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Friday, July 17, 2009


July 13, Monday


Well, Monday became one very long day.  We set the alarm and I was up by 6:00 AM.  Now, if you do the math, 6:00 AM in London is 1:00 AM in Florida.  At the end of the day, I was in my own bed in Florida just before midnight, making Monday a 23-hour day.


Linda had arranged for a driver to pick us up at 7:00 for our drive to Gatwick.  That meant navigating through rush hour traffic.  We had allowed plenty of time, so we were worry free.  We also allotted extra time for the duty-free area of the airport.  And, I might say that of all the airports I have ever been in, Gatwick security is the most extensive, comprehensive and efficient I have experienced.


It goes without saying that the eight and a half hour flight from Gatwick to Cincinnati is really long.  Linda had taken a last minute upgrade into first class so I took her assigned window seat in coach and slept off and on much of the flight.  This gave me lots of time to mull over some random thoughts and memories.


When in London, ALWAYS look for the zebra stripes before trying to cross the street.  Cars and busses must stop if you are in the zebra stripes.  Since I couldn’t train my brain to first look to the right when crossing, zebra stripes saved my life on many occasions.


Wardrobe management is very simple in London.  Everyone looks so chic.  All you need are a pair of leggings under anything, and you are in style.  Leggings under a sundress.  Leggings under a mini skirt.  Leggings under a tunic top.  Add a big cinch belt and gladiator sandals and you are cutting edge. 


While walking though the city streets, shopping, riding the tube and sight seeing I noticed that, other than English, Italian seemed to be the most widely spoken language, followed by French.  And women in burka’s are not an unusual sight.


I am now much more aware of the epidemic of morbid obesity in the U.S. compared to other countries.  People walk or ride bikes in all of the European cities we visited. Public transportation is the best way to get around in cities with narrow streets.  Parking is impossible.  You don’t see many buildings dedicated to huge multi-story parking garages.  The subway system in London is accessed by flight after flight of stairs.  This forces people to exercise.  To be honest, I think it would be difficult for a handicapped individual.  You don’t see people in scooter chairs zooming around like they do in Wal-Mart, Disney World, Kroger’s, and every shopping mall in the U.S.  People in Europe walk.  Some might be heavy, but few are morbidly obese.


I had a six hour layover in Cincinnati before catching my flight to Orlando.  So, I am home now.  Jet lag is real.  I was fine on the first day home, but the second day it hit me.  Not to worry.  I will be rested up in plenty of time for Mike’s and my excellent Irish adventure at the end of August.


Sunday, July 12


It’s our last day in London.  I had started organizing my suitcases Saturday afternoon but planned to leave the finishing touches till later in the day Sunday.  Over coffee, Linda and I decided that the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace would be our last stop in our twenty-one day, eight-country adventure.  And maybe a stroll down Sloane Street for some window-shopping and brunch.


A short tube ride and we were back at the Queen’s house.  The Royal Mews are around back.  I thought I knew what the word mews meant.  It’s just English for alley, right?  Nope.  It’s where the falcons go to molt.  Falcon molting is called mewing, thus they mew in the mews.  Are you still with me?


The Mews are built as a quadrangle with coach housing along one side, and the other sides containing stalls, harness rooms and parking for limousines.  One section holds the Gold State Coach with four-life size Windsor Grays wearing the Morocco harness and two postillion riders.  It is a breathtaking sight to see this coach in all its brilliance.


We worked our way through the mews, taking lots of photos and listening to the audio tour.  Of course, we found the gift shop at the end of the tour and managed to pick up a few more items to tuck into our suitcases.


Next stop Sloane Street and a very nice café for a late brunch.  My scrambled eggs must have been made with cream and I can safely say were the best I had ever eaten.  And, the belini and fresh waffle that I couldn’t turn down meant we needed a nice walk and a bit of window-shopping.  Then, hop on the tube and back to the flat for serious packing.






Sunday, July 12, 2009


July 11


What to do on a Saturday in London?  Well, when your digs are one block from Portobello Road, you must join the thousands of others strolling through Portobello Road Market.  I had walked for several blocks along this road a few days earlier and it looked rather like an old woman who had seen better days.  The road was lined with antique shops, tee shirt stores and second hand clothing stores, most of which were closed.  The road was narrow and winding and appeared quite sleepy.  On closer look, you could see where the pavement along the curb was painted and numbered with each section being about eight feet wide.  Well, you sure can’t judge this book by its cover.


By early Saturday morning, each week, you cannot drive a car down this road.  It is a solid wall of people.  Most of those little shops opens up to become an alley way from front to back with stalls for eight or ten vendors inside each narrow store front.  The road, where the painted hash marks are, has become an unbroken line of tables and booths selling the most unbelievable mix of used items you can imagine.  Need a camera from the 1935?  There is a vendor that specializes.  Need an alligator hand bag from the 50’s.  It’s there.  Are you searching for a set of antique sterling silver plated fish knives?  I know where they are.  How about brass hotel faucets from the 1800’s?  Yup.  I stopped at one vendor that specialized in vintage ladies fur wraps, caplets, fox tail stoles and such.  He must have had over a hundred and fifty pieces to choose from.  I lifted my camera to take a photo and he jumped in front of me, waving his hands.  “No photos.  No photos.”  Sorry.


