We're On Our Way!

We were the only passengers checking in at the United kiosks in Sacramento as we began the first leg of our trip. Fast and easy.

We were the only passengers checking in at the United kiosks in Sacramento as we began the first leg of our trip. Fast and easy.

SMF to LHR

DAY 1: Wednesday 

We officially started our D-Tour through the U.K. with the easiest airport check-in ever at Sacramento International Airport. When people ask if we fly out of San Francisco, we reply, “No way.” We like being close to home in a mid-sized airport, even if it means a connection — this time, through Denver.

In fact, it was raining hard in Denver. No, I’m not quoting Harry Chapin. We took off on wet pavement in Sacramento and landed in Denver to a more persistent rain and fog. From Denver, we have a direct flight to London Heathrow to begin our ancestry tour of the UK. 

Dennis and I plan to visit at least 11 cities in 19 days, including overnights in London, Cornwall, Salisbury and Southampton before we board the Emerald Princess for a British Isles cruise. So far, it’s off to an easy start.  Fingers crossed that it stays that way.

London

We took the Heathrow Express, a direct train from the airport to Paddington Station.

We took the Heathrow Express, a direct train from the airport to Paddington Station.

London

DAY 2: Thursday

Our flight was on time. Our luggage made it. And  although we’ve had almost zero sleep, we are in London, where it is — momentarily — drier and warmer than the weather we left in California.

Heathrow was, well, Heathrow. We queued with fellow passengers to use the automated customs e-gates, claimed our bags, and followed the signs toward trains to London. We had advance tickets for the Heathrow Express, which is a direct train to Paddington Station. According to my Fitbit, we walked 1.3 miles in Heathrow from our arrival gate to catch the train.

At Paddington, Dennis topped off our mass-transit Oyster cards, and we caught the 36 bus to Vauxhall. Yes, we could have taken the Underground, but there are a lot of steps in older stations and we were schlepping bags. 

We checked in to our favorite B&B, 69 The Grove, and then headed out for a late lunch at Kennington Lane Cafe — our kind of diner. Later, after a much-needed nap, we walked to a local pub, The Rose, for a couple of pints and an order of fish and chips. It was a lively Thursday night crowd, and we were lucky to get the last table.

DAY 3: Friday

We woke up to a light rain and immediately wondered where the beautiful weather had gone. Our plans to attend a cricket match at the Kia Oval seemed all washed up; we headed to the British Museum instead. So did half of London. The entrance queue snaked down the sidewalk, through the gate, and doubled back into a security tent checking backpacks and large bags. Since we had neither, we were waived on through.

Dennis wanted to see the exhibits on 15th Century Britain as a prelude to our ancestry tour of the UK, but we discovered those rooms were temporarily closed. We left the crowds behind and walked down a side street toward the Holborn tube station. I couldn’t pass up a Camera Museum and coffee shop, so we ducked in for tea, coffee and of course a T shirt.

Back in Vauxhall, we ended up at Kennington Lane Cafe again for lunch and conversation with the owner, Halil. Dennis and I decided to walk off our meal with a stroll along the Thames on the Royal Albert Embankment. Almost immediately, we spotted a FedEx delivery vehicle that I’ve never seen before — a cart powered by electric bike. As we kept walking, Dennis noticed that the embankment wall had been painted with red hearts as a Covid tribute. They stretched as far as I could see, and I found it very moving.!

After another tasty pub dinner, we ended our day by attending a reception for a neighbohood artist at the Bennington Cafe next door. We met fascinating folks, had wonderful conversation, and bought two art prints. Getting to know the people, culture and history of an area is precisely why we travel!

DAY 4: Saturday 

A sunny and mild Saturday is the perfect time for a walking tour. We had pre-booked ours on the London Walks website and met our blue badge tour guide, Molly, just across the street from Big Ben. In two hours, Molly talked about the history of the City of Westminster and provided some interesting historical anecdotes. She took time to show us the gate where King Charles III will enter when he calls Parliament into session, so we can all look at our TVs and say, “We stood there.”

After the tour, we caught  the 87 bus back to Vauxhall. We have been walking six or seven miles a day for the past three days, and frankly it’s catching up with us. I have tried to pre-book only one activity per day so we can have time left to talk with neighbors or nap if we need to. Finding the proper  pace is so important.

Cornwall

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Cornwall

DAY 5: Sunday

After we checked out of 69 The Grove this morning, we allowed an hour to take a 35-minute bus ride to Paddington Station. But when the 36 bus approached our stop, it breezed on past as I shouted “No-o-o!”

