Updated: Nov 10
Sunday morning found the ship docked outside the harbor in Plymouth, England. This was our first port in Europe, even though the British don’t seem to acknowledge they are European. (And besides, we’d eventually need to clear immigration into the EU.) Early announcements started with each deck heading through a maze to the theatre where our paperwork was briefly checked and we were admitted to the United Kingdom. From there, I headed to get my oatmeal. Leaving the dining room, I stopped for a tender ticket, and then returned to my cabin to collect sweater and windbreaker, camera and day pack.
Three minutes after I returned to the waiting area, Gray 2 was called and we were moved to a lifeboat and spent 15-20 minutes traveling from the ship into the port. At the pier we were close to the point where the steps used by the “Pilgrims” in 1620 to get to the Mayflower. (I put Pilgrims in quotes, as those voyagers were Brownists, religious refugees, as well as non-religious members who were merchants or people seeking a new life. My great grandmother traced our family back to 8 members on the original crossing.) I was last off the tender (by choice) and headed directly to the Tourist Office where I collected a copy of the 1620 passenger list for the Mayflower, and a Charles III Coronation pin. Armed with a map, I poked around a bit in two antique shops and then climbed into a park filled with blooming cherry trees. Finding a bench, I looked at a few emails (having finally gotten Internet access after 8 days at sea) before deciding to have lunch.
With 70 minutes until my only scheduled Plymouth activity, I walked into the Boston Tea Party, a brunch place, and ordered a Boss burger without the roll and a raspberry mango smoothie. The smoothie was delicious. Then around a few corners to Plymouth Gin, where I joined a group for a tour and tasting of gin at sale strength, the gin fruit cup, and sloe gin. I left with a small sampler pack that I will either carry around for 4 months or tap into somewhere along the line. HAL didn’t confiscate it, which surprised me.
The 2:45 tender back was full, as final call was 3pm. I took an hour nap (the announcements had been rather early!) At happy hour I had a double Glenmorangie and met the trio for cocktails and another scotch. We had reservations for my second specialty dinner at the Pinnacle. I started with beef tartare and a glass of Cotes du Rhone rouge, followed by a wedge of iceberg lettuce with blue cheese. Filet mignon was my main, with a glass of the Knights Valley cabernet. I finished with creme brulee.
When the announcements started Monday morning at 8am I was awaken, and soon seated in the dining room with a father/daughter pair from Toronto (he, at 91, was originally Dutch), and a New Jersey woman originally from south Hungary. Oatmeal, no berries. Again after collecting my sweater and windbreaker, camera and sun block, I was soon crossing the gangway to solid ground. Advised that the train station was a good 20+ minute walk, and received the suggestion to use a taxi. Nikko, an Iraqi driver, asked after my plans (to take the train to Faversham), suggested he could drive me there, wait, and then visit a few sites on our return. Given the overcast, threatening skies, it seemed a good idea to me.
Skirting the port, we soon climbed through rolling verdant hillsides, with Google causing us to drive past the pro-cathedral, which I managed to spot. A small country church, the Pro-cathedral of St Augustine, an Anglo-Catholic sect’s bishop’s seat, was closed up and decidedly unassuming. I had my outside shots in 5 minutes.
Onward to St Margaret-in-the-Cliffs, where I got to walk up a stone beach. Getting my hand wet, I then sent a text to my friend Mandra, with whom I’d toured Scotland, reporting on my following her “get wet” tradition. Nikko had grabbed a bite and had a tea to go for me, warming me up as it was cool.
A stop at the nearby lighthouse was on the tourist route, where I took a picture of my driver and his business partner, which he asked that I WhatsApp it to him. Final stop was the overlook for Leeds Castle, which had been one of the excursion options.
ettling up, I paid out my pounds sterling, my $100 stash from my phone and the difference is a credit card charge (minimizing his transaction costs.)
Boarding the boat at 12:30, knowing that there would be no seated lunch served, I headed to the buffet on the Lido deck. Putting together a cobb salad-like collection of greens, and a pair of cookies, I had an Arnold Palmer to drink. Still with my camera, I climbed to the 11th and 12th decks to get shots of the port and harbor, as well as those Cliffs of Dover. Hazy conditions limited quality.
