Hello fellow fodorites!
I had a great trip recently so I thought I'd post my journal. I spent 4 nights in London with friends before we boarded the Celebrity Silhouette. Our ports of call were Le Havre and Cherbourg France; Gijon and La Coruna Spain. We had a change in itinerary and missed out on Vigo and the Azores.
Here's the first few days in London:
Wednesday 26 October 2011, London
I arrived in London on an overcast day from Dulles international airport. On board my Virgin Atlantic flight were Marjorie and Leo, friends I cruised with in 2010. We met up with Lee and Mike (fellow cruisers), who flew in from Ottawa Canada. I hired a car service (Woodford Chauffeurs) that took us to our respective hotels. It was a long drive in to London, as it was rush hour.
I must mention that Virgin Atlantic has a 13-pound carry on weight limit! My camera equipment alone weighs around 10 pounds, so I left one lens at home and had Tony pack my netbook in his suitcase – he would be flying in the next day with our friends. The flight was great, as was the service. My economy seat was quite comfortable and I didn’t feel cramped at all.
My home for the next four nights was at the George Hotel
http://www.georgehotel.com/english/index.html located near Bloomsbury and just north of the Russell Square tube station. The buildings were originally townhouses but most converted to B&Bs. There is no elevator but two sets of stairs. My room (#11) was located on the ground floor with a window facing a plain interior courtyard. The room consisted of two beds, an armoire in the corner, a small table, tv on the wall and a very tiny bathroom! The room was cramped and there was really no room for my large suitcase. I kept it near the door, the only large floor space area. It’s a very basic place to say but fine for me. I would probably pick another hotel for a larger bathroom.
For the rest of the day, I explored the area, had lunch at Pret a Manger (a chain restaurant that serves fresh-made sandwiches, soups, etc), and spent some time at the British museum. It rained on and off throughout the day and it was cold. It was interesting to see lots of young people walking in the rain without umbrellas. When the sun was out, the sky was bright blue.
I headed to Soho where I had early dinner plans with Lee and Mike. I walked past the theatre district, Chinatown, the gay quarter, and Piccadilly Circus. I watched street performers for a bit. One street I thought was interesting had shops filled with musical instruments.
I found a wine bar (Shampers on 4 Kingly street) and a couple glasses of wine. My first order took quite a while to get. In fact the bartender that took my order disappeared. A second bartender took care of me. When I received the bill, there was only one glass of wine listed. The bartender told me since I waited so long for my first drink she didn’t want to charge me for the wine.
I met Lee and Mike at Masala Zone (9 Marshall Street), an Indian chain restaurant. We had a great evening and enjoyed our meal and company. We all ordered the Thali, which is a medley of foods served in bowls on a large platter. I had the butter chicken, which came with curry vegetables, raita, lentils, chapatis (whole wheat bread), and rice. Everything was scrumptious!
After dinner, the guys walked me back to my hotel, about a 1.7-mile walk. It was a pleasant but cool evening. I slept well that night.
Thursday 27 October 2011, London
Tony and friends (Glenn, Carol, Louisa, Robin, and Carolyn, Mark) arrived at the hotel. They took the same Virgin Atlantic flight but decided to upgrade to economy plus for $50 each. Tony freshened up and we headed out the door with Glenn and Carol. We took the tube from Russell Square station (purchased the Oyster card) to the science museum to meet up with an older gentleman (also named Tony) who took the train in to meet us for the day. The guys met Tony (a retired Royal Air Force officer) back in 2009 on our transatlantic cruise.
While the guys hung out, Carol and I visited the Victoria and Albert museum, which we both thoroughly enjoyed.
While Glenn and Carol headed back to the hotel to check in to their room, the three of us took the tube to Westminster Abbey. I wanted to go inside but changed my mind when I saw the hefty entry price, 18£! That’s about $28USD. I didn’t want to pay that price, especially since I had visited there in 2005. We walked across Westminster Bridge and had some tea and coffee at the café at the London Eye. Glenn and Carol later showed up. We bought tickets for the Eye and it was only a 5-minute wait in line. Of course we weren’t in London at the height of tourist season. We enjoyed the views, although we were disappointed in the overcast day. The city looked gloomy.
We had dinner at the Sherlock Holmes Pub located near Charing Cross (10 Northumberland Street). I had been here for a pint in 2005 and liked the atmosphere. It was packed and the tables were filled, but we only had to wait a few minutes for a group to clear out. Tony had the fish/chips and I had a meat pie.
Tony took the train home and we walked a bit before taking the tube back to the hotel.
Friday 28 October 2011, Day trip to Greenwich
After eating a full English breakfast (eggs, sausage, baked beans, tomato slice, as well as coffee, tea, fruit juice, and toast) in the small dining room Tony, Glenn, Carol, Carolyn, Mark, and I went to Greenwich via the tube and DLR.
The Cutty Sark was under repairs, so we couldn’t see much of it. We walked around the royal naval college and its chapel; and spent some time at the national maritime museum.
For lunch, we sat outside in the gardens at the King’s Arms Pub (King William Walk). This time I had the fish/chips with mushy peas while Tony had a lamb potpie (lunch with a beer and wine 24.80£). It was chilly outside but there were heat lamps to keep us somewhat warm. Service was extremely slow but the food was good.
The last stop of the day was to see the observatory and the meridian line. Tony and I kissed across the line. The views from above were fine and we could see central London in the distance.
We decided on a boat ride back to London. Tony, Glenn, Carol and I got off at Tower Bridge and walked over to the Borough market, while the other two headed to the London Eye. The market was closing down but we still got to see lots of great foods – we even sampled some cheese and liquors. I’m sure it’s quite bustling during the day.
For dinner the six of us dined at Balfour Italian restaurant (75-77 Marchmont St), located two blocks from our hotel. The restaurant was full and we had no reservations, but the manager said a table would be opening up in 5 minutes. Tony and I bought a bottle of wine. I had the goat cheese crostini and the ricotta-stuffed ravioli and butter sage sauce. Tony had the spaghetti Bolognese. Everything was very good and the portions pretty large (47£).
Back at the hotel we all met in the dining/sitting area and had some drinks. Everyone had purchased bottles of wine or vodka, plus we purchased bottles to bring on the ship (2 bottle maximum).
Saturday 29 October 2011, Day trip from London
I booked a private tour for 14 of us to visit Stonehenge, Bath and a couple of villages. I used International Friends (http://www.internationalfriends.co.uk/) after much research. David was our driver and he was a chatty fellow. Non-stop encyclopedia, history buff. He was knowledgeable in a wide variety of interesting things, including British and American law. What I thought was most interesting were the explanation of how some phrases came about. One is, “Kick the bucket” whereby the person standing on the bucket with a slip noose kicks his/her own bucket. If he/she failed to die, the family would yank down on the body to finish him/her off. I always knew it as someone who died.
It took about 1 hour 45 minutes to get to Stonehenge. It was an overcast morning but I was thrilled to see Stonehenge. Yes, it’s a love it or hate kind of thing. I’ve always been interested in the history and mystery of the stones. We had an hour there with the use of audio guides.
The next stop was to Bath, a beautiful city that sits on several hills. The sun came out so Carol and I got some great shots. I’m so glad we took our photos when we first arrived, as it clouded up and began to rain just after entering the Roman baths. Our visit lasted about an hour. I wanted some time to walk around town and have a light lunch. We ended up doing a take out of some hefty pasty’s from Gourmet Scoffs, which was recommended to me by the tour manager. Mine had braised beef, onions, and potatoes. I couldn’t finish it all.
My favorite stop of the day (because I love photography) was Castle Combe, a charming and beautiful village. We only had 15 minutes there and I wished for more time. The village was quite with just two main streets. Some of the homes had their fireplaces going so I could see the smoke coming out of the chimneys. Some of the bushes and ivy on the walls had turned to their autumn colors. Hanging planters were everywhere including window planters. It was just lovely.
The countryside was beautiful with its rolling, green hills and specks of villages here and there. Lacock was another pretty village that we visited. I saw a lovely bridal couple walk out of the local church so I snapped a few shots. Lacock is a village used by many moviemakers. Movies such as Pride and Prejudice, the Other Boleyn Girl, Harry Potter have been filmed there.
The last stop of the day before our 2-hour drive to London was to Avebury, another famous Stonehenge-type place with large stones in circles. It wasn’t as impressive as Stonehenge, probably because the circles are quite large and one cannot see all of it from one spot.
By the time we got back to the hotel, it was dark. It was a full day of touring and most enjoyable. I would love to return to England for a couple of weeks renting a car and driving to the villages in the countryside. Of course I would have to get up the nerve to drive on the left side of the road.
