The Runaway Travel Adventure


Part One

 How It Began. This blog is a cautionary tale how a seemingly innocuous round  trip to New York City and back to Minneapolis  turned  into a multi-week odyssey: an across-the-Atlantic voyage on the Queen Mary 2 to Southampton, and then by train  to several of the famous Great Houses in central England. But how could such embellishments occur? When planning a trip it is essential to be on the lookout for certain key words your partner may casually be saying, such as: “as long as we’re in (fill in the city or location), we might as well go on to (again fill in).”  Fateful words!

How It Grew. The expanded itinerary began early this year when the wife and I were planning a major family celebration for early summer in New York City. This mission was readily accomplished. Then a while later I was informed, with those beguiling-“might as well” words, that  immediately after the  end of our festivities the Queen Mary 2 just happened to be sailing from New York-to England. (My partner is a dedicated travel writer, and such arcane information is always at the ready.) . We had often talked about taking such a trip, so why not now?  Thus the plan was changed to include this voyage, and I assumed the added adventure would finish with an immediate flight home.

And Grew: But knowing how family matters transpire, I was not surprised that shortly I began hearing about the glories in historic England of four, centuries’ old, virtual palaces–Chatsworth, Hardwick Hall, Haddon Hall and Burghley House. (Think Masterpiece Theatre mansions in sumptuously maintained, pastoral settings.) I am a history buff, meaning this further suggestion became an instant fait accompli.

Accordingly, on a Sunday night in New York we repacked and the next morning took an easy cab ride from our midtown hotel to the ship’s Hudson River dock. Be immediately assured that this will not be a rapturous panegyric about the glories of the Queen Mary 2. Yes, it is magnificent and qualifies as a floating palace. But since you may not have had the opportunity to travel on this Cunard flagship; here are some personal, less pro forma observations.

About Formal Nights. (And this is a major concern of my contemporary male elders.) Most cruise ships have some formal nights. I don’t happen to take a tux on cruise travel: too much trouble. Besides, you can almost always get away with a blue blazer. But the Queen Mary 2 is the Cunard flagship and is quintessential, stiff-upper-lip, British style formal. The trip takes seven days and seven nights, and four of the seven nights are really formal. But not- to- worry. I quickly noted that a dark suit and somber tie will suffice.

For this occasion, however, I made a major exception. I had inherited my father’s 1936 vintage, made in Britain, Sulka-designed dinner jacket, with a shawl collar, navy blue silk embossed jacket, and a red silk lining. This was my ultimate “peacock” moment. For the ladies, I am advised that a dressy dress or slacks and a sparkly top will suffice. But if an opportunity to wear elegant attire is desired, this is your chance.

About Prices. We often cruise on Holland-America. We were pleasantly surprised to observe that in our cabin range, prices were comparable with the Queen Mary 2. Of course at the top decks,  prices move up to conspicuous consumption levels including, if so desired, butler service.

About Passenger Numbers. At capacity the ship carries about 2,500 passengers and a crew of 1,500. The ship is so spacious however, that one never feels crowded.

About  Service.. British service is based on 1,000 years of training. Think British TV’s memorable “Upstairs, Downstairs” series. Yes, both cuisine and overall ship service are superb.

About Always Being on Board.   This was our first time without any port stops. So we assumed we should plan for book and Kindle reading. This wasn’t the case.  There were so many excellent choices of activities that we scarcely had time for a late afternoon nap.

About Fellow Passegers. Being a Cunard ship, you run into a variety of British personal stories. Here is my favorite. An English lady and her husband on the ship were coming home after a year in America. .They had rented their home near London through a reputable agency. Before leaving on their cruise home they had asked their daughter to check up on their house and garden. A week later the daughter reported back that the garden looked all right.  She had no door key to get inside, but was able to see through the windows and all the living room furniture appeared to be missing. The lady told us she was feeling concerned.

Part Two

On To Central England.. We disembarked at Southampton and began our Great Houses tour by train. At an earlier age our reflexes were adequate to brave wrong- side-of road travel, but no longer. English train travel proved to be convenient; fellow-traveling Brits were gracious when we cried out for help. The various accents can be a challenge—as G. B. Shaw famously said of Britain and America: “Two countries divided by a common language”- but we persevered. Our first stop was Chatsworth, about 150 miles northwest of London and the residence of the 12th Duke and Duchess of Devonshire.

Chatsworth: Spectacular Baroque. For lovers of massive opulence, this is a “must” destination.  Family members have been in continuous residence since it was completed in 1707. The 1st Duke of Devonshire was promoted from Earl to Duke in 1689 when he and several of his royal buddies succeeded in ridding the country of King James II, then offered the kingdom to William and Mary of Holland. The dukedom was his reward.