I had two batteries to charge for the camera, and a spilled tea stain to rub out of my sweater, so I chilled in my cabin for a bit. Then, taking advantage of Internet connectivity through my phone, I spent time in the Crows Nest working on my phone.
Dinner in the main dining room with the regulars, I started with the double-baked potato soup with cheddar cheese, chive and bacon. For the main, a trio of salmon: hot smoked, oakwood smoked, and dill-marinated in a honey mustard sauce. This was followed by the cheese plate (leidse, bel paese, sharp cheddar and grambet) and a chocolate and whiskey torte.
Our third port day in Europe on Tuesday was in Rotterdam. Announcements started at 7:05 waking me, so I was soon cleaned up and having oatmeal for breakfast. I’d not received the letter with instructions to clear EU immigration, but took it upon myself to determine that I indeed needed to follow the process. It was similar to that in the UK and took a minute. After collecting my gear from my cabin, I headed to Billboard to await the call for my excursion, which would be the guided tour of the capital, The Hague. The group filled two buses, with ours containing 34 passengers. Our guide was an older woman, very grandmotherly, but ranted at her captive audience as a climate change denier. The bus rolled on the highway past Delft and into Den Haag and Madurodam, a recreational area and park where, for 90 minutes, we were self-guided to learn about the Netherlands.
Getting permission, I was allowed to head to the orthodox cathedral I had researched. It was a good walk, and I came upon a small building snug between its neighbors. After my outside shots of St Mary Magdalene Russian Orthodox Cathedral, I tried the door, hearing singing. A service was underway, so I stood in the back corner until it concluded. (Six congregants, 5 singers including the bishop, three celebrants.) Discovering I was from the States, the priest welcomed me, inviting me to take pictures. How different from my reception in Brooklyn!
Departing, I was too late to return to the park, but had arranged (in case) to rendezvous at Mauritshuis. Arriving as the group walked from the bus dropoff, I did the self tour of both floors of this smaller museum, including viewing the Vermeer “Girl with the pearl earring”. Finding our guide and learning we had another hour, I walked to the Grotekerk, which I walked around before determining it was closed. Stragglers in the group caused a delay before we walked back to the bus.
The tour was concluded, and we were returning to the port in Rotterdam. By chance, I’d check Google, and found an orthodox cathedral I’d not known about in the port city. We were passing closely, so I was allowed to slip off at a traffic light, and headed into a park-like setting down from the busy street.
St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral is surrounded by tall mature trees, and on that Monday, unsurprisingly, was locked. I walked across the Erasmus Bridge to the port, getting some nice shots on the way back to our ship.
Back on board, with sore feet and feeling sweaty, I took a shower and then filled my tip envelopes for the cabin stewards and the dining room staff. I found both cabin stewards as I was heading towards dinner. The trio and Murray were staying on, while Tyler and I would be leaving the following morning. Tyler and my starters were pulled pork croquettes (called rillets) while the others had the lobster/scallop starter. We all had the duck breast main. I ended with the cheese plate and, through Pian’s effort, lemon sorbet from Tamerind. I handed out my envelopes to the waiters and Jayson, the wine steward.
Back in my cabin, I finished packing my luggage, putting the big roller out before getting to sleep. I’d have a necessary visit to the post office soon, as I needed to ship the books home. My departure time was set for 8:30-9, so I set the alarm for 7:15 with breakfast before heading into Rotterdam.
Reflecting back, I’m not sure I mentioned that there is a lot of art aboard the ms Rotterdam. Besides that in the hallways and gathering areas, as well as art from the Park West auction house, I particularly noted the themed art in the stairwells. There are three sets of stairs, and each was filled with a selection of art set at the mid point between levels, as well as the elevator spaces. Forward, the art was of animals; to the stern it was buildings; while in the middle it was music. I conjectured that the themes were set to remind and aid in location: animals were aft (rear), music was midship and buildings were in the bow (front.)
You can purchase your own copy
(or have me send it as a gift) of
Cathedrals to the Glory of God
by clicking this link: