Fam club trip with other Travel Agents from the Carolinas as well as Agents from across the country.
  • Day7

    A day in Edinburgh - old friends meet-up

    April 21, 2016 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ☀️ 55 °F

    After being up till 2am, a bit tired when morning rolled around. Thought I was going to fall asleep over my breakfast!

    Michael gave us the lowdown on Edinburgh this morning as we headed towards the castle overlooking the city. Passed the Elephant House cafe where JK Rowling wrote much of her early Harry Potter books while overlooking the castle. (www.elephanthouse.biz/) Once at the castle, we gathered for a group photo. Afterwards we viewed the Crown Jewels and the Great Hall Beautiful day again - stunning stroke of luck on the weather this week. Flawless - not a single raindrop. And for the British Isles in April - unreal.

    After a few hours at the castle, back on the bus to head down for a tour of HMS Britannia, the Queen's Royal Yacht. Perfect timing as it is the Queens's 90th birthday today, so we were treated to a band, bubbly stuff and tiny little cupcakes with little chocolate disks on top end inscribed with B'Day greetings for the Queen. Neat presentation -felt like I shouldn't eat that little disk, but no food shall go untouched!

    We were given audio headsets and proceeded to tour roughly 28 stops along the way. The ship sailed around the globe many times in its 40 year history. It was decommissioned around 1997, if memory serves me correctly. An amazing ship - the Royals had it good beyond a doubt.

    Leaving the ship, we headed back to the hotel with a stop downtown for folks who wanted to do a bit of shopping. I stayed on because I was meeting Tamas.

    Who's Tamas? Well he's a friend from my 2014 Uniworld River cruise in France . He was the night desk clerk who helped me out with ice packs the night I crushed my tooth on some hardened fruit pieces. We became Facebook friends and he happened to be following my trip and popped up online before I got to Edinburgh asking me if I wanted to go out for a pint Turns out he is at the moment doing front office work for the Raddison Blu in Edinburgh and had been there only a few months. How unreal is that?

    So we met and strolled up town to a beautiful pub where we had a few raspberry ciders. Only 4% alcohol so nothing too dangerous :). Talked politics,economics, etc and then strolled down to see Saint Giles Cathedral, a beautiful soaring gothic church with amazing stone glass windows - the Mother church of Presbyterianism . (for some pictures of the inside , click here - bit.ly/1Np8Gfe) Afterwards we had to hoof it back to the hotel as Insight was putting on a little Bon Voyage party for us before we went to dinner. Said goodbye to Tamas and promised to meet again in some other far away place.

    Headed over to the restaurant Iris for dinner , a rather hip restaurant with reputation for great food. Had mussels for a starter, fish stew for dinner, followed by raspberry crumble and of course two glasses of wine to go along with all this

    Finally back to the hotel and goodbyes to new friends. Hung out in the downstairs bar, sipping an Apple cider and discussing trucking with Phil the bus driver (one of my former careers, somewhere back in time) and talking to some of the other folks on the tour with whom I had not had much time to talk to earlier. Made some good friends on this trip. Now to try and get an hour or two of sleep before that 2:30 am wake up call!
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  • Day6

    Hadrian's Wall and on to Edinburgh

    April 20, 2016 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ☀️ 57 °F

    Day long drive to Edinburgh. Traveling through beautiful rolling hillsides with sheep everywhere. Stopped at one point to climb on Hadrian's Wall (ancient Roman wall stretching some 75 miles across Northern England). Moved on across the border to Scotland where a bagpiper was playing. And shortly later stopping at Lochcarron textile mills (www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/selkirk/lochcarron/) where you can fit yourself into a fine kilt! Saw cashmere sweaters for $225 Scottish pounds - about $340 dollars. Had a nice tour of the factory there and had lentil soup and sandwiches - tasty stuff.

