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Archive for October, 2010

This morning saw the Queen Elizabeth dock in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria.  The last time we had been here was in 2004, on the maiden voyage of the Queen Mary 2, when the red carpet was out for us and we were treated like movie stars!  No such welcome for us this time though.

We spent the morning walking along the harbour front and looking at the other ships and boats that were docked there.  We were also able to take some great photos of the QE docked there.  There was an interesting catamaran in port; it was entirely solar powered and was attracting a great deal of interest.

I always love the unmistakeable smells you always get by the sea; that salty, ozone, fishy smell which also has a slight tinge of ship diesel in the background.  I could smell that lovely bracing sea smell of freshly caught fish, and sure enough we went into this massive fish market.  Rows and rows of stalls selling seafood, every kind of seafood you could imagine.  As well as gleaming fresh fish there were octopus and squid, lobsters and langoustines, clams, mussels, oysters, crabs – everything you could think of.  The smell was heavenly and my mouth watered; oh for a lovely big platter of fruits de mer or paella done only the way the Spanish can.  Britain just doesn’t seem to have the same taste for fish as the rest of Europe, and it’s so healthy as well.

We bought some more postcards then went for the inevitable cold beer, before making our way back to the QE and pottering around on board.  In fact it is just so pleasant just to sit out on our balcony, and I had brought a really good book, a detective thriller called Looking Good Dead by Peter James.  I read a few chapters while enjoying a cold glass of some of the vino we had bought in Vigo.  🙂

The entertainment in the Royal Court Theatre that night was Penny Mathisen, an opera singer.  She has played Christine in the Phantom of the Opera as well as other leading parts in the West End.  I thought she was excellent and I really enjoyed her show, although I know opera singing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

But talking of singing, tonight in the Golden Lion it was karaoke time, so it was my chance to get up and do my stuff. 🙂

After playing the trivia quiz, which our team actually won for a change (!) they got ready for the karaoke.  Thomas came and joined us; then we saw another familiar blast from the past, Rex from Las Vegas!  He was another guy we’d met on both the Queen Victoria and Queen Mary 2, and what’s more, he remembered me too!  🙂  Rex is a really good karaoke singer.  It was starting to be a bit like “Friends Reunited” or something!  Shortly afterwards Bob and Val joined us again (Bob had already said that he enjoyed the odd karaoke stint from time to time) so the stage was set.

Mind you, I have to say that the selection of songs is absolutely the worst I have ever some across!  There are about eight or nine songs I can do reasonably well (at least so I am told) but only ONE of them appeared in this list.  Incredibly, there was no Abba or Beatles or Dean Martin, all the old karaoke favourites.  Everyone else was complaining about the poor selection of songs too.

In the end, I picked Dido’s White Flag, which caused a bit of a ruckus because one of the lines in the song is “I will go down with this ship“…  not exactly the line to be singing in the middle of the Atlantic ocean on a 92,000 cruise ship, is it? 🙂

Rex got up several times and brought the house down; so did Bob.  It was a proper party atmosphere, the wine and beer flowed and we felt among friends old and new.  Different nationalities didn’t matter, borders were non-existent.  It was great!  If only everyone in the world could get along like this…

For us, the most surreal part of the evening was when the Cruise Director, Alistair Greener, got up to do a rendition of the Monkees’ Daydream Believer.  This was a song adopted by Sunderland supporters (with different words) when Peter Reid was in charge between 1995 and 2002.  When Alistair got to the chorus “… cheer up sleepy Jean, oh what can it mean, to a daydream believer and a home-coming queen…”  Trevor and I and Bob and Val (who are also Sunderland supporters) all started bellowing out the alternative words…

Cheer up, Peter Reid
Oh, what can it mean
To a Sunderland supporter
To be top of the league.

In the end, Alistair’s curiosity got the better of him and he came over and shoved the microphone in our faces so we could sing ‘our’ words and put Sunderland on the map!  Whey-hey!  It was just so unreal to be singing it thousands of miles from home, on a ship, with people we’d never met before this cruise.  Come on you Reds!

