Sunday, September 30, 2018

Whitby and Castle Howard

Casa Grande, Arizona

The following morning our bus took us to Whitby.  The drive took us through the beautiful North York Moors National Park.  You'd think we'd be tired of the beautiful scenery but we weren't.  

Our first stop in town was the Whitby Abbey.  Anita had advised everyone to bring a jacket as the Abbey is up on a bluff overlooking the sea.  She was right and it was windy but sunny.

Once again Anita showed us how to avoid paying to pee.  I'm happy to say we never paid the entire tour.

We had an audio tour of the Abbey museum before going outside to view the actual site of the Abbey.  The Abbey was built in the 7th century.  The view of the North Sea and the village below were spectacular.  Hard to believe how well this was constructed back in 657 AD by the Saxons.

The Abbey sits on a bluff that has 199 steps to the village.  Lucky for us the bus left us off at the Abbey.

The village people used to carry the caskets up these 199 steps to the Abbey for burial.

There is also a footpath if you don't take the steps, but the steps are much easier.

I think everyone immediately fell in love with the quaint whaling town of Whitby.  We walked down the steps into the village and had some time before our lunch to visit the shops.  Whitby is famous for Jet Black jewelry that Queen Victoria loved and the shops were full of it.

I wish I had taken photos of our lunch restaurant.  Anita had told us this would be our best fish and chips ever.  Once again, she was right!  The place was called Trenches.  On a big chalkboard was the name of the fisherman that caught the fish and also the farmer who supplied the potatoes for the day.  It was absolutely the best fish I've ever had.  I did try the Yorkshire mushy peas, but I can live without them, but at least I tried them.

After our group lunch the bus picked us up and drove back through the National Park.  Our next stop was a tour of the Castle Howard.  How do you possibly describe the size of this castle?

I was happy that Bill took this photo of the fountain while we were still inside the castle as they turned off the water at 3 pm because of the drought.

This room had Ruben and Gainsborough paintings among many others.

Bill asked the same question he's asked in every castle--"How did they accumulate so much wealth."  He got the same reply.  "They married well."

There was a room that showed how they filmed  Brideshead Revisited.  

That's how we spent a typical day while we were in York. 
Now you know why I didn't have time to blog at all while we were in the UK.  I must confess, that England, Scotland and Wales wouldn't have been my first pick of countries to visit but since it was on sale and Bill is Welsh we went.  Now that I can sit back and reflect on it, I'm so glad we toured it.  It's one place I could go back to.  

Turtle Safely.......

Friday, September 28, 2018

York, England

Casa Grande, Arizona

Playing catch up on our England, Scotland, and Wales trip.

I forgot to mention one town we stopped to visit while in Wales.  The name of the town is Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwymdrobwillantysiliogogogoch.  I never ever wrote one word that stretched across the page and didn't leave room for the period.  Needless to say it has the distinction of being the longest name of a town in the world.

After we left the Caernarfon Castle and Snowdonia, Wales we had a travel day to York.  The bus stopped in Chester and Anita led us on a discovery walk of the city and the city walls.  As we were walking across the walls she was greeted by John an artist that was painting some beautiful portraits.  The one he was working on, was being to sent to someone in the states.  

We knew there was a big dinner scheduled when we arrived in York, so Bill and I had ice cream for lunch.  I know the butter in the UK is so much better than what we have in the states, just imagine how good the ice cream was.  

We enjoyed the beautiful day eating our ice cream and listening to music on every corner.  Musicians were playing everything from violins and keyboards to singers singing.  The people were just standing in the square listening to them.

Sadly, we left that town too quickly, but York was calling. Anita took us on a walk of the city before our included dinner. Our hotel, the Radisson Park Inn, was said to be the only purpose built hotel.  It was our least favorite because it had very modern furniture.  The toilet was square!  Have you ever sat on a square toilet seat?  The hotel dinner was great and the wine was very nice.  

