23 June 2012, Gail’s trip log

Today was a very busy day. Kellar had a swim meet at 800 and had to be there at 700. Henri took Kellar early and Dan and Cinda went in time for the meet. I stayed home. Everyone, including Cooper, was back home by 1000 and some late breakfasts were consumed. Andy and Quinn met Cinda, Kellar, Taylor and me at the bridal shop to try on dresses for Aunt Susanna’s wedding. Taylor spent the afternoon with us as her mom had to cover 5 baseball games that Taylor’s brothers were in. It turned out that the dress Cinda had ordered for Kellar didn’t fit – and they didn’t have one in the needed size to try on – also was the size that Quinn needed. So they called around and found that the store in Naperville had the right size in the right color even, so we piled into our cars and took a 30 minute “road trip” out there (after updating Dan and Henri and Cooper who were waiting at home to meet us at Downers Delight again for lunch). The trip was successful and both girls fit into the dress. Cinda was able to exchange the one she had already bought and Andy got the information he needs to order Quinn’s dress from a store near his home. And photos were sent to and approved by Aunt Susanna. Everyone was very happy – and very hungry. We got to the restaurant about 145 and everyone had a great lunch. I had a gyros sandwich and baklava to go. Kellar had a softball game at 400, which gave us just enough time to run home so she could change and we could all get to the game. I told Cinda she had turned into the ultimate “soccer mom”. She quoted an old Uncle Phil phrase about soccer – “We don’t play that commie ball”. We all laughed. I got my first sight of Shane, Shelly’s new husband, as he is one of the coaches of the team. I didn’t actually meet him yet, but everyone raves about him. Anyway, it was fun to watch the 6-7 year old girls in their adorable red uniforms with tie-dye socks and 12/12 Architects on the back (Cinda’s company). The weather wasn’t bad – partly cloudy and in the 80s. They don’t really keep score, but Kellar’s team clearly won big. Shane took everyone to DQ afterwards, but I had them drop me off on the way for ice cream. Later we gave the kids the little gifts that we brought for them. The big balloons from Mumbai were a great hit and created some interesting moments. I blew one up and it popped and scared even the dog. And cooper filled one with water in the bathroom sink that resulted in a mini-flood when it burst. I am pooped! Great day though. I am watching a Sox game downstairs where it is quiet. I don’t think I’m going anywhere tomorrow.

22 June 2012, Gail’s trip log

Slept really well last night, although I was a little warm – had too many covers on I think. Anyway, we just lounged around and had breakfast. Then about 1000 Cinda and Kellar and Cooper went to the swimming pool (we dropped them off) and we went to find a post office to mail a package of yarn to Cricket and then on to find a place to get my haircut. Dan was also looking for an ATM. I found a place and went in and she said she could do it in about ten minutes. Well, after more than 20 minutes of waiting, when Dan came back from going to the ATM and getting something to drink, there was no haircut in sight. So I just said never mind and we left. So, I decided I would just wait until I get home and can go to my regular place – 5 more days won’t matter at this point. About 100 we decided to go to Downers Delight for lunch and went to the pool to pick up Cinda and the kids. Kids weren’t ready to go so Shelly said she would watch them so Cinda could go. So, Dan and Cinda and I went and had a very nice leisurely lunch. It was good to have quiet time to talk and catch up. Cinda doesn’t get too many chances to have face time with her dad. We got back to the house and Dan and Cinda went to get some groceries, picking up stuff for dinner and the next few days. I stayed home and held down the fort again. We had dinner around 600 – rotisserie chicken, scalloped potatoes and corn on the cob. Later we had some peanut butter cup frozen pie (I also today ordered my diet drops in anticipation of my drastic change in carbohydrate consumption – I am letting my body have fair warning that the good times are just about over for a while) After dinner we went around the table and told the best part of our day – mine was the lunch at Downers Delight. It is a local restaurant that all the Lesters who live here really like a lot. It is very homey, good food, good Greek food, good breakfasts, good anything. Anyway, after dinner Cooper went to his friends house to spend the night and we watched a baseball game. I am going to crawl in bed with my book and Dan is still upstairs. Busy day tomorrow.

