Northern Europe Expedition 26 June to 15 August 2014
Part #4 - The British Isles
Part 2: July 6 to 20, 2014 - Iceland and Norway
Part 3: July 20 to August 3, 2014 - The Baltic Sea
3 August 2014 - Dover to Southampton, England via LHR. My third time in Dover in just over 4 weeks, it was a sunny day for once, the white cliffs were looking their best and fisher people were out in force suspending their poles over the bridge hoping to catch something. I was off the Ocean Princess by about 8:00 a.m. and onto my coach for Heathrow, which took about 2 hours along the M25 and past miles of England's “green and pleasant land.” I was duly deposited at Terminal 3, quickly found the group gathered for transit to the Ruby Princess and got onto another coach, which travelled about 1.5 hours to Southampton. As the Ruby Princess is a much larger ship and consequently able to transport a much larger number of passengers, it took a while to get checked in, processed through security and onto the behemoth to find my way to my outside cabin on Deck 8 at the stern. The rest of the day, I spent exploring the ship, participating in the spa raffle (no prize), attending the Muster Station emergency drill and joining an evening trivia game, playing for once on my own and getting 17 out of 20 right answers (though the winning team of two had 19 right answers) and enjoying lunch and dinner on my own at the buffet on the 15th Deck. I did not attend any shows, but I did check my e-mails.
4 August 2014 - Guernsey to Sark, Channel Islands. From our ship, we tendered into St. Peter's Port, Guernsey (pop. 17,000), whose official language is English while the legislative language is French, and an island dialect of Guernésiais is spoken by about 2 percent of the population. Our tour today was in fact to the island of Sark, a 4.5 square-mile island in the English Channel with 600 inhabitants belonging to the Bailiwick of Guernsey, politically independent from the United Kingdom, and one of the last feudal states in Europe. We thus boarded another boat and it took about 45 minutes, past some deserted islands and the 200-acre private island of Brecqhou, on which there was a rich estate, owned by identical, eccentric and reclusive billionaire twins, Sir David and Sir Fred Barclay. They are currently in very complicated local and international lawsuits seeking to make Brecqhou - already part of a fiefdom - its own nation, and they issue their own postage stamps! The island of Sark, with 40 miles of coastline, is located approximately in the middle of the Channel Islands. Docking at Creux Harbour, we were asked to wait for a tractor to come and pull us in a cart 3/4 of a mile up Harbour Hill. We were waiting around so long for the tractor to come back that I offered to walk up, but was told it would be quicker for me to wait than to walk (I'm sure it wasn't, but once again, I think they were used to overweight, older people on these tours, who had neither the breath nor the agility to climb up a hill.) Once we arrived at La Maseline village, a very enthusiastic woman led us to the shop in town where our bicycles were awaiting us and we were finally left on our own to bike around the island of no cars, only tractors, horses and bicycles, and no public lighting.
The roads were not paved and were somewhat dusty (another reason I was given for not walking up the hill), and the bike I was given was certainly not like my own. It was rather unsteady, with a back rack and a basket but no kickstand, but at least we were given the option of wearing a helmet, which, of course, I chose to do. The paths were not steep, so I mostly rode in 3rd gear. I peddled South to La Coupée, where we were obliged to dismount, so as to walk our bikes over the bridge that divided Sark from Little Sark, and from which we could see, from one side, Guernsey, Herm (the smallest of the Channel Islands at less than one square mile in area), and Brecqhou, and from the other, France in the distance, and Jersey. The only Channel island not visible from La Coupée is Aldernay. Back on the bike, I cycled all the way to the end of Little Sark, where I dismounted again, left the bike in the hedge, and then walked down the hill to the Venus Pool. I climbed the hill back up to the bike, took a few photos of typical houses and flowers, met the enthusiastic guide on the Coupée once more, and rode back through the village, past St. Peter's Church, which was having a service to honour those of Sark who had fallen in the Great War, and then on to the Seigneurie, the home of Sark's hereditary lord, to visit the Royal Horticultural Society-recognized gardens, which were certainly very nice. I then peddled back to the bike rental place, put my head into a few shops and then walked back down the hill to the harbour, and took a look at the swimming hole, before getting back on the boat to St. Peter's Port and transferring to the tender back to the ship. At least it stayed sunny, though coolish, but I warmed up on the bike, enough to take my sweater off.
