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Published: June 15th 2019
Last night was a special treat. Many of us went on the optional dinner and entertainment excursion; it was wonderful. We took a short bus trip from the hotel to the Welsh cultural center, the Millennium Center, the home of the Welsh Opera, restaurants, and other entertainment options. It is located right on the old Cardiff docks and was amazing in design.
The evening began with a taste of Meade, an alcoholic beverage based on honey and developed by monks. It was sweet and delicious. Our hostess sat us right near the stage so our view of the entertainment would be excellent. The tables were set with red and white wines complimentary of the house.
We were given a number of options for dinner. I chose the salmon appetizer, the beef dinner, and the chocolate cake dessert. Cathy followed suit but went with the fruit for dessert. The restaurant went out of its way to accommodate her dinner requirements.
The entertainment was all Welsh - all the time. There were jokes, songs, and music a plenty, most in the Gaelic tongue. None of us were able to understand a word but the sounds were beautiful and a good
time was had by all.
Some points about the optionals. A tour company markets their tour costs to be attractive to the highest number of people. To keep the cost down, they price the tour showing the basics only. There are included tours every day and they are a great value, but to add to the experience, Trafalgar offers optional tours.
These optionals are unique, interesting and all-inclusive. There are usually a half a dozen optionals offered during the two-week tour. Cathy and I always evaluate the optionals carefully, trying to pick the best ones. After careful evaluation, we usually book them all! The reason is that these optionals are a great value, very interesting, and designed to complement the journey. Mark Twain said, “You only regret the things you didn’t do,” and we wanted no regrets, so once again we booked all the optionals. When you go on tour in the future, I advise you to do the same. You won’t regret it.
Let’s talk a little about the coach and the incredible guy who commands it. Roads in England are narrow, turns are tight, and traffic is confusing. Our driver, Jeff, is from Wales and
is a second generation coach driver. His skills are beyond incredible.
I was fortunate enough to sit in the front seat and marvel at his skills, executing amazing right and left turns that were so tight that the coach seemed too large to negotiate, but through the skills and tri-axle design of the coach, it was a breeze for Jeff. Truly the tour director is in control of the tour, but the quality of the coach driver can be a make it or break it experience.
Not only is Jeff required to steer the coach, but he also is responsible for managing your luggage. It is like a game of Tetris under the coach and Jeff handles it with great care. Besides his primary duties, Jeff also keeps the coach spotless inside and out, protects our personal belongings when we are off the coach, and generally is there to help you in whatever you need. So remember to be sure to thank him, shake his hand, and perhaps add a few quid to his tip; he and his family will appreciate it. Just to understand his dedication, today is Jeff's son's birthday and he is spending it with
us… such dedication.
Our first stop today was the small town of Ludlow. This is a medieval town built under the rule of King Richard III. The town is beautiful and saw the likes of William Shakespeare walk its quaint streets. We were treated to a farmers’ market in the city center so we took advantage and purchased some cheese, cherries, coffee, and a pastry.
Cathy and I also visited the main church, built in the 1200s, walked the streets in and out of the many shops, just enjoying a comfortable lazy Saturday morning. Soon it was time to return to the coach and off to Chester.
We arrived in the city of Chester a little after 1 PM. Chester is another city founded by the Romans in 79AD. The city was established by erecting a 2-mile wall around the city to protect from invaders. The Romans held the city until the 1200s when it was eventually to become part of the Commonwealth of England.
The city boosted the largest Roman amphitheater in all of Britain. The remnants remain preserved today and Cathy and I walked over to see them. Frankly, we have seen larger and
better preserved in other parts of Italy and Greece, but for Britain it was special.
Chester is a port town across the Mersey River from Liverpool, our next stop. Cathy and I walked all over Chester, looking at the shops, listening to singers buskering all over the pedestrian mall. Some of them were quite talented, singing well-known songs and playing a full array of instruments. I really enjoyed the electric violin. The performer had enough electronics on his instrument to make it sound like an electric guitar, and he was amazing.
It was time for a little lunch so we stopped into an Italian restaurant for a gluten-free Margherita pizza and a meat plate with olives and sun dried tomatoes. It was excellent. Soon it was time to return to the bus for our short journey to the hotel and Liverpool Tour.
A word about the weather. Today was a bit cloudy but, from time to time, old Sol poked through the clouds. It was a bit warmer than the past few days and essentially dry. The locals tell us this is an atypical summer day in England. Apparently cold, cloudy, and wet are the norm in
an English summer, so if you are planning to travel here, be prepared.
We arrived in Liverpool a little early so we had a bit of time to rest before our included city tour. A glorious 45 minutes later we headed back to our bus to meet Paula, our city tour guide. Paula took us all around Liverpool and introduced us to the port, the shopping and, of course, the Beatles.
The port, at one time, was one of the largest in Britain, second only to Chester and London. King John, tired of having to pay fees to the folks who owned the Chester Port, sent a group of explorers out to find a competitive port. They came across the Mersey River and found a tidal pool deep enough to act as a port location. The water in the tidal pool during low tide was the color of liver, so the name of the city became Liverpool. Pretty cool way to name a city.
This port later became the home to several major shipping companies, among them Cunard Line and Star Lines. Cunard Line became the largest passenger lines in Britain. Tens of thousands of people came from all over Europe to Liverpool to catch a ship to the new world and parts unknown to start a new life. My own family left on Cunard Lines from Palermo, Italy on Cunard to come to the US so there was a personal connection.
Star Lines, was also famous, but for a different reason. It was Star Lines that launched the great ship, Titanic, on its maiden voyage to New York. Unfortunately, an iceberg got in the way and the rest is history. The port is still important but on a much lower scale.
After the port, we drove about the city and learned much more history, but we were all waiting for the best history lesson of all, The Beatles Story. Paula showed us where Paul McCarthy lived, where he and the boys went to school and, of course, the Cavern Club, where it all began. Special note: The real Cavern Club burned to the ground; the present pub is on the same street but is completely rebuilt and everything is a replica. Bummer.
We decided not to go back to the hotel so Alan (Australian), Sonya and Leonora (Canada), Cathy and I (US) decided to stay in the area and find a place for dinner. Since it was no longer raining, we headed over to the entertainment/shopping center, One Liverpool, and found a nice Italian restaurant, Zizzis. We ordered a delicious round of foods, wine, and hard apple cider and enjoyed the company of new friends. All too soon it was time to go and we headed on foot back to the hotel. Cathy and I turned in early to try to catch up on sleep. Our wake up call is for 6:15 AM; we depart the hotel at 8.
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