Dennis kept us moving as we boarded a different bus to Victoria station. Just as we arrived, we saw the 36 bus take off without us AGAIN. So we hopped on the Underground and made it to Paddington, boarding our train  literally two minutes before it pulled out of the station. Whew! It only proves two of our prime rules for traveling: 1) Allow more time than you think you need and 2) Stay flexible.

We took the train to Plymouth, then had a much easier final connection to Lostwithiel, the town where Dennis’s great-grandmother was born. We were expecting a 10-minute walk from the train station to the Penrose bed and breakfast. But we didn’t expect the last three blocks to be uphill. With luggage. Again, we made it and were rewarded with a great room, complete with our own private entrance.

On Sunday, there wasn’t much open In Lostwithiel. We checked out the Royal Oak pub, which served beer but no food, then picked up Chinese takeaway on our way “home.”

DAY 6: Monday

We had a lovely breakfast in The Penrose dining room overlooking Lostwithiel and were ready at 9 a.m. when Barry of Cornwall Discovery picked us up for our day tour of Cornwall.

I‘ve always heard phrases like “rugged coast of Cornwall” and “wind-swept moors.” We saw that today, and so much more.

First, Barry took us to St. Neot, where some of Dennis’s ancestors lived and died. It is a remote town, accessed by a winding narrow road lined with hedgerows so thick that they almost grazed the van. Barry parked outside St. Neot’s Church, which dates to the 14th Century, and we split up to check the old headstones for family names. Dennis found John Rundle, who died in 1865.

Next, Barry drove across the Bodmin Moor — high ground that is uncultivated and left to scrubby grouse plants. Local farmers are allowed to graze cattle or sheep on the moor, and ponies run wild there. It is as beautiful as it is untamed.

We stopped in the seaside town of Boscastle and then drove on through Delacole, where Barry pointed out a former Lobb family farm. He knew current members of the Lobb family: “I owe John Lobb 20 pounds,” he quipped. It all came together when we searched the church cemetery in St. Teath, finding Lobb family headstones that referred to the communities of Rockhead, where the farm was located, and Pengelly, which happens to be Barry’s last name.

The highlight for me was the lunchtime stop in Port Isaac, better known to Doc Martin TV fans as Port Wenn. It’s the first time a driver ever said, “I will be parked by Louisa’s school,” and we knew exactly where to meet him. We had lunch at The Mote, but it was so windy that I couldn’t make the hike up to Doc Martin’s house.

It was a beautiful, magical day, and it wouldn’t have been possible without a driver who knows and loves Cornwall like Barry.

DAY 7: Tuesday

On our last day in Cornwall, we began with a hike to Restormel Castle. It started drizzling on the way, but the thick forest canopy kept us mostly dry. At the very top of the hill stood the ruins of this medieval castle — the highest point for miles. So as far back as the 12th Century, the residents of Restormel could definitely see the enemy coming.

It would have been too easy to go back the way we came. Instead, we detoured through the hilly grounds of the Duchy of Cornwall, which is now the Cornwall home for Will, Kate and the kids. We hiked on a public path through their property to the Duchy of Cornwall Nursery, where we had a delightful lunch on a side porch as the weather went from drizzle to pouring rain. It finally let up enough for us to slog the remaining 1.3 miles on another way-too-narrow road with cars that went way-too-fast. In all, we covered about seven miles in about five hours.

Back in Lostwithiel, we stopped into a church (we passed along the way…) then the local museum, where they were thrilled to help Dennis trace his Cornish family. Our final stop was a little tea shop to fortify us for the climb back up the hill to The Penrose. 

Salisbury & Southampton

We had to wait over an hour at Exeter St. David’s because the train we were ticketed for didn’t exist.

We had to wait over an hour at Exeter St. David’s because the train we were ticketed for didn’t exist.

Salisbury & Southampton

DAY 8: Wednesday

We learned our lesson about hiking to the Lostwithiel train station. This morning, we took a cab and had plenty of time to catch an early train. But when we arrived at Exeter St. David’s for our 10:25 connection to Salisbury, we discovered that the train we were ticketed on was no longer running. We had an extra hour, which we spent at a Starbuck’s inside the train station.

We lost more time with extended stops on the second train and arrived in Salisbury two hours later than planned. Luckily, our room at Caboose was just steps from the train station. We dropped our bags and immediately set out for Salisbury Cathedral, where we saw one of four remaining copies of the Magna Carta.

DAY 9: Thursday

After less than 20 hours on the ground in Salisbury, it was back on the train for a 30-minute ride to Southampton. We dropped our bags at the hotel and walked over to Tudor House and Gardens. In the late 15th Century, Tudor House was owned by John Dawtrey, the brother of one of Dennis’s ancestors.

