Belfast, Northern Ireland

We arrived this morning in Belfast… and of course, it was raining.  Here’s my first view from the ship.

Entry into Belfast

Yes, it was a little disappointing at first but we managed to deal with the weather – it was, however, much better than what we experienced in Edinburgh.  Our first excursion was Panoramic Belfast and showed us much of the city and its highlights.  Here are a few photos about the city.

Parliament

Parliament

Queen’s University Belfast

Queen’s University Belfast

It was fascinating to hear about the “Troubles” Northern Ireland and particularly Belfast faced for almost 30 years – the hostility between the Catholics and the Protestants.  Our tour guide was extremely funny and made light of many things, but the “Troubles” was a very emotional topic.  We toured through the Protestant area and then also the Catholic area.  It was interesting to see the graffiti and poster art that highlighted some of the struggles.

Poster Art

Poster Art

Poster Art

Poster Art

You could see the art throughout the city.  Today, Belfast is seeing a large revival with new construction, new hotels, and greater tourism.  It is a very charming city with a lot of personality.  It was home to the building of the Titanic and there is a very large museum dedicated to it. There is also a memorial for the 1,514 souls who were lost in the maiden voyage.  It too is the home of Game of Thrones where it is produced.

We left our first excursion in the center of the city and ventured out on our own in order to have lunch at a nearby pub – Kelly’s Cellars.  Bessie, Lauren, Rich and I all had Irish Stew and an Irish beer at Kelly’s before returning for our next excursion.

Kelly’s Cellars

Irish Stew

Lunch at Kelly’s Cellar

Our next excursion was the Pub Crawl.  We went to two old, old pubs in Belfast – one, the oldest licensed pub, and the other, the oldest building and non-licensed pub in Belfast.  Although some of the tour guide information was repetitive, we very much enjoyed the actual time in the pubs… and of course, the beer.

McHugh’s Pub

McHugh’s Pub

White’s Tavern

In White’s Tavern

All in all it was a great, fun-filled day that really gave us a good feeling for Ireland.  I know that there’s a big difference between Northern Ireland and Ireland but the people seem to be so proud to be Irish, no matter where they live.  We’re now looking forward to Dublin and all that it has to offer.  

Please check back tomorrow for more stories.

 

Holyhead, Wales

This morning we arrived in Holyhead, Wales with a lot of much-appreciated sunshine.  Before I start, however, I want to share a photo from last night at 9:30pm which demonstrates the beauty and drama of the skies at sea. 

Night Skies

Holyhead is a small port city in Wales that serves as a major ferry transfer point between the United Kingdom and Ireland.  It dates back to Roman times and has a lot of quaint sights.  

St. Cybi’s Church

It’s also very interesting to see the emphasis on the Welsh language.  Most of the major street signs were in Welsh and English.  

Welsh – English

Although this town was fairly small, it was really very charming…. and of course, the sunny day had nothing to do with it.  But here are a couple of photos as we walked along the narrow streets of Holyhead.  I loved the colorful houses within the center of the town and then also the large homes that had vistas onto the colorful bay.

Cute, colorful homes

Large homes with vistas onto the sea

Our ship, the SS Explorer

We took the shuttle to the town and then walked to the Maritime Museum – so tiny we didn’t spend any time there.  We did, however, have a couple of drinks at the Bistro on the seaside.  It was funny because the server who was very friendly was shocked when I asked for a beer and wine at 10:30 in the morning.  She asked her boss whether they had a license to sell that early.  He was puzzled but I said that the law must be 10am – he agreed and we sat down with our drinks.  

Drinks at the bistro

We ventured down the way and saw some panoramic shots of our ship.  The weather and clouds were perfect.

Seaside view

We really liked this view of the ship and the beautiful little park in the foreground.  I was going to Photoshop the gardener out but he makes it even more realistic.  

Park and sea

One final shot of our view from our balcony.  I love the lighthouse in the distance.

Lighthouse

Back to the ship and a light lunch and we’re ready for the afternoon…. well I am.  I had a 3pm appointment at the Culinary Arts Kitchen onboard the ship.  OMG – it was wonderful.  Here’s a photo of the facility where the the sessions occur.

Culinary Arts Kitchen

 

Culinary Arts Kitchen

The lesson today was about pasta.  The facility is phenomenal with all of the greatest kitchen appliances and tools.  Our instructor was amazing and so much fun.  And of course, as you’ll see in the following pictures, we had a classic Italian white wine throughout the lesson.  

We made fresh pasta from scratch and then made fettuccini with two types of sauces – a butter, sage, walnut sauce and a classic Italian Alfredo sauce – yum, yum, yum – and they were so simple.  Here are a few shots.

Master Chef Marc – wine glass in the foreground

Fettuccini with sage, butter and walnuts

The master at work

Ha ha – it was so much fun and very educational.  I bought the apron and am prepared to make fresh pasta every night when we get home – yeah, right!