The following morning Anita led us in a different direction to the York Minster.  Sister Linda was our local guide and you needed a guide in this cathedral.  The Great East Window is the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in the world.  It's hard to describe how large 76 feet of stained glass covering 1,680 feet is.  It was created in 1408 by John Thornton of Coventry.  Americans think 200 years is old in this country.

Molly Pinner had told us to make sure we visited the Shambles and the Railway Museum.  We enjoyed walking through the Shambles.  We had the whole afternoon to explore so we walked around the town.  

The next thing I knew, Bill was walking up the steps of the Mansion.  The Mansion is directly across the river from our hotel.

Bill really enjoys all this wealth these people have.

The next thing we found was the York Museum.  What a find it was.  This museum was used to house prisoners many years ago.  

Part of the museum upstairs had little rooms depicting a certain time period.  

When we went downstairs it was a replica of a village. 

There was of course old cars and don't ask me what kind or date.

If we'd have seen this in the states we would have remarked about the cobblestone streets, but after walking on them everywhere, it was something if you had a smooth sidewalk.

There was a section on the war that was very well done. 

When you were finished in that section you walked through the gift shop and into another wing.  It's a good thing I remembered that as the second section was even better than the first.

It was all about the prisoners that were there.  Each cell had a video playing telling the story.  

There was another section depicting the 60's that we liked.

Now we've been gone from the hotel since 8:30 am.  Walking everywhere in the town since our guided tour of the Minster.  I never expected the York Castle to have so many exhibits and we spent much more time than expected.  We walked back in the direction of the railway museum and we both stopped in front of a very nice looking Italian restaurant that Anita had recommended earlier in one of her walks.  

As much as we both wanted to see the Railway Museum, dinner and a glass of wine sounded better.  It was nice to have a nice dinner with just the two of us.  I don't think I could have walked any further than across the bridge to our hotel.  So much for our afternoon at leisure.  

Turtle Safely......

Monday, September 24, 2018

England, Wales, Scotland Adventure Begins

Tower Hotel
London, UK

Yesterday the eight people that didn't take the pre-trip arrived throughout the day.  Bill and I decided to walk next door and tour the Tower Museum.  We were so glad that we didn't have anything extra planned.

The Tower of London is over 1,000 years old and besides being a royal palace, it is the castle that protects the Crown Jewels and served as a fortress and is probably known best as a prison. Many a queen, royal subject and criminal were beheaded here. For more details on this, check into King Henry VIII.  The ravens of history still live in the castle.  

We ended up spending 5 hours in the Tower and didn't see everything.  There were many spiral narrow staircases.  The White Tower held the armory and had a sign outside that said there were 204 steps in it. We were so glad the temps were in the low 70's and the sun was shining.  There is no ac in the buildings.

We had a Yeoman Warder guide who was great.  He told us about all the beheading that happened.   

We saw the crown jewels in a building.  You weren't allowed photos but it's unbelievable.  I will never forget all the items that we saw in that building.   Besides all the jewels and gold on the crowns there was so much else to see.  One punch bowl was gold and three feet wide.  

Bloody Tower had Sir Walter Raleigh's "prison apartment".  We visited the mint and the Fusilier Museum.  We skipped the zoo as we needed to get back for the welcome dinner.

The welcome dinner was great and we had a beautiful view of the harbor.  There are 28 people on the tour.  Anita is our program directer and she's very knowledgeable but sounds like a lot of fun.

Today we had a "blue tour guide" accompany Anita.  These guides have a special license.  Stewart was great and there were many laughs. 

We went to Buckingham Palace today.  They only have tours inside for a few weeks out of the year, but tickets are hard to come by.  When we saw the lines, we were happy we weren't in them.

We made another stop in Trafalgar Square for a restroom and coffee stop.  Restrooms are free if you are a paying customer.

Our next stop was St. Paul's Cathedral where the last royal wedding was held.  The dome is the second largest.  We were going to tour the church and then changed our mind and took the tube to the British Museum.  In London, you pay to tour a church but all museums and art galleries are free.  You can visit the church during a service without paying.  

As we were walking up to the door, everyone was coming out the entrance and exit doors.  It seems the fire alarm went off and everyone had to evacuate.  We waited a while and then we were allowed to enter.

