The United Kingdom

THE UNITED KINGDOM TOUR

“In thunder, lightning and in rain!” chanted Shakespeare’s three bearded, baleful witches in his masterful play “The Tragedy of Macbeth.”

Those lines and those horrifying characters were a part of the opening scene of the play. The witches’ intent was to lure Macbeth into thoughts of murdering the rightful monarch King Duncan, which Macbeth eventually did — the murderous thoughts and the actual killing. Obviously it didn’t turn out well for Macbeth or his wife Lady Macbeth since the play has “tragedy” in the title. That means the lead character dies. No spoiler there therefore.

Actually the witches could have just taken a vacation in Miami because if my experience of Scotland is any indication sooner or later Macbeth, Duncan, Lady Macbeth and all the Scottish characters in the play (plus the audience if the play were performed in Scotland) would have drowned. That’s how much it rained on our 17-day trip around the United Kingdom — and why it is called the “united anything” beats me. Ireland is its own country. Okay, so Northern Ireland isn’t but they aren’t a happy lot there. Scotland is taking a vote soon to leave the “united kingdom.” I know nothing about Wales except I met a lovely couple from there — Irish refugees fleeing the high taxes in Ireland.

Here is something fascinating to note: In Ireland and Scotland, many citizens referred to the American Revolution as an important moment in history — for them! I mean they just came out with it, just like that (snap your fingers), unsolicited, when they found out I was from the United States. “Your revolution paved the way,” one woman said.

The American Revolution is indeed a powerful emotional symbol for many in the United Kingdom. Truly, this is a marvel. Why? Because you almost never hear Americans talk about our “revolution” except when it comes to designer wear. Indeed in universities throughout our country the architects of our revolution are looked upon with disdain. Many professors and their lemming-like students refer to our founders as “dead white men” as if this appellation is a curse leveled on us by the bearded witches of our own past.

There were four of us on this journey; my wife the Beautiful AP and our friends Jerry “Stickman” and his sainted wife Tres (someday I will explain why she is “sainted”). Jerry and Tres have visited over 71 countries now. They have visited all 50 states. They are the adults of the travel world while AP and I are infants.

I spent so many days in casinos in the past 25 years, in the beginning mostly from economic necessity, that now I feel like a bull stomping down the streets of Pamplona. I am free! I don’t need to do the heavy casino lifting anymore. Our kids are grown men in their 30’s; our house is paid off; I have enough money (I hope) to last me till my last breath and my writing is going along just fine (thank you) so the advantage-play casino life has faded for me. I want to see the United States (38 states so far) and the world.

“Nothing is but what is not,” spoke Macbeth; a quote that fits both Ireland and Scotland. Beautiful greenery, scenery, great rolling country sides along with clouds, winds and rains almost every day of our trip to the hills, the dales and the shores. When the sun peeked out for a minute or two the temperatures soared by about seven degrees. Sadly the sun did not stay out for long.

We started our trip in London on May 31, spending four days there. Believe it or not (in fact, I couldn’t believe it) Jerry and Tres had never been to London so the Beautiful AP and I were the tour guides.

We toured Westminster Abbey. Mind blowing — next trip I take four full days and really read and see everything. On my two trips to Westminster Abbey I saw the graves or memorials of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, DH Lawrence, Lord Byron, Keats, Shelley, David Livingstone, Dryden, Faraday, Haden, William Blake, Churchill, Sir Isaac Newton, Longfellow, Noel Coward, Laurence Olivier, Tennyson, Alexander Pope, Charles Dickens, Lowell, Milton, A.E. Housman, Henry James, Thackeray, Dylan Thomas, Oscar Wilde, Wordsworth and most amazingly Charles Darwin, he of evolution fame. Oh, yes, there were notable English Kings and Queens, Princes, Princesses, Lords and Ladies, Prime Ministers, knights, Earls and religious leaders.

In London even if there for a day, go see Churchill’s underground War Room. We also visited the Tower of London (a must see — with tour guides who are not tour guides but military men in the service of the Queen and these folks actually live there), St. Paul’s Cathedral (a must see) and we rode the giant London Eye (a monstrous Ferris Wheel) with amazing views of all of London.