That’s it for this evening.  It was so nice today to get some sunshine and not have to deal with the rain.  I was very impressed with Wales and their history and culture – very different from the rest of the United Kingdom.  

We’re off to Dublin tonight and should arrive fairly early.  Dublin has been one of my key focuses on this cruise so I’m very anxious to see and photograph this great city.  

Thanks again for following and please leave any comments you have.  I read them all.

Dublin

It’s been a great day in Dublin.  What a beautiful city with wonderfully friendly and charming people.  We pretty much did Dublin on our own today.  We didn’t have a morning excursion so we left the ship and took the shuttle into the city.  It was a little dreary and cold but no rain – always a good omen.  Here’s what we saw in our first few hours.  Oh, and here’s the shuttle that took us from the ship to the city center.

Dublin Shuttle

As nice as the shuttle was, it was a little bumpy on the streets. Here are our first views of the city.

Dublin Castle

River Liffey

River Liffey

Christ Church Cathedral

After walking the streets for an hour or so, we headed to the Jameson Distillery.  

Jameson Distillery

Once inside, we decided to forego the tour and just sample the goods.  I tried one of the older whiskeys straight up and Rich had the Old Fashioned, done the Jameson way. We sat at one of the community tables and met a very nice couple visiting from Stockholm.  Imagine that, Anette! We had a very pleasant conversation and shared our impressions of Dublin.  Here are a few more photos.

Jameson Bottle Chandelier

One of the Jameson Bars

Jameson Distillery

One of the bartenders, who was learning Swedish our Stockholm friends said, gave us directions to a nearby restaurant where we had lunch.  We were supposed to be back at the ship by 1:15 for our booked excursion to the Guinness Brewery, but it had gotten too late and we decided to do the brewery on our own.  By now, the weather had changed and the streets had gotten very crowded.  Take a look at the dramatic change.

River Liffey

It was so nice to see blue skies without the threat of rain. We also passed the Church of Saint Augustine.

Church of Saint Augustine

Church of Saint Augustine

Evidently, in Dublin, you go to church first and then go to Guinness – at least that’s what we did.  What an incredible place!  Remember I said that we had decided not to go back to the ship to start the Guinness excursion.  The ship’s excursion people really frown on deviating from your intended meeting place because they allocate spots on the bus and provide the tickets you need to enter.  Anyway, we got to the brewery along with 2 or 3 thousand other people – this is not good.  The lines were incredibly long. Rich said let’s just forget about going inside because here’s what we were able to photograph outside. 

Outside Guinness

Okay, but for me that just wasn’t enough – so let’s do Plan B.  Let’s find a tour group from our ship and see if we can barge into their tour.  Luckily I still had the tour tickets in my pocket but would they let us join their tour?  The first tour guide said no – emphatically, as a matter of fact.  I was able, however, to sweet talk Tour Guide number 19 to let us in – she needed our names, birth certificates, blood types… okay I’m kidding.  She was very pleasant and allowed us to join the group and get the appropriate ticket – which included a free glass of Guinness – Plan B was a success!  And what a place it is!  7 floors of Guinness beer, goods, advertisements, history, and music.  Take a look.

Inside Guinness

A group of foreigners, not Americans, with one wearing this funny costume. He was the hit of the party.

Another perspective

The 4th floor was jammed with party people who were drinking the free Guinness and then purchasing more.  There was live entertainment like this performer.

Live performer

People raising their glasses and cheering on the crowd.

Sláinte – cheers in Irish

And Irish dancers on pedestals throughout the room.

Irish dancer

And then live dancers performing in front of the crowd.  Take a listen.

 

We left Guinness and headed to the ship.  The streets of the city were jammed with people out on a Saturday afternoon.  We made it back to the shuttle just in time.

Dublin is a fabulous city with incredibly fun, warm and friendly people.  We could easily have spent another day or two exploring the city, visiting the lively pubs and just enjoying the scenery.  We’ll just need to come back at a future date.  It’s now on to Liverpool.

Cheers!

Liverpool

What comes to mind when you think of Liverpool?  It’s a large British port city – probably dirty – they talk funny there – and oh yeah, the Beatles called this place home.  Well…shock of all shocks, it’s actually a beautiful city with a lot of cultural activity – yep, it was home to the Beatles.  You’ll never forget the Beatles link after being here.  What a fabulous city and did we ever have a good time!

We were on the Highlights of Liverpool excursion early in the morning.  The ship docked at a location well within walking distance of the city’s center.  It’s a very walkable city.  Here are our first looks.

Liverpool Waterfront

Liverpool Waterfront

I really enjoy taking pictures of flags…. can you tell?  Yes, we’re back in England.

Our first stop was a panoramic park well above the city center.

Panorama with Clouds

Panorama with Buildings

Panorama with Marc, Rich, Lauren

Good shot, huh?  And I didn’t take it.  Next, we’re off to the Liverpool Football Stadium – well, soccer for us silly Americans.  Although I wasn’t much into their team and its history, the stadium was fascinating and I got the obligatory tee shirt at the shop.