Jumping to the current day, the recently retired 11th Duchess of Devonshire, is still very much alive and active at age 91. Her maiden name was Mitford, first name Deborah, one of six sisters who were both famous and infamous. Several became well known authors, including Deborah, while one sister married Britain’s #1 British fascist in the 1930’s, Oswald Mosley, and another moved to Germany in the 1930’s and became a Hitler favorite.

Deborah, the non-political sister and married to Andrew Cavendish, the11th Duke of Devonshire, threw herself into renewing the house and estate, making it into a destination triumph. We stayed at the estate hotel, The Cavendish, which is also the family name. There, proofs of Deborah’s staff capabilities were readily available to hotel guests. The hotel’s décor, paintings and gardens were a joy to behold. The cuisine was a revelation and the afternoon tea of artfully prepared finger sandwiches, scones, pastries, clotted cream and jam allows one to overlook the inherently decadent nature of this repast.

To Hardwick Hall. Our next stop took us to a late 16th century Tudor  mansion, Hardwick Hall, built and owned by a lady who achieved national renown despite her lowly origin. Elizabeth (Bess) Hardwick began life as the daughter of a poor farmer. She rose to become the second wealthiest British woman in the late 1500’s, second only to Queen Elizabeth herself. Certainly Bess was noted for her sagacity, but it helped that she became a four-time widow, all to men of significant wealth.  She was a friend of the Queen who bestowed upon her the title of Countess of Shrewsbury.

Hardwick’s Great Hall is bedecked with large portraits of 16th century English notables, including Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary of Scotland. Our guide pointed out that for all these portraits, and for that matter for centuries of European portraiture, nobody is smiling. Why?  Universal bad teeth!

To Haddon Hall.  Another hotel, The Peacock (charming and blessed with climbing roses and a beautiful garden) and another stop to see the one of the oldest surviving medieval castle/mansions in England.  The initial phase of the building was a chapel, built in the 1070’s, just a few years after the Normans, led by William of Normandy, conquered the Saxons in 1066..The chapel still exists and is used on special holiday occasions. The name of the original property owner is mentioned in the late 11th century Domesday Book, which is a listing of all the property owners at that time in England and authorized by the same King William.

This was a great opportunity to look at building designs encompassing almost a millennium. For example, in the medieval kitchen, circa 1300, we noted large drains used for animal slaughter (Evidently residue odors were not an issue.) Moving on to the 16th century, in the Tudor-designed Great Hall there were a number of Flemish tapestries; grandest of all was a tapestry gift from Henry VIII, a family friend! The architectural changes continue well into the 20th century.

Final Stop: Burghley House.  This time we took a train about 50 miles south to the town of Stamford and to Burghley House, considered England’s greatest Elizabethan house. In keeping with vintage hotels, we stayed at the Bull & Swan, basically an 18th century pub. We loved the pub specialty, the remarkably flavorful “Pork Pie” dish.

Along with Chatsworth, Burghley could qualify as a palace. The house was built by the first Lord Burghley, William Cecil, who was Lord High Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I. (Possibly his title also accounts for Gilbert and Sullivan’s title of “Lord High Executioner” in Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta Mikado.)  Additionally, Cecil was Elizabeth’s Chief Minister and functioned as her forty-year top pooh-bah, which probably explains Burghley’s elegance. It continues to be the home of the Cecil family, now lived in by a direct descendant of William Cecil: Miranda Rock, her husband Orlando and four children. In fact, while touring the first floor billiard room, which faces the inner courtyard, we observed family members playing an intense game of badminton.

How to briefly summarize the Burghley House grandeur? We toured 18 state rooms, each replete with a surfeit of treasures, were informed about 191 additional rooms, counted 55 servant call buttons located next to the historic kitchen, and a nearby collection of thirty fire buckets. We were further informed that in the year 1900 Burghley House employed approximately 120 servants.  Our guide additionally commented that in that same year one-seventh of all employees in England were in service. (Again think TV’s Masterpiece Theatre.)

Recommendations: After Burghley House we took a train to Heathrow Airport and then home.

We are four-square for a Queen Mary 2 voyage: a joyous adventure. And “as long as” you are in England, why not visit some of these spectacular Great Houses scattered throughout the country. As far as taking trains, it requires some planning. Driving is more convenient, but if the thought of tackling roundabouts terrifies you, you could also hire a car and driver.. A final encouraging thought is that travel distances are really quite short. It is a surprisingly compressed country.

Finally, finally, if this blog spurs a travel idea, you might check out the web site of my partner and in-house travel authority. It is: www.travelovereasy,com. ……Happy Traveling!

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Comes Mid-Summer, When Out-of-Town Kin or Friends Arrive — What To Do With Them!

