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Cruise Port 8 – South Queensferry & Edinburgh, Scotland

Still with us?  Hard to keep up?  Imagine actually being there.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved our vacation, but it was very busy, as you can see.  That’s OK, only three more ports, one more day at sea, and one more day in London before we’re done!

Port 8 brought us to South Queensferry, the port town for Edinburgh, Scotland.  I’ve always wanted to see Edinburgh, so I was looking forward to this.  Upon our arrival arrival at the port (this was a “tender” for the ship, meaning they anchored at sea and sent little boats with passengers to shore.  Don’t worry, you’ll see pictures later) we were told by Princess staff that there was no shuttle, and we should make our way from South Queensferry to Edinburgh by taxi.  A few steps outside the port, and there were plentiful private shuttle services to Edinburgh on air conditioned, comfortable buses for five quid each person, each way.  Too bad Princess doesn’t want to run a shuttle anymore; I guess they need to sell more shore excursions.

Anyway, to the point: Edinburgh is exactly like London.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful city and all, but not much different than touring London.  We had two disappointing experiences in Edinburgh: one, a bigoted highlander running a tartan shop didn’t want to talk to us about Clan Maxwell tartans because, as she said, “Maxwells were not a Clan, they were a family, and they didn’t have a tartan.”  Sheesh.  Second, all the restaurants along the shopping and tourist streets were little cafes with limited seating, and our lunch-hungry family of five ended up eating at a TGI Friday’s because it was the only place that had enough seats for us.

The first couple of pictures you see are the view of the South Queensferry Bridge from our tender.  We dubbed this “Lego Bridge” because they have covering over part of the bridge for painting, which makes the bridge look like it’s made of Legos.  After that, pictures of us touring Edinburgh on our own.

Oh yeah, I guess you want the pictures link.  Here it is.  Tomorrow: Day 2 at Sea, and then… Paris!

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Cruise Port 7 – Inverness / Invergordon / Loch Ness

I’m not sure that Princess would stop here, were it not for the infamous lake (loch) and even more infamous critter living somewhere in its waters.  The only problem was, I couldn’t get the lyrics to The Police song Synchronicity II out of my head.

We took the Princess tour to Loch Ness at this port.  After the obligatory long bus ride, we arrived at Urquhart Castle, supposedly where Nessie hangs out.  Compared to the other tours, though, this one was a little oppressive.  All the tour buses showed up at the same time – so thousands of passengers descended upon the castle at the same time.  Some parts of the castle (i.e. the main tower and infamous basement, where Nessie hangs out) were one set of narrow spiraling stairs – for going up and down.  Of course, you can’t do anything about how the castle was built one thousand years ago, but you can do something about the crowds that all show up at the same time.

We (well, Justin and Ethan and Dad) went all the way up the stairs.  The problem wasn’t getting up, it was coming down.  With railings only on one side, Justin really needed the rails to go down.  The problem was that people coming up hugged the rails, and Justin froze when he couldn’t hold the rails.  This pretty much stopped traffic movement in either direction, until someone above me, who saw what was going on, yelled down “let the kid have the rail!”

Eventually we made it back down, and made a b-line to the souvenir stand and bus.  Pictures of our Loch Ness adventure have been put up, enjoy.

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Repost: Day at Sea 1, Renewal of Vows Ceremony

As I said before, on our first (and much needed) day at sea, we slept late, relaxed, walked very little, and oh yeah… Marla and I got married again.  The ceremony was officiated by the captain, so it’s all legal-schmegal.

The whole story is HERE.  The pictures are HERE.

I’ll resume new posts tomorrow, starting with Invergordon and Loch Ness, after a much needed break from posting. 😉

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Repost: Cruise Port 6 – Greenock / Glasgow, Scotland

As I previously posted, at Glasgow (port of Greenock), we had a private tour waiting to take us to Caerlaverock Castle, which has some family (Maxwell) history.

The original post is here, and the pictures (P-A-S, 35MM) are also posted.

Six days, six ports – and the next day is a sea day (finally!) and our renewal of vows ceremony.

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Cruise Port 5 – Belfast, Northern Ireland

Our fifth port of call was at Belfast, Northern Ireland.  My readers old enough to remember the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland will recognize that this was an interesting city to visit, to say the least.  While Belfast is a beautiful and historical city, it was also – at one time – a war zone, and they do a pretty good job of presenting both sides of the city.

I’m not just going to refer you to the pictures and let you sort them out yourself… this post will be somewhat guided.  So open the pictures of Belfast in a separate window or tab, and follow along here.

First, we took a shuttle from the boat / pier to the center of town, and walked a very short distance to our Hop-on, Hop-off bus pick-up point.  This was at a shopping mall called Victoria Square, so we killed time in the mall until our bus came.  In the mall, we found an interestingly named store, to say the least – DSC03308.  After getting on the HoHo, it took us sort of back toward the dock, because that area is actually a tourist attraction now – the shipyards where the Titanic was built.  They don’t build ships there anymore, but some of the old shipyard structures are still visible.  See DSC03314 through DSC03317.

Next, we made our way to the Northern Ireland parliament building, called Stormont (DSC03320 through DSC03322).  This building is striking because, unlike the British house of parliament, it’s somewhat isolated on a huge estate.  There is, of course, a lot of security, but the grounds are large and somewhat breathtaking, in the middle of this busy city.

The next few pictures are some city scenes as we make our way to the “Troubles” area – the first sign of “Troubles” being DSC03332, which was a prison where fighters were kept during the troubled years.  We make our way now to Shankill Road, a sort of ground zero for the troubles.  The Shankill area is a predominantly Protestant working class area, bordering the Falls Road area which is predominantly Catholic.  Pictures of this neighborhood start around DSC03335.  I’ve included pictures of some of the murals and fenced off war zone areas, leading up to DSC03339, the wall that separates the Protestants neighborhood from the Catholic neighborhood.  Pictures of the wall continue up to DSC03343, where we start to see some of the bombed out houses from the troubles.

What is interesting is, rather than try to hide the effects of The Troubles, tourism in Belfast actually shows it off.  As you can see above, some of the bombed out buildings sit today the same way they were during the Troubles.  Tour buses take tourists through the area.  We have a lot to learn from this conflict, and Belfast isn’t going to hide it from us.

Murals resume about DSC03348, and continue until about DSC03353 (Marla also has some pictures, perhaps different pictures from a different perspective, later in the picture series.) Then, poof – we’re back in “beautiful” Belfast, touring a city that looks like any other ancient city.  Some murals continue after this, notably from DSC03357 forward.  Note the ads intermixed with the political murals.  Also note the Sinn Fein office at DSC03366.  After that, again, back to “beautiful” Belfast again, as we make our way back to Victoria Square mall and our shuttle bus and boat.

I felt that, even though it was a “hop-on, hop-off” bus, this tour gave us a lot better view of this infamous and historic city than any of the Princess tours could have.  It was strange and eerie to drive through what is still effectively a war zone, and see the effects of urban war on a working class neighborhood.

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Cruise Port 4 – Liverpool, Wales, Steam Train, Chirk Castle *UPDATED*

Our fourth (we’re getting tired too!) port in four days was Liverpool, England where we opted for the Princess tour “Wales, Steam Train, Chirk Castle”.  This tour was a bit more relaxed, although a bit long bus ride.  Wales is beautiful, and we chose this tour because both families have some tenuous connection to Wales.  However, at about this point we began to realize that all the Princess tours involved very long bus rides from the port city to see “something interesting.”  A tour on our own would have probably sent us to the Beatles museum and the Titanic museum, but the only tours offered by Princess were way out in the countryside, hours away.

That said, again, the countryside was great and we thoroughly enjoyed this tour.   First we made our way to Wales, then stopped at the required tourist shoppe to grab souvenirs.    Then, we caught a steam train through the Wales countryside, then back to our bus to make our way to Chirk Castle.  Since they staggered the train rides, our various tours arrived at Chirk Castle at different times and found the place not crowded and great to look around.  Our kids had plenty of time to talk to the in-character “Archer”, who told them how ancient Welsh warriors would have dressed and fought.

All of this is documented pictorially, with the usual caveats and so forth.

***UPDATE: I have added 35mm SLR long and wide lens pictures from Liverpool, Wales & Chirk Castle.

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Cruise Port 3 – Dublin, Ireland

Once again on our own in Dublin, we took the 1916 Rebellion Walking Tour, which was very entertaining and took us to various sites around Dublin where the 1916 Rebellion had an impact.  The 1916 Rebellion, also called the 1916 Rising or 1916 Uprising, was the precursor to the Irish Wars of Independence. Lorcan, the tour guide, was 100% entertaining, if not a bit manic.  But he’s written the book on Irish independence, so he’s definitely  entitled to his passion.

The photos cover the sites we visited on our tour, and then some Irish river dancing on board the ship after the tour.  Remember, first are my pictures, then Marla’s, so there is some duplication.

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Cruise Port 2 – Cork, Ireland

Our second port of call was Cork, Ireland by way of Cobh (pronounced Cove or Cobe).  This was our first “on our own” tour, of course Princess offered plenty of tours but they are quite expensive so we saved money and went on our own.  This involved taking a commuter train from Cobh, where we docked, to Cork.  That part wasn’t so hard, but the journey from the Cork train station to central Cork (where all the walking and bus tours are located) was quite difficult for our group.  By the time we got to the tourist information shop, everyone was already exhausted.  We had planned to take a walking tour, the “Monks, Vikings and Normans Tour”, however the tour guide appeared in front of the visitors center, and then disappeared too quickly.  We ended up taking a hop-on, hop-off bus tour.  After the HoHo tour, we met up with my friend and former co-worker Peter Cox for lunch and great conversation.  Then, we made our way back to the train station (by cab, this time) and eventually to the ship.  Pictures HERE.

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Cruise Port 1 – St. Peter’s Port, Guernsey

So for those of you keeping track, this is vacation day 7, cruise day 1 (or two, if you count boarding day).  Yesterday, we took a bus (private hire) from our hotel (well, almost – more on that later) to our ship’s port at Southampton.  Won’t cover it in detail because it’s pretty boring, but I did post the pictures we took on our way there.

Our ship’s first port was Guernsey, namesake of the famous cow, and one of the channel islands.  On Guernsey, we visited St. Peter’s Port, which was famously occupied by the Germans during WWII.  We also saw another castle, Castle Coronet.  This one is more complete, technically lived-in, and has more era-appropriate furnishings and appointments.  Which makes it seem kinda fake in comparison, but hey – a little content in castles at this point is a good thing, given than our last one (Berkhamsted) was a grassy field with some piles of old rocks.

We took a Princess-provided walking tour of St. Peters Port and Castle Coronet.  We probably wouldn’t take a Princess walking tour again; while their normal tours are lead pretty well, the walking tour guide could not enunciate well and the tour mostly consisted of everyone jockying for front position every time she stopped, so that we could hear her.  If you weren’t standing right in front of her when she stopped walking and started talking, you missed what she was saying.  Anyway, pics of  St. Peters Port and Castle Coronet are HERE.

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London Day 5 – Tower of London

Today was our tour of the Tower of London.  This is an interesting tour, because our family (Clan Maxwell) has a family member who was imprisoned in the Tower.

William, Fifth Earl of Nithsdale and grandson of the third earl, still supported the British Crown during the Jacobite Uprising, and fought  to restore the previously deposed House of Stuart.  He was also a Roman Catholic, as was most of the Maxwell Clan, and was often persecuted by local Presbyterians.  He was taken prisoner at the Battle of Preston, and imprisoned in the Tower of London.

With the help of his wife, he escaped, fled to Rome, and died a pauper in 1744.  Pictures of his last official residence is HERE.  Note that we also took a hop-on, hop-off bus this day, so you’ll see some pictures of general London variety too.

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