Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Day Eighty: We did it our way….

So this is it, the final curtain, we went around the world and we did it our way. Our heaviest bags are packed (all five of them) and are outside our cabin door waiting for someone to collect them any minute and take them to the bag Valhalla or wherever bags go to when they are in limbo between being on board ship and in the terminal at Southampton. Our wardrobe contains nothing but a shirt that I intend to wear tonight, two sets of underwear and our two coats that we will wear when we leave the ship. I still have to work out how I am going to carry the following down the gangway:

1. the laptop and its associated peripherals

2. the camera bag and its associated peripherals

3. a holdall with two bottles of wine, a bottle of rum and two bags of Lays

4. a backpack with toiletries, umbrella and miscellaneous items


I think that Hilary has the easier task but I am sure that she would not agree; we are praying for a very large estate car to pick us up.

Speaking of praying, your thoughts for a calm crossing of the Bay of Biscay have been answered as we are experiencing seas as flat as a mill pond and far calmer than they were yesterday as we proceeded north up the coast of Portugal and when both of us feared that we could be sick.

As you can probably tell from the waffle we have done just about nothing today except pack, we did take an hour away from it to attend Diane Simpson the profiler’s last talk and pick up her handouts for the last couple of lectures. Today was about how to conquer the fear of public speaking and she gave some good tips which I could have made use of some years ago, but then it has never bothered me too much as I am a natural big ‘ead. I did miss the first part of the lecture as I needed to get something to eat and popped along to the Conservatory, Hilary is still feeling a little queasy but I did bring back a couple of croissants and a Danish pastry and she has made a stab at one of those – I will probably eat her leftovers! At the moment she is sitting on the bed in our cabin putting the finishing touches to her scrapbook – that girl is determined to finish it before we dock. We also put the last photos into the photo album today and they were taken last night at my birthday dinner where I posed with the Elvis bear in my top pocket! Stupid really but it will give us something to talk about whenever we open the album up.

I really have nothing more to add so I will pass you over to Hilary for her closing comments..

Tiz I. Well most of the cases are so heavy that we can hardly lift them off the ground! I have been ruthlessly going through all my leaflets, extra postcards, and other memorabilia to reduce the weight on the hand luggage but it is still very heavy. We can have two stabs at getting the stuff down to the ships lobby but we still have to carry it ashore! I have every faith that we will manage it all somehow! Roll on tomorrow afternoon when the journey home will be over and we can relax again. The unpacking will take several days as most of the stuff in the suitcases has no place to be when it is liberated from the suitcases. I will have to clear our some of the storage spaces at home to accommodate the new stuff. Our cabin is a complete tip and Geraldine had made it look quite tidy – how that girl cleaned in here with everything everywhere is amazing. Tonight is tips night and I have our envelope ready for our waiters. I did all that stuff when I was stuck in the cabin. Tomorrow we will be up and about early so we can get off the ship on time – at least we hope we can, with almost everyone else on the ship expecting to meet their taxi’s at 9.30am. We e-mailed our taxi and suggested that he meets us at 10.00am instead of 9.30am since we learned just how many others have that time scheduled. It will take us some time to wend our way through the throngs of people on the harbour-side, they will be trying to collect their luggage from the huge terminus hall and we will have a huge amount of hand luggage making us quite a wide target. I am so looking forward to seeing all our family and friends again – and catching up with all the news and gossip! Sam, the quiz night sounds as if it will be great fun, I hope that you get lots of music and sports and celebrities lives questions. I will be able to go on line myself when we get home – I have not had the opportunity on board, Sam has been very protective of his internet minutes.

I did mean to tell you earlier but Hilary’s note jogged my memory when she was talking about how stuffed the cases are, I started to count how many new shirts that I bought during the cruise and I lost count when I got to fifteen! All of them are lightweight summer shirts so we better have some good weather this summer or I am in deep trouble, quite a few of them are silk as well and that of course means washing and ironing difficulties. I will have to be totally ruthless when I get back to the wardrobe at home!

Final note – we have just come back from the Final Extravaganza which featured all the performers that are currently on the ship including a fantastic stand up comedian, a magician, a lady violinist and two male singers the last of whom was Darren Day (sad to say that once again he chose entirely the wrong song for a group of people whose average age is 70) but it was more than made up for by the final act The Headliners. They did a rendition of a medley of wartime songs and ended with Land of Hope and Glory which earned them a standing ovation. It’s sad that we will see them no more.

Our night ended with saying goodbye to all the waiters who have served us and then to Bill and Alison and finally Peter and Christine, we have all promised to keep in touch and let’s hope that we do. A final thank you to all the readers who have stuck with us since day one, without your comments this nightly blog could have been a chore but that hasn’t been the case and we have both enjoyed writing it and reading all your comments. So it is good night from me and goodnight and God bless from Hilary. With a bit of luck we will be back home early afternoon tomorrow and we can have a ‘nice cup of tea’.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Day Seventy Nine: A very happy birthday….

Today is so much a better day than yesterday when we spent very few hours awake at the same time but I am glad to report that Hilary is pretty well recovered from whatever it was that got to her and has been released from the confines of our cabin. She woke me with a card that she has been carrying all the way round from Julian and his family and I have been proudly wearing my “World’s Greatest 70 Year Old” badge all day long and I have every intention of pinning it to my dinner jacket tonight. I even got a card signed personally by Captain Chris Wells himself and I have 3 balloons Sellotaped to our cabin door so that everyone in our corridor knows that one of the passengers inside is having a birthday.

Today is actually the very first one of the whole cruise where I genuinely thought that I was about to be sea-sick and we haven’t even reached the Bay of Biscay yet! I slept through all the Force 8 winds and heavy seas OK last night and was even fine when I first got up and had a shave and shower but the action of bending down to retrieve the suitcases from under the bed so that we can start packing was the start of bringing me out in cold sweats and wobbly tummy. I immediately rushed to put on my SeaBands and took an anti-sickness pill and slowly over the course of the day the nausea has subsided, although I am noticing a bit of it now when I look at the keyboard or screen so thank goodness that I can do most of it by touch typing – thank you Mavis Beacon – and I can look at the horizon instead of looking down.

We were expecting Hilary to be released from the cabin at 9.00am this morning but when the phone call came we were told that as she too was a bit nauseous she should stay in the cabin until 12.00am. As soon as she was released we headed for Chaplin’s Cinema to see Slum Dog Millionaire, arriving just after it had started but while some of the credits were still appearing on screen. Quite a different film than the one that I was expecting but brilliantly told all the same, a touch more violent than I normally like but it didn’t detract from the essentially good triumphs over evil theme. I would definitely like to see it again from the beginning so we may look out for a DVD of it when it comes out.

The fact that we were in the cabin for the noon announcement enabled us to hear my Headliners Tribute poem being read out over the Tannoy by the third officer, he didn’t make a bad fist of it but he got some of the scans wrong, something I was able to correct for myself just a short time ago. While I was off doing other stuff the cabin phone rang and Michelle, the lead dancer of the Headliners, called and spoke to Hilary asking if I would like to read it to them before rehearsal this afternoon and that is where we have just come from. At 4.00pm the cast of the Headliners all sat in the plush red seats of the stalls of the Theatre Royal while I sat on the stage steps and performed for them. I should just explain that the poem uses the names of each cast member in turn with a little rhyming couplet and it was just a bit of made up fun to show our appreciation of each cast member. They did sing Happy Birthday back to me and we left wishing them every success in their careers and we added that we would look for their names on credit lists as they rolled across our TV screens. It does seem strange that in a few days time the whole cast will break up and go their separate ways and will have to re-audition for any new P & O shows, but at least it gives them some variety and as Michelle the head dancer said “We are getting great experience when so many other dancers and singers leaving college are still looking for work.”

I haven’t mentioned food much today and that’s because we have had so little of it, some of it because of the enforced cabin stay but also because we chose not to eat. We skipped breakfast because we were waiting for the nurse’s call and when it came it was too late for breakfast and too early for lunch. Then we were in the cinema for 2 hours, had a long wait at the photographers and at Reception before finally at 3.00pm we were able to grab a couple of small sandwiches at the Conservatory. Roll on the Captain’s Farwell drinks party at 6.00pm followed by our evening Peninsular dinner and then we can go back to the Theatre Royal to see the last Headliners show “True Brit.” Should be fun and we will get the chance to shake their hands once more as they will be at the doors as we leave the show. I will blog again after dinner and then you have only one more to come when we will be halfway across the infamous Bay of Biscay, no doubt with half packed suitcases rolling around the floor. Bye for now here’s Hilary……

Tiz I. Apart from feeling a bit queasy from the food I ate at late lunch, I am OK now and looking forward to the Headliners show tonight. I am not looking forward to drinks with the captain or dinner! Sam has had a really good birthday although it seemed to start out slowly with me being stuck in the cabin til mid-day. I told him that he could now be officially a ‘grumpy old man’. He thoroughly enjoyed being on the stage and reading his poem to the Headliners. He was in his element. The card from the captain was a nice touch too, it will make a good souvenir for the scrapbook along with all the invitations to the various ‘do’s’ and the photographs we have gathered together. We are still waiting for the last of the little photos to add to the scrapbook so it can be completed and I might have to stick them into the book after I get home! When Sam opened the top drawer on the chest of drawers he was amazed at how much paper memorabilia I have collected and he even suggested that it would be difficult to find space in the suitcases for it all. I have been saying for a few days that we need another bag – now he realizes why! Must go, take care, God bless.