5 August 2014 - Cobh, Cork, Kinsale and Blarney, Ireland. Cobh (pronounced “cove”), which is famous for being, on April 11, 1912, the last port of call of the Titanic in Ireland before it succumbed at sea, is the port nearest to Cork, or in Gaelic “Corcaigh - the land of the bog,” about a 25-minute bus ride away and situated on the River Lee. St. Finbarr, Cork's patron saint, is said to have founded a church and monastery here in 650 A.D. The current St. Finbarr Cathedral, dates from only 1865, however. Despite Cork's smaller population of 250,000, i.e. one-fifth the population of Ireland, Cork and Dublin have a healthy rivalry. As the third largest city in Ireland after Dublin and Belfast, Cork proclaims itself to be the true capital of Ireland, but also calls itself the Republic of Cork. One of its claims to fame is that it has the highest building in the Republic of Ireland at 17 floors! (Dublin's tallest building has only 16 floors.) All the signs in Ireland are bilingual with Gaelic first, because although only about 50,000 people in Ireland speak Gaelic, this ancient tongue is an official language of the European Union so all EU documents must be translated into Gaelic. Ireland is called the emerald isle and I could certainly see why.
Our first visit on our full-day today was to the charming 18th-century village of Kinsale. Twelve miles off the waters of Kinsale lies the sunken wreck of the RMS Lusitania, which was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1915, causing 1,500 people to lose their lives. We had about an hour in Kinsale and I spent it walking through the streets, admiring colourful houses and potted flowers and taking photos of buildings, yachts and reflections in the water. However, before arriving in Kinsale proper, we stopped at the ruins of St. Charles Fort, a 17th-century fortification constructed as a coastal defence to prevent attacking naval forces from entering Kinsale Harbour. We were given an early lunch at just about noon at a hall, which provided entertainment in a two-piece band led by Michael Kennedy, and a couple of young Irish dancing girls, students. The meal itself was delicious, with a blended vegetable soup to start, chicken stuffed with a mixture of rice, mushrooms and the local beer, and fruit pavlova and coffee for desert.
We next had a brief drive through Cork on our way to Blarney, its castle constructed in 1446 by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster, and its 60 acres of parklands. Only the keep with its 18-foot thick stone walls remains today. As the wait time was about an hour and we luckily had this time available, we climbed 110 steps up a narrow twisting stairway in order to kiss the Blarney Stone - well, once you are there, you have to, don't you? The tradition is that whoever kisses the Blarney Stone will receive the gift of a nimble tongue and will be blessed with eloquent speech and persuasive ability. In the belief that probably several hundreds of thousands of people had already kissed the stone, I did not let my lips actually touch it, so that is probably why I have noticed no change in my speech. Legends differ as to the origin of this very ordinary looking stone (I expected it to look special somehow, even when having to look at it upside down). Some say it came from the Holy Land during the crusades, others say it is part of the Stone of Scone, which is currently located in Edinburgh Castle. Early Scottish Kings were crowned on the Stone of Scone and received special powers from it, or so we are told. In any case, the wife of the couple with which I was up at the top of the keep, and who were on my tour, was very obliging about my request to take my photo in mid kiss and I think she caught the action perfectly. The harpist in the photo below was playing in the grounds of the castle, and I thought the photo appropriate here, since the harp is a symbol of Ireland.
6 August 2014 - Dublin, Ireland. Founded by the Vikings in 841 A.D., Dublin, originally “Dubh Linn” meaning “black pool,” is situated at the mouth of the River Liffey, up which our ship travelled in order to berth. With a population of 525,000 (greater Dublin has more than one million), the capital of Ireland has been designated as a UNESCO City of Literature. Our morning visit was up the 200-year-old Beech-tree-lined avenue to the Powerscourt estate, situated in the Wicklow mountains and built originally in 1300, but remodelled in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is a beautiful estate with substantial 270-year-old gardens, including Japanese and Italian styles, a small lake, a pet cemetery and walled gardens. The building itself was off limits to visitors, except for the area confined to shops and a restaurant. To make ends meet, some of Powerscourt's land was sold off to the Ritz Carlton who built a hotel, which has since changed hands, and to construct two 18-hole golf courses. In my opinion, we were allotted way too much time at Powerscourt: one and a half hours would have been ample, two and three-quarter hours was just too long. I took advantage of the remaining time by getting my laptop out of the bus and using the estate's free wifi for a while. After we left Powerscourt, we were driven through Dublin and given a brief tour on the way to our drop-off place near Grafton Street. We drove through streets of Georgian houses, where each door was unique. We also drove past statues on the river bank representing the 100-year potato famine, during which time entire families left in ships in order to emigrate to North America. There was a replica of one particular ship from that time - the only one whose passengers survived the voyage, we were told. This famine reduced the population of Ireland from eight million to four million. I met one man at breakfast who was getting off at Dublin to meet some relatives he had only connected to through an ancestry website. We also travelled past the dead centre of town where everyone was dying to go (i.e. the central graveyard) (our guide's humour, not necessarily mine). Nowadays though, most people in Ireland, we were told, are cremated. From among both the living and the dead, the Duke of Wellington, Oscar Wilde, Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Bram Stoker, Maeve Binchy, Enya, Bono, Bob Geldorf, Sinead O'Connor, Gabriel Byrne, Colin Farrell and Maureen O'Hara are a few of the names that come to mind as current or past natives of Dublin.
Once the bus dropped us off for time on our own, I walked back to the Starbucks I had seen from the bus window a couple of streets back, checked that it was OK to use their free wifi and their toilet after buying myself a coffee and lunch, then set to work on doing some research as per a request from one of my clients and catching up on e-mails. Once my battery ran out and I could do no more (I had brought the wrong kind of adaptor with me), I had about three-quarters of an hour left before the bus would pick us up and take us back to the ship. My first visit, as it was the nearest, was Trinity College, the oldest college in Ireland and home to the Book of Kells, a masterpiece of medieval art from the 9th century containing the Bible's four gospels, located inside the college's extensive library of five million printed books, journals, manuscripts, maps and music, for which I would have needed extensive time to see. The building itself was located in an area of road works, so it was not easy to photograph the outside of it. Instead, I decided to capture images of the statue of Molly Malone - Dublin's icon - which had been moved around the corner from its original position, also due to the road works. I then rushed through the crowded streets of Dublin to catch a glimpse of Saint Patrick's Cathedral, of which Jonathan Swift - writer of Gulliver's Travels - had been Dean from 1713 to 1745, but once again I was running out of time, so as soon as I caught sight of the tip of its towers, I turned back the way I had come, in order to rejoin the tour bus. Neither did I have time to visit Dublin Castle and its 11-acre grounds. However, despite the short time I had in this city, due to the time taken up by computer work, I liked its atmosphere and vowed I would come back some day - I would not even mind living here, in fact.
