British Isles- Day 15- Guernsey & homeward bound.
Wed. July 27. 2011- The Isle of Guernsey - off the French Coast in the English Channel.
We were up early on this last destination day of our cruise. The fog had drifted in among the islands, as we approached Peter Port on Guernsey Island. It was a cool 57 degrees out. We breakfasted in the Horizons lounge and gazed out upon the eerie fog that surrounded us. We were but a few miles from the Normandy coast of France and it always rains here. The ship dropped her anchor at 9 A.M. a few hundred yards from the Peter Port harbor. We would be tendered ashore today aboard the ships fleet of lifeboats.
The tender deposited us ashore near the main dock. We boarded a small, half-bus for our four hour tour of the Island. The 30 square miles of the island have an interesting history. It had been claimed by the French Duke of Normandy in 933 A.D. But, it had fallen to the English in 1204.It had remained a “possession of the Crown” since then. After that, its proximity to the French mainland had placed it in the forefront of the French and English wars for the next several centuries. Renoir had painted here. Victor Hugo had written ‘Les Miserables” in a small cafe on the island.
And, during W.W.II Germans had occupied the island and stationed over 12,000 troops here. The occupation is the subject of a recent book.
The island of Guernsey has a reputation as a safe haven for off shore money, much like the Cayman Islands has in the Caribbean. The prosperity had spread to its people. Most of the homes along the shore
sell for well into the six figure bracket. A million dollars doesn’t buy much hereabouts.
Our first stop was at an interesting oddity called the “Little Chapel.” Monks had fashioned here a small chapel made entirely of colorful pottery shards set in cement. The effect is that of a Spanish artist/architect Antonio Gaudi edifice with colorful bits of stones flashing in the noon day sun. We filed into the small chapel. It would admit but one person at a time in the cramped quarters. We dutifully oohed and ahed at its unique construction. Then, we walked down the road to the gift shop to ogle the trinkets on sale there. In the field nearby, stood a few of those wonderfully comic “Guernsey cows” munching idly on the grass. A cool breeze made the scene a pastoral pleasure to view.
The bus continued on around the island. Administratively, it is comprised of ten different parishes, all of whom have their own church. St. Peters, St., Martins and the Forest are three of them that we passed through. The island is densely populated, with well-ordered homes. There are no shacks on this isle, I think. We were headed for the Island’s Main Manor house, that of Chateau Sausmarez.
The Sausmarez family had built their first home here on Guernsey some 800 years ago. With a brief surrender ,for two centuries in which in-laws had taken possession of the place, the family had maintained a residence in this home since its inception. The Sausmarez family had a history as old as most of Britain’s. One of their own had led a Privateering expedition across the world in the 18th Century, attacking French ships and enriching the family’s coffers immeasurably.
Today, it is a two-story, Edwardian Manor house with a series of oak paneled walls and fading tapestries that bespeak of another age. We met the current owner, Peter Sausmarez, and then were guided through the mansion by an elderly docent. The aging portraits, bric aa brac from across the globe and any number of naval artifacts all had a million stories waiting to be told. The daily tours helped pay the taxes on the ancient estate and manage its upkeep. It was a pleasant tour through a very old and very historic manor house with a nautical history of its occupants that would make a good film someday. Perhaps it had already. The grounds of the estate sprout various exotic flowers and several interesting scuptings from prominent artists. We enjoyed the home and its grounds and then set off back to the dock.
The line for the tenders back to the ship was appreciable, so Mary and I set off on foot to wander the area immediately around the main dock. It was busy and filled with vacationers from everywhere. France is but a few miles from the island and a ferry draws people from Southampton in England. We drifted by many of the shops, window shopping. We passed the small cafe named ‘Victor Hugo’s” and wondered if it were here that he had written “Les Miserables.”
A pedestrian walkway led back to a veritable warren of small shops. All are upscale and sell quality jewelry and clothing. There are no junk shops on Guernsey, if the prices meant anything. We found a “Costa’s Coffee shop” and sat down out front to enjoy some cappuccino and scones with clotted cream and jam. It felt good to sit and watch the stream of shoppers drift by. We had paid for our food in English Pounds and been given “Guernsey Pounds” for change. That is all well and good except our guide had advised us that no one, not even the English, will accept Guernsey pounds in exchange. That is a pretty nice racket for them to have going. We kept the Guernsey pound as a souvenir.
It was late in the afternoon and the ship was due to weigh anchor at 5:00 P.M. We caught a tender back to the boat and setlled in to our cabin to read and relax. A Bushmills on ice was helpful. I wrote up my notes and we settled on the balcony, to watch the islands drift behind us as the ship weighed anchor and set off for Southampton, England. It had been a nice voyage, but we were ready to go home.
We dragged out our suit cases from beneath the bed and began to pack for the long trip home. Packing at this end of the journey is easy. You just toss everything in to the suitcase. We needed to put tour bags outside the cabin door by 7 P.M. for pickup, so that they would be ready for us in the early morning, when we disembarked the ship. After accomplishing this task in short order, we cleaned up for dinner, selected the clothes that we would wear this evening and tomorrow and set our bags in the hall way. I found the cabin steward and thanked him in the way they most appreciate.
Our 8:00 P.M. dinner, in the Davinci room, was as good as any we had enjoyed so far. The ship takes care of you right to the very end of the voyage. We retired early after dinner, mindfull of an early and long day ahead of us. It had been both an interesting and enjoyable voyage, but we were ready to go home. We slept fitfully, thinking of all the many arrangements and connections that we had to make tomorrow on the 20 hour trek homeward.
Thursday, July 28, 2011- Southampton, England
We were up by 4:45 A.M. for our early departure. A quick breakfast, in the Horizons lounge, and we met in the Explorer’s lounge to ready for
departure. At 6:15 A.M., our group was summoned. We walked down the ship’s ramp to the terminal port building and found our bags in the cavernous hallways. Then, we found our bus outside. It would take us the 90 miles to London’s Heathrow Airport for the first leg of our flight back to the United States.
The bus ride was uneventful, but the traffic inbound to London was already building. It would get worse by the hour. We were glad that we had set out so early. At the airport, check in and security were uneventful. We found ourselves in that huge passenger depot of Heathrow. Passengers sit in a central area until a gate is assigned to their plane. Then, they all jump up and run like hell for their boarding gate. Trish, from California, hooked up with us. We all sat for a time at a Costa’s Coffee stand and passed away an hour or so. Then, strangely, I saw that our U.S air flight had been assigned a gate much before takeoff. Not questioning our luck, we walked the nearly 3/4 of a mile to the new international wing. We passed through yet another layer of security to the US air loading gate, where we sat until the plane boarded.
The flight back was long but uneventful. I watched a few movies, read a book for a while, and eventually we landed in Philadelphia. Customs for Americans is perfunctory. The line for foreign nationals was a mile long. We retrieved our bags from the carrousels and then had to walk through another line to deposit our bags. Then we had to pass through security yet again. In that all the European flights were landing here within an hour of each other, the lines at the security gates were horrendous. We had a three hour layover, so it was no problem for us. Many around us stood stocically, waiting in line while their planes boarded and left without them. Never again land in Philadelphia. It is a passenger disaster.
Finally, we made it through all of the gates and found our departure lounge. We even had time for coffee. We soon boarded our Buffalo bound plane and drifted west through the New York skies until we touched down
in Buffalo. It was after 9:00 P.M. We had been on the road for nearly twenty hours and were dead tired. The cab deposited us at our Amherst abode. We dumped our bags in the living room, read some of our mail and then crashed dead-tired, glad to be home.
Joseph Xavier Martin
August 15, 2011