Bye-Bye Buenos Aires

Well, once again we had the boring part of the holiday to get through – the long flight home.

After a good breakfast we collected our cases, checked out of our room and sat in reception to await the arrival of the buses that would take us to the airport.  Last time we flew back from Buenos Aires in 2006 we did so via São Paulo so we were on the plane a total of 15 hours, in a turbulent and seemingly un-ending overnight flight.  So I wasn’t particularly looking forward to repeating the experience, but if we want to go to these far away places we have to put up with the long flights.  Or, as Dolly Parton put it so picturesquely, “If you want the rainbow, you’ve got to put up with the rain.”   🙂

The journey to the airport took about an hour, but at least the queue at the British Airways desk wasn’t too long when we got there, so we checked in and dumped our bags quickly; in fact we were able to check our luggage all the way through to Newcastle.  Then it was off to the executive lounge to while away a couple of hours in there, using our Priority Passes.

The Executive Lounge was a bit tatty as far as exec lounges go, but they had a good selection of free drinks, including beer, wine and spirits, and snacks of crisps, nuts and little canapés.  They also had free wi-fi so I was able to check, and reply to, some of my emails.

Eventually our flight was called and we boarded the Boeing 777 aircraft; this time the flight would ‘only’ be 14 hours (no stopping in São Paulo) before our arrival in London Heathrow.

We took off on time and watched the bright lights of Buenos Aires receding into the distance below us as we headed north-east across the expanse of Atlantic ocean.

Another brilliant holiday had come to an end.  Here’s to the next one!

Ashore in Argentina

We were up bright and early this morning, dressed and packed up and along to breakfast before getting our hand-luggage (our cases had already been collected from outside our door in the early hours of the morning) and going along to the Globe lounge to await our call to disembark.

Then down the gangplank we went and onto the buses which were waiting to take us to the ferry terminal.  We had about an hour to wait in the terminal, so we had a bottle of cold mineral water each and just whiled away the time people-watching and waiting and reading my Kindle and playing on my Nintendo DS.

Eventually we saw the ferry come in and a massive queue formed at the door, even though the incoming passengers still had to disembark and the call had not yet been made to board.  When the ferry was eventually ready for boarding, another set of doors opened and Trevor and I just went through them and down the ramp to the ferry, completely bypassing the huge queue, ha ha.   🙂

The ferry company had allocated an area of the vessel especially for Arcadia passengers, where we were met with a ‘champagne’ reception and shown to our spacious seats.  They were a bit like business class seats on a plane.

The three-hour journey to Buenos Aires passed pleasantly enough.  The staff on the ferry were quite attentive and came round with snacks, some sickly-sweet cakes and other nibbles (but no champers refills).  After about an hour they gave out luncheon vouchers which allowed us to go to the buffet downstairs and choose a sandwich or wrap, a snack and tea, coffee and mineral water.  The sandwiches were large baguettes and very tasty.  We sat next to a little old lady who kept pronouncing Buenos Aires as “Bew-nos Airs” and didn’t seem to want to be put right.   🙂

Eventually we could see the skyline of Buenos Aires approaching and we watched the ferry come in to dock.  Once we disembarked there were some buses waiting for us, to take us to the Pulizer Hotel.  Last time we were here (in January 2006) we stayed at the Sheraton for three nights, so we wondered what the Pulizer would be like as they’d had to accommodate us all at relatively short notice.

Buenos Aires is a fascinating city and we felt sorry for those on the coach who hadn’t been before, as they were going to explore in all overnight.  Our guide took us on an impromptu city tour where we passed the massive Avenida 9 de Julio which has about 10 lanes and is the widest avenue in the world.  It is named after Argentina’s independence day, 9th July 1816.  We also passed the famous River Plate Stadium in the distance, venue of the 1978 World Cup games; the guide couldn’t resist mentioning, to a bus full of Brits, about Diego Maradona and the infamous “hand of God”.   🙂

The guide also pointed out the Cenotaph to the fallen in the 1982 Falklands Conflict, dedicated to those who lost their lives over “Las Malvinas” as they are known in Argentina. We had visited this monument last time we were here and we could see the Sheraton hotel nearby.

At around 4.00pm the bus pulled up outside the Hotel Pulitzer, set on a lively main road in the city centre, amongst lots of shops and bars.  We got off the bus and joined the queue for checking in, but as the rooms weren’t quite ready and we had to wait to have our cases delivered to our room, we decided to pay a visit to the hotel bar for a welcome cold beer.   🙂

The bar was on the second floor and was nicely decorated in a black and white theme, and had a sunken area with settees, chairs and coffee tables, as well as a huge plate-glass window giving a good view of the busy streets.  We each ordered a Quilmes, the local lager, and enjoyed a dish of nuts with it.  We didn’t want to eat a meal yet as we were due to go out to a all-you-can-eat Argentinian buffet at a restaurant later on, so we decided to save ourselves for that.

