Author Archives: hedera

The Isle of Mull

As I said in my last post, our trip to Iona ended with a ferry ride to the Isle of Mull, where the tour company had taken the bus we didn’t use on Iona.  In fact, the cruise instructions say that we anchored off the Isle of Mull while we were touring Iona.  The photos for this article are in the gallery Isle of Mull.

Here’s the Isle of Mull.  This isn’t the harbor where the ferry delivered us, which is no more complicated than the one on Iona.  This is a beach next to the harbor.

Isle of Mull, near the harbor

I do want to share the first thing I saw as we looked around Fionnphort (pronounced fin-a-fort; I will never understand Gaelic pronunciation!), the town where the ferry from Iona lands.  It was this stout fellow:

Sheep, watching us on the Isle of Mull

Yes, we were still in Fionnphort, and so was the sheep.  We all loaded into the buses (I think we had 3 buses) and drove off across the Isle of Mull, heading for Duart Castle, our reason for coming to this place. 

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Iona

Leaving Wales, we approached one of the spots that made me decide to take the cruise:  Iona.  Iona is a tiny island (about 1 mile wide by 4 miles long) off the west coast of Scotland, with a resident population of about 200 people, according to our guide.  Here it is as we approached it.  The photo gallery for this post is Iona.

Iona

Iona doesn’t have a port in the normal sense.  Its landing facility is a concrete ramp slanting up out of the water, used for the inter-island ferry, and for tenders from cruise ships like Le Boréal.   Here are some of us in the tender, heading for shore.

Le Boréal tender heading for Iona

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Touring Wales

The gallery with photos of this day is Touring WalesThere are many more photos of Bodnant Garden than I’ve included here.

The sky was reasonably clear when the ship pulled into Holyhead harbor in Wales, but that was very early, and it didn’t last.

Breakwater, Holyhead harbor, Wales

For most of the day our bus drove under overcast skies, although I don’t recall any rain.  Our initial destination was Bodnant Garden, a National Trust property.  We drove through some very rugged and rocky hills, although some areas were clearly used for farming.  I saw a similar field full of sheep but couldn’t get a clear photo from the bus – they came out as little white blurs.

Farming in the Welsh mountains

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Dublin

In a “Celtic lands” tour, it’s no surprise that we went to Dublin, although we only spent one day. The photo gallery for this day is Dublin, feel free to check it out for photos I didn’t include here.

The tour’s obvious target was to take us to Trinity College to show us the Old Library and the Book of Kells exhibition.  From the bus on our way to Trinity College we did see one amazing thing:  the Samuel Beckett Bridge, which is built in the shape of an Irish harp!  I took a photo of it from the bus, below, but the reflections are confusing; the photo at the link above is much better.

Samuel Beckett Bridge, or Harp Bridge

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Tresco Gardens

The photos for this trip are all in the gallery Tresco Gardens I encourage you to look through the photos, I’m going to post a relatively small number of plant photos here.  My husband, a gardener, has identified all the plants he can, but you’ll see a number of plants labeled only, “Tresco Gardens.”  If you recognize any of these plants, please leave a comment on this post, identifying the photo number (P followed by 7 numerals, below the image), and tell me what it is!

We’ve now left Normandy, and France, and Central European Summer Time.  I forgot to complain about this in an earlier post but it annoyed me at the time – France is on Central European Summer Time, an hour ahead of British Summer Time.  So the night before we sailed to France, we had to set all our clocks ahead another hour (having set them ahead two days earlier to British Summer Time).  After our tour through Normandy, we’re now truly beginning the Celtic Lands cruise, with a stop I didn’t realize was Celtic.

Tresco Abbey Gardens are in the Scilly Isles (more accurately, Isles of Scilly), and yes, it really is pronounced “silly.”  Don’t ask me, I don’t live there.  To find the Scilly Isles, you start at the extreme west end of Cornwall, also known as Land’s End.  Ask Google Maps for “Cornwall” and it will show you that; and a bit to the west and a little south, you may see a tiny speck labeled “Hugh Town.”  That is the Scilly Isles; enlarge the map and you’ll see several small islands.  The Scilly Isles are part of the Duchy of Cornwall, which is part of the landed estates of the Prince of Wales.  One of the larger islands is Tresco, the site of the Tresco Abbey Gardens.  I can’t speak for the other islands, but Tresco has nothing resembling a dock that will accept a ship the size of Le Boréal; here’s a picture of the ship, against the fields on St. Mary’s Island:

Le Boréal, near St. Mary’s Island, Isles of Scilly 

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Utah Beach and Normandy

This will be a longer post than I thought.  I spaced out on the fact that, after touring Pointe du Hoc and Utah Beach (and eating our bag lunches on the bus because it was raining), we went on to tour some of the French villages that were liberated by paratroopers in the early hours of D-Day.  So stay with me, folks.

