Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Back across the pond

 Well I said that I would probably finish the last post from Arizona, and guess what?
We are back in Arizona.

But I wont leave you hanging, and will get you caught up to date, but before I
do I want to step back to our day trip to Windsor to share a couple of items.

While waiting for our transfer train to Windsor to arrive,
these two trains going in opposite directions blasted thru Slough Station.

Trains passing at Slough

Then later after visiting the castle and arriving back at Slough for our
Eastbound train to London, this high speed Westbound flew thru the station.

I mentioned at the Tower of London about how the beefeaters will march over
or thru you when they are in formation and marching about.

These men of the Queens (now Kings) Guard were marching by when some tourists
got in their way.   You can hear the young soldier bellow at them to get out of the way.

Further along before the video ends he is yelling at more  tourists to get out of the
way but the camera did not pick that up

Now back to sea on the QM2

Leaving Southampton

We pushed off from the dock in Southampton just before dark and as night settled in,
we headed down for our first dinner in the Queens Grill Resturant.
This was our first trip in QG and we were really looking forward to seeing what it was like.

To explain - Cunard has basically 3 levels of service.
Think coach, business, and first class as a comparison.

Britannia is the first level.
This is smaller cabins, fixed dinner times and 2 sittings of 1,000+ people each
in the Britannia Dining Room which is a beautiful 2 story room that spans the width of the ship.

Cabin sizes range from about 170 - 270 square feet.
These are very nice accommodations and service - but at a more reasonable price point.

Britannia Club is sort of a sub level of Britannia.
Pretty much similar cabin size, some better locations, but the biggest draw IMO
is that you eat in a small more intimate section of the Britannia Dining Room, and
have your own table with open seating dining time.

QM2 Britannia Dining room 2nd Floor

QM2 Britannia Dining room 1st Floor

Princess Gill is the second level.
This is where you start to get up there in Luxury Accommodations
The cabins all have balconies and average 381 square feet.
In addition to numerous room perks like walk in closets, concierge service etc.
Another feature of Princess Grill is a separate dining room with expanded menu options
and seating for 150 making for a more intimate dining experience.
In PG you also have your own table for the voyage and open dining hours.

Queens Grill is the top level.
This is the top of the line on Cunard.
The cabins range in size from 506 square feet all the way up to 2,300 square feet!
The latter cabins being 2 floors tall.   These are the cabins where the rich and
famous lay their heads.

Queens Grill guests enjoy not only larger cabins, but also Concierge 
and 24 hour butler service.
A big draw of QG is the Queens Grill Resturant.
Larger than PG it seats up to about 250.
Here the menu is much more extensive and if a guest wants something that is not on the menu,
if the ingredients are on board - they will prepare it for you.
Several nights on our crossing we had off menu items.

After finishing our first dinner we retired to our cabin around 9 and shortly thereafter
an announcement came over the PA system that there was going to be a medical
evacuation and the outside decks were going to be closed.

It seems that only about 4hrs or so after departure, a guest was ill enough to need to
be airlifted off the ship.

The helicopter made several pickups by basket.   We could not see the actual
airlift, but the helicopter hovered right off of our balcony for about 40 minutes as it
made several trips to the ship and then hovered off the side as they did whatever it was
they needed to do on the ship

Here is a video of the helicopter.

After that initial excitement, the ship turned back eastbound in the Channel and
we headed to NYC

The Food

Chateaubriand prepared table-side

Continuing the beef trend we had an off-menu Beef Wellington,
also finished at the table.

Washed down with Crêpes Suzette

Crêpes Suzette

My favorite meal this trip was another off menu item - a Rack of Lamb also
finished table-side.

And again - another off menu item - our head maître d' Osman prepared us pasta.
We told him to surprise us with whatever he wanted to prepare, and we were not disapointed.

And again - washed down the pasta with some flaming Cherries Jubilee.

Another night Baked Alaska was on the menu for desert.

This was just a small sample of the dinners that we had.
There is also lunch and breakfasts....  but I think you get the idea.

Each day around 430 our butler would bring canapés to our room in order to wake up
our taste buds (as if they ever slept) before dinner.

Before I could get a photo, some were always missing but you get the idea.