Once we were allowed to check into our room, which was spacious and well-equipped with a nice large bathroom, we dumped our stuff, had a quick wash and brush up, then decided to go out and explore the nearby shops.  There were, of course, loads of shops selling fine leather goods and we had a good browse around in case I saw anything that really took my fancy.

We also passed a liquor store and noticed that they sold cachaça (even though it’s a Brazilian spirit); it was the well-known “51” brand and was cheap at 10 quid for a litre bottle, but not as cheap as the two quid we’d paid in Recife for some Pitú.  Nevertheless we bought it, as it would be our last chance.

We then went along to a little café and had another cold beer each, before strolling back to the hotel to get ready for our trip out to dinner.

Once again on the bus the guide pointed out various interesting sights on our way to the restaurant.  When we arrived, the bar and dining area were doing a lively trade.  We took our seats and another very pleasant couple joined us, and we ordered a bottle of good Argentinian red wine, from the famous wine-producing area of Mendoza.

The selection of foods in the buffet was fantastic.  There was a huge array of hot and cold meats and you could have a great big Argie steak cooked to your liking while you waited.  There were also many types of vegetables and fish, some marinated in spices and char-grilled, others served with different sauces.  It was all unusual and very tasty, and it was difficult not to pile your plate too high and look like a greedy so-and-so.  Better to visit the buffet two or three times and fill a smaller plate.  😉

The post-prandial coffee was very strong, a bit like espresso, and was a bit of an acquired taste.  But it had been an absolutely excellent meal in good company.

Back at the Hotel Pulizer we decided to join the other couple at the open-air rooftop bar. The night was warm and balmy and we had fabulous views of the neon-lit city.  I enjoyed a couple of large caipirinhas (!!!) and, once again, it was after midnight before we went to bed.  This time tomorrow night we’d be on the long-haul British Airways flight home.   😦


The Magic of Montevideo

When we woke up around 7.45 this morning, the Arcadia was already docked in Montevideo, on the Rio de la Plata (River Plate).  We went out onto our balcony for our first glimpse of Uruguay, our 71st country visited.

After breakfast we assembled at 8.45am in the Palladium for our shore excursion, the Montevideo city tour.  We were looking forward to exploring this very interesting port and capital city, and we were due to spend the whole day and night here, the Arcadia remaining in port overnight, so we would have the chance to have a good look round.

We disembarked the ship and made our way to the tour buses waiting nearby.  The bus set off slowly through the bustling city streets full of people on their way to work.  We took the route along the ‘coast’ which is actually the shoreline of the River Plate, although it has 13 kilometres of white sandy beaches and the water looked clear.  At that time of the morning (and with it being a working day) the beach was pretty much deserted so it allowed us an unimpeded view of the sweeping coastline.

After a while we arrived at our first stop, Plaza Independencia (Independence Square) which is one of three main squares in Montevideo.  There was certainly a lot to see and do there and there were several other tour parties like ours.  We saw the Solis Theatre and the well-known Palacio Salvo (Salvo Palace) with its main tower and four distinctive turrets.  The sun had come out by now and the sky was a clear, cloudless blue.

Back on the bus our next stop was to the Palacio Legislativo (Legislative Palace).  From the outside, at first glance, it looked a little like Buckingham Palace, and inside it afforded us a welcome respite from the already very hot sun.

The décor and architecture inside the Legislative Palace was breathtaking.  Frescoes adorned the walls and ceilings and the columns, cornices and window edgings were wonderfully carved and sculpted.  Many statues paid tribute to great Uruguayans past and present as we walked along the cool marble floor.  We spent about 40 minutes in there before emerging, once more, into the bright sunshine.

Our next visit was to a lovely public parked called Parque Batlle (pronounced: baht-shay), named after former Uruguayan president José Batlle y Ordóñez (1911-1915).  The park contained manicured lawns and flowerbeds, a small lake and a famous life-sized sculpture called Monumento La Carreta, which shows a loaded wagon being drawn by yoked oxen.  The detail was amazing, right down to the visible rib-cages of the oxen.

Outside the park a few vendors had set up their stalls selling souvenirs from carved wooden gifts to maté flasks.  Maté is a popular green tea with a somewhat bitter taste which is widely drunk in Uruguay (definitely an acquired taste!).  There was a stall selling colourful, hand woven woollen scarves of a typical Uruguayan style, so I bought one in lovely muted shades, knowing that it’s still freezing winter weather back home!

On the bus, driving through the streets, we passed the football stadium and other interesting buildings and monuments on our way to the shoreline.  We alighted from the bus and enjoyed the gentle breeze as we strolled along the water’s edge, then it was time to head back to the Arcadia and some lunch, as we would have plenty of time to go back ashore again, as I wanted to buy and send some postcards from Montevideo.

