The European Experience

Diary of a five week trip through Great Britain and Europe in 1985 with Jean, Preston, Margie and Lee Smith – by Preston MacDonald

Sunday, May 5 – To Halifax

On May 5th, 1985, we left Halifax airport around 8:00 pm for London England. We touched down at Gander for a few minutes and then across the Atlantic. We landed at Heathrow Airport at 6:30 am local time

Monday, May 6 – In London

After going through customs, a Cosmos tour guide met us and took us into London by bus, a 12 or 15 mile drive. They dropped us off at Park Court hotel where we got our rooms for that night.

Park Court Hotel, by Kensington Gardens, London England

We then took a stroll through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park which were across from the hotel.   I would guess those parks would cover about 300 acres.   At one side of Kensington Gardens was the home, or Palace, of Prince Charles and Dianne.  On the opposite end, in Hyde Park, we stopped at “Speaker’s Corner”. There were about 8 groups there, scattered around, where someone would be speaking on a favorite subject.

We then took a sight-seeing double-decker bus tour of London.  We saw such places as the Royal Albert Hall, Westminster Abbey, House of Parliament, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and many more attractions. 

After the tour, we went back to the hotel. We retired early that night, as we had no sleep the night before.

Tuesday, May 7 – Sightseeing in London

We had to find our own way across Town to another Hotel, called Hotel Ryan. The four of us took a taxi, which cost 4 pounds, around $6.80 Canadian. Practically all the taxis in London are the same – black, with diesel engines, they are owned by the city of London, and are not allowed to take more than 4 people. The back seat is roomy, with 2 drop seats with your back to the driver. They have no trunk, there’s a space beside the driver for luggage. All taxis have meters. Anyway, we got to Hotel Ryan, checked into our rooms. Then we walked to nearby Kings Cross, one of many underground stations in London. We took the subway, or, as they call it there, the Underground, or Tube, and we went to downtown London.  On the way down, we stopped at Masonic Hall, a huge building where they hold Grand Lodge of England, and the Grand Master is always Royalty. 

Harrods, London

Our next stop was Harrods department store where we had lunch. After that we visited 3 museums – Albert, Geological and Science – a must, if ever in London! We then went back to our hotel for the night.

Wednesday, May 8 – London to Exeter

Our breakfast was delivered to our room this morning. In most of the hotels in England there is an electric kettle, with coffee, tea, milk and sugar supplied.  After breakfast we boarded our bus for the start of our Great Breton trip. It was a 52 passenger bus, air-conditioned, good sound system, cassette and radio, stereo system. 

Christina, our guide, talking to a passenger
Patrick, our driver, talking to 2 passengers

Our bus driver was Patrick, and our guide was Christina.   Our first stop was Hampton Court, a palace built in 1515. There was beautiful public gardens surrounding the Palace. It was where Henry VIII used to live.

Hampton Court Gardens

Our next stop was Salisbury, and we visited the Cathedral there. It was built in 1220, and it has the tallest tower in England, 400 feet high. We had lunch in the Church, where the Ladies of the Church were running the restaurant. After an hour’s stop, we moved on across the Salisbury plains, where we stopped at Stonehenge. Those stones are in a circle, each about 10  feet by 22 feet high. No one seems to know the true meaning of these stones – some think they were used to study Astronomy, and others believe they are for religious purposes. They are supposed to have been there for 4000 years.

Our next stop was a place called Fleet, an air-force training station and museum. Prince Charles trained there to be a helicopter pilot.   We arrived at Exeter at 6:00 pm, staying at Moat House Hotel for the night. 

Thursday, May 9 – Exeter to Bath

We drove through Dartmoor to the coastal city of Plymouth, (pop. 210,000). We took a  one hour boat tour up the harbour. This is a major Naval and shipping city, which was badly bombed during WW2. From there we went to Torquay, a beautiful seaside resort on the south of England. From there we went to the city of Bath. On the way, we passed Glastonbury where, the story goes, Joseph of Armathea founded England’s first Christian Church here. Others say Jesus lived here when He was a youth.

We arrived in Bath in the evening. Romans found warm springs here in the 1st century AD. A museum was built over the springs, where the water is warm enough to take a bath.  We stayed at nearby Limpley Stoke Hotel that night.

Limpley Stoke Hotel

Friday, May 10 – From Bath to Wales

On through Coyswold, famous for sheep, to Wor-cester (pop. 65,000), famous for porcelain and Worcester sauce.  

