried to organize them logically. The gardens which started small, grew large, were destroyed in fires, and later moved and replicated, are now tended by students of Uppsala University. The gardens were Becky and Jimi's cup of tea, which I enjoyed also, but mostly tended to the task of photographer again.

    Linnaeus' house was more interesting to me, and it was cool to imagine a time when he and his family lived there. When we saw the first painting of him, I really think he resembled Håkan. I'll post that on facebook later to see if his friends and family think so...

    On the walk back to the house, we stopped at the “English Book Store” for Jimmy. It was nice but with the 25% VAT tax, the prices were higher than he could get them at home. I looked for a Swedish deck of cards as the Queen and Jack have different designations...D for “dam/queen”, and Kn for “knight/jack...no luck yet, but Ludvig assures me we will find them. We had better luck finding some piano music that's not available in the States, so the VAT tax was acceptable. We can apply for a refund on some non consumables, so we'll check that out before leaving the country too.

    We needed to be back at the house soon, to make it to another graduation party, this time for Ludvig's cousin, Therese. Her family lives just North of Stockholm, so it was a bit of a drive. I hated that we had to take two cars, but there must be a seat belt for everyone riding, including those in the back seat. The upside was that I got to practice driving Engström's Audi on the way back, as I became a “designated driver”. Most cars in Sweden are standard shift, even this sedan sized car. The parking brake was also a little tricky, as it engages and releases electronically.

    Oh, you're wondering if we ate well? Yes, Therese cooked quiches, and specialty cheese and white chocolate pies. For those drinking, there was champagne and wine. It was especially sentimental for us, as her family recently had their Golden Retriever, “Bamse” pass on. We brought them a book on Goldens, and I tried to inscribe in Swedish, “We love our “Linux”, as you love your “Bamse”. I meant for it to be in present tense, because “love” doesn't pass on.

    Day 9

    We decided to postpone another trip into Stockholm, in favor of walking back toward Uppsala University, and the Museum Gustavinum, which is “situated between the University and the church, on the border between belief and knowledge.” I like that notion, along with the University's mission to “always be on the borderline between what we know and what remains to be found out.”

    Our first stop was the anatomical theatre, which was a very steep theatre to observe bodies being dissected. In the U.S. I doubt that we would be allowed to climb the ladder like steps to the top. Hmmm, it's even rumored that one of our party posed on the center table.

    There were lots of other exhibits, partly in thanks to Sweden's law of excavating carefully, to preserve any historical finds. As a result, ancient grave sites can give up some of there secrets and history, before new construction goes in. We walked on thick glass over a mock-up of how some of the treasures were found.

    Just down the way, was the University's library, were some ancient manuscripts are preserved. Most notably is the Silver Bible, the four gospels in an early translation into Gothic. All the displays are in very low light, and controlled environment. Another interesting item was an old mariner map, that I purchased a copy of afterward. The rest of the library is used extensively by students, but has a tight control of pilferage.

    Tomorrow we leave Uppsala for Norrland and a reunion with Sundqvists near Ullånger. So, we spend the evening relaxing with rhubarb/strawberry cobbler(you knew I had to talk about food soon!), and viewing on the big screen tv some of the adventures of the Engströms.

    Day 10

    The weather has been wonderful in Uppsala, ever since “Sunny” has arrived. I joke with everyone that it is always “soligt” when Sunny is around, and every day I ask, “How do you want the weather to be today?” Today, it starts to rain in Uppsala, because we are driving to Ullånger, and we now need “solen att skina där borta”(the sun to shine over there)...and, so it happens!

    We stop in Tönnbro for lunch, and the restaurant has two sides...one cafeteria style, and the other fast food style. The problem is the fast food side does not serve coffee! How can this be Sweden? The clerk is not so good with English, so I say, “Jag förstår inte om kaffet.”, and she points to the other side. I trot over to the cafeteria, pour our coffee, but then the server asks for my receipt. I say, “Min son väntar på maten där borta.” She is so impressed that this stupid American tries to speak Swedish amongst these native Swedes, that she says, “Don't worry, take all the coffee you want!” I am dumb like a fox!

    Many thanks again to the Engströms that they lend us their Audi! As I said before, most cars in Sweden are standard shift, rather than automatic. I've driven many of my own, including a VW bus, Plymouth Horizon, Triumph Spitfire, and Fiat Spyder, but it's been a while. The unusual thing for me is that this Audi sedan has 7 gears including reverse. Luckily, I have already received some instructions from Ludvig, (who trains to get his own drivers license here). He says such helpful things as, “Slow down!”, “I think you should shift now.” and, “I meant to tell you turn left there.” My favorite was, “You can turn left here...or right...oh, no...I meant straight ahead!”

    This Audi is a very “stylin” auto. It has a nice radio, so rather than subjecting Jimi and Becky to my Swedish language training cd's on the way to Ullånger, we listen to what I believe is a Swedish Christian music station. The woman announcer speaks slowly and clearly, so that I understand some of what she says. Later there are news broadcasts, and finally some Christian-metal band plays. It seems those last two genres can co-exist in Sweden. Cool!

    We stop in Härnörsand for a few groceries, including “grädde” coffee cream, and soon we are to the High Coast bridge, and on to Curt and Iris, where they wait with fresh baked cookies and cinnamon rolls. Iris explains that the coffee cream I bought is actually whipping cream, but once again I remain dumb as a fox. Ingela, Joakim, Moa, and Jim join us later for barbecue pork. Becky is delighted when the small gifts of clothing she has brought “passar!” fit everyone.

    The thing that surprises me most, is that my Jimmy is watching “fotball”, as he is musician and not a sports fan. Now we will never be able to call the other sport in America they play by the same name. Becky has suggested “hide the ball”, because that's what the college and NFL games look like to her.