At dinner tonight our dinner companions gave me a nice birthday card, then a Beanie Baby Bear with an Elvis haircut and sunglasses and finally Bill bought me a glass of champagne and then at the end of the meal all the waiters came around to sing their special version of Happy Birthday. If that wasn’t enough for one day we then went into the theatre to see the Headliners show True Brit and at the end of that show the cast were all outside the exit doors to wish us good bye and good luck. They all said that they hoped that I had had an enjoyable birthday and I wished them every success in their chosen career. A nice way to end the day especially as Hilary is feeling so much better. Our disembarkation cards at the moment are Orange and show us leaving the ship at 9.50am which will mean that we will miss our 9.30am taxi so I will try and get that changed tomorrow (along with about 700 others I shouldn’t wonder! That’s it only one more blog to go and we are done with this one, take care all of you and thanks for your support.

ps I may have given you the same picture twicce but never mind enjoy these three.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Day Seventy Eight: Heading for Gibraltar….

It may be a bit breezy and chilly outside but the drizzle that was evident when I crossed the Promenade Deck on my way to the Conservatory Restaurant has definitely stopped and our cabin is flooded with sunshine. Unfortunately the cabin is where we are pretty much confined to at the moment as sometime during the early hours the diarrhoea that was threatening Hilary a few days ago came on with a vengeance last night and as I sit writing this we are waiting for the nurse to arrive to assess her. We were supposed to go together this morning to clear UK Immigration but I have been the only one allowed out of the cabin to do so and while I was up there I asked about Hilary’s clearance and was told that it was up to the Immigration people as whether or not they will come to the cabin to see her.

Latest update is that the nurse has just been and that Hilary is definitely confined to the cabin for 24 hours, these people are dead scared of her bugs being spread around the ship and we have already had the sanitation squad in once and we understand that they will be back again later today. As I was writing this the ‘phone rang and it was Room Service asking what Hilary would like for lunch (nothing thank you) and advising that they would bring up a menu so that she could have her dinner sorted out for tonight. Hilary has been prescribed pills for the diarrhoea, two to be taken immediately and one each time that she “goes”; the only good thing in all of this is that it is all free! The ship is so concerned about tummy bugs that they feel being confined to the cabin is so restrictive that they don’t feel like charging you.

I know that you must feel a little depressed about the above news but actually Hilary is in pretty good spirits and to cheer you up I have posted some thumbnail photos taken the day before our wedding anniversary and some of you may be receiving full size ones as presents for the next five years as we have bought the copyright and have the photographer’s originals on disc. They cost a fortune….

Another update at 4.30pm and since I last blogged Hilary has spent most of the time asleep, she has tried to do the scrapbook and tried to read but pretty much to no avail. During the times that she has been awake she has been very lively but the awake periods don’t last for very long. The rushing to the loo seems to have slowed down and in fact she has had to take only one extra pill since this morning. In the meantime I have made the most of sitting in the cabin all day by getting another 2 hours of video tape downloaded onto the laptop and I have two more hours to go. The real task starts when we get home and I have to condense it all onto one DVD. The big disappointment for Hilary today is that they are showing Slum Dog Millionaire in the cinema for the first time tonight and we were hoping to see it together – looks like that we might have to buy the DVD when we get home and watch it there. Time for a cup of tea and I will give you another update later on tonight, we still have no idea what Immigration will do about looking at Hilary’s passport and we have joked that we might have to go round the world again if they won’t let her off at Southampton!

Tiz I. A bit sleepy from lack of sleep last night but otherwise just fine except that I am being treated like the totally unclean. I understand really as I was just the same with anyone at nursery who turned up with the liquid tummy! The soap has been reduced in size somewhat since I have become a Howard Hughes character! The scrapbook is almost up to date and the last batch of photos is at the photographers as we speak. I want to get it done so I have time to concentrate on the packing of all the stuff. We might need yet another bag to hold it all together while we travel home. The nurse is very nice and will phone me again in the morning to see that I had a good night and managed to sleep without any cramps. She apologised for the sanitation officer who arrived and proceeded to wash down the walls but refused to give me some disinfectant to clean the bathroom after I have used it during the day! No accounting for folk. Tomorrow is Sam’s birthday and I have been unable to arrange his special dinner with balloons and singing as they said to tell them the day before and I have been stuck in the cabin all day! As I write the coastline of Morocco is passing by – tomorrow we will be heading into the Bay of Biscay and we are all hoping that it will be just as gentle as it was on our way out to start our journey. After the last few days I will be glad to get home and have a rest! Sheila is in my thoughts, I hope that she is feeling better soon. Thank you everyone for remembering our wedding anniversary, it was lovely to get all the messages. Hey Sam, we saw the view from the diving pool area in Barcelona, it was wet and cold but we both thought that it would be stunning in the sunshine. Sharon, way to go girl, enjoy, relax and have fun. Right, that is it for now, take care, God bless.

Having problems with the internet connection again so I won’t try and post pictures tonight as they take connection time and I don’t want it to fail while I am posting; we are passing through a thunderstorm just off the tip of Portugal. While I was at dinner we saw Gibraltar going by on one side and Morocco on the other – neat! Hilary had some dinner and they will assess her again tomorrow morning and if OK she will be allowed out of the cabin. Ok connection good so I took a chance and posted 3 of the 6 pics. Goodnight.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Day Seventy Seven: The Rain in Spain….

Falls in Barcelona as well as mainly on the plain. Well we made it this time and despite freezing our butts off we can say that we saw all the sights that Barcelona has to offer and we did it from the top of an open double decker bus in the rain!

Something happened during the night and we are still not sure what it was but instead of poodling around at 10 knots the Captain made an announcement that we only partly heard as we had the TV switched to a different channel (all ship announcements come out on Channel 1 which also shows the ship’s position, speed and heading). We believe that someone was taken ill (yes another one) and in order to get them to port early we suddenly increased our speed to 22 knots and arrived 5 hours early – i.e. 2.00am instead of 7.00am – so we woke up to find ourselves already tied in Barcelona’s harbour. Hilary was feeling so much better that she was up and about and in the shower before I hardly had my eyes open and then we popped across the open deck 12 to the Conservatory so that we could not only get breakfast but also get a taste of the weather. It was wet, drizzly not raining heavy and the forecast was that it would clear up and the sun would come out with the temperature rising to 57F. None of that happened for we left the ship around 10.00am in the drizzle and came back around 3.00pm still in the drizzle.

At most ports P & O runs a shuttle bus into a central point of the town we are harboured in and Barcelona was no exception as we only had to walk off the ship – “Goodbye” said the machine – and onto a coach to be whisked off on a 5 minute coach ride to the World Trade Centre. Incidentally this location was the source of much argument at the ship’s Reception Desk as it wasn’t shown on the map provided in the Port Guide and one female passenger stood defiantly at the desk insisting that they show her where the World Trade Centre was as she had a friend in a wheelchair and wanted to know where they would be dropped off. We decided to hell with it and we would stop wherever and work it out from there and as it turned out the WTC square was right next to the statue of Christopher Columbus. Remember him you American readers? He was the one who sailed over to you in 1492 and sailed back in 1493.

Right alongside old Chris was a kiosk selling tickets for the Tour Bus (€21 each for an all day hop on/hop off ticket) so we plunged right in and bought them and within a few minutes we were on the blue route seeing the sights of central Barcelona from the comfort of an open topped bus. I say comfort very lightly as it was raining, the seats were wet and it was around 55F but we did have the benefit of little blue headphones that gave us a running commentary in several languages, one of which was English. We continued with the blue route right into the central Catalunya Square where we got off and changed to the red route that we knew would take us to the famous Gaudi Sagrada Famillia cathedral that has been under construction for more than 100 years – for those of you who are as unfamiliar with Gaudi as we are, he died in 1927. Gaudi’s influence is everywhere in Barcelona and we saw examples of his strange style throughout the city including a terrace building with a roof that looks like a snakeskin and we could have seen a lot more if we had had the time to get out at the various stop. That cathedral/church is amazing and its build is progressing extremely slowly as it is all done with voluntary contributions but the really strange thing about it is the different styles that it is built in, everything from Gothic to extremely Cubic modern, I will predict that it will not be finished in my lifetime even if I live to be over 100 years old.

We continued with the Red Route past the 1992 Olympic Games stadia and buildings, then onto old and modern castles, buildings with spires and turrets before heading back towards the city centre. In order to get back to the ship we had to get back on the Blue Route when suddenly there was an announcement over our headphones to say that our bus was now becoming the blue route bus and all passengers wanting to stay on the red route had to change buses! How strange and fortuitous was that? Mind you it was a long route to get back to the ship as the journey took in the Barcelona football ground (where a lot of men got off) as well as a long climb up to a sight seeing observation point where we could look down on the whole of the city, before heading back down to sea level. At one stage we abandoned the top open deck just to get out of the cold and the drizzle but it was so cramped and with no visibility we went back up again after only one stop. So our anniversary day was a real voyage of discovery (a little like our explorations in Amsterdam and Keukenhof were when we were on honeymoon all those years ago), and with that I will hand you over to Hilary who will probably curse me a little for giving her so little time as we both need to be dressed to meet our friends in Andersons for drinks at 6.00pm before we go to Rhodes to eat at 6.30pm. Talk to you later….