Dennis headed straight for the reading room while I hung out in the cafe with tea and scones. Later, we had a private tour of the house and gardens.

It was nearly 3 p.m. when we returned to the Leonardo Royal Grand Hotel. Our room was ready and I had time for a quick nap. Early dinner was at La Regata, a Spanish tapas restaurant, and it was SO tasty.

DAY 10: Friday

It was a leisurely morning. Just what we needed.

After our bags were stashed with the bellman, we walked over to Bill’s restaurant in the WestQuay shopping center — just across a parking lot from Carnival UK offices. A late breakfast fueled us for a final walk inside the old walls of Southampton. 

It was almost noon when we retrieved our bags and got a cab for the brief ride to the Ocean Cruise Terminal. I was expecting long lines, but there were none. Granted, we had filled out all our documents online and were wearing our Medallions. We only had to show our passport and Covid card — no pre-cruise testing for the vaccinated and boosted — and then pass through an airport-style security screening. Less than 20 minutes after leaving the hotel, we were standing on our balcony overlooking the Southampton harbor. Dennis even had time this afternoon to wash two loads of clothes.

We are masking, dining alone, avoiding crowds and hanging out in our stateroom as much as possible. In other words, we are doing everything in our power to keep ourselves and our fellow passengers healthy.

Portland & Weymouth

The view of Portland port from our balcony on the Emerald Princess.

The view of Portland port from our balcony on the Emerald Princess.

Portland & Weymouth

DAY 11: Saturday

On the first stop of our 10-day British Isles cruise, the Emerald Princess docked at Isle of Portland. Because this is a working port, passengers were not allowed to disembark and walk around. Instead, we had a steady stream of free, double-decker shuttle buses to take us to Portland or Weymouth. 

We started our day just after 10 at the Portland Castle, a gun fort built by Henry VIII in the mid-1600s. It was an interesting tour that filled in a few gaps in our Tudor knowledge. 

As we finished our tour, it turned quite chilly and we were afraid a storm was coming in. So we caught the next shuttle bus, which was headed over to Weymouth. The sun was out and we decided to walk along the waterfront. We chatted with several Brits, saw some beautiful sights, and caught the shuttle back in time for afternoon tea. 

Later, as the ship left the port, we were serenaded by a brass band and received a three-gun salute from a cannon. What a send off! 

Guernsey

A Princess tender travels from an at-anchor Emerald Princess to St. Peter Port on the island of Guernsey.

A Princess tender travels from an at-anchor Emerald Princess to St. Peter Port on the island of Guernsey.

Guernsey

DAY 12: Sunday

We woke up to fog and a steady rain shrouding the island of Guernsey — a destination we were so looking forward to. After having breakfast delivered to our cabin on the Emerald Princess, we decided to brave the weather and head ashore. Because the Emerald is at anchor, we had to take a small tender boat ashore — and, Lord have mercy, the trip was rough. 

But we made it to St. Peter Port, bought tickets on the pier for the Petit Train Guernsey, and took a 35-minute narrated tram ride. . 

The rain was coming down so hard that we scrapped plans to walk around the town. We took the next tender back and watched the storm lift from our balcony. 

Dublin

Water shuttles get ready to ferry passengers ashore at Dun Laoghaire, Ireland.

Water shuttles get ready to ferry passengers ashore at Dun Laoghaire, Ireland.

Dublin

DAY 14: Tuesday

After a leisurely day at sea, on Tuesday the Emerald Princess was at anchor off Dun Laoghaire, Ireland, just south of Dublin. We started out immediately after breakfast by requesting tender tickets. But it was VERY slow going. Dennis and I grabbed a Scrabble board from the library and passed the time in the Salty Dog pub. 

It took close to an hour before our group was called, and the relatively smooth shuttle ride took another 20 to 30 minutes. Finally, we arrived on shore at 11:15 am, walked over to the train station at Dun Laoghaire (pronounced “Dun Leery”), and caught a commuter train into Dublin. We arrived in Dublin just after noon and spent an hour at the EPIC Ireland emigration museum. 

Then it was back to the train station to catch a tram over to Guinness Storehouse, where we had tickets for a 2 pm tour. We walked through the exhibits about the history of Guinness and ended up on the rooftop Gravity Bar, sipping a stout as we took in the panoramic view of Dublin. It all made for a great few hours in Dublin! 

Travel lesson of the day: allow more time than you think you need, don’t overbook yourself, and stay flexible. We walked 6.3 miles and climbed 16 flights of stairs today, according to my Fitbit. And we made it back only about 30 minutes before the last water shuttle of the day.