The market is more than used items.  There are several blocks of fruit and vegetable stands as well stalls selling new merchandise.  There are crepe vendors.   I stopped and watched as a young French girl prepared a banana and nutella crepe for me.  There were many street musicians along the road as well.  I stood for about twenty minutes listening to the Hightown Crows perform their own raw rock/blues on a suitcase, a bass and a pair of old guitars.  Their flyer says “…we’ll play your wedding…we’ll play your wake…book us now.”  I didn’t.


As I was walking back to our flat, I passed a pair of young men, maybe in their mid twenties.  They had set up a table and were offering free architecture.  What?  How do you offer free architecture?  I must have looked puzzled as one of them volunteered, “we’re not giving out free buildings, just free ideas.”   I laughed and told him I was relieved as I was going to have to pack for my return to the states and wasn’t sure if I had room for a building in my luggage.  They handed me their card and said to call if they could be of service.  Well, have you ever had one of those moments where you are not sure how someone from another country will interpret a phrase or slang expression?  I wanted to say to these young men that I thought their marketing technique was fresh and innovative.  What I said as I walked away from them is, “Wow.  You have a nice tool.”  Was that wrong?


I returned to our flat and took a ten-minute snooze before beginning to think about dinner and the theater.  We walked to a lovely restaurant, The Black & Blue, for an early dinner and a glass of wine.  Then we found a cab for the ride to the theater.  As previously mentioned, traffic in London is indescribable.  The city is currently in the midst of replacing every water line.  This means that sections are blocked off making the flow of traffic through the maze of narrow streets, mews and alleyways even more challenging.  I think I read that a London cabbie must study and memorize 40,000 streets in London to pass his test for a cab drivers license.  Our driver earned a nice tip based on the route he was forced to take to get us to the theater.  It was worthy of James Bond trying to shake a tail. 


We had tickets for a performance of War Horse at the New London Theater.  The theater opened in 1973 and was home to Cats for 21 years.  Our seats were fabulous.  (I highly recommend that anyone traveling to London and wishing to see a play use the ticket service at Harrods).  This play is based on a children’s book about a farm boy who raises a horse and then his father sells the horse to the cavalry as a war horse in the First World War.  But, it is also the story of the one million horses that were taken to France from Britain with only 62,000 returning.  What makes this play so unusual is that the life size horses in the production are puppets, each with three puppeteers inside.  The actors actually are mounted on the puppets at times.  The skill of the puppeteers is so profound that you don’t even see them; you only see a real horse.


Then back to the flat and sweet dreams of packing.  Only one more day to enjoy this wonderful city.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


July 10


What will we explore today?  Linda hadn’t been to Hampton Court before and, of course, I hadn’t been there.  This is the home of Henry VIII and the Hampton Court Flower show.  But first, we put in a call to the box office at Harrods and ordered our tickets for Saturday night’s performance of War Horse.


We again took the tube to Wellington Station and from there caught a train west to Hampton Court.  Because of the flower show it seemed that a train to Hampton was running every five minutes.  We were able to catch an express and we were whisked, and I do mean whisked, to the lovely town of Hampton. 


Upon arrival we decided on a lunch before touring Henry VIII’s love nest.  There was a charming café across the road from the castle and we sat outside and had a nice lunch.  This is where I learned about a new drink.  We had a Pimm’s lemonade.  Very tasty.  I will have to look for Pimm’s when I get home.  From there we simply crossed the road and entered the world of Henry’s royal court.  They have audio devices that talk you through the many rooms and give you a commentary on what you are seeing.  It was very interesting to see the kitchen as it was set up just as it was in Henry’s day with huge fireplaces and rooms for cooking fish, another for meats, a baking area and finally the serving section that looked rather like a cafeteria sort of arrangement where the servers would pick up their trays for serving the guests.  This is where we bumped into Henry himself.  He was on his way to the wine cellar and we followed him in for a bit of theater.  All very jolly.


The castle was originally the home of Cardinal Woolsey, but Henry coveted it and proceeded to ruin Woolsey causing Woolsey to give the castle to Henry.  This is where Henry enjoyed his many wives.  Henry then added a wonderful astronomical clock, the tiltyard for jousting and a tennis court.  This castle was also the home of William and Mary and others, so the periods changed from royal apartment to apartment.  But, many of the furnishings are original.  Outside are beautiful gardens that are being restored to their Elizabethan splendor.  The gardens contain a famous shrub maze and we had to try it.  Yes, it is a maze and you do get completely lost in it.  We finally made it to the middle and then took the gate out.  Had we not exited from the middle, we would still be there.


We took a look at the Garden Show being held on the grounds.  This is a huge event in the summer calendar and entry is pricey.  We decided that it was way too crowded for our taste and we had seen enough.  So, back to the train to London.  From the train we headed back to Harrods to pick up our theater tickets for Saturday night and so Linda could get her gift shopping done.  While she did that I parked myself in a little cappuccino bar and watched an amazing parade of shoppers.  Of course a trip to Harrods isn’t complete without a stop at the shrine to Diana and Dody.  Remember, Dody’s father owns Harrods. 