For our Cruise Critic (CC) pre-cruise get together, my friend Mike contacted a pub (Marquis of Cornwallis, 31 Marchmont St.) near our hotel and had an area reserved for us. About 30 people showed up. It was fun meeting fellow cruises. We had been chatting on line for over a year.
After a couple of drinks, we were ready for dinner and I didn’t want another pub meal. Nearby in the Brunswick shopping center is the Hare and Tortoise (11-13 The Brunswick), a Japanese Ramen noodle shop. I cannot find any Ramen noodle shops where I live. Tony and I started with the unagi and avocado maki. Six big portions. I had the Seafood Ramen as my entrée (with grilled salmon, shrimp, scallops, mussels) and Tony had the Miso Ramen (with char-sui pork, boiled egg, bean sprouts, etc). We also shared some sake, which warmed us up along with the soups. The others (Carolyn, Mark, Glenn and Carol) also enjoyed their appetizers and soups. It’s interesting that this Japanese place has a typical British pub name.
More drinks back at the hotel, some packing and then to bed. We’re off to Southampton tomorrow for the start of our cruise.
Sunday 30 October 2011, Off to Southampton via Winchester
After our full English breakfast and packing up our suitcases, our coach service arrived (same company I used to get to the hotel). There were 22 of us heading to Southampton with a two-hour stop in Winchester. It was a cold and rainy day. The group split up. Some headed directly to the Eclipse Pub. How apropos – it’s the same name as our cruise ship. Another find by my friend Mike. Six of us (Carolyn, Mark, Glenn, Carol, Tony and I) walked along the river, took pictures of the swans and ducks in the water, and saw the old Wolvesey castle, which sits in ruins. We stepped inside the Cathedral and kept to the back, as there was a service. I picked up a Christmas ornament at a nearby shop.
Tony found an ATM, as we were just shy a few pounds to pay for our service to the port (23£ per person, including tip). We walked around town, which was quite busy with tourists and then headed up hill to see the round table in the Great Hall. This is a 13th century hall from medieval times. The place is empty with the exception of the large round table on the wall at one end of the building. It bears the names of King Arthur’s knights. There is no historic evidence that the legend of King Arthur and his knights ever existed but it is certainly a romantic tale.
It was a 45-minute drive to the port of Southampton. It continued to rain but everyone was excited to see the beautiful Eclipse. Check in was a nightmare! Those of us that were Captain’s Club elite members went in (supposedly) the faster line. We were in line for an hour while the other line moved faster. It turned out that the staff moved some in the other line into ours, thereby clogging up the x-ray machines. So many people were furious. So much for priority check-in. Once at the counter, things picked up, or so I thought. Tony and I were asked to sit in the lounge area. We sat there for 10 minutes until Rui, the concierge on board, came and personally escorted us to our cabin. This was a surprise to us, although I knew why.
Happy to be on the ship with a glass of champagne, we checked out our balcony (cabin 9207, 1A category), which was larger than the standard balconies. Louisa and Robin’s balcony (next to us) was even larger. We were five cabins in a row (Mike/Maureen, Glenn/Carol, and Shaun/Melonee). I had Janet, our room attendant, open the partitions between our cabins and we enjoyed our long balcony the entire cruise.
The Oceanview Café was buzzing with cruisers digging into their first meal of the cruise. This is always a busy place for breakfast and lunch. After we had our lunch, we headed to our muster station. Ours was in the dining room. Once done, I was first in line to meet the dining room manager. Our group of 10 had been split into three tables, but he quickly corrected the situation.
The CC group members met up for the sail-away get together. We started at the Oceanview bar but it was very cold and windy, so we went to the Sky lounge. It was a lot of fun meeting other CCr’s.
My group of friends and I had the late seating (8:30pm) and we had table 240 with waiter Dwayne and assistant waiter Serkan. The table was located in the center of the dining room and only two tables way from the captain’s table. Dinner the first night was very good. I had the goat cheese tart, mushroom cappuccino soup, and the lamb shank.
Back in the cabin, there was a bottle of champagne and plate of chocolate covered strawberries on the table. What a nice treat to end our first day on the ship.
We had to change our clocks one hour forward. Last night we had to change our clocks back an hour.
Stonehenge, Bath, and Villages http://www.pileggiphotography.com/Travel/England/Stonehenge-Bath-Villages-2011/20611557_BcnPZD#1633880687_tcPTs45
More to follow!
Trip Report: Four nights in London and then a transatlantic cruise
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