Belfast

The Emerald Princess docked in Belfast

The Emerald Princess docked in Belfast

Belfast

DAY 15: Wednesday

On the fifth day of our British Isles cruise, the Emerald Princess was docked in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It’s a 20-minute ride from the port to the center of town, so we purchased shuttle bus tickets in advance from the shore excursion desk. 

 We boarded the first pink double decker bus and arrived in front of City Hall about 9:15 am. We had tickets for a 10 am walking tour (booked on Viator) so we waited inside the Hotel Chocolat, where Dennis was in hot chocolate heaven. 

Just before 10 am, we walked back across the street and met our tour guide, Marty, outside City Hall. The rain was coming down at a pretty good clip, so we ducked under the front portico while Marty gave our small group an overview of Northern Ireland history. We went inside City Hall as he pointed out elements of interest, and Marty happened to mention that City Hall offered free tours at 11, 2 and 3. We put our names on the list for the 2 pm tour.

Despite the steady rain, Marty took us all around the city center. We ended at MAC, an arts complex, and took Marty’s recommendation to stop for lunch there. I had a tasty Reuben sandwich — corned beef and cabbage in Ireland!

We had a 15-minute walk back to City Hall (guided by my iPhone!) and barely made it in time for the 2 pm tour. The building is gorgeous, and we learned a little about Belfast city government. After the tour, we stopped in the VIsit Belfast office for a little shopping, then back on the pink double-decker bus to return to the ship.

 We left the ship at 8:30 am and returned at 3:30 pm. In between, we walked about five miles and climbed six flights of stairs. But there is so much to see in Belfast. I hope we return one day.

Greenock

View from the port of Greenock

View from the port of Greenock

Greenock

DAY 16: Thursday

On the sixth day of our British Isles cruise, we docked in Greenock, Scotland, about a 40-minute train ride from Glasgow. This was the port I was most looking forward to. One of my ancestors, George Purdie was born near here in 1730 and later emigrated to Smithfield, Va. When I woke up this morning and looked out at the River Clyde, I thought: “George Purdie sailed these waters.” 

As we left the ship around 9:30, we saw a sliver of sun to the west. But as we walked toward the ScotRail station, the rain came down hard and the wind blew it right into our clothes. My shoes were sloshing and my water-resistant running suit was soaked through to the core. Our umbrella was turned inside out. 

My heart is heavy today. On any other day, I might have trudged on. But we never made it to the train station or to our Glasgow walking tour. We came back to the ship and peeled off our wet clothes. It is enough, for now, to look out at the River Clyde and think of all those who have gone before me. 

Layer, after a hot lunch and a pot of tea, we were ready to venture back into Greenock. We walked a few blocks to the Kilts4Less store, bought three beautiful tartan scarves, and planned to walk the town when another rain shower rolled it. We made it back to the ship and didn’t have to wring out our socks this time! We did see a wee bit of Scotland, even if it wasn’t what we had planned.

Liverpool

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Liverpool

DAY 17: Friday

On the seventh day of our British Isles cruise, the Emerald Princess Cruises docked in Liverpool.

We had booked tickets in advance for the Magical Mystery Tour, including admission to The Cavern Club. The bus tour left from Anchor Square on Albert Dock, which was almost a mile from our port. The cabs at the gate only wanted to do small group tours, so we had to hoof it on a windy, misty morning. As we will always say, “Hey, it was better than Greenock!”

We made it just in time to claim our tickets and load onto the bus. Our tour guide, Neil, was funny and fabulous. Our driver, Dennis, got us through some tight spaces. In all, it was the best tour of our trip and one of the best ever.

Neil told us about Beatles history, played Beatles music (we sang along) and showed us sights like Penny Lane, Strawberry Field, and the Beatles’ childhood homes. When the two-hour bus tour ended, we stopped in the Cavern Club Restaurant for Scrouse (like beef stew; hubby had the veggie version) and the tasty house lager.

After lunch, we walked across the alley to the Cavern Club, where the Beatles played 292 times. Live music was already on stage in the front room. A documentary was playing in a back room. We took it all in, bought a few trinkets, and took our tired selves back to the ship.

Well done, Liverpool. Nice touch with that rainbow just outside our balcony.

Wales

DAY 18: Saturday

On the last port day of our cruise, the Emerald Princess was docked at Holyhead, Wales. This was the only day we had booked a Princess excursion. 

Home Stretch

DAY 19: Sunday

One final at-sea day as the Emerald Princess sails back to Southampton. 


DAY 20: Monday

Disembarkation day is always the longest and most dreaded of any cruise day  


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