21 June 2012, Gail’s trip log

After months of doing all kinds of stuff every day, what a treat to have a day where I did absolutely nothing. I crashed before 900 last night, never even ate any dinner (not that I couldn’t use a few more skipped meals). We woke about 500 – our bodies still somewhat confused as to what continent we are on. About 600 we heard others moving around and went upstairs to rustle up some coffee. Cinda and the kids left about 830 to go for diving practice for Kellar and swim lessons for Cooper and I watched a little TV and Dan went back to bed for a while. After Cinda and the kids got home around 1100, Dan and Cinda, after some discussion of possible options, went and got some takeaway Mexican food for lunch. I had a chile relleno taco and it was very good. It was from a local non-chain place and I was very impressed. Anyway, after lunch it was quiet time for everyone for a while. The weather is spectacular here – low 80s, low humidity (although there was a shower mid-morning) and nice breeze. Cinda had the fans going and the windows open. Late afternoon she shoved the kids outside for a while. Kellar had a swim meet at 700 and she had to be there at 600. Henri got home in time to take her and Cooper. Dan and Cinda went over about ½ hour later. I begged off and stayed here with the dog, Maddie. By tomorrow I may be rested enough to resume normality – so to speak. Kellar swam in two races and did very well. Cinda recorded one on her phone, so I got to see it. By the time everyone got home it was nearly 900, so dinner was made up of stuff available in the kitchen. I heated up a can of soup and Dan had that with some chips. I had some cinnamon bread that Cinda brought back from her early morning meeting, and a couple of hot dogs and some watermelon. I was watching the end of an episode of Chopped when they all got home. Turns out Kellar really likes to watch it too. Anyway, after we ate we went around the table and everyone told the favorite part of their day – a nice tradition that they do every night. By the end of this Cooper was literally asleep on the table, so Cinda carried him off to bed. I came downstairs fairly soon after to watch a little TV and read. Dan stayed upstairs. Maybe we will sleep a little later tomorrow.

20 June 2012, Gail’s trip log

What a day! We got up at 500 again and got the little shuttle to Heathrow Terminal 1. We checked in and paid the $45 for the third bag. Then we found an English pub that served breakfast. So far, so good. Even the security had been pretty easy so early in the morning. After breakfast we just had to wait until 800 when we’d be informed of which gate our flight to Dublin would be at. When it was finally posted it said it would be a 25 minute walk to the gate – good grief! So off we went with our 4 carry on bags. They weren’t kidding about the walk! But we got there and waited a bit until we could board. Quick and easy flight to Dublin – didn’t get anything to eat in that 80 minute flight since they charged for everything, including water. But we’d brought water, so all was well. While moving on to the other terminal in Dublin we had to go through security again even though we’d never left the secure area. No big deal, and not a big surprise. Then a very long line, at least half an hour, for U.S. Customs Pre-Clearance, done by US Customs employees. It looked pretty daunting at first, but we filled out our customs declaration forms, had our passports scanned, identified our bags on their computer screen (we had no idea they took pictures of them as we checked them in), answered the usual questions, and continued on our way. Good thing Orbitz knew all this and gave us plenty of time in Dublin for all the steps, both procedural and by foot, we needed. As it turned out, all of this was our clearance for customs in Chicago, and we were able to just walk off the plane at the end in Chicago. Next, we went through our third security screening of the day, this one by USA standards, though they appeared to be Irish employees. So we took off shoes for the first time in months, pulled out our baggies of toiletries, our iPads and Mac, etc, etc. Then another trek to our final gate. We got a little snack, but since we had learned that Aer Lingus did provide a meal and snack on the long haul flight, we didn’t load up with anything but water, which was a good thing. With a large plane (A330) boarding was going to be long, and since I’d been having trouble with my knee after all my eating on the ship and walking all morning around terminals, Dan said that I needed extra time boarding, so we got on early. We left Dublin half an hour late, but with a tailwind we landed in Chicago a half hour early, a total of 7 ½ hours. I had watched a movie and done puzzles – never did sleep. We had to wait ten minutes for a gate to be available. Cinda and the kids actually saw our plane waiting (only bright green plane around at the time). We got our three checked bags pretty quickly and were off when they picked us up at the curb a few minutes later. Traffic wasn’t bad at all and after a run through McDonalds drive-thru for a snack we got home to Cinda’s by 430. Kellar had a softball game at 600, so Dan went to that, but I was tired and stayed home. They just got back and are discussing dinner – but I am just getting in bed, since my body thinks it is about 300 in the morning. Very happy to be back in the USA!