We had delicious Pub lunches, great dinners; the best of which at an Indian restaurant Millbank Spice in a not-so-great neighborhood. Walking back to our hotel, we saw a guy bleeding from a small scalp wound as he sprawled drunkenly on the sidewalk while his blitzed “buddy” staggered around and begged for money. I also discovered that in this city of “no guns” there had been 125 murders using guns. But don’t worry you anti-gun people, only the criminals have guns in London.

At the end of this article I will give you the ratings that each of us gave the various things we did; the places we saw and the restaurants where we ate.

ANCHORS AWAY

Our cruise would be on the Ruby Princess and would encompass 12 days. Those of you who have been on these cruise tours know that what you see are brushstrokes of the places and countries visited. You don’t get to spend all that much time in any given place. It is the hors-d’oeuvres as opposed to a full meal.

On Wednesday, June 4 we left London and headed first to Stonehenge, where giant stones had been placed in a circle with other giant stones placed on top of some of those giant stones. We were not allowed to get close as folks did in the past. On this windswept (hurricane-like winds!) horribly wet day we trudged around the stones, our umbrellas turning inside out with every step since the winds came from every direction. Not pleasant.

Nobody really knows the meaning of the stones. It is possible that they represent some religious and/or sacrificial design. Or they may simply be primitive people saying, “Og, let us put one big stone on top of the other for the hell of it.” Some of the tourists were convinced they came from another world. I wonder if that other world is as wet as this particular place. I did buy an umbrella, a hooded sweatshirt and a shot glass in the gift shop.

Then to Southampton where the Ruby Princess waited. That ship was huge! It could house over 3,000 guests and had 1,200 crew members. It was as tall as a skyscraper and far longer than three football fields.

AP and I went on only one cruise before this, to Alaska, and it was not overwhelming. The scenery of Alaska was great, in fact at times it was overwhelming. But the shore excursions were mostly in towns that really don’t exist and are opened in the summer for the cruises. One town was almost nothing but dozens of jewelry shops. In short, no one lives there all year.

We had one amazing experience in Alaska, seeing a whale and her calf within three feet of our boat; you could reach out and touch it; and in one town we learned all about prostitution for the miners. Indeed, one woman in the 1800’s charged $1,000 a trick! The Beautiful AP and I commented that this woman must have been amazing. Then we saw a picture of her. One of the ugliest women ever; Guinness Book of World Records ugly. Burly, scowly, scary; she was more the monster under the bed than a woman you’d want in bed. Maybe the miners paid her not to have sex with them.

AP disliked the Alaska cruise quite a bit so I figured she’s dislike this one too. Thankfully that didn’t happen. All the sights we saw in England, Ireland and Scotland were real; they didn’t just exist for tourists. Some were actually amazing and overwhelming. Others were, well, disgusting.

The mini-suite we had was composed of two rooms with a real bathroom. A real bathroom means a real tub and a real shower. In our Alaskan trip we only had a balcony room and the shower could fit your leg and perhaps an arm. There was no bathtub. If you are going to cruise I recommend the mini-suite because it actually feels like a real hotel room.

Jerry, Tres, the Beautiful AP and I enjoyed sitting on the balcony, looking at the ocean and the land zipping by if we were close to shore. A fine bottle of wine, great conversations – as close to perfect as you can get. It was worth working like a dog since I was 12 to now be able to enjoy this.

Our first stop was Guernsey, a beautiful island owned by the Queen (I think that means it is not a part of the United Kingdom but is a part of the Queen’s “whatever”) that had been occupied by the Germans in World War II.

Okay, what follows is our individual ratings of the places we saw and the tours on which we went with some comments at times from me. The ratings go from F to A+.

May 31 to June 4, 2014 LONDON

WESTMINSTER ABBEY
Jerry: A
Tres: A+
AP: A+
Scobe: A+

BIG BEN
Jerry: A
Tres: A
AP: A
Scobe: A

THE LONDON EYE
Jerry: A
Tres: A
AP: A-
Scobe: A

THE TOWER OF LONDON
Jerry: B+
Tres: A
AP: A-
Scobe: B+

THE SERVANT OF THE QUEEN (Tour Officer)
Jerry: A+
Tres: A+
AP: A+
Scobe: A+

PRIME MERIDIAN

This was Jerry’s thing. The longitude equals zero here. My opinion? You walk up a long hill to see a golden line and then you wait on que to take a picture. There is a museum but it was closed when we went there.