Comes Mid-Summer, When Out-of-Town Kin or Friends Arrive — What To Do With Them!


First—how this list came about: For about 10 years–2000 to 2010–I produced and hosted a local interview TV show called “Strictly Seniors.” To keep it lively, I had the theory that any subject was fair game, including favorite local tourist sites. The following list is based on my personal and somewhat detailed experience.

Some of these you probably know firsthand; others may be a bit of a surprise. Still others are eliminated because of distance, time required and such. At the conclusion of this somewhat lengthy treatise I will list a few other options. I have organized these options by location. Enjoy!

Giraffes at Como Zoo




When we have guests in town with time for only a quickie tour, our choice is always the Guthrie Theater. In my opinion, the Guthrie view on the cantilever bridge over the Mississippi River is the Twin Cities’ top tourist attraction. Take either the elevator or the 60 second escalator, the longest escalator ride in Minnesota. Walk out onto the 178 foot cantilever bridge and see the spectacular views of the Mississippi, St. Anthony Falls and the Stone Arch Bridge. This is quintessential Minneapolis: the beauty of the river, St Anthony Falls–the founding spot of the city, and the 1883 bridge, the creation of the “Master Railways Builder”, James J. Hill.

The theatre building is open 8AM-11PM., Tuesday through Sunday, and Monday 8AM-8PM. No tickets required. The Guthrie encourages guest visits. There is street and ramp parking across the street.

MILL CITY MUSEUM, 818 Second St., Minneapolis

Departing Guthrie and walking half a block, you enter the Mill City Museum, located in the ruins of the historic Washburn “A” Mill. The museum presents the history and memorabilia of the milling industry, Minneapolis having been for many decades the flour milling capital of the world. It is called “The Most Explosive museum in the World”. Take the Flour Tower tour, an excellent multi-media presentation, showing the mill in action and depicting the mill’s tragic and memorable 1878 explosion that killed 18 workers.

Mill City Museum hours for July and August: Tuesday-Saturday, 10AM to 5PM, and Sunday, Noon -5PM. Closed Monday.

Driving further west:

WALKER ART CENTER SCULPTURE GARDEN, 1750 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis

Now celebrating its 25th year, the Sculpture Garden’s magnificent potpourri of sculpture designs is located across the street from Walker Art Center. With more than 8 million visitors since it opened, the Garden is another of Minnesota’s top attractions. The 11-acre site showcases more than 40 works. The most famous is the imposing “Spoon and Cherry” by sculptor Klaus Oldenburg. Pick up a brochure describing all the sculptures and artists inside the Walker’s main entrance on Hennepin Avenue. The Garden is open 24 hours; Walker’s main entrance hours are 11AM- to 5PM; Tuesday through Sunday, closed Monday.

MINNEAPOLIS INSTITUTE OF ARTS (MIA),   2400 Third Ave. S. , Minneapolis

The problem with visiting most art museums is that you may not know exactly what to see and how to time your stay. The MIA has the solution. When you walk in, go to the information desk and ask for the brochure, “Highlights of the Collection”. This brochure, “An Hour Long Tour to See the Best of the Best” presents highlights of the many collections, and how to see them in a one-hour visit.  Enjoy yourself and let MIA do the selecting!

Hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday 10 AM-5PM; Thursday 10AM-9 PM; Sunday 11AM-5PM. Closed Monday.



The west side of Lake of the Isles with its beautiful homes is a good starting point. But the lake wasn’t always desirable property; in fact it was a bit of a swamp. Thanks to the genius of our early Minneapolis parks commissioner, Theodore Wirth, the ugly duckling real estate underwent a swan-like transformation. Next, drive south to Lake Calhoun, where swimming and sailing races provide an idyllic summer setting. The popular “Tin Fish” outdoor restaurant is at the northeast corner. Immediately south is Lake Harriet, another major sailing rendezvous. The remarkable Rose Gardens are just beyond the lake’s northeast corner.

LAKEWOOD CEMETERY,   Hennepin Ave. and 36th St., Minneapolis

A tour into a cemetery? Surely you jest! Once the initial shock is passed, your guests will realize that a visit to Lakewood, established in the 1870’s, is not your standard style cemetery. By 1895 the street car brought people to Lakewood, for a modest nickel, to picnic, enjoy the grounds and stroll among sculpture works. Between 1870 and 1930 many prominent sculptors created funeral monuments, mainly for prominent Minnesotans, and this welcome custom continues to the present day.

A brochure providing the location and description of the sculptures is at the administration building office. Cemetery gates are open 7 days a week, including holidays. Summers 8AM-8PM;  administration building hours Monday-Friday 8AM-4 30PM. Saturday 8AM-Noon.

