A Travellerspoint blog

Slán go fóill!

Goodbye for now!

sunny 0 °C
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I’ve been back in Canada for a week now and have had time to collect my thoughts for my last entry. Thanks to my parents, I’ve had the trip of a lifetime, on a scale that I probably won’t be able to do again for quite some time. The readjustment back to my normal life isn’t quite complete but I’m sure that in a few weeks this trip will be a lovely memory to help me through the upcoming Canadian winter! I recommend Princess Cruises to those who may want to try a cruise in the future; the Crown Princess ship is big and beautiful, the service is 5-star and the food the scrumptious and delicious.

The advantage of this British Isles cruise is that it gave me a little taste of a lot of ports, some that I may not have chosen on my own. My dream trip was to arrive in Dublin, visit the east, south and west coast of the country and then go home. Now, after visiting the Antrim coast of Northern Ireland and the Scottish Highlands, I definitely want to go back to see more of those regions. That being said, I don’t think I’ll want to do another European cruise; the next trips will be on land, that way I can experience the nightlife of the cities and attend a céilidh in Western Ireland. I’m not ruling out all future cruises, because life on a cruise ship is fun, decadent and the staff takes care of a lot of travel hassles. There may be an Alaskan cruise in my future, and I think the Mediterranean cruise is something I’d do…maybe when I retire in 2038! On that slightly depressing note, here are a few lessons learned:

• Always verify the hotel address, otherwise you made end up with reservation at the Holiday Inn in Eastleigh, outside the city limits of Southampton rather than the Holiday Inn 5 minutes away from the port.
• If you feel adventurous and want to stay in a hostel, go for it. However, if you want a bathroom and shower on the same floor as your room, or amenities like towels, mirrors, tissues, complimentary coffee, etc., go to a hotel. The hostels are inexpensive for a reason; all you get is a bed or, if you’re lucky, a room to yourself. I knew that we weren’t getting much from the hostel, but I also didn’t expect to pay a 2€ rental fee for a towel.
• Verify which train company you’re on and what services or meals your ticket cost include. We were originally supposed to travel on Virgin Trains with a meal included, but we changed our reservations to Arriva to have less transfers; what we didn’t know is that Arriva trains (or that train in particular) don’t provide meals and only have a snack cart. It makes the world of difference when you have an 8-hour journey through the Wales countryside!

I’ve also learned to appreciate some things in Canada, such as free public washrooms. I know that there are a few pay washrooms in Toronto, but 50 pence to pee at the Tower of London? Also, hot and cold water out of the same spout (what’s up with two spouts on opposite sides of the sink?), peanut butter, no hedgerows, wide roads and right-side driving.

For all the complaining I’ve done, I will never forget this trip, the places I’ve been and the people I met made this trip very special. The trip was wonderful, the experience was beautiful, and the memories are exquisite. Goodbye for now!

Posted by Mireille C 30.08.2010 12:43 Tagged cruises Comments (0)

The Cove of Cork

Cobh, Country Cork

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While reading over my past entries I realized that I never spoke about Cobh other than to mention that it was where Murphy’s and Beamish stout beers were made. Having spent the morning of the 12th at Blarney Castle, we had the afternoon free once we returned to the ship. I had initially booked a second excursion for a walking tour of Cork City, but thankfully I came to my senses and cancelled because two back-to-back excursions would have been tiring. When the busses took us back to the pier my parents and I decided to get some lunch in Cobh, which is the largest island in Cork Harbour. My credit card bill, which arrived this morning (oh, the pain!), tells me we ate at The Quays Restaurant. It’s a charming establishment in a white clapboard house with a terrace right on the pier. Being in a seaside town the menu was heavy on fresh catch of the day fish and seafood, which of course limited my options! Mum and dad say that the seafood chowder was good and Dad’s scallops were delicious…I’ll take their word for it! We accompanied our meal with pints of Murphy’s stout and Guinness; Dad compared the two and declared Guinness the better one. Personally I like Murphy’s better because it’s sweeter and the aftertaste is better, similar to the red ales I like so much.

