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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Bon Voyage


Saturday May 29, 2010: All Aboard for Departure: Southampton

Yesterday, Friday was a very busy day for us, zig zagging across London on the “tube” to see all we could see in 10 hours. Our leg muscles are talking back to us today! But we considered our amateur tourist adventures to be a success. We voted and the Changing of the Guard was the best. I’ll have a photo gallery just for London soon as I get the photos edited and uploaded.
Saturday we woke up a little later, (getting used to jet lag now), had coffee in the room and packed everything for the bus ride to Southampton where the ship awaited. We caught a cab at the hotel to Victoria Coach Station at 10:1, in plenty of time to check out the place and find out where to meet our bus and grab some breakfast.
Our two London cab drivers so far have not been so friendly. They just sit in the driver’s seat and let you load your bags yourself and the only thing they want to know is where you want to go. It’s the last you hear from them. There’s no conversation, no good morning, just a robot at the wheel. I think I figured this out. The traffic is so bad in London that it turns these guys from humans to car robots. If you think Houston traffic is bad, it is nothing compared to London.
Anyhow the bus station was a mad house of busses, luggage, and folks draped over their bags sound asleep, pretty much what one could expect at a city center bus station. What we learned later was this is a big holiday weekend for the British and there were a lot of people going and coming.
Anyhow, we sat in the bus terminal for more than an hour, met some fellow Princess passengers. Actually we met them with a sense of relief that we really were in the right place. When one goes on cruises, their worst nightmare is being late or in the wrong place and the ship leaves without you. Travel tip here: If you book your connecting (to/from ship) transportation with Princess, they guarantee to hold the ship for you. We hoped this meant hold the bus too just in case. In fact the day before we took a side trip to the bus terminal and made inquiries just to make sure this really was where we needed to be.
I thought we would never get out of London but finally we were loaded up and on the way. Well, sort of, the traffic was pure stop and go from the time we left the bus terminal, through London and onto Highway 3 to Southampton. Highway 3, the so-called open road was just as busy. There are huge traffic jams even on the off ramps to gas stations and rest stops. Crazy! I told MA they needed to hire some Aggies to show them how to build some freeways. Thank heavens we had our MP-3’s which are great travel accessories for times such as these!
The two-hour bus ride took over three hours, but finally we arrived, checked in, got our boarding cards, cleared ship security, and found our room. We are on the Emerald Deck, (#8) room E208 with a balcony that looks out the port (left) side of the ship. We made our way to a buffet lunch (Once again, priorities!) and went back to the room for a short nap.
Later we walked around, checking out the ship, MA got her usual mystery book at the Library. MA says reading is a luxury for her that she doesn’t make the time for at home and she always looks forward to her mystery novel when we travel.
We finished unpacking, steamed our clothes in the small bathroom to get wrinkles out (irons are not allowed in cabins). And suddenly it was time for dinner! (Honestly, there is more to do on the ship than eat!) Our tablemates so far are a couple from England, Steve & Hazel. They are super friendly and we look forward to enjoying their company for the rest of the cruise. For now, it’s been a long day so I think I’ll say good-night! More later!

Friday, May 28, 2010

London Sights



Friday, May 28, 2010…….London Sights
The jet-lagged Wendel’s started out day two in London at 7am only because room service delivered coffee as requested.  It was 2:00 AM Houston time but undaunted, we did our best to wake up, start planning our day and were soon out the door.  We walked three blocks to the Eat.com counter style breakfast place for more coffee and Egg McMuffins “a la Her Majesty”. 
From there we headed down the street to the Marble Arch Underground and purchased an all-day pass.  We checked all the maps and figured out how to get to Buckingham Palace.  While we were waiting for the train, we met Peter, an Underground Security type who immediately asked me if I was from Texas.  Still can’t figure out how the Texan in me showed so much! I promise I wasn’t wearing a cowboy hat and boots!
Peter’s job is to keep people from getting too close to the trains as they whoosh into the station.  But for Texans, he breaks out in song! We were serenaded with “On the Road Again” and it was our job to guess who the singer was! I got it right with “Willie Nelson”.  He sang several lines from different songs and the singers we guessed (correctly) included Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra and Louie Armstrong!   He was kind enough to have his photo taken with me and then our train arrived, we waved goodbye and headed for the Queen’s palace.
To get there we got off the train at Green Park. We walked through this beautiful place with nary a bird in sight! We did however see a really fun elephant statue exhibit.  As a matter of fact these elephants are all over the place as part of a fund raiser for the preservation of the species.  Each of the elephants is colorfully painted and decorated.  They reminded me of a similar display of painted cows all over Chicago.
Anyhow, we made our way toward the Guards Museum and on over to Buckingham Palace.  The Queen was busy but we did find the Mounted Guards on parade getting ready for the official ceremony at 11:30.  We staked out a good photo spot and waited until official events began.
I did get some great photos of the Changing of the Guards as they marched into Buckingham Palace and later as they came out of the Palace.  The photo here is one I took later at the Horse Guards near 10 Downing Street.  When we get home I’ll post all the pics on Smug.Mug and let you know.
After all this we walked up to Parliament Square and on to Westminster Abbey.  We got the senior rate tickets and did a self-guided tour of Westminster Abbey.  I took a couple of unauthorized photos which didn’t come out very good.  But it’s an impressive place with lots of famous folks buried there.
We then walked up to Trafalgar Square and found a recommended eating place, PrĂȘt a Mange, which means “ready to eat” in French.  We had a salad and pizza wrap.  After lunch we got back on the Underground and made our way to the Tower of London.  I got some great photos of the Tower Bridge but we decided not go into Tower of London itself.  Both of us have been there before so we saved a little cash, like $60 US!!  This place, if we haven’t mentioned it yet, is kind of expensive!
 Our Princess bus leaves from Victoria Coach Station tomorrow morning. We wanted to be sure where we needed to be so we decided to check that out next.  We thought we were leaving from Victoria Station only to learn after several inquiries that we need to make our way to Victoria Coach station, not Victoria Train/Underground Station.  Glad we did that little trial run!
By now it was late-afternoon, seven hours of sightseeing, subway trains, stairs, escalators, and tons of people and traffic jams.   We were both tired so we made our way back to the hotel and watched the Chicago White Sox play Tampa Bay Rays on British TV.  Go figure!  Fish and chips again tonight, then tomorrow its farewell London, hello Princess and the Iberian coast!  Meanwhile, the Cubs and the Cardinals are on TV and it looks like a beautiful day for baseball there!
Finally for all our TLC class members, we are joining with you in prayer for Dr. Young’s complete and swift recovery.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Houston to London Day 1 & 2