    Day 11

    Scientists say that the ground in Sweden, especially on the High Coast, is rising about a centimeter a year. They hypothesize that glaciers had pushed down so long, that when they melted, the earth started literally to spring back. Curt says maybe it's the water going down, but regardless, most agree that the landscape has changed in just the last 10,000 years. Most of the High Coast was still under water, and has risen slowly to be 100 meters high.

    We visited the Nature Museum outside of Docksta, Sweden, today and it had many exhibits, including one on the rising land. It also had a picture display from the volcanic eruption in Iceland two years ago. Outside the museum, lies a cliff and a steep climb to a cave. Dramatic pause..............

    We did not make that climb...but we did take pictures. Ahem, there will be physical exertion later, so don't laugh yet. Prior to the museum trip, we revisited the restaurant where Curt and Iris held their wedding reception 24 years earlier. They had fresh strömming(herring), that all but Becky ate. She likes her fish cooked, and so opted for Swedish meatballs. We all enjoyed potatis. (Please don't get in an uproar Dan Quale, it's the Swedish spelling of potatoes.)

    We arrived back at the stuga, just in time to head out with Ingela and her son Jim for some hiking. This was another steep trail for which we were not fully prepared. Ingela and the two Jims started to zip up the trail, while Becky and I kinda plodded behind, pant, pant! They waited on us half way up, as we got our second wind, and continued on. We “took our time and stopped to smell the flowers”, ummmm, or plodded along again panting, depending on how you look at things. Well, the top was worth the exertion! There were lakes all around in the valleys below. We couldn't see them all as fog was drifting in from the sea, but even that was spectacular from our viewpoint.

    Like many trails here, there was a very small community building at the top for all to use. In Sweden , there is “everymans right” about travel through the countryside, as long is there is no risk of damaging crops, tree plantations, or other sensitive areas. (see www.naturvardsverket.se) I sign a guestbook that is open on the table. In a bookcase there were guestbooks dating back to 1946. I just can't imagine these being undisturbed in the U.S.

    For some reason, the trip back down the mountain was easier, but Becky and I still lagged behind. I think it was to work up as much appetite as we could, before going to the dinner feast Joakim was preparing. He grilled salmon to perfection in the barn behind their house, and there was summer cake for dessert, as it was Joakim's 29th birthday again. The barn is a lovely addition to summertime living, and even has a loft with old wooden boat, made into a bed. By the way, the Swedish word for barn is logen, as barn is the word for child here.

    Day 12

    The things that Becky and I enjoy the most together on our travels our the simple pleasures. I'm not saying we don't also enjoy the touristy things, but there's something special about melting into the everyday ordinary things of life. So, we were especially excited to attend the graduation ceremonies for Ludvig, and today we would see Moa in a special celebration of finishing 6th grade. This would be a musical celebration at the church in Ullånger.

    But first, in the late morning we get to ride along with Curt on the Rånö to Ulvön. I to show off my seaman skills by casting off the ropes, but then I am humbled by, “Do not drop it in the water, Sunny, it goes here!” Boating is much fun, especially with the view from the pilot house. The Rånö is the not the flagship of Höga Kusten Båtarna, but it is plenty big, with an engine room, a party deck, and a sun deck where the pilot house sits. Curt has all the boating perks, including radar, which is very helpful as we sailed into foggy seas.

    The fog leaves Ulvön alone, and as we pull into the harbor, I can't help but remembering our trip here two years ago, as Becky and I were married on the Kusttrafik in this very harbor. We also eat a lunch of many fishes in the “restaraung” of “hotelet” as we did on our wedding day. Curt has pre-announced our presence, so an American flag flies today, along with all the Swedish. “Tack så mycket” for all you do for us Curt!

    Then, it is time to work, as Curt must go to the top of the island to fix a piloting device. The hotel produces a VW van for the journey, and it is like the dirt bike riding I used to do as a youth. We proceed up a rocky trail to the top of the island...bumpity, bam, bam, bam. Only, the last “bam” is the sound of the right front tire giving way, just near the top. The wheel and a large rock have had a disagreement, and the rock winds. Luckily for Curt I am a Jack of all trades, so I have my wish fulfilled of working in Sweden sometime, as I proceed to change the tire.

    Curt is unable to fix the piloting device, but we have another magnificent view of the harbor, before Becky, Jimi, and I take the steps down to Ulvön, as Curt and Iris drive the newly repaired van back to the hotel. We make it just in time to sail back to Ullånger.

    An hour later, we are walking from the stuga, across the E4 to Curt's house. His driveway empties into the longest North-South highway in Europe. This far North, the traffic is not so bad, so we can cross safely. Then, we're off to Moa's celebration.

    We arrive early, but the church already filling up. We're especially glad this is a musical celebration, even if it reminds me a little of the “Music Man”, as there are many proud parents who only hear the singing of angels. But, as Iris says, “If the only thing we heard in the woods, was the singing of songbirds, it would be a very quiet place.” It impresses me most that Moa has such stage presence, and I foresee a career for her in TV as an announcer, or as just about anything she wants to do! Kudos also for the young priest. Even though the children were not listening much, she spoke slowly and clearly so that I could understand her Swedish words.

    Afterward, we return to Curt's, and I play some Swedish folk songs on his Steinway upright piano. It is a little out of tune in places, but it gets by. We have coffee and sweets, and look at some early pictures of Curt and Iris. Iris also finds her graduation cap, and Curt his captains hat, and I get some photo opportunities!

    Back at the stuga I catch up my blog a little. Lest you think I am only on facebook, I also get to stare out over the fjärden just a few meters form our stuga, while I work. The sun lasts forever here, and though it disappears a little on the horizon, it does not get dark, before it is once again shining in the sky and pouring into our little enclosed front porch. Det är varmt!

