August - September 2019
  • Day27

    Day 26 Cambridge

    August 26, 2019 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ☀️ 29 °C

    Yesterday Oxford, today, Cambridge!! Yes we doubled down on our University sojourns and spent the day in Cambridge. It is about as far north east of London as Oxford is west of the Capital and just as easy to reach by train.

    Given that we took the hop on, hop off bus yesterday and to keep the comparisons fair we decided to do the same in Cambridge. For my money Oxford is slightly the grander of the two cities and Cambridge seems to have more of a chip on its shoulder about Oxford than vice versa. Cambridge is where a number of the royal family have gone and Prince Charles is less than fondly remembered as probably the dimmest person to ever attend (there are strict academic criteria to meet for everyone else) and they created a course specifically to enable him to pass out with a degree (although even that took a year longer than usual).

    The main tourist related activity that Cambridge does way better than Oxford is punting, so we waited till today to take a punt tour along the river Cam. You can do it yourself, but having watched people giving out a go yesterday we took the safe option and left it to the experts and took a trip with one the many firms offering guided punts. It’s only a about a kilometre each way and passes alongside three of the university’s most famous colleges (St Johns; Trinity and Kings). Whilst the colleges are a seperate entity from the university itself, every student must be a member of a college to study.

    Thankfully no transportation issues to report today and apart from managing the unseasonable temperatures (it was another hot day here with temps again in the early 30’s) the day was drama free. Less people around today as the bank holiday long weekend is over and just as we are about to end our holiday the high temps are due to end. Should drop down to a more comfortable mid 20’s tomorrow which is our departure day. We are not due to fly out until late in the evening so we have a day that we will spend shopping in Oxford Street/Covent Garden before collecting our bags for a 7 pm check in time at Heathrow.

    Photos attached show... The Cambridge version of the bridge of sighs from our punt... (sigh, I’m over the bloody bridge of sighs, I’ve seen Venice’s original and in the past two days, replicas of it in both Oxford and Cambridge); St Johns College Chapel; the mechanical bridge; our train to Cambridge; Trinity College; a Cambridge Street with random construction worker in the foreground...; the river Cam; Kings College; the punting station on the river Cam.
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  • Day26

    Day 25 Oxford

    August 25, 2019 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 27 °C

    Another scorcher in London today (33 deg) and we took a day trip to the city of Oxford, famous naturally enough for its world renowned university. Getting there was easy enough, it’s a journey of about an hour from Paddington station. Against my better judgement we decided to take the hop on hop off bus (I’m just not a fan...) but it gave us a really good overview of the main sites, University colleges and key information that enabled us to get a well rounded picture of the role the university plays in British and world events.

    After doing almost a complete lap of the city we got off and walked back to a couple of the sites we were interested in and had something to drink at the Kitchen Bar in Magadalen College overlooking the canal where punting takes place. That was quite amusing as many people elect to have a crack at it themselves rather than have one of the students do the punting for them. If you find yourself here take my advice and let the experts take care of the punting, most all of the amateurs ended up going backwards or round in circles. Sadly though no-one fell off while we were there....

    We took a short walk through the grounds before having lunch on the high street. Went to the covered market (don’t bother) and walked around town before heading back to the station to catch a train back to London about 2.40 pm. That was the start of a few delays.... The train turned up on time but then had a systems failure which meant all the electrics (and crucially the air-con) failed. That took fifteen very hot minutes to sort out and we arrived back at Paddington about 4 pm only to find that a points failure (no, I don’t know what that means either) had closed the underground line we needed to be on.

    London was super busy as well, as it was a bank holiday and the Notting Hill Carnival was also on which is sort of like London’s version of Rio’s Carnivale.
    Anyway, several roundabout subway journeys later we eventually made it back about 5.15....

