On Two Towns in Normandy

One of the reasons we selected the cruise itinerary we did is this one stopped in Normandy France as we wanted to visited the sights of the D-Day: 6, June 1944. Because we also prefer to book off-ship tours, we selected Overload Tours for our day. (Previous post about Omaha Beach)

Overlord picked up numerous passengers at the Le Havre cruise terminal. After visiting Omaha Beach and the American cemetery, we didn’t realize what a pleasure the rest of the day would be.

Beside the beautiful countryside, the area is also well-known for Calvados: an apple brandy the GIs loved. (Calvados is similar to Applejack and Somerset Cider Brandy.

First Stop: Bayeux

  • Town center has a medieval flare of architecture and cobbled streets
  • The first city liberated in the WW II Battle of Normandy
  • Home to the Bayeux Tapestry, a 15th century embroidery detailing events leading to the Norman Conquest 224+ ft. (68.4 m) by 1.6 ft. (0.5 m). Click for more information

The town exhibits an Old World charm …

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… but the massive and impressive Bayeux Cathedral (The Lady of Bayeux) dominates the town center.

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Second Stop: Honfleur

  • Located on the estuary where the Seine River meets the English Channel
  • It’s old harbor area is surrounded by Old World architecture
  • St. Catherine’s Church is composed of all wood
  • Point of departure for New World explores as Samuel Champlain and Binot Paulmier de Gonneville
  • Popular with tourists

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For those wanting to see more, here are short video tours of each: Bayeux and Honfleur.

Given their experience in dealing with cruise ships, Overlord returned us to the dock with time to spare. We recommend Overlord Tours for those visiting the area.

As we departed Le Havre, we realized our British Isles cruise was over. Simply a fabulous itinerary. In the morning we would be up early for our transfer to Heathrow. On the plus side, our vacation wasn’t over as we would deplane in Reykjavik for 3 days in Iceland – but I’m going to give you a break from the vacation by returning to other topics. I will post about Iceland later.

For other posts about our time in the British Isles, click here. Thanks for coming along!

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On Edinburgh

Although Edinburgh’s human roots date back to 8000 BC, the city along the Firth of Forth became chartered in 1125. Today, it is Scotland’s political, cultural, and commercial hub. We journeyed into Edinburgh twice – first on a bus trip from Greenock (on the west coast) for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (previous post) – then several days later after our ship set anchor in nearby South Queensferry for encountering more of this Scottish jewel.

To me, Edinburgh was the most captivating of the cities we visited on this trip. The grand old stone buildings, the charm of Old Town, the Georgian and Victorian architecture of New Town, and being a city bustling with activity; – let alone the highly visible Edinburgh Castle sitting high on a hill above it all.

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With 5 major festivals in progress during August, the streets were not quiet – plus two cruise ships in town. I wonder how many of the people we saw were Edinburghers? But cheers to the many street performers!

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The Royal Mile (High Street) is Old Town’s main street. It’s loaded not only physical charm, it’s a vibrant area filled with shops, eateries, and establishments featuring adult beverages. Taking the long walk up the hill from our bus to the castle was a great introduction into Edinburgh. The feast continues by wondering nearby streets.

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As usual, our fee touched Edinburgh’s pavement many times on this day. This city is a visual feast – let alone filled with history. Greyfriars Bobby is an interesting story – a dog who faithfully stayed at his master’s grave for 14 years. Various people took care of Bobby during this time, and yes – he is buried a short distance from his master.

We loved Edinburgh and would like to return during a less-crazy time. We missed going into Edinburgh Castle because we chose to forego the long lines. Atop Calton Hill provides outstanding 360-views of the city, but I’ve shown enough pictures in this post. Besides the video shows it. Enjoy this 2-minute drone video tour giving you a taste of this fabulous city.

For those wanting to see more of Edinburgh, click here for a longer tour.

Next stop: Normandy France

For other posts about our time in the British Isles, click here.

On a Tattoo

Embed from Getty Images

No – This post is not about body art.

No – This post is not about Tattoo (Hervé Villechaize) proclaiming “De plane! De plane!” from the Fantasy Island tower.

Yes – This post is about an evening signal calling soldiers to their quarters.

Yes – This post is about an extravaganza of music, marching, and performance by military bands from across the globe as England, Scotland, France, India, and Japan providing precision and power.

