Cosmos 9000

After surviving (hopefully) the miserably long sleepless flights to London, begin my vacation with a day of independent, extra cost (after all, this is a Cheap(est)mos(t) tour, not Globus or Insight) activities, including hunting for something to eat, or taking an overpriced optional tour, or even staying in the hotel due to rain. Then, head out to Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon and Lady Godiva’s Coventry. Take a walking tour of York, England’s most complete medieval city where we might even get to go inside the York Minster, see a section of Hadrian’s Wall, the Roman coast-to-coast defense against marauding northern tribes (now it would be Scotland's defenses from marauding tourists from the south), and cross the Scottish border.

In Edinburgh, the sightseeing tour includes a visit to mighty Edinburgh Castle to see Scotland’s Crown Jewel (Jewel? Just one?). On to St. Andrews, home of golf (dodging wayward golf balls), and via Dundee and Perth to the Victorian mountain resort of Pitlochry. Spend the night in Cairngorms National Park, then visit the Highland capital of Inverness, and Loch Ness but I doubt that we see the monster. Via Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city (and home of that thieving hotel staff who stole my luggage in 2000), continue through the Lowlands to Gretna Green.

A drive through the lovely Lake District takes us to charming Grasmere and to the shores of beautiful Lake Windermere. Overnight in Liverpool, once home of the now infamous Beatles. In Wales, stop at Betws-y-Coed and Caernarvon as we travel through very scenic Snowdonia. Drive via Brecon Beacons National Park to Cardiff, the Welsh capital.

Back in England, explore elegant Georgian Bath, famous for its Roman ruins, and hear about King Arthur in Glastonbury. Visit Widecombe-in-the-Moor in Dartmoor National Park, made famous in The Hound of the Baskervilles, and see the Mayflower Steps in Plymouth, where the Pilgrim Fathers, who weren't the first colonists but seem to get all the credit, embarked in 1620. Explore prehistoric Stonehenge, if we can find it among all the commercialization, on the way back to London for the long flight home.

My first overseas trip, way back in 1984, was to the UK. I think it is “only fitting” that what is probably my last (42nd) overseas trip is also to the UK – 31 years later.

Day -4, Wednesday, June 3 CHEAPMOS(t) almost strikes out!
I was beginning to think that I wouldn’t get to go, but Cheapmos(t) finally sent my travel documents.

Day 1, Sunday, June 7 Depart the US
I’ll take the StuporShuttle about 10:45 to make sure I get to the airport on time – at least 3 hours early as required. Since this is probably my last overseas (trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific) flight, I splurged and the seats for the flight are upgraded to bu$ine$$ cla$$. “Lunch” is included on the first flight, and “dinner” (at midnight) on the second. I chose flights with a longer connection time in Newark “just in case” and giving me time to get some extra “junk food” since dinner isn’t until midnight – just in case.

United UA 690Houston - Newark2:36P - 7:12P3:432:36
revisedNewark - Heathrow2:36 - 7:40P4:043:00

The first flight went well – only a bit of bounce along the way and a very good, but late (5PM Houston time) lunch. We arrived in Newark about 10 minutes early but our gate was still occupied by another (running very late) flight so eventually we were routed to a different gate and that resulted in a very, very long walk to the second flight gate – which had been changed several times. Originally the 1st flight arrival gate and the 2nd flight departure were one gate apart but due to the first flight being re-routed, it seemed like about 2 miles. If that weren’t enough, for the second flight, even though the plane was at the gate, and had been for quite a while, neither of the ground service crews (cleaners and caterers) were anywhere near on time so we were delayed, delayed again, delayed again, delayed again, etc. until our actual gate push-back was 45 minutes late.

United UA 940Newark - Heathrow9:55P - 10:10A7:1513:14
revisedNewark - Heathrow10:40P ---

Day 2/1, Monday, June 8 Arrive in London
At least the flight was occasionally smooth and I did manage to ALMOST get comfortable, but of course, no sleep. The dinner (about 12:30A Houston time) was better than it looked on the menu, but breakfast “the next morning” was pathetic.

United UA 940Newark - Heathrow9:55P - 10:10A7:1513:14
revisedNewark - Heathrow10:40P - 10:35A6:5513:59

London average temperatures for June: 52 – 70 so it will be on the cool side, particularly further north; Edinburgh is 48 – 63.

WEATHER: 66/47 (cooler than first forecast) 20% rain – hopefully no problems at the airport. Fortunately the weather forecast was wrong. It turned out to be a nice day. The plane finally got in late-morning, and after a 15-mile hike from the gate to the UK equivalent of Immigration – and there after a long (over one hour) standing in line, I finally escaped.