    Photos attached - my Wimbledon souvenir (couldn’t post my actual Wimbledon photos...); punting in Oxford; Magdalen College, Oxford Uni; Oxford’s own bridge of sighs...; Christ Church College, Oxford Uni; Oxford High St; the rear of the Bodelian Library, Oxford Uni; err, another old building that we liked the look of....; the Chapel in Magdalen College
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  • Day25

    Day 24 London

    August 24, 2019 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

    Today we went for a walk through the Brompton Cemetery. It is only a short walk from where we are staying in South Kensington and a real mostly undiscovered London gem. It is a huge old place that could do with a bit of care and attention in places but has loads of ornate plots in a fantastic walled garden setting. There are also lots of very inquisitive squirrels and other wildlife roaming around.

    After that it was off to the Science Museum which is in the same area as the Natural History and Victoria and Albert museums but we had not visited here previously. It’s really cool and well worth two or three hours if you find yourself in London. There are loads of differently themed exhibits and the one’s that really captured our imaginations were dedicated to flight and technology. We also saw a special exhibit on the work of the British GCHB (the secret communications monitoring service) which was also very good with lots dedicated to the Cold War era of the 60’s and 70’s and some of the goings on between Britain and the then Iron Curtain nations.

    We adjourned for lunch (to a nearby pub naturally which had very effective and welcome air conditioning) and then went to Harrods to pick up something for dinner from their food court which has awesome (if pricey) fare. By then it was mid afternoon and I left Christine behind because I had a couple of choices of other things I wanted to do...

    On our last trip here I made an unsuccessful journey to take a tour of Lords Cricket ground (unsuccessful because the last tour left literally one minute before I arrived and they wouldn’t let me tag on the end of it). So I’ve been a bit bitter towards Lords and the stuffy attitude of their staff ever since and I decided to exercise my second option - a trip to Wimbledon to see the All England Tennis Club Museum and tour the Centre Court.

    Getting there was sort of simple. It is on the same line as that which runs from Earls Court station (a 2 minute walk from where we are staying). However I have a word of advice... I was fairly certain the best station to get to the tennis centre was Southfields but a bloke I got talking to on the train said Wimbledon Park was better. While that may sound logical, it wasn’t actually true and I had to backtrack to Southfields - don’t trust the locals, virtually no-one is actually a local!!

    Anyway it turned out to be a fifteen minute walk from the station (in 30 degree heat), but well worth it and I have a couple of photos that will appear in the next update as I took them on a really old travel phone and transferring them needs another app. The centre court itself is smaller than you might imagine and certainly quite a bit smaller than the only other comparator I have - Rod Laver arena in Melbourne. Beautifully presented as you might expect and the museum tour is top rate.

    Photos attached show... Brompton Cemetery buildings; the main pathway in the cemetery; one of the side paths; a squirrel paying me no mind at all; one of the many crows in the cemetery; the Science Museum exterior; and the interior; a typical Kensington street, me outside the pub we had lunch at!
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  • Day25

    Day 23 Southampton - London

    August 24, 2019 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    Off the ship for the final time this morning about 8 am. We arranged to get a cab to the rail station with a couple of friends we made on the ship and disembarking was so easy we were off the ship and at the station within 25 minutes which meant over an hour’s wait for our 9.30 train to Waterloo station in London.

    That all went smoothly enough and we arrived about 11.15 and picked up a black taxi to our hotel/apartment in South Kensington. You know how Londons cabbies used to do “the knowledge” (which was a test that meant they had to memorise every street and the quickest direction to it in central London)? Our cabbie was obviously a complete failure at the knowledge as after 40 minutes in his taxi we were further away from where we wanted to be than when we started.

    We had done this trip a few times before so I knew he was completely lost and following a few increasingly heated exchanges we parted ways, settling on a ten pound (out of the 45 on the meter) as fair exchange for his uselessness. I imagine he can still hear the very colourful language I used as I left the cab and hopefully my parting advice to him about choosing a different career path comes to fruition.

    Anyway ten minutes and one driver who did actually know his way around later, we were at the Collingham apartments. We have stayed here about 4 times previously and they really look after us. We have been given a split level balcony apartment and there was a bottle of wine and chocolates awaiting us on arrival.