Tiz I. Still recovering from the cold and wet – my feet are still a block of ice! The drizzle did not stop and seeped into our coats and made the hard shell plastic seats on the bus little puddles of water – nice. At one stage Sam turned to me and said ‘stick with me kid and we will see the world’ he did not add that it would be quite chilly for the Spanish bit! We did quite enjoy the day in an odd sort of way and when we bought the postcards (20 in a pack) we could honestly say we had seen every one of the views illustrated). By the time we got to see a shop we were too cold to manage to pick out the postcards individually, our hands were blue and numb and it was difficult to focus through the steamed up glasses! Tonight we are having dinner at Rhodes restaurant and all our dinner companions are joining us. We even got a card from ‘Gary Rhodes’ for our anniversary – how good is that? It should be a good evening as they are all good company and we will all have a lot to talk about tonight. I’ll bet that Christine and Peter have both been into most of the important buildings, they always seem to get themselves in the right place at the right time. Alison and Bill will have kept dry and had a day of food and wine – that is my guess anyway, we will find out tonight. Tomorrow I will start to look at the size of the problem of getting all our stuff into the suitcases we have brought! My guess is that we will need another large bag at least, I will keep you posted with the progress on that one. Having seen some examples of Gaudi’s architecture it makes me wonder exactly what substance of choice he was taking. The buildings are structurally safe but visually odd – and full of interest and little quirky extras. So now for the replies to the messages. Sam I have been thinking about you all in Texas with the storms, was Fred and Linda’s home safe from the tornados in the area. Julian, what is AIS? What a lovely surprise it would have been to see you in Southampton, I do hope that your customs cutter is rebuilt soon. Thank you for the wishes for our anniversary, how did you remember that? Hayles you are right, we should be home between mid day and 2.30pm. The taxi is due to meet us at 9.30am and providing the customs and other formalities are straight forward we should be ready to meet it then. We are really looking forward to seeing everyone again soon. This has been the most amazing trip of a lifetime and we have had a brilliant time but I have missed you all. Take care, God bless.

OK back from Gary Rhodes where we had a magnificent meal full of surprises including a cold mango soup that was given free between the main course and the dessert and which everyone absolutely loved. Dinner was really funny with Peter and Christine bickering away at each other the whole time, apparently they had not had a good day in Barcelona and they had pretty much done the same as us except that Peter got fed up with waiting in queues for the tourist buses and decided to catch a taxi to Gaudi’s Sagrada Famillia and then found even more queues there waiting to go in. They ended up in Los Ramblas a notorious quarter for pickpockets and ended up in an argument with a bunch of hard men over the old ball under the cup game. Luckily they managed to extricate themselves but it obviously caused some friction between them for as I said they bickered their whole way through dinner. We had our photo taken just before we ate so if they turn out well we will post a copy. That is it for now, Hilary has already gone to bed and I am the only person in the Cyb@Study where I have nearly a 100 minutes to use before this cruise ends and only 4 nights to use them in so I may look at a few extra websites tonight before I log off. Night all….

Friday, 27 March 2009

Day Seventy Six: A much better day at sea.

You will all be pleased to know that Hilary is feeling much better and that she has been up and about today and taking nourishment following her involuntary fasting yesterday when her total food intake was 3 shortcake biscuits. The seas were much calmer last night and have stayed that way all day and we have an air temperature of around 55F, cool enough for me to have a vest on underneath one of my new polo shirts. The green one from Acapulco actually and it still fits – mind you it hasn’t been washed yet.

We were awake around 7.00am and up and about by 8.15am wandering down in a blustery wind across Deck 12 to the Conservatory Restaurant where we met up with our dinner companions Peter and Christine, the Boy Scout and Girl Guide leaders. They went on the tour we were meant to be on yesterday so we learned all about it by proxy and it seems that we missed a pretty hectic tour of Rome that included the Trevi Fountains, the Coliseum both inside and out as well as the Vatican. They also bought a lovely book about the Vatican and Hilary is busy looking at it while I am hurriedly typing to try and get my bit finished as quickly as possible as we have a Portunus drinks party at 6.00pm, followed by dinner at 6.30pm and it is formal once again.

We have had a very easy day as you might expect and part of our morning was spent sitting in the Crows Nest reading and this was after our morning lecture by Diane Simpson where I had my handwriting analysed! It wasn’t a full analysis as she could only choose 10 points out of a possible 300 but her conclusions on my writing were – wait for it – “Communication!! Ideas, Reactions, Reflecting the Situation, A Constant Observer – Journalist of Sorts!!?” Hilary agreed with some of it but not the constant observer as she says that I pay little attention to most things. What does she know?

We had a very skimpy lunch in Al Fresco where Hilary enjoyed her soup and one piece of pizza while I enjoyed my 3 pieces of pizza, 4 pieces of garlic bread and a mousse dessert with almond biscuits. Then it was pretty much off to the Pacific Lounge where Peter and Bill were performing in the last renditions of the Oriana Choir and everyone enjoyed their selection of songs. My appreciation of it was marred somewhat by the behaviour of a fat guy who insisted on standing in front of me blocking my view of the rest of the choir when he could so easily have stood behind some of his singing colleagues. But no he had to be the big “Look at me at the front of the choir, aren’t I something.” Definitely not a choir singer and I bet his handwriting shows him to be a loner! OK that is it for me and I will hand you over to Hilary who is lying on the bed watching BBC World News with her eyes closed…..

Tiz I. How else is one to ‘watch’ the news? I am much better today – the pain in my head has abated and now I just feel a little spacey and ache a little around the neck. I have lost my appetite too, how good is that! Barcelona tomorrow so I must pull myself together and be up to enjoying the city! The injections yesterday worked a dream – the medic said that I might feel a little drowsy – drowsy, I was zonked out for the whole day and night and could still go to sleep at a moments notice! It was good juice whatever it was! Everyone that I have met seems to have noticed that I was not about yesterday and they have all been very sweet and asked how I am feeling now. Apparently I am not the only one to be suffering. Sam and I have decided to make a trip to Italy at some time in the future so I can catch up with what I missed yesterday. One lady told me to take the Thompson coach and visit Florence, Vienna, Pisa and Rome. She said that the trip takes 2 weeks and it takes a route through beautiful countryside. So there is a thought – maybe in the future sometime. I spent some of the morning writing up the little writing bit that I put on each page of the scrapbook. It is always difficult to reduce the waffling down to fit the space available so I have a habit of jotting down all the important bits and then I can figure out how it will have be reduced to fit the page! For the page that was going to be Rome – I have pinched some photos from Christine and Peter and will put them on the bottom of the page. The top of the page will be a photo of me in bed sleeping with the caption of ‘while I slept Rome was enjoyed by our friends’. Oh well that is it for me for today, I must have a nap before I dress up for formal night and it is already late. Take care, God bless.

Just come from the Theatre Royal which starred Darren Day tonight, a name that was once so big on the West End and on TV has sadly gone downhill judging by tonight’s performance. There was a gasp from the audience when he came on as we expected a slim boyish looking performer and we were confronted by a tubby bald headed 40+ man. The bald head was explained away by the fact that just the other day he had his hair shaved off to raise money for Children in Need so that was a good thing. As was his opening Mack the Knife which was brilliant but it went a bit downhill after that particularly with some of the impressions that he did which were not in the best of taste. His take off of Stevie Wonder was particularly dubious and he ended his routine with a medley of impressions in My Way that had apparently brought him to fame in 1988 – not the best choice. The good news is that Hilary’s recovery continues apace and she is expecting to be well enough to go ashore at Barcelona – our last port of call! – tomorrow. See you tomorrow night after our special dinner at Gary Rhodes when we celebrate 45 years of harmony. Godbless.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Day Seventy Five: When in Rome……. Or maybe not!

Preface: I wrote the stuff below earlier in the day but you will be pleased to know that things have changed for the better……

Well we didn’t make it to Rome after all as Hilary has not been well. It started yesterday after dinner when she began to complain of severe tummy cramps and they got slowly worse during the night. And it was a terrible night on the ship, probably the worst that we have ever had for rough weather with force 9 winds making the ship bang and crash around all night long. To cap it all there was some kind of medical emergency in one of the cabins on the deck above us and at 4.00am an emergency call went out over the ship’s intercom to all cabins asking for a medical team to attend this emergency. That meant the whole ship was woken up by the call and it was the talking point in the laundry room this morning with speculation, later denied, that someone had died during the night.