7 August 2014 - Belfast, Northern Ireland. It was the Northern Irish accent that fascinated me today and I worked out that the most glaring difference was the pronunciation of “ow.” For instance, were our guide to say “how now brown cow” she would have pronounced it “hie, nie brine kie!” Belfast - originally “Beal Feirste,” Gaelic for “mouth of the sandy ford” - is, of course, the capital and largest city, with a population of some 270,000, of Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. Bussing through its streets you will note the different neighbourhoods that are divided among the loyalists (who sport the Union Jack) and the Unionists (who sport the Ulster flag as well as a number of Palestinian flags!) Belfast is known for its building of the Titanic, as well as a number of other passenger ships, at the shipyards of Harland and Wolff, and there is a Titanic Experience, in which visitors can see interactive exhibits telling the story of the Titanic from her conception, construction and launch to her fatal maiden voyage. I only photographed this building from the outside as it was not in our itinerary. Our next stop was Stormont, a large estate on a hill with an expanse of green lawns and rows of trees lining the route up the hill. This building was designed to hold Northern Ireland's parliament. We then drove through some of the neighbourhoods like Shankill Road - a working-class community - and the Falls Road area, where murals recount the area's violent past and its belief in the future. We also travelled to the city centre to see the Grand Opera House, the City Hall, completed in 1906, and the Titanic Memorial, located on the east side of the Belfast City Hall, listing all those who died in the RMS Titanic disaster on April 15, 1912. Next was Queen's University, where we visited the small Botanic Gardens, established in 1828, past the Europa Hotel, which is notorious for the number of times it has been bombed, and then more neighbourhoods of loyalists and unionists. Our final stop was at Belfast Castle, although completed in 1870 and built by the 3rd Marquis of Donegall and the Earl of Shaftsbury, I found it to be a rather modern building, and rather reminiscent of Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria, B.C. I was told that there were nine cats in the gardens and our mission was to find and photograph each one. The guide who had given us this task was very surprised to learn that I had in fact found and photographed ten cats in all! They were not live cats, but rather sculptures of cats, drawings of cats, mosaics of cats and one bush cut into the shape of a cat. By the way, Belfast also has its tallest building and it is taller than either of the above-mentioned buildings in Cork or Dublin at 28 or 29 floors, from what I managed to count! C.S. Lewis was a native of Belfast, and other famous sons are Liam Neeson and Kenneth Branagh.
Our afternoon tour was a bus ride north up the Antrim Coast. I was clearly sitting on the wrong side of the bus for once, because all the best views were on the other side! And when we returned to Belfast we took an interior route. Consequently, this is an area that I will have to return to in the future as it is supposedly one of the most scenic coasts in Great Britain. At the end of this coast is the Giant's Causeway, but there was no time to see this UNESCO World Heritage Site and eighth wonder of the world - I would have needed to take the full-day tour for that. In fact, we travelled through the town of Ballymena to the Glenariff forest park, situated among the Glens of Antrim, which is considered to be the most beautiful of nine glens. We stopped for tea/coffee and scones at the local tea shop there, wandered around the grounds of bright green grass, wildflowers, picnicking families and children playing the local sport of hurling - one of the world's oldest sports, which has been played in some form in the continent of Ireland for more than 800 years - and could see from our high position the multi-coloured Irish Sea with the coast of Scotland visible in the distance. It came on to rain twice in the bus on the way back, but otherwise was a clear and sunny day.
8 August 2014 - Glasgow, Scotland. No great photos of Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland with a population of 500,000, to display here and I'll explain why. I took a transfer into the city from the port of Greenock where we berthed today. Our escort confused me though, because after having worked out the Northern Irish accent yesterday (see above), I noticed that our Glasgow guide pronounced the “ows” like “ies” too. However, all was cleared up when he confessed that in fact he was originally from Northern Ireland. After arriving in Glasgow, I spent the majority of my time (4 hours?) hooked up to my laptop working, taking advantage of the free wifi in a Starbucks on the main shopping street (Buchanan Street). When I did get out to explore a bit of Glasgow on foot, the weather was grey, damp and miserable. The first thing I had to do was change an old 20-pound note for a new 20-pound note at the Bank of Scotland in order to pay for my lunch at Starbucks. They wouldn't take my old 2-shilling, 1-shilling or halfpenny pieces, however, so one lucky young female busker got the lot, and hopefully I made her day. I then walked to the main square, George Square, which was dominated by a tent selling sportswear from the recently held 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth games and a few statues of notable dead Glaswegians, or at least Scots, among them Sir Water Scott, James Watt, Robert Peel and Robbie Burns. Next, I hiked over to the Cathedral, which was dark, dirty and very old (and, yes, you presumed correctly, that is a statue of David Livingstone out front) and past the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, which had nothing physically beautiful to recommend it. Then, as I still had time before the bus picked us up at 3:30, I popped into the Museum of Modern Art. I'm glad it was free, because I only spent two minutes in there, walked up the steps of each of the four floors and saw nothing, but nothing, I liked or in which I had a remote interest. I much prefer “old fashioned” art!
