Planes, trains and automobiles, and more (From Brad)

  • Well…having a bit of “down” time as we watch the ocean go by and desperately search for dolphins or whales…I decided to take stock of all the ways we’ve used to get around while on vacation. A truly taxing exercise after a beer or two or fighting off the urge for yet another nap…..easy to sleep on a rocking ship! (Long post coming!)

  • Before we launch into all this, the rating system. It deserves some explanation. It’s, based upon the modified “Gareth” scale coined by Brad. In an effort to start a conversation, he would ask Gareth (Sue’s nephew) “Gareth, on a scale of 1 to 10, how did you like…”. In this case it relates to the question “If I came back, would I do this or that again?” Or something like that. OK, let’s see how the list shapes up, in no order of anything.
  • Automobile: had an excellent experience getting from our house to EUG at 3:30 AM. On time, pleasant driver, right to the curb at EUG. Thanks Dee Ann! We gave this our first and strongest 10/10!
  • Airplane: our long-planned plane trip to London was carefully designed to go through easy airports, on nice new planes. This became a hastily reorganized trip after the mess with the broken United plane in EUG. Not quite sure how a “quick repair” turned into a 12 hour delay….but that’s another story. We switched to Swiss Air in SFO. Swiss Air was nice, but as they say on the home improvement shows, the plane “was dated and needed a total gut job” and we were not seated together, the latter not being Swiss Air’s fault. We, and our luggage, arrived on time and safely….but in the end, it was just another long airplane ride. As a result, we gave Swiss Air a 7 out of 10 mainly for saving our bacon and getting us to London just 2 hours later than planned, while United racked up a less than impressive 3/10 for a broken airplane, bad information from the EUG gate staff, a 6+ hour delay in getting out of EUG to SFO and finally, as we found out in SFO, for our completely messed up reservations (made over a year ago!). Strong letter to United to follow once we are home!

  • Hired Car: We had a great car service to pick us up at Heathrow and take us to our flat. The driver, Abdul, was standing there with a sign with our names on it as we came out of customs. He was full of great information and very pleasant guy. We also had a nice Mercedes Benz van, driven by the owner, Tony, for our trip from London to Southampton. He was spot on, arriving EXACTLY at 10 AM as promised. Both drivers were very informative, pleasant and on time. We’d definitely recommend both of these businesses to those needing such services in the London area. We gave them each a well deserved 10 out of 10 and generous tips!
  • Busses: Like dogs and cats that come in all different types, sizes and colors, so do busses. So rather than lump them all into one group, we have broken the category down into their differing breeds so to speak.
  • #1 – Open top bus: yes we did the hop-on/hop-off bus on our first day in London. It seemed like a good idea but after two and half hours of stop and go….more stop than go….we again stopped so we could get a new driver. Once we had him on board, after waiting 10 minutes, finally finishing the round trip in just over 3 hours. Was it worth it? Yes…and no. Yes in that we needed a low key activity day after the long plane ride chaos and we did get a bit of a feel for where things were at in the city. No…a lot of time spent stopped at bus stops for no apparent reason. We gave this only 3 of 10 on the do it again scale.
“Where are we? What time is it? How long til I can go to bed?”
  • #2 – Tour bus: Took a great bus out on the Golden Circle tour of Reykjavik and the surrounding area. As it was a Mercedes tour bus. We did add a point for this for the Icelandic law that requires seatbelt use in ALL vehicles including busses. The one deduction was for the crack in the windscreen that made photos of what was in front of less than desirable. This one gets a 9/10.
This was NOT our tour bus, but it’s cool, right?
  • In comparison, the bus used in Corner Brook, Newfoundland only rated 6/10 mainly due to an A/C system being set so low as to freeze the arms of those sitting next to the windows combined with the tour guide leaving the mic open for the entire trip and letting it roll around on the little desk, making all kinds of annoying thumping noises as the bus hit innumerable bumps along the way. The bus destination however, Gros Morne, was great. Still, it was a stretch to get to 6/10 for this bus.