My luggage was of course already delivered (set aside with the rest the baggage) and fortunately for my (pre-booked) transfer included, despite the late arrival of the plane and the ultra-long wait at “Immigration,” the Cosmos (Globus actually) staff was still outside waiting for me so for now it all went well. It was a long ride into London to the hotel, listed as “ST”, but I think that is way too high. By the time we got there, my cell/closet/room was ready. At last something had gone right. A Cosmos (again Globus) host was actually on site so I found out my own schedule for the next two days. Now for an ATM and some junk food. The hotel is about 3 or 4 blocks from Kensington High Street where I was sent and I quickly found an ATM, and (miracle), a junk-food place was right next door: McDonalds. Two big problems solved.

After a little walk-around sightseeing, back to the hotel and my closet-sized cell. I’m tired! The hotel name, “Kensington CLOSE” is appropriate. The walls in my cell are very CLOSE together. I don’t think I would even rate it up to Cheapmos(t) standards.

Later, what seemed like a DISASTER. Yes, I did bring my computer, and its power cord, and even the correct adapter plug for the UK. BUT – for several years my (now deceased) notebook computer power cord had a two-pronged plug, but the new one has the more modern three-prong version … and the UK adapter would only accept the older 2-prong US plug. Due to the shape of the (US) side of the adapter, with some unnecessary rubber extensions, there was no way my new 3-prong would fit in. Computer YES, power cord YES, UK adapter YES, but it seemed like for the next 2 weeks, NO computer. Then about 10:30PM, an “IDEA”. Use my pocket knife and cut off the weird rubber extension that was blocking the 3rd prong. If I hit wires, no problem; the adapter was “useless” anyway. But MIRACLE! It worked. So now, about 11:15PM, my computer works!!!

This being a Cheapmos(t) tour, we were all on our own for today and will be again tomorrow; on our own pocketbook as well. There are no excursions or meals included except breakfast tomorrow and just breakfast, no excursions. Lunch today: Barf-burger; dinner: Chicken nuggets. Breakfast tomorrow is included but probably back to McD for the other meals. Hotel: Kensington Close (ST, oops, just T) (2 nights)

The following is Cheap(est)mos(t) supplied propaganda and is subject to significant changes (Cheap(est)mos(t) is known for frequent "overstatements") as we go along on the trip.

Day 3/2, Tuesday, June 9 London: “Drive-by-Shooting” style (very) SLIGHTseeing Tour
WEATHER: 62/47 (cooler than first forecast) 20% CHANCE OF RAIN. I’m not going to see much. It was down about 40 with a strong breezzee but only a couple of slight sprinkles and those were in the afternoon.

(B) We are supposed to get a “Full English Breakfast” (whatever that means) each morning. It turned out to be excellent. Today is devoted to exploring on our own or “enjoying” an “exciting” program of optional activities. Join a Local Guide for an optional morning sightseeing tour of the city’s famous landmarks: the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Whitehall's mounted Horse Guards and the Prime Minister's Downing Street, Piccadilly Circus, and Buckingham Palace. Highlights are a visit to St. Paul's Cathedral and the ceremonial pageantry of the Changing of the Guard (if held). The morning tour seemed to be the best of a poor list of (often done before) things to do. Later, NOT an optional visit to the Tower of London with its Crown Jewels which I’ll skip since I’ve been there many times before. The tour to Hampton Court is not available. It would have been very nice. The others are all re-re-re-re-peats.

Because the city drive-by-glimpse-seeing tour, although about 4 hours long, was so limited (and disappointing), we got back to the hotel a bit before noon. There was time for some more walking up and down Kensington High Street looking in the windows of shops I had no interest in visiting. Then the expected visit to McD for lunch. After lunch, if both Cheapmos(t) and the KENSINGTON CLOSEts hotel hadn’t been too cheap to even furnish a local map, I could have done some more sightseeing in the area. As I remember from earlier visits, there are (were?) some nice places to visit. However today turns out to be an almost total waste. Three days down and nothing accomplished and almost nothing seen.

I wish that there was a really good “London Walks” offered for this afternoon, but when I checked, by the time I added in the Tube fare (the single ride fare is intentionally set very high to discourage single ticket purchases and encourage passes), it just didn’t look “worth it.” The only thing left is a nap, re-packing, and a “dinner” visit to McD.

