Saturday, September 12, 2009
UNITED KINGDOM ISLANDS TOUR - August 2009
This journal documents my activities, observations and thoughts on a tour of United Kingdom Islands, August 5 to 10, 2009. I booked the tour myself. The focus of the tour for me was to visit the islands around England: Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. It was scheduled as a pre-tour before my Voyage of the Vikings, Holland America cruise on the ms Maasdam.
Overview of the trip route:
· Fly from LAX to AMS via ORD
· Fly from AMS to Isle of Man via Gatwick and spend the night
· Tour the Isle of Man
· Fly to Guernsey via Manchester and spend the night
· Tour Guernsey Island
· Fly to Jersey and spend the night
· Tour Jersey Island
· Fly to Amsterdam via Gatwick and spend the night
· Take the train to Rotterdam
Aug 05, 2009 (Wednesday) Fly LAX to AMS via ORD
I awoke to my alarm at 0500. Judy was in New Jersey assisting Robin as she recuperated from a tonsillectomy so I had to feed the dog and secure the house before my driver to the airport arrived. Griffy cooperated and did his business and ate his breakfast. The car service was scheduled to arrive at 0750 and I was ready at 0745. The driver had taken me to the airport in the past. It took exactly one hour to get to the United Terminal. Along the way the driver and I discussed a variety of subjects ranging from the closing of Chrysler dealerships (he was driving a Chrysler) and the servicing he has done on his car to the nutty drivers we passed or passed us on the drive.
Since he racks up a lot of miles on his car he gets regular maintenance from an special garage near the airport certified by the state to service licensed limos, except when it comes to the transmission. Chryslers have a Mercedes Benz transmission with a special fitting to replace the fluid that is only available at the dealers. Along the drive to the airport in rush hour traffic we observed drivers text messaging with both hands off the wheel for over a mile, woman putting on makeup, one driver reading a book on his steering wheel and a slow poke in the car pool lane backing up traffic behind him for miles - typical LA commute traffic.
Check in was a breeze but security was a hassle. They didn’t like my toilet kit which was in the bottom of my bag and unpacked my carry on to get to it and then found it was OK but since I had to be “wanded” and padded down I wasn’t able to repack the bag. Over all it took me 20 minutes to go through security and there was only one person in from of me in line. My artificial knee is great for walking but is a pain for flying.
I waited for the flight departure in the Red Carpet Club. They now serve cereal for breakfast and have a toaster. I was able to read the papers and finally proceeded to the gate . Since I was flying on Business Class miles I was in First Class on the LAX to ORD leg. As a result of the security repacking my bag I had difficulty getting the bag in the overhead on the plane because of the bulge on top of the bag the quick repacking. Fortunately I was on a B-757 and there is a closet for bags in First Class.
The flight went out on schedule. Sitting next to me on the flight was a Saudi of Jordanian decent who was getting a double Masters at USC in Economics and Finance. His name was Eyid and it was his birthday. I told him that I had worked in Saudi Arabia. He replied that he had done an internship at ARAMCO and told me the move to put Saudis in management positions has caused a lot of problems, since they think actual work is beneath them. He said the Westerners still do most of the work.
I had a two hour layover at ORD and spent the time in the Red Carpet Club, repacking my carry on so it would fit in an overhead and talking on my cell phone. My brother Steve called to wish me a happy birthday, as did my daughter Wendy and wife Judy.
The flight was 35 minutes late for boarding but we arrived at our AMS gate on schedule. The aircraft was a B-767 with fully horizontal capable seats in Business Class. Every other row faces backwards so the wall with the TV screen is common to the passenger in front of you. The Europeans on the flight slept most of the way but since it was afternoon and early evening West Coast time I watched movies and TV shows.
The first movie was “Adventureland” with Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart and Ryan Reynolds. It is a movie worth renting about late teens coming of age having to spend their summer working in an amusement park. Next I watched “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” with Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Garner – not worth renting. The last movies was “Bride Wars” another not worth renting with Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway. I was so disgusted with the last two I switched to watching TV shows, “30 Rock”, “Chuck” and “Two and a Half Men”.
Aug 06, 2009 (Thursday) Amsterdam, The Netherlands
We arrived at the airport ahead of schedule but had to sit on the ramp for 25 minutes to get to our gate on time at 0925. After clearing Immigration, and picking up my bags I exited out the Green “Nothing To Declare” exit and started to go to the Sheraton Amsterdam Airport Hotel when I saw a Holland America “Greeter”. I stopped and asked her how I could get from the airport to the ship in Rotterdam on August 11th. She gave me the number of the local agent that makes the arrangement.
