Carolina: Cruising Past 70: Wanderings on Wonderings: Choosing Planes, Ships, Trains, Buses or Automobiles

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Wanderings on Wonderings: Choosing Planes, Ships, Trains, Buses or Automobiles

row of buses at Helsinki's Olympic Stadium
We disembarked from the MV Explorer at Southampton, England and quickly looked for a car rental. Unfortunately, it was a Sunday. It turned out that on Sundays car rental companies are closed during season because by then their entire fleet would have been rented out for the weekend to be returned on the following Monday.  We had to take the train and so we ended up with 3 kinds of road trips in the UK.

plane from Seattle to Oslo
We had designed this European Swing in three parts leading to my daughter April’s wedding at Scotland’s Guthrie Castle on July 2. The first two weeks was through a combination of airplanes (except for Finland to Russia which was by ferry) to transfer from one country to another and the use of public transportation in the cities of Oslo, Helsinki, and Stockholm (at St. Petersburg we were with a bus excursion from the ferry). We chose this mode because the price of car rentals and fuel are sky high (as with everything else in Scandinavia).

The second part was a cruise on the MV Explorer’s second segment of its Iron and Ice Enrichment Voyage through Denmark, Scotland, Iceland, Ireland, and England and embarked in Stockholm, Sweden, England. We did walking tours in Copenhagen, Denmark, Lerwich, Scotland, Isofjordur, Iceland and Belfast, Northern Ireland and took .bus excursions for Rekjavik and Akureyri, Iceland.

MV Explorer
train at Brighton train station
Part 3 was divided into 3 sections, one with just the two of us, another with my eldest Trisha and her daughters Krishna and Yeye, and the third with BFFs Jingjing and Ann. On the first section, we traveled by trains from Southampton to Brighton, then Brighton to Canterbury, and, finally, Canterbury to Gatwick where we were to pick up my girls. We simply walked the towns.

On the second section, we rented a Renault Captur, big enough for all 5 of us and our 5 bags. In two days we covered Stonehenge, Salisbury, and Bath from the Farmers’ Hotel base in Warminster. Then for two days we toured the famous towns of the Cotswolds and southwestern Wales from our base at the Central Hotel in Cheltenham and, on the last day, Heathrow Lodge from where we toured Windsor Castle. On the third section, we are using trains, buses, cars, cabs, and the tube, whatever is appropriate and available through London, Liverpool, and Edinburgh.

the Renault Captur we rented
Bill had ordered a UK chip for our GPS and it did not fail us.  I will tell you about each town we visited on these 3 sections of our road trip after each of the ports we visited on the cruise. Part 1 posts have been completed. But I do have a huge backlog for Parts 2 and 3. But next week we will fast forward to April’s beautiful wedding before I tackle this backlog of about 12-14 towns and cities. 
Here is what we learned. Cruise ships can be the least expensive, especially if you get a highly discounted one like we did, you join the expensive organized excursions only when necessary and explore on your own if possible. If you take advantage of the many excursions offered, the cost can climb dramatically and there is not even enough time to do all of them!  The biggest drawback, however, is that you also get the least sense of a place and the people; how can you with a just 8 hours?

However, you can get the best variety and quantity of food in a cruise ship! We had duck l’orange, roast lamb shank, prime rib au jus, cog au vin, turkey saltimbocca, pork medallions, veal shank osso bucco, lobster thermidor, tenderloin pepper steak, etc. for entrees. Snacks were equally varied: dim sum, Cuban sandwiches, pancit bijon, burgers, pizzas, all kinds of pastas and the sweetest of papayas, grapes, oranges, apples, pears, and other fresh fruits and all the ice cream in the world!  What is more, there is a ready community and people with like interests to travel with! Finally, there was no need to carry luggage around, no need to pack or unpack! You stay in one place!

Planes, trains, and buses may be less convenient, especially the hassle of hauling luggage through different means of transfers, even cabs, especially on windy, damp, and cold days. In addition, at the endless security lines in major airports, you risk the confiscation of your allergy gel or shaving cream for being in the wrong size container by .01 ounces (although country to country travel in Europe is not much of a hassle anymore with the growing popularity of regional planes)!

cab to the train station
But, like road trips, they can give you the best sense of place and people because you can stay as long as you want. In fact, the longer you stay, the cheaper the lodging becomes, albeit still more expensive than home! With car rentals there isn’t a cancellation fee for choosing to extend your stay. As a matter of fact, they get cheaper the longer the rental period, as long as the drop-off is the same as the pick-up point.

Besides, they even give you the means to conveniently get from one place to another as you drive to and from your temporary home and the places you want to visit (as long as parking fees aren’t exorbitant). However, since driving in the UK is on the wrong side of the road, the back roads are very narrow for 2-lane driving, and the speed limits on such roads are higher than those in the US, sometimes it became quite a scary proposition!

So we concluded that, like in North America, a car rental road trip gives you the best sense of place and people and can be the most convenient way to travel, as long as the roads and speed limits are as you are used to. And if car rental rates are not reasonable, then trains, buses, and planes are the next best, depending on overall cost. Cruise ships we will reserve only for exceptional conditions.

The only question we now have is: when will we travel next and, more importantly, where to? As we say in Tagalog, ‘Abangan!’


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  2. Wow, you were at the Olympic stadium! Did you get to walk the track at all? Sounds like a pretty whirlwind tour but got to go to some very nice places. With all the food available on the ship, I would have gained about 20 pounds in two weeks, hope you had better luck.

    1. I definitely gained pounds I am now trying to lose so I can fit into the gown I brought for the wedding. But what did you think about the different modes of transportation?

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