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Copyright © 1995-2002 
Linda Coffman

Brilliance of the Seas
Northern Europe
July 18-August 3, 2002

by Pam Murphy - Part Three

Tuesday July 23

Le Havre , France
We are up bright and early and Jim goes up to the Windjammer Café for breakfast–I don’t eat breakfast–he says that they have a good selection but that the hot foods are cold and the eggs not done well. Today is cool and cloudy but luckily no rain.

We arrive in Le Havre (The Harbor) at 7 AM. Le Havre is located in the province of Normandy on the northwest coast of France.  Sailing into Le Havre is quite an experience for me, since this is the port from which my German relatives left Europe to come to America. We meet in the theater at 8:15 for our tour to Honfleur.   

After a scenic drive through the charming French countryside lined with Norman thatched houses, we arrive at the colorful port of Honfleur on the Seine estuary.  Here we are given a walking tour of the village. This tiny, perfectly preserved old fishing harbor was once an important departure point for maritime expeditions, like the first voyages of discovery to Canada in the 15th and 16th centuries. Seeing the color and culture of Honfleur, it's easy to understand why so many French and foreign painters, later known as the Impressionists, came here in the 19th century. It’s all highly picturesque, and not so different from the town that had such appeal to artists in the late nineteenth century. It’s this artistic past – and its present concentration of galleries and painters – which dominates Honfleur.

We have some time on our own to shop and look around the town.  Basically if you aren’t in the market for art work, the pickings are pretty slim–I pass on the ever popular Calvados but do stop at a bakery for a couple of French pastries and a baguette. Our guide is very difficult to understand and I don’t feel that this tour is worth the money.  Honfleur is a pretty little town but really not much here. Our tour returns us to the ship by 12:30.

We have time for Jim to get a bite to eat before our next tour leaves at 2:00 PM. Jim has a hamburger which is cold–the burgers are made ahead and left sitting. Other cruise lines cook the hot dogs and burgers to order while you wait.

We still have a little time so go to the shore excursion desk to rebook our tour for Dublin – the tour we had booked was canceled. This is a real treat. To start with people are arguing about which side the line is forming on; so in true adult fashion they form on both sides and then fight as to who goes first and tempers are getting a bit short. Next there is an elderly lady who doesn’t have a clue of where she is or what she is doing. She isn’t moving and is arguing with the shore excursion desk representative, thus holding up the line for an extended period. We can see the look on the rep's face that she just wants to be rid of this woman. Need I say more? Yep, my Jim to the rescue–none too quietly he says, “Come on lets move it along here!” He gets the lady to move with profuse thanks from the Royal Caribbean Representative. Now everybody is happy, well not for long, guess who returns and can’t find her way out? Yup, the lady is back and is once again taking the time of the rep. Now ‘my hero’ takes her by the arm and gives her explicit directions on how to get to her tour. Once again things seem to be moving along nicely but one more time our little lady returns, still not able to find her way out and, you guessed it, holding up the line once again. Jim repeats his performance and once again she is gone. Is this the end of it? No such luck, she returns three more times. Guess that Jim’s directions weren’t quite as good as he thought they were!

Then it’s onto another bus for our tour of Fecamp and Etretat. We are just thrilled to find that we have the same tour guide that we had this morning–definitely not one of our favorites.  Driving through the scenic countryside brings us to the village of Fecamp .  Fecamp is located on the spectacular Alabaster Coast , which has dramatic scenery with sheer cliffs and wide beaches interspersed with seaside resorts. Fecamp is a coastal resort, working fishing harbor and pleasure port. It is located at the foot of some of the highest cliffs in Normandy . In years gone by it has also been famous as a pilgrimage center and base for privateers who sailed to discover New Worlds. In the center of town is the Benedictine Museum, a Gothic and Renaissance style building, which dominates the town and also houses the secrets of the aromatic elixir first discovered by the monks in the 15th century.  

You may wonder why we chose this tour. The answer is simple–Jim loves his B&B with a cup of black coffee and a cigar.  So naturally this is a place that we don’t want to miss. Our guide escorts us through the art museum in the 19th-century Gothic- and Renaissance-style Benedictine Abbey.  This is not the original abbey but was actually built to fool the tourist into believing that it is. It has a collection of historical paintings and beautiful works of ivory, enamel and wrought iron. The museum houses collections of Alexander Le Grand collected in the 19th century.

We then visit the Plant and Spice Hall where we can see and smell the plants and spices from all over the world, among which, 27 are used for the elaboration of Benedictine.  We make a brief stop in the Benedictine distillery where four preparations are weighed, then are infused and distilled in the red copper still of the distillery where the different blendings are made. We proceed to the cellars where there are oak casks in which the spirits are maturing and resting. The whole collaboration of Benedictine takes two years. The monks used the Benedictine daily for good health. At the conclusion of our visit, we are offered a sample of the renowned Benedictine liqueur–we are able to choose either the plain Benedictine or the B&B.  I try the B&B and it is very strong, with sweetness to it.