Liver Pate' Smoked Salmon w/Caviar and more caviar

Not being an expert in Caviar - most of what I've learned came from the movie "Overboard":

Caviar should be round, and hard, and of adequate size, 
and should burst in your mouth at precisely the right moment.”

The golden caviar fit that definition precisely.

Below was mozzarella, sun dried tomato and some sushi and rice rolls

And more Smoked Salmon and 2 types of Caviar.

No Cunard crossing would be complete without a mention of afternoon tea.
Previously I've never made it to tea as I was always up in the kennels.
Tea is at 3:30p and each day we wanted to go but were too full from lunch.
So... the solution was to skip lunch and finally we made it.

And no tea is complete without some scones, clotted cream, and preserves.

Well I think that is probably enough food porn.
Just reading this could add some pounds on you but I have to say that when we
got home I stepped apprehensively on the scale and had lost 4 lbs.

"The Queens Grill Diet".  I highly recommend it. 😀

One intersting thing this crossing was a group of "Vintage Dressers".

A group of people who enjoy dressing in clothes from all sorts of past periods.
They told me that they are found worldwide, but this group was from California
and numbered about 150 people.

Doing an Atlantic Crossing on a true (and the last) Ocean Liner was a great time
for them to get into the spirit of the past times.

The Aqua Therapy Spa

One of our favorite things to do on the ship, and even do-able by squeezing inbetween
kennel duty is the Aqua Therapy Spa.
A collection of Bubbling pools, hot tubs, steam and sauna rooms.

I dont take any pictures in there since its a bit private, but a link to an
article about the place can give you a good idea.

After a rough time in the spa, we retire to the relaxation room to chill for a bit.

QM2 Relaxation room

There is so much to do on the ship.
The list would require a whole blog post to cover it all.
Each day the daily program is delivered and is several pages long with things to do.

One of the things we did was to attend a show in the Planetarium.
Yes - I did say Planetarium.   The Queen Mary2 has one!

Our great circle route to NYC was adjusted northerly due to a storm to our south.
The route was changed to a great circle course destination to a position about 20 miles south
 of Cape Race Newfoundland.
About our  3rd day we ran into the edges of the storm and the winds built to force 8
and the seas to 7 meters.

The ship of course handled this fine but it did increase the motion some/
Mostly it was the bow lifting and dropping and on a particularly big wave you
could feel the ship shudder as it plunged thru the waves.

Twas very cool but many of the folks on board disappeared and the QG restaurant was only about
1/3 full one evening.  The staff told us many were feeling a bit under the weather. 

The wind and seas lasted about 36hrs or so but soon the wind and seas subsided
and the morning dawned calm with the promise of good weather.

We really only had one day of great weather like this.
The rest of the time it was either cloudy, rain showers, wind etc.
But on the North Atlantic in late October one has to expect this.

I cannot complete this post without a mention of the great folks who attended to our every need.

At dinner we had a wait staff of 7 people who took care of us every night.

Seby, from India, was our main waiter and was just delightful. 
We will see him in April and September.

Nikola, from Serbia, was our Sommelier.
We had a lot of laughs with him and will see him in Sept.


Vinray from the Philippines was one of our 2 assistant waiters

The day before arrival, crossing the Grand Banks, it was extremely foggy and at times
we could not see one end of the ship.

Foggy day at sea

Our arrival in NYC is normally quite dramatic.
The lights of the city and the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge and then the statue of liberty...
Our arrival to NY however was again pea soup fog and passing under the bridge, you were not
even able to see it.    So I went back to bed.

Arriving in Brooklyn, we were off the ship, thru customs, and back on solid
ground by 0845.   Our limo arrived and by about 930 we were at LaGuardia
waiting for our 2pm flight in the United Club.

Our flight crew to Denver was great!
We were seated in row 1 so we had time to chat with the flight crew when things
slowed down a bit.

Then while waiting for our flight to Tucson I saw the same flight crew
getting on our plane so when we got on board it was a sort of welcome home.

Kate and I immediately went to sleep and woke up when they turned on the lights for arrival.
Getting off the plane our FA kidded with us saying:
"Next time perhaps you two wont be so needy".