    London has a reputation for cool cloudy weather, well not today! Almost 30 degrees with more just like it forecast for the next few days. It was a very hot and sweaty journey by tube out to Camden Town Markets for the afternoon where we were met by every other person in London who also wanted to be there on a Saturday afternoon - jeez it was packed!

    Made a few purchases and made our way back to Kensington about 4 pm. After a quick stop at one of the local pubs and a bit of supermarket shopping we decided to call a halt to the day about 6 pm.

    I had intended to get to a local football match (probably QPR) but the time it took to get to our apartment and the crowds at Camden Town put paid to that. A quiet night in cooking for ourselves in preparation for another day in the London heat tomorrow.

    Photos show... The Collingham Apartments; several shots of the inside and balcony of room 122...
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  • Day24

    Day 22 Cruising English Channel

    August 23, 2019 ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    This was the last day of the cruise portion of the trip before 5 days in London to finish. As is typical on a last day at sea there are several rituals to observe. Firstly there are the many goodbyes you have to make. A small ship like the Nautica means you get to see and spend time with a lot of people and crew over the course of the 20 days.

    Secondly as with all cruise lines they are super keen for you to (positively) review the trip and the crew by means of a survey that each line conducts after every cruise. Then you need to decide to which of the crew you might tip that little bit extra (even though all gratuities are included there is still an expectation that some tipping will take place). Most importantly is the cashing of the credits (O points) that have been won for playing/winning/participating in various games or quizzes during the trip.

    We had a staggering return of over 300 (360 to be exact) which enabled us to get lots of “free” branded gear -socks/hats/shirts/jackets and the like.

    Lastly (after packing of course) we had dinner with our quiz team who had all grown really close over the course of the trip (we ended up finishing second overall in number of points won by any of the 12 or so quiz teams during the voyage if anyone is wondering) and ended up finishing the evening up in the main bar about 11pm.

    Early start tomorrow so that’s it for today’s update. Photos attached show...

    Our O ;points collection!; sunset over Dublin as we pulled out; the final crew show of the trip (virtually the only one we went to over the whole trip); “baggo” - one of the games regularly played on board; Bingo!! - more lost than won I’m afraid; a video of some lumpy weather between Greenland and Iceland in 4 metre seas.
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  • Day23

    Day 21 Dublin, Ireland

    August 22, 2019 in Ireland ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    Home of Guinness, Temple Bar, the world renowned Trinity College and many (many) churches. It’s a great place but one we had visited previously and seen all the aforementioned things and a few besides. So we decided to make our way into the city, take a wander around and see what took our fancy.

    So after a walk from Merrion Square where we were dropped off about 10.30 am what took our fancy unsurprisingly turned out to be a visit to one of the hundreds of pubs for lunch (the Oliver St. John Gogarty Bar in Temple Bar in this case) which was pretty good. Lucky we were there by 11.45 as from soon after mid-day, every pub was packed with lunch goers. We then went for a stroll up Grafton Street the main shopping drag, through St. Stephens square, the Irish Parliamentary complex and ended up at the Natural History museum which was small but really comprehensive in it’s displays of Irish wildlife.

    By then it was mid afternoon and time for (you guessed it!) another visit to a local pub (Kennedy’s in this case) before walking back to get the 2.45 pm bus back to the ship. Well that was the plan... Turned out the bus had left early as it was packed and the next one wasn’t till 3.30. So we hooked up with another couple of passengers and caught a cab back alongside the river Liffey, arriving back at the ship just before 3 pm.

    As I type this we are just about to depart (6 pm) and have a sea day before concluding the trip in Southampton. So barring a huge win at bingo or one of the quizzes there will likely be little to report until we get to London on Saturday.

    Photos attached show.... Pearse Rail Station; the River Liffey (with our ship in the far background); Hapenny Bridge; the Temple Bar (located in Temple Bar); the pub we had lunch at; the Natural History Museum; two shots from inside said museum; Grafton Street.
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  • Day22

    Day 20 Belfast, Ireland

    August 21, 2019 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    Really interesting day today. We arrived in Belfast quite early and wanted to go to the Titanic Centre which is (unsurprisingly) in Belfast’s Titanic quarter and was back at the turn of the last century, the world centre of shipbuilding. The centre itself stands on the site of the slipway that launched many ships including the Titanic.

