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Days #14-16: London

Note: I’m writing this about six months after we returned from this trip. I find it difficult sometimes to keep up with blogging while also staying busy on vacation. But, I (usually) catch up. Here are the highlights of our last three days in London:

Note #2: as mentioned here, I’m only posting this over 4 years later w/ minimal clean up edits.

On Friday, we started the day with a visit to the National Gallery, viewing both some old favorites and a small but interesting Sean Scully exhibition. Here are a couple of highlights from our visit.

I’d insert pictures here, but that feature no longer seems to work on the iPhone app.

For lunch, we went to Red Farm, which is one of my favorite places for dim sum in London. The food isn’t especially traditional. Instead, it’s rather more creative and playful, though the flavors are generally spot on. Here are a few of the dishes:

I’d insert pictures here, but that feature no longer seems to work on the iPhone app.

The rest of the day was spent wandering about the West End…

On Saturday, we set out for Kew Gardens, which was featuring a Dale Chiluly (sp) exhibition set in the gardens and greenhouses, as well as smaller works in a gallery setting. This reminded us of the Chiluly works that had been on display at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville. Like that show, we found this a joy to behold. Mom, who hadn’t seen the show at the Biltmore, seemed to especially like it.

We returned to London and ate dinner at Duck & Rice, an Asian fusion gastropub, which I took the girls to the prior year.

On Sunday, we didn’t have time for much beyond walking over the High Street Ken for a quick bite of breakfast. We then took a car service to London-Heathrow, where I dropped the gals off before heading on to Oxford to start my work week. This was kind of depressing, if I’m honest, because I ended up remaining in England for two full additional weeks only returning home on June 21.

Day #13: London (Windsor)

For breakfast, we walked over to Kensington High Street and grabbed pastries and coffee at Ole & Steen, a Danish bakery chain that’s built a presence in London. On our way, we agreed to visit Windsor Castle today. So, after breakfast I navigated us to Paddington Station (my “home away from home” these days) to buy GWR tickets to Windsor (changing in Slough). The entire journey took about an hour and was fairly seamless.

We probably could have saved some time (maybe 20 minutes?) by buying our tickets in advance, but it worked out fine. We visited the State Apartments (some rooms closed for restoration work), didn’t see Queen Mary’s Dollhouse (more work), but did visit St George’s and had a chance to stroll about the grounds.

Aside from Emerson, we’d all been there before some years ago, but it was nice to return.

We reversed our journey back to London and arrived at our hotel before 4:00pm. I had some work related stuff to do before heading out to dinner at the Churchill Arms, which has remarkably good Thai food vs. a more traditional pub menu. This was my properly spicy pork stir-fry:

After dinner, we stopped at Caffe Concerto on High Street Kensington for some sumptuous desserts. Here’s my pistachio cake:

Day #12: Rome to London

Today was largely a travel day for us.

We departed the ship in Civitavecchia at 8:15. We found disembarking to be very easy — it’s one of the benefits of passengers rolling on and off the manifest at most of the ports-of-call. You simply don’t have the mad crush of an entire ship disgorging itself all at once.

We met our driver at 8:25 for the trip to the airport (€150), which took about an hour.

Check-in had a little bit of a queue at British Airways, but it wasn’t too annoying despite my lack of status with the airline. All told, we had to waste about two hours before our scheduled boarding time.

Unfortunately, once we’d boarded the plane, we sat on the tarmac for nearly an hour while they struggled to load and unload the luggage. It seemed they were mysteriously short-handed in the baggage handling department?

The flight was otherwise uneventful, and I managed (finally — they’ve been out on other BA flights) to enjoy one of BrewDog’s Speedbird 100 Transatlantic IPAs (brewed to commemorate the centennial of BA and named, of course, for Concorde).

We were about 45 minutes late into London as a result of the baggage snafu, which further delayed our arrival at our hotel due to increased traffic during rush hour. Nonetheless, we made it to our (very small, otherwise fine) rooms at the Hotel Xenia by around 5:45.