Our friend Kelsey picked us up at the curb and by 930p we were back at
the Cactus Ranch and this trip was history.

I would also be amiss if I did not mention our gratitude to friends Kelsey and Morgan
who took time off from work and traveled to Tuscon to dog sit the Doodles for us.
Without them - this trip would not have taken place.
Thanks Ladies!

So that gave you a quick snapshot of what a crossing is like on the QM2.
Its a beautiful ship and even though it carries over 2,000 passengers, its so large
that you never are crowded, and often can find a place all to your own.

And now....  only 164 days till we get back on board and head to
the UK and Ireland for summer 2023

Between then and now we have some winter RV'ing to do so we should not be
radio silent for very long.

Hope you enjoyed riding along.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

London - Part 2 - Windsor Castle


Well we have had a great run of fantastic London weather.
The forecast prior to our departure was indicating rain all week but instead we have been
presented with mostly sunshine or clouds but only the lightest of drops here and there.

Monday morning turned out to be another great day for our trip to Windsor.
I purchased our train tickets online with "anytime" fare so that we would not be locked
into a specific train and instead would be free to wander at will and take the train
when it worked for us.

First - the short walk to the Piccadilly Tube station.

That took us to Paddington Station, a combined underground and rail facility, where we
transferred to the Great Northern Railway.

Our train flew to our next stop where we transferred to a second train to take us to
the Windsor & Eton Central Station.

The Windsor & Eton Central Station was built in 1849, which allowed the Royals to travel
by train from London to Windsor Castle.

First, and unimpressive facility, it was completely rebuilt by 1897 in time for 
Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.

The massive facility was designed to look like Paddington Station.
Since those times as rail travel decreased, so did the size of the station.

Today the station is a fraction of its former size, the remainder having been redeveloped
into a retail mall.

There are 2 stations in Windsor.
The other - Riverside - is at the bottom of a big hill where you will have to huff and puff
your way to the top.

The trains run direct to Riverside - but to skip the hill - choose E&WC Station.

This way when you step out of the retail section of the station you are greeted by the castle.

Our ticket was for noon and once inside we picked our audio guides and
went in search of the king.

Unfortunately no photos are allowed inside of the castle so you will need to come on
over and see it for yourself.
Let's just say it is opulent and leave it that.

Beautiful grounds "fit for a King"

The Kings Guard prepares to change sentries.

You are limited to a small part of the castle - still a lot of ground - but much of
it I assumed is reserved for the Royals.

Next - we toured St Georges Chapel.
This is where the funeral for Queen Elizabeth took place and we recognized it from
when we watched it on TV.

We also saw her grave marker but again no photos so I included on from the news services.

We also saw many other Kings & Queens Graves, for us the most notable being
King Henry VIII

Buried along with Henry was Jayne Seymour his third wife and the only one to give
him a male heir.

Re discovery of his grave during mausoleum construction turned up two surprises:
The skeleton of Charles I (with head separated from his body since he was beheaded)
A small child who was the stillborn child of Ann Boleyn 

Here is an interesting story with more details about how the 4 came to rest together

Henry VIII Tomb Marker

Touring the castle - we really only get to see a tiny portion of the entire place, but
that small taste is enough to tell me that I could not afford the mortgage.

Now being 3pm it was TEA TIME

I had read about a decent tea at the Castle Hotel in town, so we gave it a try 
and we were not disappointed.

After Tea, it was time to head back to the train and London.

Leaving Windsor you get a decent view of the whole castle off in the distance.

We never did get to walk the expansive grounds outside of the castle, so that means
we have more to do next spring when we'll be back.

That pretty much wrapped up our quick 5 nights in London.
Our next stop was Southampton and the QM2.

The Crossing Begins

Another great weather day and our limo picked us up on the square right on time.
We chatted with the driver non-stop and before you know it we had traveled
the 2hrs from London to Southampton in a blink.

We had priority boarding and breezed thru the various checks and was on the ship 
by 1pm.   We accomplished a few post boarding chores (getting spa reservations etc)
and then went down for a quick lunch.

The main lobby on the ship.

Our room # 9050.
Queens Grill is comparable to first class.
Our stateroom is bigger than most but not the biggest.