We were due to get on a coach for a two hour ride from the port into Rome at 8.00am this morning and I was up at 6.00am realising that Hilary was not at all well, she had been to the loo about four times during the night and I sort of assumed that she had some kind of diarrhoea. By 7.45 am when we realised that she was not going to make the coach I was downstairs talking to the tours operator who told me that if we got the doctor to stamp our tickets then we would get a full refund so we contacted the surgery and a nurse turned up just after 8.00am. By now I was beginning to see that Hilary’s main problem was not so much with her tummy but that she had an excessively bad headache and the nurse did little other than to confirm that she needed to see the doctor as he had nothing in his emergency bag that could help her. While Hilary slept I thought that I would take advantage of the lack of passengers on board and do our laundry so you could imagine my surprise when I returned to the cabin while the clothes were washing to find that Hilary was up and dressed and had decided to see the doctor after all. We took the lift down to Deck 4 where a real life emergency was going on with one person on the dock side having had a heart attack so that the Italian Red Cross were running around with stretchers and oxygen trying to find out when they could take the person to Hospital and another – possibly the one from the 4.00am call also in the doctor’s room.

Hilary had little choice to wait in the waiting room holding her head for the best part of an hour until she could see the doctor while I flitted between Deck 11 where our washing was now drying, and Deck 4 where Hilary was waiting. And I had a little diversion back to our cabin to get Hilary’s medication as we couldn’t remember the name or the strength of the pills that she takes every morning. Thank God for lifts! Consultation over it was time for 2 injections in Hilary’s rear end with one for the pain and one to ward off any sickness that the pain killers might cause and of course time for the bill which amounted to around £76.00. Too small an amount for the excess on our insurance policy and around half of what we will get back for our cancelled trip to Rome.

It is roughly 2.30pm now and Hilary has been sleeping ever since she saw the doctor, I have looked in on her a couple of times and she has been sleeping like a baby – but fully clothed – while I have been back to the cinema and seen Quantum of Solace again (I understood it a little more the second time around), I have had lunch (fish pie and chips), and sat on the aft of Deck 10 reading a novel and doing the Sudoku with no effort at all. I am in two minds as whether or not to have a swim – one of the pools says the temperature is 29C and that is not too bad – or just to sit on the deck and have another go at the book I am reading, but the first thing I have to do is to go back and see my lovely wife again and check if she needs anything, I know that she will be very disappointed if she can’t get to see the Headliners tonight. I think that I told you earlier that we had put in a request for their autographs and I am pleased to tell you that we had an envelope waiting for us last night with them all in including all the members of the band, so that is another one for the scrapbook. I am going to stop here but I won’t post this until later tonight when I hope that I can give you some happier news. Tomorrow is a sea day while we sail between Civitavecchia (I don’t think that is the correct spelling) and Barcelona where with a bit of luck we should celebrate our 45th Wedding Anniversary.

OK I thought that Hilary was going to add to this blog but I have just come back from dinner and the theatre show to find that she hasn’t added to these pearls of wisdom but take it from me that she is feeling better but is still very sleepy and I am sure that she will tell you all about it tomorrow. Night all…

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Day Seventy Four: Lumpy, bumpy

Not only is it cold but now the seas have turned very lumpy but the good news is that the ship is coping with it very well and although it rolls a little bit no-one that we know off seems to be in great distress. Sky News says that there is rain around in this part of the Med but we have had mainly blue skies with occasional clouds and as I write this in our cabin the room is flooded in sunshine and the air conditioning has kicked in to keep me cool.

We have spent all day inside the ship, only going out across the Lido Deck to walk across it to get to the Conservatory for breakfast. We toned it down today and both of us avoided the vegetarian bacon, Hilary had toast and fruit while I had Weetabix and grapefruit. Then I went to the Theatre Royal to see the Concorde man as he was talking about the demise of Concorde with particular reference to the crash in Paris in 2000. If he is to be believed the official report that was put out by the French is a bit of a whitewash and they are trying to put the blame on Continental Airlines when a modified part fell from one of their planes and was run over by the Air France Concorde. His “truth” is that Air France had not done their maintenance correctly on one of the wheel sets plus they deliberately overfuelled the plane in order to compensate for excess baggage. The fact that a lot of records concerning the maintenance, the fuel load and the baggage load went missing hours after the crash only lends speculation to his turn of events. If ever there was a conspiracy theory about the fate of Concorde this guy is at the centre of it. We will never know what happened and now that Concorde will never fly again I see little point in finger pointing but the guy has to have something controversial in order to sell his book and to keep his lecture tour going doesn’t he?

We skipped lunch, apples only, and then went back to the theatre to see a talk by the Profiler which this time was quite frankly the most boring one that she has given. She has been given samples of handwriting by lots of the audience (including mine) and she spent her hour giving detailed descriptions to two men and two women on how she would read their character from her analysis. I found it very general although it may have had some relevance to the people involved but to the rest of the audience it was of no use whatsoever. (Hilary might have a different view).

Our next foray into the theatre was to see a British TV actress called Julie Peasgood who talked about her life. She apparently is best know nowadays as co-host with Alan Titmarsh as his “sexpert” but quite frankly I was not impressed with her either and if I saw her on TV I am not sure if I would be able to distinguish her from many of the other long blonde actresses and artistes that appear. She was followed into the Theatre Royal by a much more interesting interview with the cast of the Headliners and although this went along similar lines to the interview that they gave earlier in our cruise I think that the new Cruise Director brought out a bit more of their characters. She did involve the musical director Dean McDermott and we also heard a lot more about the musical arrangements and the technical side of the shows themselves. A well worthwhile hour.

I am looking out of the cabin window as I am typing this and as we are on the port side heading west what can I see? Sicily that’s what and in case you hadn’t guessed it we are currently sailing between the toe of Italy and the island of Sicily, we will progress like this until eventually heading north where we will end up at Citavecchia which is the nearest port to Rome. So tomorrow we will be off to see the Coliseum, The Trevi Fountains (three coins and all that) as well as all the ancient and modern monuments that make up the city of Rome. I believe that our view of the coliseum is drive by only but we will have to get the tour guide out to find out. That’s it for me, not a lot happened today so far, we can’t go outside as some of the decks are closed due to the strong winds and anyway it is too cold. We had a “Reflection” photo taken last night with us in our finest gear standing beside a grand piano and with our reflections in the lid, Hilary thought that one of them was good enough to purchase so that’s another one for the album. Tonight we have another go at getting our “free” picture taken again as when we were there last night they said they were sorry but that they had given us the wrong date and it should have been today, so all our early dressing up was in vain but it did give us the opportunity to have a glass of wine with Bill and Alison before dinner. Here’s Hilary….

Tiz I. Thank you for the messages – lovely. Jess, I’m sorry that I did not take any photos of the coral, which was so many different colours, or the fish – I was far too busy watching them all and had the camera sitting on my lap! What a failure! Hales, I will confirm the time we expect to get home when we get confirmation of our pick up time from the taxi company. Pat, we will all have to keep up the blog after we get home, we might be able to expand the idea and include everyone’s day or week! We will have to see what the gang all think about that. Sam, Dad and I are sorry to miss the bluebonnets this year but we have had a pretty brilliant time so we must not complain about it. We reckon that the change in the temperature (although it has been a bit sudden) will get us ready for arriving home. We did have breakfast out on the deck at the back end of the ship where the ship shielded us from the majority of the wind but it was not a long leisurely breakfast as we had previously enjoyed. Apparently the temperature dropped like a stone during the transit of the Suez Canal and has not recovered since! After the trip to Cairo I was exhausted and today I am still a bit spacey but recovered enough to undertake the next and last organised tour of our journey. This time to Rome! I am excited and looking forward to seeing the sights of this city. I will send the postcards from Cairo and Rome from Rome – we got back far too late to mail anything in Egypt. As I type we are passing Sicily and can watch the shoreline from our cabin window. Italy is on the starboard side and we cannot see that. We have just passed the volcano but luckily it is very quiet just now. We are due to berth at about 6am in the morning – about 12 hours time. We are watching the weather conditions in Rome on the TV so we know what to wear tomorrow. We will have to figure out how to cope with a busy day after all these lazy hazy days at sea, it will come quite hard I think so don’t expect too much initially. We are looking forward to seeing you all soon, take care, God bless.

OK it is now around 10.30pm and dinner is over and while Hilary went to the theatre I joined Peter in the cinema to see Quantum of Solace, it was so exciting that we both dropped off at one stage. Actually I quite enjoyed it but I have yet to work out exactly what the plot was, but great action sequences anyway. We are off to Rome at 8.00am tomorrow so I will post this and get to bed. Just before dinner we went to have a portrait session of photos and we have picked out 6 of them at great expense plus we are buying a CD with them on so that we can make our own when we get back. I will post one or two of them when we get the CD. Love to all.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Day Seventy Three: Who turned the thermostat down?

The Mediterranean is cold! We always imagined that it was at the very least warm for most of the year but the bit from Port Said going north west towards Italy has not got much above 55F all day and tomorrow is not expected to be much better. We started the day with Force 9 winds but these have abated to Force 5 and they are pretty much head on and this has made the sea choppy enough for two of our dinner companions and several others that we have seen around the ship to put their SeaBands on. As battle hardened warriors who have experienced all this before Hilary and I are taking it all in our stride so much so that I managed to have 1½ cream cakes this afternoon with my two cups of tea.