To finish our day we each made selections from the Harrods Food Court for take-away dinner back at the flat.  Then a tube ride home.  We made a couple of wee errors and found ourselves on the wrong line, but after some backtracking we made it home.  I’m starting to get the hang of this tube.  


Thursday, July 9


Today’s plan is for Linda and me to make our own plan.  She is fighting a bit of a cold and plans a day of laying low and re-energizing herself. 


I had one must do for my time in London.  Marthe (Mike’s Mom) had lived in London as a girl and remembered the number of that house.  In the strangest turn or fate, the flat where Linda and I are staying is a mere five or so blocks from Marthe’s childhood home.  Our landlady had left a great street guide and the pages for this bit of geography were loose from the binding.  I pocketed those pages and set out to find and photograph 5A Elgin Crescent.  It was an easy walk down Portobello Road, which is the flea market capital of London.  I found the house and took a couple of great shots.


Now my question was what else did I want to do on my own.  It’s a sad thing to say but I had been scarred for life by being lost in Toronto a few years back.  There is a bit of the small town girl in me and I get a bit panicky when I am in huge crowds and I don’t know where I am.  So, I decided that I wasn’t quite ready for prime-time subway (tube) hopping.  Instead, I would only go somewhere that I could stay above ground and be on foot.  That meant a trip back to Harrods.  I had to do it.  I recalled that the food court had a sushi bar, so I would go for lunch.


Well, the street guide was small help.  I only reversed my direction seven times.  I am sure that the police were following me because I kept passing the same houses as I retraced my steps, back and forth, looking for Kensington Gardens. A brief side note about the police – there are no trashcans on the streets of London or any other public place such as a tube station.  This is because the danger of a bomb being placed in them is too great.  People seem to carry their trash with them until they get home.  Isn’t that civilized?  And there are police walking beats everywhere.  So, my planned route to Harrods meant crossing through Kensington Gardens and then taking a diagonal route through some mews to emerge at Brompton Road.  There was further zigzagging through Kensington as I tried to spot the Albert Memorial,  It is a wonderful park and there are many commemorative spots to Princess Diana.  The Gardens are also known for their connection to Peter Pan, as this is the neighborhood where the author lived and wrote. 


Finally, I spotted the Albert Memorial and Royal Albert Hall directly across the street.  Now, I had been saved from on-coming traffic on two previous occasions as Linda yelled at me to step back onto the curb.  It is hard to reverse your eye and look for oncoming traffic in a country where they drive on the other side of the road.  But, I safely managed to cross Kensington Road without Linda’s coaching.  I chose an interesting set of side streets to make my diagonal way through to Brompton Rd.  The mews are great fun, but unfortunately one can find oneself at a seeming dead end.  I was in an area that had been the back alleyways and stable gates for former mansions.  It is wonderful to see these charming former stables and cottages with their flower boxes and colorful doors.  But, the alley appeared to end.  I pulled out my street guide and began to study it.  Just my good fortune, a lovely young (40ish) man stopped to ask if he could help.  I gave him my most charming smile and told him I was headed to Harrods but it appeared that I had run into a dead end.  He told me not to worry, there was a small gate in the wall and he was heading that way and we could walk together.  As we exchanged histories, I learned that he is the music director of a local church and spent childhood visits in Ocala, Florida.  BTW, Ocala sounded like O-call-a.  How charming!  By the end of our walk he had invited me to a free choir concert on Saturday night at his church.


Ah.  Harrods.  First order was a yummy sushi lunch served at a marble lunch counter in the Food Court.  Then on to some shopping for gifts for family and friends.  That was all fine and dandy, but I had now been walking for close to two hours and still had to get back home.  I managed to keep putting one foot in front of the other till I returned to our flat.  I needed a nap before dressing for the theater.


Our plan was to have an early pub dinner and then take the tube to the theater and a taxi home.  The first part went well.  There was an ancient pub on our road.  We ordered our dinner, enjoyed a pint and headed to the tube.  We made one small miscalculation on our route and ended up transferring to the wrong line.  No worry.  We just made our way above ground and hailed a taxi to the theater for the evening performance of Billy Elliot.  It was fabulous!  Our seats were great.  We were seated in the stalls, which equates to orchestra seating in the US.  I bought a program and read about the process involved in finding children for the demanding roles in this production.  There are five boys who alternate the role of Billy and more boys who play Michael.  In one scene, Billy is visiting his friend Michael who enjoys dressing in his sister’s clothes.  As the two boys dance, it is performed as a song and dance routine from an old Vaudeville show.  The boys are tap dancing away and the stage fills with dancing dress.  Billy says, “Michael, the dresses are dancing.”  Michael replies, “You should see what my underpants are doing”.  I laughed till tears rolled down my cheeks.  But, my favorite moment was after Billy had performed an amazing solo that was part tap, part ballet and a lot of gymnastics.  The dance ends with Billy running up a wall and doing a black flip.  Billy froze in the final position and the audience went mad.  As the cheering continued, Billy broke character and turned to the audience and looked out over the house with the biggest grin on his face you have ever seen.  He was still in the frozen position but it was a charming moment to see a 12-year-old boy finding such joy in his performance. 


We jumped into a taxi and called it a night.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Wednesday, July 8

Windsor Castle

We took the underground to the train station and a train to Windsor Castle.  Pretty easy?  Think of the Toronto Subway system and multiply it about seven times.  Selecting the proper line, figuring how many zones you wish to travel and operating the vending machine requires a masters degree in city engineering.  You must feed your ticket into the turnstile when entering the system and when exiting.  The want to know where you are at all times.  Then, you climb back above ground to the train station.  Now you must sort out the routes and times for this.  It’s a good thing this is all in English because I’m not sure a non-English speaking person could get around.


We just missed the straight through train and had to ride the train that stops in ten or twelve small stops on the route.  Not a bad ride if the stops were picturesque, but they are not.  However, as you come into the station in Windsor, the castle is right there.  So is Lego Land.  Off the train and across a street and you are almost at the castle gate.  Windsor Castle is HUGE!  We went to the ticket sellers, put our bags through the airport x-ray scanners and were in the castle.  If you look straight up upon entering, you will see the round tower and the flag was flying that announced that the Queen was in.  Strange.  We were at Buckingham Palace yesterday and she was there.  Now we were at Windsor Castle and she is here.  Perhaps she had been on the same train with us?  Is she following us?


The tour of the castle is self-guided and you are provided with a wand like contraption and something that looks like a touch-tone phone.  You punch in the number of the room you are in and hold the wand to your ear for a commentary on the history and contents of the room.  This is fabulous because the tour has access to the State apartments.  You are in the reception rooms and the halls and guards chambers and glorious rooms that are fully used today.  You see the official portraits of former monarchs, huge displays of weapons, Henry VIII’s suit of amour (yes, he was a BIG man), and all sorts of furnishings. 


After leaving the interior, we entered St. George’s chapel.  What a treat.  This is a place anyone who has watched TV coverage of royal events during their life will immediately recognize.  Choir stalls, seating for the knights, side alters with incredible marble figures, towering stained glass.  There was a little desk off to the side where you could write the name of a person you wish to have remembered in prayer the next day.  I wrote Marthe Horgan. 


We left the Castle and walked a bit of the town of Oxford.  We stopped into a tavern and had a very nice meal.  Linda had the shepherd’s pie while I ordered a chicken and mushroom pie.  Of course we both enjoyed a pint with our meal.  All that was left of the day was to backtrack our way home.


Tuesday, July 7


Today is the day to explore the city and get an overview.  What is the best way to do this?  The hop-on, hop-off bus of course.  We put our walking shoes on and headed out to see the sights.  Again, it helps that Linda has a working knowledge of the city and can quickly find them on a city map.  So, we headed out the door with Harrods as our destination.  Our route took us along a private street that borders Kensington Gardens and is home to many embassies now located in fabulous Edwardian mansions.  Security is very high in this neighborhood and you can’t even take photos of the houses.  Both ends of the street have armed guards and these neat retractable stanchions in the road. Police must clear all cars before the stanchions are lowed allowing the car to pass.  We cleared through that road and continued past Kensington Palace, former home of Princess Diana, past The Royal Albert Hall and the spectacular Albert Memorial.  We found Harrods, the mother lode of shopping and stepped into the Summer Sale event.   We cruised the food department, which is indescribable.  Truth be known, the layout is something like Whole Foods back in the US.  Imagine that as way bigger and every sinful specialty you might have read about.  A caviar bar featuring dozens of varieties that you can either purchase for take away or sit down and enjoy at the bar.  A fois gras bar.  A sushi bar that I will be returning to later in the week.  Jams, cakes, cheeses, they have it all.  Then on to the ticket/travel department.  We purchased tickets for the Thursday night performance of Billy Elliot and our Big Bus tour tickets.  We read about another play that looked intriguing and plan to try to see as well, War Horse.


Now that we had our hop-on tickets, we stood in line outside the store and waited for the next bus.  Of course, this being London, the weather was really iffy.  As you board the bus, there is a carton of clear plastic ponchos and earpieces for each passenger.  We grabbed our gear and headed up the steps to the open-air upper deck.  Let me just say that those ponchos proved to be the one thing we couldn’t have done without.  Linda was wearing a full raincoat and hood so she used her poncho as a seat cover.  I had an umbrella, which wouldn’t due for upper deck breezes, so I had to hunker down into my poncho A LOT!  It rained.  The sun came out.  It sprinkled.  The sun came out.  We protected our cameras as best we could and listened to the running commentary over the ear pieces as we passed Westminster Abby, the Houses of Parliament, The London Eye (Ferris wheel that takes one hour to make one circuit), St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge, The Tower of London.  We got off the bus at Buckingham Palace and took a few photos outside the gates.  The Queen was having a garden party and we watched as the ladies in hats and men in waistcoats were cleared through security.  There was nothing for us to do but visit the gift shop.


