Category Archives: England

Goodbye Norway, Hello Sweden JUN 16, 2023

As the ship sailed from Flam, Norway, we went to an upper deck to take pictures of the amazing views of the fjords. Just breathtaking. Norway is everything we expected and more.

The Sognefjord or Sognefjorden Fjord, nicknamed the King of the Fjords, is the largest and deepest fjord in Norway. Located in Vestland county in Western Norway, it stretches 205 kilometres (127 mi) inland from the ocean.

We had one more day at sea. Mid morning they had a parade down the promenade of some of the ship’s crew and officers. Our captain was at the back of the parade on the right. With over 1,700 people working on the ship, the parade represented only a handful.

The roof of the promenade changed motifs often, see the tulips. On disembarkation day the roof displayed photos of different crew members waving goodbye.

Each evening they had live music on Deck 5 near Guest Services. It varied from classical music to modern ballads. Since our cabin was on Deck 5 we often passed through that area and enjoyed the music.

In the late afternoon the ship passed by the white cliffs of Dover as we sailed through the English Channel. Too far away and too much sea mist to see anything.

June 17th found us back in Southampton, England for disembarkation day. It turned into another long, tiring travel day. Up at 6:00 A.M. for breakfast and off the ship by 7:15, MSC is to be commended for an efficient, quick disembarkation. Easiest we have ever had. We were impressed. After a wait, the ride we had booked from Southampton to Heathrow Airport arrived for the 90 minute drive.

Things fell apart at the airport. We arrived by 11:00 A.M. for our 3:30 flight. Plenty of time to have a relaxing lunch and get through security. The first hint of trouble was British Airways had our flight listed on the board but no gate number. As time for departure inched closer, still no gate number. While other planes departed, no gate number for our flight was displayed. Long story short, our flight was delayed for two and a half hours. When they finally announced a gate, from the gate we took a bus to the tarmac and used steps to board the plane. The captain had multiple excuses for the delay. Our seats were unbelievably tight in leg room. British Airways should be ashamed. Bill had to almost sit sideways in his seat for his legs to fit. It was a long two and a half hour flight to Stockholm. After delaying our flight for two and a half hours, they offered us a tiny bag of pretzels. Nothing to drink. They should be ashamed. 

Stockholm is an hour ahead of England, so with the long delay, we arrived in Stockholm at 9:30 P.M. instead of the 7:00 P.M. we had planned for. We got in a long, slow line at Passport Control with only two officers working. After making our way to baggage pickup, we next had to find our way to the train station under the airport. After walking forever we found the train station and bought two seven day passes from a very nice railway worker. His English was a little rough but he kindly told us step by step how to get to our hotel. He even brought the map up on his phone with each connection and had us take a picture with our phone. That was the good news.

The bad news was that due to some rail repair, we would have to take a bus to another rail station to catch the train. By now it was well after 10:00 P.M. Fortunately, this time of year in Sweden it doesn’t get dark until almost midnight. Since it was a Saturday night, there were lots of people out and about and it felt very safe. Sure enough, following directions, we took the bus to the train station, found the right train, got off at the right stop, found the right subway line, and got off at the correct subway stop near our hotel. Our day went from ship to car to plane to bus to train to subway!! And plenty of walking!! We walked from the subway to our hotel and arrived shortly before midnight. We had an electronic entry into the hotel and our room since the hotel had emailed us all the codes earlier in the day. For dinner in our room we had crackers and a Snickers bar with soft drinks from the vending machine at the subway station. To say we were tired is an understatement. When my watch went to a new day at midnight, I lost all the data, so I don’t know how far we walked, but it was a lot

The next day was Sunday. We slept late and then walked to a nearby large grocery store. It was multiple levels and took us a while to find things because everything was in Swedish. We liked the escalator/ramp that takes people with their grocery carts up and down. We bought some things for breakfast, drinks and snacks. We are finding food, especially restaurant food, is very expensive in Sweden. 