    Day 13

    Curt is busy piloting the Rånö, so we take it a bit easier today. We pick up Iris for lunch and head for Höga Kusten Hotel. This is on the Ullånger side of the bridge by the same name. The bridge reminds me of the Verrazano Bridge, and is an important connector for the E4 on travels North. We sit outside in the very warm “soligt” weather, that Sunny has brought up North. Becky and Iris have some smoked reindeer(sorry, Santa), while Jimi and I continue feasting on the seafood up here. I have some mustard colored seafood soup, that is rich with crème fraîche, a cross between whipping and sour cream, that we have yet to be able to find in the U.S. At 28% butterfat, it may be a good thing. Look out arteries...here it comes!

    Afterward I have my first complete Swedish conversation in the gift shop, as I am looking for a fold up road map of Sweden. Either I did OK, or the clerk there was just being nice. Bonus was that the map was gratis, unlike most of the other books on the counter. To celebrate, I bought a nice chocolate ice cream bar to settle all the seafood in my stomach.

    On the way back, we stopped to pick up a few groceries at ICA(ee-kah) which segues to another thing that Becky and I like to do on our international travels...looking at all the different goods or labeling we don't see in the U.S. Check out my food pictures on facebook to see more, but there is a wide selection of cracker-like bread, seafood, and food with different names, including a candy bar called PLOPP.

    Later on at the stuga, Becky and I make supper tonight of eggs, bacon, and crepes products here for supper. Breakfast for supper....This is another new experience for Curt and Iris, just as we showed them how to eat dessert first, the last time we were here! Livet är kort. Ät dessert först!

    Day 14

    Our plan today, is to visit Anneli in Härnösand. It is another ö(island) at the South end of the High Coast. We planned to meet at McDonald's, when Curt said, “You can't miss it!” I knew we were in trouble then, but luckily we left a bit early, which enabled us to miss it the first time. In America the golden arches would be high in the sky, but here more like Worthington, Oh, where it “can” be missed. But, soon enough we were parked and buying our first large coffee in McDonald's this trip. This was just in time, as Anneli, greeted us before we could get a couple of sips in.

    We left our car in the parking lot, and walked to get some real food for lunch. Thanks again for getting our lunch, Anneli! In return, I brought “soligt” weather to Härnösand as we buffeted our way through more “sill”, salmon, and “fläsk”. We just needed to wipe a little of that rain stuff off the outside chairs.

    Going down the main business street, we stopped to do a little shopping. Jimi found a nice sale on a sweater at H&M, while I bought socks, and Becky bought eyeliner. As Jimi was having trouble with his debit card I was able to have a nice Swedish conversation, as I said, “Han är min son. Jag kan betalar med contant!” My son is also smart like a fox, so he didn't argue!

    We walked toward the college, and past the municipality, the governor's mansion, and to the central church. For a country that does not go to church much, we surely saw enough of them so far. But they are all beautiful, this one having a nice pipe organ, and Steinway piano.

    It wasn't long before we began to hear a familiar sound. It seems that Härnösand's graduation ceremonies were today, and the street was filled with loud music, trucks, and vintage cars. Here, the graduates had different colored caps...some white, some gold, and some black with tassels...a new tradition in Härnösand.

    We drove up for a nice view of the city, near a small ski area. There was also a wind turbine from the wind electricity farm near the parking lot. We got a lot closer than I think we could have in the USA. It was a little scary as some fog drifted in.

    Next up was the Länsmuseet, which had a nice display of the history of life here. It seems they like to use holograms here, and the nicest display had the face of a woman talking from her statue, kind of like the Haunted Mansion in Disney World. We had a couple of photo-ops upstairs, and then on to the cafe for coffee, and dessert.

    After Anneli dropped us back off to our car, we did some more shopping at the MAXI ICA. (Their version of super walmart.) There, I bought 2 classic Swedish dvd's with Swedish subtitles, and a cheap dvd player that I can use when we get home. (All dvd's are not the same, and there is trouble playing European dvd's on American players...remember vhs and beta?) We also found a smörgåstårta(sandwich cake) that we took to Curt and Iris for supper.

    Another full day in Sweden!

    Day 15

    There's an old light house that is out of use on the island of Högbonden. It serves as a hostel today, and that was our destination. We boated over on the third boat of Curt's fleet, the Ranjo, from Barsta, in just 8 minutes. We had packed a picnic lunch of salami, cheese, peanut butter and jelly, bananas, and digestive cookies. Curt and Iris also had packed lunch, with cheese, bread, raspberry jam, and COFFEE. There was a lift to the top for goods, but not enough room for all of our gear, so we worked up our appetite with the steep hike to the top.

    No wonder this island was the choice for a lighthouse. Such a view of the Bothnian sea we had! We were able to tour most of the hostel, and it seemed to be a clean and peaceful place to stay for a while. After enjoying our picnic lunch, Becky, Jimi, and I ventured to walk down near a protected nesting area for birds. We only ventured as close as was allowed, but even then the seagulls voiced their concern about our presence.

    Jimi, who is also turning into a Viking on this trip, decided to go cliff hiking, and we followed. The island seems to be fairly small, so we thought we could also find a shortcut back to the boat. Well, it wasn't long before we had lost sight of the lighthouse, and also weren't sure of the direction to the official path. We weren't lost because we weren't hungry yet, but it was getting closer to the boat departure all the time.

    We finally decided we better go back the way we came, and walk up from the protected bird area. That wasn't all that easy either, as we were among jutting boulders and grassy ravines, and they all kind of looked alike. However, we persevered, and after shimmying down some rather risky places, we found where we were before, and made the boat in plenty of time.

