Thursday, July 30, 2015


12 July 2013

We decided to use the cruise's package Bruges on your Own to see the medieval Belgian Town, as getting there by public transport would have been a long and boring process.  As it was we still had a long walk from where the coach parked to the town centre, but our "guide" walked us there.  While we were on the 30 minute coach trip from the ship she had given us a map on which she had marked a suggested walk and talked to us about what we should see. 

When we got there we had three hours to explore.  We could have easily spent three days.  It's a lovely little place, criss-crossed with canals, and with so many old buildings and cobbled streets. 

Every second shop is a chocolate shop, and as well as the usual block chocolate and truffles, many shops had an extraordinary number of things made of chocolate.  Men's tools seemed particularly popular (nuts, bolts, spanners, mallets), but we also saw chocolate shoes, chocolate sheep, owls, dogs and other animals.  There were also some things that I did not photograph and have no intention of describing.


Belgium is also famous for two other things - Waffles and Beer.  As it happened we did not try any of the beer, or go to a brewery (though there was a town brewery which was open), but Andy was determined to have some Waffles.  The day had been a little overcast and at about 11.30 the rain came down, so we decided that was a good time to duck into a cafe for an early lunch, followed (for Andy) by a fresh waffle.

One of the other strange sights there is the "wall of beer".  It is a huge glass case containing bottles of Belgian beer - each one different.

The Wall of Beer

Town Hall Square

Town Hall Square

Town Hall

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Baltic Cruise

11 July - 25 July 2015

The ship (the Celebrity Eclipse) is HUGE - it's as long as the Eiffel Tower is high (over 1000 feet long).  It is carrying about 2800 passengers, but with crew it comes to about 5000 people in total. There are 15 bars on the ship, along with numerous restaurants and eateries, and three pools - one an indoor heated one, called the Solarium. The loungers around this pool became one of Andy's favourite places to lie back and relax during sea-days. 

Celebrity Eclipse

Eclipse on the left


Our cabin was very nice and spacious and the balcony is much appreciated and used.

Our one criticism is that although the waiters etc are very friendly, they are also very pushy, trying to get you to upgrade to a beverage package or similar.  Despite the cost of the cruise, they are still very keen to wring as much extra money out of you as possible.  Nothing is cheap on board - a Diet Coke costs US$4.

Most nights we ate in the formal restaurant, where there was a four course dinner provided (though I could rarely manage the dessert). It was very nice, but by the end of the fortnight I was wishing for something simpler, like a grilled chop (with no sauce all over it). The servings were also often very big - when I ordered chicken or duck I got a half a bird each time!

Andy went and watched a lot of the shows, though since I was attended the genealogy lectures I saw far fewer. I did see the Beatles show one night, which was fantastic, and Andy says was the highlight of the shows for him.  The four guys who were performing really got the mannerisms of the Beatles down pat, and it was also lovely to hear the music.

At one stage we had five shore days (with tours) in a row, which became a bit tiring, though interesting.  Reports of all the shore tours will follow, and reports of the genealogy talks (for those who are interested) will be in my genealogy blog.

Pool Deck

The stern of the boat

Oceanview Bar

Pool Deck


Between the lifts, with tree growing
from copper ball

Main foyer

Ensemble Lounge

Pool Deck at Sunset

Sunday, July 26, 2015


11 Jul 2015

We took a coach down to our ship in Southampton.  On the way we stopped at Stonehenge.  We had visited it before, of course, but had not been up to the stones since they built the new visitors centre (see last year's visit to the area). You can get closer to the stones at one point than you used to be able to, and the audio guide helps with understanding what you are seeing.

Imperial War Museum

10 July 2015

We had planned to visit the refurbished World War I galleries at the Imperial War Museum on our last trip to the UK, but decided that since it only reopened in the last week before we left (having been closed for a very long time) the crowds would be too great.  So this time it was definitely on the agenda.

As we walked from the bus-stop the dome of the museum was instantly recognizable above the tree line and pretty soon we were standing in front of the building with its enormous canons out front.

We went in and looked at the central atrium which had spitfires and harriers, V1s and V2s and even the remains of cars bombed out in Iraq. Then we went into the WWI galleries.  The display took a very different slant on the war to that shown in the Australian War Memorial.  It was more focused on the home front, though there were a number of items relating to the front line.  After looking at the WWI galleries we had a quick look at the WWII galleries, but we were pretty tired by then.

V2 Rocket

Lancaster Bomber

To be honest, I didn't think it was a patch on the Australian War Memorial.  When I am there I come away feeling very emotional - the dioramas there particularly are very powerful.  This felt a bit superficial and a bit sanitised from the horror of war.  Frankly it felt like it had all been set up for the key stages of the school modern history syllabus.

Covent Garden and Westminster

9 July 2015

We discovered by accident that a Tube strike was planned for the Thursday of our stay, with the tubes starting to shut down from early evening on Wednesday.  This wasn't a major drama for us as our hotel was so central that we just arranged our day around things we could reach by walking.

The first walk we chose was Inside Covent Garden. It was excellent (as these walks usually are). Initially we were told about the history of Covent Garden, then we went to St Paul's Church, Covent Garden (which I had not been able to get into on Sunday). It is known as "the Actor's Church" and contains memorials to all sorts of actors and entertainers. Outside the church there is one of the last night-watchman's boxes, used by the night-watchmen to keep dry or to lock up miscreants while there were watching the graveyard looking out for "resurrection men" (i.e. body snatchers).  It looks like a Tardis, and I really wonder if it was the inspiration for the Police Call box.

St Paul's Covent Garden

Then we were taken into Simpson's-in-the-Strand. It had been established as a coffee house in 1828 and had developed and changed over the years.  It became noted for chess - even known as the home of chess - and it was one of the members who designed the chess pieces we know today.  It developed a restaurant, known especially for its joints of beef carved at the tables.  In one episode of Downton Abbey Lady Mary dined at Simpsons.

We then looked at various other points of interest around the Strand before heading to Maiden Lane (which runs parallel to the Strand) to see Rules Restaurant. It is the oldest restaurant in England, having been established in 1798.  We got to see inside before it had opened, so were able to see things like a private dining room that we wouldn't have been able to see during business hours. It was fascinating, and it was also used in an episode of Downton Abbey.

Rules Main Dining Room

Private Dining Room

The Bar

The Downton Abbey table

We then looked at the undercroft at St Martin-in-the-Fields, which is located near Trafalgar Square. We actually had lunch there before walking down Whitehall for our next walk, and after lunch I did a brass rubbing.  

Undercroft, St Martin in the Fields

The next walk was Old Westminster. By this time it had become quite hot.  In the morning it had been cool and overcast, so we didn't think to bring hats and we certainly regretted that.

The Westminster Walk covered the British Parliament (correctly called the Palace of Westminster), St Margaret's Church (the one next to Westminster Abbey, the Political Saloons of Westminster and Westminster School (from the outside only, of course). 

Portcullis House (housing parliamentarians) and
St Stephens Tower (housing the bell called Big Ben)

Boudicca Statue

The Palace of Westminster

St Stephen's Tower, Westminster Palace and
Westminster Hall

Westminster Abbey

By the time that walk ended we were hot and tired so had to stop for a drink.  We then walked back along the embankment.  There were enormous queues snaking along the footpaths of people trying to get onto a ferry (since there were no tubes) and I felt very sorry for them.

We had dinner in an old pub on the Strand called The Coal Hole where we had eaten last trip and then had an early night.