Friday, April 13, 2012

Edingburgh, Scotland

Edingburgh Castle
South Queensferry (Edinburgh):  This is a tender pier so you take the lifeboats into the pier from the ship.  This is the port for Edinburgh, Scotland.  My daughter and I proceeded to follow several other guests from the ship up a hill and through a wooded path to the nearby train station where we took the train about 30 minutes into Edinburgh.  Upon arriving, we immediately felt as though we had entered the world of Harry Potter with all the ancient stone buildings.  It was lovely and although it was a bit cool, we walked our feet off!  We entered the Royal Mile about midway and walked to one end where we toured Edinburgh Castle.  Then we wandered the Royal Mile all the way to the other end to see Holyrood Palace.  We wandered some more as we headed back to the train station and our ride back to South Queensferry.  We needed to soak our aching feet before a leisurely dinner!
POSTED BY denise stone AT   12:00:00 AM   PERMALINK
Friday, April 13, 2012

Invergordon (Inverness), Scotland

Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness
Invergordon:  Port for Inverness and Lochness.  We didn’t have any specific plans when we disembarked the ship and only hoped to find some tour offerings on the pier.  That we did!  There were taxis available for tours lasting as long as you like.  We decided we wanted to go to Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness but were hoping to share the trip with two others from the ship interested in the same tour.  Well, that turned out to be interesting because there were two 70 something year old ladies that were interested in the same thing and also wanted to share a taxi.  It turned out they were Russian and one spoke NO English while the other spoke very little.  The taxi driver thought I was their interpreter until we were a few minutes down the road when I explained I spoke no Russian and had never met them before.  It was funny because one lady seemed to be flirting with the rotund taxi driver.  Since she spoke no English, her only means of communication were her facial expressions and the words “Yum Yum” each time we saw food or a restaurant.  Hope she wasn’t hungry.  We made an unscheduled stop at a Gin distillery and the Russian ladies bought some samples.  Our main difficulty was getting the ladies back to the car on time at each stop so that we did not overrun our time limit (and budget).  We did have time to make a stop at Cawdor Castle, one of the few remaining continuously inhabited castles in Scotland.  It was lovely but we would have liked to have more than 30 minutes to tour the property. 
POSTED BY denise stone AT   12:00:00 AM   PERMALINK
Friday, April 13, 2012

Lerwich, Shetland Islands by Cruise Ship

Lerwick, Great Britain (Shetland Islands):  Again, we had no specific plans and hoped we would find an option when we disembarked.  We were disappointed this time because it was rainy and there were no tour operators at the pier.  We tried to rent a car but since they drive on the “wrong” side of the road and I figured they would give me a stick shift (which I haven’t driven since college), I decided against that.  We went back to the ship and rested for the day.  I am disappointed we didn’t do anything here because ships rarely visit the Shetland Islands.
POSTED BY denise stone AT   12:00:00 AM   PERMALINK
Friday, April 13, 2012

Akureyri, Iceland by Cruise Ship

Myvatn Nature Baths
Akureyri, Iceland:  Before arriving in Akureyri, we crossed the Arctic Circle overnight.  Princess actually gave each passenger a “certificate of achievement” to honor this momentous occasion.  Just so happened we were sleeping when all that happened so not sure what we missed.  J  Anyway, we got very adventurous in Akureyri.  I had researched car rentals in the internet café the day before and ended up renting a car that was available for pickup right at the pier.  I was pleasantly surprised to receive a Suzuki Swift with Automatic Transmission!  They drive on the right side of the road here!  Akureyri is a small town so it was easy enough to follow the maps to our intended destinations.  We drove a couple hours out of town to Godafoss Waterfall, Lake Myvatn and the Nature Baths.  Very rugged country.  My only white knuckle experiences of the trip were going over the mountain into and out of the city.  When we left the city in the morning, it was about 32 degrees and as we ascended the smoothly paved roads right on the edge of the mountainside it began to rain and snow.  Needless to say, I was a bit apprehensive about what this mountainside road would be like when we returned 6 hours later.  Turned out to be fine but I was glad my daughter was asleep in the passenger seat so she didn’t see my anxiety as I followed the winding road back down the mountain at the end of the day!  Doing things on our own here worked out very well because we got to see more than we would have on an organized excursion and we were able to go at our own pace.  We enjoyed wonderful lamb stew at the Nature Baths café. 
POSTED BY denise stone AT   12:00:00 AM   PERMALINK
Friday, April 13, 2012