Friendly sheep in Wales

Next we went into beautiful Wales. [picture driving down a winding road, with lush, green fields on each side of the road, sloping to the base of  the beautiful mountains, with sheep and cattle grazing in the fields, and the bus stereo playing a Welsh male chorus singing Welsh songs and hymns]   

That night we stayed at a place called ‘Landrindod Wells’, at the ‘Glen Usk Hotel’. After dinner, in the lobby, there was a local man playing the accordion, and a number of people singing. We all had a great sing-song. 

Saturday, May 11 – Wales to Windermere

We drove through Welchpool, a very interesting yet typical old English town.

Jean, Margie and Lee walking down a path in Welchpool

From there through Horseshoe Pass, on to Chester, a very old city. We did some shopping here, then on to Windermere, beside the largest lake in England.  We stayed at Lowwood Motel. I only saw four Motels in all of England and Scotland.

Sunday, May 12 – Into Scotland

Entering Scotland

Arrived in Scotland around 10:00 am.  They played Scottish selections on the stereo. We drove up Kirkstone Pass to Moffat, where a large woolen mill is located. We shopped at a woolen store there and had lunch. There were about 20 buses stopped there. We then moved on past Glasgow and Loch Lomand, to Oban, a seaside resort where we stayed for the night. Our hotel room overlooked the beautiful bay. That evening, after dinner, we went to a Scottish concert at ‘Corran Hall’

Oban Bay, from our hotel room

Monday, May 13 – Oban to Portree

Another lovely, sunny day. We left Oban for Fort William, past Glencoe, where the MacDonalds were massacred by the Campbells in 1692. Soon we came in sight of Isle of Skye. We took the ¼ mile trip across.

The ferry held 2 buses and a dozen cars. Skye was a much more rugged country than we expected. With sheep grazing among the rocks and heather, we drove about 90 minutes to Portree, the capital of Skye. We had lunch here and headed back to the mainland. We stopped at Loch Ness for pictures. We didn’t see the monster!.  We continued on to Inverness and to Hotel Drumossi on the outskirts. After dinner we had a local singer entertaining us for a while. There were about 8 tour buses at that hotel that night.

Tuesday, May 14 – Portree to Perth

Bonnie Prince Charlie’s monument

Left the hotel at 8:00am, driving up past Culloden Moor, sight of the battle between the English and Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1746. Then down through Spey Valley, a famous area for whisky making, past Balmoral Castle built by Queen Victoria in 1854. We visited Craithe Church, the Church where Royalty worship when they are staying at Balmoral Castle. We stayed in the city of Perth for the night.

Wednesday, May 15 – A Day in Edinburgh

Lee, at Edinburgh Castle

A short drive to Edinburgh, where we spent all day and night. We visited Edinburgh Castle overlooking the city, spent an afternoon sightseeing, and took in a Scottish concert that night.

Thursday, May 16 – Back to England

Left Edinburgh and back to England again. Stopped at Abbotsford, home of Sir. Walter Scott, then to York  a medieval city. Visited York Minster Abbey,   stopped near Leeds for the night.

Friday, May 17 – Leeds to Warwick

Our first stop today was Coventry, a very old city and historic Cathedral. This is the city where Lady Godiva was supposed to ride her horse,  and also where Peeping Tom originated. This was Christina’s home (our tour guide). We then went to Stratford on Avon, and Ann Hathaway’s cottage.

Lee, Margie and Preston at Ann Hathaway’s cottage

She was William Shakespere’s wife in the 1500’s. We spent this night in Warwick. 

Saturday, May 18 – Back to London

On to Baldon, we saw where Sir Winston Churchill was buried, and also the church he worshiped in.

Where Sir Winston and his wife are buried

From there we went to Oxford, where we visited part of the University. After that we went to Windsor. We were in part of that huge Castle, also into one of Madam Tussauds wax museums.

This was an old railway station and Queen Victoria and her horsemen [they looked so real!]

We then went to London and Hotel Kennedy.   This was the end of the British tour. We had gotten to know all the other bus passengers by this time. There were 18 from USA, 12 from Australia, 4 from Vancouver, a lady Doctor from Montreal, and we 4 were the only Maritimers. 