The evening was a different story, however, as, after returning to Greenock and the ship at 4:15 from Glasgow, I then had to rush to meet my new tour at 4:30 - another bus, another driver - to travel about 2 hours to Edinburgh to get a Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, no, I mean, to attend the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. I liked the look of Edinburgh much more than what I had seen of Glasgow. There were dozens of buses from several cruise ships, including my old ship, the Ocean Princess, which was docked at South Queensferry (Edinburgh's port) today. However, things were highly organised so we had no trouble following our guides to the tattoo and back to our buses again at the end of the show. Nevertheless, although our bus had driven us to a rest stop en route so that we could use the bathrooms, there was no mention of dinner, food, or a chance to buy food, so after our guide showed us the entrance to the Tattoo, I went off in search of a sandwich. This was not an easy task. The Starbucks I had seen from the bus earlier seemed now to be located far from the castle area where we were left by our guide. I looked around the streets, walking a complete circle round the castle again, and finally came across a Costa (coffee shop). They had run out of the cheaper chicken pannini, so I was stuck with buying an expensive salami-filled option, which they had already heated up for me, before I realised the difference in price and the presence of red meat. Nonetheless, I figured salami wouldn't kill me and I was running out of time, because they had told us we should be sitting in our seats inside the castle stadium by 8:30 p.m., though the tattoo did not start until 9:00 p.m. I was happy to see that, in fact, our seats were in the last row, providing both a good sight of the stage (esplanade), and an overhang to keep out the threatening rain. Plus, if we did have to use our umbrellas against the rain, there would be no one behind us to complain that we were blocking their view. As it happens, we were very lucky with the weather, as it did not rain one drop while we were at the show. A number of notables were attending and the announcer named them all, and then he called out different countries that were represented by the audience, different groups (including ours) and birthday and anniversary wishes that apparently people had sent in to be announced over the public address system. There was even one announcement regarding an audience member for whom it was his 45th consecutive Edinburgh Military Tattoo! To start things off, a high-level military leader accepted a drink of whisky from a bagpipe player after the latter recited a toast in Gaelic and English and the show began with a resounding skirl of bagpipes and the rhythm of military drums. There were not only a number of Scottish bands and dancers, but also groups from Malta, Zululand, Shetlands, Nagaland, Ireland, Singapore, New Zealand and a steelband from Trinidad, all presenting their own dances and music. It was highly entertaining and at the end of the show all the artists came together and performed together some excerpts from jazz tunes, Michael Jackson's Thriller, show tunes, etc. and it all ended with fireworks. I took quite a few clips of the performances and have edited them into the short video below.
10 August 2014 - Kirkwall, Mainland and Balfour, Shapinsay, Orkney Islands, Scotland. It was a beautiful day in the Orkneys, comprised of 70 islands, of which only 20 are inhabited, and we were very lucky because it had been pouring with rain here yesterday during their annual agricultural show. These islands are relatively flat, but with rolling hills, and very green. They are situated near the 59th parallel, so have long summer days and northern lights in the wintertime. Kirkwall, the capital with a population of 8,600 and located on the main island of Orkney, called Mainland, is a tender port, so our ship was anchored by about 7:00 a.m. and those of us on an early tour were on the first tender boats to shore. Once on our tour bus, we were driven around the roads of Mainland for 2 1/2 hours. After passing the UNESCO-designated chambered Maeshowe Tomb, which appeared as a grassy mound and was constructed about 2800 B.C., but unfortunately not open to groups of tourists, our first stop on the road to Stromness was at the Standing Stones of Stenness, a circular henge some 100 feet in diameter. Only four stones remain standing out of the original ring. We were also able to photograph from the bus the nearby Ring of Brodger, which is the third largest circular stone henge in Northern Europe after Stonehenge and Avebury. The circle originally comprised more than 60 standing megaliths, but today only 27 remain. This Ring is over 340 feet in diametre and a number of its stones align with the sun on both solstices, as do the Stones of Stenness. We continued along the shore of Scapa Flow, a stretch of water linking the North Sea to the Atlantic Ocean and the base for the Royal Navy fleet during both World Wars, because our next stop was the Italian chapel built by Italian prisoners of World War II brought to Scapa Flow to work on the harbour's defences, called the Churchill Barriers. During their time here, the Italians built the chapel out of two nissen huts and the frescoes inside were painted by artist Domenico Chiocchetti. I was somewhat disappointed in our guide because although she had been in the Orkneys for 40 years, had married an Orcadian and had had two daughters and now was a grandmother, she was originally from the Netherlands and had not lost her Dutch accent. She also lacked some English vocabulary necessary for the tour-guiding job that she was doing. As a linguist, I would have preferred to hear a true Orcadian accent from my guide, so as to learn its subtleties of pronunciation.