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Today was another long, leisurely day at sea.  Once we leave the cold British shores for warmer climes, we tend to leave our balcony door propped open overnight, as I hate the artificial air-conditioning – it’s so drying for the skin.

So it’s lovely to wake up in the morning to the “ssssshhhhhhhh” sounds of the sea swishing past the ship, as she glides through the Atlantic waters.

We spent the morning pottering around the ship before making our way, in good time, to the Royal Court Theatre for a lecture by none other than Sir David Frost, who had boarded the vessel yesterday in Cadiz.  Even though we got to the theatre around 10.20am and he wasn’t due on until 11.00am, the theatre was almost full.  His talk was entitled “Interviews I Shall Never Forget” and proved to be very interesting, as Sir David is such a veteran of TV.

Sir David took to the stage and, although a chair and a podium were provided for him, he spoke for 45 minutes without any prompt notes and remained standing – well impressive for a 71 year old bloke!  He told some great little anecdotes, of which he must have hundreds, of broadcasting bloopers and unintentional double entendres.  He also spoke about the famous interviews he had with former US president Richard Nixon, which were made into a film called Frost/Nixon in which the inimitable Michael Sheen plays Frost.  The talk was really interesting and Sir David was well-deserving of the standing ovation at the end of it.

We left the Royal Court Theatre in time for lunch and decided to go to the Golden Lion for lunch and a beer.  I like the atmosphere in there; it’s just like a typical English pub.  The chiken tikka masala I had went down a treat and afterwards we walked a few laps around the promenade deck to get some fresh sea air and exercise.

That evening, I didn’t go up to dinner.  I put on my dark blue sequinned evening dress (bought off E-Bay for a tenner!) and decided it was getting a wee bit tight. 😦  Instead, I went along to the midships bar, had a glass of Veuve Clicquot, then went to the Britannia Dining Room in time for the coffee and liqueurs.  It was nice to go into the show lounge not feeling like a stuffed pig for once.  Whoever it was who said you joined a cruise ship as a passenger and left it as cargo certainly wasn’t kidding!

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Cadiz, Spain

This morning the Queen Elizabeth docked in Cadiz, a well-known port and city in south-western Spain.  It was a warm day (22 degrees) but a brisk breeze blew in from the Atlantic, which made it feel fairly cool in the shade.

As we had been to Cadiz before, 11 years ago, we decided against doing one of the organised excursions, and instead opted to do our own thing.  We chose to take advantage of the open-topped “hop on, hop off” city buses, where you buy a 24-hour ticket that allows you to explore the whole city and coastline at your leisure.  As you board the bus you are given a pair of ear-phones (which you can keep) to enable you to listen to the multi-lingual commentary describing where and what the bus is passing outside.

We did a whole circuit in the bus and then decided to go to the well-known large department store known as El Corte Inglés; you will find them all over Spain and the Canaries.  They are very popular with British tourists and the reason escapes me – they are just another department store similar to Debenham’s or House of Fraser.  Also, because the Pound is very weak against the Euro at the moment (there was only 1.12 Euros = £1.00 this morning!) it meant stuff was actually a lot more expensive than we could have bought it for in Blighty.

The big attraction of going to El Corte Inglés, though, was the fact that we had a voucher for a free glass of wine and a sample of tapas.  🙂  The wine was OK, quite palatable, but the tapas was just new potatoes cooked in some sort of garlic sauce.  Something and nothing really.

When we came out of the department store, we hopped back on the bus for a while until it took us back along the sea-front, where there were many inviting looking cafés and bars with seating on the pavement.  We bought some postcards and decided to have a cerveza or two while writing them out.  We found a nice little bar-café tucked away, ordered ourselves an ice-cold beer each and sat in the sun.

A few minutes later, along came another Durham couple who had got the same coach as us from Washington down to Southampton, Bob and Val.  They joined us and we sat and chatted and whiled away a very pleasant hour or so, along with another round of drinks.  We then posted our postcards and made our way back to the ship, as time was now getting on (why does time fly so much when you are on holiday?!)  🙂

After dinner that evening we went to the Royal Court theatre and saw a brilliant, West-End style show called A Slice of Saturday Night.  It was a musical, set in a night club in the 1960’s.  The singing and dancing were excellent; people would pay money to see a show like this at the theatre, but on a cruise you can see it for free!  We really enjoyed it.