  • #3 – School bus tour: while ubiquitous in the USA, many of the Aussies and Kiwis had never ridden on one. We took one from Sagueney out to the fjord where we took a zodiac tour of the fjord. It was the yellow school bus we all know from childhood. It was fun to watch the other passengers try to figure out how to open the windows. The newer busses have higher seat back but no more leg room than those we used as kids. As long as you sat sidesaddle, all was good, that is until the driver takes a corner like Jackie Stewart. When that happens, you slide sideways on the slick seats. On one corner, I almost knocked Sue out into the aisle. Fortunately, the ride was less than an hour each way. We gave the school bus adventure a 6/10, mainly deducting points for a PA system that was way too loud and bumps that were way too hard.
  • Bikes: Yes all, we did venture into the world of bike travel, surprisingly at Sue’s insistence. We grabbed rental bikes in Hyde Park and rode around the park. It’s a big park so a bike was definitely the way to see it. The bikes were sort of “squirrelly” though…..at times they had a mind of their own and would head off in some new direction when you least expected it. That didn’t instill a lot of rider confidence until you got accustomed to the bikes desire to swerve unexpectedly. Once that was mastered, the bikes were great. The rental system was really easy with returns being just as easy. We gave the rental system a 10/10 and ride through Hyde park also a 10/10 for fun and scenery.
“I can’t believe Sue wants to ride bikes in this park.”
  • London Taxi: In desperation, we hailed a London black cab in an effort to save our bacon. We were headed to the London Gin Club for a bit of a gin tasting session and got turned around like you wouldn’t believe, heading us toward being late for our reservation. We thought the London cab would be our savior….if we could find one. Every one that came by was full! Finally our luck changed and Sue jumped in front of an empty cab….more NY experience I’m guessing. We had a cab…..problem solved….we thought!. We gave the driver the address….it wasn’t far away from what we could tell but who knew which direction. He looked puzzled and then pulled out a big book of London street maps and started a small research effort. After 5 minutes of page turning and mumbling, we were finally off and moving. The cabs are very spacious and comfortable unlike many in the USA. (We were aware that Uber was all over London but passed them up in this case.) 10 minutes of weaving our way around street after street, we arrived near the London Gin Club just in time for our reservation. We never did know how close we really were when we hailed a cab. As it turns out, all of the streets around the gin club were closed. So we paid the driver, along with a nice tip, and headed off to taste gin. We needed something after all the effort to get there. We gave the London cab a 8/10 for solving our time crunch….and just for the whole experience of riding in a London cab we gave it a 10/10.
That’s the “I’m on my way to the gin club” smile, in the London taxi.
  • FERRIES: like busses, it would be a mistake to lump all ferries and their rides into just one group. Ferries also came in a bunch of varieties and comfort levels.
  • River ferry: We went to Greenwich to visit the Royal Observatory, etc. We took the “tube” and light rail to get there. After touring the sights, we leisurely strolled down to the Thames. There was a bit of a queue for the river cruise back to Westminster. So we said why not….it was a nice day and we had to get back to Westminster anyway to catch the tube. Bought our tickets and joined the queue to get aboard. After a very short wait, we boarded. The ferry was empty when we got on, but filled as we made stops along the way. We took up seats in the very front of the ferry. It afforded us an unobstructed view as we made our way along the river. We both agreed that this was a 10/10 starting from Greenwich. Judging by the long queues we saw along the way as we picked up more passengers, starting in Westminster and going to Greenwich might get a lower rating.

  • Jet ferry: After touring Southampton for 1/2 of a day (the van driver was right with his advice….”not a lot to see in Southampton”) we decided that we would head off to the Isle of Wight the next day….so we bought tickets on the car ferry going there and the jet ferry coming back. The jet ferry has very comfortable seats and zips smoothly right along. It is a catamaran style passenger ferry. It took 1/2 as much time as the car ferry to make the trip from the Isle of Wight to Southampton. While on the Isle of White, we did see the newest jet ferry, Red Jet 7, just after Camila, Dutches of Cornwall, commissioned it. So, we have assigned the Red Jet ferry a 10/10 for speed, a 7/10 ambiance and a 10/10 for the brush with royalty, resulting in an overall score of 9/10! (This score was NOT (wink, wink…nudge, nudge) influenced by the wonderful time spent in a small pub on the Isle drinking Guinness and chatting with two local gentlemen and admiring their cute little dogs.)
  • Car ferry: The car ferry left Southampton and arrived on the Isle of Wight in about an hour. It was your standard car ferry…..cars one the lower deck…people up above.. Nothing flashy, but clean, comfortable, etc. and slow. It was great to see the sights as we chugged along. We gave this only 7/10 as it was really your basic car ferry experience.
  • Chain ferry: If you have been on the Wheatland Ferry near Salem, you will understand this one. It crosses the water from East Cowes to West Cowes on the Isle of Wight. There are two chains attached to each shore that the ferry uses to pull itself along to make the 2 minute journey. The clunking starts off slow then picks up speed as the chain is being used to pull the ferry along through the pulling mechanism. This rated a full 10/10 for fun, uniqueness and the chain going through the gears made a rhythm would be good to dance to if only we weren’t dancing impaired.

  • RAIL SYSTEMS: Again, like busses and ferries, lumping rail-based systems into one lump wouldn’t really do them justice. So we have three categories of rail systems.
  • The “tube” (subway): Sue’s mastery of subway and train systems came though yet again. It’s phenomenal. I don’t know how she does it. While I’m trying to find were we are on the map, she’s figured out how to get where we need to go and is on her way to the turnstile. Most of the time in the tube, I just closely followed her and occasionally asked “are we there yet?” The tube system in London is amazing. Clean, efficient and some stations had wonderful art exhibits as part of the station. We gave the tube system a hearty 10/10 for both efficiency and art.

  • Light rail: To get from London to Greenwich we jumped on the light rail system to zip the remainder of the way to Kew Gardens after the tube line ended. It was a light rail system like most others you’ve seen or ridden in the USA. Given that, we give it a 6/10 for utility and ease of use.
  • Trains: We took one for part of the journey from London to Kew Gardens. In any event, it was so uneventful, we only give it a 5/10. A necessary means of transportation
  • Funicular: In Quebec we rode the funicular from the lower to the upper towns. It was so short of a ride that Sue didn’t have time to worry about the view or heights. While not the longest or most scenic funicular we’ve ridden on, we did give a 9/10 just because it was a funicular.

  • MARINE: As noted above, lumping all the water-based transportation systems wouldn’t provide a true picture of how they really faired.