19 June 2012, Gail’s trip log

Well, today was interesting. We got up at 500 and went to get breakfast before the mobs. We were still moving, so obviously we were running a little late since we were supposed to be tied up by 500. Anyway, we went to our tour gathering point a few minutes before 700, got our stickers and sat down to wait. Dan made a visit to the loo with an iffy GI system, which thanks to some quick preventative drugs got better fairly soon. About 730 they told us they were running behind getting luggage off (which we had assumed, since arrived late). Finally they started calling tours and things were looking up. But suddenly they announced a ‘Code Alpha team report to the gangway’ over the PA system and we knew that was a medical emergency. Things came to a halt. We found out later that someone disembarking had a heart attack on the narrow gangway and they had to get an ambulance and set up a second gangway as quickly as possible. We finally got our call, waited in a long queue to leave, got our luggage and, after being knocked down by a man who was careless with his luggage cart, finally got on the bus and started out about 845. About 1 ¼ hours late, but we were off to Windsor at last. We had noticed a small refund on our tour on the final billing we got this morning and it turns out it was because we were not able to tour the royal apartments today, as they’re in use by guests of the Queen, who is in residence at the Palace this week – for Royal Ascot week, which started today. We went right by the grandstand on our way to the Palace. Fortunately it was early enough that it wasn’t a problem for us, though there was a queue of over a mile of motor vehicles going the other way, as they were being led by a coach and four horses, all of the occupants in proper morning dress for Ascot. We got to Windsor about 1000 and it was really awesome. It was a bit of a hassle to get in, but it was worth it once we got through security. You really need a whole day. We even got to see some of the changing of the guard ceremony, which was a fun surprise. We hadn’t even gotten near the Palace in London. Got some pictures of the guy standing at attention in his little hut guard post. St. George’s Chapel was really interesting, with all the amazing stained glass (much more than in any of the cathedrals) and all the monarchs buried there, including Henry VIII, George III, George V and the “Queen Mum”, and many others. It is expected that Elizabeth II will be there in due course, with her parents. We had to be back on the bus by 1230 to head for Heathrow – to start dropping people off for their flights. We got delayed by a fender bender between two of the terminals but since we aren’t flying out until tomorrow, it didn’t bother us. We even got the bus driver to drop us off last, at our hotel, and saved cab fare and some hassle. We got checked in – one of the nicest Sheratons so far – then went to get a late lunch about 230. Had the most superb fish and chips ever and then picked up a scone from the lobby Starbucks for bedtime. Now catching up on Facebook a bit since we have free internet. Have both had showers and have clothes ready for the morning. It will be a long day. We have to get up at 500 again and get a shuttle to the airport. We are flying Aer Lingus to O’Hare in Chicago, with a 3 hour layover in Dublin. We got to Chicago about 330 their time. Time to eat my muffin and get to bed.

18 June 2012, Gail’s trip log

Last day of our cruise. We had no tour scheduled, but did not get to sleep very late as we arrived in Le Havre before 700 and we felt the thrusters getting us into position and then around 730 the announcement that we had arrived and people could go ashore. We sat on our balcony – decidedly warmer weather – and watched over 20 buses – mostly to Paris and the D-Day beaches – load up and leave. The ship was pretty quiet most of the day. We went and had a leisurely breakfast and I sat and did a couple Sudoku from the new book Dan got me. Then I went back to the cabin to start getting organized. I watched an old Liz Taylor/Richard Burton movie on TCM – The VIPs – not their best work, but fine to keep me company while I sorted stuff out. Dan came back about noon and we got it pretty well figured out. We are going to check 3 bags – the two big ones and one small one. We will have to pay around $60 for the third one, but that’s not too bad. We will each have one carry on and one personal item. We put anything we might need for the next two days until we get to Cinda’s in my carry on. So we shouldn’t have to even open the 3 checked ones. Anyway, we both took showers and got clean clothes on and stashed everything away – leaving out clothes for morning (They have a lame Princess TV lecture on disembarkation instructions that reminds people to make sure they save out clothes to wear, since bags have to be put outside the cabin door before bedtime, and reportedly people have left the ship in a robe or pajamas and had to change to regular clothes in the terminal. We went and grabbed some lunch around 230, then Dan stayed in the buffet to finish uploading the last pictures and using the last of his prepaid internet minutes. He did get them all uploaded. The ship got pretty crazy about 7 when all the tours arrived back on board we were putting bags out. We watched the sailaway from our balcony – last one we will see for a long time. Our room steward was hanging around chatting and doing some unneeded cleaning around 5. We assume she was hoping for an extra tip, but we had already decided she wasn’t really worth an extra (beyond what is automatically put on your bill). Finally she got the hint and left so we could watch the movie. Anyway – I just grabbed a hot dog and fries from the grill by the pool for dinner. Dan went to the buffet, but just got a bratwurst and salad and brought it right back since he said it was a zoo. We are watching Letters to Juliet, which Dan had not seen. We will get to bed early – we have to get up at 500 and report for our tour at 700.