The temperature apparently changed half way through the Suez Canal according to the reports that we have heard from passengers who stayed on board and didn’t make the long trek from Suez to Cairo and then onwards to Port Said. They said that in the space of about 15 minutes it went from warm and sunny and great for swimming to cold and windy and time to grab the sweaters and it has remained that way all day today. We did actually sit outside on the starboard deck while we had breakfast even though it was a trifle chilly but I have added a T-Shirt to go under my new hieroglyphed polo shirt with Sam on it and I have changed from shorts to long trousers. The Lido Deck and the Promenade Deck are strangely deserted and you can have your pick of the sun loungers and chairs that stand forlorn and empty around the pool and along the railings; we have seen one or two hardy souls in anoraks, coats or thick sweaters sitting around outside but they are few and far between.

Most of our morning after breakfast - we are both getting a taste for the vegetarian bacon – was spent in the Crows Nest where Hilary typed up the labels for her Sharm el Sheikh and Cairo pictures and where we can connect wirelessly to the printer just next door. I still don’t know if we are paying for these printouts but we have had about a dozen sheets so far. The only snag with using the wireless connection in the Crows Nest itself is that in order to get a good connection you have to sit in the smoking section and after a while the smell gets to you (and into your clothes). At least the strong sea breeze does blow the smell out if you walk on an open deck. We also organised the pictures that Hilary needs printing 3 x 2 inches and put them on our spare SD card. We have a good system that works for us and the way it works is that we download the photos each day from the cameras onto the computer into a new folder named for the place that we have just visited and then Hilary chooses from those the ones that she wants in the scrapbook. We then drag copies of these onto a spare SD Card and take the card to the photographers and say “print that lot” which is much simpler than writing out photo numbers and giving them a list. With the labels and the pictures sorted we then spent the next hour or so talking to Alison and listening to the Oriana choir rehearsing for their next performance and it was half way through this when we realised that we had missed today’s talk by the graphologist/profiler – damn, we must make sure to see her tomorrow.

I struggled with the Sudoku, Hilary struggled with the Crossword and we managed to kill an hour before heading down to the Theatre Royal to see an audience with Captain Chris Wells. He is an amazing man who comes to life when he has a microphone in front of him and he led us through his early life growing up, his career on tankers with Shell, his annual time with the Fleet Auxiliary, his short stint on the Isle of Wight ferry before he finally went into the cruise liner business with Cunard and later changed to P & O. It was a brilliant talk and at the end one of the passengers praised him with a huge response from the audience who then gave him a standing ovation as he left the stage. It was quite a contrast from our previous captain David Pembridge who gave a similar interview but with much less acclaim. For Captain Wells the Theatre Royal was standing room only and at the last minute they decided to video it so that anyone who missed it can watch it on the cabin TV.

So that is it for me, and I will hand you over to Hilary who is trying to sort her hair out for the formal night tonight. We are having our photo taken (again) but at least this time it is Free! Well at least the first 8’’ x 6’’ is as we won it when we pulled out a raffle ticket from a bucket with a number that ended in the figure 2. Believe that and you will believe anything. Here she is…..

Tiz I. The photographer said that we won the free photo opportunity, why should we question that? I have had a day of trying endlessly to make my brain work! I was so tired last night that I could not understand even a one sentence question! It had been the most exciting day – seeing the pyramids and walking around them. We had been well drilled in the technique to avoid the unwanted attention from the hawkers and camel drivers by our guide. She had said that if any of them give us any problems then call on her and she would sort them out – and I believe that she was capable of doing just that. Manal was a remarkable lady with an extensive knowledge of Egypt and its history and quite able to keep a large group of people in the right place at the right time and in ‘order’. She told us so many facts about the pharaohs and ancient Egypt that I had no chance of remembering it all. I should have been taking notes because now I want to recall it all. I believe that she must have a degree or two because she talked about different professors had written books on the subject and who had taught. We had lunch and breakfast in Cairo at a posh hotel where the waiters had a very laid back attitude to life. Three times I was told that my request for a glass of white wine was ‘no problem at all’ and after an hour there it never did arrive at the table! I loved this country and the people and we were all amazed to find that there was a police escort all the way from Cairo to Port Said with all the junctions blocked off so the coach could drive through without stopping or slowing down. We even drove through all the red lights! It was a three hour drive with the police sirens going off all the way! Very exciting. Today I am still recovering from the effects of the tiredness and have just spent most of the day drifting around the ship talking (it seems) to every other passenger answering their questions as to why the ship was held up for 2 hours while waiting for our return from the day trip yesterday. That was probably because we were delayed for about 2 hours getting to the harbour from the ship in the early morning! Now I must go and get ready for the formal dinner and our free photo! Take care, God bless.

The photo is us with our cabin steward Geraldine - we love her!

Monday, 23 March 2009

Day Seventy Two: An extremely long day in Cairo

OK it is now 8.10pm which doesn’t sound too bad does it? However it does mean that we have been going for 17 hours non stop as we are up and about at 3.10am this morning to prepare for our trip to Cairo to see the Pyramids, the Sphinx and the Cairo Museum where good old King Tut’s treasures are kept. This will only be a very brief blog tonight just to give you the highlights and we will bore you with the details when we get home.

There were at least 6 coaches booked to do trips to Cairo, some of them doing our tour, others included a trip on the Nile while others also went to see the stepped pyramid at Sakkara. Most of us were swilling around the Conservatory at 3.30am eating a continental breakfast just to give us some sustenance before the long haul to Cairo from Suez and then we endured the badge getting and sitting in the Theatre Royal before being sent down to the bowels of the ship – Deck 3 – to embark on the tenders. This could not have been a worse way to start the day as those of us on the first tender had to float around in the dark while all the other tenders were filled so that we could be escorted across the neck of the Red Sea to the opposite bank where our coaches were waiting. It was a good hour from leaving the theatre to landing on shore and one or two people were feeling quite queasy by the time we actually landed but once on the bus all that changed as we met Manal our guide. She was great the whole day long and extremely knowledgeable about Egypt, the Pharaohs and antiquities and she guided us perfectly if a little loudly for the complete tour.

Our coach journey was also conducted in convoy across the dessert and apparently this is provided free by the Tourist Police and is mandatory for all foreigners in coaches. All coaches as well have to have an armed guard on board although what good they are I don’t know as ours was asleep most of the time, however he did have a reassuring bulge in his jacket. It took the best part of 2½ hours to get to the Meridien Hotel in Cairo where we had a lovely buffet breakfast that set us up for the rest of the day (well at least until lunchtime). On the way to the Meridian we passed the outskirts of Cairo and there behind the buildings we got our first glimpse of the pyramids peeking between the buildings, naturally many shutters clicked and many videos whirred as we saw these huge monoliths that nowadays are not far from the edge of the city. And right after breakfast we saw them for real and we were able to wander around and get lots of photos while being besieged by hawkers selling 20 postcards for one US dollar and almost everything else for the same sort of price. We took snaps of each other with and without Ted before the coach moved us on to a different view of the Pyramids where you could see all three simultaneously but with an optical illusion effect that makes the middle size pyramid look bigger than the large pyramid. Back onto the coach and off to see the Sphinx.

That sucker is big! and since they have excavated his front legs he is also very long, we got some great shots from the coach as we came down the hill and then some good frontal shots from the viewing platform itself. I was looking for an alternative side view when I was suckered by a guy claiming to be a guard who led me to the tombs of the King and Queen that I didn’t particularly want to photograph and I was forced to give him $1.00 just to get rid of him – he would have liked more but I’m not that much of a soft touch. With the Sphinx behind us we clambered back into the coach to go to the Cairo Museum, incidentally the temperature in Cairo was a pleasant 74F but it was very dusty around the pyramids and the sphinx and Hilary had a bit of trouble with sand getting in her sandals.

The Cairo Museum was great but it could have been so much better. Manal provided us with Whisperers a headphone system where she could talk quietly and the whole group could hear what she was saying about a particular exhibit. These worked fine but my disappointment with the museum was the poor labelling of all the exhibits and the lack of lighting and dramatic impact that they could have made. The top floor is dedicated to Tutankhamen and this was fabulous in its quality but poor in its presentation, even the wonderful gold mask that is so famous is not well lit but the good thing is that you can see all around it, including the back where I had not realised that it is covered in hieroglyphics. We saw just about all the pieces that were discovered in the tomb including the gold leafed outer casings that were nested one inside the other, the sarcophagus as well as all his chariots, sticks, and I was particularly taken with the alabaster pieces – I’ve decided that there is something special about alabaster, I don’t know what it is but I like it. All in all I could spend a lot more time in the museum but I would like to see it updated. For those of you that remember Norwich Museum around 1950 or so that was the kind of standard that the Cairo Museum has.

Museum over it was time to go back to the Meridien for a buffet lunch which was equally as good as the breakfast, plenty of vegetarian options, some excellent desserts, free Egyptian wine or beer if you wanted it and nice clean loos. Our final stop was a shop (of course) and it was done under the guise of watching the process of making papyrus where after the demonstration lots of different pictures were available to buy. On the coach on our way to Cairo our guide Manal did a good selling job with us by bringing around samples and a catalogue of jewellery and clothing that we could order to be made for us with embossed lettering spelling out our names in hieroglyphics and we didn’t resist. Hilary has bought a solid gold cartouche pendant which has Julian on one side (5 symbols) and Sam plus the symbols for health wealth and happiness on the other (5 symbols). These symbols are embossed on and I bought silver cufflinks with Sam embossed in gold. Not going to tell you how much they cost though as they were not cheap. Oh yes and I also bought a blue polo shirt with Sam in a cartouche as well. Why? I am asking myself that right now.