  • Ship: Well what can be said about traveling by ship…..slow, relaxing, restful, beautiful scenery, sometimes lumpy, sometimes smooth, never ending food options (although on two occasions now, we have come really close to being hungry), daily housekeeping, carpet bowling, art auctions, the spa, hot tubs, swimming pools, outdoor movies, shows, lectures, bars, gift shops with very overpriced things we don’t need, very nice fellow passengers (mostly Australians and Kiwis who think Trump is an embarrassment to the USA) and great ports of call along the way. It’s nice to hear how the ships “whistle” (horn) echos off the sea and fog……the echo is stronger and longer than I imagined it would be….the echo lasts longer than the length of the horn blow. As we think back, we wonder if we’ve been on this ship before…..we will check when we get home. In comparison to other cruises we’ve done, we give this an 8.5/10….loosing an additional 1/2 point for the fact that: 1) there is no “2 for 1 happy hour” like we’ve had on our Holland America ships, 2) we have not been on multiple world cruises as many have, 3) we appear to be two of only a few Americans on board, and finally 4) we are in the minority, being well under what might be the average age of 80! No insult to those older than us….just a statement of fact. This ain’t a Disney cruise for sure.
  • Side note: August 5th – when we were just off Newfoundland, entering the Great Lakes waterway, it was so foggy, from our balcony it was hard to see the ocean, yet the sun was shining! The stuff was REALLY thick. Odd……and now the ship’s whistle is working again, with nice echos coming back to greet us. Here’s a taste, if you want to hear the fog horn.
  • Tenders: No, these aren’t those deep fried chicken bits you get from your favorite fast food emporium. They are the small boats that shuttle you to and from the mother ship to the port. They hold something sneaking up on 100 people when tightly stuffed. There is an upper outside deck for those willing to experience the elements. We have used the tenders twice now on this trip. Using them is not a easy as one first thinks. You have to get up early, grab breakfast, then head down to get a “tender ticket” from the tender ticket guy. Each ticket has a unique number. Eventually, they start calling numbers in blocks, say 1 to 75, etc. to board the tender to go to shore. That’s when the competition starts. Those with called numbers orchestrate a mad rush to be the first on board. Not sure why…..they call 1 to 75 and that’s who goes on tender A…everyone gets a seat so why all the NY subway moves to get on? We just went with the queue flow and got on when we could. Trying to actually get on board can be interesting if things are rocking and rolling which happened to us. It becomes purely a timing issue….go from the little dock to the tender in one nice smooth leap. Once on board, you park your butt in a really uncomfortable seat and when full, off you go to the shore. In one port, the ride was just 7 minutes….in the last Greenland port it was a 20 minute ride one way. Coming back, reverse the process but without having to have a numbered ticket. You then add in a security check on the way back on board. They don’t want you sneaking booze on board….a no-no. Overall, not a bad way to get to shore as long as you’re patient. We give the queue process a 6/10 and the actual shuttle process an 8/10. On past cruises, we’ve seen far worse!

  • Zodiac: The blow up boats. In the national park in Saguenay, we took a zodiac out on the fjord in the marine park. They gave use big puffy jackets that doubled as coats and life vests…..pretty sweet. They were great against the wind and what little spray happened to pop up over the side of the boat. The ride was smooth, but the bench seat was a hair hard for my liking. Some people sat on the inflated tubes. We gave the zodiac a 9/10 for a smooth ride in an stunningly beautiful fjord and a for a great pilot who was very informative and pleasant.

  • Walking: In short, we walked our asses off in London….well in reality every where we have been we have been on foot a great deal. She has her Apple Watch aka “the Oracle” that keeps track of how many steps daily. On our way back to the flat…or pub….or ship…we do a round of guessing how many steps for the day. No clear winner though other than the one impressive blister in London. That was a winner for all the wrong reasons. Blister aside, walking is clearly the way to see and experience a place. It’s how we found two of the best little pubs of the trip.
  • On the ship, it takes 3 laps around the promenade deck to make a mile. When it’s lumpy out or really windy, it makes walking a whole new activity. Great for working on balance skills. We give walking a 9/10….loosing one full point for the London blister and Brad getting a mild sunburn in Greenland….yes…in Greenland. In my defense, yea I knew I should have used sunscreen and worn a hat….but damn, it was Greenland after all!

  • Stairs: While not really a means of transportation, they do get you from one place to another vertically, so we are going to toss them into the mix. And, they are a subset of walking if you think about it. Let’s start with public stairs in London…say those in a tube station. Unlike escalators, which side goes up and which side goes down on stairs is a bit sketchy most of the time. Escalators are just like in the USA…when at the top, the ones on the right go down and the ones on the left go up….simple! Yet when it comes to stairs that whole idea seems to take a hike…..sort of. It seemed that the the down stairs were often on the left and the up stairs on the right….but not always! It was like sidewalks….40 percent of the people walk on the right….40 percent walk on the left and the remaining 20 percent slalom between those going both directions….and just when I though I had the pattern figured out, nope….chaos ensued and I ended up swerving back and forth to avoid near head-on collisions.