The photo galleries for this are Pointe du Hoc and Utah Beach (the last 2 pages), and a second gallery, Elsewhere in Normandy. This gallery has many more shots of the local churches than I could include in this post.

Utah Beach is full of official monuments – a Federal monument honoring all the U.S troops who participated, a monument honoring the 90th Infantry.  They’re in the gallery, but I want to share this one.  The Higgins boat is how most of the infantry came ashore.  Look at one and think about it.

Higgins Boat memorial, Utah Beach

They also had a museum on Utah Beach, a little back from the beach front.  There was a museum at Omaha Beach too, but we didn’t get into it, probably due to the ceremonial visit to the cemetery.  The Utah Beach museum had one that just charmed me:

Replica B-29 bomber, the “Dinah Might” – Utah Beach Museum

Isn’t that name a classic?  I can’t think of anything more “World War II American.” 

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Pointe du Hoc

Saturday June 8 was a very busy day and is going to get two posts.  It started out as a very blustery and wet day, to the point that my pants were soaked while walking from the boat to the bus, and the weather continued on and off.  (They did dry on their own.) 

The photo gallery for this and the next post is Pointe du Hoc and Utah Beach.

We began the day at Pointe du Hoc, a flat-topped bluff, about 100 feet tall, right on the Normandy coast.  Here’s the view of the range of bluffs.

View of the south coast from the edge of Pointe du Hoc

A slightly closer look at those cliffs:

Cliffs at Pointe du Hoc

American Rangers had to climb these bluffs to capture and disable the German gun emplacements, particularly the 155mm artillery positions, which could have wreaked havoc on Utah and Omaha beaches. 

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Omaha Beach

This was our first D-Day tour.  Our original itinerary for this day, June 7, had us landing at Caen, then driving to Arromanches-les-Bains to see the 360° theater, and then the German gun battery at Longues sur Mer, before going on to Omaha Beach.  However, landing at Caen required the boat to go up a very narrow waterway with several locks on it, and the night before, our captain had informed us that the predicted high winds would make it difficult to navigate the locks; so we were going to land at Honfleur, which is farther north but much easier to get into.  This meant that the drive to Arromanches took more time than expected, which is probably why we didn’t visit the gun battery.  We would see plenty of German gun batteries later in the tour. 

The gallery for this post is called Omaha BeachFeel free to look at all the photos.

We started out on main roads, but eventually had to transfer to what a British friend of mine once called the “gray squiggly roads;” in that stretch of the French coast there are no main roads within about 3 miles of the coastline.  Arriving at Arromanches, we all trooped in to the theater.  I have only one photo; it really wasn’t possible to shoot still pictures of it.

Arromanches, introduction at the 360 degree theater

Watching the screening, however, was really overwhelming.  These looked like real video of the war, with sound, and it was deafening and scary.  After the show, there was quite a bit to see.  Here’s the coastline, south from Arromanches, which is about half way between Juno Beach and Omaha Beach.

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Portsmouth

On June 6 we checked out of the London hotel (had to have the bags ready for pickup by some unholy hour) and after a very early breakfast, headed for Portsmouth and the D-Day Museum – and Le Boréal.  The drive through the English countryside was gorgeous.  The gallery for this day is Portsmouth, but I’ll share some photos here.  Our first goal was Southwick House, somewhat north of Portsmouth, the advance command post of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF).  In other words, Eisenhower’s HQ for D-Day and beyond. 

Southwick House

We heard an absolutely fascinating lecture on the process of planning D-Day, and how Ike made the actual go-ahead decision for June 6.  He based it on the weather predictions of a 28 year old Scot named John Stagg, who had a reputation for accuracy, and more sources of weather information than the Germans had.  The lecture was in the map room:

Map room at Southwick House

We then adjourned to the room across the hall, where the D-Day decision was actually made.  I love history and I really enjoyed this.  I spent the trip, and some time after, reading Stephen Ambrose’s book D-Day, which I recommend heartily.

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Flying to London

In the fall of 2018, we signed up for the Celtic Lands cruise, in early June 2019, , especially as it included a 2 day side trip through the D-Day beaches, the day after the 75th anniversary.  We both looked at the brochure and said, “I wanna DO that!”  So we reserved our spots and spent the next 6 months paying for it in installments, and dealing with Life.

We left for London on June 3.  We considered the 10-11 hour flights between San Francisco and Europe (Heathrow going, Amsterdam returning), and decided to fly business class, the first time either of us has done so.  It’s appallingly expensive but boy, does it help.  For one thing, we waited for our outbound plane in the Delta Lounge, in comfortable chairs, waited on by attendants with free food and drink!  For another, when they feed you in business class, you get a table cloth and cloth napkins, and real plates and silverware!  (And real food.)

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