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Published: August 28th 2018
Several weeks ago, we sailed on the Jewel of the Seas, a ship in the Royal Caribbean fleet. It was quite a modest size at 90,000 tonnes and equipped to carry 2,500 passengers. Of all the cruise lines we have experienced thus far, this RCL ship appears to be one of the best designed ships. There was a good balance of activities (golf course, climbing wall, basketball/5-a-side football court) on board. We have heard so much positivity about the bigger ships that RCL have on offer; carrying the wow factor to another level, that we booked a mini cruise on one of the larger ships, the Independence of the seas that weighs in at an impressive 154,000 tonnes accommodating 4,370 passengers. We hear there are some unique features on this ship that we hope to experience first hand over the next few days. I will of course, share these experiences with you. We sail from Southampton overnight to Rotterdam in the Netherlands then across the Zeebrugge (for Bruges) before returning back to Southampton and the 250-mile drive home.
Our journey started the day prior to departure where we decided to break the journey up by staying overnight in
Bicester, near Oxford then to travel the additional 80 miles on the day of embarkation. As check-in to our accommodation could not be until mid-afternoon, we decided to pay a visit to a National Trust property in nearby Aylesbury called Waddesdon Manor. For a Public Holiday, the roads weren’t too bad and all motorways encountered were tailback free. The journey to Waddesdon Manor passed without incident…well almost!!!
We were driving along the A41 about eight miles from Waddesdon Manor. This stretch of road is single carriageway and rural. Nothing but hedgerows on one side and a municipal golf course on the other. My speed was round about 60mph (honest!!) which is the usual speed limit on this type of road. Suddenly, from my right, a wood-pigeon landed in the road about 20 yards ahead of me. Now, birds are pretty clever when it comes to road awareness and can sense the dangers associated with oncoming traffic. They seem to have a built-in radar and a knack of flying off in the right direction avoiding any sort of collision. By the time my brain had processed this information, I heard a dull thud and looked in my rear-view mirror to
catch sight of bunch of feathers shooting six feet in the air and were now gently floating down to the ground. I felt like sticking my head out of the window and shouting in the direction of the Golf Course, ‘Now that’s how you hit a birdie!!’ I’ve never ran over any living animal before and couldn’t help feeling a touch of remorse…and they never found the body!!! The good news (but not for the wood-pigeon) is that my car sustained no damage!!
We arrived at Waddesdon Manor at 12:30. This property has an extensive car park which was already practically full to overflowing. I asked one of the volunteers at the welcome pavilion how many visitors they were expecting today.
‘We can get up to 10,000 on bank and public holidays.’
‘It’s very inconsiderate for all of them to turn up at once’, I joked as we took our place in the ever-increasing queue to enter.
It was a twenty-minute walk up a gentle slope to the manor house or you could take the shuttle bus provided. As we came through the turnstile, there was a shuttle
bus waiting to transport passengers the mile or so to the drop off point near the North Fountain. It would be a shame not to…!!!
Waddesdon Manor was built in 1870s for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild to display his extraordinary art collection and his collection of fine wines. Our first impression was that the main manor house is a bit on the extravagant side. The façade is built on the design of a French chateau and with a name like de Rothschild I would have expected nothing less!! Unfortunately, all tickets to view the interior were sold out by the time we arrived so I’m unable to provide a description of the interior. It’s probably like any other manor house we’ve visited from the same period. I don’t need to visit a manor so see collections of extraordinary furniture. IKEA have quite extensive collections of sofas – and the extraordinary thing is that some even convert in to beds which is more than can be said for the Louis XVI furniture that is reported to sit in some of the rooms in the manor house!! However, that aside, our first mission was to seek out some food.
There are a number of food courts in Waddesdon Manor. A short walk through some woodlands and the children’s play area brought us out at the Stables. The queue for the café snaked around the court yard. Customers had to wait to be seated so the queue only moved as tables became vacant. We walked back toward the manor house to the manor restaurant. The brunch menu looked reasonable. We were shown to a table and handed a menu each. Brunch was no longer available and the cheapest meal cost £22.00. No wonder we managed to get a seat here without much waiting. The price seemed somewhat extortionate for lunch so we upped and left. Food was proving problematic unless crisps (the potato chips kind for my U.S/Canadian. readers!!) or ice cream was your thang!! We finally found a kiosk and managed to secure a welcome sandwich and coffee.
As the manor house was off the agenda we paid a visit to the wine cellar for which you didn’t require a timed ticket. The wine cellar houses over 12,000 bottles of wine. Why does someone need that much wine??! The collection includes Château Lafite and Château Mouton. I’m
A trellis of climbing plants - Wadesdon manor
This is a the rear of the manor house on the west turret
not sure you’d find these in the three for £10 range at Sainsburys!!!
On our way to the aviary we passed a few 3D bird sculptures that were in full bloom and some well-maintained flower beds. A pleasant stroll through a glade and we arrived at a rather ornate aviary We expected nothing less. The aviary contained some rare and exotic birds. For example, a white crested chat and some sort of peacock-pheasant hybrid. Not being a bird fancier (see above!!) this could have been a P T Barnum style hoax with a few parrot feathers sellotaped to a canary. We wouldn’t have known the difference!!
Time was pressing on so we decided to head back to the main car park via the one-mile woodland footpath.
We stayed overnight at a converted post office on the outskirts of Bicester. This started life as a small rural post office for the village. The house was not big enough to accommodate any customers so if you wanted a letter posting you had to knock on the living room window and be served from there. Since 1993, the old post office was extended and has operated as a bed and
breakfast ever since. Over the years the B & B has expanded to its current size. The rooms, nowadays, are behind the main house in self-contained chalets complete with all mod cons including a private patio area.
During breakfast, which was served in a modernised wooden structure opposite our chalet and adjacent to a large lawn, Roisin noticed a rather large looking wooden kennel-like structure under a tree at the far end of this lawn.
‘What’s that for?’ asked Roisin
‘We keep wood pigeons’, replied Troy, the proprietor. He continued, ‘We only have two left at the moment as they keep getting run over.’
I didn’t have the heart to tell him in all likelihood he now only has one left!!’
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