Thursday, May 27, 2010 5:00pm London

Our travels really began on Tuesday at 5:54pm when I mentioned to Mary Alice (MA) that it was time to get our seat assignments changed online for the flight to London. Continental frees up previously blocked seats 24 hrs before the flight and if you time it right, you can usually get something better than the assigned ones. Anyhow she got us two bulkhead seats, for an extra fee, of course, and printed our boarding passes. That’s a little travel trick we will pass on to you. You can get leg room or bulkhead seats 24 hours prior, only now you pay extra. For my long legs, it’s a worthy expense.

Wednesday we finished packing, turned off all unnecessary lights, and household gadgets and left for the IAH at 2:15pm. Another thing we’ve learned to do is reserve airport parking online in advance. We use Park N Fly because when we do this, the daily rate is lower plus they have a reward program. We parked, boarded their bus and got to Terminal E by 3:15pm. We got our bags checked in at Continental, went through Security and checked in at the Continental Club. Before I knew it, it was time to board the aircraft.

My carryon bag was a Lowe Pro Photo Carry on with two cameras, 3 lenses, flash, binoculars, and tripod. My biggest fear is that when my row is the last to board, I’ll get there and someone else will have used up the overhead storage above my seat. When that happens the crew takes the bag from you and it becomes checked luggage. No way do I want to part company with my camera stuff like that!

So when they first started the boarding process, I approached the Continental rep and explained to him that I was a professional photographer with a camera bag that had to go in the overhead and would he please let me board so that I would have a place above our seats. He agreed and I ended up being one of the first passengers to board. That was a big load off my mind. MA got on later. (She only had a bag full of foreign language books so she waited her turn!)

We settled in for a long flight to London. The plane, a Boeing 767 was full. Takeoff was delayed for about 50 minutes but we finally got airborne about 6:45pm. The flight was uneventful as was the food plus the cabin was cold. At least they didn’t charge for the paper thin blanket!

We arrived in London at 10:04am the next morning, 3:04am Houston time. After clearing immigration and customs we headed for the X-Press Train into London. This is the way to go. If Houston ever gets serious about building rail it should be from the airports to downtown or Galleria. That’s what “grown-up” cities do! The X-Press train takes you to Paddington Station where we lugged our luggage to the taxi stand and got a cab to the, Hyatt Regency Churchill. We are using our Hyatt points for the two nights we are staying.

At the hotel we had an option of taking an interior standard room which is smaller or waiting for a few hours for a room with a view. We chose to wait and while waiting we decided to take the open air bus tour of central London. Let me tell you this place is packed with people and vehicles. There are caution signs reminding pedestrians to look to the right before crossing. (Remember, the cars here all drive in the wrong lane!) I told MA that I could not drive in this crazy place.

Well the tour was nice and we made it back to the hotel, got our room and went for a walk to find something to eat, not having had a real meal since Tuesday. We settled on a famous old pub called Marlborough Head. Two orders of fish and chips later and we were walking back to the hotel, stopping at an Eat-ZI style gourmet market to browse and stay awake! No real sleep in two days does that to you. But I told MA I would have no trouble staying awake until at least 10:00pm so I would be over jet lag by tomorrow. As this is finished (by MA), I am zonked out. The time is 7:00pm. Oh well! More later! Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz !!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

We're packing!

MA and I are packing for another trip. This time we're headed to England (London) for three days, bus to Southhampton where we board a Princess ship and set sail for Spain, Portugal, France and back to England. We'll be gone for 7 days on the cruise.
Stay tuned for more......WW