Jerry: A
Tres: C
AP: B
Scobe: D

SHARD RESTAURANT

This is the new “in” place in London. It is an 87-story skyscraper that resembles a shard of glass. We went for lunch at the restaurant but we couldn’t get in because Jerry was wearing white sneakers. Then we went to dinner there that night. The view was amazing bu the meal and services were second rate.

Jerry: D
Tres: D
AP: C-
Scobe: D+

BOAT RIDE ON THE THAMES
Jerry: A-
Tres: B+
AP: B+
Scobe: A-

TRAFALGAR SQUARE
Jerry: C
Tres: A
AP: A-
Scobe: A-

BOYDS RESTAURANT
Jerry: B
Tres: B+
AP: A-
Scobe: A-

ST. PAUL’S CATHEDRAL
Jerry: A-
Tres: A+
AP: A+
Scobe: A

LES MISERABLES

I’ve seen this show three times. This was the best of the productions. Magnificent!

Jerry: A
Tres: A+
AP: A+
Scobe: A+

RED LION PUB
Jerry: A
Tres: A
AP: A-
Scobe: B+

BLACKFRIAR

The tables were so small they looked more like Frisbees. The meal was so-so but we did get to see a couple sitting at the Frisbee next to us who went on a half hour orgy of foreplay. Drool was on their chins. They left at separate times so Jerry figured they were having an affair.

Jerry: A-
Tres: B
AP: B+
Scobe: C

THE SECRET LONDON WALKING TOUR
Jerry: A
Tres: A
AP: A-
Scobe: B+

DOUBLETREE WESTMINSTER HOTEL
Jerry: A
Tres: A+
AP: A
Scobe: A+

DOUBLETREE RESTAURANT
Jerry: B
Tres: B+
AP: B+
Scobe: B+

MILLBANK SPICE (Indian restaurant)
Jerry: A+
Tres: A+
AP: A+
Scobe: A+

CHURCHILL’S WAR ROOM
Jerry: A
Tres: A
AP: A+
Scobe: A+

June 5, 2014: GUERNSEY

TOUR GUIDE
Jerry: A
Tres: A
AP: A
Scobe: A

NAZI OCCUPATION MUSEUM
Jerry: A
Tres: A
AP: A+
Scobe: A-

(It depressed me seeing all the Nazi stuff and realizing these poor Guernsey folks were crushed under the boot of the monsters. The minus in my rating came from the mustiness of the place.)

UNDERGROUND NAZI HOSPITAL
Jerry: A
Tres: A
AP: A
Scobe: B

(This place is nothing but huge, damp, wet underground tunnels that the Nazis built to cure their sick and injured. Almost no one survived a stay in these tunnels. You came in with a cold and died from pneumonia. Awful, awful place.)

THE ISLAND OF GUERNSEY
Jerry: A
Tres: A
AP: A
Scobe: A

(Just beautiful even though the roads are so narrow that you have to sometimes drive on the sidewalks! Wonderful cliffs with the waves crashing on the rocks.)

June 6, 2014: CORK IRELAND

Rain, rain and more rain and then heavy rain in the realm of Noah’s flood. I kept looking around for Russell Crowe but I think he’s Australian.

KINSALE

Little waterside town. The Cathedral was closed so we went to a small café for breakfast (our second breakfast of the day — the motto on a cruise is “I eat therefore I am”). The name of the café was Mother Hubbard’s. We met a couple of older Irishmen there. We had a pleasant conversation and then we paid the bill. Jerry wound up paying twice as much as I did. He was shafted.

Jerry: C
Tres: A-
AP: A-
Scobe: B

BLARNEY CASTLE AND GROUNDS
Jerry: A
Tres: A
AP: A
Scobe: A

Amazing grounds even though the rain was so heavy you tromped through tiny lakes. Beautiful (wet) estate; (wet) flowering gardens; (wet) small streams getting bigger by the second and a lake that seemed ready to break its banks. Just magnificent and did I mention wet?

