JOURNAL OF A SUCCESSFUL TOUR OF GREAT BRITAIN!
Our British Landscapes tour abounded with surprises. First of all, the weather was a bit better than we had anticipated. While it rained on several days, for the most part, it didn't interfere with our activities. Often it rained while we were on the bus, but stopped when we got to our destination. Also, there were several really sunny days -- especially the final two. And overall, the temperature was milder than anticipated.
We happened to be in Great Britain at a unique time. Travelling in the off season provided us with an opportunity to avoid the long lines and crowds which are usually present during the tourist season. It was also interesting to be in London for two major events. Our first day there was the installation day for the Lord Mayor of London. Because of the parade and ceremonies associated with this event, we had to make a few detours on our panoramic tour, but it was interesting to see how the city geared up for this major celebration. Also, our second day there was "Remembrance Day", similar to our Memorial Day. We encountered many groups of veterans honoring their fallen comrades, particularly at Westminster Abbey when we got there. While we were in Great Britain, the Queen formally addressed both houses of Parliament at the opeining session, there were ongoing events celebrating the Queen's Golden Jubilee, Princess Diana's Butler was headline news with his revelations, and Prime Minister Tony Blair issued a major alert to possible terrorist attacks on the Empire! Also, during our final two days, the nation's Firemen went on a 48-hour strike. We sure know how to plan our visits!
At our farewell dinner on Friday night, November 15, we learned that we had travelled a total of 1,001 miles in a large oval covering a large area of Great Britain, the eastern portion starting in London, travelling north to York and then to the northernmost point on the trip, Edinburgh, Scotland. The return trip south took us on a south-western route, first to Ruthin, Wales, then through the Lake region to Bath, and finally on through the Cotswalds to Stratford-upon-Avon. This, of course, is the only way to see the "British Landscapes" -- thus the great amount of time on the bus. Our city or town stays were simply incidental to the trip, but well-chosen in order to give us a sense of the history and variety of venues in the British Isles.
We arrived in London early Friday morning, November 8. We were met at Gatwick Airport by our Tour Manager, Joseph Cromwell. It took several hours by bus to arrive in London.
Each day while on tour, I sent e-mails to family and friends from internet cafes along the way. Below is a compilation of these e-mails which ultimately resulted in a complete trip journal.
Journal Entry #1 - London, Friday, November 8, 2002
It is about 3:00 p.m on a rainy, cold, dismal Friday afternoon. I am at my favorite area of London, near Trafalgar Square. I'm in an Internet Cafe called "Easy Everything", across from the Charing Cross Hotel, where I stayed several times on earlier trips here. I just came from a concert at St. Martin in the Fields Church -- A string quartet that played Motzart. Very nice. Penny is at Harrod's with several of the other women -- shopping, of course. Prior to the concert, I spent an hour in the British National Art Museum, just off Trafalgar Square. Our trip went fast -- just a bit over 5 hours. We got here pretty early, took a two hour bus ride from the Airport. Can't check into the hotel till 4, but they took our luggage and set us free for the day. The hotel is very nice, but not centrally located --but we have easy access to the undergrround (subway). I decided to do my thing, because I had no desire to shop with the ladies. I oriented everybody to the "tube", and got them to Harrod's, then continued on my own. Next event is a formal dinner tonight at 7, then tomorrow we do a panoramic tour of London. The group is pretty good-- just starting out on a very miserable day in London, weather-wise. So that's the update. We hope to have a good time. Hope all is well there. Will try to keep in touch along the way. Joe and Penny
Journal Entry #2 – London, Saturday, November 9, 2002
Just a quick note on a SUNNY day in London. It is 9:30 at night, we've just come from Dinner at a nice Italian Restaurant in Covent Garden, after seeing a great London Musical, "Blood Brothers". We started the day with a panoramic tour of London, and the sunshine and balmy weather made it a delight. We were fortunate to be in town on a day that the changing of the guard took place. Our tour manager, Joseph Cromwell, found us an ideal spot to watch the military parade which accompanies the changing of the guard. After the tour, Penny and I went to the British Museum to look at the Egyptian Collection. Its a really great Museum. We leave early tomorrow morning for York, via Cambridge. After a day in York, we head for two days in Scotland. Next message will probably be from Edinburgh on Monday or Tuesday. Take care! Joe and Penny.