Next up: A day exploring Old Town, Stockholm

Southampton, England JUN 3, 2023

After a week in England I was feeling much better. It was Embarkation Day, the beginning of a new cruise on the MSC cruiseline. We took an Uber from our tiny apartment to the Southampton cruise terminal.

This was probably the easiest and faster embarkation we have ever had. With no lines, we quickly went through check-in and security. Even our cabin was ready even though it was still early afternoon. This cruise ship, the Virtuosa, is one of the two largest MSC ships and is relatively new, first launched in November, 2019. It has a maximum capacity of over 6,000 passengers with a crew of 1,700.

We especially like the elevators. You press the button for the deck you want and it tells you which of the six elevators to get on. You do not have to push any buttons inside the elevator. They are fast and more efficient than traditional elevators. We first saw this type of elevator at a hotel in Israel back in March. 

The ship has a robot bartender named Rob who will expertly make you a drink. We haven’t tried him yet.

There is always easy listening live music on Deck 5 in front of Guest Services each afternoon and evening. MSC does a great job of providing service to the cabins twice a day. Our cabin is always clean and well cared for. Some cruise lines, like Royal Caribbean, only provide cabin service once a day now.

Our one complaint is the food is mediocre at best. There are many passengers who agree with us. This has been much harder for me. Bill pretty much eats anything. I am a picky eater who struggles with their menus and food preparation. 

On our last cruise the majority of passengers were Italian with very few Americans. On this voyage, most of the passengers are English, and once again very few Americans. Our dinner companions are a young couple from England and an older couple from Australia. Very congenial but not the instant compatibility of the two couples from our last cruise.

After 2 days at sea, our first port, Glasgow, Scotland is coming up. 

Next up: Glasgow, Scotland

Basingstoke, England May 27, 2023

Today was a long, hard, tiring day for us, made worse by my still being ill with bronchitis. The ship arrived back in Trieste and we were assigned to the first disembarkation group because we had an early ride booked to the Venice airport. We went through the disembarkation gauntlet of people but when we finally arrived inside the terminal (just before the final exit door) I came to the panicked realization that I did not have my cellphone. I knew immediately what had happened. I laid it down on the bench beside me while waiting for our group to be called. When they called our number, I jumped up leaving my phone behind.  I guess I will blame it on not thinking clearly due to being sick. While Bill waited on the sidewalk with the luggage, I tried to get back on the ship, fighting my way across the tide of people going the opposite direction. Security is always very tight getting on and off the ship so I had to convince three security officers to let me back onboard. I raced to where I knew I left it and it wasn’t there. My heart sank. I asked where Lost and Found was located. Guest Services, deck 5. Once again I was going against the tide, with people rushing down the stairs and me up the stairs. As always there was a long line at Guest Services. I was in panic mode because I knew our reserved ride to the airport would be leaving soon. When my turn finally came the lady checked the computer and sure enough a black phone had been found. She casually sauntered over to a drawer and retrieved it. Yes, I said, it is my phone. I had to prove it was mine by typing in the security password. Just when I thought I could go on my way, no. Paperwork had to filled out. Always paperwork. Shifting impatiently from one foot to another, finally the paperwork was signed and I rushed away. When I reached Bill, our four dinner companions were there with him, concerned about my phone and wanting to tell us goodbye. How sweet is that! They were all headed to Venice for several days before returning home. 

We then discovered our reserved shuttle wasn’t going to pick us up at the port. Instead we had to take a taxi to a parking lot in Trieste where we would be picked up. We were concerned when we reached the parking lot and no shuttle bus was there. Even the taxi driver seemed concerned about leaving us there. After several minutes Bill received a text message from the driver that he was running late. Eventually he arrived and we were on our way to the Venice airport, a ninety minute drive. 

