Dover to Monte Carlo on the Regent Seven Seas Navigator
This was a special family trip. It not only was our 11th family trip but it was a celebration of our 50th wedding anniversary. We spent a couple of days in London then joined the Regent Seven Seas Navigator in Dover for a 10-day voyage to Monte Carlo.
Saturday August 5
The Southern California family members journeyed to the airport at a civilized hour of 1 pm for our Air New Zealand 4 pm flight. We arrived before the check in counter was open however when it opened we checked in. A strange facility arrangement required us to haul our luggage across the lobby to the TSA x-ray facility after it had been tagged. One poor man was handling all the luggage, one piece at a time while a group of 10 TSA employees were standing in a gaggle doing nothing. Once it passed into their always capable hands we had to leave the building and re-enter it at the next door - the TSA facility blocked the access across the lobby.
Once back in the building we presented our boarding passes at the foot of the escalator before being allowed to ascend to the second level. Once at the second level we had to present our passes before being allowed to enter the que for security screening. Surprisingly we had no difficulty passing through the screening, other than the capricious routing of some of us to one line and others to a much slower line. Finally we all emerged from the bureaucratic maze and proceeded to the Air New Zealand lounge. It is a new, large, and very pleasant lounge with a wide variety of snacks and booze. There are several wired internet access points plus some terminals.
Eventually it was time to board our flight to Heathrow. Much to our delight we discovered a 747-400 with a new interior. The business class seats were like individual cubicles, angled away from the side toward the center, each with a separate ottoman. They were very comfortable and could be left in the reclining position during take-off and landing. There were individual TV monitors with several channels of on-demand movies. The service was quite good, as we expect from Air New Zealand. After a good meal, it was time for bed. One pushed a special button in the cubicle and the seat folded over and became a flat bed! There was bedding to make this bed more comfortable.
After a fairly restful night we awakened about 2 hours out of London for breakfast. Since we arrived early at Heathrow there was no gate available so we had to park in a remote area and board buses for the long, long ride to the terminal. Once there we followed a serpentine course, eventually reaching British immigration. We had been given a “fast-pass” which gave us a special lane through immigration so we arrived at the luggage carousel just as the bags were arriving. All 9 of our bags arrived quickly and we headed for the exit. Once into the terminal area we found our ride into town.
After a bit of a wait at the bus stand our 15-passenger bus arrived, all our luggage was loaded, and we set off for the hotel. We followed the motor ways into central London, eventually leaving the orderly roads for the winding non-orthogonal streets. As we approached the hotel we saw the Fergusons walking down the street. They had arrived in London a couple of days prior. We were expecting to meet them in Greenwich however it was much better to find them near the hotel.
They returned to the hotel and waited while we checked in.
The Chesterfield Mayfair hotel is old but has been modernized. Probably it is best described as “quaint.” Our room was quite small with enthusiastic air conditioning. All of our rooms were configured identically however each was decorated differently. All rooms had queen-sized beds although we had requested two to be equipped with twin beds. The hotel is centrally located, close to Buckingham Palace and a tube station. The quaintness extends to the one tiny functional elevator. It responds slowly and often opens and shuts it door before anyone may board.
The whole group of 10 set out for the Themes river where we boarded a river boat for Greenwich. We were anticipating a quiet visit to non-crowded Greenwich however that certainly wasn’t the case. It was crowded as was all of London. A long stroll brought us to the Greenwich Observatory, the location of the Prime Meridian. It is also where the Harrison clocks are displayed. There was a huge mass of people queued up to have their pictures taken standing on the inlaid brass line depicting the prime meridian.
There was a lesser line waiting to enter the observatory, however it was still crowded. The observatory has a fine display of various techniques used to determine latitude, culminating in a display of four Harrison clocks, all functional. The first three are quite large, brass masterpieces with pairs of large double-ended pendulums, connected with large springs. The pendulums are oscillating back and forth, still keeping perfect time throughout the ages. The crowd was such that it wasn’t possible to spend much time viewing them or learning much about them. The final clock was the practical version, kind of a very large pocket watch, that went on many voyages eventually earning Harrison the prize promised by Parliament.
We made our way back to the hotel and enjoyed a glass of wine before setting out for dinner. We selected a nearby, tiny sort-of Italian restaurant where we had a poorly served, mediocre meal.