Afterwards we did what has become a nightly ritual for us on Cunard cruises; that is, we went to the Golden Lion pub to take part in whatever they were doing that night, which turned out to be Name That Tune – TV Themes.  We didn’t know what to expect, as it depended on what era of TV they were doing.  As it happened, we didn’t do very well because they were mainly daytime TV shows or American shows that we’ve never even heard of, never mind seen!

I must at this point mention our team; we called ourselves “United Nations” because we had Thomas from Stuttgart, Germany in our team (who we knew from previous cruises) as well as Carolyn from Melbourne, Australia.  Now everybody on the entire ship knew Carolyn, or rather her dog.  Dog?! On a ship?  Yes, that’s right.  Devo the Dog was a whippet, and he was a special dog because he was trained to alert Carolyn, who was diabetic, in the event that she had a hypo- or hyperglycaemic shock coming on.  Apparently dogs can smell it in human sweat long before humans can.  So Devo the whippet followed Carolyn everywhere on the ship, and it wasn’t a case of “Oh, there’s Carolyn and her dog”, but rather, “Oh, there’s Devo and his mistress!”  Devo even has his own Facebook page.  🙂

Anyway… our quiz team didn’t do very well with the Name That Tune, so we missed out on some more ‘wonderful’ prize vouchers.

Tomorrow we were looking forward to spending another leisurely day at sea, and dressing up once again for a formal night.

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Welcome to Lisbon

Today was our 22nd wedding anniversary, so it was quite a treat to be spending it in Lisbon, the historic capital of Portugal.

There is so much to see and do in Lisbon, and the beauty of it is that you can explore quite a large area of it on foot from the port, as everything is in close proximity.  As the ship sailed into port it went underneath the spectacular “25 de abril” suspension bridge over the River Tagus.  The constant drone of the traffic over the bridge was rather an invasion on your peace and quiet; it sounded like an angry swarm of bees.  Nevertheless, the weather was fine and we were looking forward to exploring this fascinating city once again.

On disembarking Queen Elizabeth we strolled along the river bank, where there are lots of fashionable cafés, bars and restaurants.  It really did look as though it would be a lively and fun place to be at night, but at this time of the morning there wasn’t a lot going on.  We decided we would walk along to that most famous of Lisbon sites, the Monument to the Discoveries.  This is a large monument shaped like a sailing ship and containing statues of each of the famous Portuguese explorers, lead at the front by Henry the Navigator.  Portugal, although a small country, has an long and fascinating history as a country of maritime explorers and, like Britain, owned a lot of overseas territory at one time.

On arriving at the monument we paid our five euros each to go inside and take a lift to the top floor, where you can come out onto a gallery and have a fabulous view of the city.  We also watched a 20-minute movie detailing a brief history of Portugal up to the present day.  Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world and has lots of interesting old castles, forts and buildings.  Not bad considering the city was devastated by a massive earthquake (9 on the Richter scale) in 1755 and had to be rebuilt.

We walked around until our legs ached and we’d worked up a good thirst for a Sagres, a popular Portuguese beer.  We then bought some postcards to send and found a bar.  We decided also to try the yummy local custard tarts called pastel de nata; they are absolutely delicious and it is difficult to stop at just one!  🙂

While we were sitting there enjoying our beer a little girl came up to us (I think she was the proprietor’s daughter) and started chattering away; it was obviously in Portuguese so we couldn’t understand her.  We pointed to ourselves and said to her “English”, so she then saw us as an opportunity to practise her English and was ever so formal, using phrases such as “How do you do?” and asking us our names etc.  It was so cute, particularly since we found out she was only five!  How many five-year-olds in this country can speak any foreign words?

As we strolled along the waterfront on the way back to the Queen Elizabeth the bars and cafés we had passed earlier were now open, and one of them had its cocktail list chalked onto a board outside.  One of the drinks was caipirinha, my favourite cocktail made from Brazilian cachaça rum (a sugarcane run, as opposed to sugar molasses), crushed limes, sugar and ice.  It is so fruity and refreshing, especially on a hot day such as this.  It is also easy to forget it’s quite strong in alcohol; try standing up after you’ve had two or three of them and you’ll know about it!