    On to Edinburgh where we checked into the Crowne Plaza and then with 30 minutes before dinner I decided to hike up a steep hill behind the hotel. Steep is an understatement. About halfway up it seemed a coronary was probably in my near future . Beautiful 360 degree view of the city though. Had about 5 minutes at the top and then hoofed it back down to slip on a sport coat and head for a dinner show called "Pride of Scotland" (or something similar). Good dinner - had pork belly with bubbles and squeaks. Yep, you'll have to google that one for sure!

    Many glasses of wine later we all headed to the Conan Doyle pub where we had a wee pint or two (or three). Good times here. Think all fams should have a pre-drunk built in vs a pre-night stay.

    Bumped into a bunch of folks back at the hotel from the National Health Services who invited us to sit with them and over a few hard ciders had a great time discussing Donald Trump. It goes without saying that they were horrified at the prospect of such a person being elected and they were totally unanimous about it. Getting on 2 am, decided that I was toast and headed for the sack
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  • Day5

    On to York

    April 19, 2016 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ☀️ 52 °F

    Up early to have luggage ready by 7:30pm. Love packing - NOT! Downstairs again for the BIG breakfast - enormous variety - sure beats the heck out of your avg continental breakfast.

    Heading towards York and we'll see what the day brings.

    I do have to say that the Tour Director is one really great tour director. Gracious, kind person with fabulous story telling abilities and a wonderful Irish accent. He's been doing this a long time now and is semi-retired, working from May to October and taking the rest of the year off. Had a chance sit down and have a scone and some tea with him and a fellow Tour Director for CIE who was in Stratford on Avon at the same time. They have known each other for 40 years and the gentleman from CIE mentored him in getting started in the business. You could tell they both loved the job. When I see this, I think that is what I should have done many years ago, but not sure I could ever duplicate his amazing personality. Insight Vacations picked a winner here for sure. Conrad who had toured us through much of London was also an outstanding guide. Touring is worth it when you have people with such a wealth of knowledge.

    Picked up a lot of good info on the way up to Stratford on Avon - passed through rolling farm lands covered with bright yellow flowers where the farmers are growing rapeseed and canola. Had no idea this is what it looked like. Michael gave us lots of history lessons - he does know his British history.

    Stopped in Stratford on Avon for a tour of Shakespeare's birthplace. Professional operation going on here - needed more time - once you've toured the home, you can even listen to them perform plays outside. We were watching Romeo and Juliet for a short bit before leaving. Learned a lot of expressions that came from back in the 15 and 16 hundreds that we hear often today and don't realize their origins.

    Strolled the town briefly, had my tea and scones and we were back on the bus heading towards York. On a normal Insight tour, more time would be allotted for many of these activities but in our shortened time period, they are trying to show us as much as possible.
    Glad I'm using Trip Advisor's timeline, as it is recording my entire trip including my pictures, mileages between points and time spent at each place. Nice way to have an automatic diary.

    I digress - on to York. Arriving here at the Hilton, we are treated to a glass of champagne courtesy of Insight and some very tasty chocolates (something that York is known for). As Michael our guide would say in his Irish accent - just a little "flourish" courtesy of Insight to give you a bit more energy for the rest of your day. We toss our stuff in our room and are off for a walk of the town. Beautiful town, could easily spend a day or two here. Incredible church - York Minster here. They were closing in 15 minutes so didn't get a chance to explore the inside of the church - didn't want to pay 10 pounds for 15 minutes. Still after having read Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (highly, highly recommended), I would have loved to spend more time here. (a link to his book - amzn.to/1WiQiX2)

    Did some more strolling through the town - listened to some musicians who were pretty good, stopped in a chocolate and bakery shop - wonderful shop - Betty's of York. (www.bettys.co.uk/tea-rooms/locations/york)

    Back to the hotel with 10 minutes to spare and we are off through the countryside about 10 miles to the south of York to Ye Old Sun Inn, where we were treated to multiple drinks, squash soup, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding (doesn't resemble pudding!) and an extremely rich platter of 3 different desserts. Not sure I'd want to be a tour director - would weigh about 500 lbs.

