Day 36-37 – Wednesday & Thursday – July 16-17, 2014 – Paris & Honflurs

We had a late departure to Paris, our flight was at 1:45PM so we were not scheduled to leave the hotel until 10:30. Stuart, our program director who is was so typically English, informed us at 10:25 the van coming to pick us up had a “puncture” and they had dispatched another vehicle. Not to worry. After a couple of additional calls and 11:00 o’clock came and went, Stuart seemed to be getting a little concerned and actually made alternate arrangements with another driver but finally our ride arrived.

My highlight on the way to Heathrow was passing Fuller’s Brewery, one of my favorite British beers available in the States.

Security at Heathrow seemed to be heightened and 4 of the 6 of our group was pulled aside for further inspection of our carry-ons. The security officers were very courteous, much more so than in the States. They were actually apologetic and seemed genuinely interested in expediting our delay. In Kay’s carry-on it appeared a package of paprika had triggered the alarm for organics. When we finally arrived at Charles De Gaulle airport, walking through customs was a breeze. If you are traveling within EU countries it is very easy. I am dreading the flight back to Atlanta already…

We retrieved our luggage and exited to the transport area and began looking for our contact to transfer us to our hotel. After about 30 minutes with no success, I called our program director for France, Ken. I got his voicemail and left a message asking him to email me, since I was calling using Skype. After another 10 minutes I called the Hotel and asked for Ken and he eventually he answered. He had just emailed me. The story was, our driver was caught in traffic and we should catch a cab. The attendant at the cab area was very helpful and called a van large enough for the six of us. The cab ride was less than 10 minutes which makes me think that there was never a vehicle coming for us. We were forgotten!! We were staying near the airport in the village of Roissy-en-France. It was a charming village, and we walked to the main street area and had dinner at a local restaurant.

Early Thursday morning we boarded a bus for a 2 hour ride to our first destination- The Peace Memorial Museum in Caen. This state-of-the-art facility did an outstanding job of presenting the events of World War II, including D-Day, very vividly. We were allowed 2.5 hours here to visit and have lunch. We completely skipped lunch and still did not have time to experience the entire exhibit. It was well organized chronologically and you traveled through the devastation of the world from beginning to end, via exhibits, photographs and videos.

The Peace Memorial museum.

There were many newspapers on display among the thousands of exhibits.

Another of the many exhibits.

We had the opportunity to enter the German Command Post bunker which is where the Museum is located.

I can’t say the visit to the Peace Memorial Museum was “fun” but it certainly was educational. Exhibits like this are needed so that we may never forget the potential for evil and it’s destructive power.

After another hours ride, we finally reached the port city of Honfleur near the mouth of the Seine river. Our boat was waiting for us.

We only had time to change quickly and then dinner. After dinner we walked into town for a beautiful sunset. Honfleur was once one of the most important ports in France. The port changed hands frequently between France and England during the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) and was finally won back by France in 1450. In the 1800’s Le Havre displaced Honfleur as a major port.

Honfleur is a small town of about 8,000 people, but it was quite busy with a lot of local tourist in addition to the few river boats there.

The calm water in the port made for beautiful photos.

And another…

One of the many narrow streets in town.

This photo was taken about 9:30. It doesn’t get dark until about 10:30 since we are at about the same latitude as Nova Scotia. As you can see on the right, the street cafés were very crowded as the Europeans eat a very late (for us) dinner.

This is the oldest building in the city. It was once part of the city gate, then an hotel. There is a plaque commemorating Samuel de Champlain, a native son and the Canadian explorer who founded Port Royal in Nova Scotia and the settlement of Quebec.

After arriving back to the boat, this Ferris wheel was visible from our cabin.

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Day 35 – Tuesday- July 15, 2014 – London

Today was our second tour with Shore Excursions, the agency we use for our ocean cruises and again they were a little late but only by 15 minutes this time. Todays tour is a “City Tour” which will repeat some of the sights we saw with our Grand Circle guide Stuart, but is more in depth and includes a “before the crowds” tour of the Tower of London and the Crown Jewels.

Another better view of the Towers Bridge.

Our own Yeoman Warden, better known as a Beefeater. What a great job. Minimum requirement 20 years military service and a long list of other qualifications. He and his family has the privilege of living in the Tower of London and he seems to really enjoy his job. He said his son really likes to tell the girls that he lives in a castle…

The tower gate we entered through.

