In July of 2017, five couples took a vacation to the United Kingdom together.  The Leicesters (Stewart and Valerie), the Whitelaws (Kim and Gina), and the Zechiels (David and Jessica) arrived in London on Saturday, July 8th, and all met at baggage claim of Gatwick Airport. The Silverns (Meg and Reid) and the Clingers (Patrick and Jenny) arrived a few days later, on Wednesday, July 12th (David, Jessica, Kim and Gina all took the same flight).

  • Saturday, July 8th: David & Jessica, Kim & Gina, Stewart & Valerie arrive in England - Los Angeles and San Francisco, California to London

David, Jessica, Kim and Gina caught a ride to the airport with the help of family friend Victor Williams, and left California on Friday, July 7th from LAX, flying on Norwegian Air Lines to London, arriving in the afternoon of Saturday, the 8th.  Aside from leaving late, the flight was uneventful, and we worked our way through customs (Kim and Gina were sure to dot all the i's and cross all the t's, which the immigration agents didn't care about at all).  Stewart and Valerie's flight out of SFO had arrived a little earlier, and everyone met up at the baggage claim.

David, Jessica, Stewart, and Val took the train from Gatwick to Blackfriars Station in London, then a cab to the Airbnb arriving around 5:45p, while Gina and Kim chose to take an Uber.  David, Jessica, Stewart and Valerie shared an Airbnb apartment just south of Tower Bridge, and Kim and Gina had their own Airbnb within walking distance.

Everyone met for dinner at "The Garrison".  The people there were super friendly, and the meal was tasty.  David and Jessica picked up the tab, and we got to bed around 10:30p.

Our first meal in London, at The Garrison

  • Sunday, July 9th: London, England

Up early after a night in a hot apartment. This place could really benefit from a ceiling fan.  We walked to Starbucks for breakfast on our way to the London Underground.  We took it to a St Paul's Cathedral for special service with the City of London Sinfonia and the choir.  A super service with front row seats.

Then off to King's Cross Station to see Platform 9¾ (of Harry Potter fame).  The line to get your picture taken was longer than the line to enter the country.

Next was the British Museum, which we visited until it closed. This is the home of the Rosetta Stone and the Lewis chessmen, among other fabulous treasures.  It was very warm (no air conditioning) and was crowded with busloads of students.

Then off to Leicester Square (in the theater district), where people were enjoying the beautiful weather.  There was a Lego Store there that had huge Big Ben and Sherlock Holmes models built out of Legos.  We finally got back to our neighborhood where Gina and Kim bought drinks and dinner for all at Texas Joe's Smoked Meats. Got back to the apartment absolutely exhausted.

Outside of St Paul's after the service

Jessica feeds the birds on the steps of St Paul's

Jessica at Platform 9¾

David & Jessica in the British Museum

In Leicester Square with Stewart and Valerie

  • Monday, July 10th: Our Big Tour of London

David, Jessica, Stewart and Valerie walked to Gina and Kim's in order for all be picked up together.  David (our guide) was already waiting for us when we arrived.  Everyone fit in his van comfortably.

This day involved lots of driving in heavy traffic to see an assortment of sights.  First on the docket were the Palace of Westminster, the home of Parliament and Big Ben.

We toured Westminster Abbey (David insisted on paying, then having us reimburse him at slightly inflated prices), but he really knew his stuff and was an excellent guide.  There is no photography allowed inside.  There are lots of famous people interred there, and we saw the oldest door in all of England.

Lunch was at a pub close to the Tower of London.  So-so food.  We then toured the Tower of London (sans Kim, as his hip was bothering him too much).  Once again, our guide, David, knew his stuff.  Besides seeing an assortment of famous locations (such as the the place where the bodies of Richard III's murdered nephews were discovered), we also got to see the exhibit of the Crown Jewels.  This is very well done, and is the only place that is air conditioned.

We dropped Kim and Gina off first at their Airbnb, then our guide dropped David, Jessica, Stewart, and Valerie at our flat.  We called Kim and Gina about dinner, but they passed.  The Zechiel's and the Leicester's enjoyed a pizza dinner together.

Stopped at a small market and bought some breakfast food for the next morning.  Spent some time relaxing in the flat, exhausted from a big day.

Our Guide, David

Jessica in front of the British Parliament

Jessica and Stewart in line with Guide David to see the Royal Jewels in the Tower of London

Gina, David, Jessica, Valerie and Stewart with the Tower Bridge serving as a backdrop

  • Tuesday, July 11th: The Rains Come for Our Last Day in London

Breakfast in the apartment (Cheerios, OJ, etc, from a nearby market).  Jessica and David walked to Shakespeare's Globe Theater (a faithful reproduction of the original) and took the tour (which includes an extensive museum).

Upon exiting we met up with Stewart and Valerie (who had walked across the Tower Bridge and London Bridge to meet us) for a tasty lunch at a Greek restaurant on the Thames.

After, we all walked along the Thames to the London Eye (and about this time it started to rain).  We walked across Waterloo Bridge and took the Tube to Parliament and Big Ben for better photo ops, then back into the Tube to Buckingham Palace for still more photos, then back again into the Tube to Harrods (a mall sized department store with quite the reputation).

It was nearing time to meet up with Kim and Gina, so we took the Tube to Leicester Square and everyone enjoyed a great dinner on the upper floor of a pub named "Brewmaster".  We walked in the rain to St Martin's Theatre to see The Mousetrap, an Agatha Christie play that has been in production since 1952.  We then took the Tube back to London Bridge Station and, using umbrellas, walked back to our Airbnbs in the rain.

Jessica inside of the restored Globe Theater

Stewart and Valerie with the London Eye

Stewart, Valerie and David cross the Waterloo Bridge

Jessica outside the gates of Buckingham Palace

Jessica and Valerie about to enter Harrods

Jessica, Stewart, Valerie, Kim, and Gina dine in the Brewmaster before the show

  • Wednesday, July 12th: Joining the Cruise in Southampton

Woke early, everyone ready on time and downstairs about 7:25a.  David was there to pick us up, then over to Gina's flat to pick up her, Kim, Patrick, and Jenny (who had flown in the night before, then walked over from their hotel).

Took forever to get out of London.  We finally hit the open highway and made good time to see Stonehenge. Pretty impressive for something over 5000 years old.  We had a quick bite to eat, then toured around the rocks, which took about an hour.

Back in the van we made good time to the cruise port in Southampton.  Our driver, David, unloaded our luggage and we quickly boarded the Caribbean Princess.  Meg and Reid were already on board.  Most of our party met on Lido Deck, then everyone attended the muster drill.  Eight at dinner (Jenny and Patrick somehow ended up on anytime dining).  Great meal.  Played "Majority Rules", tied, but lost on tie breaks.  Went to the Welcome Aboard Show with Jessica, Meg, and Reid.

Jessica poses in front of Stonehenge (not the only henge seen on this trip)

Our ship, the Caribbean Princess

Kim, Gina and Meg at our first dinner aboard the Caribbean Princess

No big plans for today.  As we had to tender ashore, we decided to leave around 9:00a, but so did a lot of others, and we had to wait to go ashore.

We found the public transit easily, and took the bus to the Little Chapel.  This really is a small building that appears as a miniature cathedral.  It holds about three or four people at a time (maximum) and is made entirely from broken Wedgewood china.  15 minutes there was plenty.

Took the bus back to town, then walked to the La Vallette tunnels (now an underground military museum), but they wanted too much money, so we walked back to town and joined the queue to tender back aboard.  A really colossal line.  Sunburn inducing line.  Kim's cane finally paid off, as they moved him and Gina to the front of the line.

That evening Pat and Jenny joined us for dinner in the dining room.  Most then took in the Broadway Show in the big theater.

Jessica inside the Little Chapel

Stewart in front of La Vallette tunnels

Today we were part of a Paddywagon bus tour to Blarney Castle, home of the Barney Stone. I'm guessing 50 people on the bus.

The Blarney estate is beautiful, and has extensive, lush gardens.  It also has the Blarney Stone, but the line to kiss it was simply prohibitive.  We walked all over the estate.  I liked the Poison Garden (filled will all manner of plants to make you sick or kill you), and the Fern garden.

Then off to Kinsale for lunch.  This little town had little to recommend it, aside from Jim Edwards, a pub where we dined on pretty good fish and chips.  I'm guessing they gave our tour guide a bunch of money to bring his tourists there.

Then back to Cobh (where we actually made port) to rejoin our ship.  Dinner was lightly attended, as everyone had just eaten.  I did laundry while Jessica went to play games with Gina and Kim.  I finally caught up with them.  We saw the juggler in the big theater, then went to sleep late.

Jessica and Blarney Castle in Cork, Ireland

Part of the Poison Garden at Blarney Castle

Valerie and Jessica in some of the Blarney Castle gardens

Up early, breakfast in the food court.  Driver was late (but we may have been early).  He had a very think Irish accent.  Toured around Dublin, then we were the first ones into St Patrick's Cathedral.  We left an hour later, and the place was packed.

We then went to the old Guinness Storehouse, which is now a tourist trap very similar to the Heineken Experience we saw in Amsterdam.  Eight floors of beer promotion.  Everything Guinness.

Lunch at a pub called O'Shay's.  Pretty tasty Irish stew.  Not cheap.

Off to the Whiskey Museum.  This is a well put together presentation of whiskey, starting with it's history, the production, differences between Irish Whiskey and Scottish Whisky (mostly the letter 'e'), and a discussion of its popularity over the years, and how different companies have succeeded and failed.  At the end of the Whiskey Museum, it turned into a sales pitch for whiskey.  Go figure.

Jessica and I then wandered over to Trinity College to have a look-around, then shopped throughout the local neighborhood.

Got back to our ship about 4:20p, after being led to believe we might find ourselves in an hour of rush-hour traffic.

Jessica and I met Stewart and Valerie, along with Kim and Gina up in Skywalker's lounge for appetizers, then we all came down to dinner along with Meg and Reid.

Jessica inside St Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin

Reid, Kim, Gina, Stewart, Meg, and David about to take the Guiness Tour

Gina and Jessica toast at the end of the Guiness Tour

Be careful when you order a coke in parts of Ireland, it can be expensive

Meg knocks one back in the Whiskey Museum, where they are ready to sell you more

Jessica and the main entrance to Trinity College

This morning we all had breakfast together in the dining room.  We found our guide, David, easily enough and were soon on our way.

David was very talkative and informative.  He first showed us a number of walls and memorials that commemorated the loss of life during "The Troubles".  There are a lot of these memorials, and I'm glad I didn't live here during that time.

We then visited St Peter's Cathedral, followed by St Anne's Cathedral.  Not much difference between the services;  Our guide said there is still a lot of animosity between the Catholics and the Protestants.  Even to this day the Catholics and the Protestants seem to have a hard time getting along.  Portions of the city are gated off every night to prevent the two sides from mixing, but this can have a negative impact on emergency vehicles.

We then visited the grounds of Parliament, a very beautiful building on equally beautiful grounds.  We then stopped at Queen's University, followed by a stop at City Hall (much nicer than the one in Lake Forest).

Then out to Belfast Castle (built pretty late, in the 1800's) and some lunch.

We ended at the Titanic Museum, with Dave, Jessica, Gina, Stewart, and Meg in attendance.  You can spend an entire day at this place, it covers everything leading up to the construction of the Titanic, along with its maiden voyage, the sinking, the aftermath, and its place in pop culture.

We caught a cab back to the ship, had dinner, then went to bed exhausted.

One of the many memorials to the struggle in Belfast

Reid, Gina, Kim, David, Meg, Jessica, Valerie and Stewart visiting the Parliament building

Jessica petting a bronze cat at Belfast Castle

Jessica at the entrance to Titanic Belfast, an amazing place

Made port in Greenock, outside of Glasgow.  Met our guide, Eddie, without effort.

First stop Luss, and Loch Lomond.  Saw a church with an ancient Viking grave.  Then a drive through the Highlands via Callander to Stirling, stopping for a photo op.  Saw a coo (Highland cattle).

Visited Stirling Castle (mostly the gift shop).

Then into Glasgow for lunch at a Scottish place, "McDonald's".  Toured around Glasgow, stopping at Glasgow Cathedral.

Back to the ship.  Dinner with everyone.  Saw the comedian, he was OK.  Lights out at 11:00p.