Yes – A night including 11 pipes and drum bands from Scotland (5), Australia (3). Germany, Malta, and one composed of 45 players invited from at least Argentina, Chile, Mexico, USA, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and Australia; all combining together (at least 300) to bring a layer of complexity through a national tradition.

Yes – A night when about 50 fiddlers from the Shetland Islands, a local children’s choir of at least 30, an international dance company, and The Queen’s Colour Squadron supplied elegance and poise to the instrumentation.

Yes – For us, a night of spectacle, exhilaration, and awe. Welcome to the 2017 Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo – the 68th edition of a 3-week celebration of music, culture, and tradition.

The castle quietly waits …

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The call is made.

They emerge from Edinburgh Castle.

They keep coming onto the Castle Esplanade …

… to entertain with music and theatrics

… with music and dance

… with music and fire

… with grace and majestic grandness

All in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle that also served as a beautiful backdrop

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Attending this event wasn’t on our radar, but for other cruisers this is the reason this took this itinerary. Two days before the event, we noticed tickets remained through a ship excursion, so we decided pay the price and go. Maybe because of my music and band experience, hte finale with over 600 musicians and others was so moving with moments of chills running through my spine. The video below is a high-quality edited version (2+ minutes). The full 5+minute fixed-camera version is linked below the video.

Full version link of the final dress rehearsal (5+ minutes)

Next stop: Edinburgh by day

On the Scottish Highlands

Beautiful mountains, valleys, and rolling hills of the Scottish Highlands sets the stage for this post. After a day in Greenock, Scotland (on the west coast), we had a cruise day – and oh what beauty Scotland provided as we cruised.

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The following day we docked in Invergordon. Months before going we discovered that Invergordon itself doesn’t provide much, so we booked a tour with Gavin at Invergordon Tours –  and he provided a wonderful day that included quite a variety. He’s also quite the personality – and a very tall bald guy wearing a kilt.

Millionaire’s View provided our first scenic view of the area.

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The Falls of Shin was a scenic stop, but we didn’t see any Atlantic Salmon leaking the falls on their spawning journey. The water does drop again below where we took this picture.

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Dunrobin Castle is a 189-room castle overlooking Dornoch Firth with beautiful gardens below the castle on the way to the water.

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The castle tour was OK, but we loved the falconry demonstration.

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We spent lunch time in Dornoch, a quaint town. Dornoch Cathedral (Church of Scotland but originally Roman Catholic) is part of the town square.

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Scots are serious about their whiskey – so the tour included a stop at Glenmorangie distillery – famous for their single-malt whiskey, which stays barreled for 10 years. They also produce long-aged whiskies, plus other varieties that included 2 years in a different type of barrel – such as sherry, port, and sauterne. Good stuff!

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A video of images from the land to the strains of Scotland the Brave done by pipes and drums is a fitting way to end this post.

We recommend Invergordon Tours – so a shout-out to Gavin for a wonderful day.

Next Stop: An evening in Edinburgh

For other posts about our time in the British Isles, click here.

On a Box Now Checked

Embed from Getty Images

Some people call it a bucket list – others prefer to say wish list, dream destination, or whatever. On 23 August 2015 I posted about a place that was on both mine and my wife’s list. After monitoring the website at various points before our journey, on Wednesday, the 9th of August 2017, we checked the box.

About a month earlier at the golf club where I work, I met an English couple who were new members. I told him about our upcoming trip, including our plans for this location – to which he replied, Why? Once I mentioned the reason, his inquisitive frowning face changed to a smile.

We planned the day in advance. We knew when the ship docked in Liverpool, the location and distance to the train station, the train schedule, return times, and the essential information about our destination. We were on a mission for our time of dancing on one of the most famous ballroom floors in the world – the Blackpool Tower Ballroom in Blackpool, England.

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Blackpool is on England’s west coast, about a 90-minute train ride to the north from Liverpool. It’s a seaside resort that is very popular with commoners. Madame Tussauds, water parks, a carnival atmosphere, and more aren’t on my favorite things list, but the famed ballroom was our attraction.

Given the floor, the historic significance, and the ornate surrounding – absolutely Bucket List for us. Our ticket included a 90-minute tea with sandwiches, fruit, and tarts.