Liverpool Stadium

Liverpool Stadium

And then we were off to the cultural quarter of Liverpool.  It is home to the Central Library, St. George’s Hall, and other interesting buildings.  Liverpool’s Library is a beautiful architectural piece with both modern and old aspects.  

Liverpool Central Library

Liverpool Central Library

Liverpool Central Library

Immediately next door is St. George’s Hall which was featured in the movie, Fantastic Beasts.

St. George’s Hall

St. George’s Hall

Leaving St. George’s Hall

Yes, we did have a lot of fun.  And then off to the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral – it is monstrous.  It has a gift shop and small restaurant inside.  I couldn’t get a decent shot of the exterior but here are a couple photos from the interior.

Liverpool Cathedral

Liverpool Cathedral

The weather the entire day was a combination of sunshine, clouds, and some rain.  It seemed to change by the minute.  Fortunately, we only experienced a small amount of rain.  We left our tour at Albert Dock and had lunch at the Pump Station with Bessie and Lauren.  We then toured the Beatles gift shop while listening to endless Beatles songs – very cool.  

Liverpool Waterfront

The Fab Four

Isn’t that representation of the Beatles great?  I was so glad we were able to see it.  At the time, however, the winds were extreme – nearly blowing us over.  But what a magnificent view to end our tour of the city.

Liverpool Waterfront

Liverpool Waterfront

We returned back to the ship – we were supposed to return by 4:30pm and sail at 5:00pm.  Unfortunately, the winds were so strong that the crew were not able to sail from the port without assistance of two tug boats – and their assistance was delayed until 10:30pm.  What a bummer!  As a result, they had to cancel our next port stop in Cork, Ireland – a place everyone wanted to see.  Instead we have one more day at sea.  

No worries.  We had a smashing good concert on the pool deck as all of our performers sang Beatles songs….what else.  Everyone was singing along and it was such a good time.  

We ended the night with dinner at the Compass Rose.  Their menu tonight included lamb chops with mint jelly.  Rich had those in memory of his Dad, affectionately called Libs – it was one of his favorite meals.  So here’s to Libs and the mint jelly.

Lamb

Grand Marnier Souffle

Orange Ginger Dessert

That’s all from this wonderful city.  We were totally surprised by how much we enjoyed seeing and experiencing this city.  Beatles tunes are stuck in my head forever.  Let it be……

 

Last Day at Sea and Dartmouth, England

There’s really not a lot to share about our last full day at sea.  Because of the winds, the seas were very rough and the ship rocked back and forth quite a bit.  Not bad enough to make anyone sick but certainly a challenge to walk in a straight line.  We did, however, make arrangements with Paul and Stefanie to have dinner at Compass Rose.  What a great evening.  They’re both so much fun and always the life of the party.  Here are a few photos from that evening.

What a cute couple

Baked Alaska

Group Photo

Our last port of call was Dartmouth, England – a beautiful port city in Devon.  We finally had a gorgeous day and it was lovely spending most of our time outdoors.  The ship had to anchor quite a ways from the port so the tender ride was fairly lengthy.  Fortunately, the seas were as calm as a lake and presented no problem.  Dartmouth sits at the mouth of the Dart River – aren’t the British clever at devising names?  

Entrance to the port

Dartmouth

Dartmouth

Dartmouth

Once in Dartmouth, our excursion included a coach ride to Totnes, a very small village to the north.  

Totnes

Totnes

We spent a bit of time in Totnes and then boarded a boat that took us back to Dartmouth on the River Dart.

Leaving Totnes

Scenic along the river

Sheep grazing on the hillside

Steam train

We finally arrived back at Dartmouth and had lunch at a wonderful pub, the Dolphin, with our friends, Mark and Celia from Napa Valley.  

It was a great day and we both got plenty of sunshine.  We ended the evening with Bessie and Lauren at the Prime 7 restaurant.  

Alas, we’re now sitting in the Constellation Lounge waiting for our bus number to be called.  It’s just a little past 8am and our flight doesn’t leave Heathrow until 3:30pm.  It will be a very long day.  

No worries, we had a wonderful time on the SS Explorer despite the weather concerns.  Last night, Bessie, Rich, Lauren and I compared our Peaks and Pits of the cruise.  We all agreed that Edinburgh was the obvious pit only because of the weather.  We also regretted not having been able to visit Cork.  Our Peak was Belfast and really Ireland in general.  We all had a great time, experienced the local flavor and loved the Irish people.  We also loved Liverpool – the scenery, the culture, the music, and of course, the Beatles.

It’s sad to realize that we’re leaving this fabulous ship but we’re ready to get back to Pasadena.  Thank you all for following my blog and please check back in the future for local entries and other travels we plan.  

Thank you,

Marc

United Kingdom and Ireland – Memories and Highlights

Just a cavalcade of photos to bring back those wonderful memories.