The next morning, after breakfast at the hotel, we set out for a day of tube riding. There is a tube station, Green Place, a few blocks from the hotel. Our goal was to visit the Churchill War rooms. These were the underground chambers used by the war cabinet. Jodie and I visited these many years ago however they have been greatly improved and expanded since then. There is, in addition, an excellent Churchill museum. We could have spent much more time there.
Our intent after the underground war rooms was to visit Westminster Abby however the huge line waiting to get in discouraged us. By this time it was lunch time and we set out on a long search for some suitable place for lunch. After many fruitless attempts we finally decided to satisfy the young Fergusons’ desire for a double decker bus ride which took us to Leicester Square. We found a Garfunkel’s restaurant where we had an adequate but randomly served meal. Since we had bought all day tube passes we took the tube back to the station near the hotel.
After a rest and some wine we took the tube to Piccadilly Circus for dinner. Natalie and Nathan took Ryan and Weston to a McDonalds while the adults went to a pub. N&N took the kids back to the hotel after their meal while we enjoyed a good meal.
The next morning we set out on foot to visit Buckingham Palace. Although there was nothing going on, there was a dense crowd. The changing of the guard occurs only every other day and this wasn’t the day. We had read that we could visit the gardens but found out you had to take the palace tour to do this. Jodie decided to try for tickets for the tour but found a Disneyland-style que which discouraged her. Instead we went to a nearby playground which allowed the boys to play. Then we walked to Piccadilly and had lunch at another Garfunkel’s. An intensive session of souvenir shopping concluded the days activities and we walked back to the hotel.
After wine, we set off on another search for dinner. The many restaurants near the hotel were, as usual mobbed. We strolled around looking for other places eventually abandoning our quest and settling for the hotel dining room. This was a wise choice. We had an excellent, well served meal in delightful surroundings. It was, however, extremely expensive.
This concluded our London adventure. In conclusion, London is very expensive, very crowded, and old, but has a convenient tube system.
After breakfast we went to the lobby to checkout around 8:30 and found that our bus had already arrived, however the guide was not present. The 10 of us had a giant 53 passenger bus so each had a full seat. The guide arrived shortly before 9 and we set off for Dover via Leeds Castle. Our trip in light drizzle was enthusiastically narrated bu the guide, Janine Coghlan.
Leeds castle is in very good shape in spite of its age since it fell into the possession of a very rich woman. The furnishings are more contemporary but the structure is authentic. After the tour we wandered off to the aviary and then to the maze, grotto, and playground where we spent the remainder of our time there. Fortunately the rain had stopped. It was about an hour from there to the boat.
The Seven Seas Navigator was waiting for us when we arrived at the dock in Dover at 2 pm. The luggage was promptly removed from the bus as we checked in, boarded, and had lunch. Our rooms were not available until 2:30. We are in a cluster of 5 cabins on the 6th level. These cabins are called suites and are larger than our London hotel rooms.
The Navigator used to be like a pristine debutante, all fresh and sparkling. Now it is showing its age a bit, like a 30-something matron. The woodwork is a bit dinged here and there. The latches on the balcony sliding doors is another example. Our’s latches immediately when closed; Chris’s is not locked unless manually locked; the Fergusons’s can’t be locked. After attempting to repair it, the crew put a net across the railing.
After traveling on small ships so much this is quite a change. One becomes aware that the engines are running only by a muted, deep hum. When the propellers are engaged this hum increases only slightly. There is no sound from the twin bow thrusters. She proceeds in a stately manner with little reaction to the waves. Once we were at sea there was some motion however nothing significant.
A neat event occurred this evening. There was a “block party.” At 6 pm we all went out into the hall and the stewardesses came by with cheese bits, chocolate covered strawberries, and wine while we met our neighbors. Eventually the hotel manager, cruise director, and captain wandered through to say hello.
Maitre d’hotel Miki Kovacevic spoke to us during lunch and assured us that we would have a 10 person table for our group in the dining room.
