Monday, May 30, 2011

Lounging Around

OK, by now you’ve probably guessed that we are home. The last day of the cruise was a bit odd. We got to Portofino and the ship anchored a mile or two off shore. As you can see, we had company.

We were going to get the tender ashore, but the sea had other ideas. It was a bit rough, in fact so rough that the ships crew were confined to the ship, in case it got worse and they couldn’t get back. In truth it was probably a bit to rough for Marie to get on and off the tender but I was going to give it a try. That is until we saw people coming back from the tender embarkation deck. Soaked to the skin. It was that bad.

So we stayed aboard and minded out own business. The ship left at about 7 pm and ran into a storm with winds of 45-50 mph. Quite an interesting day.

So we headed home the next morning. Now as has already been said, we had business class tickets, so at Rome airport we got to use the business lounge. Very nice. Comfortable seats, tea, coffee, wine and spirits plus snacks free of charge. But nothing compared to the business lounge at Heathrow Terminal Five. First of all it’s massive, and has every kind of seating arrangement, plus free wi-fi. Then there’s the food. You want a salad. No problem, or would you prefer pasta, or maybe soup and a roll, or breakfast cereal, or biscuits, or crisps. All there, and all free. Then there’s an entire wall laid out with bottles of wine, and fridges full of beer and soft drinks. Neither of us had ever seen anything like it.

But now we’re home. Our luggage made it without losing anything, three suitcases and a wheelchair on four flights, which is something of a miracle. That’s all for now, but there will be more to come, plus maybe a few more pictures.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Catching Up

We're in Livorno, and I'm sitting in the Panorama Lounge, up on deck eight. This is at the rear of the ship and has large windows giving views on three sides.

I won't burden you with the outside views as Livorno is an industrial port, with containers, ferries and ship repair facilities. It's not what you would call pretty, but it's the nearest port to Florence, Pisa and Tuscany in general. We're staying on board, because although Florence is a lovely city, it's also a two hour bus ride away.

But we're getting a little ahead of ourselves. We spent the first half of yesterday at sea, en route to Ajaccio, the principal city of Corsica. The morning was misty, so the Veranda view shows less than usual.

The mist cleared as we reached port, then caught up with us as we docked. We were between two enormous ferries, the one on the left, being in Corsica, had the only name possible.

The other, with a refreshing originality, was called the “Mega Express”.

This is the Captain, on the left, as we docked.

We found Ajaccio to be the usual tourist trap, with the usual gift shops (no, we didn't buy anything this time). It was also a bit scruffy, in that southern French way. I suppose you could call it local colour. Sometimes I'm glad we take these cruises for the experience and not the destinations. Still, tomorrow is Portofino which promises to be much better. Last night for example was about as good as it gets. We were in the restaurant and the sun was setting. There was a slight mist on the horizon, which gave the sky a sort of pinkish hue, which in turn made the sea a very very light blue with splashes of gold, punctuated by dolphins leaping out of the water right beside the windows.

As you might expect, the food has been as good as ever. We've dined on venison, wild boar and sea bass, but we gave the frogs legs and the eels a miss last night. For the rally adventurous (and rich) there is a premium dining experience which provides seven or eight courses, which a vintage wine matched to each. Yours for $200. The venison and wild board etc. is good enough for us.

So today we are in Livorno, and on getting up and looking out of the veranda we found a water tender alongside. Not sure if we are taking on fresh water, or unloading waste, or both. Just as long as they don't get the hoses mixed up ..

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

So So Busy

Sorry there was no blog yesterday, but there was just SO much to do. What with wandering round Palma, sitting out by the pool, and all that eating and drinking, the time just flew by.

We didn't arrive until 9 am so the veranda view was taken as we were still entering the port.

Today we are in Mahon, and sadly we're on the wrong side of the ship so the view isn't the best on the Island, but it's not so bad. It shows the old governors residence from the days when Mahon was British.

We spent the morning along the waterfront, looking at adverts in yacht dealer windows, for yachts from £80K to £3M. The we made our way into town for a little light shopping before returning to the ship for lunch. It's getting quite hot now. This afternoon it was 85 farenheit (which is about 28 or 29 celsius),

Tomorrow we're in Ajaccio, somewhere we've never been before. And finally, we've booked another cruise for next year. End of June from Barcelona to Venice, taking in Lipari and Dubrovnik on the way.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

All At Sea

Today is a “day at sea” day. We left Cadiz at 11pm last night and we are due to arrive at Palma de Mallorca around 8 am tomorrow morning, We passed through the Straits of Gibraltar at 4:20 this morning so today's veranda view is somewhere south of Malaga.