Once back on board the ship we had our lunch, then had a leisurely look around the ship before taking our time to get ready, as tonight was another formal night.

In the evening the entertainment was a classical violinist, Nicola Loud, who had won the BBC Young Musician of the Year Award.  She was very good, although her personality was a bit gushing and over the top.  Chac’un a son goût, however.

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Vigo – First Port of Call

This morning the Queen Elizabeth docked in her maiden port of call, Vigo in Spain. It is pronounced as vee-go, rather than Vigo, the town about seven miles away from us in Tyne & Wear called vy-go.

We had been here once before, 11 years ago, so we were looking forward to exploring this beautiful city further. Vigo is well known for its fishing industry, particularly the rope-grown mussel cultivation, and we could see many of the floating platforms from which the mussels are bred and produced.

The urban area of Vigo is built over both a Celtic village (Castro) and a Roman settlement. In fact, it is generally accepted that the name of ‘Vigo’ comes from the Latin word Vicus. During the middle ages the small village of Vigo was part of the territory of neighbouring towns, mainly Tuy, and suffered several Viking attacks. Today, Vigo is the largest city in the Galician region of northern Spain.

We set off on our coach excursion, which took us all along the gorgeous coastline; until now I had never realised that Vigo is, in fact, quite a popular tourist holiday destination and there were lots of pretty hotels and holiday homes.  We arrived at a hotel which had put on a spread of Spanish tapas for us, including delicious jamon serrano and some olives and Spanish omelette.  We were also given some of the locally-produced red and white wines, and we ended up buying three bottles for 10 Euros for later consumption on our stateroom balcony. 😉

We also looked around the local craft and souvenir stalls before our leisurely coach journey back to the Queen Elizabeth in time for lunch.  As I may have mentioned previously, the food and drink on board Cunard vessels is superb.  Sometimes, however, you just want something simple and for this you can go to the Golden Lion pub for a traditional British pub lunch, for example fish and chips, Ploughman’s lunch, cottage pie etc.  Eating can almost become a hobby on a cruise ship!  🙂

Later on that night we went to the theatre for the evening show.  Tonight it was a Scouse comedian called John Evans; he was very funny.  We then went along to the Golden Lion to take part in the trivia quiz; for Trevor and I this is a nightly ritual on our cruises and sometimes we even win!

The resident Golden Lion pianist, Simon John, was playing Elton John songs all evening and he wanted to do Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, for which he needed a female voice to sing Kiki Dee’s part.  I’ve done this one in karaoke before so Trevor volunteered me to get up!  It was good fun, and it makes yours truly the very first passenger to get up and sing on the Queen Elizabeth, ever!  🙂   Whoo-hoo, fame at last.

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After our first comfortable night on board Queen Elizabeth in which we both slept very well, our first day was spent, as is often the case, at sea en route to our first port of call, which would be Vigo in Spain. You will notice how may times I have said the word “first” but this is, after all, the Maiden Voyage in which there is a ‘first’ for everything.

I enjoy the days spent at sea. After the initial excitement of embarkation and the sailaway, it is nice to spend a whole day relaxing and exploring the ship. All around us we could take in the evocative smells of new carpet and leather, and all the gleaming brightness of the paintwork, windows, brass fittings and fabulous fine art on the walls lining the many long corridors of Queen Elizabeth. People often ask us if there is enough to do when the ship is at sea and you are, in fact, a captive audience. There is much, much more than enough. As well as looking around the ship, sitting on deck watching the world go by, and browsing the library or the many shops, Cunard always has a full itinerary of entertainment. You can learn watercolour painting, how to do ballroom dancing, attend presentations/talks given by eminent guest lecturers (more about that later!), have a massage in the spa, or attend fitness classes such as pilates or tai chi. The list is endless and gives you the chance to try something new. On days at sea you will find the time passes much more quickly than you would imagine, and before you know it, it is time to start getting ready for dinner.

