May 7, 2018
It’s been a long time since my last post. We’ve done a few small things, but nothing to really “rock your boat” — until now. Tim and I have just returned from an elegant ocean journey. We took a Transatlantic Cruise with Southampton, England as the final destination. For some of you, I guess it would feel like being trapped in the middle of the ocean in a floating hotel with not much to do, and too much to eat – so it’s probably not a place you’d want to be. But for us? Hallelujah! Trust me on this — it was truly a fabulous journey.
We flew to Ft Lauderdale to board the Celebrity Silhouette for a 14-day journey to England.
To ensure that we wouldn’t miss the ship because of airline difficulties, we arrived the day before and stayed in a hotel with a water view. Let the fun begin. The next day we got up and headed for the cruise terminal. Tons of people. The silhouette carries 2,886 passengers, and a crew of 1500, and it was a sold-out sailing. We were welcomed aboard with a glass of champagne, then headed for our veranda stateroom. Lest you think we spent our total nut for this trip, I can tell you that this cruise is very reasonable. Much less expensive than say, two weeks in Ocean City , New Jersey. It includes the room, travel (of course), and all the food you can eat. As I said earlier, way to much food. Alcoholic beverages are reasonable. There are shows every night, and all kinds of activities ranging from fitness classes to elegant teas, wine-tastings and interesting speakers on a variety of subjects. There’s a casino, Martini Bar, and cute shops. Check it out; Celebrity Cruise Line / Transatlantic Crossing.
Our ship made several stops along the way. First stop was two nights in Bermuda. Believe it or not, I chose to stay on board because we’ve been to Bermuda several times. Plus, when everyone else gets off, you’re the masters of the ship, finding pools and hot tubs empty of people, and just waiting for you. Tim did venture off to explore the Royal Naval Dockyard. It has really changed since we were last there. Lots of cute little shops and eateries. Of course there are buses and taxis waiting to take you to Hamilton, the capital of the country.
Isn’t the water just breathtaking?
The second stop was Ponta Delgada, on São Miguel Island in the Azores. The Azores is an archipelago in the mid-Atlantic, and an autonomous region of Portugal. The islands are characterized by dramatic landscapes, fishing villages, and green pastures. We broke with tradition here, and signed up for a bus tour. It provided us with just what we wanted to see. Instead of rock walls like England, there are hedgerows of blue hydrangeas. A hedgerow is a row of shrubs or trees that encloses or separates fields. It’s quite amazing to see.
The hills are filled with what I like to call “quilts”. Lots of squares with different shades of green, yellow, and brown, that correspond to fields that are filled with different kinds of plantings, and land that’s ready to be plowed.
There are two side-by-side lakes – one is green and one is Caribbean blue. Lagoa das Sete Cidades, “Lagoon of the Seven Cities”, is a twin lake situated in the crater of a dormant volcano. ” It consists of two small, ecologically different lakes connected by a narrow strait, which is crossed by a bridge.” It is the largest body of water in the region and one of the most important freshwater resources in the archipelago.
The third stop was Lisbon, Portugal. What a gorgeous city. The ship travels up the Targus River to get to the port and terminal. These are two views from the ship as we traveled up the river.
We hired a private taxi for a few hours to show us around. That’s a great way to do it, because then you can tell the driver exactly where you want to go and what you want to see. That necessitates a little beforehand research, but why go so far and know nothing about where you’re going? Just my opinion. Some people think Lisbon reminds them of San Francisco. It wouldn’t come to my mind immediately, but I do see what they’re talking about. The streets are narrow and steep. They even have trolleys that run on tracks all around the city. We particularly loved the older parts of town, where the buildings, and sometimes the sidewalk, are covered in tiles called Azulejos. “The Azulejo art in Portugal is a Moorish influence. They were imported from Seville (which was occupied by the Moors for over 500 years) by King Manuel I after a visit to the town in 1503.” Look closely at the building, covered in tiles from top to bottom.