After lunch mum went back to the ship while Dad and I wandered around Cobh (pronounced Cove). Though technically an island in Cork Harbour, Cobh is linked to the mainland by a railway and many bridges. It has an interesting history dating back to the 17th century and is best known as the main emigration point of the Famine years. Our tour guide to Blarney Castle pointed out the rock walls that lined the streets, which were a famine project. During the great Famine the landowners paid the poor to pick up rocks and build walls for a penny per rock (or per day…unsure). The poor built the walls all the way to Cobh and eventually boarded the emigration ships. There’s a statue in Cobh Harbour of Annie Moore and her brothers; she was the first person to be processed at the Ellis Island immigration center in New York in 1892. It’s a sad history, especially when you add the fact that it was the last port of the Titanic and is where the victims of the Lusitania were brought. Dad and I saw all of the memorials on the pier and in the main streets. There were some guided walks of the “Titanic Trail” for reasonable prices (12€ per adult) and exhibits at The Queenstown Story Heritage Center (Cobh’s name from 1849 to 1922), but Dad and I decided to walk the pier, go visit St. Colman’s Cathedral and take in some fresh air. There’s a promenade with benches, fountains and a restored pavillion; it’s a pretty little pier town and quite picturesque when you see it from across the harbour (or in our case from the ship’s deck!). The cathedral looms over the rows of coloured houses; one street in particular is nicknamed “deck of cards” because the houses are built on a steep slope.

If you ever go to Cobh or the Cork area, the Fota Island Sanctuary is one of the islands in Cork Harbour and I’m told is a great place to visit. Apparently they’re known for their cheetah feeding hour… sounds grisly!

We went back to the ship and up to the 19th aft deck to get the best view of the departure. It seems like all the town of Cobh was lined up to wave us goodbye…I guess a ship bearing 3,200 passengers is good news for the local economy!

Posted by Mireille C 27.08.2010 10:06 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Hyde and seek

Hyde Park, Albert Memorial and my unrealized Regency fantasy

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My last taste of Britain was on Sunday night and Monday morning when we walked in Hyde Park. To me London’s largest park is a symbol of the regency era that I loved studying and reading about in my historical novels…it’s where the heroes rode their stallions in the morning mist, where the ladies took their morning constitutional and where romance happened. Alas, that isn’t the reality nowadays, but it is still a beautiful park with its fair share of attractions, such as the Albert Memorial, the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, the Serpentine and the Italian Fountains and many more. It would have been nice to take a horseback ride along Rotten Row or the Ring to complete my Regency fantasy, but we were running low on energy and settled for a stroll along the gardens, after mom and dad dashed through the park looking for the public washrooms. One downside to travelling with older folks is the constant searching of the nearest washrooms! Thankfully for mum and dad, Hyde Park's washrooms are free because I had no pence coins left!

As we were walking aimlessly on the paths, we came upon the Albert Memorial, the ornate canopied pavilion commissioned by Queen Victoria in the late 1800’s as a tribute to her husband. It’s a bit much, but if the man was as devoted to the public good and the arts as the history books say, then why not have a memorial (120,000£ and 10 years to build!). There are too many details to mention in this blog, but if you Google or Wikipedia the Prince Albert Memorial, you’ll get all the details about the golden seated statue of the prince consort, the canopy, the allegorical sculptures and the Frieze or Parnassus, which depicts 169 individual composers, architects, poets, painters, and sculptors. I’ll post some pictures later on, but by the time we reached the statue it was dark and raining so the pictures don’t really translate its grandeur.

The Kensington Palace and Gardens are also part of Hyde Park, but due to renovations and a 13.50£ entrance fee, we walked away from the gates. The Princess Diana Memorial Playground is charming with its Peter Pan theme, and the memorial fountain is supposedly quite nice, but we didn’t have time to see it the following morning. I saw some of the other statues in the park, but nothing really stands out; the Italian Fountains are nice, but nothing exceptional.

I would have loved to stroll along the entire length of the Serpentine, cross the bridge at the Long Water on the arm of a tall, dark and handsome English lord. As it was, I had mum and dad, dogs and lots of pigeons…I guess some things aren’t mean to be!

London was good to me; I had a cloudy touring day on the bus and the river cruise, a nice walk in Hyde Park, and a taste of London in the rain. There is so much I’m dying to do in London, but we had little time and we were tired from our cruise. I think I’ll need at least a week to do it all, including day trips to Dover, Brighton and Oxford…tentative date 2013!