Shopping over we settled down for our 3 hour trip to Port Said to pick up the Oriana which had successfully made the transition through the canal and was berthed and waiting for us on our arrival. Our journey was made swift by the constant police escort that led us all the way from Cairo and stopped traffic at every intersection so that we could drive straight through even if the lights were red. That’s it for tonight, Hilary is too tired to blog but will catch up with you all tomorrow. Night all.

Ps Now that we are in the Mediterranean it has turned cold, something less than 60F when we have been used to temperatures of 75 and above – I think my swimming days and sitting out by the pool are over. It is probably back to the warmth of the Crows Nest from now on.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Day Seventy One: Sharm el Sheikh (or we meet Lewis Hamilton – twice!)

Our first day in Egypt started around 6.30am when we looked out of our cabin window and saw sandy hills with darker mountains alongside them so we dressed as quickly as we could (no wash, shave or shower at this stage), rushed to the bow door on our deck and forced it open so that we could get some shots of our arrival at this desert port. With the first important pictures out of the way we made a more leisurely climb up to deck 13 where we could watch the actual docking against the harbour wall. We witnessed once again the man with the rope and the ball accurately throwing it to a workman on the harbour so we could tie our lines and springs onto the bollards and thus keep us safe and sound while we are docked. We were even able to get some photos of the captain and the pilot issuing instructions via walkie-talkie as thrusters and propellers brought us to a complete stop.

The port of Sharm el Sheikh has nothing, i.e. zero, zilch in the way of shops, hotels or even houses that are close to where the cruise ships dock, if you want to see anything at all you have to walk at least 200 yards across a flat deserted landscape to the dock gate where somewhere along the way an official will ask to see you passport. He doesn’t look inside or anything, just easing it out of you bag or pocket and showing him the maroon cover is sufficient to be waved on, so much for security. As you get to the end of the walk and just inside the gate, friendly taxi drivers will approach you to offer their services; some folk ignore these and continue walking into the small town of Sharm el Sheikh while others, like us, look around for someone to share the cab with in an effort to cut the cost. We agreed a price of $20.00US for the four of us to go to Na’ama Bay, a supposedly 30 minute drive away, which we thought was a reasonable deal. Others we learned made the walk into the local town and negotiated from there, the best deal that we learned of was $5.00 for 4 persons for pretty much the same journey – so much for our negotiating skills.

The taxi driver was not only a Lewis Hamilton look alike but he drove like him too, Hilary is convinced that he hit 100mph along the dual carriageway as he swerved in and out from lane to lane overtaking and undertaking in an effort to get us to Na’ama Bay as fast as possible. My guess is that the speedo was calibrated in Km/Hour but that is still pretty fast in heavy traffic. Our fellow travellers were scared out of their wits and the lady threatened to be sick or get out and walk if he didn’t slow down, it had no effect and nor did the pleadings of her husband. We stopped as abruptly as we took off and at first we thought that we were in the middle of nowhere and that we had been dumped just to get rid of our moaning but as it turned out he stopped just a little bit early from the regular stop so that he didn’t have to join a long line of taxis waiting for fares. We were approached almost immediately by a young Egyptian offering directions but also wanting to take us into his shop and we were extricated from that by an English passer-by who happens to work in the town of Na’ama Bay. A few more yards and another decision to make as to which road to take when a Swiss holiday maker came and gave us some words of advice, she showed us which roads to take to get to the beach and also advised us that a local supermarket had clothes and souvenirs just as cheap as the street sellers and no haggling was involved.

We had arrived around 9.45am and few shops were open so when we were approached by a nice young man offering us a ride in a glass bottom boat over the coral reefs for $10.00 each we jumped at it particularly as the ride started at 10.00am and lasted an hour. I think that it was probably the best $20.00 we have spent on the whole cruise, there were no more than 20 people on the boat and we had an excellent viewing platform where we were able to take photographs from the ship’s stern as well as through the glass bottom. Twenty minutes or so of cruising over the coral and watching fish and the operator asked if anyone wanted to snorkel whereupon a man and a Russian woman who had come prepared immediately stripped off their outer clothes to reveal costumes and leaped over the side. The crew threw food to attract the fish and for 10 minutes we had great fun watching these two being surrounded by small and large fish before it was time for them to get out of the water and head back. It was obvious on our return that this Na’ama Bay is a huge dive centre as we witnessed several schools offering lessons in shallow water as we worked our way back to shore. There are several submarines operating as well, including two yellow ones! If you read this Julian then it is a place that you might think about if you want to do SCUBA or snorkelling in crystal clear waters over colourful coral and with brightly coloured fish. The place (I am talking Na’ama Bay here which is accessed via the resort of Sharm el Sheikh) is a holiday maker’s paradise with bars, restaurants (including McDonalds and Hard Rock CafĂ©) and shops everywhere. You do have to pay for the beaches and also if you want to have a lounger with a sun shade but we are talking $7.00 for all day here.

We walked the beach, bought the souvenirs, the postcards and the fridge magnets before wending our way back to the taxi rank around 1.00pm, it was close to 75F and that was warm enough for us to be out in the sun for 3 hours. At the taxi rank we were surrounded by drivers all wanting us to go with them and the starting price was again $20.00 which if we had four of us would have been a price we were prepared to pay. There was another couple wandering around so I spoke to them and discovered that they were from the Oriana and were looking to share a ride and I was amazed when the man said that they had only paid $5.00 for 4 of them when they came out and that was his stance when we were approached. We settled on $10.00 for the four of us which was half of what we had paid to get there but no sooner were we in the taxi than the driver was trying to change the price to $15.00. He kept saying “$10.00 for the ride and $5.00 tip for the driver,” and each time he said it we told him no and that we had agreed a price of $10.00 for the four of us.” This driver didn’t look like Lewis Hamilton but he sure was another trying to drive like him, once again the nominal 30 minute drive took about half that time and as we pulled up to the gates the driver was still insisting the fare was $15.00. But our travelling companion was having nothing of that and gave him just the $10.00 we agreed and I gave him $5.00 for our share. To say that the taxi driver was pissed off is not an understatement and I am sure that if we could have understood Egyptian we would have heard a few swear words. But we got back to the ship safe and sound and here we are in the cabin with me typing and Hilary on the bed doing her scrapbook. So I will stop here while Hilary adds her bit…..

Tiz I.. Well what a surprise today was! I really did not know what to expect and the view from the ship did not inspire confidence that it would be exciting. But then we went ashore and the adventure started. The first taxi driver was very fast and I couldn’t look out of the window after a few seconds. He was driving on the wrong side of the road at tremendous speed with cars coming towards him! He swerved always just in time so it was OK in the end. I did notice that all the drivers were very young – maybe they don’t live to be old! Julian this area of coastline is diving heaven for scuba or snorkel because of the clear visibility. The colours are bright and I have never seen coral of so many different shapes and sizes and colours. The glass bottomed boat was fantastic, the colours of the coral and the fish were so bright, the sunlight went right down to the seabed and made the whole viewing so clear it was a joy from start to finish. We had picked out this trip from the catalogue of tours before we came away but had never booked it through P&O. Now we are very pleased that we didn’t because we probably saved ourselves about $100 on the difference between what we actually paid and the tour price! We also haggled over the price of a couple gifts which we knew to be well overpriced – Sam has discovered that he actually enjoys haggling. We even got back in time for me to write the postcards and get them into the post-box before the ship closed its doors so all in all it has been a pretty brilliant day. Tomorrow we have to be ready to leave at 5.00am so we can be tendered off the ship to go to Cairo while the ship goes through the Suez Canal. It will be early to bed for us tonight. Before I go I have a few questions. Why is Bex in the Midlands? Have I missed something? Why are you in London Julian? And to answer your question we have 2 huge spotlights on the bow which usually face the front of the ship but since we entered the Gulf of Aden and all the way through the Red Sea the lights have had their covers off and they face out to the side of the ship. Did Hales and Sharon do the Reiki 2 in February? OK that is it other than to say to Sheila and Liz have a great time in Cornwall with Marlene. Take care, God bless.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Day Seventy: Eat, sit, read, swim, sit, listen

I could finish the blog right there with the title as it pretty much sums up our last on board day in the Red Sea. The clocks went back last night AND ANOTHER HOUR TONIGHT, THIS IS RIDICULOUS, but we still managed to lie in until after 8.00am before we got up and prepared for the day. Although neither of us was particularly interested in breakfast we did manage to get to the Conservatory where instead of pigging out on vegetarian bacon, sausage, beans, eggs, mushroom and fried bread as I did yesterday I managed a more conservative grapefruit and two Weetabix washed down with a cup of tea.