Well I'm rusing to complete this as we sail down the Solent towards
the English Channel.
Dinner is calling so that all for now.

Unless I get energetic - the next post may originate from Arizona

See you on the other side of the pond.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

London part 1


After arriving in London, our hired Limo arrived to pick us up and take us to our hotel.

We were on road by 0800 and being rush hour - it took us a good hour to get to our hotel.
Check in was not till 3pm but the hotel worked with us and was able to get us into a room
by 11am or so.

We'd been awake about 36 hrs, so were probably looked a bit like flesh eating zombies,
if not - we certainly felt the part.

But my motto is:  "There's plenty of time to rest when you are dead" so we took quick showers,
and soon our friends Mark & Karen had arrived to show us a bit of London.

Our hotel (The Londoner Hotel) is a brand new facility located on Leicester Square.
A great central location and short walk to a tube station

All day musicians and artists populate the square with all sorts of interesting things going on.

Leicester Square

Leicester square is a theatre district and has various statues about that pay tribute to
some of the hollywood greats.

Below is a statue of Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain.

Gene Kelly Statue on Leicester Square

We walked a few blocks to Trafalgar Square.
In the center is a monument with Lord Admiral Nelson perched on top.

Admiral Nelson was the commander of the fleet and onboard the HMS Victory (the ship I'm building)
at the battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805
Nelson was killed during the battle, but the end result was destruction of 2/3 the Combined 
French and Spanish Fleets which eliminated the threat from Napoleon once and for all,
and confirmed British Naval superiority moving into the 19th century.  

Trafalgar Square

From there, we grabbed a taxi and rode over to St Pauls Cathedral.
Built on the highest point in London, this is the main Anglican Church in London.
It was first established in this location in 604AD and the current building dates to the early 1600's

Numerous famous people are interred in the Crypts below, including Admiral Nelson.
This is also where Charles & Diana were married instead of the normal Westminster Cathedral. 

Admiral Nelsons Tomb

After St Pauls, we walked and hit a few pubs, and eventually made our way over to the south bank
of the Thames and had dinner followed by a taxi to our hotel.
Since we'd now been awake for about 36 hours....
It was time for a well deserved jump into the sack.  

The Tower 

Friday morning arrived on schedule, and it was time to meet up with Mark & Karen 
at the Tower of London

We purchased "Oyster Cards" which you can preload with ££'s.
This made it easy to travel on all of the London Transports, including the tube.
You could also use your phone and credit card, but the rates are cheaper if you get the card.

We walked about 1/2 mile to the Embankment Tube Station to take the Division line to the Tower.
There is a tube station on Leicester Square but would have required a change of trains at
Embankment, so we decided to start the morning with a short walk.

The tube is clean, fast, and on-time.

Arriving at the Tower, we began our tour.
You can walk the tower on your own, but your admission includes the 30 minute tour
with one of the Yeoman Warders which is well worth taking.

To be a Yeoman Warder, one must be retired military with long good conduct medal,
and have attained the rank of Sergeant Major or higher.
They live inside the tower, and can remain as long as they like as long as they can do the job.

It's a great place to raise a teenage daughter as at 10pm the gates close and locks out the boyfriends.

First started by William the Conqueror in 1078 - 12 yrs after defeating the Saxons,
it was built to let the peasants know how was now the boss. 

Building castles to make a statement seemed to be the standard M.O. for kings those days.

Originally just a wooden fort, it was soon replaced by William with the stone White Tower.
That was eventually encircled by two concentric walls followed by an outer moat.

This is a rendering of what the completed fortress would have looked like.

Below - the 'Traitors Gate" is how prisoners would be brought to the tower.
The gate opened to the Thames and prisoners would arrive by boat.

The White Tower was Home for the King and housed the Royal Apartments.
This was the original tower before the outer defences were added.

Walking the inner wall.

Inside one of the towers along the wall.

At some point there was Royal Residences in one of the Defensive towers as well, but
I am not quite sure when and why that was.
Unfortunately I don't have the time right now to research and get it all straight.

Below is a meeting hall where the king would have met with his court.
On the far wall you can see the sooty remains of where a grand fireplace was located.