Back in Kirkwall, as I had some time before my next tour, I visited St. Magnus Cathedral, founded in 1137, built of sandstone, owned by the people of Orkney and featuring Romanesque, Transitional and Gothic styles. It took three centuries to be completed and is one of the best preserved buildings of the medieval age in Britain. My next tour involved no buses. Instead we were led to a car ferry and travelled as foot passengers 1/2 an hour to the island of Shapinsay to visit a Scottish baronial-style castle with Italian furnishings. The land was originally purchased by Thomas Balfour in 1782 but it wasn't until 1847 that his grandson, a multi-millionaire called David Balfour, inherited it and began to build the castle around a pre-existing house. Thirty craftsmen were brought over from Italy and many of the furnishings are also Italian. Many of the original features still remain today, including an extensive library with a secret exit door, a drawing room, a billiard room, a private chapel and a portrait gallery. It is Britain's most northerly castle and has two acres of gardens, including two walled gardens, a maze and a water garden. The Balfour family no longer owns the castle and since the last Balfours sold it, it has had two owners, the current ones being the Harrison family. A croquet game was set up on the front lawn but we were not invited to play! As refreshments, we were provided with coffee/tea and a selection of biscuits, cakes and scones. Again no luck in hearing an Orcadian accent as our guide was from England and the waitresses at the Castle that served our tea were Asian!
11 August 2014 - Invergordon, Inverness and Loch Ness, Scotland. At about 7:00 a.m., while I was having breakfast, the Captain cancelled today's port, much as I expected he would, and much to my relief, as there had been 60-knot winds during the night, rocking the ship and causing it to list and, he told us, there were still 45-knot winds in the port of Invergordon this morning. Our ship was too big to stop at any other ports en route, he announced, so we would have a sea day instead. Apparently, we were travelling through the tail end of Hurricane Bertha - who knew that there were hurricanes in this part of the world? As Bertha was travelling North and we were travelling South, we were not expected to be troubled further by her. However, I was also relieved, because I had fallen far behind in my blog and today would give me the opportunity to catch up and maybe even participate in some of the onboard activities, which I had not had the time for since the second day of the cruise, due to just being busy with work. On our last sea day, Saturday, for instance, I had been sent a long rush translation to do, which took me all day.
12 August 2014 - South Queensferry to Leith and Edinburgh, Scotland. With a population of just under 500,000 but which during the Edinburgh festival swells to about one million, Scotland's capital city, Edinburgh, whose famous inhabitants include Sir Walter Scott, Sean Connery, J.K. Rowling, Ian Rankin, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and one of my favourite authors, Alexander McCall Smith, was also wet today, but as the city is so attractive, the weather did not dampen my sprits as Glasgow had done. Our tour started with a drive to Leith (no sight of dismissing police anywhere) in order to visit HM Yacht Britannia, the decommissioned floating home of the British Royal Family for 42 years (from the 1950s until the 1990s). We started at the top deck consisting of a very small bridge, then onto the deck inhabited by the royal family and next on to lower decks inhabited by naval officers and down to that of the crew. We saw royal bedrooms, royal sitting rooms, the main dining room, which seats several dozen guests, down to the laundry room and the engine room, but also galleys, officers' messes and crew messes. My main amazement was how simply they had all lived among their family photographs and souvenirs from around the world. Nothing like the grandiose opulence I expected, or to which I was used on certain cruise ships I have sailed on! We were allotted a couple of hours for this self-guided audio tour, and I therefore had some time left over to browse in a Waterstone's book store in the adjoining mall. Once we were back on the bus, we were driven into Edinburgh, a living UNESCO World Heritage Site and our young guide, Seth McEwen, with the McEwen tartan represented by his kilt and socks, gave us a short bus tour around the streets, including a brief glimpse of Holyrood House, the Royal family's official residence in Edinburgh, which has been damaged and rebuilt many times since the 15th century, situated at the bottom of the Royal Mile, and past the very modern and recently built Scottish Parliament buildings. We travelled through New Town, with its elegant Georgian buildings, and finally ended up in Princes Street, the main shopping district, near the gothic Sir Walter Scott Memorial and the National Art Gallery, as we were booked to have a catered lunch at the Mercure Hotel. We had a nice feta salad followed by turkey (or was it pork?) and a lovely mousse in a caramel basket.