Our first stop was St. Malo, France. We arrived earlier than our scheduled 10 am. The ship tied up to two mooring points in the outer harbor. There was no information published about going ashore. Those who had signed up for tours knew their departure time which was printed on their tickets. I went to the tour desk and asked if there would be tender service for those going ashore but not on tours, and if so, when it would start. I was told that it would start as soon as the authorities cleared the ship and that it would run every 15 minutes. Why couldn’t this have been in the daily program
We readied ourselves and went ashore. St. Malo is a lovely, walled town with narrow, winding cobble stone streets. It was pleasant leaving the crowds of London behind. The streets are lined with shops. It seemed that every second or third shop sold some kind of food. Especially tempting were the fragrant creperies. There were no visible houses that used to typify the town and which provided the structural requirements for the settlement, also called St. Malo, at the south end of Oceanside.
We had scheduled our official anniversary celebration for this night since it was to be a formal night. For some reason the formal night was changed to the following night. Other than being congratulated by some of the dining room staff, there was no recognition by the ship.
The ship TV has CNN, BBC News, and Fox News channels. They were all full of the news of the terrorist plot nipped in England. Our trip home through Heathrow should be interesting.
8-11. At sea.
After complaints by the family (they had ordered the anniversary package) we had our anniversary cake and champagne after dinner. We had our celebration on a formal night after all.
The pilot dropped in by helicopter at 4:30 am and the ship proceeded up the Gironde River on the back of a 5 kt current flowing up the river. The river flows through flat farm land. There are little huts on stilts along the banks. Most have large dip nets which are used to catch shrimp which inhabit the brackish water.
Along the way we passed a barge-like oceangoing ship labeled “Airbus A380 on board” on the side. We also saw two similarly labeled barges in Bordeaux. This leviathan is assembled in Toulouse which is further up the Garonne River. It occurred to me that the A380 will carry more passengers than this ship. The difference being that the plane passengers will be packed in like dead sardines in a can while we are better compared to live fish in a comfortable aquarium.
Shortly before we arrived at our anchorage, 60 km from the ocean, we were approached by a tug. It tied on to the bow and assisted while the ship pivoted in the river. After a full reversal we backed on up the river to our mooring.
Our arrival was later that scheduled so there was quite a jam at the gangway waiting to depart on various tours. We left the city and drove through the countryside to Chateau La Louviere. The actual chateau had been abandoned several years ago. The current owner has restored the interior however no one lives there. He also restored the neglected vineyards. This 81-year-old man has acquired 5 chateaus in the area. He has a truck-mounted bottling works that moves between them. It is capable of finishing the bottles with either corks or screw tops. (The French won’t accept screw tops.)
The guide for the winery tour was a young woman from Canada who is getting a masters degree in enology from a university in Bordeaux. Her undergraduate degree was from the University of Vancouver where she studied biology with an original intent of going into the medical field. She is working at the chateau for the summer.
The “green harvest” was recently completed in the fields. In this process, excess bunches of grapes are removed along with some leaves that may shade the remaining bunches which are low on the vines. Harvest will be in a few weeks.
A soft crush is used. In this, the grapes are placed in a soft-sided container. A bag is inflated in the center squeezing the grapes. The resulting must is placed in cement tanks for fermentation. It is then filtered and aged in 750 L French oak barrels. After aging it is placed in stainless steel tanks and stored at -4o C to precipitate out the tartaric acid. The place where this occurs is the chai, equivalent to our cellar
We sampled two whites and one red, all of which were unremarkable.
The bus returned to town and gave us a rushed tour of town. We made it back to town in time for lunch on the ship. Then we strolled around a bit. The Regent Gold Club special event before dinner was a French wine and cheese tasting in the Vista Lounge. Dinner was at the Portofino Grill, which included Italian wines which were much better than the French wines.
Beth and Ryan missed the dinner. Ryan had an allergic reaction to a cookie that contained peanut butter.
There is not much to report for this day. Jodie and I remained on the ship with Ryan and Weston while the remainder of our party visited the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. The kids were in the kids club until noon when we picked them up and strolled into town. Being Sunday and noon, everything but some food shops was closed. We bought them some popsicles at a shop. Rather than a large, single flavor, the package contained 6 miniature sicles of various flavors. We then went back to the ship.
There was some kind of celebration going on in the harbor. It seemed to involve some racing whale boats.
8-14. Essentially at sea.