Seeing the football stadium made me think of the rugby that is also popular in Uruguay; in fact it was a rugby team of university students and some of their family and friends from Montevideo whose aircraft crashed in the Andes in October 1972, leaving them stranded for 72 days with no food; they were forced to eat the flesh of those who had died in order to survive.  I have read the excellent book by Piers Paul Read called Alive; in fact I think I’ll re-read it when I get home as it’s the best true story of survival and endurance I’ve ever read.

After being fed and watered we left the ship once again to have a look around the nearby vicinity.  There was an area of the port that was given over to the remains of a World War 2 German ship called the Admiral Graf Spee which had been mortally damaged during the Battle of the River Plate in December 1939.  Rather than allow the enemy to take the ship, the captain scuttled it so it sank in the River Plate, and parts of it (the anchor, telemeter and other bits and pieces) have been salvaged and are on display.

We wandered along the narrow, tree-lined streets with their fashionable pavement cafés and bars, all of which were doing a roaring trade from the Arcadia‘s passengers.  Seeing the cold beer and wines suddenly made me realise how thirsty I was!   😉

Passing the post office which we noted was open, our first quest was to buy some postcards; we knew we’d be able to get the stamps for them.  We walked into town, having a good browse round the shops and stalls (no shoe shops!!) and eventually found a little news kiosk and bought the cards and returned to the post office for the stamps.  Now all we had to do was find an attractive bar and write out the cards over an ice cold beer.

I noticed that several of the bars and restaurants had a sign outside saying “Patricia” and this, in fact, is the name of the local beer which was also my sister’s name.  Tricia was killed in a road accident in Hong Kong in 1996, so it was only fitting that we went into a nearby bar and ordered a litre of “Patricia” each and raised our glasses to her in a toast.

The beer was cold, delicious and thirst-quenching and went down a treat in the lively bar, as I sat and wrote out the postcards and posted them.  I could have sat and had another beer, or tried some of the wine, but time was getting on (it was after 4.00pm) and we still had to walk back to the ship and get showered and changed in time for dinner at 6.30pm.

We also had to make a start with our packing, as we were due to disembark the Arcadia  tomorrow morning and take the local ferry for the three-hour crossing of the River Plate over to Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Originally the Arcadia had been due to visit Buenos Aires, but as the Argentinians are kicking off against Britain over the Falkland Islands again, 30 years after the Falklands Conflict, they said that if any ship flying the Red Ensign attempted to dock in Buenos Aires they would seize the ship, so P & O decided not to risk the fact that the Argies might not be bluffing.  Hence our cruise would end here in Montevideo.  😦

As the Arcadia was in port overnight, they decided to invite some of the local entertainers on board to treat us to a Gaucho show.  It was a husband and wife act, Ricardo and Jessica Diaz, and they gave us a tremendous display of dancing, drumming and singing, as well as a tango which was practically dry sex; it was so seductive and passionate.  What a really great show.

Afterwards we went along to the Rising Sun for the last time.  All the others from our table were there; Paul and Tatiana were also disembarking tomorrow, but the other two couples, Frank and Brenda and Chris and Sue were staying on for another leg of the world cruise; in fact Chris and Sue were doing the whole shebang.  Tonight the quiz was called “Back to the 70’s” and featured songs and artistes from that colourful era of glam rock, which also happens to be my era.  Yippee!

So it was with confidence that I answered the 20 questions on 1970’s music (you got a point for the song title and a point for the artiste) and our team won the quiz with 39 out of 40!  Yay!  I chose a bottle of house white wine and asked the waiter for more glasses so we could all have a share.  It was quite good that we won the quiz on our last night on board and, despite having to be up early in the morning, it was once again well after midnight when we dragged ourselves out of the Rising Sun for our last evening in cabin C149.

Capricorn Crossing

Sunday, 20th January 2013

Crossing the Tropic of Capricorn at 23° 27′ south in the early hours of this morning, Arcadia left the warmer waters of the tropics on her passage towards Uruguay.  Today and tomorrow would see our last two sea days before our arrival in Montevideo.

We enjoyed a bit of a lie-in this morning and when I got up I was reminded, if only slightly, of my previous day’s consumption of caipirinha and prosecco.  🙂   Outside on deck, the weather was still sultry at 24°C but there was a bit more cloud cover, making it more comfortable for sitting outside.

At 11.00am we made our way to the Palladium theatre where the political historian, Mike Harvey, was giving a presentation about the conspiracy theories surrounding the death of John F. Kennedy in 1963.  As ever, it was a fascinating talk and it reinforced my own personal belief that Lee Harvey Oswald was set up as the fall guy, and didn’t actually do it.  Fifty years later, the assassination of JFK still intrigues people and provides and interesting topic of conversation.