There was a change of guard while we were there.
We were told that when the guards are marching - you MUST get out of the way
or they will walk over you.    They will NOT stop for you!

A few minutes later we heard the guards marching and an old lady was walking in their
way and one of the guards bellowed a few times "GET OUT OF THE WAY!
A few people rushed over to help her move out of the way.

While most prisoners had their heads removed in public outside of the tower on tower hill...
Henry VIII had his wives executed on this green inside the tower.

Beyond the green are barracks where some of the guard live.

This is the building in which the Crown Jewels are kept.
We saw the jewels including ones that we recognized from the Queens funeral.
Unfortunately but understandably photos inside are not allowed.

Along the outer walls are apartments where the Yeoman Warders live.

They say the castle is haunted but I didn't see any ghosts....

Tower Bridge.
  Often mistaken by people as London Bridge...
Which, as all my RV buddies know, is really in Lake Havasu. ;-)

Tower Bridge

Outside the tower.
The close tower is called the "Middle Tower".  
It was actually a tower in the middle of the moat.
You can see it in the rendering above.

It was now about 430pm.
Time for our own "changing of the guard"
Mark & Karen had a train to catch, while Craig & Vicki were arriving
on another train and we were headed to meet them.

We met them at the rooftop bar of their hotel.
Another great reunion after several years of forced absence!

As usual - it was like we saw them yesterday and resumed where we left off.
The view over London from the bar.
You can see the London eye on the left, Big Ben peeking thru in the middle
with towers of parliament just right of Big Ben

After cocktails we had dinner on the square and it was time for bed.

The next morning Craig & Vicki took us on another walking tour.
Below is the Mall where  many Royal processions take place.
At the far end is Buckingham Palace

We crossed over to St James Park, but not before we stopped to pay our regards to
our friend King George.
King George is famous for being the king to lose the American colonies.

In St James Park there is a large collection of resident Pelicans.
Craig & Vicki are coming to our house for Thanksgiving this year.
Looking at that bird....  I'm wondering how to fit it into my suitcase.

Perhaps some St James Turkey might be nice to put on the Thanksgiving Menu.

The 4 of us with Buckingham Palace behind.

Of course Kate has to stop and pose with every "hunk" she finds.

Next we walked up to Westminster Cathedral but unfortunately its closed on Saturday
and of course only worship on Sunday - so we are not going to get to see it this trip.

No worries - we'll be back in the spring and this trip we've been trying to go to the places
that are not dog friendly.   It will be easy to visit later while we take turns going
inside while the other waits with the dogs.

Kate and I in front of Westminster Cathedral.

Number 10 Downing St is the green building on the right.
Last time here (many years) I was able to walk right to the door, but sadly times are changed.

Outside the horse barracks are the horse guards.
These are guards of the King.
If you've watched any Royal Celebrations, then you have seen them mounted on parade

Inspection of the guard.
This parade ground was created by Henry VIII as a jousting ground.
You will have seen many Royal Parades upon these grounds.

Next on our stop was the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Built by Queen Victoria - the ornate and beautiful interior reflects all the opulence
and wealth of England during the height of its worldwide power.

The museum is huge and would require days to see it all.
Not wanting to put all of our eggs in one basket, we barely skimmed the surface.

This is the Hall of Casts.
Cast reproductions of monuments from all over the world.

The Museum from outside.

Next was a taxi over to Convent Gardens and the Market.
OK - this is the type of place that my wife could get lost in.
Gift shopping galore!

It used to be the old Produce Market which was first established around 1200.

Convent Garden Market

The photo above only shows about 1/6 of this floor and there is a basement too.
After the Market we walked back about 3/4 of a mile to Leicester Square, and home.

Next on the agenda was an evening out to dinner with Craig & Vicki, their son and
daughter in law, plus a friend of their son.

I did not include photos of the whole group as forgot to ask if they would mind.

The restaurant was just off of Piccadilly Circus, so it was a short walk.

We've learned that London is a very social city.
The streets were jam packed with people out and about - like I've never seen anywhere!
Especially when the sun starts to set.

Walking up to Piccadilly.

It was a great French Restaurant.  
Dinner was delicious and we had such a great time meeting new friends.

Kate could not get her Prosecco though - only Champagne.
Oh the humanity!

