Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Trip Pics: Coffee and Other Random Nonsense

Okay, last batch of pictures, I promise. :)

One of the things I love to do when I travel is try out different coffee shops. It's always interesting to see how coffee compares from one location to another. For instance, do NOT order a cappuccino at a gas station cafe in France... I don't know what was in the cup they gave me, but it certainly wasn't a cappuccino. :) (Ironically, the absolute BEST coffee I've ever had was also in France... it just wasn't a cappuccino. It was black, sludgy, caffeinated amazingness in a cup. Perhaps they just don't do milk with coffee in France -- it's straight up coffee or nothing.)

During our early-morning wait for Aunt Carol at Heathrow, we discovered Caffe Nero coffee... and at our very first stop in Guernsey, we found Costa Coffee, which I actually really loved.

I'd say that Costa Coffee is like the Starbucks of the UK... except they also have Starbucks in the UK. (Starbucks is trying to take over the world... or maybe they already have??)

Happy with my coffee from a local shop in Cobh, Ireland. (Side note: when I checked the weather for the UK before we left, I thought I'd be okay with packing just a couple light sweaters. But at the last minute, I decided to throw this purple sweater coat into my suitcase... and I'm glad I did, because it ended up being much cooler and windier than I expected, so I wore it almost every day. The hood was especially helpful with the windy conditions... and I got to dress like a purple ninja...)


One of our favorite coffee shops was a place called Established Coffee in Belfast. To get to it, we had to walk to a much less touristy part of the city, and then follow this narrow one-lane street to the shop. We never would've stumbled upon it had it not been for Yelp reviews and Google Maps. :)

And it was totally worth it, because THIS place definitely knew how to make a cappuccino.

Enjoying our tiny cups of amazing milk-free French coffee (except non-coffee drinker Aunt Carol, who enjoyed the bottled water :)).

A few non-coffee-related odds and ends:

Outside the Titanic Museum in Belfast. (Yes, we visited a museum about the Titanic while we were on a cruise ship vacation. But OUR ship had enough lifeboats for everyone on board... and even though the weather was a bit chilly, I'm sure the nearest iceberg was quite far away.)

Well that's just racist...

Ah, okay, that's... uh... better? (Those two shops were just a couple doors down from each other in Guernsey. :))

Chinatown in Liverpool... this is supposedly the largest Chinese gate in Europe (and possibly the largest outside of mainland China... our bus driver seemed unsure on this point :)).

Loch Lomond

Sunrise as we landed in London...

Okay, I think I've just about exhausted my collection of pictures. :) Have a great week, everyone!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Trip Pics (Churches and Cathedrals Edition)!

As I was posting my previous batch of pictures, I realized that I had a rather large number of church/cathedral pictures. So instead bombarding you with an insufferable number of photos, I thought I'd break things up into two posts. Besides, as I mentioned before, I really need to post more often than once every thousand years. :)

Church in Guernsey... we almost didn't go inside this church -- we just randomly walked past it on our way back to the ship. But I saw other tourists walking in, so I decided to check it out...

One of the stained glass windows...

Mosaic floor tiles...

Another stained glass window... we were glad we took the time to stop and check this place out.

This kind of looks like a courthouse, but it was actually a Catholic church in Cork, Ireland. I didn't go inside, but I did have to get a picture of the exterior. Because -- purple doors! :)

The Metropolitan Cathedral in Liverpool. This place had an interesting, modern look to it, both outside and inside...

The inside was so much cooler than pictures can convey -- a complete circle, with small chapels situated along the outside walls, and high ceilings leading to the circular stained glass in the very middle.

We also stopped at the Liverpool Cathedral -- this place was amazing. Again, I'm guessing the pictures won't even begin to do it justice...

This cathedral had one of the most intricate stained glass windows I've ever seen (complete with modern neon installation at the bottom... we joked that it was nice that they were able to restore the original neon lettering :)).

It was cavernous and huge inside...

But my favorite part of Liverpool Cathedral was the creepy old cemetery behind the church, which looked like something straight out of a Harry Potter book...

That's about it for today -- next up in my Trip Pics series will be "Coffee and Other Random Nonsense." :) Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Trip pics!

Hey everyone! As usual, it's been about a thousand years since I last posted anything... this "once a millennium" posting schedule really needs to change... :)

We just got back from the UK (and by "just got back" I mean, "we've been back since Thursday night, but it's taken several days of being in the central time zone to feel like a normal, non-jetlagged human again."Seriously, this may be the first day since we got back that I don't feel really brain-foggy... like living half-submerged underwater... No complaints, though, because it was worth it for the opportunity to explore some new countries. Sometimes I think that if I could just perpetually live out of a suitcase (half-submerged-underwater-brain-fog or not) I would be quite happy with that.