Jessica in the Luss graveyard, with Loch Lomond behind

In the Scottish highlands. David, driver Eddie, Meg, Reid, Jessica, Stewart, Valerie, Gina and Kim

Jessica with Stirling Castle behind and one of many Robert the Bruce monuments

Valerie and Glasgow Cathedral

  • Tuesday, July 18th: Day at Sea

Slept in.  Late breakfast in the cafeteria with Stewart and Valerie.  Hung out in the game room reading and playing chess.  Jessica played "Hollywood You" and won.  We played afternoon trivia, scoring 23/25, part of a 4-way tie for first.  Lost on random tie-break.  Everyone all dressed up for second formal night.  Took pictures.  Tried to attend 8:15p show, but only Jessica got a seat.  I went back to the room and read.  Jessica got back and said her team won champagne at "Liar's Club".

Up early, breakfast with Meg and Reid on Lido Deck.  Took a tour booked through the ship, with the first stop the Ring of Brodgar (a henge).  Very interesting.  They let you get up close and personal.

Then on to the Cliffs of Yesnaby.  Very windy.  Very.  I thought there was a good chance that Stewart would be blown over the cliff, he got so close.  Jessica got to see a Scottish primrose, a flower which first blooms in May and often blooms again in July.

Back to the ship where we caught the shuttle back in to Kirkwall.  Saw their Cathedral, and the Tankerness House Museum.  Walked the length of the town while shopping.  Got some ice cream, then shopped some more.  Shuttle back.

Borrowed Jenny's computer to copy images.  Another nice dinner, then to the Quest game (a PG13 version of the Royal Caribbean game).  Saw the show.

Reid, Valerie, Stewart, David, Jessica, and Gina visit the Ring of Brodgar

Stewart risks his life to get the shot.  It was really windy

The rare Scottish Primrose, with a pound coin for scale

Everyone met for breakfast at 8:30a.  We wandered around in the rain and happened upon a hack named John Chima.  We negotiated the rate, then it was everyone into the cab: David, Jessica, Stewart, Valerie, Meg, and Gina.

Our first stop was to see a Highland coo and its calf.  After a few snaps, it was back into the cab.

Our next stop was the town of Beauly.  They have the remains of the Beauly Priory which was founded around 1230. It's now reduced to just a few walls, but is still extensive.

We drove from there to Castle Urquhart along the shore of Loch Ness.  Lots more picture taking.  We also stopped at the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition, mostly to see their "monster" (it was quite nice).  We also stopped along side of the loch and walked down to the water's edge.

From there it was on to Inverness for lunch (at the "American Embassy", McDonald's) and to do some shopping.

We then drove to the Culloden Battle Sight, more pics, then a stop to see the Culloden Viaduct, the bridge used by the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films.

Our last stop was Castle Cawdor, a still in use castle that was really cool.  It has a tree growing right up through the basement.

Finally, it was a race back, arriving about 10 minutes beyond the official boarding time, but still in plenty of time.  On the last leg Meg and Gina were passing the hat to collect the payment for our driver/guide.

Jessica and the remains of the Beauly Priory

David, Jessica, Gina and Meg with the remains of Castle Urquhart and Loch Ness

Stewart, Driver John, Meg, Valerie, Gina, and Jessica outside the local attraction

Gina, Meg, David, Valerie and Stewart investigate Loch Ness close up

Jessica, Gina, and Meg at the Culloden Battle Sight

The Culloden Viaduct, used in the Harry Potter films

Jessica, Gina, and Meg at Castle Cawdor

Up early.  Quick breakfast, then tender in.  Take the $15 shuttle to city, then walk like Hell to make our walking tour.  This was our favorite port of call.  We had tour guide Greg, who was very entertaining.

At the Mercat (market place) our guide demonstrated how a criminal would have their ears and hands nailed on the Mercat Cross, using Valerie as a standin.

Saw St Giles Cathedral.  This cathedral has a "No Pictures" policy, unless you pay €2.00 to buy a sticker which you place on your jacket, and then you can go nuts.  We saw the statute of Charles II and learned quite a bit about him.

Learned all about John Knox (the important reformer) and David Hume the philosopher.

Visited a close along the Royal Mile.  Heard stories about disposal of human waste by dumping it out a window (supposedly the origin for the expression "shit-faced"), then stopped for a snack and a sales pitch for additional tours.

Saw Greyfriars Kirkyard, the graveyard that inspired JK Rowling.  The elephant house coffee shop where she wrote.