    Back to the Hotel by 10 - pounding on my journal now.
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  • Day4

    Tour of London - British Museum

    April 18, 2016 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 52 °F

    Slept like a rock. Had to set three alarm clocks to get up. Went down for a fabulous breakfast buffet in the hotel. Then we headed out for the Tower of London to see the crown jewels. Excellent tour guide explained many sites as we headed that way. I tried to nick (steal) one of the Queen's headpieces which I thought would befit my lovely wife but they saw it poking out of my backpack at the last moment. You were almost Queen for the day my dear! (to get a tour of the tower yourself - check out this youtube video - www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5raGfZXCEU)

    Afterwards drove to Buckingham palace to see the changing of the guard. It looked like it was going to rain but held off. Good thing as they cancel it when it rains. Lotta people there compared to when I was there on Sunday. I can imagine that in the summertime it's a total zoo. Took a video of the changing of the guard.

    Headed back towards the hotel where they dropped us off and then I and some friends went via taxi to the British Museum for the afternoon Back at the hotel, we departed again for High Tea at a very posh hotel - the Milestone (bit.ly/1MOZmkI) It will cost you a sixpence or two to stay here for the night. Very engaging General Manager gave us a Tour of the hotel. It's one of the Red Carnation properties , which are high end. Then they bought out the goodies - Little sandwiches, scones, and other little pastry like items-all of which were incredibly delicious and will probably cause a stroke to happen shortly. Somewhere I lost my blood sugar testing kit - think it slipped out of my backpack on the plane, which I'm now kinda glad I lost! What you don't know, can't hurt you, right? Yep, that must be it!

    Back again to the hotel for a respite from that attack on the senses before we head out once again to see a Key ceremony put on by the Beefeaters.

    Of to the Tower again around 7:30pm to see the Key ceremony. Bit chilly - nice nighttime photography opportunities along the Thames of the Tower Bridge and a few other iconic landmarks. Beefeater guy was hugely entertaining chap - toured us around the grounds of the Tower regaling us with various stories until we saw the actual ceremony itself, which itself is done in total silence, except for the clacking of soldiers' shoes on the cobblestones and loudly barked commands. Started off with a soldier striding along the cobblestones, carrying just a lantern. No photos allowed, so you will have to come to London to see for yourself. But I believe the ceremony is booked up through 2017 so you'd better start planning now!
    Finished up around 10:30pm and headed back on the bus to the hotel. Before crashing , we headed to a nearby pub for food and beer. Good beer I might say. :) More pics to follow
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  • Day3

    1st Day London

    April 17, 2016 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ☀️ 36 °F

    Actually a continuation of Flight Day because I never went to bed till 11pm ! I think I was up for 27 hrs - felt amazingly good for that actually. Entertained by our tour director (Michael Doughty) on the the ride back to the hotel. Love the accent. He will turn out to be a fabulous guide.

    After a brief get together back at the hotel (rooms weren't ready at 10am), I headed out on my own through Hyde Park , stopping briefly at the Speaker's Corner where anybody can stand u and rant and rave about their favorite topic. Quite interesting - they got into some spirited discussions - would have liked to stay longer , but the shopping Mecca of Harrod's awaits, so I am off.

    Lot of people out in the park today - nice way to spend a Sunday. Harrod's is awesome - you could spend a month in here and still miss half the stuff - never had any idea where I was but the food displays were awesome!

    Decided I might walk down to the London Eye and started off that way. Walked and walked and walked and decided that I was crazy. Stopped at a neat little restaurant along the way and had a Mediterranean panini - very tasty. That gave me a bit more energy. Finally decided the Eye was going to be too far and went to Buckingham Palace instead. Looks the same way it looked 40 some odd years ago, when I was last here. After a few pics, took the hike up alongside the east side of Hyde Park back to the hotel.