  • OK…back to stairs now that I’ve had my rant about sidewalks. At other times it was a function of the mass of people……if you have enough people, you go with the herd and don’t worry about any normal conventions as far as right or left or up or down….you just go with the flow. We give stairs a 5/10 for utility and confusion.
  • On the ship, you’d think things would be better, more consistent…right? Well…no….not when the ship is filled with Aussies and Kiwi’s. Again, the stair confusion continues. The right/left thing again appears to have gone overboard. So…..I have a plan to cope with all the zigging and zagging…..I try to stay square in the middle of the stair….that way I am bound to be almost correct in any encounter, but not always.

  • In London alone we hiked up what must have been a mile of stairs. They are everywhere! The best stairs in London had to be those in St. Paul’s Cathedral. You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into when you decided to go up to the Whispering Gallery or higher. The steps go round and round and round, seemingly forever. Making matters worse, because you’re in a constant swirl, you have no idea how many you’ve gone up or how far it is to the top. Fortunately they are just one way stairs, relieving my stress about which side am I supposed to walk on. Finally…just before you think you may collapse, you make it to the first stop….the whispering gallery. WHEW! On the “Was it worth it?” scale, this one gets a 10/10.

  • Slow speed elevators: Lots of them everywhere it seems. But the award goes to the elevators on the ship. There are 6 elevators in a bank at each end of the ship plus a couple of others scattered about. Each time we decided to use an elevator, the “elevator lottery” starts after passing the button. Which of the 6 elevators will it be? Will it be full? Will it have space available? Most of the time, we give up because they are so slow and walk. As a result, stairs are often the best choice. Unfortunately, the slow elevators, no matter the location, only rate a 2/10 due to the time waiting that one will never get back again.
  • High speed express elevators: In the Shard in London, you get on a high speed express elevator to go 1/2 way up then change to another to get to the top. Boy….they were so smoooooooooooth and fast. And we liked the decor taking selfies as we went up…..we had the thing to ourselves. We gave these an 8.5/10 for the experience.

  • Escalators: The tube stations were filled with escalators. When going down, the ones on the right go down, the ones on the left go up…..seems normal enough. Some were so long you could swear they went forever. You can’t see the top! They are reminders of just how far underground you really are. But, you know…..an escalator is an escalator……thus scoring only 4/10. Escalators in the Zurich airport scored higher due to their energy efficient design to only run when there is demand…those move up in the ranking to a 6/10.

  • People movers (at airport): Like escalators, they’ve become just part of our world that we mostly ignore. In Zurich we managed to successfully maneuver along the people movers to find our departure gate. Not much else to say about them and the 6/10 score.
  • Electric trolley: We did sneak in a ride on an electronic trolley to tour Kew Gardens. It is their new energy efficient electric Land Rover that pulls a bunch of trailers around the gardens. It was a nice way to see a lot of the 300 acres of the gardens. That place is huge! We then went back to see those areas of the gardens that interested us. We gave the trolley an 8/10 for energy efficiency but deducted points for the lack of comfort in the trailers…..no shocks! The bumps hurt!

  • Horse drawn carriage: Well….we had high hopes, but the carriage ride in Quebec, was really a ride in a “Trolley”. Yea, horse powered, but basically a trailer pulled by two horses that wound its way around the streets of old Quebec. It started off with the drivers of other trollies picketing. The drivers were on strike. Some how, our trolley had drivers that were working so we piled on. There was a guide on the trolley to tell us all the good info about what we were seeing. But….the group of Ausie’s behind us kept yacking to the point we couldn’t hear the guide. Pretty rude of them. We made a big loop around the upper part of the city, returning to where we began. The horses both had diapers on so they didn’t leave any road apples along the way. We gave the ride a 6/10 and realized that walking was just as good of a tour.

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