2013 0117 London: Day started out sunny, but ended with clouds and rain. Had breakfast downstairs about 9:30 and then walked to Harrods … over Mount to Park Lane, under Park Lane into Hyde Park, diagonal across the park, onto Knightsbridge and then Brompton to Harrods. We cruised the food court rooms for quite a while, looked at kitchen stuff, etc. As the morning progressed, it got really crowded everywhere.

Left Harrods, walked up Knightsbridge to the Wellington Arch. Then down Constitution Hill to Buckingham Palace and the Queen Victoria Monument. Next down Birdcage Walk to Westminster Abbey (where the line stretched around the block, so we didn’t bother to try), to the Houses of Parliament. Then across Westminster Bridge. Stopped for lunch. Then back across the bridge. It was cheek to jowl all through this area. Hard to even walk with people stopping to take pictures and the sheer number of people. Also, windy and cold.

We looked at the Eye, but again the line was way too long. So on the Parliament side of the river we walked north up Victoria Embankment. We had hoped to walk all the way to the hotel, but somewhere as we started to cut to the west, it started to really rain. Hailed a taxi and went back to The Connaught. Did some packing. Got boarding passes for tomorrow. Marian took a nap.

Oh, yesterday we ran into an Australian couple we had seen on the ship (and in the Riga tour), Debbie and Michael Bloomberg both at the Tate Modern and at “Matilda.” Fun to have that happen.

So, tonight it’s “Curious …. Dog” and dinner at The Ivy (10:30 PM reservation) and back here to sleep. Will have a 9:30 pick up tomorrow AM for Heathrow and then back across to the US.

Excellent trip. Glad we had the extra days both in Stockholm and in London. Wouldn’t change a thing (other than wanting to have an extra day in Amsterdam instead of the day in Klaipeda).

ADDENDUM: First, “Curious … Dog…” is outstanding. Well written, well acted and presented. We had second-row seats, center. Man who sat next to Marian, John, is a professor who lectures to people who are teachers of autistic students. So we had a lively conversation. He was very friendly and says that it’s unusual for folks sitting next to him in theatre to engage in conversation, and was glad we did.

Second, dinner at The Ivy was really good. They were concerned when my starter was delayed in the kitchen and took it off the bill. 10:30 through midnight and the place was full with lots of beautiful people. Doorman called a limo for us saying it was easier to get one that time of night on a Saturday and the price would be the same to get to The Connaught. It was.

Third, in Harrods, when I charged things or paid in cash, I was asked if I wanted the charge (or the money I used to pay cash) to be pounds, euros, or dollars. Saw this in a couple of other places in London as well.

Fourth, there are many Arabs here throughout the city. And at the hotels owned by Arabs, the embassies, or zooming along in traffic are cars worth $100-300K. Many have been flown to London so that the owner can have his car for a weekend and then it’s flown back. Some of these cars I’ve never seen before. And in the neighborhood where we’re staying are dealers for many of these brands.

2013 0816 London: Had continental breakfast overlooking the square outside the hotel. Gloomy day, so we took rain gear … and, luckily, it never rained. Had a few taxi rides today and in all but one we had wonderful conversations with the drivers. Very friendly.

Took a taxi to the Tate Modern, which is on the other side of the Thames opposite St. Paul’s Cathedral. Saw new bridges over the river. Never been in this new Tate facility. Spent from about 10:00 to Noon walking through the exhibits. Wonderful. Used London Card for first time to get free audio tours. Nice thing about this museum is that besides the usual placard beside a work of art, often there was another with “The Bigger Picture” about that artist or how a piece related to others of the period or in the room.

We had a Noon restaurant reservation in the restaurant here on the sixth floor … window table overlooking the river. Good food. Then back into the exhibits and then the shop. Left there around 2:15 with lots more we could have seen. Walked across a new pedestrian bridge to St. Paul’s and got a taxi back to the hotel.

Our dear friend, Shirlee Sharpe, met us at the hotel at 3:00 and we sat and had tea and visited for two hours. Great memories and lovely catching up. Haven’t seen her since 1998. So glad she could come in to be with us.

At a little after 6:30 we took a cab to the Cambridge Theatre for “Matilda.” Yowee! One of the best musicals we’ve ever seen. The London audience literally screamed approval of some of the numbers and rose to their feet at the end. If you have a chance to see, make sure you do. Lots of kids in the audience, but it’s an adult musical.