    It is a huge building and the number one tourist destination in Ireland (or Europe if you believe their publicity). We left the ship early to try and beat the masses arriving just after it opened at 8.30. That proved a good decision as when we left about 11 am it was getting pretty packed. It’s very well done and well worth a couple of hours of your time if you are ever here (see some of the photos). There is also a smaller White Star Line Ship, the Normadic, in one of the adjacent slipways that you can walk through, although we didn’t take up that part of the tour as we only had one day in Belfast and many things to do.

    We had been hoping to speak to one of the curators as we had been given copies of letters written by the Titanic’s Quartermaster in the aftermath of the sinking to have looked at with a view to donating the originals (owned by a friend of Christine’s who is his grand daughter). However they were all off site, so the best we could do was get the email address of one of the lead curators and put Dee in direct touch with her.

    After a quick trip back to the ship to drop off the enormous amount of shopping and souvenirs that had been purchased (Christine is mad for the Titanic) we took a couple of hour trip with the taxi driver that had dropped us back there into the Shankhill/Falls Road area of Belfast. Like many drivers in Belfast he specialises in providing independent tours of the area to see and learn about the areas and people that shaped this very divided city.

    He grew up and still lives in Shankhill but nevertheless gave us a rounded overview of both the Protestant (Shankhill) and Catholic (Falls Road) perspectives of the history and key events that still dominate the areas today. It is pretty confronting to see and learn about the atrocities that have been committed by both sides in pursuit of their particular view of how Ireland/Northern Ireland should exist.

    After that we were dropped into the centre of Belfast and that co-incided with the weather packing in. It had been mild and overcast to that point but from about 1 pm it started to rain and get colder and that got progressively worse as the day wore on. After a walk through through the centre of the city we went to the nearby Robinsons Pub for a drink and lunch. Reputationally it is the site of the most bombed pub (it’s actually two pubs joined together) in Belfast and that’s saying something considering the amount of trouble that city has seen over the years.

    We bumped into Dave and Lesley two friends from the ship at the pub (surprising as we were the only non locals there) and had lunch with them before walking to take a look at the Belfast City Hall which is a really impressive building with lots of stained glass marking various Belfast events and information about the many famous people that were born in or lived in the city. By now it was about 3.30, raining and pretty cold so we decided to call it a day and head back to the ship on the double decker buses they had put on to ferry us from the port to the ship and back.

    Photos show... The Titanic Slipway (with our ship in the background...); the main staircase of the ship as depicted in a virtual walk through; a replica Titanic lifeboat; the Titanic Centre; the Normadic; a Protestant memorial wall; our driver and me looking at the exterior of a Shankill house; one of the 47 walls that still separate the Protestant and Catholic areas; Robinsons Pub, downtown Belfast; Belfast city hall
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  • Day21

    Day 19 Derry, Ireland

    August 20, 2019 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    We arrived in Northern Ireland today. Well sort of, the port we used for Derry (Londonderry to some - depends on which side of the religious divide you sit) is actually in Greensgate which is across the inlet in Donegal, Republic of Ireland, about a 40 minute drive from Derry itself.

    We had decided to take one of the ship’s tours today to Dunluce Castle and the Giant’s Causeway which is a UNESCO world heritage site of uniquely shaped hexagonal rocks. On the way to the causeway you pass through both the seaside towns of Portrush, site of the recent British Open Golf tournament and Bushmills, home of Ireland’s oldest licensed whiskey distillery. It is a fascinating part of Ireland and also in the area is a famous rope bridge and the dark hedges, although due to time constraints we didn’t get to see those....

    As we didn’t arrive in Greensgate until midday (its a long way there from Iceland) this was an afternoon/evening tour and we got to the causeway about 4 pm after a two hour drive and had a couple of hours to look around. That was after a stop at Dunluce which is a castle ruin on the cliffs overlooking Portrush Bay (see photos).