The famous ravens at The Towers. Legend has it that if the ravens leave the tower the British Empire will be no more. As a precaution the Yeoman Wardens keep a minimum of eight on hand at all times. I noticed that at least two at a time were caged. Just a precaution…

The White Tower, now used for an armory display.

This unassuming building is where the Crown Jewels are kept.

A little of the armor displayed.

King Charles I suit of armor.

Another view of the Towers.

Changing of the Guard.

St. Paul’s Cathedral, where we visited the tombs of many famous persons of English History.

I was the only one in our group interested in riding the London Eye. By chance I received a free ticket from our local tour guide. They are time stamped and he had an extra one which would expire in about an hour.

I enjoyed the ride of about 35 minutes for one rotation, but I was glad the ticket was free. It would not have been worth 30 Euros or about $50 USD.

I was more fascinated by the construction. It is actually a huge bicycle wheel. Entirely suspended from the axel by steel cables.

A nice view of Parliament from the Eye.

Another view from the Eye

And another.

We then walked back to the hotel, about 3 miles, because we needed the exercise. We finished the evening with a pastry from a local shop near the hotel. Tomorrow we fly to Paris.

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Day 34 – Monday- July 14, 2014 – London

For both today and tomorrow we have tours scheduled through Shore Excursions. This is the agency we often use on our ocean cruises. Since London is considered a port town they have many tours available. Today we were to be picked up at our hotel at 7:35 for a tour which starts at Victoria Coach Station at 8:15 and lasts 11 hours. A long day. After we had not been picked up by 7:45 our Grand Circle Program Director, Stuart, called and confirmed that the bus was running late due to traffic. It was actually after 8:00 AM before we were picked up. We had a nice drive for our first stop at Leeds Castle near Kent.

Beautiful lake near the castle

The first stone castle was built by a Norman baron during the reign of William the Conqueror’s son Henry I, on an island in the River Len. In 1278, a century and a half later, it came into the possession of Queen Eleanor of Castile, first wife of Edward I. For the next 300 years the castle remained a royal residence, before again becoming a private home. This in turn was handed down over four centuries, by both inheritance and purchase, through a network of interlinked families.

This bust is one of many of the family on display.

The castle from across the lake.

Another view with some of the many swans. The last occupant was a devout bird lover and imported many different species including the rare black swans from Australia.

A black swan

And another view from the back. It was such a beautiful scene I couldn’t resist posting several photos.

After leaving Kent and Leeds Castle, we journeyed to Dover to see the famous “White Cliffs of Dover”

Kay with the Cliffs in the background.

Dover Castle, taken from a distance.

After Dover we drove to Canterbury. This was a really beautiful town and of course the Cathedral is the focus here. Unfortunately a graduation ceremony was in process and we were unable to visits the Nave.

A different view of the cathedral. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the head of the Church of England.

One of the passageways between buildings.

Lunch was on our own. I spotted this restaurant and persuaded the others to eat here. I knew with the name “La Trappiste” there would be some good Belgium beers and I was not disappointed. In fact I was floored when I asked for a beer menu. They had over 200 BELIGUM beers available. There were two pages devoted just to Lambic beers. In Georgia at the largest beer & wine stores you are lucky to find one or two.

I decided on a La Chouffe, the premier of the Strong Belgium Blonds. It was excellent with my fish & chips.

We then traveled to Greenwich for a short town tour. This is the Cutty Shark but we did not actually go into the museum or ship. In Greenwich we boarded a ferry for the trip back to London down the Thymes.

A better view of the London Eye, you see it almost everywhere you go since it is over 400 feet tall.

The clock tower of Big Ben and downtown London in the background.

After our tour ended we were at Embarkation Pier, about three miles from our hotel. We decided to walk back and passed Buckingham Palace and went down the Mall where the Royalty always appear when arriving or leaving on ceremonial occasions.

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Day 33 – Sunday- July 13, 2014 – London

Windsor tour with Program Director Stuart today. This was a very enjoyable tour and the castle was magnificent. Prior to the tour we had a city tour where we visited many of the highlights of the city.

The Royal Guard outside Buckingham Palace

The London Eye

The House of Parliament

The Tower Bridge (often mistaken for the London Bridge)

First view of Windsor Castle

Another view of the Castle

The courtyard. The queen is in residence and this area is not accessible by the public.

Windsor Castle is the only location now where you may have your photo taken next to a Royal Guard.

Pedestrian street in Windsor. The castle is in the background.

We had dinner this evening at the Swan Tavern.

Definitely Old English Pub atmosphere

I had steak and ale pie with garden vegetables and mash. I have never been a big fan of green peas but these were delicious. I be live these might be the first fresh one I have had.

