actually began our tour in London, by boarding a Southampton-bound
train from Waterloo Station. The British rail system seems to get
a lot of bad press, often from natives who use it a bunch, but as far
as we are concerned, it is unsurpassed. The trains run regularly
and often, are generally on time and are reasonably priced. Of
course, I am comparing it to what we have here in Southern
California. Here, there is basically nothing to compare to the
British rail system. You can be anywhere in England and go
anywhere else in a relatively short period of time.
I defy anybody coming into LAX to get out to Palm Springs in less than
4 hours, even with a car. And Palm Springs is only about 100
miles from LAX. If you don't have a car, as many tourists won't,
the situation is far, far worse.
But in England, you can go from Heathrow International to Southampton
in just a couple of hours, and never get in a car.
So, we heaved our luggage onto the train and set out. How do
people travel light? We have tried, but never fail, our luggage
would cause a packmule to give out. This time was no exception,
but I am blaming it on the fact that we had to take dress-up clothes
this time. (More on that later.)
In any event, we got on the train, then off again at Southampton.
A ship had come in, so cabbies were making a mint by taking one group
of people from the ship to the trains and another group from the trains
to the ship. According to our cabbie, some days there were no
ships, others there might be as many as four or five. This day,
one in and the same one out. The ship in question ws the Sea
we turned in our luggage to the porters, made it through the line for
checking our tickets, checking our passports, checking our room
assignment, checking our temperatures, and made it to the waiting room,
we got our first view of
Yep, it's what I have learned to despise. A floating
shoebox. There was something about the old oceanliners that was
amazing. And the new ships lacked that soul. That was the
problem. I perceived the new cruise ships as lacking the
character and soul of the older ships of the line. Having been on
one of these floating shoeboxes, I can now say that the
following: They are only floating shoeboxes from the
outside. From the inside, the ship is pleasant and does have a
certain character. It might not rival the Queen Mary or the
Olympic, but it is quite nice. I take back everything I said
about them. I enjoyed my time on the Sea Princess. I
recommend a cruise to anybody and everybody.
So, we eventually got to get on board the ship. I must say, it is
really nice on board. The staff is friendly, helpful and eager to
please. We found our room on B deck, room 731. The first
thing I found upon entering the room were the following two items:
For those of you who can't read microscopic print, this is a
certificate for a gift sent by somebody to me on the ship. In
this case, it is for a bottle of Dom Perignon Champagne. Sheila
and I have always wanted to indulge in a bottle of the stuff.
Sheila figured that this was the appropriate time, so she ordered a
bottle as a special surprise for me. We just had to
figure out when to redeem it... (more on this later.)
Having stowed our luggage, we decided to explore. At 848 feet
long, and weighing in at 77,499 tons, this ship is large, with space
for over 2,000 folks. You could wander around for hours and not
find everything that is available to you. We did notice a few
things we thought were interesting:
Those pretty flags don't fly all day long. At one time they
served the purpose of inter-ship communications. Now, they seem
pretty much to be decorative...
It seems that we have been in London for Wimbledon for the past five or
so years. We are not big tennis fans, so we really don't pay much
attention. However, there are those that follow the sport, and
the Big Screen was set for those folks, so they would not miss a single
volley. At other times they used the screen to show movies,
various sport and news shows.
Then we left port. For those of you familiar with "The Love Boat"
where the ship left in a cloud of confetti and a massive mat of
streamers, let me set the record straight. Docks are not pretty
places, and the only people near the docks are the dockyard
employees. Perhaps in the old days, before 9/11, there were lots
of people there to see you off. Today, that is not the
case. The lines holding the ship fast are dropped and the ship
begins to move out, with no fanfare...
Then, disaster strikes!!!!!!!!
Well, no. Since April, 1912, regulations have been in place
requiring several things. #1, there must be lifeboat space for every
person on board. #2, Every passenger must have an emergency
muster drill before leaving sight of land. #3, staff must be fully
trained to assist passengers in evacuating the ship. Five bonus
points if you can guess which ship disaster led to these rule
After a bit more exploring and running about, it was time to go to
bed. After a good night's sleep, we arrived in the Netherlands,
and began the trip up the canals to the city of Amsterdam.
Since much of the Netherlands is below sea level, they take keeping the
ocean at bay very seriously. While we were enjoying the tasty
breakfast buffet, we were in the locks, slowly adjusting our altitude
to match that of Amsterdam.
There is quite a variety of food on board. It is hard to eat it
all, and as it turns out, you probably won't want to eat it all.
However, we did try. The promenade deck on these ships were set
up just so you could burn off all the calories you take in at the
After breakfast, Sheila found a lounge chair and decided to relax for a
bit and watch the Netherlands go by.
Relaxing is second only to eating on one of these ships. On sunny
days, it was common to see lots of pallid english flesh slowly turning
the shade of red generally reserved for fire trucks.
As we came into Amsterdam, I was savagely attacked.
Beetles are generally weak fliers. Here we are, hundreds of feet
from land, and 60 feet above the water, and I get slammed in the side
of the head by this ladybird beetle. I have to admit, I have a
bit of respect for this little fella. He managed to make it out
to the ship and whang me in the side of the head. He then bounced
to the deck where softy me carefully scooped him up, to make sure he
didn't get hurt. After about 15 minutes, my friend flew
away. I hope he made it to land.