The Sheraton had a room ready so I checked in and then proceeded to the British Airways check in counter to get a seat on my next day’s flight. BA does not assign seats unless you are a member of their frequent passenger program until 24 hours before flight. I found out at their Customer Service Counter that you can only get a seat via the internet, so walked back to the hotel and used a terminal they have set aside for guests to check in and print boarding passes. By the time I got to the terminal it was also 24 hours before my Flybe flight the next day from Gatwick to the Isle of Man, so I checked in to both flights and was able to get an exit row seat on the BA flight (the Flybe seats were reserved when I booked the flights).
For those not familiar with Flybe, it is the largest regional low-cost airline in Europe with 77 aircraft. I purchased my tickets over the internet because it operates in the three islands I had planned to visit with the most frequent service.
I unpacked and checked email on my Blackberry and sent a short message out to let Judy know that I had arrived safely. Robin had sent me a message asking me to visit her old apartment house in Amsterdam and take pictures. She sent detailed directions on how to find it. Initially, I had not planned on going into the city and planned to spend the day arranging for my transfer the next Tuesday to the Rotterdam Cruise Terminal. My thought was that the next week when I was acclimated to the time zone would be a better time to visit the city.
Robin’s message motivated me and when I discovered that the weather was gorgeous outside and that the train only takes 15 minutes I bought a round trip ticket to the city. I hopped on the train the ticket agent directed me to and spend 15 minutes going in the wrong direction then had to wait 20 minutes for the train back to the airport. This time I paired up with a guy heading to Amsterdam Central and again we got on the wrong train and after getting off had to wait 19 minutes for the train to Central.
When I finally got to Amsterdam Central Station I followed Robin’s directions and found her apartment building and took loads of pictures of the area.
There is a lot of construction across the street and the former Pizza Polar on the street level of the building has been replaced by an upscale food shop with no business traffic considering the time of day. The windows facing Rokin Avenue have awnings and appear to be well decorated, some with plants in the window.
Taking the train back to the airport, I took no chances and confirmed with the engineer that I was on the right train. It was a very warm and sunny day and the train back was not air conditioned so I was soaking wet when I returned to my room. By then it was time for supper so I wandered around the terminal and bought a light dinner at one of the restaurants.
I went to bed shortly after 2100, having been up for thirty hours.
Aug 07, 2009 (Friday) Fly to Isle of Man, England via Gatwick
I awoke to my alarm at 0600 after getting nine hours of sleep. After showering, shaving, and packing my bags, I checked my two bags for the cruise with the hotel and checked out. On my way to the BA Check In counter I stopped at the Burger King in the terminal for breakfast. I had expected to purchase the Burger King equivalent of an Egg McMuffin but what the sold was a burger bun with an egg and a burger instead of a patty sausage or bacon. It was tasty, quick and cheap.
At the Check In counter I needed to first go to a kiosk and print out my boarding card and then stand in line to check my bag. Security went smoother than in the US. My carry on and I were checked again at the departure gate. We boarded on schedule and I was all by myself on an exit row. The plane was a B-737 and was less than half full. We pushed back early and took off five minutes before the scheduled departure time at 1000. It was a short flight to Gatwick and we were at the gate at 0945, thirty minutes before the scheduled arrival time. I had almost two hours before my next flight and I almost needed all of it. The arrival gate for my flight from Amsterdam was in a mid flield terminal like the United Terminal at Dulles International. The walk to the main terminal was very long and even though they had moving walkways it was still a time consuming trip to the main terminal. The signage was very poor directing me to the flybe gates. After visiting the BA domestic check-in I found out that I needed to take a train to the domestic terminal for my Flybe gate. This necessitated my retracing my path to some extent to get to the train station and make sure I was on the correct train. I expressed my frustration at the lack of directions and signs out loud and a flight attendant confirmed that I was not the first person to experience the frustration. Once I got to the domestic terminal I had to pass through security again and they were stricter than the Dutch had been.
Inside the departure terminal I discovered that there was no gate posted for my flight. Next to the board that listed the departure gates they had a map of the gate layout and it indicated that it could take from ten to twenty minutes to walk to the departure gate. Of course when my flight’s gate was posted it was in the twenty minute walk area. By the time I arrived at my departure gate I had walked over an hour through the various terminals at Gatwick. (It is a good thing I didn’t schedule this trip before I had my knee replaced!)
Of course I had to go through security again at the departure gate. The plane to Isle of Man was a commuter DeHaviland DHC-8-400. I was seated in 2B. My laptop backpack would not fit in the over head but did fit under the seat. Therefore I had to fly with my knee bent which causes it to ache. The fight was an hour and ten minutes long, arriving at the terminal at the scheduled time.
After retrieving my checked bag I asked where I could exchange some money. We had landed at the commuter terminal and I was directed to the main terminal for money exchange. There was a long line for taxis so I walked over to the main terminal and exchanged dollars into the Isle of Man Pounds. By the time I returned to the taxi stand the line had diminished and I got a taxi to take me to my hotel. It turned out that the Hilton Hotel I was booked into had a health club and indoor swimming pool next door and my taxi driver, John McCreadie, swam twice a day in the pool. He was a retired tour bus driver and suffered from arthritis that he found the swimming helped alleviate his aches and pain.