17 June 2012, Gail’s trip log

I woke up to the sound of a vacuum cleaner. Dan was just coming back into the cabin, having gone out early. I commented that it was a bit early for them to be vacuuming, but he pointed out that it was 915. That shows what kind of day it was – very lazy and laid back. We went back to the buffet so I could get some breakfast and had quite a time finding some place to sit. Being a Sunday morning at sea, everyone seemed to be there at the same time. Dan went down and got some more baggage tags and found out they won’t drop us at the hotel, only at the airport. So we will have to get a taxi back to the Sheraton at Heathrow. I intended to get started on our packing today, but never got around to it. After brunch Dan decided to see if he could get some last minute loads of laundry done. To my surprise he was able to find two machines so he spent two hours doing a couple of loads of wash and reading his book. He finally had gone down and bought it at the gift shop last night since, hard to believe, he didn’t have anything to read. I had gotten an updated copy of our bill and checked to make sure everything was in order. After Dan finished the laundry, he went and got me a latte and him an Americano. He wanted to use up the rest of one of the coffee cards that we had. There are a few punches left on the other one but they are good any time, so can stick it away for some future cruise. We went down and grabbed a late lunch snack and then came back to the cabin and read for a couple of hours. About 730 we saw by the chart on the TV that we were now in the English Channel. Earlier in the day we could see great wind turbine farms in the North Sea that extended for many miles as we passed by a few miles from the coast. It is staying light until past 10 at the moment so we watched the coastline all evening. About 700 we decided to not bother going to dinner and just ordered room service again – pretty much the same as last night. Tomorrow we will be in Le Havre again. We will stay aboard and get all our stuff packed. I am really ready to get off this ship on Tuesday morning at 700. Looking forward to seeing everyone in Chicago and then getting home to my puppies.

16 June 2012, Gail’s trip log

We woke just before 700 and since the ship was not moving realized we were probably at Queensferry, the port for Edinburgh. We looked out and saw land nearby. This is a tender port but since our tour wasn’t until 200, we didn’t have to rush about. A few minutes later the Captain came on the PA and said they had put one tender in the water but were going to wait before they put any others in until a bit later – wind too strong (35mph) and swells too big (over the tender dock on the ship). We looked off our balcony and saw the tender bobbing away like a cork. It did not look good. About 900 the Captain came on again and said unfortunately things were getting worse and he had made the decision to skip this port. As soon as the paperwork was done with the port authorities and the pilot reboarded, we would leave and head for Le Havre. Of course everyone was very disappointed, starting with us. I had really wanted to go to Edinburgh and see the castle. But I know the Captain made the right call. We watched the local authorities and pilot come alongside. An hour or so later – about 1000 – we stood on our balcony as we cleared the Firth of Forth, with high waves and high wind, and watched while they made several attempts to offload the pilot. I would not have liked to have been on that little pilot boat. Finally they positioned our ship to block the wind to some extent, which allowed the pilot to finally transfer to the pilot boat from our ship. Then we headed south, going slowly, only about 12 knots all day toward France. We had an early lunch before the rush and Dan spent a little of our tour refund to get some more internet minutes and he worked on getting more pictures uploaded. I think he is now working on Dublin.  We still came out ahead – we have had two tours cancelled by Princess and we cancelled Paris on our own – good thing since London was even more expensive than what we had planned for. All in all it has been a fantastic trip, with only minor deviations fron the original plan – most caused by the weather. We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening watching old movies. Our TV has a TCM channel – a feed out of Poland! The movies are in English, but the commercials are in Polish. We have had fun trying to translate the ads. It is the only channel with commercials – except for the Princess ones trying to sell more cruises. Ordered room service dinner. Sea day tomorrow – got our luggage tags today. I’m ready to get off of this ship!