** Morning City SLIGHTseeing Drive-by-Shooting” (very) SLIGHTseeing tour with a Local Guide (good speaker but poor guide on walking segments) includes glimpses of the famous landmarks: the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben beside the River Thames, Westminster Abbey, Whitehall's mounted Horse Guards and the Prime Minister's Downing Street, Piccadilly Circus, and Buckingham Palace. We visit St. Paul's Cathedral (about an hour visit; nice) and almost missed the ceremonial pageantry of the Changing of the Guard, which was only the 2nd time I’ve seen it. This was indeed more of a fast “drive-by-shooting” SLIGHTseeing tour (don’t blink or you will miss it, particularly if you are sitting on the opposite side of the bus) with just a couple of stops. £30 BOOKED!

Trees, and the London traffic (horrible), ruined seeing much plus any decent pictures chances. I saw far more doing my on thing on foot and tube on the first two trips (1984/5) and even again in 2000.

Tower of London and Crown Jewels The Tower of London is one of the most famous historic buildings in the world. Built by William the Conqueror in 1066-1067, it has been guarded by Yeoman Warders (popularly known as the Beefeaters) since the 14th century. It is a fortress, a royal palace, a prison, a place of execution, and an armory. It is most famously known as the home to the priceless Crown Jewels. £45/$67 (NO – multi repeat)

Afternoon Excursion to Windsor Castle Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world. One of the official residences of Queen Elizabeth II the castle is still used regularly for ceremonial and state occasions. Visit the magnificent State Apartments and see wonderful St. George's Chapel the burial place of ten monarchs including Henry VIII and Charles I. £48/$72 (NO – multi repeat)

Buckingham Palace and the Royal Mews Buckingham Palace serves as both the office and London residence of Her Majesty the Queen. Before entry to the Palace you will visit the Royal Mews, one of the finest working stables still in existence. See the State vehicles, both horse-drawn carriages and cars, used for coronations, royal weddings and State Visits, including the Gold State Coach which has been used for every coronation since 1821 and last used for The Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002. £56/$84 (NO – been once and not worth it.)

Day 4/3, Wednesday, June 10 London - Stratford - Coventry - Leeds
(BD) This morning is another very cool (cold) morning but at least we get another good breakfast. After having to survive the London “jungle” maze totally on our own, doing nothing and seeing almost nothing, it is the 4th day of the trip and we finally get to meet our Tour Director, Pieter, and our driver, Alistair. Peter is only 28, his father is a Globus tour director, and we meet him along the way. There are 43 head of cattle they will be chasing around.

We have to have our bags out at 6:30 and depart at 8am under a heavy overcast for a “memorable” day of sightseeing. Head for Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon to see Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, then explore the town at our own pace. I managed a few pictures at Anne’s “cottage” but then the weather/overcast turned really dark so no more pictures here. The rest of the 2 ½ hours was basically take a brief look to find some junk-food lunch on our own, then see some of the historic areas (on our own - no guided tour) after which the only thing to do is just wander around window not-window-shopping.

After lunch, visit Coventry, whose center had to be rebuilt after the devastation of World War II bombings, and hear the tale of Lady Godiva and Peeping Tom before viewing the modern cathedral. Both the remains of the old cathedral and the new one are side-by-side. I prefer the older one – it is more traditional. To me, the new one looks more like the jail extension of some city hall. Finally, head northwards out of the Midlands to tonight’s destination in Leeds. The hotel here is extremely nicer than the Kensington Closets. Dinner is included tonight and is a nice, short buffet. Hotel: Jurys Inn

Day 5/4, Thursday, June 11 Leeds - York - Jedburgh - Edinburgh
(B) It is another cool morning but it warms up later and turns out to be a fantastic weather day. Breakfast at 7 (late as far as I’m concerned) then we get on the bus and are gone by 8. In York, England’s most complete medieval city, (#1 highlight stop of the whole trip; not quite, but almost the only reason I came on the trip!) stand in awe in front of the great structure of York Minster, then follow our Tour Director through a maze of quaint streets including the narrow Shambles. (10, 876 very bad words censored!) In all its infinite stupidity, Cheap(est)mos(t) scheduled us to have only two hours here, and I had wanted to: a) spend a couple of hours in the Minster; b) walk the walks, and c) make a “thorough” exploration of the Shambles!! All I got was a brief look down one street of the Shambles and about 30 minutes inside the Minster. (Another 8,714 very bad words censored!)