Reid bought drinks at Deacon Brodie's Tavern.  Shopped, then walked back to the bus stop.  Took the tender back aboard.  Dinner with everyone but Pat & Jenny.

Patrick, Jenny, Valerie, Stewart, Meg, and Jessica listen
to our guide, Greg, explain the "mercat" (market)

Guide Greg talks about St Giles Cathedral as Jessica listens

Ostensibly the burial spot of John Knox, one of the most
important people in Scottish history, at parking spot 23.

Jessica rubs the toe of David Hume for good luck

Inside a "close" (a kind of courtyard) along the Royal Mile

Jessica with one of the least spooky graves in Greyfriars Kirkyard

Reid and Jessica in front of the elephant house pub where JK Rowling got her start

Jessica and Valerie outside of Deacon Brodie's Tavern

  • Saturday, July 22nd: Day at Sea

Slept in. Breakfast with Jessica in the dining room.  Took in the chef show in the theater, pretty funny.  Cleaned up.  Read.  Won some trivia.  Read some more.  Played a couple of games of chess with one of the crew.  Dinner with the gang (Reid arrived an hour late because he would not change his watch with the ship's clock).  Tried the Harry Potter trivia, but there were some hard core Potter fans in attendance.  Went to the 8:15p show in the Princess Theater.  Broadway, opera, and James Bond music.  The hired gun soprano was really good.  Attended the Not-so-newlywed Game, pretty standard.

The "Chef Show" in the Princess Theater, pretty funny!

Up early.  Breakfast with Kim, Gina, Meg, Reid on Lido Deck.

Joined our bus (#11) for the drive to the Claude Monet house.  Rest stop along the way, with lines for the lady's room so long, that women started crashing into the men's room.

Walked around the gardens (very pretty).  Saw the lilypad pond that was the inspiration for his famous paintings, then toured the house (and the obligatory gift shop).  They have restored these grounds wonderfully, and you really get the sense of Monet's inspiration.

Took the bus to the Watermill restaurant.  This was a delightful restaurant that is truly off the beaten path.  On more than one occasion busses delicately negotiated around each other on a dirt road that could barely hold one of them.  The food was very good, but hurried (they had several bus loads of tourists all show up at the same time).

Back on the bus to Rouen where we visited the Marketplace, the place where Jeanne d'Arc was burned at the stake (right next to the modern Church of Joan of Arc, which has beautiful stained glass windows), the local Notre Dame cathedral, saw the Big Clock, an antique carousel, and the local Club 33.

Long bus ride back.  Still managed dinner with Inna (our waitress), very tasty New York strip.

Then packing, packing, packing.  Finished my second book.  Slept well.

Gina and the lily pond at Monet's house

Jessica in the gardens and Monet's house

David and one of the rooms filled with replica art

Jessica visit the kitchen of Monet's house

Jessica and our lunch destination

Meg, Reid, Gina, and Jessica's arm toast our last lunch together

Jessica stands next to the spot where Joan of Arc was burned

Jessica and Rouen's Big Clock

Interior of the new Joan of Arc church

Gina and Rouen's own Notre Dame Cathedral

  • Monday, July 24th: Heading Home

Up early.  Cleaned up and finished packing.  Met Stewart and Valerie on Lido Deck for breakfast.  As Platinum members, we could stroll off at any time.  Got our luggage with no problem.

Quick cab ride to Southampton Station.  Train right on time.

Arrived at Gatwick within steps of the Norwegian counter.  Did the self check-in, then ran into Kim and Gina (who had hired a ride).  Did self check-in for them, then we all ran the gauntlet that is Gatwick.  It's like walking through an IKEA.

Got a bite to eat while waiting for our gate to be announced.  Stewart and Valerie's flight was about 40 minutes ahead of ours, and we said our goodbyes.

Eleven hour flight.  Went quickly as we each watched about five movies.

Alex and Heather there to pick us up.  Gina drove everyone home.  Unpacked (mostly).  In bed around 10:00p.

Reid, Meg, Patrick and Jenny were flying home via Heathrow.  They left the ship around 6:00a and hired a car, which was an hour late and had to avoid a serious backup because of an accident enroute to the airport.  Otherwise their flight home was fine.

Valerie, Stewart, Jessica, and David waiting for the train to Gatwick