15 June 2012, Gail’s trip log

We went looking for the Loch Ness monster today. We arrived at the port of Invergordon about 700 this morning – beautiful and green estuary that is the port for Inverness. We went to the meeting place and were off on our tour about 900. I was lucky and got the front seat – Dan sat farther back – and had a great view all day. We drove along the estuary and over the bridge and on through green countryside to our first stop – Urquardt Castle on Loch Ness. It was very crowded but our driver got our tickets and got us in the back way – so we avoided some of it. We first went to the loo and the gift shop and Dan got some postcards and fridge magnets, which turned out to be a good thing because when it was nearly the  time we needed to leave to go back to the bus the line at the gift shop to check out was very long. We walked down to the castle ruins right on Loch Ness and of course had someone take our picture. Dan bought coffee from a little stand and I sat while he climbed all over all the ruins and took pictures. After a bit I went back up to the visitors center and watched the 8 minute video about the history of the castle – and of course the Nessie legend. Back on the bus we were on our way to lunch at a hotel in Inverness. We were early so the driver drove around for a bit in the very pretty town right on the river with lovely old buildings and lots of churches. Lunch was almost the same as it was in Greenock – chicken with whiskey sauce, potatoes, vegetables, and dessert of the whipped cream with oats and raspberries. We had about 45 minutes to explore after lunch – Dan went and took some pictures and bought some postcards. At 230 we were off to our second stop of the day – Cawdor Castle. It is supposedly where the story in Macbeth happened, except that Macbeth lived 500 years before the castle was built. At any rate, it is fully restored and privately owned and currently occupied (in part of it we didn’t see). It is open to tours in the summer. It was, of course, very crowded, with narrow stairways so you had to go single file in and out of 8 or 9 beautiful rooms, including both a modern and the original (up to 1938) kitchens. It was interesting, but I was very glad to get out of there. Dan and I had gotten separated, so I just went back to the bus – he showed up a few minutes later with coffee for me. We got back to the ship at the same time as 8 other buses – there was a long line and it was cold and the wind was howling. We were very glad when we made it back on board so we could get warm. We had an early dinner and now watching a Nick Nolte movie: Warrior. Edinburgh tomorrow

14 June 2012, Gail’s trip log

It was wonderful to have a sea day. I didn’t like tours five days in a row. Dan got up early, but I slept until about 800. I went to the buffet a little before 900 and he was visiting with some lady from Adelaide, Australia. I had some fruit and yogurt and a couple of sausages and chatted for a while. Then I decided to go down to customer services to get a copy of our bill so far, which Dan had told me you can get from this machine that looks like an ATM, by swiping your cruise card. I did that, but it only gave me my charges. So I went back up to the buffet (on deck 15 of 18) to get Dan’s card. By that time he had 3 ladies at his table. He is always the social butterfly. Anyway, I got his card and went and got a complete report and then stayed down there – deck 5 – for a while, had a latte, and checked over the bill, which looked fine. I had been told that the “Skywalker Nightclub” up on deck 18 was a nice quiet place to read during the day – since the library on this ship is a joke. It is in the same place as the internet café and it is a zoo. So I took my book and went up there. Well, the word obviously had gotten out that it was a good place to hang out – but it was anything but quiet! There were probably 50-60 people scattered around, some (like me) ting to read, but most chatting or playing cards. I gave up after about a half hour and went back to the cabin to read. Dan came back and we spent the next 3 or so hours reading and watching an old movie – we get TCM on this ship [though not coming from USA directly, as films as original, but all commercials in Polish for Polish products and services]. We spent most of the afternoon back in the cabin following the progress of the ship on the map on the TV. We were going due east most of the day, right across the top of Scotland. We were close enough to see land the whole day. The weather is obviously pretty rough up here and the landscape was pretty bleak – although it wasn’t too bad today – high 40s all day – we could stand on our balcony and take pictures, but nobody was in the swimming pool on deck, though there were a few brave souls in the hot tubs. Around 600 I took a shower and decided to order room service, settled in bed with my book. Dan went to the buffet and worked on pictures and had a snack. We are now headed south – Inverness tomorrow.