Posted by Mireille C 26.08.2010 14:34 Archived in England Comments (0)

Disembarkation and Double deckers

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Dear readers, if this entry sounds mournful, it's because I'm writing it as I'm sitting at my laptop at home, unpacked and unfortunately ready to go back to work tomorrow morning. Nonetheless, this retroactive entry will match the mood I was in when we disembarked the cruise ship Sunday morning in Southampton. Haven given our luggage to the porters the night before, all we had to do Sunday morning was to get up, eat and exit. I spent a long time out on the balcony the night before just listening to the sea, memorizing the feeling of the salt air on my face and the sound of the waves against the hull of the ship. Once morning came, all was still in Southampton port, and all was dark since we had to get up at 4 am...we had a 6:30 am disembarkation slot. My vacation wasn't over, but leaving the ship was the first step back to reality, so that one last taste was well savoured.

Note to future cruise travellers: disembarkation is relatively easy - you give the majority of your luggage to the porters the night before and they take it down to be offloaded the next morning in port. When you leave the ship, all the luggage is waiting in the terminal organized by the color codes of the individual's travel plans (if you're going to Heathrow you get a yellow tag, if you're going to the train you get a red tag, etc.). All you keep with you the night before is the toiletries and clothes you'll need the following morning, medications and valuables. They are very efficient.

Anyhow, we left the ship and got on the bus to London's Victoria rail station. I spent most of the two-hour trip sleeping. When we got to London, we had our first encounter with a paying public washroom...we have to pay to pee? It's a good thing I had change, cause mum and dad would have had to barter to get in! 60 pence later, we hired a minicab from the station to bring us to our hotel.
Quick safety tip about minicabs and taxis in London: Make sure to call ahead or reserve a liscenced minicab company. The travel guides, both paper and online, warn about the dangers of unliscenced minicabs, called tenters (I think). They can rob you blind, and there have been cases of women getting attacked after hailing an unliscenced minicab off the street.

The Hyde Park Towers on Inverness Terrace is a 3-star hotel with small rooms (by North American standards) but they're clean with free Wi-Fi and a good continental breakfast. Mum booked it specifically for me due to its proximity to Hyde Park...I'm a regency novel junkie and all of the heroes and heroines take their morning stroll in the Park! We were walking along Bayswater Road, unsure of what to do when we saw a Hop-On, Hop-Off tour bus so we bought tickets and hopped on! To those who have not done the tour busses, these busses are the best, since you can choose to either stay on the bus or get off the see the sights. Your ticket is good for 24 hours, so once you're done at the museum or cathedral, you just have to wait for the next bus to come along. We did it in Liverpool and liked it, so we decided it was the best way to see the most of London in a day. We saw the Marble Arch, the Statue of Eros and Picadilly Circus, Nelson's Column and Trafalgar Square, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, the London Bridge, the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. There were too many sights to mention, but if you're interested, we were on The Original City Sightseeing Tours...they have a few different routes that allow you to see most of the major sights and the tours (either live or recorded commentary) give a good history of the city. Did you know that the gates and street railings have been painted black since the death of Prince Albert in 1861? At the time the public did it as a sign of mourning and it's been done ever since.

Around lunchtime we got off at the Southwark Bridge and, thanks to my well-known sense of orientation, we got lost looking for a pub I'd come accross in my research, The Anchor on Park Lane. The only problem with all those tour guide books is they don't mention that roads like Park Lane run under the bridge and not level with it, so we found The Anchor once we figued out that we had to walk down the steps to the quayside. It's a great pub established in 1615 with an upstairs restaurant and a second-floor patio. The restaurant's food is supposedly good, but we wanted to sit in the patio by the River Thames, which limited us to the carryout menu that consisted of overbattered fish & chips and overcooked sausages. Still, the beer was good; they were out of the Hobgoblin Ruby Ale, but you can always count on Guinness!

We walked off our lunch before hopping back on the bus to get to the Tower Pier for a River Thames cruise. Another good thing about the City Sightseeing company is that you get a free river cruise and three free walking tours with the ticket (25£ per adult). The river cruise guide took us from the Tower Bridge down (or up?) the Thames to the Westminster Pier. It's a nice ride about 30 minutes long with good commentary from the guide and a history lesson about each bridge as we pass along. The Millennium Bridge is supposedly nicknamed the Wibbly Wobbly bridge because started wobbling a few days after it opened...I say it's because of the Death Eathers (Non Harry Potter fans ignore the last comment). We hopped off the boat cruise and hopped on the bus one last time to the Marble Arch, then we walked in Hyde Park until we reached the hotel. I had a nap while mum and dad went and had a pint around the corner. They went to the underground station to get an idea of the fares and the time to get to Heathrow the next day. To Dad, 4£ each and a 50 minute ride on the subway was better than 45£ and a 30 minute taxi ride. I was against it due to the volume of luggage we had, but I went along with it knowing they would probably change their mind the next day. Sure enough, fatigue and dad's head cold convinced them that a taxi was a quicker and stress-free way to go to the airport.

Okay folks, I'll give you a break and end this long entry here. I'll continue with London tomorrow before wrapping up this blog in a final thoughts entry. For now I have to get ready to go back to work tomorrow morning (sob!).

Posted by Mireille C 26.08.2010 10:13 Archived in England Comments (0)

Savour Honfleur

Normandy and the Pays d'Auge

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Our last port day was in the French region of Normandy; we docked at the Port of Le Havre around 7 am and woke up once again to a sunny day. I think it was the hottest day of our entire trip with a high of 22 °C with an almost cloudless sky. The majority of people booked an excusion to Paris, which I find crazy because it was a 3-hour drive both ways...that means you spend 6 hours on a bus for 4 hours of free time in Paris. My parents did the same thing for their excursion to the D-Day landing beaches - 2 and a half hours on the bus both ways. I opted for a morning excursion to Honfleur, a small village on the estuary of the Sienne, a 30-minute bus ride. The fishing village is charming and is well-known for being the birthplace of the Honfleur school which contributed to the Impressionist movement. Honfleur still has much of its 14th and 15th century buildings, narrow streets and churches. One in particular is the St. Catherine, a wooden church built in the 15th century; the church was built by ship carpenters, so their woodworking skills can still be seen and the detailing is exquisite. The stained glass is newer, being donated to the church less than 100 years ago. I think it is the largest wooden church still standing in France with its own seperate wooden bell tower.

I'm getting a little ahead of myself...we first started with a drive through the Pays d'Auge countryside and saw some limestone cliffs and farming country. Our tour guide took us through some quaint villages where there are still some thatched roof cottages. There aren't that many left, since replacing the roofs is expensive, and there aren't that many people who still practice the craft. Once in Honfleur, we had a 45-minute walking tour through the cobbled streets. Our guide took us to see the old salt barns, which stored the salt that was taken onboard the cod fishing trips to the Newfoundland coast in the 17th century. The two barns now hold art and historical exhibits.

Quick fact for the Canuks reading this - Samuel de Champlain sailed from Honfleur in 1608 to go discover Quebec. There are a few plaques and a bust dedicated to him and to the Honfleurois-quebecois relations.

We visited a few other sights, like La Seigneurie, but the guide let us go on our own because it was Saturday and that meant market day in Honfleur. The venders were everywhere in the streets selling cheeses, meats, sausages, duck products, honey, ciders, apple and pear liqueurs, chocolates, more cheese, sweets and fruits and veggies. It was unfortunale that it was our last day at sea, because I would have loved to buy some meats and cheeses to bring back to the boat, but there was no time to eat it and no way customs would let us keep it. I comforted myself with a fresh baguette sandwich with local ham and goat's cheese (so good!) and bought chocolates, candies and macarons..not to be confused with the coconut-based macaroon. The French macaron is meringue-based and is characterized by its smooth, domed top and the center yields to a moist and airy interior. If you've never had macarons, you must try them. I think I'll be able to buy some in Ottawa - I've heard that there's one or two bakeries in the ByWard Market that sell them. Anyhow, I had some leftover Euros, so I went into a boutique that sold unique jewelry peices and took care of the problem. ; )

We went back to the port after crossing the impressive Normandy suspension bridge and although I had all the afternoon free, I chose not to take the shuttle into Le Havre and spent the afternoon relaxing in the sunshine on our balocony sipping a Pellegrino and eating macarons. What a way to vacation!

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and that night we sailed away towards Southampton to disembark the following morning.

Posted by Mireille C 24.08.2010 08:59 Archived in France Tagged food Comments (0)

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