On the way to the hotel we passed though the center of Douglas and drove along a long promenade. John narrated the sites along the way and recommended places that I should visit and eat in during my stay. Douglas is the largest town on the island with a population of over 25,000 on an island 32 miles long and 13 miles wide with a population of a little over 80,000.
The Isle of Man (IOM) has the unusual status of being one of the British Isles that is neither part of Great Britain nor the United Kingdom. People born here are known as 'Manx', classified as British (as opposed to English). The IOM is not represented in the UK parliament as it has its own parliament - the Tynwald, an institution founded by the Vikings over a thousand years ago. English is the first language of modern Manx people but the 'old' language is Manx Gaelic. There are no longer any native Manx speakers but a growing number of enthusiasts have kept it alive and it is a learning option for all schoolchildren over the age of 7. Government departments use English and Manx titles on all official documents, correspondence and vehicles and Manx is also used on town and road signs and increasingly by commercial businesses.
The IOM National Symbol is the Three Legs of Man, first officially used in the early fourteenth century on the Manx Sword of State. The legs, clad in armor and bearing spurs, run in a clockwise direction and bear the Latin motto “Quocunque Jeceris Stabit'”or “Whichever way you throw it, it will stand” - a testament to islanders' independence and resilience. The Three Legs are in the IOM flag, and also appear on the Manx Coat of Arms, flanked by a Peregrine Falcon and a Raven.
The source of the legs emblem is subject to many theories including the legend of the Island God Manannan, who is said to have set fire to the Legs in a fit of rage and hurled them down the hill in a burning wheel. The Legs are also related to Sicily's emblem of three naked legs surrounding the head of Medusa, and the swastika, both of which can be traced back to pagan symbols representing the Sun.
The IOM economy has been steadily expanding since the 1970's, mainly due to Government promotion of the island as an international offshore financial centre, with a low, two-tier tax rate, financial incentives for manufacturing and light industry and an absence of death, wealth or capital gains duties. Unemployment is around 1½ percent of the economically active population and inflation is between 2 and 3 percent at July 2006. Prior to the 1970’s the economy was heavily dependent on tourism and the island has many hotels that have now been converted to office buildings and condominiums for wealthy main land Englishman.
With the facts and figures out of the way we talked about the TT Motorcycle races that are one of the main events on the island that I had read about in the LA Times the week before. On our way we crossed over the Fairy Bridge and I had to shout out “Hello, fairies!”, because according to island lore, those who pass over the bridge must say hello to the fairies or they will suffer bad luck.
The hotel was over a mile along the promenade from the center of the town of Douglas. I made arrangements with John to pick me up at 0800 in the morning and take me on an extensive tour of the island finishing at the airport in time for my noon flight to Guernsey.
I checked into the room as my driver went for his swim. My room was adequate and had an electrical outlet alongside the bed for my CPAP machine. After unpacking I headed out to visit the pubs my driver had recommended for lunch. It was after 1400 when I found the pub and ordered a Ploughman’s lunch and a pint of Manx Bitter, the local draft beer. The Isle of Man has a beer purity law that permits no ingredients in beer other than water, yeast, hops and malt, so even though I don’t normally drink bitter beer I had to experience it. My Ploughman’s lunch was not exactly like I used to get in London when I was working there in the early 1990’s. It had a generous amount of shredded cheese, a small bowl of chutney, lettuce and tomato salad and cold slaw. It was a filling lunch.
After the lunch I continued to walk northeast along the promenade toward the Manx Transportation museum. One of the unique features of the Isle of Man is its rail system. Along the Douglas promenade is a horse drawn trolley track. North of Douglas is an Electric Train system and south of Douglas is a Steam train system. When I got to the museum I found that it is the terminus for the horse drawn trolley. I had just missed the departure of a trolley and I was contemplating waiting for its return and riding it into the center of the city. Across the street from the ticket booth, along the water front, I saw a beautifully restored MG Y four door Salon. I walked over and took several pictures and a passing couple; took a picture of me alongside the car. The car had mainland plates and was not registered on the island.
My stomach started to act up and rather than wait for the horse trolley to return I rapidly walked back to my room to get some relief. After an hour I decided to venture out again, this time to walk toward the city center in the hope of finding a drug store and purchasing some Imodium tablets. I was also curious to find out the reason the island was named the Isle of Man and the people referred to as Manx.
I got to a Booth’s Pharmacy just as it was closing and was able to the Imodium tablets. While I was in the center of the city I stopped at the Tourist Information Center and asked my questions on the names and they didn’t know for sure but they speculated that it had to do with Mannanan, the Celtic Neptune (God of the Sea). During the twentieth century the Island has achieved a large measure of self-government as a Crown dependency. The Crown retains responsibility for ensuring the good government of the Island and for its external affairs, but the Island's democratically elected government exercises full control of its internal affairs and territorial waters.