The ship put in at La Coruna early in the morning to discharge those passengers who were taking the tour to Santiago de Compostela. As soon as the guests debarked the ship left. In early afternoon we tied up at Vigo to pick up the tour group. Beth and Jodie strolled into town and found that it was the place to buy sea shells and hand bags. They bought neither.
The Signature Travel Network cocktail party was this night with host Craig Mungary. We also each received a pair of binoculars.
Locals call it Lisbo. We watched the ship enter and tie up. I wanted to be on deck for the entry so that I could photograph the Discovery Monument or the monument to Prince Henry the Navigator.
As soon as the ship was cleared the whole group took the shuttle into town for shopping. Almost nothing was open since this was a religious holiday. Most people had combined it with the weekend making it a four-day holiday. In general, August is vacation time in Europe.
The local guide on the shuttle told us that there was a souvenir store at the top of an elevator. We strolled the length of the walking street before finding it. For 1.5 Euro we rode to the top. There was one very small store near the top of the elevator that became paralyzed when challenged with making change. There was a near-by building, once a monastery, where the April 25th revolution started. It now serves as an army barracks.
We returned to the ship, had lunch, and the set off on the afternoon tour of Lisbon. N&N looked after R&W. A large bus took us to various locations including photo stops at the Belem Tour, the remains of old harbor defenses, and the Discovery Monument. We also had a very long visit to a church which holds the tomb of Vasco de Gamma.
The best part of the tour was a ride around town on a trolley. These old trolleys were to be replaced by lovely, new streamlined ones. It turned out that the new cars were not powerful enough to climb the hills so the small, old ones were retained. During the course of the ride we were served a glass of port and a pastry de nata de Belem, These were delicious custard-filled pastry shells.
Our final free cocktail party, from American Express, was this evening.
We voyaged up the river, pivoted 1800 in mid river and tied up around 10 am. We enjoyed breakfast in the room and then the whole group left on a bus tour to Jeréz.
Our first stop, at Real Escuela Anduleza del Arte Equestra, the royal riding school, was sold as watching a dress rehearsal of the performing horses. It was actually 10 minutes of watching individual horses being exercised. After this we had a long, long tour of the stables and then were allowed 5 minutes on our own to shop or see the rest of the facility, none of which could be done in the allotted time..
Then we drove to the Gonzalez Byass sherry bodega, home of the “famous” Tio Pepe sherry. They have no vines in the immediate area but have 600 ha further north where the soil is more favorable. They lease an additional 400 ha. This facility is mostly a storage and aging facility. The grape used is primarily Palomino with a very small amount of Pedro Jemez added to the sweeter wines.
They use a system of four stacked barrels (actually thousands of them.) The bottom one contains the oldest wine. When the wine is drawn out for bottling it is refilled from the next one up. This process continues with the top one filled with the current crush. I believe that fermentations occurs in the top barrel with wild yeast. The guide said that the yeast forms a cap on the top of the fluid that prevents contamination from the air. They produce a dry sherry, medium sweet, and sweet. We sampled the first two and found them lacking both flavor and bouquet. Tapas were served with the sherry. Tapas translates to something that covers and came from the early tradition of serving a glass of wine with a slice of something such as cheese on top of the glass.
This was a restful day. We heard the final lecture of three about the formation of the EU and implementation of the Euro. We enjoyed them, even thought they conflicted with food and wine tasting.
The captain’s farewell was this night. The highlight was a performance by the Filipino crew which was quite good. Our room stewardess, Nene was in it.
After a day at sea we tied up at Barcelona at 7 am. Since the shops didn’t open until 10 we packed until 9:30 and then set off on a walking tour. There is a mostly walking street within a few blocks of the ship. Unfortunately, the souvenir stores were identical and poorly stocked. We went down a side street and found a very nice art store that satisfied many of our purchase needs.
We also toured the 3rd largest cathedral in Europe. It must have had at least 20 alters.
There was also a very interesting open-air food market.
I observed an interesting fashion statement here; women were wearing t-shirts with the back completely torn out, with and without bras! Tight, short dresses and very high heels were also in vogue.
We came back to the ship, had lunch, and packed.