Journal Entry #3 – Cambridge and York, Sunday, November 10, 2002
Arrived in York at about 2:30 this afternoon after a brief (rainy) stop at Cambridge. We toured the University there, and saw Kings College, which Prince Charles attended. York is a great walled medieval city. We had a walking tour this afternoon. Some of us went to Vespers at York Cathedral, the largest Cathedral north of the Alps (we were told). It is one of the more interesting Cathedrals we have visited over the years -- and Vespers done the old fashioned way made for a pleasant and historic diversion (and they were spiritually uplifting, too). In York, we strolled through the famous "Shambles," a quaint, narrow street that appears today almost as it did in the Middle Ages. As is my custom, I searched out this internet cafe as soon as we arrived -- it isn't far from the hotel. We eat dinner in about a half and hour, so I thought I'd come up to check my e-mail and send my next journal entry off. Tomorrow morning we get up early and head for Edinburgh, Scotland. Next e-mail will be from there. Oh, by the way, although it was raining when we started out from London this morning, the sun came out for our arrival in York. Rain is predicted for tomorrow, however. Oh, well, this is England! More later. Penny and Joe
Journal Entry #4 – Edinburgh, Monday, November 11, 2002
It is 9:45 p.m., and I just left Dirty Dick's Pub . I took a group of our more "liberal" participants there -- they all loved it. We had another great day weather-wise. Spent most of the day en-route Scotland from York, England. The tour is rightly named "British Landscapes", because all we saw today were beatiful fields, farms, mountains and valleys. Lots of sheep -- and plenty of green green grass. It was really beautiful. One of our group got "bus sick" because of the windy country roads and roller-coaster hills. After a few stops along the way -- one at Hadrian's Wall (which divides England from Scotland) and a quaint village, Heddon on the Wall for "fish and chips",about 9 miles west of Newcastle upon Tyne, we arrived in time for dinner tonight in Edinburgh. Our hotel is right on the main drag, across from Edinburgh Castle. As we were preparing for dinner, the hotel fire alarm went off and we had to evacuate the hotel! We also went to the Hard Rock Cafe tonight, to pick up a few gifts. Tomorrow we have a tour of Edinburgh and then in the evening a Dinner Show of Scottish traditional entertainment and lore (guys in kilts, bagpipes, and all that stuff). This internet cafe is around the corner from the hotel. Very convenient. Hope I'm not boring you with this stuff -- there's always the delete button! Will keep these coming as long as I find cheap cyber cafes. Joe and Penny.