We spent a quiet Sunday in London, as we were leaving the next day for Europe. On the British trip, about 30% of our trip was on 4 lane highways, the rest was on narrow back roads which were very scenic. We drove 2200 miles in 11 days. Every day the passengers on the right side moved ahead 2 rows  and on the left they moved back 2 rows. This gave everyone a variety of locations on the bus. When we would get to our hotel in the evenings, we stayed on the bus until our guide went in and got our room numbers and keys. That eliminated any confusion in the lobby. Our luggage would be left at our room door. Also we would leave it outside our room in the morning, and they would put it on the bus.

Monday , May 20 – To Europe

We left our hotel at 7:00 am and headed for Dover by bus, where we boarded a ferry and departed at 10:00 am for Ostend, Belgium. This trip took 4 hours, our European bus was waiting at Ostend. 

Geno, in front of his bus

Our driver was an Italian named Geno, and our guide was a little guy from Ireland named Edward. We put our watches ahead one hour when we got to Belgium at 4:00 pm. We started for Holland, up through Antwerp, and on to Amsterdam, to hotel Ibus for the night. Passing the airport, I noticed the highway goes under the runway at one spot.

Tuesday, May 21 – Belgium to Germany

We went to the city of Amsterdam (pop. 1 million). It goes back to the year 1300. This is where Rembrandt lived. We visited a museum and a diamond factory.

Sight-Seeing boat in Amsterdam

We took a one hour tour of the canals in a glassed in sightseeing boat which would seat about 100 people. Around 3 o’clock we started for Germany. We made a stop in Cologne, then went on to Bonn for the night. This is where Beethoven was born in 1770. It was the capital of west Germany.

Wednesday, May 22 – Bonn to Basle, Switzerland

We left Bonn and headed down the Autobahn along the Rhine.  We left the bus and took a cruise down the Rhine River.

The Rhine River, and one of the boats we were on

This passenger boat had three levels and would seat about 500 people. This was a very pretty trip, with mountains, vineyards, old Castles and small towns on both sides. The river is about a half mile wide and is a very busy shipping route. The river is 820 miles long, starting in Switzerland. This was a 2 hour trip. We were given a complementary drink of wine – some passengers had more than one, and they had upset stomachs when they got back to the bus. Our bus was waiting for us up the river. Back on the bus, we continued on past part of the Black forest, to Basle about the size of Halifax, which is in Switzerland. It borders Germany and France. From there we went to Lucerne for the night. The Alps are really beautiful. Our hotel was at the base of an 8,000 foot mountain

Thursday, May 23 – Lucerne, Switzerland

We drove to the city of Lucerne (pop. 100,000). We had a job to get a space to park in the parking lot which held at least 50 buses. We then took a boat ride in the Lucerne lake. This is a 44 square mile lake, and every minute the scenery was different. After that, we boarded the bus and headed into the mountains. We seemed to be climbing for half an hour when we came to the cable car station where we were going to the top of the mountain.A Gondula, on the trip to the top 

We first got into a 6 passenger ‘gondula’ and went two levels in this. Then we changed to a large cable car which held about 50 people, standing room only. We took 2 separate cable cars to the top, which was 10,000 feet high. We were passing snow covered mountains long before we reached the top. There was a large restaurant at the top, where we had a meal.

A view of the restaurant at the top

Outside was like a day in February. The trip up and down was very thrilling. We went back to our hotel for dinner, and after that they took us to a large hall where there were about 12 bus loads of tourists like ourselves, and they had what they called a Swiss evening. It was local entertainment singing, yodeling, and playing music. It was really an enjoyable evening.

Friday, May 24 – On to Innsbruck

We drove on through Switzerland to Liechtenstein, a country of its own (pop. 29,000)

A hotel in Liechtenstein, adjacent to Switzerland

We had lunch at Vaduz, its capital, at an outside café. They have a deal with Switzerland where they use Swiss franc as their currency. We then headed for Austria. We went through a mountain tunnel, nine miles long. We stopped at Innsbruck, and had a guided walking tour  of the city. We went to our hotel, which was 10 miles out, and had dinner. Then we were bused back to Innsbruck where we had another evening similar to the one we had in Switzerland the night before. The Austrians do some yodeling too. Innsbruck is in the Tyrol province of Austria, and this is where they had the winter games back in 1976.

Saturday, May 25 – To Italy

We headed for Italy today, through the beautiful Brenner Pass. The highway reaches a height of 4,500 feet with a 4 lane highway through here. Our first stop in Italy was Cortina. This is a resort town in the heart of the Dolomite Mountains, which are probably even prettier then the Alps.  We had our first Italian meal in Cortina. Later we left the mountains and traveled through quite a level area until we reached the Venice area where we got our hotel for the next two nights.