I wanted to see the Rosetta Stone.  We viewed the Egyptian display which we enjoyed.  I can't believe how much we've forgotten since our visit to Egypt.  

There was also a huge Parthenon exhibit.  There was much more here, than when we visited Greece.  It would take you a week or longer to see all the floors.

Had to change lines in the tube but arrived back with no problems.  Can you believe the tube station came out at Wetherspoons, our favorite pub?  No point in going directly back to the hotel until we stopped for dinner an a pint.  Tonight the special was 8 oz steak and a beer for  $7.99.

Tomorrow we leave London and our first stop will be Oxford.

Turtle Safely......

Sunday, September 23, 2018

On to Wales

Casa Grande, Arizona

Our travels took us to the Snowdonia area of Wales.  Bill's family was from Wales and this was our interest in booking the England, Scotland, and Wales escorted tour.

Our bus left at 8:30 am and stopped at a welcome center for a toilet break around 10.  The United Kingdom welcome centers are nothing like in the states.  There was a Starbucks, Krispy Cream, Burger King, gift shop and a few stores other stores.  Nothing like the ones in America where all you have is vending machines and restrooms.

The bus stopped in Llangollen in Northern Wales for lunch.  Anita led us to the Love Spoons shop where we were treated to a discussion of what are love spoons.  They are hand carved wooden spoons with different shapes which  symbolize different meanings.  They were beautiful but I couldn't decide on one and then I didn't know what I'd do with when we returned.  They would make a beautiful wedding gift for someone.

The scenery was beautiful and I might mention that we didn't see many vehicles at all.  Along the way, Anita handed out Welsh cakes for everyone to try.

The Celtic Royal Hotel was situated right in the center of the historic town.  We could see the sea from our room.  
Every time we arrived in a different location Anita would take those who wanted on a walk around the area so we would know where places were located such as a drug store, supermarket, pubs, and interesting historic places in the town.  The town has a medieval castle and walls built by the English after the conquest of Wales.  Prince Charles was formally inaugurated as Prince of Wales here in 1969.

Welsh is the prime language spoken in Wales and all of the signage is in Welsh and English.  

One of the highlights of our visit to Wales was the home hosted dinner.  The group was divided  into groups of 4-6 people.  Our group of 6 was taken to a beautiful Welsh home which was very old.  We immediately knew this was going to be a wonderful evening.  The  food and wine was delicious.  We enjoyed hearing about the family and life in Wales.  We could discuss any controversial subjects, and did. The host was open for any and all questions.  

The following day we took a narrow gauge steam train on the Ffestiniog Railway.  It is the oldest independent narrow gauge railway in the world.  It was built in 1832 for the slate industry but began carrying passengers in 1864. 
The scenery was spectacular with waterfalls everywhere.  The train stopped a little ways up the mountain.  The next thing I knew we were going backwards back down the mountain to Porthmadog where the engine was changed.  In no time at all we were chugging back up the mountain.  This is run by volunteers who love the railway.  One man has been a volunteer for 30 years.

Our bus was waiting for us when we arrived in Portmeirion for our lunch at the slate museum.  The slate museum was very interesting and educational.  We ate in the luncheon that the workers used to use.  There was a demonstration on how to split slate.  Wales was known for slate until China started exporting slate.

Anita told us about the Welsh people on our way back to the hotel.  Somehow the topic of men's choir came up and she said that a group practices in the city center at 7 pm.  The next thing we knew that everyone wanted to go and hear them sing.  It was a very short walk from the hotel and we were greeted with a very warm welcome.  Chairs were brought out so everyone had a seat.  This choir is world famous.  I love the spontaneity of this trip.

Luggage outside the hotel room at 7 am.   

Turtle Safely.....

Friday, September 21, 2018

Back in the USA!

Casa Grande, Arizona

I'm overwhelmed when I think of everything we saw and did in the last 18 days.  This was the tenth trip we've taken with Grand Circle and I have to say they just keep getting better and better.

When we booked the trip we were concerned because it looked like you had a lot of free time.  Boy, was I ever wrong.  There's always a lot of extras that aren't on the itinerary.  However, we were reminded to remember pacing--choice, balanced, and personalised. 

We were both concerned that we love the river cruises so much, and we'd just done one in March, that maybe we wouldn't enjoy the land tour as much.  After all, you have six different hotels and a lot of time on the Mercedes bus.  I realize now, there's no way you could have done and seen all that we did any other way.

Every day we were given a list of 9 to 10 things to learn and discover during that day.  Examples of items on the list were:  fuzzy brushes, boiled sweets, thatched cottages, love spoons, Welsh cakes, British beer, Lancashire cheese, Dracula, Harry Potter etc.  Anita, our program director, would pass out all kinds of food for us to sample from boiled sweets, cheese, cakes, cookies, Scotch and England beer.  Our meals that were included were 3 course meals and very good, but I have to say not as elaborate as the river cruises.  We usually had a choice of two entrees.  In one case, Anita didn't tell us ahead of time what we were having.  It turned out to be lamb.  She said most people don't eat lamb but they've never tasted lamb from Great Britain.  She was right!  It was delicious and everyone loved it.

We stuck to the same routine everyday.  Breakfast at 7 am and we left for a tour or traveled at 8:30.  Luggage was placed outside our doors at 7 am and put on the bus for us as well as delivered to our rooms at the next hotel.  All hotels were picked for great locations that were within walking distance of everything.

If it happened to be a travel day, we stopped an hour and a half into the journey.  There was always something on the way to see.  During our ride Anita told us about controversial topics, politics, health system, education, immigration and anything else we wanted to know.

Even before the trip began we had received an email and a phone call from Anita.  We also received a thank you card and a follow up email about our trip home.

The only down side to the trip was that I lost my camera somewhere with all the photos.  I had a problem with the computer so I didn't get anything downloaded.  Bill had some photos on his camera so we didn't lose everything.

Here's a few of the 856 he took.

This is the Tower of London Museum looking out from our hotel window.

Notice all the cobblestones around the Tower.
You can't go to London without seeing the Rosetta Stone.
The Tower Bridge has a glass floor where you can see the traffic below.
Here's Buckingham palace.  The Queen was not there at the time.

Neither Bill nor I wanted to go in the Eye after we saw it.  It takes 30 minutes to go around and it goes so slowly you can hardly tell its moving.  

We visited Churchill's War Rooms when in London and as an added attraction we stopped in the town where he is buried.  
Notice how the suit of armour covers the "vital" areas.

We toured Hampton Court Palace along with many more castles.
 There were over 3,000 firearms on the walls of this palace.
The fountain at Howard Castle was on when we arrived but due to the drought the area has had, they shut the water off at 3 pm. 

The Roman Baths in Bath were very interesting.  I understand they added quite a bit to see in recent years.

I lost the photos of Stonehenge and the local pub where
we had our first taste of fish pie.  

That's just a little of some of the things we saw and did while in England.

Turtle Safely......

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Terrorist Attack?

Doubletree by Hilton
Cheltenham, UK

Last night was the scariest night of our lives.  I'll make this short as we had a very short night and we need a good nights sleep.

We are on the front of the building in a wing that has a very long hallway. Right before it was time for our three course dinner the fire alarm went off.  The fire door closed and Bill was on one side and I was on the other.  The alarm went off after a few minutes but not before people were coming out of their rooms in their pajamas.

The group dinner was wonderful and we came back to our room to get a shower.  As we started to relax after a very busy day we both heard something.  It sounded like a lot of gunshots.  We peeked out the window and  we saw what looked muzzle flash.  It was rapid sounding fire.  There is no way you could exit through the windows.  Bill immediately shut the lights out and all I could see through the peephole was people running in the halls.  We got down on the floor in the furthest corner of the room behind the bed.  I might add that I could smell cordite.  The noise lasted for
about 15 or 20 minutes.  No one at the front desk answered the phone.  We kept waiting to hear sirens or someone coming through to see if everyone was okay.  We heard nothing else the rest of the night.

This morning we found out that a wedding party at the hotel was responsible  for shooting off fireworks.  Management of the hotel came out to the bus before we left for Bath and Stonehenge to apologize.  

I don't ever want to have an "adventure" like that again.

Turtle Safely........ 

Friday, September 7, 2018

Tower Bridge Tour and Hampton Court Palace

Tower Hotel
London, UK

Hampton Court Palace was our destination yesterday.  The coach arrived at 8:30 and all 14 of the tour group piled on.  The Hampton Palace is huge and it would take a couple of days to see all of it.  We were the last ones that walked back to the bus about 1:15. Every one had different places they wanted to visit for the remainder of the day.  Our bus driver happily drove to all the different destinations to let everyone off.  Bill and I wanted to go back to the hotel and visit the Tower Bridge Museum.  

I didn't know what to expect for the bridge tour.  Luckily there was a lift (I'm getting into the language here.)that took you to the top.  We walked across from one tower over to the other.  There was a special exhibit on the bridges of the world.  As you walk across the walkways between the towers the floor is glass and you can see the cars and people below you.

If I'm skipping all around it's because when I go to add a photo the photo doesn't show.  I just have the number and date.  That's what I get for getting a new small computer and leaving immediately for a trip without Dave getting it ready for me.

Here's some of the 3,000 weapons displayed in the Hampton Court Palace.

Here's a photo of the gardens, which is so large you can't get a great photo.

That's yesterday's adventure and I'll try and catch up later tonight.  We spent the entire day at the London Tower Museum and came back to soak our feet for an hour before we have the official welcome kick off dinner of the trip.  The other 8 people have been arriving all through the day.

Turtle Safely...... 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Oyster Lesson--But Not the Kind You Eat

Tower Hotel
London, United Kingdom

Westminster Abbey, Churchill War Rooms and Churchill Museum, Big Ben, Parliament, Covent Garden Area, Trafalgar  Square, 10 Downing Street, Household Cavalry Museum, Benjamin Franklin House, the National Gallery, the changing of the guards, and a glimpse of Buckingham Palace were things we saw on Tuesday.  

I'm way too far behind on blogging so I'll just add a couple of photos.
Our first day, Bill doesn't even look tired.

Joan suggested we eat dinner in a pub as you don't tip.  We had a gigantic piece of fish and chips for 5.99 including a beer.

Turtle Safely......

Monday, September 3, 2018

Uneventful Trip to London

London, England
The Tower Hotel

I know it's been awhile, but a lot has been going on.  Yesterday we flew out of Phoenix, and I might mention that we left on time.  The flight was smooth and both Bill and I were surprised how short that 10 hour flight felt.

We landed early and walked a very long way to customs.  We were really disappointed to find out that Heathrow doesn't do the global entry program.  At least the lines moved very quickly and efficiently.  Another long walk and  Bill spotted our luggage before it went around again.  Grand Circle's greeter was waiting for us as we left the baggage claim area.  It was 11:30 by the time we left the airport and our plane was scheduled to land at 11:40.  

Our program director had called us earlier in the week and said it took anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours to get through traffic to our hotel.  Our shuttle driver was happy to announce it took one hour and ten minutes.  

The porters took our luggage as we came through the doors.  Joan, our pre-trip program director was waiting for us.  She was ready to do a walk about with other new arrivals.  We ran upstairs to get the cameras out of of the luggage.

Were we ever surprised to see our room.  The first thing we both said was it was a good thing Sherry and Dave didn't come.  In our trip to Australia, Fuji and New Zealand they teased us because they always had the parking lot views while we had much better rooms.  There are three rooms that face the bridge and the museum.  We really lucked out because we have a gorgeous view.

I knew our hotel was close to the London Tower Bridge and the London Tower Museum but I had no idea how close.  This is without using the zoom looking out the window. 

Here's a couple of photos.  I'm just too tired with the 8 hours difference in the time and the 10 hour flight to mess with this today.
This post box has VR which shows how old it is.

More tomorrow.

Turtle Safely......