Our cruising adventures began before we even left the U.S., when we all received emails to let us know that the group of passengers before ours had been afflicted with a higher-than-average number of norovirus cases. Because of this, they were extra-thoroughly sanitizing the ship, which meant a three-hour delay for embarking. This turned out to be a non-issue, however, as Aunt Carol (who was supposed to fly into Chicago the day we left and join the rest of us on the plane to London) discovered her flight from Buffalo to Chicago was cancelled. (Side note: Rick had suggested she fly into Chicago a couple days early to avoid any last minute complications. So when her flight was cancelled, this resulted in Rick dancing around singing, "I told you so, I told you so, I told you so." Seriously. He actually did that. :)) Anyway, Aunt Carol ended up on a flight to Charlotte, and then flew from Charlotte to London four hours after our Chicago-London flight left. This meant that we had four extra hours to hang out at Heathrow while we waited for her plane to land, so the three-hour embarkation delay was no big deal...

I have to admit, the thought that our huge ship was crawling with norovirus was a bit disconcerting at first -- even though I knew they disinfected the ship before we boarded, the first thing I did when we got to our cabin was wipe down the remote control, all the door handles, and all the light switches. (Which, incidentally, is the same thing I do every time I stay at a hotel... Rick thinks I'm crazy, but c'mon -- think about it: they NEVER clean the remote control. And EVERYONE touches the remote control. Eewww.) I also washed my hands about thirty times a day the entire time we were on the ship. And they had Purell everywhere... even though Purell has been shown to be ineffective against norovirus. I saw it as more of a "sense of security" type thing -- so passengers would feel like they were travelling on a nearly virus-free ship... but I worried it was more of a FALSE sense of security type thing. Because if people thought the Purell was protecting them from the virus, maybe they'd be less apt to wash their hands more (and hand-washing IS effective against norovirus).

Fortunately, none of us came down with norovirus, but here's the ironic thing: I DID manage to catch a cold. How did that happen??? No, really, I'm serious, I can't figure it out. I had the cleanest hands on that ship... maybe someone sneezed on me and I don't remember it...

Anyway, other than the excessive Purell-ing (the dining rooms were all patrolled by Purell Police -- they wouldn't let you in if you didn't use it first), the trip was awesome and we saw so many cool things. I have way too many pictures I could post, so these are mostly just random and not necessarily in any logical order. :)

Our first stop -- the island of Guernsey.

A street in Guernsey. That blue crate on the steps was full of milk cartons... which I thought was a little strange, since that restaurant wasn't open yet, and the warm sun was shining right on the milk. Then again, I disinfect hotel remote controls before I use them, so maybe I'm just paranoid...

Cobh, Ireland

Houses on a street near Loch Lomond in Scotland.

Liverpool... I have to admit that when we docked in Liverpool, I didn't have the highest hopes for this place. It seemed sort of gritty and depressing from the looks of it (although I'm sure the overcast skies didn't help). But after spending the day there, I actually really loved it -- it was one of my favorite stops.

Hills in Scotland... I'm not sure what I was expecting with Scotland, but it turned out to be one of the most interesting and prettiest countries I've ever seen. Maybe THE prettiest country I've ever seen. It has a sort of constantly changing quality to it, because the weather seems really unpredictable -- one minute it would be cloudy, the next sunny, the next rainy -- and as the weather changes, the scenery goes from mysterious to awe-inspiring to melancholy to cheery... and back again. The lochs -- with their black, glassy water -- stir up the imagination with possibilities of what might lie beneath the surface. It's not difficult to understand why the legend of the Loch Ness Monster has endured for so long. (I learned, however, that the blackness of the water in Scottish lochs is due to peat particles -- but I think it's more fun to just say it's some kind of magical Scottish thing. :))

A misty morning on Loch Ness, near the ruins of Urquhart Castle... legend has it that Nessie lives in a cavern somewhere underneath this castle. We never saw him (or her??) though. :)

The view through one of the castle windows...

The Firth of Fourth bridge in Queensferry, Scotland, with our ship in the background.

Snapping pictures in Liverpool...

Pointe du Hoc on the coast of Normandy... our last stop on the cruise.

This was a crater left by a bomb -- they were all over Pointe du Hoc. It's hard to tell from the picture just how big they all were -- I tried to snap this picture before those kids finished climbing up the side, so you can kind of tell how large it is.

The American Cemetery in Normandy.

That's it for now, but next up: Trip Pics: Churches and Cathedrals Edition. :)