AP, Jerry and Tres made their way to the top to kiss the Blarney Stone. I can’t walk those curving steps because of a horrible event in my childhood.

Now the Blarney Stone is supposed to give shy people the gift of gab. You crawl under the stone and then you kiss it. Hundreds of thousands of lips have kissed that stone. Lips with herpes; lips with pus dripping from them; lips with leprosy; lips with syphilis; lips that are bleeding; lips that…you get the picture. Thankfully the Beautiful AP only pretended to kiss the stone. Nevertheless I have been slyly checking to see if anything sprouts or cracks on her lips.

PRINCESS CRUISES SUPPLIED LUNCH
Jerry: B
Tres: C
AP: D
Scobe: C

We had a bad waitress. I told her I couldn’t eat mushrooms and she came back with mushrooms all over my chicken. When I reminded her of this she said, “Oh, yeah, right.” And left the plate! I called over the manager and told him I couldn’t eat mushrooms but I didn’t blame the waitress.

The cruise folks hired an Irish singer whose speaker system was so loud you could hear his heart beating; it was like being at a wedding. You could not hear anyone at your table speak. They did bring in two young ladies to do Irish step-dancing. They were good. The singer was louder as the day wore on. By the end of the meal it was unanimous that if we could put him to death we would.

THE SINGER
Jerry: C
Tres: D
AP: C-
Scobe: D

June 7, 2014: DUBLIN

The Irish like to drink. The Irish like to fight. The pub is as sacred as the church to them. Yes, stereotypes. And we in enlightened America know that all stereotypes are false.

But here is what I found — the damn stereotype might be true. Don’t just take it from me. The Irish men I talked to all agreed that they loved to drink; loved to hang out in pubs and loved a good fight now and then.

We toured Dublin, a city I totally disliked, a city with 1,000 pubs, a city with vomit trails in alleys and on sidewalks. A city that was like a dirty, crummy, crumbling neighborhood in Manhattan that tourists are told to skip.

Something else I noticed, a huge number of men seemed to have broken noses from (I guess fights in the past.). You could see those squashed noses flat against their faces, just like boxers’ noses that have been broken in fights. Dare I repeat el stereotypo here? (Look I am just telling you what I was told and what I saw.)

We visited St Patrick’s Cathedral — a truly dirty, coal begrimed house of worship for people not afraid of black lung disease. Either that or God must be very busy performing miracles in this Cathedral so worshippers don’t kick the bucket during services.

ST.PATRICK’S CATHEDRAL
Jerry: B
Tres: A
AP: B
Scobe: C-

CITY DRIVE TOUR (Jerry and Tres):
Jerry: A-
Tres: B+

DUBLIN CASTLE (AP and Scobe)
AP: A-
Scobe: B+

CAFÉ: LE PETIT PARISIEN
AP: A
Scobe: A

June 8, 2014, BELFAST

Northern Ireland, seat of “the troubles” for centuries. Catholics versus Protestants. Our tour guide Billy (an amazing tour guide; funny, witty, knowledgeable) said, “It got so bad that Jews were asked if they were Protestant Jews or Catholic Jews.”

This was a nicer city than Dublin but still it just didn’t have “it” as a city. Also, fewer broken noses than Dublin but there were still some. Not as much vomit either, although we did see some blood in an alleyway. “Ah,” said Billy. “Another broken nose!”

TOUR GUIDE BILLY
Jerry: A+
Tres: A+
AP: A+
Scobe A+

CITY HALL TOUR
Jerry: A
Tres: A
AP: A
Scobe: A

CITY WALK
Jerry: B+
Tres: B
AP: B+
Scobe: B

PUB VISIT
Jerry: A
Tres: A
AP: B+
Scobe B+
(I saved one of our fellow tourists from standing in a puddle of vomit outside the Pub.)

THE CITY OF BELFAST
Jerry: B+
Tres: B+
AP: B+
Scobe: C

June 9, 2014, GLASGOW SCOTLAND

Okay, bottom line — rain. We did a hop-on, hop-off bus tour but it rained so much that most of the tour took place indoors although I foolishly tried to brave out the rain on the open air top of the bus. How do you spell S-T-U-P-I-D?