After this thoroughly disappointing miserable excuse of a visit to York, we are forced by Cheap(est)mos(t) to continue through wild Northumberland National Park and see a section of Hadrian’s Wall (all of 1-2 feet high), the Roman coast-to-coast defense against marauding northern tribes. If it were reasonably intact, now it could be the Scots’ defense against marauding tourists from the south.

We make a lunch stop at a highway gas station (burgers). Next we cross the Scottish border and at Jedburgh, glimpse the house of Mary, Queen of Scots, and see the abbey ruins. After getting stuck in Edinburgh traffic for what seems like hours, we finally make an late-afternoon early evening arrival in Edinburgh giving those who are to meet the Haggis tonight only about 5-10 minutes to get their room key and make a mad dash to “refresh themselves”. Since I’ve done it before, I didn’t follow the suggestion for this evening: enjoy a traditional Scottish night out with Highland dancers, bagpipers, and, of course, the Ceremony of the Haggis (“been there, done that” so not again). The weather was very good today and it could have been a great day - except for what Cheap(est)mos(t) did to the schedule. Hotel: Capital (F) which doesn’t have a/c but we can open a window and let in all the street noise.

Day 6/5, Friday, June 12 Edinburgh
(B,OD) I’m getting “tired” of these morning in which it is daylight at 3:45AM and bright daylight by 4:15 or 4:30. They are making me get up WAY too early in the morning even for my usual “schedule”.

We have a full day to enjoy the Scottish capital. We even have a real tour leader guide today – not just Pieter’s usual arm-waving-pointing various places but he has not given us any guiding. Our morning sightseeing with that Local Guide introduces us to the 200-year-old “New Town” and famous scientists, inventors, and novelists. In the “Old Town,” drive up the narrow Royal Mile to EDINBURGH CASTLE to see Scotland’s Crown Jewels. It has been a nice morning and the weather has even cooperated and up until late afternoon was quite warm. Lunch is on our own.

The afternoon is at leisure but again no map is available to help us get around so I used the time to repack for tomorrow’s departure. Late this afternoon, after a very warm late morning/early afternoon, a cool/cold weather front came in and dropped the temperature several degrees to where a coat was definitely needed. Then we have a unique optional experience: board the former Royal Yacht Britannia, which for the Queen was once the perfect royal residence for glittering state visits and family holidays. Tour five decks and see how the Royal Family and crew of 240 lived and worked on board. We even get to see the honeymoon suite where Charles and Diana spent their wedding night, and the phone in the suite which Charles used to call his “special lady friend,” then known as “Camilla the Gorilla.” It was an interesting tour but not that fantastic; the usual Cheapmos(t) overstatement.

Dinner was at a fancy Italian restaurant. The food was probably very good but did not match my preferences so I would rate it down a couple of notches. At least the soup was excellent. However I would have preferred Burger King. This rounded off the optional evening fairly late which is why I had to do the repacking this afternoon.

** Royal Yacht Britannia Excursion & Dinner A unique optional experience: board the former Royal Yacht Britannia, once the perfect royal residence for the Queen's glittering state visits and family holidays. Tour five decks and see how the Royal Family and crew of 240 lived and worked on board. Dinner with wine and coffee at a local restaurant rounds off the evening. £54 BOOKED!

Day 7/6, Saturday, June 13 Miserable Cold, Windy, often Wet Day
(BD) We start out this heavily overcast morning in a cold, very windy, drizzle. On a day of memorable miserable, sightseeing, we take the Forth Road Bridge to where they invented golf balls. There we are evicted from our warm, comfortable coach and condemned to about 2 ½ hours in cold, very windy weather and about the only thing to do is make an unsuccessful attempt to find some shelter from the vicious wind. There are no golf balls to be seen. Reasonable people are staying inside.

Eventually our sentence is commuted and, in the rain, we cross the Firth of Tay and via Dundee and Perth, head into the Highlands, with a stop in the Victorian mountain resort of Pitlochry where we have another1 ½ hours in cold wind to find something to eat. As we leave, it starts raining fairly heavily and we can see nothing through the rain and fog. There is even supposed to be some snow still in some places on the mountains but we can’t see it, or any of the supposedly great scenery. With the weather we've had, definitely no pictures today.

We do finally get to the small town of Newtonmore, situated in Britain’s largest national park, the Cairngorms where we spend the night. It is still raining some so a) I’m NOT going for a cold, wet walk into town even though it looked interesting (what little we could see of it) as we came into town, and b) I’m very glad that I’m skipping the Sheep Dog demo. Note: in the Highlands, they still do things much as they have for years, and it is done on what we sometimes call “Mexican time.”