As we were out of the breakfast room relatively early we found two sun loungers on the port side which, at least temporarily, were in the shade and I baggsed them with towels and books so we could keep them for a while. We both sat and read our novels for an hour or so - I was right at the end of the library owned Harlen Coben and Hilary has just started a book given to her last night by our dinner companion Peter. Incidentally we were invited to their cabin last night so that Hilary could pick up the book, we could get a website for a cheap cruise travel agent (yes we are thinking of another one) and so that Hilary could see a highly decorated patchwork elephant that Christine had bought in Cochin. Their cabin is on Deck 6, the same level as the Peninsular Restaurant, and is an outside one with a window, very similar to ours but with just a shower instead of a shower/bath. They seem to have a few more drawers and an extra mirror but other than that the layout was pretty similar to ours; however the big difference was that they have their beds as twins whereas ours are pushed together. It means that they probably have a bit more space to turn round in, we have two narrow strips either side of the bed and their central space is obviously twice as wide as ours but overall I think that we made the right choice for us. We have both learned to live with each other’s snoring and luckily neither of us is that bad for long. We keep our cabin tidier too and we don’t have the problem of having to put on and take off about 15 stuffed animals on the bed each night – remind you of someone Julian?

As 10.00am rolled around I decided not to see the Concorde talk, today’s was not so much about the aeroplane itself but how Britain lost its position as a prime supplier of modern aircraft so I continued reading until the profiler lady was due to start and we both toddled down the stairs together. Hilary did divert slightly to pick up our passports – yeh we have them back in our possession again as we need to carry them in Egypt tomorrow. Just a geographical note we have Sudan to our left and Saudi Arabia to our right at the moment, but that will soon change to Egypt on the left (port) side. The subject for the profiler today was “Doodles” and she started off with some famous ones that have been sold in aid of the epilepsy association, it was interesting to see the difference between Sarah Palin (who doodled her name over and over getting bigger with it each time) and Barack Obama (who drew cartoons of other Democrats at a meeting – a good likeness of Ted Kennedy too). We couldn’t just doodle as it has to be something you do while you are paying attention to what you are actually doing but she did give us some tests designed by the Israelis to show how good we were at Creativity, Performing and Leadership. Hilary felt that my answers nailed me perfectly as being someone who always shows confidence while leading others into blind alleys….. I’m not sure that I want to go along with that but I am still hopeful of having my own performance in front of the Headliners.

While in the CyberStudy last night putting the finishing touches to my Headliners tribute poem I spotted one of the dancers and showed it to her and asked if I could read it to them when they were together. She said that she would see what she could do and we left it at that, I am waiting for the call back….

OK back to today, after the talk we went back to our sun loungers (still reserved with towels, naughty, naughty) and I soon finished my book and went to get another and on my return – now getting close to lunch – I noticed that one of the pools was empty so I took the opportunity for my daily swim. I was in the small pool so lengths were out of the question but I got some good exercise on front and back and some good star floats before I decided to call it a day as I didn’t want to get burnt by the sun (doesn’t that sound good to you folks in England? Remember that big yellow thing in the sky that makes you warm? Well take it from me you can have too much of it!) Swim over I relaxed by the pool reading my new Patricia Cornwell novel called Scarpetta until I was dry by which time a band called Natural High was performing live music that you could sing along with or dance too. But they were just the preliminary to our highlight of the day when the Oriana choir came on at 3.30pm for their renditions of several well known songs. We had a particular interest as both Bill and Peter our dinner companions were taking part – I have posted a picture, Bill is on the left and Peter is on the right. It was enjoyable fun but even from our distance we could see a certain amount of jostling for position by the men so that they could be seen and heard by their friends and family in the audience. It probably happened with the women too but we don’t have a spy in their camp to tell us what is going on. Singing over it was time to retire to the cabin and prepare for a semi-formal (i.e. jackets for the men) dinner tonight and get ready to land at Sharm el Sheikh tomorrow. Here’s Hilary……

Tiz I. Sharm el Sheik tomorrow and we have not booked ourselves on a trip so who knows what we will do! I was talking to a lady that I met a few days ago and she was telling me that there is not a day at sea between tomorrow and the Cairo tour. Now that tour starts at 5.00am and I am not sure whether I want to go out tomorrow and get tired in the heat when the next day will be starting so early! We will see. The Cairo tour (where we will see the pyramids and the sphinx) will take all day until about 7.00pm while the ship transits the Suez Canal. We meet up with the ship in Port Said at the other end. Apparently, tomorrow, the only beaches which are clean and have easy access to the shore are privately owned by the big hotels, maybe we will get a taxi and go to one of them for a few hours tomorrow. I have discovered that I really enjoy thriller, mystery books by Harlen Coben and could not put the book down until my eyes closed on me – too weary to read any more! Great fun, and I have always read biographies until now, a convert and at my age already! I am going to have a practice pack to see how big the new suitcase will need to be! I have been so careful not to buy big souvenirs (except for the table base) and we still seem to have quite a lot of new stuff. My practice pack will have to be done while I am on my own – I don’t need too much advice or nagging about ‘do you really need that’ or ‘you were the one who wanted to buy that’ stuff. I also have to sew the damaged suitcase back together – the one that arrived on board with half the lid peeled back – it is amazing how I can find so many things to do instead of sewing that suitcase! It only has to stay ‘together’ until we get back to Chub Tor and then it can be ditched. I’ll see if the emporium sells duct tape! Well that is it for tonight so take care and God bless.

Have to close with a review of the Headliners new show, it was certainly one for people who remember the swinging rat pack and of course it was great, worthy of any spot on a TV show or between the real headliners on a Royal Variety – these kids are good and I hope that we get to meet them. That’s it we are in for a fairly early night as we are trying to store up some energy for the day after tomorrow when we leave the ship somewhere between 4.00am and 5.00am. Can’t say I am looking forward to that. Night all.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Day Sixty Nine: Up the Red Sea

If you managed to look at a map yesterday you will have seen a little gap between the Horn of Africa and Ethiopia that leads into the Red Sea, well we turned into that little gap sometime last night and we are now proceeding up the Red Sea, almost due north towards the Suez Canal. It’s not really pirate country in here as it is far too enclosed for a swift getaway but we have been told that some of the smaller vessels are still vulnerable. We still have our anti pirate measures in place and as we stood on the bow looking down to the extended bridge we could see Security Officers with binoculars looking out from each side. The covers are also off the big bow search lights and although we haven’t been there today we are pretty sure that the stern of the Promenade Deck is still cordoned off and that the LRad is still in place. We make that assumption because there seems to be an increase in the number of walkers on Deck 13 which is the only other deck where you can walk in a complete circuit from bow to stern and back when the Promenade Deck is closed.

We went looking for our pirate picture today but for some unknown reason ours had not been printed, luckily the photographer behind the desk was able to locate it on the thumbnails and promised to get it printed out so that we could see it. We did get however a copy of our group of six taken at the Round the World luncheon and that has been added to the photo album along with our invitation. Yesterday Hilary also put in a request to have another 46 pictures printed 3 x 2 inches so that she can complete another section of the scrapbook, with a bit of luck we should be able to pick those up tomorrow.

Hilary and I spent a good hour or so totally separated from each other this morning, we had breakfast out on the open back of deck 12 then went forward to the bow to look for seal life – lots of birds as we are reasonably near land, but no sea life not even a flying fish – Hilary got into conversation with another lady and after a while there were other things that I wanted to do so I said, “I’m off to Deck 5 (Reception) then I’ll find a place to sit, see you later.” All I really needed at Reception was to get the crossword and Sudoku (not finished the first and not started the latter) and also to find out the name of the latest dancer to join the Headliners. I am writing a poem for them and I wanted to make sure that no one is left out. With my mission accomplished I went back to Deck 12 and to my amazement found two loungers in the shade with a little table between them. I baggsed them with towels and books and settled down to draft my poem looking up at regular intervals. By the time that 11.00am arrived and with no sign of Hilary I decided to abandon the loungers (broke my heart, it was a prime position, in the shade, near the pool, close to the loo, not far from Al Fresco) and head for the Theatre Royal where our lady graphologist/profiler was due to start at 11.15am. Just as I came off the deck and went through the door but who should I see but my wife, “Oh, hello I’ve been talking to the most fascinating lady, all about genealogy and Norwich and teaching and putting the world to rights.” “All this time?” “Oh yes it’s been fascinating.” No mention of “I missed you, where were you, what have you been doing?” Two hours of sitting, fretting, wondering if she’d fallen overboard (slight exaggeration there) and all I got was “Are you on the way to the Theatre Royal to see the profiler?” Thank God I still like her.

On the way into the theatre we were all given a little black dot on the edge of the palm of our non writing hand. No explanation at the door just “Hold out your non-writing hand” then press and you had a little black dot on it. Hilary was already seated by the time that I got there and I was walking down the aisle looking at my dot and noticed that it was changing colour, it went a sort of browny then green with a tinge of blue. I recognised it then as one of those liquid crystal changing thingies similar to the mood ring that I wrote about in one of Jessica’s books. We learned later that they are BioDots and that black means you are stressed and the more relaxed that you are the more they change through green and blue to purple – you have to almost asleep to get purple apparently. We were given a hand out at the end explaining what the different colours mean and at some later stage she is hoping to teach us how to use bio feedback so that we can change the colours for ourselves. Sounds like mumbo jumbo to me but I can see the scientific basis of it. I will keep an open mind. We did another question and answer yes or no session, I am pretty balance between optimism and pessimism and I will let Hilary tell you her result. Then it was time to go up on the deck and we found two different seats, a bit more in the sun that the ones that I had vacated but still good and even nearer to the pool but on the wrong side for the changing rooms and the loo. By
12.30pm the pool was empty and I had it all to myself for a good 20 minutes, plenty long enough for me to do some lengths and tire myself out and make myself hungry for a slice of pizza and a slice of pecan pie. The early part of the afternoon was taken up with a game show around the pool with 6 passengers against 6 of the crew taking part in water based sports a bit similar to the crossing the line ceremony. It was good fun, lots of music, lots of splashing and as soon as it was over we came down to the cabin where I continued with my poem while Hilary desperately tried to finish off the Harlen Coben book that I read a week or so back. It’s a good one. OK it is formal night and I am stopping so that Hilary can blog and answer you questions if she wants to….