With this better understanding of the possible origination of the name I walked back to my hotel along the promenade. At one spot I stopped to get a picture that I could post on my Facebook page. In the background was the Tower of Refuge built on rocks in the Douglas harbor. The gentleman that took my picture was a Tour Bus driver from Scotland and had arrived with a bus load of tourist by ferry that afternoon. We talked for a while as he explained what he knew about the Tower. At high tide the Tower is surrounded by water. It was built in 1832 to serve as a place that sailors washed overboard or ship wrecked outside the harbor would have a place to swim to and wait for rescue. It is bathed in light at night and serves as a sort of landmark for the island.
Continuing along the promenade I passed beautiful gardens in the medium between the waterfront and the roadway. There was also a children’s playground and I took a picture of a sea gull that was watching over the children at play.
I decided to eat at the hotel. They had a lobster special that I ordered. It turned out to be just the lobster body shell stuffed with lobster meat and baby prawns and mashed potatoes. It looked great but it was heavy on the mashed potatoes and light on the meat – sort of a rip-off.
There was no internet in the room and I was too tired to break out my laptop to write in my journal, so I went to bed early.
Aug 08, 2009 (Saturday) Tour Isle of Man and the fly to Guernsey Island, via Manchester
I awoke to my alarm at 0600, showered, shaved and packed. The hotel breakfast buffet was very good and I was able to checkout as John arrived for the tour.
We headed out of town past the pub I had eaten lunch in the previous day. I told John that I liked the Ploughman’s lunch they served and drank a pint of the beer. He asked if it went right through me. Now he tells me that because of the legislated recipe for the beer, most tourists can’t tolerate it and get the “trots”.
Our first stop was the famous Great Laxey Wheel, reportedly the largest working water wheel in the world. It has a circumference of 228 feet and was used to remove water from lead and zinc mines in the area. We had arrived before the tourist ticket booth opened but my guide got me up close to take pictures. The wheel took four years to build and was finished in 1854 and christened “Lady Isabella” in honor of the Island’s Lieutenant Governor’s wife.
We drove from the village of Laxey to the village of Ramsey. John pointed out the padding around the telephone poles and sign posts along with the bales of hay along the walls and in front of the house close to the road. All to protect from the TT motorcycle riders. We occasionally came upon or were passed by motorcycles. I learned that there was a car show on the island and John speculated that that is why the MG Y was on the island from the mainland.
Just north of Laxey we stopped by King Orry's Grave, It is a site built by farmers as a memorial to their ancestors. Ceremonies held on the site left traces of hearth and flint. King Orry was King Godred of Crovan a well known Manx legend. He took control of the Isle of Man and many of the islands between it and Norway, in 1079. To honor him, many monuments were named after him, but there is no connection between this historical figure and the prehistoric remains at the King Orry’s Grave site.
At Ramsey we turn west to drive across the island past the wild life park where I was able take pictures of the unique three horn goats that are native to the island. At the village of Peel on the west coast we stopped at the House of Manannan. The House of Manannan was built in 1997 at the cost of 5.5 million. It is a vast complex, partly new and partly the old Peel Railway Station. Among its many exhibits is a replica Norse long ship made in and sailed from Norway to the Isle of Man in 1979 to celebrate the millennium of Tynwald. Outside the museum John took my picture among statues of the Norseman planting a flag on a pile of rocks.
Not far from the museum we stopped next to the Peel Castle at a Snack Shop where John bought me a Kipper (Smoked Herring). It was a delicious taste on a butter roll but very salty. The Snack Shop was next to the castle and across the road was a dock with a Viking boat moored.
Our next stop was Tynwald or the Parliament Field. Tynwald is a word of Viking origin from the Norse “Thing vollr”. It is the ancient assembly ground where the Manx Parliament and people meet each year in the open air to hear the proclamation of new laws. The meeting is held every July 5th.
At the very southern end of the island is Cregneash. We stopped at Ned Berg’s Cottage. Ned Beg Hom Ruy, also known as Edward Faragher, was a language writer and poet. He was born in 1831 in Cregneash, where he lived most of his life and was a fisherman by trade but was to devote much of his life to writing and became established as a guardian and collector of Manx culture. His death in 1908 was a great loss for the Manx language, but he left an important legacy in his written work of poems, stories and personal reminiscences of the Cregneash he had known as a boy.
His cottage displayed a unique style of thrashed roof construction with cables across the thrash and looped around beams protruding from the walls. From his cottage we had a good view of the Calf of Man, a small island off the tip of the Isle of Man.