We walked a few blocks onto West Street to have dinner at L’Atelier de Joel Aubochon. Very Michelin and very good. Didn’t leave there until 12:30 or so and took taxi back to hotel. Lovely day!

2013 0814 Brugge: Oh, our last day of the cruise with London arrival and disembarking tomorrow morning. We made the best of it in beautiful Brugge. Ship docked at Zeebrugge, which is about 20 km from Brugge. Left ship about 9:00 and found out that (1) the shuttle bus would not be back until a 9:30 departure, and (2) the bus only takes one to the nearby train station where a train goes into Brugge every hour. An enterprising couple from Australia (Graeme and Helen from Melbourne) approached us and asked if we’d like to share a taxi ride into town. She checked the price and it was 50 euros and we’d be delivered right to Market Square, the center of the city. Yes. Good choice. Nice driver who really went fast (over the limit) and told us she’d also pick us up. We arranged for her to meet us where she was dropping us off at 4:00. So, good ride in and back and good conversation with the folks from Melbourne.

Started in Market Square, which is quite big. Went over to the building that houses the Belfry Tower, waited in line (talked to a couple from Yorkshire), were “carded” by the ticket seller to see if we were really 65 or older (made our day), and then climbed the 366 stone and wooden spiral staircase to the top of the tower. And the steps get smaller and smaller as you go up. And there are people coming down as you are going up (or the other way on your way down). Stopped where all the bells are and stopped again where the carillon is. Both sound about every 15 minutes, and they did while we were up there. Great view over the city, its churches and buildings, its canals and into the countryside where we could see wind farms.

From there we walked over to Burg Square. Another big square with buildings from several centuries on its side. Started to go into town hall, but decided not to. Found Church of the Holy Blood and went into its lower and its upper chapels. Then out of the square and a circuitous route to the Church of Our Lady. It’s under restoration, but you can get in and see the Michelangelo “Madonna and Child,” and early piece of his. Beautiful church even with all the restoration going on inside.

Walked to Simon Steen Plein and found a nice place to eat in the middle of the square: Poules Moules. Ah, a huge portion of mussels and fries (moules and frites). Did you know that frites were invented in Belgium and not in France? Oh, we washed all this down with beer.

The rest of the afternoon we wandered along various streets looking at shops, canals, sculpture, people. Ended up at coffee shop where taxi driver was going to pick us up. The Australian couple joined us and we went back to the ship.

Marian started packing and then took a nap until 7:00. We have 8:30 dinner reservations in Toscana with Carol and Ken West. Then packing and packing and getting ready for tomorrow going through immigration on the ship with the UK officials. Oh, and we get to set our clocks back an hour tonight, too.

2013 0815 London: Announcements started early this AM since they wanted everyone out of their room by 8:00 … and we had to put our luggage outside our door after dinner about 10:30 last night. Had a lovely dinner with the Wests in Toscana. Before dinner, I reread the instructions about getting off the ship and realized we had to put our luggage out that night instead of in the morning. Well, very fast packing!

Forgot in yesterday’s trip diary to say that we were walking along a street in Brugge and Marian spotted a young man with a Central Missouri T-shirt on. She asked if he was from Missouri and he said he went to Central Missouri. At that point, a very tall black man joined our conversation and said he was an assistant coach at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Been there three years. Was in Europe with a team of Missouri and Illinois students for touring and playing about five basketball games. SIUE! So, we had a lovely conversation with him about the university.

We left our very nice cabin/suite around 7:30 and went up to the Terrace Café on Deck 9 to have breakfast. No more butler service on this last day! Ah, well. Went down to the Nautica Lounge about 8:20 to go through UK passport control in about 10 seconds (“How long are you staying in the UK?” “Three days.” Stamp stamp and off we went. Then off the ship into the terminal, reclaimed our luggage, and sat for a while waiting for our 9:00 ride into London.

Very nice driver contracted for from Aldine Travel. Tadhg from Ireland. Has his own Mercedes and talked the whole way into London … about 1.5 hours. He used to drive Ginny and Larry Browning when they came to the UK and that’s how he got hooked up with Aldine. Lots of stories about all sorts of things and people and the royals and and and.