It's a pleasant 20-22 degrees (70 Fahrenheit in old money) so most people are sitting by the pool at the moment. We're there at present, blogging and drinking Pimms.

The cruise is as good as it has ever been, and the staff just get better and better. On the first night when we arrived at the restaurant the Maitre 'D stepped out from behind his lectern, held out his hand and said “Hello Mr & Mrs Harper. Lovely to see you again”. It's been three years since our last cruise. What kind of memory do these people have. We've seventy two hours in and just about every member of staff is calling us by our names. That's service.

Really the only difficulty we're having to trying to decide which cruise to book for next year.

And finally, if you want to see where we've been …

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Y Viva Espana

Today we are in Cadiz.

We're moored in a cruise and container terminal so today's veranda view isn't very inspiring, but the view from the stern is much better, showing the gold dome of the cathedral.

This morning we took a stroll round the town, which is mainly narrow streets, little more than alleyways, connecting small squares. Very nice to look at but hard to photograph as all you can see are walls.

Since you asked, last nights meal with the shore program manager was excellent. There was us, a dentist from Australia and his wife, and a dealer in commodities and his wife from Stow on the Wold. It must have been a good night because we spent three hours at the table and missed the show in the theatre.

It's a day at sea tomorrow so we'll need to get down to the pool deck early if we want a seat.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A tale of three airports

In which Marie and John leave home at an unearthly hour, experience the best and the worst of air travel and START THEIR HOLIDAY CRUISE.

We set off yesterday morning at 4:30 am (don't ask what time we got up) and headed for Newcastle airport. As this is the first time we have traveled with a wheelchair it was always going to be an interesting experience. The staff at Newcastle were very good. We were allowed to use the fast track security lane and the security staff were helpful. We were given assistance from the gate to the flight but sadly Whizzy, Marie's wheelchair had to go in the hold. This meant we were unable to make our own way through Heathrow. The flight was uneventful, except we shared it with one of the Milliband brothers. I can never remember which, but it was the uglier of the two.

Then we got to Heathrow. We were taken off the aeroplane on one of Heathrow's wheelchairs, and left. Now we had no more then ninety minutes to go from terminal five to terminal three to board a flight to Lisbon. We waited. And waited. Eventually I went to look for help and found a BA customer service desk. They were apologetic and promised help. It finally arrived and we were on out way to terminal three. This took more then half an hour. Worse was to come. The person assigned to escort us to the gate was late. Then he stood doing something with his computer while his colleague screamed at him that we were running out of time. Eventually I had to take the boarding passes from him head for security myself, pushing Marie and dragging the hand baggage. This got our man motivated and we reached the gate with less than ten minutes to spare.

Now we get to see the best of air travel. As part of the cruise deal we got business class seats. What an experience. Instead of three by three seats it was two by two, with lots of legroom. Then they brought round the drinks, and we got a glass of wine, in a real glass, made of actual glass. Lunch was amazing. Real china plates and a china teacup. Proper metal knives and forks, and excellent food too. Marie's coffee was a bit too strong for her (if you know Marie you will understand this) so they actually made her another, exactly the way she wanted.

And so we reached Lisbon. Here the assistance staff were very good (and spoke better English than the Heathrow staff). All three bags arrived which we regarded as something of a miracle, and we were reunited with Whizzy, Some minor damage but easily fixed.

The the holiday could begin. We are on the Silver Cloud, sister ship the the Silver Wind, venue for out 2006 holiday (See “Holiday Pictures” in the sidebar). This is the view from our veranda in Lisbon.

And this is our suite, looking in from the Veranda.

Today we are in Portimao in the Algarve. The Veranda view isn't exactly inspiring, but the view on the other side, overlooking the port and lots of timeshare villas is better.

Tomorrow we are in Cadiz but tonight we are dining with one of the officers. This came totally out of the blue as those in “normal” suites don't normally get this. And finally, I packed to pair of decent black shoes to wear with my dinner suit on formal nights, such as tonight. When we returned after our suite had been serviced, we found that my shoes had been taken away, polished within an inch of their life, and returned wrapped in tissue. Amazing.