After driving through Port St Mary we arrived at the Airport in Castletown. The complete tour of every major road on the island had taken less than three hours and I had arrived with plenty of time for my flight. After some picture taking in front of the Isle of Man symbol of three legs, I bid John farewell and checked in for my flight.
At this time of day there was no direct flight between the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. I was routed via Manchester to Guernsey Island.
The plane was a DHC-8-400 again and I was once again seated in 2B. Check in and security was a breeze and we boarded on time but didn’t take off until 1225 for a forty five minute flight to Manchester. At Manchester we taxied to the Flybe maintenance area and the pilot announced that it was the last flight of the day for the aircraft and to sit still while they performed some engine run up checks. We cut engines at 1310, fifteen minutes after the scheduled arrival time. Since we were parked in the maintenance area we were bussed to the main terminal. The gate for the flight to Guernsey was not listed on the board so I went to the Flybe desk and was given a gate number. It was a long walk at the end of a terminal stub. There was nobody in the gate departure area when I arrived and I relaxed and checked email on my Blackberry. It was 1330 and my flight was scheduled for 1430. At 1400 the gate area filled up but it turned out to be for another flight. My flight gate was briefly listed and then withdrawn from the board. After the other flight loaded additional people arrived but no gate agent. About 1415 there was an announcement that the Guernsey flight was delayed with no estimated departure time. By now a number of people had gathered in the waiting area and we decided to return to the main departure hall to await further information.
I approached the Flybe desk and asked: “What was the cause of the delay - was it a late inbound flight? I was told it was a technical delay. I thought that was odd and told the agent that I knew there was an available aircraft because I had just flown in on one that was not scheduled for a turn. He got defensive and repeated that it was a technical delay and left it at that. I remarked that that was “Bull Shit” and I now wanted to know the real reason for the delay. He really got hostile at this and walked away. Another agent said softly it was the lack of crew and not aircraft. They then announced that they would issue food vouchers for all the passengers scheduled for the Guernsey flight. I got my voucher and looked for a wall outlet where I could plug in my computer and write my journal. I found a place to sit down and plug in my laptop but I couldn’t get an internet connection. I was able to write in my journal. At 1700 they announced that our flight would board at 1800 at a gate right off the main hall.
I took advantage of the meal voucher and had a light salad and sandwich in the main hall and then proceeded to the gate. An inbound plane was off loading its passengers and it didn’t take long before they boarded our flight at 1755. I was again seated in 2B. I struck up a conversation with the man next to me. His name was Malcolm Riggs and he ran a landscaping business near Manchester after a career in the Royal Merchant Marines. He was on his way to Guernsey to sail on a friend’s yacht. The flight took an hour and as we approached the Channel Islands, Malcolm pointed out the various islands and points of interest that we could observe from the air. He told me that he had sailed in the area for many years.
We arrived at the terminal at 1915 and had to pass through an Immigration check. I had told Malcolm of my plan to hire a taxi that could give me a tour on the way to the hotel and then take me on an island tour the next morning. He told me he was being picked up by a car service and they could drop me at my hotel on the route to his friend’s house. In the terminal there was a tourist rack and he showed me a brochure for bus tours of the island.
I accepted his offer and changed my plans. His driver was waiting and provided excellent commentary on the ride to my hotel. On the map it appeared that the hotel was only 3 or 4 miles from the airport but it took a lot longer than I expected. The hotel was situated on the slope of a large hill overlooking the city of St. Peter Port. The roads were narrow and winding and we approached from the top of the hill and had to navigate a very narrow sharp right turn between two buildings with no sidewalk and drive down a one way one lane street to the hotel.
The hotel was quaint with separate buildings including a swimming pool. My room was large with a full tub and a double bed. I had checked in at 1930 and decided to walk to town to find a place to eat. There was a beautiful view of the harbor and of Castle Cornet, Guernsey’s ancient royal fortress that has stood guard over the harbor of St. Peter Port for nearly eight centuries.
The desk clerk tried to reserve a guided tour for me the next day but the tour office was closed for the night. She told me my best route to the Esplanade and Quay was to walk up the hill on the narrow lane and at the sharp corner bear to the right and walk down to the water front. It was a good workout up the hill and down again. At the bottom of the hill there was a large church and then a marina.
I headed north along the Quay for almost a mile with the marina to the east and shops and restaurants to the west. None of the restaurants and pubs posted menus struck my fancy so at the end Quay I turned west and then walked south on a back street parallel to the Quay. When I reached the church I withdrew some money from an ATM machine and proceeded to walk south along the Esplanade. I had crossed paths along my walk with the same couple several times. They were now in front of me and I decided to return to the hotel up the hill on the narrow lane. I had a small flash light with me as the sun had finally set and there were no street light on the narrow lane. I wondered if the couple was thinking that I was stalking them and as we approached the hotel they turned into the court yard and into the main building. I turned into the building with the restaurant and bar, checked the menu, inquired if they were still serving (it was close to 2115) and they replied yes, so I ordered a crab salad and a draft pint and took a table. Soon the couple I had been trailing arrived and also ordered a meal.
