Our “Northern Europe Capitals Cruise” was to be our 8th cruise with DCL and had been in the planning stage for over a year because this time we were to be joined by our good friends from LA [Doug, Michelle and their 15 year old daughter Dani] who we first met on the DCL Med. Cruise in 2007, and with whom we have become firm friends over the years. Shortly into that Med. Cruise we found that we had a lot in common with these folks. Michelle has a senior position with WB records with whom Eric Clapton is associated via his Reprise record label, and Doug [apart from numerous other “claims to fame”] has appeared in the role of Conan the Barbarian at US and also Gaston in Beauty in the Beast at Disney. In addition all of the family are avid Disney fans, recently becoming DVC members as well. Our vacation therefore really began a few days before the actual cruise when our friends flew into Heathrow on the morning of Thursday July 15th on a direct flight from LA. Although I had offered to drive down to London to meet them at the airport, they insisted on travelling to our house via the London Underground, followed by a 1½ train journey to our nearest station in Stoke-on-Trent from where I would collect them to stay at our house a few miles away. Their journey after arriving in the UK was not really as daunting as it may seem because Doug had worked in Oxford Street in 2008 and had visited us on this earlier occasion by the same method. I did however send them in advance all details of when and where to change trains on the London Underground system bearing in mind how tired they would be after such a long flight. Their journey went like clockwork and I received a call from Doug soon after they had boarded the train at Euston to tell me that they would be arriving in Stoke at 11.25 am. The train arrived bang on time [Virgin do get some things right! ], and after loads of hugs and kisses [and a firm handshake with Doug of course! ] I drove them back to our house just in time for my DW to arrive home having had to attend to her Mum in the morning. Following more hugs and kisses [this time also involving Doug!], we showed them to their bedrooms that I had already prepared, placing on their beds the turn down cards and chocolates from the GF that we had brought back with us after our trip to Florida in May. The afternoon was simply spent talking about this, that and the other, and as we knew that their jet lag would be kicking in very soon we had dinner at home followed by an early night. Friday July 16th Following a good night’s sleep and a late breakfast, Michelle expressed a wish to visit the Wedgwood pottery factory which is located only a couple of miles away from our house. As my DW needed to run a few errands for her Mum, it was therefore down to me to be our friends’ tour guide for the morning! The Wedgwood visitor centre is actually quite a pleasant place to spend a few hours. After seeing a short film about the history of this World renowned company you enter another area where you can see some of the craftsmen potters at work decorating the various items of pottery. As usual, the tour inevitably ends via the factory shop, although there is definitely no pressure to make any purchases which came as quite a relief bearing in mind the cost of some of the items! After leaving the factory, Doug mentioned that Dani had asked if they could try some “real” fish and chips for lunch and this seemed like a darned good idea to me as it had been ages since I had enjoyed this British delicacy. I called my DW to tell her the plan but she declined the fayre on offer, saying that she would rustle up a more healthy chicken salad sandwich when she arrived home! Now we have a fairly decent chip shop a mile or so away from our house, so the plan was to take our meals back to our house where we could eat them in comfort, direct out of their paper wrappers [albeit on plates]. Sadly nowadays due to Health and Safety laws, newsprint can not come into contact with any food items so we had to settle for the chip shop`s greaseproof paper even though years of newsprint have never done me any harm in my childhood! Dinner tonight was at a country pub a few miles from our house where even Ricardo had earlier commented on the quality of their steaks when we took him there last year..quite a testament. After chatting over a bottle of wine after returning home, we all retired for a good nights sleep. Saturday July 17th Although we had stocked up on our friends` usual breakfast food [bagels, cream cheese & tomatoes], our guests instead preferred to sample my choice [cheese on toast, along with a cheese oatcake…. which is a local food item], which they ate with great relish, commenting upon how much better the cheese tastes over here than in the US. We all then headed into our main shopping area in Stoke as Michelle had heard about some items for sale at Topshop that she wanted to check out. While Michelle, Dani and my DW trawled through every clothes store in town, Doug and I passed the time window shopping at all of the other shops, checking out cameras and computer equipment etc. My DW had an appointment with her hairdresser this afternoon in readiness for the cruise, so after dropping her off back home to collect her car, I took our guests for lunch at another old quaint pub where I introduced Michelle to yet another British delicacy, namely a pint of lager shandy which she thought was very refreshing after first sampling the one that I had ordered for myself. Again Dani ordered the fish and chips on offer at the pub which she genuinely enjoyed although she was in agreement that those we had yesterday from a “real” chip shop were the best. After lunch and a quick tour of our local town of Stone, Michelle & Dani decided to have a quick nap back at our house as the jet lag was beginning to kick in. Doug however was keen to visit our friends house located adjacent to a canal to view his 70 ft. narrow boat which they moor in a dock right next to their house, so this killed a couple of hours before we all got ready for dinner. I had reserved a table at the BPMF Club in Stoke where I have been a member for many years. This is a place where we used to entertain our overseas clients and is very much like the gentlemen’s clubs in London with a separate lounge with sofas and armchairs where you take pre-dinner drinks until you are escorted into the dining room. I had arranged for small flags of our two countries to be placed in a display in the centre of our table, a gesture that always went down well with our various guests from overseas, and tonight was no exception! I also gave our friends a small Wedgwood china dish that the BPMF Club had commissioned as a memento for any visitor who dined there. After downing another bottle of wine and sorting the World out back at home we all called it a night as we had a big day ahead of us tomorrow. Tomorrow it would be “anchors aweigh” !