CATHEDRAL NECROPOLIS
(This is the “city of the dead” as there are tombs in the church, just outside the church and a cemetery on the hill next to the church.)
Jerry: B
Tres: C+
AP: B+
Scobe: C

ON AND OFF BUS TOUR
Jerry: B
Tres: B-
AP: B-
Scobe: C

CAFÉ SOURCE
Jerry: A
Tres: A
AP: A
Scobe: A

THE CITY OF GLASGOW
Jerry: A
Tres: C+
AP: C+
Scobe: B-

June 11, 2014 ORKNEY ISLANDS

SKARA BRAE

This is what I love, ancient ruins. These are 5,000 years old. That’s three thousand years before Christ. This is a must see for anyone who has even the slightest imagination. You are looking at Neolithic life.

Jerry: A
Tres: A
AP: A
Scobe: A+

THE STONES

These stones are pre-Stonehenge and we were able to walk around them. Our guide told us that many theories have been proposed to explain what these stones mean. He then said, “For all we know these were a part of a huge barbecue pit.”

Jerry: B
Tres: B-
AP: B
Scobe: B+

KIRKWALL
Jerry: A
Tres: B+
AP: A-
Scobe: A-

June 12, 2014, INVERGORDON

Jerry and Tres went on a boat tour of Loch Ness and we wound up meeting them on the shores of that lake. Loch (Lake) Ness is a big lake and I could see how a monster could live there. I doubt that one does since it would need a whole bunch more to be able to keep reproducing. But it was fun to see and I also picked up four stones for my grandchildren from “the lake where the monster is.” I gave each of them one and I kept two for myself. I divided based on body weight.

BOAT TOUR
Jerry: A
Tres: A

CULLODEN MOOR
Jerry: A
Tres: A

URQUHART CASTLE
Jerry: A
Tres: A
AP: A
Scobe: A

CAWDOR CASTLE
AP: A+
Scobe: A+

LOCH NESS
Jerry: A
Tres: A
AP: A-
Scobe: A+

TOUR OF INVERNESS
Jerry: A
Tres: A
AP: A
Scobe: B

June 13, 2014, EDINBURGH (pronounced Edinboro)

This city blew AP and me away! It is magnificent with structures that are old and mind boggling. It has a huge castle on top of a high hill that also served as a city behind walls. We spent about three hours there (in rain of course) and barely got to see everything there was to see. Jerry and Tres went on a city bus tour; AP and I toured on our own. We did see them at the castle.

EDINBURGH CASTLE
Jerry: A-
Tres: B+
AP: A-
Scobe: A+

MARY KINGS’ CLOSE
Cities are built on top of cities. This is an underground city and fascinating to see.

AP: A
Scobe: A

CITY TOUR
Jerry: A
Tres: A

HOWIE’S CAFÉ
AP: A
Scobe: A

CITY OF EDINBURGH
Jerry: A-
Tres: A
AP: A+
Scobe: A+

On June 15, 2014 Jerry and Tres went to Paris. It was a three hour bus ride to Paris and a three hour bus ride back. You got to spend about four hours in the city. AP and I decided to have a relaxing day of swimming, eating and playing trivia with the few remaining passengers.

Jerry and Tres both gave Paris an A+. But they did get to meet a snotty French waiter who lived up to the “snotty-French-waiter” stereotype.

I never did get to see if the Scottish actually live up to their reputation of being cheap. So I can’t say of that stereotype has any truth to it. We didn’t see many men in kilts with the exception of those who were entertainers. The people were quite friendly and I had no problem with their accents. (They had no problem with my Brooklynese either.)

Of course, a cruise (as I said earlier) merely brushstrokes the places you visit. Of all the places we saw, Edinburgh and Orkney Island were the mind blowers (and, naturally, London as well).

And what of the Ruby Princess? A great ship with great entertainment, a great mini-suite, and our two favorite waiters Elvis (yes, his real name is Elvis) and his assistant Adrian. I also liked the head waiter who made sure that I was mushroom free!

All in all, a wonderful trip.

[Read my new book Confessions of a Wayward Catholic.]

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