While waiting for dinner time, on TV they were showing the Trooping of the Colors for HMQ Elizabeth’s Birthday (89). Dinner is late – Mexican time again is their usual routine. Again it was a case where the soup was the best course of the meal. Hotel: Highlander (F T), basic and satisfactory but no wi-fi.Dinner is late – Mexican time again is their usual routine. Hotel: Newtonmmore Highlander (F T), basic but satisfactory except no wi-fi in the rooms.

Day 8/7, Sunday, June 14 Newtonmore - Culloden Moor - Inverness - Glasgow
Through most of the night, it was easy to tell that the walls between the rooms were thin with no soundproofing: in the rooms on both sides of mine, at least one person snored when sleeping. Also, I didn’t find the heater on/off switch until just before I had to get up and the room got VERY hot. I had to open the window to keep from sweltering.

(B, D) We’re still on “Mexican Time.” We had to wait halfway from dawn to noon to finally get our breakfast. Then we are rounded up and herded into our cattle wagon to head off into the cool weather day – and stays cool but clears to be a beautiful day. It is our second day with an alternate driver. Alistair is off for two days on his mandatory break time.

We now head north, then west and then south. We visit the battlefield of Culloden Moor with a one-hour stop and then slide by Inverness, the Highland capital. We make a quick stop at Loch Ness (but not seeing the “Monster”) as we drive around Fort William beneath Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain, still with lots of patches of snow. Lunch is at some “wide spot in the road” but I do get some nice soup and chips. Enter the beautiful but haunting Glen Coe area where we have some nice “tales” by Pieter about where the MacDonald Clan was, on the orders of the King, massacred by the Campbells in 1692, pass wild Rannoch Moor, and then drive along the “Bonnie Banks” of Loch Lomond to Glasgow.

Pieter has made several really nice scenery and history commentaries today, and they have really added to the travels. He has also played several musical excerpts which also added to the interest and enjoyment. We had lots of good scenery but for pictures, between reflection and glare on the windows, and a swaying bus, there was no chance for any decent pictures. Grumble, grumble, growl and gritch. This has been beautiful scenery today. When we get to Glasgow, we do get a short drive-by viewing of some of the landmarks, then head on to the hotel. Dinner tonight was very good. This time it was the soup that was the weak link. Hotel: Pond (F)

DANGER: Be careful at any hotel in Glasgow. In 2000, at the Thistle Hotel, the hotel staff stole my luggage. It made it from the bus to the lobby, but I never saw it again. However, this one seems to be “safe.”

Side note: there are two ladies on the tour, traveling together, who are so oversize that it is truly almost impossible for them to squeeze themselves down the aisle of the bus. Each pair of seats (backs) presents a significant challenge.

Day 9/8, Monday, June 15 Glasgow - Gretna Green - Lake District - Liverpool
(BD) This was a nice day, intermittent clouds but nicer temps. We drive south through the beautiful history-steeped Lowland Hills and visit Gretna Green, where the blacksmith used to wed runaway couples. Talk about commercialized – this (the blacksmith area) would be in the top 10 at least. Drive through very beautiful scenery in the Lake District, considered to be the finest of England’s national parks. I have the same picture problems as yesterday. Grumble, grumble!! Extremely disappointing.

Visit Wordsworth’s Grasmere where I have a “GrossMore” lunch: ham and cheese sandwich = 2 slices of plain bread, 1 slice of ham, and 1 slice of cheese – for £4.95 = ~$7.70. Definitely GrossMore! At least it is in a pretty area and a nice little town to walk around in. We then follow the shores of Lake Windermere for a while but it isn’t as pretty. After a while we get on a boring motorway (freeway) to make our way into Liverpool, former home of the infamous Beatles. End the day in Liverpool, once the departure port of the great transatlantic liners. There is an optional city tour this evening but the description reads like it may be more music oriented and I’m not interested in that so I’ll skip it. Hotel: Holiday Inn Liverpool City Centre (F) Definitely a very nice hotel but dinner ... the soup won again. The entrée was VERY poor quality. (2 nights)

Liverpool Evening City Tour Discover Liverpool, a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its impressive waterfront. First, set foot inside Liverpool Cathedral, a magnificent place which Sir John Betjeman called 'one of the great buildings of the world'. Then, let your Local Guide describe the city's glorious maritime history and world-renowned musical heritage as well as its present status as key destination for art lovers, fans of the theatre and museums. £20 No Thanks.