The drive to Etretat follows the scenic coastal road.  Etretat, a beautiful seaside resort located along the Alabaster Coast , is famous for its chalky white cliffs and the “Arch and Needle”, one of the most photographed landscapes in all of France .   The astonishing architectural landscape was sculpted by the sea from countless years of constant bombardment by the pounding waves.  The village is beautifully nestled between two impressive high cliffs: Aval, with its monumental arch, and Amont, topped by a small chapel. We have a short, guided walking tour of Etretat with a stop at the covered market and free time to browse before returning to Le Havre .  This is a typical touristy place with only junky souvenir shops and nothing of any quality.

In retrospect, Jim and I feel that we made a mistake with the tours we chose for today.  We should have done either the Beaches of Normandy or the Paris tour.  It was an enjoyable day but there are other things that would have been more worthwhile to see.

We return to the ship at 7:00 and dinner has been moved to 9:00 rather than 8:30 .  After such a full day of touring we are tired and hungry so decide to eat at the Windjammer Café, which serves a buffet.  One does not have to dress up to eat at the Windjammer and I notice that this is where many of the parents bring their children to eat.  If eating here you can go at whatever time you choose.  This is honestly, much nicer than eating with people that we don’t care for.

After dinner I return to the cabin to read on the balcony and Jim goes up on deck for his B&B and Cuban cigar.  We were under the impression that you aren’t allowed to bring liquor into your cabin but no one has said anything about it so Jim fills his flask with his new bottle of B&B and off he goes.

Jim and I really don’t use many of the ships facilities.  We basically take these cruises to see the ports and push ourselves to the limit to see as much as possible.  We look upon the ship as a floating hotel and after all the touring I am happy to just relax quietly on the balcony with the cool breeze and gentle lapping of the water.

Wed. July 24

Here, we are tendered ashore.  Anyone who isn’t booked on a ship tour must get a ticket for the tender and then can board when their number is called. Believe this is in order to get the tours off before the others –to hopefully cause less confusion.  We are actually picked up for our tour by a boat which is not a ship tender.  Jim and I go on the outside and really enjoy our 15 minute ride on the water in the cool breeze.  

Today we are booked for The Best of Devon Tour. The photographer is there to take our picture before we leave for the tour. The tour bus is packed and there is only one empty seat in the rear of the bus.

Plymouth is situated on the coast of southwest England , on a hilly peninsula between the rivers Plym and Tamar.  With a population of some 250,000 inhabitants, it is the largest city in the county of Devon .  It stands in a deep sheltered inlet called the ‘Sound’ which offers one of the safest anchorages in the country for cargo and naval ships.  The Royal Naval Dockyard at Plymouth is the chief base in Britain for the refitting and maintenance of all types of ships.  

Overlooking the Sound is the famous ‘Hoe’, a limestone bluff where, according to legend, Sir Francis Drake was playing bowls when news came that the great Spanish armada had been sighted.  The Royal Citadel, a 17th century fortress with rampart walls 20 feet thick, dominates the Hoe from the east.  It is still used as a barracks for the Royal Marines and the baroque gateway is considered the finest in England. In 1620, the Pilgrim Fathers made this their last port of call before they sailed to America. Our guide points out the Jacka Bakery that has been in business for over 400 years and baked for the Pilgrims. In the 18th century, Captain James Cook sailed from Plymouth on his ‘voyages of discovery’ to the South Seas. The Old Town of Plymouth looks like a great place to wander around.

As we leave Plymouth we see the Tamar Valley – the Tamar River separates Cornwall and Devon .  The palms that flourish along the South Devon Coast give way to gorse and bracken on the windswept heights of Dartmoor where weird formations of raw granite strike through the thin soil. Dartmoor National Park is England ’s last true wilderness, an area of exquisite peace and outstanding natural beauty. The Moor has heather (which is just starting to bloom), gorse and braken (thorny and enriches the soil) that grow wild on it.  Dartmoor ponies have lived wild on the moor since the 10th century.

As we leave Dartmoor, there is a curve in the road which is the site of many accidents – the locals believe that the Whist Hounds take control of the steering wheel.  We have several photo stops with fantastic views–at one stop we see a lovely 600 year old bridge and at another there is another magnificent view and one of the sheep comes right up to the bus–as soon as we try to take its picture it runs away.  We pass many hedgerows and our guide, who is excellent, explains that the hedgerows were used as boundaries for property.  The age of the hedgerow can be calculated by the species of vegetation in a 30 foot length–the more species means the older it is and the ones we pass are not more than 250 years old.  

As we enter Devon we notice that the cottages have a variation of thatched, slate and tile roofs.  There is an area of birch, oak and a few beech trees which were probably planted for the ship building industry.  Many of these villages have their local resident ghosts. In one village we see a 600 year Alms House that was for widows.

Near the eastern edge of Dartmoor lies Exeter, built high on a plateau over the River Exe.  The city is encircled by substantial sections of Roman and medieval walls and the street plans haven’t changed much since the Roman’s laid out what is now High Street. The focus of Exeter is the Gothic Cathedral of St. Peter, one of the most gloriously ornate churches in Britain .  

Leave Exeter and continue on to Buckfast Abbey, which was founded in Saxon times.  Along the road we see a lot of Rose Bay Fire Weed with its purple flowers.  This got its name because when there is a fire this is the first plant to regrow in the burnt out area.  We drive through the Holden Hills where the sheep actually have a pinkish tint from the color of the soil.  This is a beautiful country and the scenery gorgeous.

There is a cafeteria style restaurant here where we order cream tea. Devon is known for their cream tea, supposed to be the best in the country. This is tea served with scones, clotted cream and jam. Absolutely delicious! The clotted cream is very rich but tastes sooo good.

We return to the ship and as we are boarding, today’s Plymouth Herald newspaper is being sold and there is a headline, ‘Plymouth Welcomes Brilliance’.  What a great marketing strategy – you know they sold a bundle of papers to the Brilliance passengers.  We are asked to show our card to board the tender and also to board the ship.  On the tender we meet people returning from the Devon Countryside and Dartmouth tour and they really enjoyed it and said that they had an excellent guide. They all had bags from the Dartington Cider Press Center , where they sell glass work.  Jim and I also feel that our tour was wonderful and really had a great day.

Once back on the ship we sit on the balcony with a drink and  a plate of cheese from room service with the baguette that I bought in Honfleur yesterday – now this is living.  Our view is of a sailing regatta and the sailboats are so lovely to watch gliding across the water.

In my opinion the public areas of the ship are too warm; however, the cabin’s air conditioning can be individually controlled so is very comfortable.  As I have mentioned before, the Solarium is just gorgeous but tonight I notice that the children have taken over the hot tubs and pool – not the most relaxing atmosphere.  Once you get up to deck 11 it seems that the kids are all over the place and parents don’t seem to have a clue where they are or what they are doing.  Many are extremely loud and running all over the place.  This is the first cruise we have taken with children – however, we expected this, since this is a summer cruise and school is out.  At one point the kids stopped the revolving doors while we were stuck in them. Aren’t they just too cute for words?

Our room steward is doing an excellent job – he is quiet but gets the job done in a quick and efficient manner.  Basically, the crew has been wonderful and we are very pleased with the service.  Ken Rush is our cruise director and our captain is Captain Wildung (haven’t seen either yet.)

Dinner tonight is at the Windjammer Café, not elegant but easy when tired.  Tonight there is a group of Muslim women (we heard them say they were from Bali ) and their children at the next table – no men to be seen – imagine the children are the women’s responsibility to handle.  Perhaps they are happy to have this freedom but they are very loud and quite rude – laughing at many of the people in the Windjammer.  At dinner I try to use my card to buy a beer for Jim.  I have a coke sticker on my card which denotes that all my soft drinks are paid for.  The waiter tells me that I’m not allowed to order alcoholic beverages on my card.  When we question why, he finally admits that he was getting my card confused with the kid’s cards where no alcoholic beverages are permitted.  I only wish that I still looked young enough to be mistaken for a minor!!!  After tonight, I think that I am ready for a bit more gracious dining.  

Make a stop at the shopping arcade which is jammed with people.  I am beginning to catch on that there is away to avoid the crowds by going at other times. Also stop at the photographers to buy the photo that was taken of us today.  Then return to the room for some relaxing time reading on the balcony.  So far none of the shows are appealing to us.  Jim, of course, goes up on deck for his B&B and cigar – there is actually a place where they sell cigars and cordials and there is a whole group of men that are meeting every night for a little male bonding.

Thurs. July 25

Ringaskiddy/Cork, Ireland
This morning is very cloudy but it looks like the sun may break through – I do hope so.  Last year we were here on a Renaissance cruise and we docked at Cobh which I liked much better. Cobh is where many of the Irish emigrants sailed from and the Queenstown Story exhibit is there which explains the history of emigration. There were also other interesting things right at the dock, such as the Titanic Memorial.  Ringaskiddy is just an industrial port.  

Of course, as we leave the ship to board our tour bus for the Lakes of Killarney, the photographers are waiting to snap away!  We chose Killarney because when we were last here, we did the Blarney Castle and Blarney Woolen Mills and also took the tour of Kinsale.  My family is from County Kerry and this will be my first time in the county.  Unfortunately, we won’t be near the village of Ardfert, near Tralee, where my family came from.  

Our tour guide, Eileen, gives us a Gaelic welcome, ‘Cead Mile Failte’, meaning a hundred thousand welcomes. She promises that the weather forecast for today is a good one. The harbor area has many chemical and pharmaceutical industries. Eileen points out the Pfizer plant where Viagara is manufactured – she tells us that it is all exported since Irish men don’t need it!

As we leave Cork and head west the land becomes fertile and is used for agriculture. We stop briefly at a place called Mills Inn, which is absolutely charming, for coffee/tea and biscuits (cookies). Then we are back on our way.  Eileen points out several small castles which are known as Tower Houses. As we near Killarney we see MacGillycuddys Reeks (the highest mountain range in Ireland ) with a mist over them.

Our first stop is at Muckross House, meaning the place of the wild pigs. Situated in Killarney National Park , Muckross House and Gardens are among the most popular of Irish visitor attractions.  Muckross House is a magnificent Victorian mansion completed in 1843 for Henry Arthur Herbert.

We leave Muckross house and head into Killarney. Although Killarney has been commercialized to a saturation point and has little in the way of architectural interest, its location amid some of the best lakes, mountains and woodland in Ireland more than compensates. The town is essentially one main street and a couple of side roads, full of souvenir shops, cafés, pubs, restaurants and B&Bs. Killarney is commonly derided as a tourist town but this has not dented the town’s open, cheerful atmosphere. For lunch we are taken to the Laurels Pub in Killarney.  I skip the lunch in order to shop.  Jim eats but says that the food is bland – Irish stew, rolls and salad. We once again we board our bus to view the Lakes of Killarney from the Aghadoe Heights before we head back to the ship.

We return to the ship with plenty of time to relax on the balcony. As we sail from Ringaskiddy there is a local band playing to see us off. Tonight is a formal night–not at all our favorite thing. Jim and I both get dressed and Jim is in his tuxedo. We leave the room and Jim is on a roll, talking constantly and to everyone who passes. On the way down for cocktails, he is amusing everyone that he sees and drawing all kinds of attention (not necessarily negative) to himself. We stop to have our formal portrait taken and once again he can’t shut up and everyone on line is watching us. Once the photo is taken we go up to meet the Captain and wait on line for a portrait with him. We wait a long time and finally decide the long wait on line wasn’t worth it. Instead, we stop at the Schooner Lounge for a drink. Jim no sooner sits down and I take one look at him and want to die – his fly is open! Jim and I both burst into hysterics over this one. All I can think of is all of the people he has had looking at him. Just can’t wait to see what the formal portrait looks like; won’t everyone be in for a treat when that one is placed in the photo gallery for all to see?  With all the fussing the photographer was doing with posing us–why in the world didn’t she say something about his fly? Thank heaven we passed on meeting the Captain and posing with him for a photo!

We have 8:30 reservations at Portofino ’s Italian Specialty Restaurant. There is a charge of $20 per person to eat here plus tip. At the specialty restaurants (the other is Chops a grille type of steak house) you dress formal on the formal nights and on all other nights they like the men to wear a jacket (with or without a tie). The food is excellent and the service wonderful–a very romantic evening. I have the lobster tail, which is delicious and the fresh veggies are cooked and seasoned to perfection. Jim orders the chicken parmesan and is very happy with his selection. There are six courses (appetizer, soup, salad, pasta, entrée and dessert) and you may order all six or whatever you like. My only problem with this is the charge–on the Renaissance ships the specialty restaurants were just as good and there was no charge. My thoughts on why the charge is so high is that there is a very varied class of people on the ship and perhaps by keeping the price a bit steep (considering that you have already paid for your meal in the price of the cruise) that they are managing to keep it a bit more upscale. I resent that we are being forced into eating here because of the assigned seating not working out for us. However, I don’t know of anywhere that serves a meal like this for $40.

After dinner, we stop and pick up our Ringaskiddy photo from today at the photographers. Then we head to the Pacifica Theater for the first Production Show, "Close To You" the music of Burt Bacharach performed by the Brilliance singers and dancers. It is a great show with wonderful voices and superb dancing. The costumes are colorful and glittery and in many cases quite elaborate and there are many spectacular lighting effects. The theater is large and very comfortable, the sight lines are good from all angles, and the acoustics excellent. I was surprised to see children at the 10:45 show but in all cases the children were with their parents and very well behaved.

We return to our room and it is time to just kick back and relax on the balcony. Yes, Jim goes up on deck for all of his little creature comforts. I am noticing that the further north we get the later the sun is setting. The Brilliance is a very stable ship and there is very little movement as we sail. Also of note is that the engines are extremely quiet. It is hard to know when we are sailing without looking outside.

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