    The day was topped off by a wonderful dinner of dill salmon, that Iris prepared. I played some piano, and Curt poured wine, as we toasted another grand day!

    Day 16

    Sometimes you have to do laundry. This was such a day, so we made no sightseeing plans, and got into the domestic mood. While Becky started laundry, Jimi began concocting an amazing Italien crème cake, and I shopped kött(pronounced like a muttered “sh-t”!) for spaghetti, and ventured out to wash the car.

    The car wash itself was an adventure. It was self serve, but not like what I use back home. You pick up a key that unlocks the wash bay, but it's geared toward bucket washing. There's a power wash, but no soap or wax comes out with it, just water. Luckily, someone had left a sponge, and an old bucket, so I went back into the convenience store, and bought a little soap. After finishing, I took the key back and paid for the time I used the bay...70 sek, or a little under 10 dollars. Part of that time was spent shopping for soap, but live and learn!

    I found kött, in the way of ground beef, for my famous spaghetti, but had to improvise when it came to sausage, and tomato paste. I also broke up cracker-like knacka bröd to put in the meatballs. From now on, I'll have to call this particular recipe, “Swedish spaghetti”. It was a hit however, especially with little Gustav.

    We topped the evening out with Jimi's amazing Italien crème cake. The icing has cream cheese in it, but there's also a stick of butter and cup of sugar in the cake part, so it has to be good. Then it was coffee time, coupled with thoughts of leaving this special stuga, and the hospitality of Curt and family. Heavy sigh...

    Day 17

    Our goal was to be on the road back to Uppsala by 9 A.M. which means by 10, so we beat that by 40 minutes. How's that for positive thinking?

    We have traveled mainly on the E4, so Curt has suggested an alternate route to see a different section of Sweden...Dahlland. This is beautiful country we drive through, but I think we have been spoiled by the fine “utsikt” from the stuga, which without prejudice is the finest in Sweden! We do see much more forest and the view of the lake is magnificent.

    On the way back to Uppsala we are greeted with a double rainbow, and another wonderful meal from the Engströms.


    Day 18

    We are about to enter the train portion of our trip. Almost too excited to sleep, I'm not surprised by the alarm that rings at 4:30. We have so much luggage (four huge suitcases, three carry-ons, and a bag of fancy hats), that we've decided to have Britt take just Becky and the suitcases in the Audi, while Jimi, Ludvig, and I walk to the the train station. Thank God for the Engströms! We have arrived plenty early to purchase our tickets to Stockholm, but our credit/debit cards are not working in the machines. It requires a special chip, so in the end, Ludvig uses his card to purchase them.

    Ludvig and Britt help us with our massive luggage, and stand on the platform watching as we take our leave of Uppsala. Things go smoother in Stockholm, as I purchased the high speed train tickets to Copenhagen before we left America. We have three seats together around a nice table, and settle in four the 5 hour journey. I catch up with my travel blog, and then Jimi and I break out the cards to play gin, before finally our eyes are too heavy and we fit in a nap.

    At Copenhagen we have nearly a 5 hour layover, so we catch up on some eating there. Seating is at a premium, but we find a table and surround ourselves with our luggage. Nice pastries find their way to our mouths, and all is well. Becky volunteers to watch the luggage afterward, to give Jimi and I a chance to explore outside. Perhaps the most unique find is the cathedral there, which offers free internet access. What a way to entice congregation?

    This is the night train that will take us to Amsterdam. We have a compartment of couchettes that would actually sleep six, and share bathroom and wash facilities with one wagon of compartments. For the first part of this leg, it is only the three of us, but in a little while we are told we will have another passenger. This is a little disconcerting as we wonder who it will be...will they snore? Will this be “Murder on the Amsterdam Express?” I bet that it will be someone from Ohio. But...none of this happens. A trim middle aged businessman joins us, and I think it is us that snores, not him.

    Not everything goes smoothly. First this is a slower train, and even though we'll sleep 9 hours, the trip is scheduled to last 16. Second, the porter that was supposed to change the compartment from bench seating to beds hadn't come by 11pm, so we took matters into our own hands and fixed them ourselves. Third, the train carried 3 sets of wagons, some going to Amsterdam, some to Prague, and some to Switzerland, and at some point in Germany, they separated the train into three.

    Fourth and worst, was the announcement that “this train won't be continuing on to Amsterdam.” “You'll have to find a connection at our next stop.” WHAT? OUR TICKET SAYS AMSTERDAM! THIS IS THE REASON I BOOKED THIS TRAIN TO AVOID TRANSFERS! DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH LUGGAGE WE HAVE? I was just about ready to call 1-800-WHITE PEOPLE PROBLEMS and complain, when I met a man from Somalia on the transfer into Amsterdam Centraal. He had many more problems than I did.

    We are on a fabulous European Vacation. I have no complaints!

    Day 19

    We arrived in Amsterdam near noon, and I thought we would spend the day resting, but one can't rest in Amsterdam! We stored some of our unnecessary luggage in lockers at the train station, and took the bus to the Owl Hotel, on Roemer Visscherstraat. Say that 3 times quickly...Roemer Visscherstraat, Roemer Visscherstraat, Roemer Visscherstraat!! Even though we were there mid-afternoon, they had a room ready for us, so we stowed the rest of our luggage and went out to explore.

    We were close to the lesser square(Dam Square being the center of excitement), but there was plenty of activity to find here. We settled in for lunch at a corner cafe, and a cold Heiniken. Outside, could be heard the sounds of street musicians, so when we finished lunch, we gave a listen, as Jimi chose some local art work to buy.