    You could take the bus down to the causeway but we chose to walk (down at least) to the rocks. It is one of the most popular spots in Northern Ireland and there were hundreds of other visitors on the day we were there. You can clamber all over the rocks and there are unsurprisingly a lot of accidents as people slip or fall on the uneven terrain. During the time we were there and although we didn’t see it, a lady (who was not part of our group) fell from her wheelchair badly injuring herself.

    We had two hours there which was enough time for us to see and walk around the causeway and have enough time left over for a drink at the local pub.

    After the trip back to Greensgate we decided to visit another local hostelry for a drink before returning to the ship about 8.45pm before an 11 pm departure.

    Photos attached show... light and dark hexagonal rocks; Dunluce Castle ruins; causeway rocks; the organ pipes (cliffside rock formation); me in front of rock face; the Nook, a local pub we visited; another bar in Greensgate we went to; Portrush Police station and it’s surrounding perimeter fence, a reminder of the sometimes troubled circumstances prevalent in this part of the world.
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  • Day19

    Day 17/18 Reykjavik and at sea

    August 18, 2019 in Iceland ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    Well the last Reykjavík day was supposed to be the day we finally went to go whale watching.... But, you guessed it, the weather gods simply will not play ball and it was cancelled (again) due to high winds and rough seas. Having explored most of Reykjavík in the previous two days and the alternative tours on offer not being that attractive, we opted for a day on board.

    Consequently there is little to report apart from our stash of “O” points which you get for winning various games, reaching levels that might enable us to buy the ship when we get off!

    We enjoyed both Reykjavik and Iceland generally, I can report that I bought back to the ship a few examples of locally brewed beers (aside from the ones I sampled on land) and they are uniformally excellent. Even the local lager (Polar Beer) is passable and the other boutique beers are really good.

    We are now en route to Derry, Northern Ireland and we’ve attached some photos of things around the ship to give an idea of the facilities on offer on this small 700 passenger vessel. Tonight we have an invite to Drinks with the Captain for a couple of hours before we due at the specialist Italian restaurant on board “Toscana”.

    Photos - the Grand Dining Room; the crew undertaking a safety drill on the wharf in Reykjavik; the Nautica lounge (the bloke at the lecturn is Shaun our cruise director); Horizons lounge at the front of the ship; a sample of the cruise daily showing the sort of things that happen on a sea day!
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  • Day18

    Day 16 Reykajavik, Iceland Day 2

    August 17, 2019 in Iceland ⋅ ⛅ 12 °C

    Another day, another change of plans. Today was supposed to be the day we took a flight over icefields and active volcanos, however there have been extremely high winds in Reykjavik today and the tour had to be cancelled due to adverse flying conditions for the small plane being used. Tomorrow’s whale watching expedition is in jeopardy for the same reason but i guess we’ll come to that when we get to tomorrow....

    Unfortunately that’s just how things roll in this part of the world where adverse weather is a part of everyday life even in mid-summer. That said apart from the high winds (which wouldn’t rate much of a mention to anyone who has spent much time in Wellington - “a bit breezy” by our standards...!) it was fine and sunny with temps about 15 degrees.

    So with time on our hands we decided to knock off a couple of things we hadn’t managed the previous day in Reykjavik and visited the Northern Lights experience centre which gives information and picture/video representations of the Northern Lights from all over Iceland. For those wondering if we have seen the lights for ourselves... no, this the wrong time to see them as they usually occur in winter between late October and late March although there are occasional sightings from early September through to late April

    After that we headed back through the city and up to the main Church featuring an impressive organ/pipe set up. Of more interest was the assembling of the gay pride parade floats and the parade route was packed.

    Otherwise we occupied ourselves in a couple of local pubs sampling some further local beers (for me at least) before returning to the ship about 3 pm in time for pre dinner happy hour...

    Photos show the Northern Lights (not live..); inside of the Harpa concert hall; the Scenic Eclipse about to embark on her maiden voyage from Reykjavik; the waterfront bar we had a drink at; Reykjavik harbour and public exhibit in the background; Hallgrimskirkja Church which dominates the skyline; the harbour again; another public art piece
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