After lunch, we had an hour of free time during which it was suggested we might shop, climb the 200-foot high Sir Water Scott Monument built in the 1840s or visit the National Gallery of Scotland containing old masters and French impressionists. However, I had a different mission on my agenda. I had decided to find 44 Scotland Street (the setting of Alexander McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street series), which, I was told by both of my guides in Edinburgh, actually existed. It took me about 20 minutes to walk 9 blocks down the hill and about 4 blocks in and I found Scotland Street, to be sure, but to my surprise, and horror, number 44 did not exist. On the even side of the short street, the numbers only went up to 28 while the odd side stopped after 43. The photos below are a short photo essay. The first photo shows 43 Scotland Street, the middle photo is an idea of what wee Bertie might look like with his father waiting for a bus to Glasgow to find their car, and the third photo is perhaps Angus walking his Scottish terrier down the street on their way to the coffee place. I actually stopped and talked to another possible character out of McCall Smith's books, a woman of about 60 (perhaps a slightly older Isobel Dalhousie) also walking her small Scottish dog and wearing one of those Scottish mackintoshes where the hands come out of slits in the side. I said to her, “So there is no 44 Scotland Street, then?” She knew immediately what I was talking about and said “No, but there is number 43.” I asked her if she read the books, and she shook her head unabashed, and confessed that the neighbourhood was in fact inhabited by students, who were all away right now for their holidays, but that during term time, they were rather a rowdy lot! She did ask me if I had ever heard Alexander McCall Smith speak and when I shook my head she commented that he had such a lovely voice. So I promised I would try to find an audio file of him reading one of his books to see if I agreed with her. And a lovely Edinburgh accent she had too. I wanted, but did not dare, to ask if I could take a photo of her and her little dog (and wondered if it had a gold tooth), but on second thought felt it might be a bit too much to ask, and didn't want to spoil the moment in case she was offended. It then took me 15 minutes to run back up the hill to the Mercure Hotel and hurriedly use their free wifi to upload my e-mails in order to see if any of them were urgent. Luckily the ones I was expecting did not arrive, so I was able to deal with the ones that had arrived, once I was back on the ship in the evening.
Back on the bus after our free time, we continued up to Edinburgh Castle, which was the last item on our tour itinerary. We walked up to the castle after our bus parked in the same area where the buses had parked on Friday night for the Tattoo. It was fairly crowded with tourists, but Seth managed to give us some explanations using the whispering devices, and we walked through the portcullis (now made of rubber as the real one kept damaging high vehicles that drove through it!) The palace itself, high on a volcanic plug called Castle Rock, that overlooks all of Edinburgh, dates from the 14th century. Visits inside the castle gates included a peek at the crown jewels - crown, sceptre, sword, various jewellery, and the Stone of Scone - mentioned in my previous entry about Cork and upon which Scottish monarchs sat when being crowned. It had been stolen by the English several times and finally given back to Scotland in 1997 (unfortunately, no photos were allowed). Next was a couple of rooms dating from Mary Queen of Scots' time and where she had given birth to James the VI of Scotland = James the 1st of England, or James Stuart, who was the first monarch to rule both countries simultaneously. St. Margaret's Chapel (see the photo of St. Margaret in stain glass below) is the oldest building in the castle complex. The newest building was a memorial to those who had died in World War One (the photo below with the flowers). We arrived back at the bus in time at 5:00 and drove through rush hour back to South Queensferry. Then, since it was a tender port, we had to wait about an hour in the drizzle and the cold for the tenders to come and take us all back to the ship.