As I waited for the meal to arrive I had a pleasant time observing two drunks at the bar who were in their 60’s and were kidding each other over events they had experienced during their life time. It was better theater than watching a TV show. One of them finally stumbled out and told the other that he was leaving his car parked outside and was going to walk home. (A good idea!) After he left the remaining drunk turned to the couple sitting close to the bar and told them that they were childhood friends and not to believe anything he had said.
The meal was delicious, as was the beer. I returned to my room exhausted and had no trouble falling asleep by 2300.
Aug 09, 2009 (Sunday) Tour Guernsey and fly to Jersey Island
I awoke at 0700 and had breakfast in the hotel restaurant. It was the standard hotel buffet. After breakfast I stopped at the front desk and the clerk told me the tourist office was still closed. I returned to my room and discovered that I had a strong internet connection so I retrieved my emails, deleted the garbage and wrote a message about the experiences of the previous day.
After the message was sent I packed and proceeded to check out. The clerk had finally contacted the Bus Tour desk and had been told that I didn’t need a reservation, just show up at the bus ticket office across from Albert Marina on the southern end Esplanade. I remember passing it the previous night and knew it was not far from the church. I checked my bags at the hotel, and repeated the route I had taken the night before, up the hill and down past the church to the bus ticket office. When I asked to purchase a ticket for the 1030 Island Tour I was told that I needed to wait to see if anybody else was going to purchase tickets, if I was the only one they were going to cancel the tour and I would have to either take a city bus that would tour the island without commentary or hire a taxi. I waited for 1030 on a park bench by the ticket office. Right at 1030 two French couples arrived and requested tickets for the tour. The tour was going to be conducted! I purchased my ticket and we boarded a Mercedes 24 seat van.
The Bailiwick of Guernsey is about 10 miles long and 5 miles wide. It has a population of over 65,000. Guernsey and the other Channel Islands represent the last remnants of the medieval Dukedom of Normandy, which held sway in both France and England. The islands were the only British soil occupied by German troops in World War II. Guernsey is a British crown dependency, but is not part of the UK. However, the UK Government is constitutionally responsible for its defense and international representation.
There are two harbors on the island, St. Peter Port, the capital (population about 17,000) and St. Sampson (population of a little over 9,000). Similar to the Isle of Man, the once heavy reliance on tourism has been replaced with financial industry and many of the old hotels converted to offices. It is considered a tax haven.
The tour started in a southwest direction up a hill towards the middle of the island. The driver provided commentary in English along the way as we passed Fort George, then along the road to the airport. Before we reached the airport we turned north past the east end of the runway and down a small road that paralleled the runway and stopped at the “Little Chapel”.
The Little Chapel is possibly the smallest chapel in the world. It was built by Brother Déodat who started work in March 1914. His plan was to create a miniature version of the famous grotto and basilica at Lourdes in France. He built several 9 by 6 foot chapels and then for various reasons destroyed them. In 1939 Brother Déodat returned to France because of ill health. After his departure the care of the Little Chapel was entrusted to Brother Cephas, who continued to decorate the building until his retirement in 1965. The building operation proved laborious. Day after day he collected seashells, pebbles and broken china to decorate the shrine. Then suddenly the Little Chapel became famous, thanks to an illustrated article in the Daily Mirror. Islanders brought colored china to Les Vauxbelets; the Lieutenant-Governor offered remarkable mother-of-pearl; presents poured in from around the world. The Wedgewood Company offered to sponsor the building but was refused. The building lacked necessary maintenance for several years until in 1977 a committee was established to restore the chapel. The foundations were stabilized and the roof renovated. Much was accomplished but the work of conservation and restoration is never ending. Wedgewood eventually donated ceramic pieces for the entry steps up the hill to the Chapel and was able to place a sign to that effect on the path’s wall. The current Guardianship of the Little Chapel now rests with Blanchelande Girls College which is run by a Charitable Trust. I walked through the chapel and took many pictures. It is impossible to describe the unique beauty of the building.
We then drove west to the southwestern tip of the island and stopped at the Pleinmont Tower which is a five story German Naval observation tower used by the Germans in WWII to control a battery of guns on the bluff. We walked around Battery Dollman which has been restored and the gun fired in June 2009 in honor of the restoration.