Image from Blackpool Tower website

Architectural elegance and charm from a time that has past define the Tower Ballroom (which dates back to 1894).

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Surrounding the large floor were the organists on a stage at one end; tables to sit at the opposite end; and settings for tea along one side.

Dancing to an organist (instead of recorded music) was a new experience. Two organists shared the duties, so music was continuous. One organ, the mighty Wurlitzer, makes a grand entrance being lifted to the stage from below … then lowers out of sight when the player’s shift concludes.

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We already knew to expect a different style of ballroom dance at Blackpool (American vs. International). Amazingly, for at least the first three dances we simply sat at our table thinking, We can’t do that! We never get a chance to dance because everyone on the floor is doing the same thing … the same steps/pattern.

I approached a couple near our table about what we were observing. They explained that the English and many Europeans dance sequences, which are set patterns that every does. The clue would be to listen to the organist because he would announce the name of the sequence and dance, so we should listen for the terms traditional or ballroom that will signal an non-sequence dance.

Sequences are fun to watch, but not if you are there to dance and you don’t know the sequence! We were surprised by the number of sequences … and dancers sat down if they didn’t know the sequence.

This is the Engagement Waltz.

We finally made it on the floor … and the first thing that we noticed was the amount spring in the floor – especially in the center. Our tea-table was almost in the center, and the movement made photography difficult – and of course I started wondering about potential motion sickness. Yes – the movement was that noticeable!

We stayed for almost 4 hours, and we were glad to check the box on our Bucket List. With the ship departing at 8 pm, we were fortunate to have a few hours in Liverpool (the previous post).

Here’s a short (90-second) promotional video showing the Blackpool Tower Ballroom. Enjoy … and you notice sequence dancing.

Next stop: Belfast, Northern Ireland

For other posts about our time in the British Isles, click here.

My past post about Blackpool’s Tower Ballroom

On the Liverpool

Founded in 1207 along the River Mersey, Liuerpool (meaning thick/muddy creek) grew from a fishing village to an important location for the English military, an important seaport in the 1600s regarding trading with the new world, followed by an important industrial center.

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Today’s Liverpool is a vibrant center of culture and urban rebirth that also embraces its heritage. After all, look who we saw along the waterfront. Sorry to say that we missed their local tour that includes real places as Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, their childhood homes, and more.

Today’s downtown is a modernized center popularized by Liverpool history with music, the arts, and nightlife. The Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Searchers, A Flock of Seagulls, and others are rooted in Liverpool’s fabric and heritage.The area around Temple Court, Mathew Street, and Ramford Square is highlighted with music venues, historic landmarks, and other stores boosting its heritage.

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City Center is multiple-block, pedestrian shopping area with a wide variety of stores a short distance away – and not far from the waterfront and the cruise terminal. Today’s waterfront bustles with food, entertainment, shopping, hotels, amusement, and museums.

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… and yes – including a ferry to cross the Mersey.

For other posts about our time in the British Isles, click here.

Next post is a surprise. Hmmmm … Wonder what/where?

On Dublin

Dublin – Located on the River Liffey where its mouth meets the Irish Sea. This 9th century Viking settlement has grown into Ireland’s largest city and capital.

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Dublin – The place I initially called “the most walkable” city on the trip, this vibrant city embraces its rich in history. Home to Yeats, Beckett, Shaw, Wilde, Swift, Stoker, and others, Dublin is a UNESCO City of Literature.

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Dublin – Home to Trinity College (founded in 1592), a prestigious university in the likes of Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford, and US Ivy League schools.

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Dublin – Home to Dublin Castle, the fortified center of the Norman Empire

Dublin – Home to two distinguished cathedrals of the Church of Ireland (Anglican): Christ Church and St. Patrick’s.

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Dublin – Home to Guinness, the creamy brew that tastes better in Ireland than elsewhere. The Guinness family has also done much for local residents. We regretfully didn’t take the tour.

Dublin – Home to Ireland’s Famine Memorial – a somber collection of bronze statues along the River Liffey’s north bank about the 1845-1849 famine.

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One of the benefits of cruising is being able to see many destinations. On the down side, time is short in the port. From what I observed, Dublin is a city I would be willing to return for multiple days. Here’s a 3-minute video providing a short overview of this wonderful city.

For other posts about our time in the British Isles, click here.

Next stop: Across the Irish Sea to Liverpool