Kuki's European Vacation - Part 1

Leeds Castle
While we're always willing to cruise anywhere at the drop of a cruise document, Mrs. Kuki and I were especially excited about sailing the new Celebrity Constellation on a fabulous two-week European itinerary out of Dover, England. During the next 13 nights, we will visit Zeebrugge, Belgium; Le Havre, France; Vigo, Spain; Lisbon, Portugal; Cadiz, Spain; Palma de Mallorca, Spain; Livorno, Italy; and Villefranche, France, with the cruise ending in Barcelona, Spain.

I'm not a doctor, so don't take this as medical advice, but in my case a little sedation did a wonderful job of diminishing severe jet lag problems. We had a late evening flight to London. When I saw the first hint that the crew was about to start dinner service, I took a mild sleeping pill. By the time the attendants had cleared my dinner tray, I was fast asleep, and as though I had been beamed up a la Star Trek, I awoke just prior to our landing in London.

Celebrity's "meet & greet" team was waiting for us, making sure we were whisked away to our overnight stay at Le Meridien Waldorf Hotel, located within the Theatre District.

Since this was our only day in London, and we had a commitment for dinner this evening, we set out immediately on a walking tour to get a slight taste of the city. In three hours, we managed to stroll past the National Gallery, to Trafalgar Square, and on to Piccadilly Circus before we had to head back to the hotel. It was such a brief but delicious taste of the city, we kicked ourselves all the way back to the hotel for not having come over at least two days prior. Although we didn't make it as far as Buckingham Palace to see the queen, we did consider ourselves lucky to have a short audience with a Royal Cow along our route.

The ride from London to the pier in Dover is about two and a half hours, although our Celebrity tour broke up this trip with a stop to visit Leeds Castle. As we entered the castle by crossing a moat where a drawbridge once stood, we felt we were taking an amazing sojourn back in time. The original castle was built by a Norman baron during the 12th century reign of Henry I, and was acquired by the Crown during the reign of Edward I in 1281.

Over the next 300 years, so many ruling kings gave Leeds Castle as a gift to their queens that it became known as the "ladies' castle." Over the generations, the castle and lands were sold a number of times, until their most recent purchased in the late 1930s by Lady Olive Baillie. When Lady Baillie died in 1974, she bequeathed the castle to a charitable public trust, along with its 3,200-acre estate.

English Pub

Strolling through the castle gave me a delightful glimpse of a time I'll never truly understand. After touring the castle, we went for a short stroll past the lawn where noblemen and royalty once played croquet, and past beautiful gardens, toward the maze. The maze, a network of many perfectly trimmed bushes, was surely created strictly for entertainment. Mrs. Kuki challenged me to prove that I wasn't very bright by trying the maze. She was sure I would get stuck, and because I believed she'd be proven correct, and time was running short, I passed and returned to the tour bus.

Within a few minutes of Leeds Castle, in the small town of Hollingbourne, our tour made a stop for lunch at the local pub, The Windmill. It was very much the image of a picture-postcard English Pub, with steak and mushroom pie, cabbage, potatoes and pints of Guinness, and Murphy, the giant but gentle German shepherd, lying across the doorway as we entered.

We had spent only 24 hours in England, but it's a very valuable 24 hours in my memories!

We stepped back into the present as we rounded a curve in Dover and saw the Constellation sitting proudly at the pier. By this time of day, most passengers had already checked in, so our embarkation process was amazingly quick. In the blink of an eye we were on the ship, being greeted by a most friendly staff, and in our cabin.

Although it's a bit unusual for a first night onboard, this evening we dined in the Constellation's alternative dining venue, Ocean Liners. We've previously had dinner in the Olympic on the Millennium, and the Normandie on the Summit, and this experience was the exemplary equal, with superb food and service. The menu choices on Constellation are altered slightly from the Olympic and Normandie, with Master Chef Michel Roux choosing to give Ocean Liners' menu a bit of Mediterranean flavor.

In my opinion, Celebrity's surcharge restaurants are the crème de la crème of such venues. We've tried Portofino's on Royal Caribbean and Sabitini's on the Grand Princess, and wouldn't rush back to either. However, we'll be making a point of dining in Ocean Liners again before this cruise is over.

This entire trip is going to be a most interesting blend of stepping into the past in each port of call, and returning each evening to the modern day luxury of the Constellation. We can't wait to get started!

To be continued... Click here to read part 2 or part 3

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