The next stop was Fort Grey, a short distance up the road. By this time it was noon and the French couples wanted to eat lunch. We stayed here an hour. I ate a sandwich with the Tour Bus driver and then toured the Fort Grey Shipwreck Museum across the road. The fort stands on the site of an earlier castle. In 1803, the ruins of the castle were demolished and replaced with a battery for twelve to fourteen guns, protected by a semi-circular wall which was 10 feet thick. In 1804 a tower, perimeter wall and outer powder magazine were built. An inner magazine was built in 1809. By 1816 a 24 pounder carronade was mounted on top of the tower and six 24 pounder guns were mounted on the battery. The fort was only accessible using a ladder to climb over the walls. The fort was part of a chain of coastal defenses built to protect Guernsey against French attack but it is one of only three Martello towers built on the island. The concentric design and white tower have led the fort to be known locally as the “Cup and Saucer”. It was opened as a Shipwreck Museum in 1976.
The museum had several levels displaying the various ships that had been wrecked off the island. There was a map displaying the location of over forty wrecks. Details of a few of the largest ships wrecked had individual displays. From the top of the fort I had a good view of the beach below with several families having picnics. The French couples never crossed the road to visit the museum.
One of the sights to observe at the rest stop parking lot was a horse drawn carriage that people could ride along the beach road. At 1300 we boarded the bus again and continued with the tour along the west coast of the island. We passed several more forts and German observation towers and eventually ended up back in St. Peter Port with a tour of the harbor area and then up the hill to the Guernsey Museum where the French couples got off. The bus was too big to drive by my hotel so he dropped me off within walking distance at the Park Lane Steps. I got lost climbing the winding steps and ended up in the back yard of a house. A nice lady directed me to a gate that led me back to the correct path. It was quite a climb and I was glad to reach the road at the top and recognized that I was just a few yards from the sharp narrow entrance to the lane leading to my hotel. I stopped for a moment to catch my breath and saw a sport convertible that looked very similar to my Miata but had the MG crest on the hubcaps and grill. The top was down and I was able to take some good photos of both the exterior and interior of the car.
Back at the hotel I asked the clerk to call a cab to take me to the airport. I was somewhat panicked to be told that there were none immediately available. It was 1500 and I had a 1635 departure. A taxi arrived for another couple having a drink at the bar. The clerk cut a deal to have their taxi take me to the airport and a later taxi pick them up. I think it cost me another round of drinks for them to enjoy.
I got to the airport on time and the flight boarded on the scheduled time. I was seated in 2B again but this time there was no one next to me. The flight took 20 minutes and we arrived at the gate at 1710.
The Jersey airport in larger than Isle of Man or Guernsey and is served by larger aircraft. The airport is about five miles west of the city of St. Helier. After retrieving my luggage and passing through Immigration control I again found a long line at the taxi stand and not very many taxis. I returned to the main terminal and found an ATM Machine and obtained some of the local currency. When I returned to the taxi stand the line had disappeared but so had the taxis so I decided to take the bus to the city. That was an experience. It started out crowded with plane passengers and their luggage and at the first number of stops more people got on board and none of the passengers with luggage got off. Soon the road was following the beach and teenagers’ fresh from the beach got on and for some reason would not move to the back of the bus. I was sitting near the front and it was hot and stuffy. As we approached the center of town the passengers with luggage started to get off with great difficulty because the teenagers appeared to be oblivious of the situation and didn't make a big effort to get out of the way. Eventually we arrived at the bus terminal. I waited until everyone had gotten off and then asked the driver for directions to my hotel. He told me that no bus passes by the hotel but he would take me in walking distance so I stayed on the bus. We left the bus terminal area and headed away from the coast. A few blocks from the terminal we stopped at a plaza. The bus driver told me to walk up the street from the plaza until I reached a church. At the church I should turn right and walk a block and I will see the hotel. I started out and after a fashion and further directions from a shop clerk (I had turned at the wrong church) I reached the hotel.
I checked into my room a little after 1800. It was a very large room on the main floor in an old building. After dumping my luggage I asked the desk clerk to set me up with a tour in the morning and then set out to find a restaurant or pub to eat in. I walked towards the center of town and found several places with attractive menus displayed but they were booked up so I retreated back to the hotel.
Along the way there was a nice display of full size bronze Jersey cows in a plaza. A number of people were using them for picture taking. I took my share of pictures and returned to the hotel and had a salad and a pint in the bar.
Returning to my room I checked email and turned out the light at 2300.
Aug 10, 2009 (Monday) Tour Jersey and then fly to Amsterdam via Gatwick
I awoke to my alarm at 0600, showered, shaved and had breakfast in the hotel restaurant. The clerk had arranged for a tour diver to pick me up at 0900 for a three hour tour of the island. I returned to my room, checked the internet, packed and was ready and waiting when he arrived.
From the CIA Fact Book: Jersey's economy is based on international financial services, agriculture, and tourism. In 2005 the finance sector accounted for about 50% of the island's output. Potatoes, cauliflower, tomatoes, and especially flowers are important export crops, shipped mostly to the UK. The Jersey breed of dairy cattle is known worldwide and represents an important export income earner. Milk products go to the UK and other EU countries. Tourism accounts for one-quarter of GDP. In recent years, the government has encouraged light industry to locate in Jersey, with the result that an electronics industry has developed, displacing more traditional industries. All raw material and energy requirements are imported, as well as a large share of Jersey's food needs. Light taxes and death duties make the island a popular tax haven. Living standards come close to those of the UK.