We got back on a bus to continue our route through the city.  Again, we climbed to the upper deck, knowing we were in for wet weather.  Never mind that it was really raining now, we were on top of the bus in London, England.  Now, a few words about driving in London.  It is the scariest thing I have ever witnessed in my life.  The streets are incredibly narrow and are clogged with taxis and busses.  Every sidewalk is completely mobbed with pedestrians.  Add to this scooters and bikes jockeying for a tiny slit to weave through.  Traffic moves only a hundred feet at a time.  So, there we are, almost at the end of the route before we need to change from a red bus to a blue bus so we end up back in Notting hill.  The weather was getting worse.  It began raining so hard that we were forced to leave our seats in the open air and head down the winding steps to the safety of the lower level.  Just as we found two seats, it sounded as if lightening hit inches from the bus.  It couldn’t get worse, right?  It got so dark, the street lights came on and the bus was pelted with huge splats of rain as the temperature suddenly dropped. Wait.   That was hail we were being hit with. I  looked over to see hail bouncing down the bus stairs leading to the upper deck.  Then the stairs turned into a waterfall.  The water ran through the bus, flooding the driver's feet. The temperature drop caused the bus to totally fog up.  So, now the driver couldn’t see a thing.  The driver called the guide to the front of the bus and handed him a Kleenex with which to clear the windows so the driver could try to maneuver the bus to safety.  At a cross street the driver had to open the bus door so he could see if it was clear to proceed across the intersection.  We were now to the bus stop and asked to get off the bus!  By now the weather had started to pass, we found the next bus and rode back to our home neighborhood.  By the time we arrived in Notting Hill, it had stopped raining all together and we walked to a lovely fish and chips restaurant.  There we chatted with a couple at the next table. They advised us to not miss the performance of War Horse.  I think we will try for tickets.


Monday, July 6


Land Ho!  I awoke quite early on Monday because the cruise director’s announcement the previous night said we would be sailing past the cliffs of Dover around 6:00 AM.  I didn’t want to miss seeing them from the water.  The bonus is that there is a castle that sits on the top of the cliffs making the image all the more striking.  Thoughts of WWII filled my brain.  One can’t help but conjure up visions of soldiers getting ready to cross the channel.


The night before docking we had to pack all our luggage that would be hauled off the ship in huge containers and onto the dock.  We held back our carry off and a change of clothes for morning.  The luggage was late in being unloaded and that caused our waiting driver, Ted, to be a bit worried about us.  But, we made it off the ship and Ted found us.  Ted turned out to be a bit of a hoot.  He is a retired tour driver who now operates his own Honda van and can take you anywhere you wish. 


We told Ted we wanted to go to Canterbury.  So, off we went as Ted gave us a full education on the geology of the chalk cliffs, how the area had been under water for millions of years and the composition of flint.  The really good news is that Ted has a handicap parking permit and we were able to shortcut many parking regulations.  The center of Canterbury is a pedestrian area with very limited handicap only parking.  Ted is a sly one.  We got out and had a bit of a walk about as Ted filled us with more local history.  I must say that the sight of the gate to Canterbury Cathedral is a strange one.  The gate is a colorful archway with a Starbucks snugged up on one side and a McDonald’s on the other side.  Ted suggested that we not pay to tour the cathedral, as it wasn’t all that spectacular.  Instead, he wanted to take us to Leeds.


Off we went to Leeds.  Ted chose side roads rather than the highway so we could enjoy the countryside.  We stopped in several small villages along the way and took a few lovely photos while it rained a bit.  Not to worry.  By the time we got to Leeds the rain had blown over leaving intermittent sun.  And, I must say that Leeds Castle is rather interesting.  We parked about a half a mile from the castle and walked through a wonderful park.  The park is filled with gigantic cypress and oak trees and lots of birds.  Guess what.  Canada geese.   Ted told us how England regretted the introduction of Canada geese because they are such a messy bird.  Well, Ted.  Get in line with that complaint!  But the park is also home to black swans that were imported from Australia.  The strangest bird that I saw however was a white peacock.  The castle inside is quite up to date as it was a private residence up until recent years.  A widow who is descended from the Whitney’s of the cotton gin family owned it and she hosted lots of movie stars and lavish parties over the years.  She left the estate to a charity upon her death and they run it now.  As we toured the castle, Ted gave history lessons to anyone he passed in the halls and even quizzed a few of the resident guides.

Then back into the car for the terrifying drive into London.  Ted asked if we wanted to stop in a local pub for lunch but we declined, as we were weary and ready to reach our London flat.  So, Ted steered onto the highway and off we went.  As we neared London, Ted continued with his commentary of the local news of the day and the goings on around London.  He had opinions on the areas of public housing we drove through and the massive number of immigrants from African countries.  The most interesting news he gave us was a report on Trafalgar Square.  Each of the four corners of the square contains a plinth.  On three of the plinths there are equine statues to heroes.  The fourth plinth is empty. A contest was held to nominate something for the fourth plinth.  The winning entry is now being shown.  It consists of (I think I am remembering the numbers properly) several thousand people being individually hoisted up onto the plinth over the course of six or eight weeks.  They entered a lottery of sorts and were assigned a time for their stint up on the plinth.  I will describe the sight in tomorrows report! 


Ted delivered us to the flat and helped get our suitcases down the few steps to the door.  We are in a garden flat which means it is the lowest level of a three-story townhouse.  After many years of watching Location from the BBC, I thought we had stepped directly into one of the episodes.  Our flat is exactly as seen on TV.  It’s a cozy shotgun arrangement of rooms with a little walled garden in the back.  The dining area is actually a glass-roofed addition on the back of the house and the shed behind has been converted into a second bedroom.  This dining area is a very cheery place to sit and write a blog.  However, the best feature of this flat is free high-speed Internet.