Paddington Station

Evening view from our Hotel room at the Royal Lancaster London

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Day 31 & 32 – Friday – July 11 — Saturday July 12, 2014 – Amsterdam

Today due to the ship having to be dry docked to repair one of the propellers we have an extended include tour. First we had a 90 minute canal tour. This gave us an opportunity to see the canal system up close and personal. The canal system is the UNESCO World Heritage List. Amsterdam has the highest museum density in the world. We elected to visit the Rijksmuseum which has its highlight Rembrandt’s Nightwatch. After lunch and some free time in the museum district, we boarded the boats to visit Zaanse Schans, a “typical” old Dutch village. We were here two years ago on our Voyage of the Vikings cruise. We took the time as an opportunity to rest because were expecting to not return to the ship until after dinner at the hotel. As it turned out, the ship was repaired sooner than expected and we were able to return for dinner. We learned later that Grand Circle actually paid the hotel for the dinner meal for 160 persons even though they took us back to the ship for our convenience. That was a nice gesture.

the Rijksmuseum

The famous “Nightwatch”. I didn’t realize how large it was…

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This set of pistols belonged to Napoleon and believed to have been used at Waterloo.

In the museum park. This was at the “I Amsterdam” sign. They were watching a group of street performers.

We are in Holland so I must include at least one photo of windmills.

A quite tranquil scene.

And another.

We walked to the “Red Light” District and along the way we passed the train station. There were thousands of bicycles parked waiting for the return of commuters. How you found your bike, I will never know.

Unfortunately we were warned not to take photos in the “Red Light” district so all I can show you are some of the photos along the way. By the way, if you haven’t been there is really not much you would want to photograph anyway J.

We were up early Saturday and flew from Amsterdam to London. This is the view from our Hotel window.

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Day 30 – Thursday July 10, 2014 – Cologne, Germany

Due to poor internet and the absolute lack of time, my blog posts

have been severely delayed. As I write this for July 10, we are on a bus on our way from Paris to Honfleur, France on July 17. Since my last entry we have finished our river cruise in Europe, flown to London for four nights and then on to France. With a four hour bus ride ahead hopefully I can catch up some if my laptop battery lasts.

We arrived in Cologne early morning, before daybreak. After breakfast we left for a walking tour of the city. The highlight of the city is the Cologne Cathedral, dedicated to the saints Peter and Mary. It is the greatest Gothic cathedral in Germany and has been Cologne’s most famous landmark for centuries. It was once the tallest building in the world and still boasts the world’s largest church façade.

The colorful houses and business in Europe are a carryover from the middle ages when most people were illiterate. You could say I live in the green house past the down the street from the church.

My first close glimpse of the Cologne Cathedral. Wow, Is it huge!

Even with my wildest angle lens, it is hard to capture the entire building.

Another more complete view from a little distance.

I made it into the cathedral, but none of the rest of our group did. I was obliviously snapping photos and was amazed that the crowds were so thin. Apparently they had stopped admission and were clearing the cathedral for service but no one said anything to me so I got a few interior shots.

Another interior shot of this incredible building.

We decided to tackle the 500 plus steps up the tower. About half way up are the bells. This is only one of many in this tower and there are several towers.

In the narrow walkway around the bell tower. This is not for someone who is claustrophobic.

Another bell area with a ceiling view.

A view of the city of Cologne from the bell area.

This is the ladder system for the final 100 plus steps to the topmost area open to the public.

Finally at the top! Unfortunately there was grill work and wire in all areas so the photos suffered accordingly.

I suppose this is necessary to thwart any jumpers and to deter the throwing of objects to the ground.

As you can see, we still were not at the topmost tower.

But still the view was magnificent. It was worth 2 Euros and 500 steps for the view.

This is what the majority of the stairs looked like, a seemingly endless spiral of steps.

I had the opportunity to sample the famous beer of Cologne, Kolsch. Although it is available other places, this is its home. Traditionally served is small glasses, some much smaller than this one to keep it cool and fresh.

The rail and pedestrian Bridge in Cologne.

Known as the “Love Locks Bridge”

Thousands upon thousands of locks are affixed to the links on this railroad/pedestrian bridge to show everlasting affection.

A few close up examples. The variety was never ending.