Currently, Lisbon is one of the “hottest” cities in Europe. Lots of celebs live there, and the food scene is nothing if not outrageous. We chose to try a local favorite – pastel de belem– a custard-filled tart, browned lightly on top, and absolutely delish!!! The Portuguese language is a little tough to decipher. For example, the “pastel” is actually pronounced phonetically like this – “pastaiche”. No matter how you say it, these little egg custard treats are “delicioso”.
I know you all like a little history, so here it is.
Pastels were created before the 18th century by Catholic monks at a monastery in Lisbon. These monks were originally based in France where these pastries could be found in local bakeries. At the time, convents and monasteries used large quantities of egg-whites for starching clothes, such as nuns’ habits. It was quite common for monasteries and convents to use the leftover egg yolks to make cakes and pastries, resulting in sweet pastry recipes throughout the country. Following the extinction of the religious orders and impending closure of many of the convents and monasteries, the monks started selling pastels at a nearby sugar refinery to bring in some revenue. Pastels were mentioned by “The Guardian”, a British newspaper, as 15th most tasty delicacy in the world. And yes, they are that good!
Our last stop was Southampton, England. We opted for a tour bus that would eventually drop us directly off at our hotel, where we would stay four nights. The tour included a trip to Stonehenge – large boulders in a circle, which you’ve probably seen many times before, at least in pictures. No one really knows how they got there, but there are many theories. The tour guide assured us that they have absolutely nothing to do with UFOs and ETs.
It was way cool to see them, but I did think they would be much larger.
Off to Salisbury , where we saw the original Magna Carta– pretty amazing! Salisbury Cathedral is one of those old European cathedrals that inspire religious questioning, and hushed tones of voice. It even has lingering odors of incense and ritual.
In a room in the cathedral is where one of four original Magna Carta can be found. It is in a specially built dark structure that we could enter, but under no circumstances were pictures allowed. In this controled atmosphere, they hope to keep it preserved. We did see the original document, but you’ll have to visit Salisbury to see it yourself. We did take a photo of a copy which hung outside the controlled room. Even so, what began with the Magna Carta has gathered momentum in the intervening 800 years, snowballing into solid efforts to codify and enshrine human rights
Can you read it? Neither could we. It’s a rare medieval manuscript, written in Latin, in a language used in 1215. Yep, it’s over 800 years old. Just imagine.
Finally, we visited Windsor Castle – gigantic and beautiful. Most of the walls you see are not buildings at all, but protective walls. The “windows” are just large enough for an archer to put his bow in – ready, aim, fire!
We tried to get into St. George’s Chapel, where Harry and Meghan are getting married. We made it all the way to the front door, but were stopped from entering, as were all of those other people at the door. They explained that normally, we could visit, but they were preparing for the upcoming nuptials. (Excuse me, but that is precisely why we want to enter – oh well)
The bus dropped us at our hotel. Quite frankly, we were exhausted, and decided to stay in for the night. The next day we hired a car, and spent about 8 hours driving through The Cotswolds, a beautiful country area with 14th, 15th, and 16th century homes and castles. Note here: in England, you drive on the left side of the street, where the driver’s seat is on the right side of the car. And to make matters worse, unless you want to drive a huge passenger van, most cars are manual, and the gear shift device is on the left side of the seat. It did take Tim a while to adjust. Oh, and one more thing, The Cotswolds have many streets that are only big enough for one car, yet two are supposed to fit – not an easy task. Check out the next picture — nope it isn’t a driveway, it’s a road. So think about it, not only are two cars supposed to be able to navigate this narrow thoroughfare, but on occasion, share the road with a truck walking a couple of horses – yikes!
Many homes had thatched roofs, and I wondered how one would keep bugs and critters out, so I had to check. This from an article from Feb 6, 2018 – “If your house has a thatched roof, pests such as nesting birds and rodents must not gain access as your thatch insurance policy could be invalidated. … From birds and rodents to spiders and other insects, they all have their eye on your thatched roof, so you need to keep a wary eye out for them as well. ” Just as I thought.