COMO-HARRIET STREET CAR, 42nd St. and Queen Av. S., Minneapolis

More nostalgia, this time back to the first half of the 1900’s, the era of electric mass transit. Tom Lowry founded the Twin City Street Car Lines in the 1880’s (initially horse-drawn), and by the early 1900’s had put down over 500 miles of street car tracks throughout the Twin Cities. Today tourists can take an abbreviated trolley ride; the starting point is one block west of Lake Harriet at 42nd and Queen Av. S. The round trip takes 20 minutes, costing $2.00.  (Disclosure: At high school during the 1940’s I would buy 6 tokens for $.45. The Como Harriet line was my street car touchstone.)

Hours: 12: 30-8: 30PM, Saturday and Sunday; 1-4PM and 6: 30–8-30PM. Wed; 6:30-8:30PM, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday.


COMO ZOO   (ANOTHER BIG FAVORITE), 1225 Estabrook Drive, St. Paul

I heartily enjoy the Como Zoo because it is reasonably convenient and offers so many varieties of accessible animals. What a marvelous selection:  lions, tigers, the splendid new Gorilla Forest, orangutans, polar bears, giraffes, zebras, flamingos and more, the more specifically referring to my somewhat personal relationship with Sparky, the sea lion that performs at the zoo.

My saga: In the mid-1960’s I ran a public relations firm and was hired by Capp Towers Hotel, 1313 Nicollet Av., (Now Called the Millennium). The hotel had recently put in a top floor bar and swim pool, and wanted publicity. My immediate, and ultimately disastrous, decision was to hire Sparky and his trainer. A trained sea lion is an outstanding performer, so the show was a major publicity coup, including front page coverage of the national show biz publication, “Variety“. But in my enthusiasm I had neglected to consider the Sparky aftermath: He left behind an unwelcome collection of body deposits. The pool had to be closed for three weeks and I was summarily fired. One bright spot: The reason we made “Variety’s” front page was the writer’s decision to highlight Sparky’s “aftermath.”

COMO ZOO HOURS: Open daily, 10AM- 6PM. SUGGESTION: The zoo is very, very popular, so get there at opening.

JAMES J. HILL HOUSE, 240 Summit Av., St Paul

James J. Hill was one of the titanic figures of America’s gilded age. Nicknamed “The Empire Builder”, he developed the Great Northern Railway. His success was reflected in his massive Romanesque 42-room mansion that his family moved into in 1891. It contained 36,000 square feet on five floors including 13 bathrooms, 22 fireplaces, 16 crystal chandeliers, a two story sky-lit art gallery and a reception hall nearly 100 feet long.

Tours run every half hour, 10AM-3:30PM. Wednesday through Saturday, and Sunday beginning at 1PM. Tours also on Monday and Tuesday at 11AM and 1:30PM.


The major exhibit this summer is “Minnesota and the Civil War”. Minnesota troops played key roles in two seminal Union victories. At Gettysburg, on July 2nd, 1863, the Minnesota First Regiment was instrumental in stopping the Confederacy charge that became the turning point in the entire Civil War.  The Minnesota Fourth Regiment, on July 4th at Vicksburg, Mississippi, also provided a critical role in this major victory that opened up the entire Mississippi River for further Union victories in the south.

The Center is open 10AM-5PM, Wednesday through Saturday; 10AM- 8PM, Tuesday; Noon=5PM, Sunday. Closed Monday.


I place Fort Snelling in a separate category because, depending on your level of interest, you could spend anywhere from a few hours to all-day. The Fort was built in the 1820’s, so when you enter the time becomes 1826. The soldiers wear the uniforms of that period, carry 1826-era musketry and won’t answer to any post-1826 query. You can also view soldier living quarters, watch period style cooking and laundry preparation. Be sure to visit the hospital and ask the pharmacist about 1826 medical techniques, and his opinion about the radical notion of a young French scientist, Louis Pasteur. Pasteur believes that a surgeon should clean surgical instruments after each surgery, thus reducing subsequent infections. (The pharmacist had read about it in an article from the New England Journal of Medicine.)

The soldiers drill and fire their weapons 5 days a week, Tuesday-Saturday, 11:30AM and 2 30PM; Sunday 2:30PM. The Fort is open 10AM to 5PM, Sunday, Noon-5PM. Closed Monday.

THOSE LEFT OUT I PARTICULARLY REGRET:  The Minnesota Zoo’s animals are free-range roamers but it’s a bit of a drive. Mall of America is primarily a shopping experience; the Eloise Butler Flower Garden is challenging to find. In St Paul, I admit that I have never bonded with the Children’s and Minnesota Science Museums but they’re great for kids. And thanks for staying with me all the way.


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