After dinner we went by bus to Venice which was about 20 miles away. When we came in sight of Venice we pulled into a large parking lot. It probably covered 200 acres.  We went to a wharf where we boarded a  ‘watertaxi’ – a large boat that held 2 or 3 hundred people.  We sailed down to the opposite side of Venice where there were some ocean-going ships tied up.  We were let off at a wharf and our guide took us on a walking tour of the city. There were about forty of us in the group. There were thousands of people moving about, so we had to stay together. The streets are about five to ten feet wide. There are absolutely no cars in Venice, so the only way to move about is to walk or by boat. Local car owners leave their cars in the park I mentioned earlier. There are hundreds of canals and footbridges  here. We ended up at a night spot, or ‘Gratto’ as they called it, where there were some Italians singing and playing music.  A couple of hours later we made the return trip back to the hotel.

Sunday, May 26 – A Day in Venice

This morning we went back to Venice and had guided tours of some historic places. Also visited a glass blowing factory. They gave us a demonstration on blowing glass, which was very interesting. After lunch, we took a gondola trip in the canals.

A few of many gondola’s in Venice

There were six people to each boat, and six boats took our group – we more or less traveled together. There was an accordion player and a singer on one boat.  Each man owns his own gondola, and they all have to be the same size and color – black, with gold trimmings. After a couple of hours of sightseeing, we returned to our hotel for the night.

Monday, May 27 – Roman Holiday

We headed south for Rome. On the way, we stopped in the republic of San Marino. This is the smallest country in Europe – twenty four square miles in size with a population of 23,000. The Capital, San Marino, is situated on top of a mountain. It still has the old fortification walls around it, but the bus was able to drive to the top. We did some shopping, and had lunch here. Continuing on, we stopped at a hotel about twenty miles from Rome. We stayed at this hotel for three nights. 

Later we went into Rome and had a two hour tour of the city, then to an Italian restaurant for a five course dinner and entertainment.

Tuesday, May 28 – The Vatican

We went back to Rome and visited the Vatican and St. Peters square and Cathedral. This is the largest Cathedral in the World, with the dome over 400 feet high.

Ceiling of the Sistene Chapel, Vatican

There has been a Basilica here since the fourth century. In the fifteen hundreds, they hired Michelangelo to re-model it. His old Testament paintings cover hundreds of feet in the Sistine Chapel ceiling and other places. Looks like it was done 10 or 20 years ago instead of almost five hundred. The Vatican has used Swiss guards there since 1505. They are the Pope’s personal guards. They look nice in their orange, yellow and red uniforms.

Wednesday, May 29 – Rome to Tivoli

We went back to Rome again, we visited the ancient Coliseum.

Jean, Margie,Lee, at the Coliseum in Rome

It was built between 72 and 80 A.D., and once could hold 50,000 spectators, but is now in a semi state of ruin. Then we went to the ‘catacombs’ – those are burial places of the early Christians. They are 20 to 65 feet below ground level and cover about six hundred acres. We only toured part of it. There were narrow passages about 3 feet wide and 6 or 7 feet high going every which way, and shelves cut into the sides where once the bodies were sealed in. They used this until the 5th century but by the 8th century most of them were moved to cemeteries. 

Next we went to Tivoli, near Rome.

One of the many beautiful fountains in Trivoli

This city has beautiful gardens and all kinds of fountains on the side of a gradual sloping mountain. They have been there for hundreds of years and operate by the natural force of water from the Anien river.  We later had dinner at a place where 3 Italians entertained us with singing and accordion music.

Thursday, May 30 – Florence

Today we drove north to Florence (pop. ½ million). There was a parking space designated for buses along the river Arno, and there was at least a half mile of buses parked there. This is a World famous cultural city, with many museums of paintings and statues – Dante, for one. We saw a lot of sidewalk shops here, and we also visited a leather factory here where Jean bought a purse for herself.

Friday, May 31 – Nice to Monaco

Today we head for Nice, we stopped at the Square of Miracles in Pisa and saw The Leaning Tower.

The tower was closed then, but has since opened. They thought it might tip over, and later was reinforced.