Reykjavik, Iceland by Cruise Ship

Strokkur Geyser
Reykjavik, Iceland:  This is the capital of Iceland and a much larger city than Akureyri.  I think 80% of Iceland is covered by ice, glaciers and volcanic land and thus uninhabitable.  There are 305,000 people living in Iceland and about 120,000 of them live in this city.  No one lives in the interior of Iceland’s nearly 40,000 square miles, only along the main roads around the perimeter.  Since we were so successful with our car rental the previous day, I again used the internet café onboard to rent a car for the day.  This time, things were a little more challenging as despite having a map, I found it difficult to get out of the city and moving in the right direction.  Our intended stops today were Strokkur Geyser and Gullfoss Waterfalls.  After turning around several times, stopping to purchase an alternative map and asking directions, we found our way out of the city and into the countryside.  We were struck by all the lava rock we saw everywhere.  The entire countryside looks like broken up asphalt parking lots mixed with rugged mountains and some green.  There are steam vents all over the countryside.  The ship was in port late into the night and it was still light late into the night since we were so far north.  When we got back to town, we took a whale watching tour and discovered this was probably not the best place for whale watching.  The bay we toured in is known for Minke whales primarily.  They are much smaller and more elusive than the whales common along the West Coast and Alaska.  This was my daughter’s first whale watch and she saw nothing.  I did catch one quick glimpse of the back of one whale but it was here and gone and she wasn’t looking in the right direction.  We did get to see some Puffins although they were fishing so we didn’t see any on Puffin Island.
POSTED BY denise stone AT   12:00:00 AM   PERMALINK
Friday, April 13, 2012

Dublin, Ireland on a British Isles Cruises

Powerscourt Estates
Dublin, Ireland:  Here, I decided to book a tour through the Princess cruise line because we really wanted to go out to Powerscourt Estate and again, I wasn’t willing to drive on the “wrong” side of the road.  It is also much more populous and I didn’t want to take any chances.  It was a good tour, we had a guided bus ride and then a self-guided tour at the estate.  The bus ride took us through the city, the suburbs and into the countryside.  How lovely.  That is really what I enjoyed most everywhere we went on this trip, the beautiful countryside.  In the UK, everything was lush and green while in Iceland, everything felt so rugged.  Powerscourt Estate is not only beautiful but it also has a wonderful café with scrumptious meals and desserts so if you make it here, take time to have a little something.  Once back in Dublin, we walked some more….all over town.  We also found a post office and mailed some postcards back to family.  Not one of those post cards ever made it back to the US!
POSTED BY denise stone AT   12:00:00 AM   PERMALINK
Friday, April 13, 2012

Salsbury, England & Stonehenge

Stonehenge
Salsbury, England:  We enjoyed another relaxing day on the ship before disembarking in Southampton for the next leg of our journey.  After a quick taxi ride to the train station, we boarded a train for Salsbury, England to visit Stonehenge and Salsbury Cathedral.  I had researched the trip extensively before our getaway and discovered that due to security issues, there was no luggage storage in the train station but that there was a small tavern a block away that would store our luggage.  I was a bit apprehensive about that but we did it anyway.  We dragged the luggage down the street, rolled it behind the very tiny bar and paid 2 Euros per piece to store it.  I am not sure this bar had much other business but it was already open (and even serving a breakfast to a few regulars) at 10:30 in the morning.  We boarded a hop on/hop off bus that again took us out into the countryside where we toured Stonehenge and Old Sarum before dropping us off at Salsbury Cathedral where they were having a flower festival.  We enjoyed a hearty lunch in a local tavern, purchased some treats at a bakery, collected our luggage (yes, it was still there and intact) and boarded a train for the ride back to London. 
POSTED BY denise stone AT   12:00:00 AM   PERMALINK
Friday, April 13, 2012

London, England

Beefeater
London, England:  This time, once we arrived at the train station in London, we took a taxi to our hotel...no more Underground with luggage.  This time we stayed in the Kensington area in a place called Base2Stay which is a converted apartment building.  We were very pleased with a newly remodeled room and a one block walk to the nearby Underground station that we would use a lot over the next few days.  Definitely recommend this hotel to others.  The room had a small kitchenette and there were several grocery stores within a few blocks.  Beds are hard when made up as twins so I recommend keeping them made up as a queen/king as they then add a layer of padding that makes them much more comfortable.  It is basic hotel, clean accommodations, free wi-fi and affordable by London standards.  Very quiet area.  I cannot even summarize what we did in London…everything is what I can say.  We walked or took the subway everywhere and also did a hop-on/off bus tour one day….Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the London Eye, two musicals…..Phantom of the Opera and Wicked (this was the highlight), Piccadilly Square, the Tower of London, the Tower Bridge, Harrods, Hamleys, etc. 
 