Thankfully our flight from Venice to Gatwick airport in the United Kingdom was uneventful. When we arrived at Gatwick we went through passport control, collected our luggage and then figured out how to get to the railway station located at the airport. After buying the tickets we caught the train to Basingstoke, with one train change on the way. Due to a tight connection we missed our connecting train but another one soon arrived. Both trains were crowded and the entire trip took about two hours. We arrived in Basingstoke just before 7:00 P.M. and walked from the train station to our hotel. After stopping at an express market for bottled water, we finally arrived at our hotel around 7:30.  We had been going nonstop since before 6:00 AM that morning. and changed one time zone 

We chose Basingstoke, pop 186,000, for this five day stay because it was centrally located and a convenient home base to explore the UK. But we quickly realized that even though we had the will and desire to explore, our bodies were shutting down and had other ideas. After almost six weeks of traveling, we desperately needed some time for rest and relaxation. We had a nice apartment with a kitchen and washer/dryer so after getting groceries, we took it easy for the next several days. Located within an easy walk were places to eat and a beautiful, huge mall. We had a short list of things we needed at this point in our trip, and we easily found everything. We discovered they have a store in the UK called Poundland, which is just like our Dollar Tree. They call theirs Poundland because a pound in the UK is like our dollar.

We Did Not Stay Here, Just Took A Picture

Basingstoke claims to be the birthplace of author Jane Austen. They have a sign proclaiming it as her birthplace and a statue of Austen as a young girl is located in front of their history museum. However all the research I found says that Austen was born in the nearby village of Steventon and often visited Basingstoke as a child.

St Michael’s was a beautiful church located just down the street from our apartment. We admired it everytime we walked by. It was built in the 16th century of stone and glint. Sadly time passed quickly and we never had a chance to go inside.

We had a nice meal at a Thai restaurant where Bill enjoyed some of his favorite Thai foods.

Our time in Basingstoke passed quickly. We were disappointed we didn’t get to see more of England, but our bodies had other ideas and we feel certain we will be back someday soon.

Corn Exchange now Haymarket Theatre since 1951

On Thursday, June 1st we walked from the apartment back to the train station and took a train to Southampton. This journey was only 30 minutes and once again the train was very crowded. We walked from the train station to our very small apartment. This apartment was tiny, cramped and on a very busy, noisy street. It was disappointing small but only for two nights.

Southampton is a port city of over 255,000, making it one of the most populous cities in southern England. The Titanic left Southampton on her fateful voyage and 500 of the people who died were from here. On August 20, 1620 the Pilgrims left Southampton on their voyage to a new life in America. Did you know there were two ships, the Mayflower and the Speedwell? They both left Southampton but after the Speedwell began leaking badly they stopped in Plymouth for repairs. The Speedwell was declared unfit to continue so some people dropped out and only the Mayflower continued on from Plymouth.

Around Southampton are the remains of defensive structures built around the town in the tenth century to defend its prosperous trading center. In 1338 it was raided by French forces and the walls were extended and reinforced, eventually fully enclosing the city with a 1.25 mile long stone wall with 29 towers and eight gates. By the 17th century the wall’s importance declined and they were slowly demolished through the 18th and 19th centuries. Like many things from the past, in the early 20th century their historical importance was recognized and steps were taken to preserve what was left.

Some thoughts on the UK:

At this point we have spent time in Austria, Slovenia, Italy and the UK. We can honestly say that the British are by far the nicest. Always friendly, kind, considerate and helpful, they are eager to please. If they see you need help, they step right up. If you look confused or uncertain, they stop and ask if you need assistance. At the train station the elevator was not working and railway workers stepped right up to carry our bags up or down the steep flights of stairs. Cannot say enough good things about everyone we met. 

On the downside, prices are higher than we expected. We talked with some locals and they say the economy is very bad which is why they are having rail strikes throughout the country. (We were very fortunate in that the two days we had to ride the train, there were no strikes on those days.) The locals also said a combination of Brexit and effects of the pandemic have really hurt the economy and people. 

Another thing that was surprising and sad was the number of homeless people living on the streets, particularly in Southampton. We saw very little of this in Austria, Italy or Slovenia. 

On June 3rd we caught an Uber from our apartment to the cruise terminal. Our next adventure awaits, so stay tuned! 

Next up: A cruise to cold places!