This is an elementary school in Amsterdam:
If they could get it to flash, every kid would have seizures!
And here is our house:
The people who failed to inform us that this was our house and let
those people live there will pay dearly when we find them.
While the send-off from Southampton was nothing special, Amsterdam made
up for it a bit by sending out a fireboat to greet us.
The docks are next to a small island. In years past, the ships
had to go past the island, execute a tight turn and come into
port. Then they built a bridge from the island to the
mainland. If you look at the picture of the elementary school,
will see the bridge. Because of this, it is now impossible for
ships to go around the island. What to do? Well modern
ships are equipped with special propellers that push sideways through
the hull. These thrusters come into play at this moment.
The ship pulls just past the island, comes to a halt and executes a
slow pirouette in the water. Now pointed in the right direction,
the ship pulls into port.
WELCOME TO AMSTERDAM!
Amsterdam is interesting, to say the
least. However, it was not the really cool place we were
expecting. As Sheila put it, it is like Berkeley, California, but
without the intellect. The city center, where we spent a lot of
time, is a bit grimy. It was a bit more foreboding than other
city centers we have been in. It does not feel unsafe or anything
like that, just... disreputable. However, parts of it are really
pretty, and if you can get out of the heart of the city, (Something we
could not do on foot in just a few hours) you will find a great deal of
There is a lot to say that is good about Amsterdam. For one
thing, they are not nearly as dependent on cars and oil as we are.
There are many, many, many bikes in Amsterdam. They have their
own sections of the roadway and are every-frikken-where. Saves a
lot of gas, that's for sure.
One thing that the Netherlands is known for is its flowers. If
you go outside Amsterdam, it is possible to see immense fields of
them. Inside the city you will find flowers, but not nearly in
the profusion outside the city limits. However, if you go to the
blooms market, you will find dozens of vendors eager to sell you a bit
Here we see Sheila in front of a typical stand, selling a zillion kinds
A tip for American Tourists: If you want to buy tulip bulbs, make
sure you buy the ones that are labeled for export and have the
laserfoil stickers from the government. If you don't, they will
be confiscated at the airport when you come home. (We did not have a
problem, but the Agriculture guy at LAX did inspect our bulbs rather
Moving on into the city we come across the "Nieuwe Kerk", which means
"New Church". It's about 500 years old... But remember, that's
younger than the Old Church!
The city of Amsterdam is built on canals, which form concentric rings
around and through the city. The areas around the canals are
charming and generally well maintained. An important thing to
remember is that these canals are not merely doecorative, they are
vital transport arteries in the city. There can be a large amount
of traffic on them at times, with many small boats carrying people and
goods around town.
Having said how busy they are, you will note that the pictures seem to
show something different. That's because we liked the calm,
restful pictures of canals. The busy ones were just too... busy.
TIME FOR LUNCH!
The Netherlands are known for their food (Particularly certain cheeses)
as well as thier flowers. We found the Pancake Bakery and had
lunch. In Amsterdam, a pancake is not like what you would think
if all you ever do is eat at IHOP. It is rather thing, and large,
and packed with an amazing variety sweet or savory goodies to tempt you.
I got the Apple pancake (sweet)
Sheila got the Greenlander.
It is a savory pancake, with spinach, french Brie cheese and cashews,
all of which I guess are staples in the average greenlander's diet.
After lunch, they gave us conversation hearts!
Of course, they were written in dutch, so it makes them a bit of a
challenge to read.
We did figure our two. "Pret" means "ready" and "Nee" means "No".
And the restaurant itself.
Sheila, posing for a moment with the above restaurant.
After lunch we found the Anne Frank House. It was here that Anne
Frank and her family hid for 25 months during World War II, to avoid
being sent to the concentration camps. Sadly, they were captured
and Anne died in Bergen-Belsen.
It was here that we saw our first Ugly Americans of the trip.
Some family had stopped to take pictures, as many, many people
do. We had to wait several minutes for the doorway to clear so we
could pose by the sign, just as all the others were doing.
However, this one family was just obnoxious. They were loud and
annoying. The worst part was mom and daughter. The
daughter had obviously taken some modeling classes, and mom appeared to
be one of those pushy stage moms you hear about. In any event, it
became the daughter's turn to stand by the door. She poses. Like she's
in an ad in some fashion magazine. Not a cute pose, but one of
those kinda slutty poses. And to top it off, she's maybe 13 years
old and dressed like Paris Hilton. Now granted, this is a street
in Amsterdam, but if ever there was a solemn place in the Netherlands,
it would be here.
Somehow I suspect this family really did not have much of a clue about
the history of the area.
Here's another of our houses. Once again, we were not informed...
I take a brief break to adjust my load.
So, finally, we got back to the ship. We walked more than five
miles around the city. While we are fairly healthy folks, we did
suffer a bit from shoe problems. Sheila's feet were by far the
worse for the wear.
When we were nearly done with the trip, we discovered an amazing foot
product that cured all her foot problems and insured she would not get
any more blisters. Of course, we did not find it at the beginning
of the trip, but at the end.