POSTED BY denise stone AT   12:00:00 AM   PERMALINK
Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Mother/Daughter Cruise Adventure to Northern Europe

For those that don’t know, I had the opportunity to take my 13 year old daughter (She has the travel bug thanks to mom’s career!) to Europe this summer. Taylor & I flew from Austin, TX to London, England on the last school day of the year. We spent a night in London, enjoyed a 12 night cruise to Scotland, Iceland & Ireland, then spent 4 more nights in London post-cruise. 
 
What an adventure we had. Upon arrival in London after an overnight flight, I decided to be cheap & we took the subway into London from Heathrow airport. I should have known that was a bad idea w/ two 50 lb suitcases & 4 carry-ons. We arrived in London only to find a very long flight of stairs from the Underground to the street where we then had to find our way, by foot to the hotel a couple blocks away. I thought I was prepared, I knew what subway station we would arrive at & I had a map to show me where to go from there. Well, turns out the subway station had several exits that deposited you on different streets. I am not a highly experienced subway rider as you can tell but had lots of practice while in London! After asking a few people we passed, we found our way. Good thing we are both adventurous!
 
On our first day, we took a walk to Buckingham Palace and through St James Park. We walked to Big Ben & Westminster Abbey & then back to our hotel. Our feet were already tired! We quickly discovered that mayonnaise & lemonade are very different in England! Yuck. J The next morning, we made our way to Victoria Station Bus Terminal, via taxi, where we boarded a bus for the 2.5 hr ride to Southampton.  Pretty countryside!
 
We had an amazing trip, an amazing bonding experience, and we will remember it fondly for all our lifetimes.  Hope you enjoyed the pictures.  If you want to talk about a similar trip, you know where to find me!  Please read the other blogs on this site for details about the ports of call we visited during our 12 night cruise.
 
 
POSTED BY denise stone AT   12:00:00 AM   PERMALINK
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It’s not a dream; it is a Holland America Alaska Cruise!
 

No one knows Alaska like Holland America Line. Premium service and comfort has been perfected. Tradition is evident everywhere, from classic teak deck chairs to friendly stewards offering hot chocolate - complimentary, of course. Every stateroom is larger than most other cruise lines and offers stylish appointments such as the custom-designed Mariner's Dream bed.    Get the most from Alaska by enjoying a verandah stateroom or suite, which are more spacious than any other ships in our class. Dining on a Holland America ship is a delight to experience with detail to quality and service that is top notch. Enjoy the elegance of the main dining room, the Pinnacle Grill or a quick bite by the pool or room service.

 

Every day on board brings a wealth of activities and enrichment programs to showcase Alaska at its best. Learn new ways to prepare seafood in the Culinary Arts Center, presented by Food & Wine magazine. Keep in touch with your work or loved ones in the Explorations Cafe, powered by The New York Times. Relax in the Crow's Nest and enjoy panoramic views. 

 
What makes Holland America Line a step above?
 
  • Every cruise in Glacier Bay National Park will feature ranger commentary from the bridge and an informative presentation. A Hunan Totem speaker will talk about their ancestral ties to the land.
  • A ranger from Wrangell-St. Elias National Park will provide bridge commentary for every visit to the mammoth Hubbard Glacier. Tinged natives will showcase their culture during visits to Yakutat Bay.
  • Seattle departures will host a pre-cruise presentation by a ranger about thonal parks of the Inside Passage.
  • Land tours offering several choices to fit your time and to see the most of Alaska.
  • Comfortable domed rail cars and coaches making travel enjoyable to some of most desirable destinations in Alaska.
 

Be sure to bring your binoculars along to view the many different wildlife experiences up close.

 

 

 

 
Denise Belisle Stone
Denise Belisle Stone
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