After dropping off our baggage, we left for dinner at The Bolton, a nearby pub with excellent food and beer.

Mom and Emerson had burgers (British beef/cheddar and wild boar/chorizo, respectively). Libby enjoyed the bangers and mash, and I went for a traditional steak and cheese pie:

All in all, this made for a nice “welcome to London” end to our day.

Day #11: La Spezia, Italy

Today’s the last day of our cruise but certainly not the least as we’re docked in La Spezia from which folks could opt to visit Florence, Pisa, or the Cinque Terre (our destination) amongst other places.

We left the ship around 8:30, took a shuttle bus out of the port, and then a taxi (€15 euro, maybe a rip off?) from the cruise terminal to the train station, which saved us a 30 minute, uphill walk.

Once at the train station, I bought us Cinque Terre Train Cards, which included unlimited train transport, bathrooms, WiFi, and use of the trails within the Cinque Terre National Park. This was €58 euro for the four of us (including a book) — which was about the cost of a single “on your own” excursion organized by the ship. Of course, it put the burden on us to “figure things out,” but that was no problemo to me. The trains just run in two directions and the villages are only a few minutes apart.

We opted to take start at the most distant village and work our way back, which minimized our return travel time (in case… whatever happened).

The train journey isn’t very scenic. Most of your time is spent in tunnels. Indeed, you only get brief views of the villages and seaside at the stations themselves… assuming you didn’t stop in a tunnel there too!

Our first stop was at Monterosso al Mare, which is the flattest of the villages and seemed to have the most beach / coastline too.

Next we moved on to Vernazza with its attractive natural harbor:

We then skipped Cornilgia in the interest of time, as the trains run every 30 min or so. Thus, one wants to be judicious about hops on and off lest you waste a lot of time in the stations.

Instead, we moved on to Manarola, where we enjoyed a lovely fried calamari and potato lunch while walking around the village and along the cliff side walkway:

Or, final stop was in Riomaggiore for a look around (and some dessert — always good to have a traveling feast):

We then boarded one of the trains for our quick trip back to La Spezia. Since we had enough time remaining before our ship was scheduled to depart, we ambled down through the town and along the water front to the cruise terminal. Like Genoa, this feels like a real, “lived in” place too. It doesn’t get a lot of attention from the guidebooks, but we thought it was a perfectly nice town and could have happily spent more time exploring it.

I really like days like today when we see lots of new things and I get to put my travel skills to good use. That’s always especially fun… savoring both the place and my small victories as a traveler of the world.

We grabbed a quick dinner at the buffet and otherwise spent the rest of the evening getting ready to depart the ship in the morning.

Work continued to be a source of interruption and frustration for me, as it’s been for most days of this trip. I’m planning to avoid that in the future, if at all possible, as I’m gone a lot for work anyway so would rather be fully present when I am with Libby and Emerson.

Day #10: Genoa, Italy

We returned to Italy today with a call in the port of Genoa. This could be used as a gateway to Milan (where we’d been before) or to the Cinque Terre (where we’ll be tomorrow). But, we opted to just visit Genoa, as we’d never really seen this city before aside from briefly passing through on a train from Milan to Nice.

Genoa has a storied history as a major port city — arriving via ship seemed very apropos. It feels “lived in,” which I mean in a nice way. I like the contrast between its narrow medieval lanes and grand piazzas.

Unfortunately, being a Monday the city’s museums were closed. Alas, this is one of the challenges of cruising: arriving in port for a one day visit that doesn’t align with local happenings.

We did, however, make limoncello out of our lemons by enjoying a gourmet pizza lunch at Savo — top quality ingredients, made with care. Just my kind of place:

We spent a bit more time wandering around the old port area (which had been revitalized) before returning to the ship.

For dinner, we ate at the ship’s teppanyaki restaurant, which was one of the best teppanyaki meals I’ve ever had in terms of both flavor and the show (which was participatory). Here’s Emerson trying to flip an egg on a spatula:

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