14 August 2014 - Le Havre to Rouen, France. I had free time in the morning to pack, since it was our last day, and then played a last game of trivia - our team finally came first. After lunch, I met up with the tour bus going to Rouen. In fact, I had visited and photographed Rouen back in 2006, during my last visit there, so had no plans to do it again. Instead, my intention was to leave the tour at the Cathedral and meet up with C, my friend of 30 years whom I had met while we were both studying for our Master's degrees in Monterey, California. He was pretty much unchanged from 8 years ago. I first I took him to a bar of his choosing for a drink, then we went back to the presbytère where he lives currently on his own, so that we could continue chatting and I could avail myself of his wifi so as to check for any urgent e-mails. There were some that needed immediate replies so I worked on those and meanwhile he had called another friend of ours, E, whom I had met while C was working as a French and English teacher in Nkongsamba, Cameroon back in 1988. After all these years, and after filling in reams of government paperwork, E had been able to bring his wife and three children from Cameroon to France, get French nationalities for all of them and, to top it off, had now managed to earn a French law degree from Lille University to add to his older Cameroon law degree, in order to practice law in France. Just another example of applying oneself despite all odds and lengthy delays and succeeding! E then drove C and me to the place where the tour busses were parked, we said our good-byes and the bus arrived back to Le Havre in good time as the roads were quite clear. It had been alternately wet and dry all day and when we arrived back at the berth, it was pouring with rain and one ramp to the ship had to be taken down due to it being too dangerous. Needless to say, our departure from Le Havre was about an hour later than scheduled, but our next stop - our final destination, in fact - at Southampton is not too far away, so I am sure that the captain will be able to make up the time lost.
15 August 2014 - Southampton, Hampshire to LHR via Stonehenge, Wiltshire. It was another early wakening to depart my cabin of 12 days with my two heavy bags and arrive at the Elite passengers' lounge to wait for my tag number to be called at about 6:50. On to the buses with all our luggage and about an hour and a half drive from Southampton port to Salisbury and Stonehenge. Arriving at 9 a.m. before the great hordes arrived, I was nonetheless surprised as Stonehenge was certainly not what I expected. My idea was to get in there, take a photo, and leave, but they handed us each one of those audio guides at the entry and we had to get on a shuttle that drove us 1 1/2 miles to the actual site, and then at various numbered signs around the site, we pushed buttons on our audio guide to hear what they had to say about the stones. The path around the henge was circular, so I took a lot of photos from different spots on my clockwise route. Back at the main entrance again, I looked in at the exhibition, some replicas of the houses that the workers, who built Stonehenge, might have live in at the time, and a large stone on a cart with wheels to represent how the stones might have been transported from the various quarries to the site - as well as a cafeteria and a shop! All very interesting, but again too much time was allotted here, so, as we were told they had free wifi, once again I got my laptop out of the bus and fired it up to download my e-mails and see if there was anything urgent. We then had another drive of about an hour and a half, necessarily slowing down behind the inevitable rubber-neckers glancing at Stonehenge from the motorway, through the New Forest, and eventually up to Windsor, where we drove by the immense castle grounds, and I managed to get a few snapshots from the bus. Finally, I was dropped off at Terminal 5 at Heathrow and checked in about 4 hours early for my 5 p.m. flight. As I
feared, my bag was overweight by about 1 point something kilos, but the BA man was very nice about it, and did not charge me or ask me to take something out and put it in another of my two hand-baggages, which were chock-a-block as it was, and moreover, he found me a window seat as I saw that I had been put automatically into a middle seat, having not been able to check in early on-line. I then found the toilets, the Starbucks, where I bought my lunch and got 45 minutes of free Heathrow wifi so I could answer my e-mails, and checked out the book store. The flight itself was uneventful and I am now back to civilization and routine after 52 days away.
If you wish to read more about my travels, you are welcome to follow via the following links: part 2 and part 3.
All the above photos are copyright Angela Fairbank. Please contact the photographer for usage rights and/or copies.