    Our hotel clerk had given us a 10% coupon for a boat tour, and we opted for the hour and a half day tour. The many canals in Amsterdam are amazing, but fairly narrow. We sailed on traditional long keeled and wide boats, and I can't imagine how we were able to get past many of the other boats we met. Under one bridge we had to back up to let another through, and the turns we made were a work of art. We sat outside in the back of our boat and enjoyed the “Sunny” weather I have brought.

    In the wider parts of the canals, there were house boats moored, and they looked like a lovely option opposed to owning a house or apartment. Other neglected boats became nests for the white tipped black billed ducks that shared the waters. Four story brick buildings seemed to tower above our vantage point. They were narrow and connected, except the ones that had settled and showed gaping cracks in between. Before long we entered an open harbor to the sea, where there was a huge green, ship shaped building that commanded our view. Moored near by, smaller in comparison, was a large cruise ship. The smell was more of the sea here, and I enjoyed deep breaths of fresh air.

    Later we were lucky to find the Amsterdam orchestra hall, and found there was a concert this very evening of Mahler, and Beethoven's 8th. We purchased seats just above and behind the orchestra, so we had a front view of the conductor as he conducted in a way that I can only describe as near manic vigor. The performance was stellar, and well spent time!

    I have to admire the marketing and support they have. Our tickets included a free drink prior to the performance, and at intermission. Not only that, but our tickets provided us with free bus travel two hours before and two hours after the concert. Wow, next thing they'll be encouraging us to applaud wherever we want! The free bus tickets allowed us to take a quick touristy look through the red light district. You'll be glad to know that the only thing we took part in was the pastry shops near the end... yummy strawberry tarts with real cream.


    Day 20

    5:00 in the morning came very quickly, and it was time for a cab ride to the train station. We're pretty sure we got hoodwinked a bit, as the cab driver thought our destination was the airport, but the ride was pleasant enough in the Mercedes sedan. At Amsterdam Centraal, we collected the rest of our luggage from the lockers without incident, and headed to platform 15b.

    About that time, we heard this announcement, “Because of construction, those going to Brussels should get their train at the airport”. Awwk! Jimi and I went back downstairs to see what the heck we were going to do. It was still too early for most workers to be in the station, so Jimi headed to the main part, while I ducked into a “Starbucks” that had just opened, for coffee and orange juice to get us through the possible change in plans.

    Luckily, the announcement was for a local train to Brussels, not the high speed Thalys line we had booked. Phew! We made it back to the platform just as our train was ready to board. Another mixed blessing had happened, because we never would have ventured out for coffee, except for the warning announcement.

    Zounds! Our train had electric, so I was able to recharge the laptop, and labor toward catching up on my blog. Now all we had to worry about was the short transfer time in Brussels for the Eurostar train to London. Luckily, I had researched the forums at foders.com, before we started our journeys and was advised that the Eurostar check-in was to the left, and very close once we walked into the station.

    I have to remark at this point that during this trip, the only time we have had to show our passports, was our initial landing on foreign soil at the Iceland airport for our plane transfer. Plenty of time was saved because of this, but I wish we had gotten them stamped at all of the countries we stopped. Here in Brussels, we were required to use them again before embarking on the Eurostar. All was in order, and we moved on to security screening.

    They seem to have more common sense over here, and our threesome went through easily, even with shoes on, and Jimi's diabetic pump. My guess is they wagered that only stupid American tourists would have so much luggage, and guessed correctly that we were no threat to national security. “Go spend some money, Yankees!”

    The Eurostar ride was very quick. At one point Jimi calculated we were going over 200 miles/hr. Becky was a little concerned about going under the English channel, but the time in the tunnel was relatively brief. We enjoyed some breakfast of “toasties” while on board around our four seat table. No one ever came to claim the fourth seat so I even had some extra leg and storage room.

    We sat across from a foursome of French women, who seemed to be in business mode, but with Jimi's understanding of French, we think maybe it was more like a girl's night out in London. Soon after we passed through the tunnel, I heard an obnoxious alarm, and was afraid the factory we were going by was having an emergency. OMG, it must be the big one! It turns out it was only the cell phone ringtone of one of these charming women. How preposterous, as Becky would say!

    Our train arrived at St. Pancras train station, and once again I took good advice from foders.com to take a taxi to our hotel. The taxis here are quaint oversized cabs, but no trunks as such. We piled some of our luggage in the front seat next to the driver, and the rest in the very adequate back seats with us. London traffic is just as bad as New York City, but interestingly we are only charged by miles. Our cab driver was very skilled at weaving through traffic, and I was glad again not to be driving. We could have used the “Tubes”, but with all our luggage it would have been pretty dicey.

    We found a reasonably priced hotel on the advice of our Welsh friend, Lisa Jones, by way of the Premier Hotel on Belvedere St. Once again, we have arrived early, but this time no room is yet available, so we find the queue for baggage storage. Our luggage is going into a stuffy oversized closet, with a small entryway hall. Did I tell you the hotel has no air conditioning? There are two helpful and friendly staff girls, tagging and hefting items onto racks, but I take pity on them and lift our 50lb plus bags to their places.

    There's a unique automated check-in station, but as this is our first stay, the hotel clerk tries to advise us. Unfortunately, this is only her second day to work here, and it was kind of like the blind leading the blind. There are options to add internet service (£3 a day) which we take, and breakfast (£9.75 per person a day) which we don't take, plus several other options. Then we prepay for everything, and it spits out the card keys. I think I like the system overall, but having to activate the electricity in our room with the card key was a little strange.