We celebrated Weston’s birthday today since we will be traveling tomorrow, his actual birthday. Some of the ship personnel placed a bunch of balloons in his room and left gifts on his bed. A piece of cake and two glasses of champagne were delivered to his room in the afternoon. Captain Jarle Jensen stopped by our table at dinner and gave Weston a birthday card, in Spanish. At the end of dinner a cake was delivered by several of the Philippine staff who also sang. The cake read “Happy Birthday Weston” and “Happy 50th anniversary.” Since they dropped the ball for our anniversary they made up for it with Weston.
Now we have to fight our way home.
8-19. Monte Carlo
Our return to LA had some remarkable moments. As requested, we were allowed off of the ship among the earliest groups. The wharf was crowded with buses and groups of passengers’ luggage. As we hiked down the wharf to our luggage we searched for someone holding a sign with our name on it. We saw no one. After an extended wait, Alexander showed up along with the bus driver, but no bus. There is some kind of queuing system for buses and ours was low on the list.
After some finagling the driver managed to get the bus onto the wharf and us and our luggage loaded. This was another 53 passenger bus so we again weren’t crowded. We saw little of Monte Carlo as we wound through many tunnels on our way to Nice.
We quickly dropped the Fergusons at the Holiday Inn in Nice. Their Lufthansa flight to Frankfort and then to Denver didn’t leave until 7 the next morning.
We reached the airport and found a long line at the British Airways counter. There was one person checking in steerage passengers. There was also one person checking in business passengers so their line was equally long and slow. It took us 45 minutes to get checked in, with Alexander’s help.
The British Airways agent was either unwilling or unable to check our baggage through Heathrow to LAX or to issue boarding passes for the flight from Heathrow.
We then passed through security without too much delay and went off to find the gate. The flight was already delayed by an hour but eventually boarding started, 10 passengers at a time. The reason for the slow boarding was that they were conducting a hand search of passengers and carry-on luggage at the aircraft door. Jodie’s inspector tried to seize her prescription drugs since she didn’t have copies of the doctors’ written prescription. She was able to talk him out of it.
Our original feeling was that the scheduled 3 hour and 10 minute layover at Heathrow would be more than adequate. Given the very late departure from Nice, we were concerned. As we approached Heathrow the pilot announced that we were entering a 25 minute holding pattern. We became more concerned. Eventually we landed, almost 2 hours late.
Since we had to claim our luggage and check in at Air New Zealand we had to pass through British Immigration. The inspector couldn’t understand why we had to do that but stamped our passports. Then we went to the very crowded luggage hall. Huge piles of luggage were piled along the walls. With the new security measures they had been losing 5,000 bags a day. After an interminable wait our luggage finally arrived. Time was clicking away and we still hadn’t found the Air New Zealand desk - and we had less than an hour until departure.
We bid a rapid farewell to Nathan who is remaining in Britain for a semester abroad.
With our luggage on carts we headed to the exit and found the signs leading us from terminal 1 to terminal 3. We followed a long switch-backed ramp down into a tunnel and followed the signs for what seemed like miles. Eventually we came to a bank of elevators which took us back to the surface where we went out onto the sidewalk.
Following directions from a guide we finally found the correct door and the long-sought counter, 15 minutes before the scheduled departure time. There was no line at business check-in. Jodie quickly removed the prescription medication from her carry-on and placed it in one of our checked-in bags. Chris and Donna had to hurriedly reallocate some of their stuff since one bag was overweight.
We received our boarding passes and were directed to security, but told to use the special Fast Track security, which we did. There was almost no line there and we quickly emerged into the twisting gauntlet of duty free shops. Interesting, with all the restrictions carry-on items, especially liquid, there has been no effort to restrict duty-free purchases. I guess the British Airport Authority doesn’t want to loose that income source. Jodie spotted the VAT refund desk and quickly had the paperwork stamped and mailed.
We found our gate after a long hike to the end of the concourse and expected another security search. We had to show our boarding passes and passports to a woman before being allowed to enter the waiting area. As she was looking at mine she remarked that the end was in sight and she thought she would never make it. I replied that we thought we wouldn’t make the plane. She said, “We would never leave you. We’re Air New Zealand.” There was no additional security inspection for us.
We just started to sit down when boarding was announced. Contrary to our fears and British Airways delays, we made the flight!
The flight home was as pleasant as the one going to London. We quickly passed through Immigration but then had a very long wait for one bag which eventually arrived.