After seeing Ted off and thanking him, we did a preliminary unpacking.  It was now late afternoon and we hadn’t eaten breakfast yet.  So, we set out to find a few things.  Linda had stayed in this neighborhood before and has a fairly good instinct for where things are and how to get there.  After a few wrong turns and consulting a map located at the bus stop, we made it back onto a main road.  We settled on a sandwich shop and ordered.  I had a lovely big bowl of gazpacho and a ham sandwich followed by an apple tart. 


Next stop was a little convenience shop where I picked up a bottle of wine and potato chips while Linda bought pastries and Pepsi.  Salt for me and sweet for her.  Then, back to the flat and the mystery of a German washing machine with no instructions.  Then entire remainder of the evening was spent with Linda in and out to the laundry room to try to figure out the cycles.  Now, when I say laundry room what I am describing is little niche under the front porch steps leading up to the flats in the rest of the building.  One must bend down and crouch in front of the washer to try to decipher the hieroglyphics on the front of the machine.  Several hours later I fell into bed and Linda stayed up God knows how long waiting for the spin cycle to end.  Thank God the landlady called the next day and was able to give me the secret to operating the dryer.  One must actually empty the water that collects in a pan under the dryer as the clothes sort of dry.  No matter.  This is all an improvement over washing clothes by hand in the bathtub on a cruise ship!

Monday, July 6, 2009


Holy cow. This is the dirtiest city I have ever been in in my entire life. It makes Detroit look like a poster for living green. Amsterdam’s canals are clogged with cans and bottles and one actually expects to see a body floating somewhere around the next turn.

We arrived two hours late due to heavy ship traffic in the locks. I was up early and managed to get some nice photos as we made our way into Amsterdam. One myth has been totally debunked. Swans are not territorial. As we sailed along, I spied dozens of groups of dozens of swans all swimming along in harmony. They are everywhere.

We walked down the gangway around 10:00 and made our way to the Central Rail Station a short walk away. Once inside we purchased tickets for a one hour barge ride through the central area. That was the easy part. Finding the boat depot was not so simple. We followed the crowd for several blocks until we recognized the sign that matched the logo on the tickets we had purchased. We waited in line for about a half hour before boarding a barge and finding a seat in the back. The good news is that our seats were a bit cooler than those on the inside of the boat, but we couldn’t hear the guide as he pointed out the sights. Not a problem however, because there isn’t a lot to see. The canals are jammed with houseboats tied up end to end and this obstructs your view of the buildings along the canal. The houseboats are old, messy, dirty and unkempt, but still interesting. As you pass the intersections in the canals you get a good view down each one that looks very much like the previous one. We did see the Anne Frank house as we made our way through the maze of canals. And, I really mean it is a maze. There are traffic jams and irate barge drivers honking as one barge might have to back up to let another through a narrow tunnel. Sometimes the drivers must throttle the barges back and forth to turn a boat that is too long to manage a bend in the canal. The houses are all at least three stories tall and very narrow. Many of them sit right at the canal edge. These houses have a block and tackle suspended over the front to use in hoisting groceries and furniture up and into the house. Rather ingenious. Some of the bridges that we passed under were lined with bottles and cans completely filling the girders. There are pigeons nesting within an arms length of the passengers.

There is a lot of construction going on and there are thousands of bicycles coming at you from every direction. As I paused to check a map, having one foot in the bike lane, a man cycled straight at me and yelled “BOO” just in time for me to make it out of his path. We were on a mission. Linda had done her research and knew that she would be able to purchase her “special” cigarettes in coffee houses throughout the city. She wasn’t exactly sure how we would recognize one of these special establishments or just how she would ask for what she wanted. So, the first street we walked down had coffee houses with names like ‘The Grasshopper’ and ‘Stones’ and ‘Elements of Nature’. I followed her into The Grasshopper. She did all the talking and I tried to be invisible. A young man showed her to the lighted menu case and she asked his advice for something that would just make her giggle. Eighteen euros for three joints. She made her purchase and we took a table outside so she could enjoy. Man, did she giggle.

Of course now we had eat. So our next mission was to find a café where we could sit outside. We choose one and sat down. We looked over the menu and each selected what we wanted for lunch. We waited. We continued to wait. We gave up waiting and left. We took a table at the next café and the waiter brought us menus. Very strange. It was exactly the same menu. Unfortunately, the cloth on our table was so dirty, we chose to leave this restaurant as well. Off to a third café. The waitress brought us the menu and it was the same damn menu as the last two rejected cafes except this one was laminated. We ordered and enjoyed the sandwiches we had chosen at the first café. While we were sitting at our table we were able to enjoy some of the indescribably odd people to be found in Amsterdam. We saw a young man in barefeet, neon green leg warmers, pink lace short shorts, a tank to and a lovely neon green scarf. The pink short shorts appeared to have been spray painted on, adding to his dramatic look.

We still had one mission. We had to find the red light district. No problem. It was only two blocks over. But first we spied a beautiful old cathedral and thought we had best be good tourists and take a look at it. We cut across the street and as we neared the church we discovered it wasn’t currently being used as a church. It is now a shopping mall. The lower level contains a wonderful store named Sissy Boys. I looked all through the store hoping to find a logo tee shirt, but there were none. Linda did purchase several bottles of Sissy Boy bath gel and such to take back for gifts.