Walking back thru Piccadilly.
The streets were even more crowded on the walk back.
It seemed as if every person, in every room, had come out onto the street to enjoy the night!

Sadly it was time to say goodby to C&V but but they are coming to Arizona
for Thanksgiving (and St James Turkey) 😎
  in just a few short weeks.

Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace

Sunday morning we were able to sleep in a bit - well Kate did - I had to get up and work
on this post.

By about 1030 we were positioned along the mall to watch the changing of the guard.

The troops who are currently guarding the palace are called the "old guard"
The guards who will replace them are called the "new guard"
Once the handover is complete - then the new guard becomes the old guard and vice versa.

So - the old guard march from their barracks to the palace to join up with the other members
of their regiment who are currently at their posts at the palace.

Then, the new guard marches from their barracks to the palace too.
Now lots of things take place during this...
The days orders are passed along, the keys are passed from the old to the new, 
which symbolizes the turn over of responsibility.

The Old Guard Marches by.

A video of the old guard marching by.

These troops taking up the rear seemed to be from a foreign country.
I could not find out what that was about.

We then walked up to Buickingham following the Old Guard.
So did everyone else.

I was only able to get some video of the new guard arriving.

To see the whole operation requires either way less spectators - or 3 days.

One day to get a good position - like we did - to observe the old guard.
Then a good position to observe the new guard.
Then a good position at the palace to watch the hand over.

I learned that of the 3 - the action at Buckingham is much slower as much of what is going
on is not real viewer friendly as its inspections, passing orders etc.

We were pleased with what we saw.

Next we headed back to the horse barraks as Kate wanted to make an encore
appearance at the gift shop.

To our surprise - another parade broke out!

The English love their traditions, and they have had a couple of thousand years to perfect them.

I have no clue what this parade on the horse grounds was about, but they formed up,
marched about, and then the bands piped up and soon were marching up the street.

There seemed to be members from all the armed forces plus some
sea cadets.


Forming up

Bring on the parade!

A video of the parade as it marches by

Unable to find anymore parades at the moment, we shifted our sights to the south bank
of the Thames.

We walked across the Hungerford Pedestrian Bridge to the south bank.

Hungerford Bridge

Firmly planted on the south bank we started to walk west back towards Parliament.
This area between the bridges was sort of a park and playground with musicians,
performers, the carousel below...

And the London Eye

We did not ride the eye.    
We could have gotten a ticket for today but did not want
to stand in the long long long que that you would stand in AFTER buying
your ticket online.

The London Eye

We posed for a shot with Parliament and Big Ben behind us, while we made our way
across the Westminster Bridge.

Ok...  look at the sun shining thru the bridge rail....
Is it me, or do you see it too? 😏

I learned this trip that although people call the combined entity Big Ben,
the tower was actually named the Clock Tower and renamed in 2012 to the
Elizabeth Tower in honor of the Queen on her Diamond Jubilee.

The clock contained in the tower is Big Ben

So after making the loop back to Parliament, we headed down Whitehall where we parked
it for a while at an outdoor Italian restaurant for some great fresh mozzarella balls
and a small Margarita Pizza.

Returning to the National Art Gallery which is just down the street from our hotel,
we sat and watched some Iranians protesting the current regime in their country.

I mentioned to Kate how helpless one must feel when their nation has lost its way and
there is nothing that can be done without the tip of a sword.

Arriving back at the hotel around 3p, I went to work on this post for a while and around 5:30p
we headed a few blocks to Chinatown (Have I mentioned how centrally located Leicester Square is)
Thanks Craig for the suggestion.   What a great place to park it.

Kate found us a great place called the 4-Seasons.
A 5 min walk - we beat the crowds and sat right down.
We noticed many asians eating there so to us that was a good sign and we were not disappointed.

Since arriving we've had Italian, French, Chinese.

Well that concludes the first 4 days of our visit to London.
Whew....  its been a busy few days for sure!

Tomorrow we will day trip to Windsor Castle and perhaps have some tea with the King.
Tuesday we have a limo coming to take us 2 hrs to Southampton and the Queen Mary2
for our 7-day crossing back to the States.

We should get some R&R on that ride!