    Afraid to go asleep, talked some via Facebook video chat with my wife - worked surprisingly well. Of a technical note, my AAA adapter plugs for England didn't work properly in their socket - will have to investigate that further. (as it turns out, I wasn't flipping up the 3rd prong - well , duh...) Didn't really matter in this hotel, as fortunately, plenty of USB sockets in the room and even 1 American plug-in. Also of interest, is that as you enter the room, the key card you use for the outer door, is also used to slip into a key card slot just inside the door. That allows you to turn the lights on - when you leave, you take the key card out and the lights go out - geez, not sure if I've seen this in the States, but maybe my Motel 6's just don't offer that quite yet. LOL

    Went for drinks around 5 - few glasses of the ol' vino ya know - met the rest of the AAA crews from the Midwest and and Florida - moved on to dinner (steak dinner) - then a group of us decided we were going to the London Eye at night. So we hailed a few taxis and headed that way (hell of a lot easier than walking!). One of the Insight directors was kind enough to foot the bill for all of us which was incredibly generous as it's about 30+ Pounds to ride it. Great views of the skyline at night - the Eye moves very slowly - you almost wouldn't know you were moving at all.

    Finally grabbed some more coffee and headed back to the hotel, where it took no time at all to crash.
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  • Day2

    Charlotte - London

    April 16, 2016 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 64 °F

    After checking over packing lists a few times and grabbing a haircut at the last moment and trying to keep the cats from crawling into my suitcase, Janet and I are finally headed to the airport in Greensboro They say you should be at the airport 3 hrs ahead of time for international flights - think I could shorten that to an hour at GSO - practically had to wake everyone up in the middle of the afternoon. Delta app says the plane is on time. Good thing - not much time at Hartsfield to make connection. Now I just get a notice that my flight is delayed 35 minutes out of GSO. LOVELY.

    My bud seen below, who should be traveling with me!!

    Take-off 3:38 pm Departure from Atlanta scheduled for 5:45. This flight due to arrive around 4:55. Diet Fresca and mini Pretzels - living now! Wheels down at 4:30 My old home Atlanta out the window. Landing at 4:32

    Made it to the departure gate by 5. Plane left promptly st 5:45. Very smooth ride across the Atlantic but very little leg room. Food was mediocre I'd say, but then I was spoiled by Lufthansa once. Watched part of the movie Spotlight but after s few glasses of wine (1/2 of which I deposited on my corduroys) I managed to pass out briefly. Daylight is appearing (at 1:17 am - ugh)
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  • Day1

    PreTrip

    April 15, 2016 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 57 °F

    15 APR 2016
    00
    Typical crazy day before a trip. I went to my MapQuest travel blogs to start a new blog and found out to my horror that they discontinued the service as of March 31, 2016 and now I have to beg them for all my previous blogs or I have lost them forever. Not good, so now I have to find a new Travel Blogs program. Might just stick with Evernote. In the meantime, I'm going to give BonJournal a try. (update - MapQuest still has my blogs and is going to send them to me in a zip file - whew)

    Weather is looking decent for when we are supposed to be in London and Edinburgh - mid 50's during the day, sunny/cloudy, lower 40's at night. Hope that holds - can do without mid 40's and torrential downpours.

    Fly out of GSO mid afternoon tomorrow- hook up with some of the other AAA members at ATL and take Virgin Atlantic to LHR. For those I don't work with , this is a trip sponsored by Insight Vacations to acquaint Travel Agents with their products. (www.insightvacations.com).

    Bought a TravelPass via Verizon for $10 a day. Lets me use my current data on my phone and I'm not restricted to crazy global plan limits like I've used in the past where it costs $25 for .1GB (100mb). Something new from Verizon - will see how it works.

    I also might mention that when using Public wifi (which we all do), it is a good idea to have a VPN (Virtual Private Network) app on your phone or tablet. This prevents any hacker from sitting somewhere in the area and hacking into your equipment (yep, this does happen). I use one called Private Internet Access. Easy to set up - turn it on, select the country you're in and you see a little VPN logo appear at the top of your screen. www.privateinternetaccess.com

    Photo below - Red Marker on NE corner of Hyde Park is our hotel. You will notice that I have marked Gordon Ramsey's Restaurant down near the Thames. Now I'll be interested to see who is going to buy me dinner there! Ha! (as it turns out, Gordon's restaurant Maze is one of the dinner spots on an Insight Gold tour - now that I'd go for!)
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