Day 10/9, Tuesday, June 16 Liverpool - North Wales Excursion
(B) After a decent night on a nice bed, (and much later “daylight” since we are quite a bit further south) there is “Breakfast”; dinner last night was an omen. Again it is a very poor meal. For an example, think Croissant-shaped bricks. I’m definitely looking forward to today’s (highlight!!) excursion which is dedicated to the mountainous splendor of North Wales. But since due to seat rotation, I’m stuck in almost the very back of the cattle car with almost no view, so I can only hope, but it is not to be. There is an almost decent view, but the bounce, sway, and engine noise is awful. I’m now dreading tomorrow when I will be on the very back row. I’ve never been car-sick, but today I came close.

Our first stop is in pretty Betws-y-Coed, a small town with lots of “character and style.” I even splurge and buy some more pieces for my cat collection. We continue and drive over spectacular Llanberis Pass where we see several climbers scaling the dangerous (loose crumbling stone) vertical rock faces and even a class of young/beginner climbers getting another lesson.

Then through Snowdonia National Park where the scenery is great but no picture stops and poor results while trying to shoot from the bus. Our lunch stop is in Caernarvon which was the site of the investiture of Charles as Prince of Wales. I did get into the castle for a short while (admission charge) then have not-very-good lunch followed by about 45 minutes standing in that high wind (with a very high wind-chill factor) trying to stay reasonably warm. Next we follow the coast road via the walled town of Conway where we have a fast drive-by-glimpse of the great castle but are too close to really see it (drive right by the walls without stopping) then a long two-hour drive back to Liverpool. Dinner is snax from a food market next to the hotel.

The scenery has been great, the wind cold and strong, the food not-so-great, and the bus ride itself was awful. Tomorrow will probably be worse.

Day 11/10, Wednesday, June 17 Liverpool - Chester - Ludlow - Cardiff
(B,OD) Again, “daylight” is much later since we are quite a bit further south. We were still at the bad-food place overnight, so we have another poor breakfast. It can only get better. At least I hope so, and this should be another good day if I can survive the bus ride on the very back row.

Due to traffic, we are running late as we get into Chester, the historic county town on the Dee River, so our walking tour which includes the Roman remains, black and white half-timbered buildings, and the two-tiered arcades called the “Rows” is cut to half the normal time. Although it is a nice stop I didn’t get to see everything I wanted to see. Other than a short pictures stop, our next stop is in the pretty market town of Ludlow which looks interesting as we drive in but we get off the bus in a light drizzle, so that slows us down and eliminates any pictures. It IS a much nicer looking and cleaner city/town that either Glasgow or Liverpool, both of which needed a make-over and a major trash cleanup.

We do get to go by (but not into) Llanfair-pwllgwyngyll-gogery-chwyrn-drobwll-llan-tysilio-gogo-goch which means: “The church of Mary in the hollow of the white hazel near the fierce whirlpool and the church of Tysilio by the red cave.” Note: the hyphens are not part of the name; just included to show the different "words." So it actually is Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch

We then head back into Wales and Brecon Beacons National Park, land of salmon rivers and the Welsh mountain pony but that is more Cheapmos(t) exaggerations. Pieter says that in all the years he has been coming up here, he has never seen a Welsh mountain pony, much less a salmon river. The scenery is nice, but not up to what we saw in the two previous days. Finally, travel through “The Valleys,” whose iron ore and coal were the raw materials for the Industrial Revolution, to the Welsh Capital. Here, an orientation drive introduces us to the major attractions: Cardiff Castle, Cathays Park, Millennium Stadium, and the civic buildings. Tonight join an optional evening of Welsh entertainment and dinner. Oops, major change in plans. See below.

BAD NEWS: Probably due to a) the awful dinner two nights ago, b) the lousy breakfasts in Liverpool, c) a poor quality lunch in Ludlow, and D) (primarily) a miserable bus ride giving me major stomach/digestive problems, I’M FORCED TO SKIP THE OPTIONAL CARDIFF CASTLE EXCURSION tonight which I had really been looking forward to doing. It was great the other time I did it. Hotel: Novotel (F)

** Welsh Evening at Cardiff Castle After a guided tour of Cardiff Castle, enjoy an unforgettable evening of Welsh hospitality in historic surroundings. You are treated to the very best of Welsh food, entertainment and the warmest of welcomes from your hosts, the Nosweithiau Bute-iful Nights. Traditionally costumed characters perform popular Welsh songs and invite you to join in the fun. £59 BOOKED!!

