Category Archives: Vacations

Describing vacations we’ve taken.

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

Like many big gardens in the U.K., Bodnant began as a family estate.  Here’s the front of the house:

Family home at Bodnant Garden

As you look through the photo gallery, you may see plant photos labeled “Bodnant Garden.”  (“Gardens,” actually, but that’s an error I haven’t corrected!)  If there is no name on the plant, neither I nor my husband the amateur botanist could identify it.  If you recognize an unlabeled plant, please comment on the photo and tell me what it is! 

The first place the tour took us was through the laburnum alley:

Bodnant Garden, Laburnum Alley

After that we walked through lots of garden, occasionally interrupted by an ornamental pool.  I liked the reflections in this one.

Bodnant Garden, ornamental pool

Shortly, we came on a much larger ornamental pool with a sculpture:

Ornamental pool with willow sculpture

The willow sculpture is called Unbind the Wing, and was created in 2018 by Trevor Leat, to celebrate women’s suffrage.  The linked article contains more detail about how the sculpture was built and how it’s supported; it’s 18 feet high.

In the gallery you’ll see photos of several Very Old Trees, including one the family kids used to climb on:

Bodnant Garden, Very Old Tree, the kids in the family used to climb on it

The building below was a pin mill – yes, a factory where workers made pins out of lengths of wire.  On the estate.  Actually, it wasn’t originally a pin mill – and it wasn’t originally on the estate at all.  It was built around 1730 as a lodge or garden house, at an estate called Woodchester in Gloucestershire.  It was later used as a pin mill, and later still to store hides for a tannery.  In the late 1930s the then lord of Bodnant, Henry McLaren, 2nd Baron Aberconway, bought the derelict building and had it taken down, moved to its current site and reassembled, with some repairs and alterations. 

Bodnant Garden, the Pin Mill

Since Bodnant is actively managed, occasionally they get new flower beds.  This is a new ornamental perennial garden.  You can see that the plants are all very young.

Bodnant Garden, new ornamental perennial garden

We spent a lot of time in the bus that day.  From Bodnant Garden we went next to Llandudno, on the coast, where we were scheduled to hear a performance by a Welsh male chorus in St. John’s Church, and have a group lunch in a local hotel.  The chorus’ voices were all very good but they sang with almost no emotion, even doing Bridge over Troubled Water.  They were also, frankly, all older men except for the young female conductor.  They ended with an American medley – Dixie, Battle Hymn of the Republic, and All My Troubles Lord.  Which was an Elvis Presley favorite.  He did it with more emotion.  (If I sound critical it’s because I’m a choral singer myself.)  The church was interesting because of a window memorializing John Wesley.

Window about John Wesley, St. John’s Church, Llandudno, Wales

After the performance we all adjourned to the St. George Hotel for a huge lunch, which I recall as pretty good for a group that large.  And after lunch, back in the bus, and on to Caernaerfon, which is usually Anglicized as Caernaervon so that’s what I’ll do.  Caernaervon Castle was one of several castles begun by Edward I of England, during his 13th century attempts to bring Wales firmly under control of the English throne.  I don’t think it was ever really finished; you built castles a piece at a time, when you had the money; and Edward I was chronically short of money. Here’s the castle today, an exterior view from across the street (please excuse the traffic signs).

Caernaervon Castle, Caernaervon, Wales

Under English rule, Caernaerfon, and this castle, were effectively the capital of north Wales.  I’m flabbergasted to read in Wikipedia that the normal garrison of this castle, which is much bigger than it looks here, was about 30 men.  I was never far enough away to get a photo of the whole castle, but this more distant photo, from Wikipedia, will give you a much better idea of the size:

Caernaerfon Castle, western view at low tide

The next 2 photos are the two ends of the castle interior, taken from the middle:

Caernaervon Castle, upper ward; Black Tower is on the right, North-East Tower on the left

Caernaervon Castle, lower ward, Queen’s tower (left) and Eagle Tower (right)

I enjoyed poking around the castle, castles always fascinate me.  I found I’d developed a fear of the internal spiral staircases.  They’re quite steep, with a rope on the inner wall, nothing else to hang onto; scary.  I had been convinced that spiral staircases (which were part of the castle defenses) always rotated counterclockwise, so a right-handed swordsman coming down the stairs would have his sword hand free to swing against a right-handed swordsman coming up the stairs.  The guy coming up would have his right hand against the inner wall and much less room to swing his sword.  In this castle I learned I was wrong – it has both kinds.  In the Well Tower it was counterclockwise; in (I think) the King’s Tower it was clockwise.  Maybe the king was left-handed?  I don’t know.  This stop got me really interested in Edward I; if you’re interested you could try the very well written account of his life which I found when I got home:  A Great and Terrible King:  Edward I and the Forging of Britain.

Having managed to climb the stair all the way up to the ramparts, I got some photos of the area from the castle walls, here’s a sample.  There are more in the gallery.

From the ramparts of Caernaervon Castle

After we left the castle, it was back on the bus, and back to the ship to eat and sleep. 

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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

As a medieval freak, I was very interested to see the Book itself, although I didn’t take any photos of it.  It is (obviously) kept in a glass case and open to show just 2 pages. The many gorgeous illustrations are reproduced all over the room in wall sized posters, which don’t really match the impact of a book that is 13 inches wide and 10 inches high.  It dates from the late 8th or early 9th century and was written and illustrated (like all books of the time) by hand, on calfskin vellum, using a pen cut from a goose feather, with ink made from carbon black (charcoal or lamp black mixed with a gum) and numerous colored pigments.

If you Google “Book of Kells” you’ll find a whole list of entries, some of which reproduce some of the pages and illustrations.  The site 10 Things You Should Know About the Book of Kells notes that all the illustrations are under copyright to Trinity College and are available online on its Digital Collections, in high-resolution images.  I actually found them, but I don’t know how I got to them; the Trinity College web site is, um, difficult, and a search for the Book loads very slowly.  Try this URL, and wait awhile for the pages to load:

https://digitalcollections.tcd.ie/home/index.php?DRIS_ID=MS58_003v 

After seeing the Book of Kells, we went through into the rest of the Old Library, which is quite spectacular, especially the Long Room.  This is what libraries used to look like.  The Long Room was built between 1712 and 1732, but it originally had a flat plaster ceiling and shelving only on the lower level.  By the mid-19th century it was being used as a national book repository and had to be expanded to look like this:

Trinity College Old Library, Dublin – the Long Room

You can see the multiple galleries on each level, and this is what they look like:

Trinity College Old Library, stacks

I don’t think I saw a shelf with any space on it, anywhere. There are spiral metal stairs between the gallery levels, and the individual galleries have ladders to get to the upper shelves. 

Since I did the honors thesis for my B.A. in English on Jonathan Swift, I was delighted to see the bust of him in the Long Room:

Bust of Jonathan Swift, Trinity College Old Library

After Queen Anne ascended the throne of England and took a dislike to his writings; his English supporters got him appointed dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin and he spent the rest of his life there.

The Dublin gallery has a photo of the Berkeley Library, which I wasn’t expecting (having attended U.C. Berkeley); the modern building isn’t very interesting but there’s a very odd sculpture in front of it, which I did photograph.  Our entire stay at Trinity lasted only until about midday, when we had the rest of the afternoon to ourselves.  We decided to go to the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology, and found a lunch at Buswell’s Hotel, right across Kildare street from the museum.  The Irish like large servings as much as Americans do, including lots of potatoes.

The National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology was fascinating.  They had an exhibit about the Battle of Clontarf (1014), in which Brian Boru (High King of Ireland) was killed.  I found the exhibit confusing – it mostly said that no one knows much about the battle -but the Wikipedia article I’ve linked is much clearer.  What I did learn is that Ireland at that time was much more full of Vikings than I had known.  They traded there; some of them lived there, and were politically connected to some of the lesser Irish rulers, particularly Leinster.

But I was really interested in the items retrieved from the peat bogs, including bog bodies.  If you’re easily horrified you may want to skip these, these are human bodies  preserved in the peat bogs, and found and analyzed by archaeologists.  For 2 of the bodies I copied the explanatory panels next to them, you can go to the gallery to look if you like.  You may have to enlarge the panels to read them.  For now, here’s Clonycavan Man (his lower half didn’t survive the encounter with a peat harvesting machine where he was found):

Clonycavan Man, National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology

They determined that his hair had been treated with hair gel when he was alive; here is a reconstruction of what he may have looked like, from bones and preserved hair.  I photographed the reconstruction below in the museum.  If you Google him, you’ll find a different looking reconstruction in Wikipedia.  The museum didn’t have an explanatory panel for him (or if they did, I missed it), but Wikipedia is pretty complete.

Clonycavan man, reconstruction – National Museum of Ireland, Archaeology

There were other things than bog bodies, of course.  I was particularly interested in this delicate little gold boat and cup.  This was part of the Broighter Hoard, a hoard of gold artefacts from the Iron Age of the 1st century BC that were found in 1896 by Tom Nicholl and James Morrow on farmland near Limavady, in the north of Ireland. It was much more famous than I realized!

Broighter gold boat with oars and rudder, plus gold cup

And I must show you the Ardagh Chalice, one of the great treasures of the early Irish church.

Ardagh Chalice, National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology

We left the museum in the late afternoon to return to the ship.  I had an acute case of museum feet.  Our entertainment in the evening was a very good Irish pub band, and a group of Irish dancers.  From where I sat I couldn’t see the dancers’ feet – unfortunate, because what their feet are doing is the most interesting thing about them.  Then to bed, and tomorrow, on to Wales.

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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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And Going Home

We had another day at sea after leaving Victoria, and my group spent it rehearsing, as we did a brief performance that night in one of the many ship’s lounges.  As I mentioned in my post on the Ketchikan stop, we didn’t get much support for our performance, so the audience was not very large, but they were very appreciative.  Fortunately the concert didn’t last very long; I was concerned about how I was going to pack.  Ship’s rules said that any luggage you wanted the crew to take off the boat, had to be out in the hall before dinner.  This meant I had to wear the same clothes to dinner that night, and to disembark the next morning; and underwear and some other items had to move into my rolling carry-on, already pretty full.  As usual, I worried about this more than was warranted, and the whole thing went quite smoothly.  I was expecting my husband to come pick me up, but he had had trouble with his car on his hiking trip (don’t ask), and didn’t want to risk it.  I took a taxi home, which worked just fine.  Here endeth the Wade in the Water cruise.

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Touring Victoria

Before I go on, I’d like to share some observations on large cruise ships, which I take from my travel diary:

I find cruising odd.  There are no public trash cans.  The staff takes care of everything.  When you finish eating, you walk away from the dirty dishes; the staff will pick them up.  I discovered that some people make cruising their hobby; it appears to be the only way this group takes vacations.    It’s all kinds of people – fat, thin, young, old, disabled, active, with and without kids.  They’re mostly very chatty and friendly.  Cruises have activities every waking hour.  In addition to the obvious – movies and music – there are towel animal folding competitions (I’m not making this up), game shows, lectures, and auctions.  Many bars have live entertainment.  The ship had 2 jewelry stores but no “convenience” store:  I couldn’t buy a pencil, or a candy bar, or a bottle of water.  Or, per my roommate, a hearing aid battery.  Except for in your room, or outside, there is no silence; and it’s kept air-conditioned a little too cool for my taste.  Now, on to Victoria.

Our last stop on the Wade in the Water cruise was Victoria, B.C.  I like Victoria; my husband and I have visited it several times, the last in 2016, making our own reservations.  There are some very nice bed and breakfasts there.  Our option on this trip, of course, was one of several bus tours – only one, because the ship was scheduled to leave at 1:30PM! Cruise tours do not leave much time for contemplation.  There was a bus tour option to the fabulous Butchart Gardens, which is a solid half hour north of Victoria; I doubt they had time to view the whole thing.  Last time my husband and I toured it, we took most of a day.

All my photos from this stop are in my gallery Victoria, which I encourage you to check out; I took many more photos than I’m sharing here.

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