Two blocks over we found the red light district and it is quite something. Shop windows display every sort of toy, lotion, enhancer, costume, and party favor you can imagine. We stopped into one shop and each bought VERY naughty tee shirts. I have no idea who I will give the one I purchased to or if I will ever wear it. It has a saying printed on it that refers to your mother giving a discount. Linda bought one that says good girls go to heaven and bad girls go to Amsterdam.

Back to the ship to face the job of packing. Again, it has been some sort of record high temperature today and we are wrung out.

Today is the Fourth of July and we are spending it at sea. The crew has made every effort to celebrate it in an All American way. This is an example of how American the Holland America line is. On July 1, Canada Day, they served Canadian beer in the crows nest. However, I understand this is much more of a celebration than the city of Toronto enjoyed. But then, we are not in the middle of a garbage strike on board. So, to celebrate the American fourth, grills were set up in the mid-ship pool area and a huge buffet was served at lunch. Corn on the cob, steak, brats, hot dogs, grilled chicken breasts as well as fried chicken, a multitude of cold salads and more desserts than I have ever seen in one place. The apple pie was made in some sort of copper pot that was at least two feet across. All pretty yummy except the fried chicken was hot! Just try to imagine fried chicken that tastes like tobasco.

It has been very foggy all day and the outside temperature has dropped to the more seasonal mid sixties. We have reservations for an early dinner because it was the only time we could find a table for two so we wouldn’t have to chat up other passengers. We have already had our passports stamped for our disembarkation in Dover on Monday. Tomorrow we will be in Amsterdam all day and will have to be totally packed by 1:00 AM Monday morning.

The weather cleared during the evening hours and we were treated to a scene from a science fiction movie as we were getting ready for bed. We had the curtains partially opened and it was about 10:30. The sunset was fabulous. We stepped out onto the veranda and thought we were being invaded. It looked like space ships had landed in some sort of strung out formation, as far as you could see in all directions. They were oil platforms. Of course. After all, we were in the North Sea.

Now, this is really strange. We left Copenhagen around 4:30 yesterday and have been sailing to Oslo ever since. It is about 7:30 AM and we should be docking at 10:00. We went to sleep last night with the curtains to our veranda open and soon remembered that this is a mistake in Scandinavia. I remember awaking about 3:30 AM to see the sunset/sunrise. It’s all the same because it never gets dark.

I’m sitting on the veranda now and watching the Norwegian countryside as we head to Oslo. It is a strange view because it depends which side of the ship your cabin is on as to what you see. I see the countryside but have no idea whether we have open sea on the port side or if we are sailing through an inlet. I will report that the water is different here. The usual view of the water as the ship cuts through is just deep blue-black and bubbles caused by the ships passing. But this morning it is different. Looking straight down I see the ships hull and then a wake of about twenty feet that is all grayish green and bubbles. Then the bubbles end and it is all blue-black again. In fact, the green is getting greener and less grayed as we continue to sail. It’s very beautiful to see. If I had to offer an explanation I would guess that this color change is due to these being glacial waters similar to what we saw in Lake Louise, Canada. After all, Oslo is a fjord.

We loved Oslo. Our day began with tickets on a hop on/hop off bus of the city and surrounding countryside. In a bit over one hour you can drive through the city center and out into the countryside where the museums are all located. It is gorgeous. The ship docked right at the foot of the city center next to an ancient castle and fortress, Akershus. This is very interesting as I am now sitting on my bed in our cabin writing this account and the fortress is right outside our veranda. There are palace guards that check on the cannons every hour and they are close enough to speak to if I were inclined to do so. I’m not.

Our plan was to ride the bus on the entire circuit and then decide the points of interest where we wanted to get off and tour. However, when we came to Vigeland Park we both agreed that it was too spectacular to wait. This park is about sixty acres total and is filled with beautiful rose gardens. But the headline exhibits are the sculptures. Hundreds of human figures can be seen, children, families, adults, old people. Single statues and groups. Figures on bridges, in fountains, in bronze trees, in a monolith of dozens of figures. Fabulous! Linda and I did get a bit giddy and each of us posed with various statues.

We jumped back on the bus and rode out of the city to the area where seven museums are grouped. They are intimate and situated in a hilly rural area with vistas back into the city. All of Oslo requires much more of my time! I see this as a local where one should rent a house for a week or two and really enjoy the quiet beauty of Norway.

We stayed on the bus and rode back into the city. Our guide pointed out statues of Sonia Henni and a famous Norwegian speed skater. Much information was devoted to the future ski jump venue being built for games in the future as well as a brief history of record holding Norwegians of the past.

As we returned to the city center, we realized it was well past lunch and we set out to find a café. Good luck put us at the Nobel Center and a café that features a famous chef that I will Google when I return to the land of high speed Internet. LOL. But, if you are interested, the café is named Pascal and the chef is Pascal Dupuy. I ordered a bowl of fish stew that was divine. It was a cream soup with lemon. But, best of all, they are famous for their desserts. We went inside to the case and made our choices. I chose a licorice mousse that was wonderful. Then, we found the bathroom and peed in the Nobel Peace Center. My life is good.