Tiz I. OK it is 5.35pm and I have 25 minutes so here goes… My little black dot remained black for the entire lecture and when she said that black means stressed I knew that something did not add up! I have been totally stress free for the past 3 months so I went up to get another dot and it changed to green almost immediately! So much for science! The lectures are still the best entertainment on board at the moment (except for the Headliners). We have been passing through the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Aden and now into the Red Sea and sailing through the pirate corridor is just about over now and I wouldn’t have given the pirates much of a chance against the combined crew and passengers. The passengers being made up of mostly retired people many from the military, navy and HM secret service. We also have a captain with such a booming voice that he could put the fear of God in them just by speaking! We all really love him. We are just too well crewed and too many passengers for them to attack. The closest access to sea level is high up the side of the ship so we would be a difficult target. It has been fun each day looking out for the different ships that pass us to see what they have done to ward off the pirates. Yesterday one small boat had cardboard cutout people along the deck! Great fun. I am not sure about the nail varnish on my nails from yesterday – it smells strange and still feels a bit sticky. I might have to go down and get nail varnish remover before the weekend is out! So now to the messages, which I really love to read at the end of each day, Hayley we will print you a copy of the sunset picture when we get home. I took it at the end of our day in Mumbai while we were waiting for the ship to sail away. I was on the sun deck at the back of the ship as the sun was setting and there was this little string of about 5 fishing boats setting out for a nights fishing. Sam took some photos of the fishing boats too so there are a few to choose from. Sammy please pass on our good wishes to Cheryl, we will keep her in our prayers and thoughts. Let us know if there is anything else that we can do that would be helpful. Now it is 6.05pm and I need to do something to make myself look like I have made an effort to dress up for dinner – formal night – my personal favourite! Take care, God bless.

Thank the Lord that dinner is over and I can rid myself of the starched shirt and bow tie, I think that we have both begun to loathe formal nights as the dressing up is a pain in the backside. Admittedly it does look good and we see everything from full blown kilt regalia, to black shirts with white ties, black shirts with white dinner jackets and tonight we even spotted a green velvet smoking jacket with a yellow bow tie – and this on what was supposed to be a black and white night. Hilary did look nice in her sparkly black top and I tried to match her with a sparkly black bow tie, we could have had yet another photo taken but we dodged past the photographer on the stairs just as he was finishing with a couple and escaped before he could stop us. We set the clocks back tonight by an hour to GMT +3, if we are not careful we will ahead of GMT as it must be getting close for British Summer Time to start. That’s it for tonight, I will post the blog and then see if I can sort out the scan of my poem and print it for the rest of our dinner table to read. Night for now….

ps forgot to tell you there were two ships attacked by pirates today and one attack was successful. Don't know any more but the captain announced it at noon.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Day Sixty Eight: Pirate Country

We actually saw pirates today and had our photos taken with them…. of course they weren’t real, just two of the photographers dressed up in Captain Jack sparrow costumes and if the photo turns out OK we will post it for you to look at. We are approaching the end of our journey through the Arabian Sea and will soon turn the corner of the Horn of Africa up into the Red Sea, for those of you with atlases look it up, you might be as amazed as me to see where we are going. This is definitely the most dangerous stretch of water that we have been in and the Oriana is in a heightened security alert with the back of the Promenade Deck sectioned off for the LRad and other anti-terrorist measures. We have noticed that on Deck 12 the crew have taken the covers off two big searchlights which presumable they can control at night time if anything untoward is seen. The deck pointed out to us over the Tannoy that a passing tanker had dummy men along the rails and also water cannons squirting at intervals just to show other craft that she was prepared for all contingencies.

Hilary decided to get up early today – well it was yet another clock back an hour night – to do the laundry, so while she was away doing that I made up a little booklet and sent a letter to the Cruise Director to see if she could get the cast and crew of the Headliners Theatre Group to autograph the booklet for insertion into Hilary’s scrapbook. We met up later for a quick breakfast (salmon and cream cheese bagel for me, nothing for Hilary except a cup of coffee) and then set off to the Theatre Royal to see our graphologist lady. We arrived on time but unfortunately had to leave early just as it was getting interesting as we had a prior engagement for a special Round the World luncheon. The subject of today’s talk was Signatures and she had us writing them in different ways while she explained how our characters were revealed depending on the circumstances that we were signing under. It was just getting interesting when about a third of the audience had to leave to attend this special luncheon; we are hoping that she will do a recap first thing tomorrow.

The last time we attended a luncheon similar to this one we had a staff member at our table, this time it was just the six dinner companions together again and we were treated royally. Champagne cocktails to start, a good selection of starters (I had the spicy soup, Hilary the smoked salmon), a sorbet to cleanse the palate, a main course (we both had the turban of plaice and salmon), white or red wine with the meal (of course Bill and Alison had both, as well as the champagne), then a choice of desserts, (Hilary photographed hers, I had the cheese and biscuits), to finish we had a selection of chocolates and then coffee or tea. Neither of us can even think about dinner at this stage. As we were leaving lunch we saw another ice sculpture and Hilary took a picture which I have posted tonight, it isn’t the clearest pic that we have made but if you look closely you can see it is a slightly melted dolphin over my shoulder. While I am writing this Hilary is treating herself to a nail manicure and polish, she has been promising herself one for about 3 years now but each time she has been ready she has broken a nail, but this time she has taken the plunge – note it is now 2.35pm and a bang at the door has revealed Hilary with her hands splayed out saying that she can’t touch anything for an hour! Even taking her door key out was apparently not allowed so I had to let her in and she is laid out helpless on the bed (Thinks…. Would this be a good time to take advantage of her? Probably not, the fingers may be out of commission but the hands and elbows could still be used!). While my wife is out of commission for a while I think that I will slip down to the Chaplins Cinema and see the Concorde man – will write again later. Here’s Hilary (well she will be here as soon as the nails are dry).

Tiz I. With manicured nails for the first time in my life! I watched very carefully and now know how to do them myself so I doubt that I will ever pay to get them done again. Good fun though. The profiler lady this morning worked with signatures and the upshot of mine generally means that ‘you get what you see’, I don’t have hidden depths! Wear my principles on my sleeve and am a little eccentric. Do you recognise me from that – I think it is pretty accurate. I can officially be a grumpy old woman because that is what I am! I managed to get the laundry done quite quickly this morning and, without me asking her to do so, a lady saved me a dryer by turning it on to warm up before I had emptied the washing machine! I will have to ask her to give me a ring the next time she has laundry to do, I like the launderette when she is there! I will take a photo of the launderette where I have witnessed so many battles in the past, it will be a good reminder to keep in the scrapbook. Our lunch today was very nice and the restaurant had a huge ice sculpture and cake to commemorate the ‘round the worlders’. I have photos of both. Today I was talking to Geraldine our cabin steward and we were talking about our families, she is one of 12 children – the youngest – she has 6 brothers and 5 sisters and they all live in the Philippines. Her Dad has been ill and has been diagnosed with a tumour on the brain. Geraldine has been trying to get the drugs he needs as she goes around the world, she said that the drugs at home are very expensive and she has been able to get them at various ports on the way without a prescription. She has been saving her money to improve her house and she was very pleased to tell me that the latest improvement was to have cement walls instead of the wooden ones and a new large window. She is excited to get home to see the improvements in May, she is such nice person, and she works really hard and deserves all the good fortune that comes her way. Geraldine is 28 years old and hopes to stop working in May and stay home to look after her parents and start her own family – she will make a lovely gentle Mum. Tonight we should be leaving the Gulf of Aden and moving into the Red Sea. Sharm el Sheik is our next stop and although there is a tour to Mount Sinai and the place where the burning bush stood which is a very holy place, we will be heading for the beach and a glass bottomed boat instead to view the colourful fish. The tour takes about 3 hours to get there and it will be very hot and dusty, I really can’t be asked to sit in a coach for 6 hours. Well that is about it for today, take care, God bless.

Having had such a delicious lunch we decided to skip dinner tonight and went out to read by the light of the setting sun on the aft of deck 9. We did snack on an apple and a packet of two biscuits that are complementary as part of our room service. Did I mention that we are provided with packets of biscuits, sachets of coffee, tea bags, sugar and milk along with a kettle and a couple of mugs? We also get the little chocolates on the pillows at night, all together now aaaahhh…. I’ve come early to the CyberStudy tonight as we are not going to the theatre (lady singer, not interested) or the cinema (been there, seen it) so it could be an early night for the both of us. We will probably lay in bed with the TV on complaining about CNN and all the repeats that they have on the film channels, what a life – or should I say get a life! God willing and the creek don’t rise we will be back her around this time tomorrow, night all.