I will finish this post up with a few of the wonderful people we met–

Paul and Charlene

Heidi and Tim

“B”

Mio (along with Carl)

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Day 29, 2014 – Wednesday – Koblenz, Germany

There are several things today: First I must acknowledge the love of my life for the past 37 years. Kay and I were fortunate enough to celebrate our anniversary at the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel Rivers in the city of Koblenz. It’s amazing how the ship’s crew keeps up with the details. Our cabin attendant wished Kay a happy anniversary this morning. Tonight after dinner, the head of housekeeping brought us a bottle of sparkling wine and a note from the hotel manager wishing us a happy anniversary. These are small things, but it’s nice to be remembered.

Second: Last night at our port briefing, the Captain and our program director Miheal, made an announcement. It appears that in the early part of our trip on the Danube with high waters, the ship’s propeller struck a log. They were aware that we had some damage, but it couldn’t be checked until Nuremberg. When divers made an examination of the underside, seems we have one broken propeller, which explains some of the “rough running” we have seen. The ship can safely run on one propeller but eventually it would damage other systems. Their plans were to have the repair made in Amsterdam on Saturday after we all leave the ship so they could continue with their turn-around voyage on Saturday evening. Unfortunately, as Miheal said, the Nederland’s being the Nederland’s the dockworkers do not work on Saturday. Therefore the repairs must be made on Friday which necessitates all passengers being off the ship from after breakfast until 6:00 PM. Therefore Grand Circle is doing the following for us: Instead of having a 2-3 hour canal and city tour and the balance of the day free with lunch and dinner on board we will have an extended canal tour and then a bus tour to an outlying village. We also were offered the choice of tickets to either the Van Gogh museum or the Rijksmuseum with the Old Dutch Masters. We elected for the Rijksmuseum. GCT is also supplying us with money for lunch on our own and a banquet room a local hotel near the dock where we can rest and freshen up. We will also be having dinner at the Hotel because the chief will be unable to prepare a meal while they are in dry-dock. The only downside for us is that we will have less time to pack for our transfer in Amsterdam on Saturday for our flight to London, and we must take everything with us on Friday Morning that we will need all day. Still GCT is doing their best to make a bad situation for us not on bearable but actually an enhancement.

We were in rain for the full 5 hours of scenic sailing down the Rhine Gorge where so many castles exists, both ruins and occupied buildings. Then our day in Koblenz was about the same, nice but rainy. We didn’t so several things which involved walking due to the rain. The city is beautiful and the people warm. After our walking orientation with Miheal, we visited a large mall just to look around and get out of the rain. Other than that we just walked around town.

Back on ship, Carl and I visited the steam room and spa to get warmed back up. The high today was only about 54 degrees and rainy. Then following dinner we had a local Accordion Orchestra, yes, you heard me correctly. The group consisted of 15 accordion payers of various ages and playing various types of accordions, one drummer and a conductor. I never accordion music could sound so good. I guess I was expecting polka or beer pub music or Oom Pa Pa music. Instead they played popular and Broadway songs as well as songs from musical tracks. You would have sworn they had wind instruments and strings.

Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be on the Rhine River in Germany, on my wedding anniversary, listening to a German Accordion Orchestra paly “The Stars and Stripes Forever” They finished up to a standing ovation. It was quite moving.

All in all a pretty satisfying day despite the weather.

Kay and I in Budapest a couple of weeks ago.

Happy Anniversary Sweetheart, thanks for putting up with me for the past 37 years.

We passed dozens of castles this morning. Although I have the name of most of them, I haven’t looked them up so they will be labeled 1,2,3, etc.

Castle 1

Castle 2

Castle 3

Castle 4

Castle 5

Castle 6 with mist rising.

Castle 7

Castle 8

Small town passed on the river.

Castle 9

Castle10, this one was used to collect tolls from the 1300 up until the mid-1800’s

If there were problems, they got enforcements from the castle on the hill.

Castle 13

Castle 14

Castle 15

Street art in Koblenz

Some more street art, she must be 12 feet tall.

Rainy day on one of the several pedestrian streets.

We ducked into a mall to get warm and dry. This was the first thing we saw. I believe it did put happy facieses on the kids.

In a sporting goods store, we found the tennis racquets to be reasonably priced. A decent Head could be had for 99 Euros about $135.00.. but…. A tube of 4 Wilson balls cost 15 euro or about $20.00 ($4.00) each so tennis is an expensive game.

Carl is as happy as a kid in a candy store… oh wait, he IS in a candy store!

The lovely towel swans left for us along with a bottle of sparkling wine.

As we left Koblenz, this is a night shot of the confluence of the Rhine on the left and the Mosel Rivers on the right. The formable statue guarding both rivers is Wilhelm I.

Good Night.

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