Day 12/11, Thursday, June 18 Cardiff - Bath - Glastonbury - Widecombe - Plymouth
(BD) The trip is almost over. And I missed seeing lots of what I had wanted to see. Grumble! Leaving Wales, cross the Severn Bridge for a visit (4th time) to fight our way through really awful traffic to the Georgian city of Bath, famed for its Roman relics and the Abbey, both of which I had wanted to see. The problem for the entire trip has been admission fees – which are not paid for by Cheapmos(t). They usually range from £7-8 up to about £25. Just here it would have been almost £35 just for the two admissions so I took an alternative: another one of those drive-by-glimpses SLIGHTseeing bus tours. I've probably run up an unexpected total of well over £200 for just those "extra" admissions. This is also our lunch (snacks) stop. This is also our lunch (snacks) stop and while eating my lunch, I/we had nice entertainment from a very good soprano (busker) and a more traditional violinist (busker).

After a couple of hours we head into the romantically scenic West Country and Glastonbury with its King Arthur associations. It is a nice little town but just a “rest-stop” for about 15 minutes. In the heart of Dartmoor National Park, we make another short stop in quaint Widecombe-in-the-Moor, ghostly setting for Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Finally, after fighting more awful traffic, we arrive in Plymouth and hear about Sir Francis Drake and see the Mayflower Steps, where the Pilgrim Fathers embarked in 1620 and while the colony they started was not the first permanent colony, they pretty much stole all the credit for being first. Pieter (tour director) repeatedly said that they were the first permanent colonists in America. We barely make it in time for the cruise option which is a good choice; very nice but not fantastic. Hotel: Jurys Inn (F)

** Plymouth Harbor Cruise See the sights of Plymouth on a harbor cruise vessels with commentary by the captain. Cruise past RAF Mount Batten, a former Royal Air Force station and flying boat base, and take in the lovely views across Plymouth Sound, passing Smeaton's Tower, Drakes Island and the beautiful Mount Edgecombe Park. £12 BOOKED!

Day 13/12, Friday, June 19 Plymouth - Stonehenge - London
(B) After a fairly decent breakfast, we have what is essentially just a driving day: 3 hours from wherever it is that we spent the night on to Stonehenge, our only stop of interest for the “whole” day. Then after a 2-hour visit there, it is another 2 hours to London.

On the final leg of our journey, take in Thomas Hardy’s Wessex, and visit prehistoric STONEHENGE. It has really been changed – for the much, much better – since I was here last time. They moved the road that had run nearby to over a mile away, got rid of all the trashy souvenir and snacks vendors, and built a new Visitor Center. Now Stonehenge is again standing by itself out “in the middle of the plain” and is much more imposing that way.

First, before the bigger crowds get here, take a small shuttle bus for the 5-7 minute ride for that one-mile-plus ride out to see Stonehenge. There is now a nice path around it, but it is far enough away not to distract. This is also our lunch stop so we go to Rip-Off Café in the visitor center for much overpriced not-so-great sandwiches / soup / etc. There is also a new, very interesting, museum which is well worth a visit.

Essentially the trip is over as soon as we leave Stonehenge about 1PM. Pieter even deserts us this afternoon and flies off to Germany for a couple of days to see his lady-friend. We are to be at the mercy of the local Globus/Cosmos staff.

Return to London around 3 pm and start looking for a “junk-food” dinner but without much luck – poor dinner. Cheapmos(t) is getting too cheap again – no dinner provided as a “farewell dinner” tonight. They want us to run up our bill and book another option: a very expensive dinner and theater evening. It is way too expensive for me, after all those un-planned-for entrance fees, and the offerings (shows) didn’t appeal either. At least we aren’t going back to the Kensington Closets for the night. A local Globus/Cheapmos(t) agent tells us about our transfer times for tomorrow. Hotel: Novotel London West (F), assuming we can finally get our room key-cards to work – only to find that the hotel has set the room a/c temperature to warmer than I like and it can’t seem to be changed. Otherwise it is a decent room.

Day 14/13, Saturday, June 20 London-Departures
(B) We just missed the Summer Solstice Celebration at Stonehenge. They are expecting thousands of visitors on the 21st. There was another tour group there which had been scheduled to visit on the 21st but had to change their schedule and route.

With the very early daylight, I’m fully awake and up at about 5:15. The vacation ends with a very good breakfast this morning. This actually turns out to be one of the best breakfasts on the trip – good selection and well prepared. Usually with my flight schedule I miss out on an “included” breakfast but with my “late” flight, I get to eat it since the hotel restaurant opens at 6. A pre-booked transfer to the airport is included which leaves the hotel at 9:30. The drive to Heathrow grounds takes only about 15+ minutes but Heathrow is HUGE. It takes almost the rest of an hour to drive around and around dropping passengers off at 3 of the 5 terminals.