Journal Entry #5 – Edinburgh, Tuesday, Novermber 12, 2002
Finishing our stay in Edinburgh. Had a panorarmic tour in the rain this morning. Highlights were the Royal Palace (Holyrood House) and Edinburgh Castle. Had lunch at "Dirty Dick's Pub". Dinner and Show tonight (Native Scottish stuff with Kilts, bagpipes and other related things).Editors note after returning home: This show was really great! The ladies in the group insisted in asking the MC what was under his kilt, and he gave them a forthright answer, which made them all very happy. The dancers, singers and musicians were all great -- and we were treated to a traditional Scottish meal, including "Haggis" served with a traditional ritual. Tomorrow it is off to Wales and our stay in a real Castle -- dinner and lodging! Hope to see some outstanding scenery on our way there. More from Wales when we get there. Joe and Penny
Journal Entry #6 – Bath, Thursday, November 14, 2002
Arrived here in Bath, England at about 4:00 p.m. We were on the road most of the day. We travelled through the countryside of Wales, and are really impressed by the scenic beauty here. After a misty start, the day got progressively better and we had sunshine for at least half of the day. Traveled through the scenic Lake District and stopped at a few quaint villages, including Grasmere, and an abandoned medieval abbey on the way here. Last night we stayed at a Medieval Castle in Ruthin, Wales. It was very nice. Our dinner was a special medieval banquet, and Penny and I were designated the host "Barron and Barroness" We were given metal crowns to wear, and were seated on thrones at the head table. At the end, the "Sheriff" gave us a scroll commemorating our Barronship, we signed the book of Barrons, and were given a bottle of "Meade" as our reward. We'll have lots of pictures to show you of this unique event. Of course, we had to eat in the medieval fashion, with no forks or spoons. They, did, however, give us a sharp knife to spear our meat and our veggies. I felt right at home slurping my soup out of the bowl! As with all Laufer trips, we had a minor incident as we arrived at the Castle, when one of our older members fell down the steps and had to be taken to the hospital by the tour director. Fortunately, she only sprained her wrist. She got back just after we started the banquet. Nevertheless, it gave me a scare. The entertainment at the banquet was great. I had to skip the e-mail yesterday, because there was only one "community" computer in the small town of Ruthin, and it was in the public library, which was closed when we got there. So I've found a place every day except yesterday.Our visit to Wales was my first, so I have one more country to add to my list of places visited. On our way to Wales, yesterday, we visited the home of William Wordsworth, the poet. It was a quaint English village, the kind you find in story books. We are pleased overall with the weather -- plenty of rain, but only at the right times -- and the temperature is higher than we anticipated. Tomorrow it is off to Stratford-on-Avon, Shakespeare's home, and that will be our last overnight. We go from Stratford on Saturday morning directly to the Gatwick Airport. Hard to believe this trip is just about over. All the places are already decorated for Christmas, so we are getting a pre-taste of the holidays from a British perspective. That will do it for now. I doubt that I'll find an internet cafe in Stratford, but if I do, you can be sure I'll be sending an e-mail from there. If not, this will be it, until we get our pictures. Take care! Joe and Penny
Journal Entry #7 – Stratford-upon-Avon, Friday, November 15, 2002
Well, you'll be happy to know that this is the last entry you'll be getting from this "British Landscapes" tour. We left Bath early this morning and travelled through the Cotswolds. For those unfamiliar with the "Cotswolds" -- it is a scenic area in south-western England filled with green vistas, farms and streams, and quaint villages. We stopped at one of the villages for "tea" -- then travelled on to Shakespeare Country. We arrived in Stratford-on-Avon at about noon. We went through Ann Hathaway's home (she's Shakespeare's wife) and then through his Birthplace in the center of town. This internet cafe is not far from Shakespeare's birthplace. The town is certainly English -- and you can understand how the setting would inspire a great playwright. We are having our farewell dinner in a few hours, then to bed for an early wake-up call and our trip to the airport. We'll hopefully be back in Newark mid-afternoon on Saturday. It has been a great trip -- and today's weather made up for any of the bad days we had earlier in the week. It is warm and sunny -- a fitting climax to a great trip. See you all soon. Joe and Penny
Journal Entry #8 – Home! Saturday, November 16, 2002
Well, here I am at my home computer. It was a long day, but we made it through a few obstacles. We got up early – 5:00 a.m. Breakfast at 6:00 – on the road at 7:00, headed for Gatwick Airport. Arrival at the airport at about 10:00 a.m. We almost had a tragedy, when several members of our group fell getting off of the “people mover” in the airport. There was a pile-up of about three individuals, until someone was able to hit the emergency shut-off button. Fortunately, no one got hurt. Departure was delayed for about half an hour, then the relatively uneventful flight over the Atlantic. Arrival at Newark was delayed due to bad weather, but when we finally touched down, the bus was there waiting to take us to Vincentown. The consensus of the group was that it was a great trip. As always, there’s no place like home!