Got to The Connaught about 10:45 and were told our room would be ready about 11:30. Had some coffee and the room was ready early. On the top floor (room 603) overlooking rooftops of London. What’s interesting is that the room is smaller than the one we had on the ship and really has less storage space (drawers, closet space) than we had on the ship. Odd. But very nice place and nice room.

Left here a little before Noon and walked down Mount to Berkeley Square, up Berkeley St. to Piccadilly. Walked up to the Royal Academy of Art, then across to Fortnum & Mason for lunch. Afterward, we went up Jermyn, which parallels Piccadilly, to Regent. Up Regent to Piccadilly Circus and onto Regent where is makes the crescent. Crowds. Hordes. Mobs. Construction. Gridlock even walking. Went into Hamley’s to get our pix taken, something we’ve done ever year we’ve been here. This time, digital and printed on coasters vs. the other times analog and made into a 3” button.

Cut over toward the hotel. Got rained on. Went too far. Got a little lost. Got found. Got back to the hotel after 4:00. Fiddled around with clothes and gear until it was time to walk about the same direction we had this morning (past the Porsche, Audi, Range Rover, Jaguar, Rolls, and Bentley dealerships) over to Piccadilly and across to Arlington and down to Le Caprice for dinner. Very lovely restaurant and food. Then walked  back to hotel arriving about 9:00. Marian had a bath where the tub has a TV over its end. And, after working with Cellular Abroad in CA since I had no phone service since arriving in the UK (even though I have a UK number), they figured out how to fix the problem. 

2013 0813 Amsterdam: Way too much to see in a day. Got rained on twice. But it was a wonderful visit and whetted our appetite to come back here. Boat docked at the main cruise passenger terminal at 10:00. Went outside and across the street and got on tram route 26 into the Central Station (the RR station). Stood in line in a ticketing building to get day passes for the trams/buses. It was about 11:00 before we got on route 2 headed toward the museum district.

We got off a couple of stops too early, which was fine given how crowded the tram was. This is where we got caught in our first heavy rain shower. Luckily, it didn’t last too long. We took shelter under the awning of a kiosk where they had explicit sex postcards. Sorry, didn’t buy any. Then the few blocks to the museum district.

I had bought museum tickets online before we travelled and it was a great move. Our first museum was the Ruks Museum where the line for tickets stretched about two blocks and was this long even when we left the museum later. This is a huge museum and its prize, I think, are all the Rembrandts. Hordes of people inside (and waiting to get inside). We went right through the express lane given we had prepaid tix. Three stories of great art. Cannot even begin to talk about what’s there. It’s like saying what’s in the Louvre. One of the nice thing they have are laminated large cards by many of the paintings with notes about details of the painting. And the posting on the wall by a painting was really informative. So we saw art dating back to the Netherlands’ colonial days, the who period before and through and after Rembrandt (and huge rooms of Rembrandts), up through Picasso and some impressionists. Cannot do a museum like this justice in one visit, of course.

Exited and walked across the park-like square of the district toward the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedililk Museum, the latter where we were going. Got caught in our next rain shower. The Stedililk is the museum of modern art. Went up to second floor and their café for a nice lunch and then through the “1950-present” collection that covers the entire second floor. Super stuff and great explanations. Also had purchased the audio tour, so got nice insights on many of the works.

About 3:00, we headed across the square and got on tram route 2 back to Central Station. Walked across a bridge and bought tix for a one-hour canal tour. Nice. Was about 4:00-5:00. Got good orientation to all the interconnecting canals. Slid by Anne Frank house … lines were blocks long there. We were told by the Wests that they waited 45 minutes in line just to get tickets.

Took route 26 back to the passenger terminal and had to go through Netherlands’ security tighter than any we’ve been through (take off watches, belts, totally empty pockets, et.). But it was the first time this trip I didn’t set off a scan alarm and have to be individually frisked.

We’ve had a bottle of champagne in our room since we boarded. Eric, our butler, got us ice and a nice chees tray and we drank and snacked. Then we decided to go to the Terrace Café to have a “light” dinner. Right. Light. It was very nice and we had a window table where we could watch us leaving port and wending our way out to the sea, which takes about two hours.

Lovely day. Way too compressed. Would have loved to do other stuff, but we will have to come back.

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