The Bailiwick of Jersey is the largest of the Channel Islands, about 11 miles long and 6 miles wide with a population of over 91,000. St. Helier is the capital and the major port with a population of around 30,000.
The driver explained that he would take me on a counter clock wise route around the island finishing at the airport in by noon. He drove down to the center of St. Helier past the bronze statutes of the Jersey cows along the way and then headed east along the south coast around La Rocque Point , north to Gorey and the Mont Orguell Castle, then past the Red Tower to the Breakwater Café where we stopped for a refreshment.
After the stop we headed west through the country side. At one point we came upon some Jersey cows grazing close to the road. We stopped and I had the driver take my picture feeding the cows some grass and I posted the picture on my Facebook page with the caption that I was having lunch with a local on Jersey Island.
The north coast of the island does not have a road along its edge so we drove eight miles or so through the country side before seeing the coast again.
We approached the north coast water front at Greve De Lecq. There was a castle nearby. The road then turned south and we drove inland and then west to the west coast past the horse race track. On the west coast we stopped to take a picture of the oldest house on the island. It is no longer occupied but the white painted exterior is maintained. It is strangely situated all by itself in a grassy meadow next to the beach, with no other buildings around.
We continued to drive south along the 3 miles of west coast beach to Corbiere, the southwest edge of the island. Off the Corbiere Point is a light house on a pile of rocks with a connecting causeway that can be driven during low tide. In addition to the light house off the point the area has several WWII German observation towers. From Corbiere we drove east and then south to Noirmont Point where the German Battery Lothringen No. 2 Gun was located. We stopped for a photo op. From the point there is a beautiful view of the city of St. Helier to the east.
Leaving the Point we drove north back to the main road and then east along the beach at St. Aubin’s Harbor before we reached the road to the airport. We arrived at the airport right at noon in plenty of time to make my 1325 flight to Gatwick. I bid my tour guide goodbye, checked into my flight and had a tuna sandwich at the terminal coffee shop. Security was a breeze even though my knee triggered the alarm they gave me a quick pad down of my knee and passed me through.
The flight was on British Airways and the plane was an Airbus 319. It was full of holiday travelers returning to the UK. I was seated in 4F with a young couple next to me returning to London after their first vacation on Jersey Island. They told me they had a good time on the beaches and touring the museums.
The island has several museums on that are devoted to the WWII occupation. One near the airport is called the Occupation Museum and my guide told me that it has displays of artifacts, pictures and diaries of the locals during that period. It is so detailed he told me that you could spend a full day in the museum and still not read and see everything displayed. (I didn't have the time).
Compared to the other two islands I had visited on this quick trip I found Jersey to be the dullest. I think if I had time to spend in the German Occupation Museum and the Jersey War Tunnels it would have been more interesting. The island has only one city, St. Helier which is larger than Douglas or St. Peter Port but not as interesting. I am glad I had taken this pre cruise tour because I have a better appreciation for the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.
The flight took off at 1340 and in 40 minutes we were at the main terminal in Gatwick. I had that long walk again to the midfield terminal to board the flight to Amsterdam. Even with the moving walk ways it is as long a walk as I can remember in any airport. It reminded me of the old Denver Stapleton Airport when I would fly in to the commuter terminal from Colorado Springs and had to transverse the main terminal to get to the departure gate for the LAX flight.
I had only an hour for the connection and by the time I got to the departure gate they were boarding the aircraft. This time I was seated in 5A with a Dutch couple next to me returning from a vacation in the UK. We landed at 1745. We I left baggage claim I saw a Holland America Greeter and he told me where to meet them in the morning for my transfer to the ship.
I checked back in to the Sheraton Hotel and unpacked. One of the gadgets I had with me was a “projection” clock. Back in June I had one with me and when I plugged it in at my hotel in Riga it blew a fuse and burned out the transformer. Be for this trip I purchased a 220/110V transformer and spliced it to a new projection clock and wrapped the splice with electrical tape. When I went to set it up in the Sheraton the tape had let go and the wires were exposed. When tired to repair it in the room the transformer wires separated from the clock wires. My attempts to repair it didn’t work so I took it to the Concierge and asked him if he knew of a place I might be able to get it repaired in the terminal. He called the hotel electrician and they fixed it for free (I did tip them both for their effort).
I ate dinner in the Sheraton Hotel restaurant. Judy had sent me an email telling me that she and Robin had seen the movie Julie & Julia, so with that on my mind I ordered the Chicken Cordon Blue.
I retired to my room and checked my email and turned out the light at 2300. My last sleep on land was about to start.