The first night at sea on Queen Elizabeth (and indeed most other ships we’ve sailed on) sees a formal night, where guests are resplendent in sartorial elegance before meeting the Captain at his reception cocktail party. Dinner jackets and bow ties for the gents, and long dresses, silken wraps and up-dos for the ladies. I always enjoy dressing up for dinner and I take at least two hours (!!) to get ready, before sweeping out of our stateroom like a movie star. 🙂

And of course there is the free champers (or, more usually, cava). The Captain’s party usually only lasts an hour before it’s time to go to dinner, so Trevor and I (after many cruises and therefore much practice) position ourselves near the doorways from which the waiters emerge with their silver trays of flutes, in order to make the most of the freebies and drink as many glasses as possible. 🙂

As Cunard only has a small fleet of ships (three at the most) it is not unusual to come across the familiar faces of passengers we have met on previous cruises, and indeed this time has been no exception. We’ve already met Thomas, a German guy who we also met on the Queen Victoria’s maiden voyage and also the Queen Mary 2 maiden voyage. It’s almost like greeting old friends. We’ve also seen quite a few of the Cunard staff that we’ve met on previous cruises. Small world.

Dinner, as ever, was sumptuous and was accompanied by fine wine and after dinner port or liqueurs. After only two nights at sea I was feeling decidedly heavier. 😦 We often joke that you have to arrange all of your clothes in order so you wear all the close fitting things at the start of the cruise and leave the loose items until later. I think I will have to miss out a few dinners and/or stick to salads. 🙂

So after dinner we were treated to a 45 minute show in the theatre of a singer who has appeared in the West End in London, before we adjourned to the Golden Lion to take part in a game called “Majority Rules” which, in fact we won. Our prize was a couple of Cunard vouchers, which you save up and trade in for prizes at the end of the voyage.  Usually these are fairly rubbish, but we’ll see.

Then off to bed to end the second night on board Queen Elizabeth.  We were due to arrive in Vigo tomorrow to our maiden port of call.

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At the first stroke of the alarm clock at 4.30am on Tuesday, 12 October 2010, we leapt out of bed… strange how it is so much more difficult a feat to accomplish at 6.30am on a working day 🙂

Our journey by coach to Southampton was, thankfully, uneventful; no traffic jams, no bad weather, no roadwords or any other eventuality which might have delayed our arrival. Sipping a champagne and waiting to embark the ship, whilst surreptitiously examining fellow passengers-to-be is part of the excitement of the impending voyage. 🙂

We boarded the Queen Elizabeth at around 2.30pm, and proceeded to our stateroom, number 6179. As we opened the door, the afternoon October sunshine streamed through our balcony doors and glinted off the steel champagne bucket, where a chilled bottle and two flutes awaited us. 🙂

We cracked open the bottle and took it out to our balcony. Eight decks below us we could see the frenetic activity of passengers embarking, and supplies being loaded onto the vessel; barrels of beer and cases of wine, fresh fruit and vegetables and the plethora of other items intended to make our voyage a comfortable one.

We made our way to the pool deck at the stern in order to procure a good vantage point for the first time the Queen Elizabeth would slip her moorings and sail off into the sunset. Below us, a brass band played “Land of Hope and Glory” and “Jerusalem” and other rousing, patriotic tunes. All around us the passengers waved their arms or their Union Jacks, then, with three deafening blasts of the ship’s foghorn, we were off!

For me, those three blasts herald the symbolic start of any voyage, and particularly the Maiden Voyage. It is so reminiscent of old film footage of famous ocean liners leaving, destined for foreign shores and hopefully better things.

As the Queen Elizabeth glided majestically away from the Southampton shoreline and along the Solent, a flotilla of smaller ships and boats followed alongside us, the air filled with a cacophony of hoots, blasts and whistles.  Occasionally the QE gave a mighty blast back, as a forest of waving hands and flags accompanied us.  Another thing that made this Maiden Voyage so special was that we were sailing the same route that the grand old lady of the sea, the Queen Elizabeth 2, had taken on her maiden voyage way back in April 1969.

Tired, but excited, happy and so privileged to be part of this, we changed and made our way to the Britannia Restaurant and the first of many sumptuous meals.

The voyage had begun. 🙂

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