    The weather is...can you believe? Sunny...It threatens rain tomorrow, but maybe England isn't used to my special weather powers? Regardless, we decide to head out for some sightseeing. I attempt to withdraw pounds at the ATM, but find I am limited to £50 per day. Some places will take U.S. Dollars, but you pay an extra $10.60 for every $100 you spend for the convenience. At the “tubes” we can only purchase one day ticket per credit card per day, but I figure this is a good security.

    We take the tubes to Leicester Square, and I swear they seem to go faster and scarier through the tunnels of the underground than the Eurostar did. On the way out, we stop and buy tickets for Agatha Christie's “Mousetrap” a long running murder mystery in London. We find an English Pub for lunch, and I get to sample some authentic fish and chips :-p, but no Guiness is to be found >:o Hopefully, another day.

    Again, with the advice of Lisa, we are back in the tubes toward Hampstead Heath, a protected natural area in London. Lisa tells us that an early version of Robin Hood was filmed partly there, and the alternating woods and meadows make me imagine I am there in Sherwood Forest. We don't get to the heath quite the way Lisa would, and find ourselves at a bit of a loss, once inside.

    Here comes my favorite part...

    A senior bicycling group was on a walk through the heath, and the leader comes up to me and says, “I say...can you give us a bit of help with directions?” If ever there was a time to answer, “We're not from around here”, this was it! But I say, “We were about to ask you the same thing!”

    The lead woman proceeds to pull out a map of the heath, and we all have a look at our predicament. They are much more help than we are, and for a while we journey with them to Parliament Hill. As we part company with the troupe, we spy kites flying above the trees, and we know we are headed in the right direction. We top the hill, and I understand Lisa's advice, because a view of London now sprawls out amongst the trees. Gorgeous!

    To get out of the heath, we follow the last advice of the bicycle troupe to “keep the legs to the left”, and go downhill past a municipal swimming pool, and out toward Hampstead. After another harrowing tube ride we are back to Waterloo Station, and make the obligatory stop to see Big Ben. Back at the hotel, Becky is exhausted, so Jimi and I try out the restaurant at our hotel, and bring back some “take away” food for her. We also scout out the local area for groceries and quick food places, before calling it a night.


    Day 21

    We've had periodic trouble with our credit cards this trip, mostly because of the lack of a micro chip on the cards. My debit card does not work on most purchases, but I can withdraw cash from an ATM up to $100 limit. This gets lost in translation to £60, which is about $93, but fluctuates most days. At the “tubes” we are limited to buying one ticket per credit card per day at automated ticket stations. This reminds of problems I have had with the Washington, D.C. metro, but we have solved this problem by buying one “day” ticket to the zones we want. With two or more round-trips a day, it's a much better deal than individual trip tickets.

    I forgot to say yesterday, that our hotel is just one of the occupants of the County Hall Building. It's typical of the old style buildings in central London, seven stories and rather grand. There's a Marriott in one section, and a museum occupies the first floor. The first floor in England means the floor above the 0 floor, which is not at ground level either, because of fourteen steps. Note to self...TRAVEL LIGHT NEXT TIME! Our elevator doesn't have an option to stop at floor one, which I presume is the museum.

    We take the luxury of sleeping in this morning, but I'm the first up and walk outside to bring back a little breakfast. There are a couple of options in the building across the street, and I get an order to go, which here they call “take away”. I have yet to find coffee under £1.75, so we are making our own in the room, and I'm actually drinking hot tea.

    I'm having some problems with my right foot, (I either bruised or broke a toe before we left the States), so Jimi and Becky head out without me this morning. You'll have to read Jimi's diary to hear all, but their first order of business was to correct the tickets that were sold to us for the “Mousetrap”. When we checked the tickets to verify the show time today, we found the clerk had erroneously printed us tickets in September. “You just can't get good help, even in England!”

    Becky and Jimi also make it to Piccadily Circus, and Chinatown, where Jimi gets a picture of “tripe” for sale...still the fixation on food, if you can call it that. They're back at 1:00 with the correct theater tickets for “Mousetrap”, but have obviously not had enough walking. I decide to trek out and get a haircut, while they continue sightseeing.

    With directions from the hotel clerk I make my way around Waterloo Station, and in the process find a street level entrance that we can use to haul our luggage in for our train trip to to Southampton on Sunday. However, I soon lose my sense of direction, and end up on a back street. Luckily, I find a hair salon anyway, and £27 later, I am 2 pounds lighter in weight and an inch shorter with my mop of hair under control. The girl who cuts my hair is from Australia, and has been here only a few months. She reconfirms Lisa's advice to visit Portabello Road while we are here.

    Not much later, Becky and Jimi are back, and it's off to the “Slug & Lettuce” for supper. Yes, what a name that is! We eat some lite Indian food, sans real slugs, and it's off to the theatre. “Mousetrap” has been running 60 years in London, with over 400 different actors during that time. It's a whodunnit, based in a bed and breakfast, and the acting is exquisite. I believe I am the first of our group to guess correctly the culprit, and whisper this to Becky. I'd tell, but then I'd have to kill you...

    Day 22

    We start out today again to take care of some important business...Becky needs her nails redone! We pop off the tubes at Charing Cross Road, and find a nail shop close to where Jimi and I will shop for sheet music and books. In an hour we meet back for lunch and find some authentic good English food. Yes, that's an oxymoron! It's actually Ye Olde Mexican restaurant.

    Once again, I leave the heavy walking to Jimi and Becky, and make my way back to the hotel. I'm not without a mission, however as we need Ibuprofen and nail polish remover. This I find back at Waterloo Station at a “Boots” pharmacy. The only problem is I am limited to buying two packs of 16 ibuprofen, when it's nothing to buy a bottle of 500 back home. A bonus though, is that I am also able to buy our tickets to Southampton just across from “Boots” and use one credit card to buy all three! Woohoo, it's the little things that matter!

