Most of us spent six nights in England prior to boarding the Crystal Symphony in Dover to sail along western Europe’s Atlantic coastline to Lisbon.
A number events really stand out from those six days:
- Our London Hotel: We stayed at a stunning 5-star hotel, the Milestone, situated across from Kensington Palace. Located in a historical building, the classic-English ambiance was very inviting and comforting. However the factor that made this hotel really special was the personal service. The staff soon knew each of our names and were eager to please. All too often, in another location, we would just be another guest. We really enjoyed our three days here.
- Kensington Palace. This palace has been home to members of Britain’s royal family for many generations. Today Prince William and Kate call the palace home and Prince Harry plans to move in soon. We organized a ‘before hours’ private tour of the palace just for our group of 9 (at this point). While interesting, some of us were disappointed that we were kept well away from any royal living accommodations. Perhaps the highlight was the display of dresses worn by Princess Diana arranged to commemorate the 20th anniversary of her death.
- An American in Paris. For our final evening in London, we enjoyed good seats at the ballet-musical set in Paris just after World War II. Some of us felt this was the best musical we’ve ever seen. The stage settings were indescribably amazing, the cast was excellent (how do they find accomplished dancers who are also excellent singers and actors) and, of course, the Gershwin score enveloped all of us in lush music. No wonder this musical is the highlight of London’s summer theater (ok, theatre) season.
- The Cotswolds. Leaving London behind, we traveled north past Oxford to Cheltenham, our gateway to one of Europe’s most charming regions known as the Cotswolds. Tucked into a number of green, grassy and wooded hills are delightful historic villages. Most of the houses and buildings were built in the 16th – 18th centuries out of the local honey-colored limestone. Many of the homes and cottages were protected by thatched roofs.
During our first day, a charming woman took us to her ‘secret cottage’, a 500-year old dwelling that was well hidden from public view. We stopped by first for coffee and cakes, then returned later for a buffet lunch prepared by her daughter and, at the conclusion of our day, a lavish ‘cream tea’ featuring sandwiches and scones with jam and clotted cream. In the intervals between eating, she showed us a number of handsome little villages well removed from the tourist maps. A great day.
- Downton Abbey. While Highclare Castle sells out for visits a year or more in advance, we were able to visit many of the sites used to film the popular series, “Downton Abbey”. We began with a visit to the farm house where Edith placed her born-out-of-wedlock daughter, Marigold, and later occupied by Mr. Mason and his daughter-in-law, Daisy. The highlight of our day was a private visit to a charming couple who live in “Mrs. Crawley’s house”, adjacent to the church where some of the show’s marriages and a funeral took place.
The couple invited us in, offered us a glass of champagne and told a number of stories about the cast that relaxed inside (and in their swimming pool) in between shootings. They discussed the ‘naughty footman’ (a delightful young man when not in his role), Lady Mary, Bates, the butler and others. But the most delightful stories revolved around Dame Maggie Smith who seemed to just as starchy in real life as in her role in the series.
We’re now a total of 12 on board the Crystal Symphony waiting for our ship to sail this evening from Dover to Honfleur, France. We’re all doing well, enjoying each other’s company and looking forward to the days to come.