On past Genoa (pop. 1 million). We took the autostrada (super-highway) north, through the Apennines mountains, [and I mean through them]. We went through one hundred and seventy one tunnels in four hours. Each 2 lane tunnel had another tunnel beside it going in the opposite direction. They were from a thousand feet to 1 mile in length, and each one had its length posted  before entering. Finally we reached the French Riviera and to our hotel in Nice. After dinner we went to Monaco, where we visited the famous “Monte Carlo”, tried some of the ‘one armed bandits’. The people of Monaco are the only people who are not allowed to gamble there.

Saturday, June 1 – More Monaco

We went back to Monaco. This, I think, was the prettiest  place on our tour. 

Lee, Margie and Jean in Monaco

We visited Prince Rainier’s Castle, also saw where Princess Grace was buried.

We visited this Church, where Princess Grace lies.

We watched the ‘changing of the guards’  there, had lunch, and enjoyed the view. 

The view from seven hundred feet above the city and marina. 

We then went back to nearby Nice for the night.

Sunday, June 2 – From Nice to Lyon

We headed inland this morning, stopping at Grasse, where we visited a perfume factory. Jean bought some perfume there. We then drove up the Rhone valley to Auigon. This old city had a 20 foot wall around it. We went to the center area where there were lots of side-walk cafés. We had lunch at one of them. One land-mark there was a part of a 12th century bridge that was partly blown up during a war and was left in that state, half way across the river Rhone.

Continued up the rich, vineyard growing valley to Lyon for the night. This city has half a million people. We saw an Esso refinery on the outskirts. There was a Roman Colony here in 43  B.C.

Monday, June 3 – Into Paris

We passed through Beaune and Burgundy, famous wine making centers, and on to Paris (pop. 13 million). We got settled in our hotel, and that evening, the bus took us on a sight seeing tour of Paris. We went to a Cabaret near Molin Rouge, and saw a live show. 

Tuesday, June 4 – Paris and Versailles

In to Paris for more sights. We first went to Notre Dame Cathedral. It took 67 years to build, from 1163 to 1230. One round, stained glass window in the Church was 50 feet in diameter.  We then went to the Eiffel Tower, which is 1000 feet high.

It was built in 1889. Usually one can go right to the top, but this day we only got up 400 feet, as the elevators were not working on the top levels.

After lunch we went to Versailles, outside of Paris. This is a huge palace built by Louis XIV in 1661. We had a guided tour through the historic rooms. The city of Versailles grew around this palace, which has a pop. of 1 million. It’s now time to go back to our hotel.

Wednesday, June 5 – Paris and The Louvre

Back into Paris, went to the Louvre, the famous Art museum, built in 1202 as a fortress palace.

Reconstructed after 1541 as a museum by Napoleon, it’s got room after room of treasured Art, including the ‘Mona Lisa’. A guard was stationed in front of it at all times. In the evening we went to a dine and dance hall, where we had dinner, entertainment, and dancing. All the guests there were passengers from five Cosmo’s tours. 

Thursday, June 6 – Paris to London

We left Paris, headed for Calais. Part of this trip reminded us of PEI – sort of red earth, and potato growing country. We passed the Vimy Canadian  Memorial Monument near Arras. Would like to have stopped there, but it wasn’t in the plans.

We took the ferry across the English channel to Dover. This crossing took 90 minutes, much shorter than going over. An English bus was waiting for us at Dover and took us back to London and the Royal Scott hotel.

Friday, June 7 – Westminister Abbey and Wax

Took a taxi back to Park court hotel for our last two nights in London. From there we took the underground to Westminster Abby, and other places of interest. From there, after lunch, to Madam Tussauds wax museum and Planetarium.

Saturday, June 8 – Buckingham Palace

We went to Buckingham Palace where they were having a rehearsal of the trooping of the colors, which was taking place a week later.

We didn’t see the Queen.  It was a nice parade, with foot guards and riding guards. There were over 200 horses in it.

This is the “Canada” gate at Buckingham Palace.

Windsor Castle

In the afternoon we went to a London transport Museum – old double decker buses and other means of transportation of the past. After that, to a huge outdoor market – sort of like a flea market, each one had their own corner. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a pub and had dinner – lots to eat, and reasonable.

Margie, Lee and Jean on a street near Windsor Castle

On our European tour, we had a lovely bunch of people. There were 23 from USA. 16 from Canada, 5 Australians, 2 Cubans, 2 from India, 2 Japanese, and 2 Malaysians, all were very friendly.

Sunday, June 9 – Heathrow, Halifax and Home

Cosmos bus picked us up at the hotel and took us to Heathrow airport where we got a flight back to Halifax and Home, and a happy ending to a much enjoyed trip.

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