    It's Friday, and we've decided to split up this evening, which will allow Jimi to see “Wicked”, a show Becky and I have seen twice already. When Jimi leaves, Becky and I take care of some business back in the States. Yes, that's what they call it now, and decide what to do next.

    The whole time in the “tubes”, Jimi has taken the lead in directions, which is fine with me. As Einstein once said, “Never memorize anything you can always ask Jimi about” (OK, the real quote is “anything you can look up in a book”) But, tonight Becky and I are on our own, and it's the Northern Line we'll be taking now.

    Our destination is “Street Feast”. Oddly enough, I had just received an email from AARP newsletter, with 10 ways to avoid the Olympics while in London. They haven't really started yet(thank God), except that the Olympic torch is in England now, and on it's traditional hand carried journey to announce the games. One of the avoidance measures is to attend this food fest of several street vendors, on Friday nights. It periodically moves its location, and is at the Cambden Street Brewery tonight.

    It's a smaller venue than I expected, but Becky and I find it with the help of some good local directions. All the locals we have approached this trip have been charming and helpful! There are about 8 vendors here beside the brewery itself, and we partake in some lovely spice jerk chicken, and local brew. On the way out we sample some delightful cheesecake and red velvet cake. To me, this is another high point of our trip.

    Day 23

    This is our last full day in London. We are just learning the ropes, but that's the way it goes. We eat breakfast at the Quattro Cafe, a reasonable choice near our hotel, and one chosen by many locals. Today, there are several construction workers eating, making it a little rowdier than usual, but the £1.20 coffee and hearty breakfast sandwiches make it worth it.

    Our first stop fizzles a little at St. Pauls Cathedral, as we forgo the £15 ticket price per person, and just gawk from the entrance. Going from the sublime to the ridiculous, we journey to the flea market of Portabello Road. It reminds me of the flea markets back home at the county fairgrounds, only bigger. There are numerous street vendors, and semi-permanent housing for many others selling their wares. Trashy souvenirs, are sold beside antique china, and home crafted goods, and of course, food vendors.

    Jimi buys some nice wedgewood, while I buy some cheap sunglasses, including very tacky British mod glasses. I also have some excellent street vended grilled cod, with “tomater sauce mon!” Becky fails to find a hat box for the ascot styled one, she's brought along for our upcoming cruise home. All the while it's wall to wall people. What fun!

    Fast forward, and we're about to enter Harrod's. Any women reading this blog will know what I mean. Men, think J.C. Penney's at 5 times the price! It's still wall to wall people, but well dressed clerks waiting on very few people. Who would ever want to buy here? Oops, Becky finds a cardboard hat box, which becomes our only purchase...£15. You do the math...

    To console us with some of our expensive purchases(including my £27 haircut) we find half price tickets to see “Blood Brothers”. This is another long standing London show, that has had the likes of Carole King and Petula Clark in the female lead role. It's a sad but moving story of twins separated a birth, who become friends, but die tragically.

    Day 24

    Excitement abounds as we look forward to joining the Queen Mary 2 for our trip back to the U.S.A.! We begin the immense task of gathering our luggage together for the train to Southampton. We have one 50 lb bag that remains untouched, as it houses our tuxedos and other finery. Becky's ascot hat, which has survived our many travels so far, is ensconced in the new gold and white striped hatbox from Harrods. In three trips we have all the luggage down the stairs to street level, and watch with scorn as a family of four gets a cab to go the few blocks to the train station.

    Our usual cafe is closed for Sunday, so after a moments rest with the luggage, it's on to Waterloo, where we find seats at a Burger King. It's not our “father's” Burger King, but it keeps us from starving while we wait for the track number of our train. Soon, its track four that we find ourselves at, and after a few futile attempts to stow luggage overhead, we pile it in the space reserved for bicycles. The conductor is OK with this as long as no one needs the space in the four stops before Southampton. Our luck holds out, and Queen Mary 2, here we come.

    Well, one last towing of the luggage, as the free bus leaves us a good walk from the ship. As luck would have it, Becky is in a conversation with two local gentleman who have sailed with the Queen Mary 2, and they are getting off at the very stop we need. They have just gotten their dog from the kennel(yes, she is on the bus too), and give us good directions to the ship's loading area. I'm pretty sure we are the only ones to walk into the terminal, and I think we will be on the ship video doing so. We drop off our baggage, and by the time we sit down in the waiting area of the terminal, I take some video as I see our baggage being loaded onto the ship.

    Finally! It's our turn to board, and we pose for pictures, bedraggled as we are, and sail through security.
    When we reach our cabin, the luggage is here, along with two small bottles of champagne and hors d'oeuvres that are complimentary from the booking agent we used. We have a private balcony that is cut from the hull, so you have to stand to see much outside, but we don't mind. In fact, if Cunard would provide bar stool height seating, I would say it's one of the best balconies available. Some of the higher glass balconies have obstructed views in places anyway.

    At the set sail party, we have both an American and a Swedish flag to wave. The weather is of course, Sunny! I'm just sure we'll make the video again!

    Most evenings will be formal, but tonight being the first night requires jackets, but no ties. We chose to be seated at a larger table, to meet people, and we meet some very lovely people who are from the Isle of Wight. In fact in just moments, we will soon pass in sight of their houses. They wave to the grandkids from the dinner table as we sail by. Dinner is gourmet...cold avocado and salmon soup, prawn salad, roasted scallops, crème brule. We order whatever we want, but the portions are sized just right not to over-indulge.

    It's been a long day, and Becky takes a rest, as Jimi and I explore the Queen Mary 2 a bit...13 stories by a thousand feet long. There's a library, a planetarium, theaters, lounges, restaurants, open deck, casino, swimming pools, and just about anything you'd ever want. I think my favorite place though is just a small card room on the 11th floor, in the bow of the ship, with plenty of windows to look out on the ocean.

    Day 25

    I'm just now catching up with this blog, as it's been quite a whirlwind these last few days. Also the internet on the ship is fairly expensive, but it's by the minute instead of by the day, so I do as much as I can offline, and then jump online for a short period.

    Today is the first day at sea, and there are enough activities planned to keep us busy for a week. We choose the bridge lessons at 9:30(just Jimi and I), the dancing lessons at 12:30, planetarium at 1:30, tea at 3:00, and soon it's time for dressing black and white formally for dinner and the first ball. We'll adjust tomorrow because we missed a very well received lecture on music, that tomorrow will include George and Ira Gershwin.

    All at our table for dinner are decked out in tuxes, but Jimi wins for wearing a tailcoat tonight. We both start out with French onion soup, one of my favorites, and it does not disappoint. We all three diverge with courses of shrimp, cannelloni, and steak(for Becky). When dessert comes, it's the first error for our waiters, and we are passing cheesecake, chocolate diversion, and Grand Mariner parfaits around the table, until we finally give up, and eat what is in front of us. It was not a bad problem to have!

    The ball, later on brings out all the dancing enthusiasts. The floor is crowded, helped immensely by the paid male hosts who partner with the single ladies or those coupled with dancing challenged spouses. Becky and I blend into the background, and get some real practicing in! We end with a dance to honor the crew that reminds me of a upscale chicken dance, but fun, as it gets all involved.

    The rest of the Days...

    I've been hampered by all the activities and eating on board, not to mention the high internet cost for such slow speed, so I'm lumping the rest together. The other hamper was my plan to finish this first thing when we got home, but that was thwarted by a storm that passed through Ohio and WestVirginia, leaving us without power for 6 days so far, as I write this. We went from gourmet food, lively entertainment, and pampering, to eating peanut butter sandwiches in a hot and dark house. Life is still good, as we have had our pool to cool off in, and the grocery and gasoline shortages are gone.

    So back to highlights of the cruise.

    Jimi and I took bridge lessons every morning while on board, in my favorite room to look out. Becky and I took dance lessons most days, and were able to apply them every evening. My British mod glasses were a hit at the masquerade ball, and Becky ascot hat, and Jimi's top hat pleased at the Ascot Ball. The food was never less than delightful, and though we ate one night at the optional Todd English
    restaurant, I preferred having the company of our new friends, and the hubbub of the main dining room.
    The Todd English experience was marred by location in the back of the ship, which amplified the rocky seas we had that evening, and caused Jimi enough discomfort that he had to to back to the room. (Luckily, Becky had prepared by bringing transderm patches, and he had no trouble after that.)

    The entertainment was entertaining, but not the caliber you would find in New York or London. That being said, I enjoyed mostly David Copperfield(not the magician) who surprised with a huge tenor voice, along with comedy, and ventriloquism. The dancing troupe was also energetic, and showed up at the balls, in addition to well choreographed shows in the Royal Theatre. There were also some nice informative lectures on the oceans, climate change, and music history, that I thoroughly enjoyed. I even checked out the casino(no big surprise there) and ended ahead $25 and came in second in a blackjack tournament.(If the dealer had made her blackjack at the end...she had an ace showing...I would have come in first.)

    The transatlantic experience is not for everyone, but Jimi especially has always been fascinated by all the old ocean liners, as I am too. I also like days at sea, as it's much less pressure than following the time constraints of ports of call. We had a couple days of fog and rainy weather(evidently my Sunny powers don't extend to the ocean), but even then, it was romantic to hear the low dull fog horn as we sailed comfortably through. The Queen Mary 2 is definitely an ocean liner, and I have felt more movement on lesser ships in the Caribbean.

    Seven days went faster than I wanted, but it was topped by the arrival in New York City. We were advised to be up at 4:00 a.m. to see everything, and Becky and I were two of the hardier ones who joined the others on the sun deck for this. Jimi would watch from our cabin balcony.

    The Queen Mary 2 passes under the Verazzano Bridge with just a few feet to spare. I'm not sure what would be scarier...to be on deck looking up, or drivers on the Verrazzano looking below. When you see my pictures, you'll understand! There was applause as we made it safely under, and then we had views of the Statue of Liberty and Staten Island Ferry that many never see.

    Our disembarkation was another adventure. I had tried to book a car the night befoire to take us back to my Aunt's in New Jersey, but the internet timed out just before I could complete the task. Luckily our cell phones started working in time that morning, and I was able to complete the reservation. We were to be met at 11:00 a.m., but disembarkation was taking longer than we were told, and at 10:30 I began biting my fingernails. Finally we were called and headed down the ramp at 15 minutes 'til.

    We collected our luggage one last time, and got in line for customs. I was still fearful we wouldn't make it, but the agent just gave us a cursory look and sent us on. The car company called just then with the car number, and we stepped out at 11:02 to find our car first in line.

    I literally stuffed our luggage in the trunk of the Lincoln to the brim, much to the amazement of the onlooking driver. He was from India, and had been in the States since since 1984, but you wouldn't guess by the difficulty he had with English. I was able to tell him to cross the Verazzano Bridge, and away we went. I have never seen anyone shift the car to park at every red traffic light, but that's what our driver did. This was after waiting until the very last moment to brake for said lights...yes, it was scary! At one point he pulls out some cologne, and sprays it generously around the front seats, and on himself...cough, cough, cough. It was all Jimi and I could do to not break out laughing...and coughing.

    Addendum

    I'm in our local library, and calling this blog to a close. Special thanks to family, friends, and posters at foders.com! Until the next adventure. Keep Sunny!

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