I do have saved back enough ££ for lunch at the airport with a small bit left over. Then it is time to board the plane for another long flight to get home but as in Newark 2 weeks ago, the “cleaners” (don’t) do their dirty work. It is 10-minute delay over and over. We finally board and eventually “push back” about 28 minutes late. Although I did have “lunch” (ham and cheese Panini), we still get (another) “lunch” on the flight. It is not as good as we had “coming over,” in fact, the Panini was better. Although it is the usual long 10 hours, at least the flight is direct, and the seat is upgraded to bu$ine$$ cla$$.

United UA 5Heathrow - Houston1:40P - 5:45P10:05
RevisedHeathrow - Houston 2:08P - 5:52P9:44

There are no worries about connections and I go through Customs, etc., in Houston. Maybe I’ll have only a short wait for the StuporShuttle. However I didn’t factor in an exceedingly long line to even get to an Immigration agent. They had the area divided into “endless” lines going back and forth. My first guess was a mile, but with (I lost count about 25) lines each about 30+ feet long, it was closer to a half-mile. (I can also compare that to the distance I walk to the grocery store (3/4 mile). Luggage pickup is easy – it has been there for quite a while. Then all those people who were in the Immigration line have to line up to turn in their arrival cards to Customs. That takes another 15-20 minutes, so it has been about 2 hours since I got off the plane.

It is a fairly short wait for the shuttle, but then I’m the 4th person to be dropped off – a 4 widely separated locations. Instead of getting home at 7:30 or 8, I don’t get home until 3:10 AM Sunday morning, London time. It has been a long 22-hour day.

Tomorrow (today?), June 21, is the longest day (light) of the year. I’ll need the time to recover even though it is back to (horrors) our usual very hot, humid weather. Of course that also means that it is officially the first day of Texas’ Hell, er, summer, and well into our Hurricane Season. At least tropical storm Bill didn’t do much damage.

I now wish that I had taken a longer trip such as the Globus 20-day “GL” trip. This one, effectively only 10 days long, just didn’t give enough time in several interesting places. The unexpected large number of high admission fees didn’t help either. But for what was included, except for the awful (way too short) pause in York, it was a pretty good trip.

Selected pictures
Click to enlarge


MEALS: “Full English” Breakfast each day starting with Day 3.
Scrambled eggs -- usually way to runny, literally, to eat
Pork sausage -- tried, but too much fat in them
English bacon -- usually good
Baked beans -- very good but there is “that” problem
“Hash Browns” patties -- mixed reviews
Cooked tomatoes -- I like them cold, not hot
Fresh fruit -- usually a good selection
Bread, etc. -- Either sliced to be toasted, or, usually, overdone croissant bricks
Orange Juice -- In the tiniest glasses possible (but not quite just a thimble)
Cold/Ice water -- not available
… So it usually ended up being bacon, potatoes, a SMALL bit of beans, fruit, and orange juice.

HOTELS in ranked order, high to very low:
Rank Days Hotel / comments
1 -- 11 -- Novotel Cardiff -- The food is good, this is a true #1
2 -- 8 -- Glasgow Pond Hotel -- Nice appearance and arrangement but no heat. Good dinner & breakfast
3 -- 5-6 -- Capital Hotel Edinburgh -- Dark but ok. Very very slow ‘net
4 -- 12 -- Jurys Inn Plymouth -- Nice hotel but not so great dinner
5 -- 4 -- Jurys Inn Leeds, Leeds -- Toilet and a/c problems (a/c hotel setting)
6 -- 13 -- Novotel London West, London -- A/C problems hotel set, room key-card problems, great breakfast
7 -- 9-10 -- Holiday Inn Liverpool -- It is a Holiday Inn so is nice but awful food
8 -- 7 -- Highlander Newtonmore -- Very basic. Temperatures-how to turn off heat. Cramped toilet space, floor noise
999 -- 2-3 -- Kensington Closets, London -- Awful, cramped, bad WC arrangement

Previous UK Trips
1984, Frames Rikards Tours, UK, 23 days
1985, Frames Rikards Tours, UK and Ireland, 26 days
2000, Globus, UK, 23 days (Glasgow hotel stole my luggage)
2012, Rode Skalur, London, 10 days (very, very poor)
2015, Cosmos, UK, 14 (10) days