Beautiful castles dotted the countryside, where people actually call them home.
Often, you couldn’t see the castles because they’re surrounded by huge hedges and such. I wanted to see Highclere Castle, where “Downton Abbey” was filmed, but that was another “oh well”. It isn’t open to visitors this time of year, and the castle is plopped down in the middle of a five thousand acre estate, with tall greenery all around, out of view from any public road. There are lots of cute shops, restaurants and such, and lots of tourists. It was pretty neat to sit and have a Cornish Pastry, and think about what this area must have been like “back then”. With a little time left before dark, we drove further into The Cotswolds. With town names like Stow-On-Wold, and Chipping Campden, you really are lured into seeing them for yourself.
In a little town called Bibury, we saw weavers’ cottages on Arlington Row that were built in the 1300s, and that are still standing – that’s quite a feat.
The next photo is also from Bibury. In the background is The Swan Hotel — beautiful.
On the final day, we drove to Stratford-Upon-Avon to see a bit of Shakespeare’s world. We saw his birthplace, and walked along the Avon River. This small town would have been forgotten if it wasn’t for William Shakespeare, who was born here. A statue of the Bard, flanked by statues of his characters Lady Macbeth and Hamlet, stands at the town centre. There are lots of statues that dot the area in town and along the river that are memorials to Shakespeare’s writing.
My favorite is this one on Henley Street, a statue of Puck, a character in a “Midsummer’s Night Dream”.
This is the place he was born.
The Avon River
Looks idyllic, right? I’ve debated about telling you this, but yes I will. The house is on Henley Street which has been converted into a pedestrian only shopping area. Yep – see Shakespeare’s birthplace there one left?
There were a few hours of daylight left, so we decided to drive again through The Cotswolds to see places we missed. As the sun set, we headed back to the hotel to prepare for the next day’s departure.
Getting home was a little stressful because we had so much luggage. But to be honest, I really can’t complain. We took the 8-hour flight home in Business Class on British Air – oh yeah!
See that little glass window right across from my pillow? That goes up and down. When I pushed it down, guess who was on the other side in his very own pod? Yep, my man Tim. One-way tickets on British Airways were £5,871 each (approx. $8,000 — are they crazy?), but we paid only the $514 in government-imposed duties, airport fees, and carrier-imposed surcharges. Why? Because we have a Master Card linked with American Airlines. I charge everything so I can accumulate points. Granted it takes several years but, for us, it’s worth it. We’ll pay cash for the little trips, and then splurge with frequent-flyer miles on one big one like this. And boy is it ever worth it. Prior to getting on the plane, we were welcomed to the lounge waiting area.
They had every kind of beverage you can imagine, all for free (well, not actually free, right?). There was also lots of food, from hot breakfast dishes to soups to sandwiches. Fabulous. Once you are on the plane, the seat is like a cocoon that turns into a bed when you’re ready to sleep. They provide blanket, pillow, ear plugs, an eye mask, and oh yes, a welcome aboard glass of champagne. Drinks were available gratis the entire trip. The braised beef meal, which we chose before flying, was great, as was the elegant tea and tapas later in the trip. Everyone has a private screen with first-run movies, TV, or just music for your entertainment pleasure. I’ll tell you, I can get used to that. Oh yes, and your (2) 70lb each pieces of checked in baggage are free, as are your carry-on and personal item. The flight, food, and service were flawless.
We arrived in Philadelphia, where we were picked up by Frank’s Limousine Service. Frank drove from Galloway, NJ, to pick us up and take us home. As we pulled up to our humble abode, even after such a magnificent trip, all I could think was that there’s no place like home.
NOTE: I want to give a shout out to Enterprise Car Rental near Heathrow Airport. The price was fair, the car was new and immaculate, and the service was excellent. If you find yourself in London, don’t hesitate.