With temperatures well over ninety in a country with an average summer high of sixty-four and no air-conditioning, we were wrung out by the end of our day. We still managed to climb through the fortress before returning to the ship. Once in our cabin, we both put our PJs on and took a bit of a siesta. Thanks to our late lunch we are skipping dinner and trying to get caught up on Email and friends.

The ship sailed out of Oslo shortly after 10:30 PM. Storms had threatened most of the evening and we were treated to a wonderful display of lightning over the hills as along the coast. We took photos of pleasure boats playing chicken with the ship as they rode our wake and screamed with the thrill of their boats becoming totally airborne as they crossed waves. Seemed like a pretty dangerous game. Those crazy Norsemen.


Oh, my aching feet. We left the ship believing what the daily ship’s travel page had said. Of course we could walk from the ship to the Little Mermaid and then into the city center to catch a barge tour of the old city.

Our morning started with Linda announcing that she was to be in charge of the map and was going to perform due diligence by writing out our route and listing the main street names that we would look for. She drew lines on the ship’s simplified map to mark the route she had laid out. It would seem that she had lost confidence in my navigational skills, most of which consisted of asking directions of any person I passed. Those who know me are probably cringing as they read this, silently screaming “Oh no. Jody is navigating?” So, Linda held the map and pointed to the direction of the Little Mermaid that was printed on the map. I will be gentle when I say that from the start, our senses of direction were not aligned. We did ask directions several times and did, eventually, find the mermaid. She is lovely and was well worth the many extra blocks we walked before finding her.

After buying bottles of water (bottles of ice would be a better description) we headed in the direction that Linda felt sure would take us to the canal area. For some inexplicable reason, we found ourselves instead at the railway station. At this point, Linda was ready to admit that we might need a taxi but I insisted that if I asked directions again, we were certainly close enough to continue walking. So, I asked the first person I came to where the Nyhavn (New Harbor) section was. Well, perhaps I could have chosen a better guide, but he was pleased to be asked. He was a Romanian from Oslo who claimed great familiarity with Copenhagen and we should just walk with him. Linda was rolling her eyes but I trusted the young man with half of his teeth and started walking. After several blocks we realized that his girlfriend was trailing behind our entourage and berating him in some language neither of us could understand but could tell that she was really pissed. So, we said thanks and claimed to know exactly where we were and sped up to leave the Romanian Norwegian dental dropout in our dust. So, after several more blocks of both of us stubbornly believing the other of us was an imbecile, we took a cab to Nyhavn, ordered a beer and lunch and caught our breath.

After lunch we hopped on a barge for a tour of the harbor and the old section of Copenhagen. Again, it is a beautiful city and we both took lots of photos. We wound our way through the canal and harbor system, passing past Christiania, a hippie commune complete with a gentleman nude sunbather at the end of a dock. The weather has been bordering on too hot, but who can complain about that? It was a perfect day to be on a boat tour. I just hope I can get my shoes back on before dinner.


Wednesday found us in the seaport of Kiel, Germany. Our choices were to take a train into Hamburg and see the city or to remain in Kiel and hunt for an Internet café where we could read all the latest Michael Jackson news. We opted for the café and ended up having a lovely, relaxing day.
We both slipped our laptops into our bags and disembarked the ship. Kiel was more than eighty percent destroyed during WWII. It was a major shipbuilding center and serviced submarines. These shipyards have been rebuilt and business appears to be thriving. One can see freighters being built, battle ships being serviced and submarines hanging in dry-dock. The center of the city is mostly without old buildings and most of today’s buildings date from the fifties. But, this is not without a charm of it’s own. We found a lovely pedestrian area with lots of small shops and many café’s. Many of the bars and outdoor areas have little hooded chaises chairs just right for two people to sit in privately. I had Linda take my picture while I sat in one.

Our first stop was at a sidewalk coffee shop with fabulous pastries. I got a coffee, Linda a coke and we split a huge strawberry Danish. We took our tray outside to a sidewalk table and proceeded to access the Internet and each type away happily for an hour or so. I got all my photos uploaded that had been sitting in my camera and sorted through my spam and checked to see if anyone was reading my Facebook postings. As noon approached, church bells rang out hundreds of times giving us a concert lasting several minutes. When we were both satisfied that we had gotten our Emails caught up and read every bit of info on Michael Jackson’s dermatologist, we packed up and went on a nice walkabout. I continued to look for the item I have decided to bring back for Amy, but had no luck. We ended our visit to Kiel with a class of wine in another sidewalk café.

We headed back to the ship in mid afternoon and spent the remainder of the afternoon watching old movies and relaxing. I did a load of unmentionables in the bathtub and strung them out on the backs of our veranda chairs. By 4:30 we set sail for Copenhagen. This was an interesting route because we actually backtracked our route out of Copenhagen at the start of our cruise. I recognized a huge suspension bridge that we had sailed under in the middle of the night of our first night.

We ended the evening with dinner in the Tamarind, a lovely Asian restaurant that sits on one of the uppermost decks. I had been dying for good sushi. In all fairness, I must say that it wasn’t as good as the sushi in Toronto. But, my Flirtini was fabulous. So was my second one.