After the talk we enjoyed a light lunch up at the Aquarius pool deck and wandered around the ship before having a couple of drinks.  The afternoon passed in its pleasant way before we went, once again, to the Palladium theatre for a talk about the historic Portuguese empire of Brazil.  One of the many aspects of cruising is that you can treat the voyage as a cultural and educational experience; it isn’t all about drinking, partying and sunbathing (unless you want it to be, and then you’d be better of taking a Carnival or Royal Caribbean cruise than P & O or Cunard).  We have listened to a great many very interesting talks and presentations, covering history, geography, science, crime and often fascinating personal experiences, for example from celebrity guests such as Dame Kate Adie.

Back in our cabin we sat out on the balcony for a while before starting to get ready, as tonight was a formal night once again, in fact the last one.  Donning our glad-rags we went along to the restaurant and enjoyed the usual convivial company and excellent cuisine before making our way to the Palladium theatre once again, and taking our usual seats at the front.

The show tonight was called “Destination Dance” and presented a colourful extravaganza of dances from around the world.  In fact we’d seen this show before, last year on the Ventura, but we still enjoyed it a lot; it was one of the better shows.

Later on in the Rising Sun we were joined by Frank and Brenda and Chris and Sue for a rendition of the TV game show “Name that Tune”.  We didn’t do very well (again!) but we decided to stay for the karaoke, by which time the Rising Sun was filling up nicely as those from the second sitting were coming out of the show lounge.

The usual suspects got up and sang; some of them clearly only know one or two songs because they get up and sing the same ones all the time; at least I’ll get up and do different songs from my repertoire of about a dozen.  It was when one of the regular singers, Keith, got up and did his usual ‘Matt Munro’ number I was talking with Sue and, afterwards one of the guys from Keith’s table came over to me and said “When you are up singing you expect everyone to listen to you, but when other singers are on all you can hear is your voice in the background”.  Then he walked away without another word.   I sat there open-mouthed in astonishment and even Chris said “cheeky bugger”, glaring at the guy on the other table.  I mean, it’s a pub; it’s not exactly the Albert Hall!  If people want to listen to me, fine, but if they don’t that’s up to them.  I get up and sing in the karaoke because I enjoy it, not because I expect everyone’s rapt attention.

It was after midnight before the karaoke finished, so after a nightcap it was back to cabin C149 and bed for the night.

Monday, 21st January 2013

When we woke up this morning the skies outside were a bit greyer, although it was still very warm and the South Atlantic was calm.

We spent the morning pottering about, browsing the shops to see what ‘bargains’ were on offer today (15% off cigarettes and tobacco, so nothing of interest to us then) and passing the time of day with our fellow passengers up on the pool deck.

A couple of times we sought the shelter of the canopies by the Aquarius pool as brief, passing showers sent everyone running for cover, but the rain didn’t last long.

Around 3.00pm we headed along to the Palladium theatre once again for the Passenger Talent Show.  Usually you get some pretty good entrants entertaining us with a variety of performances, and then again there are those who are not as good as they think they are.  🙂  We had a bloke playing the piano, a lady reciting a poem she had written, a guy who did a bit of comedy and a tap-dancing troupe who had only learned to tap dance on this cruise!  Then again, there was also the usual selection of mediocre singers, including Keith of karaoke fame who did a (you’ve guessed it) Matt Munro number.  Shh, no-one had better talk.  😉

The talent show passed a pleasant hour, after which we went along to the Spinnaker bar and had a drink before going back to the cabin for a brief power nap.  Sometimes sitting doing nothing all day makes you really tired!  🙂

Tonight the dress code was smart-casual and we enjoyed the usual delicious dinner before making our way, in good time, along to the show lounge as tonight’s entertainer was well-known TV game show host and comedian Tom O’Connor.

We managed to get seats down at the front again, and the drinks waiter brought our usual tipples before the show began.  Tom O’Connor is a Liverpool comedian who first became a household name in the early 70’s on the TV programme The Comedians.  During the 70’s and 80’s he was one of the most well-known faces on TV, but now he’s obviously still making his money by doing the cruise ship circuit.  One of his most famous quips was when he was at a function and he asked a snobby-looking bloke “What do you do for a living?” and the bloke says “I’m in oil.”  To which Tom replied, quick as a flash “Are you a sardine?”

We really enjoyed the show; instead of the usual 45 minute slot Tom was on for an hour and a half, so it was 10.00pm before we left the theatre.  We went straight to The Globe where they were due to host the game show The Weakest Link at 10.30pm and where we met up with the rest of the ‘gang’ from table #187.

So once again it was around midnight when we headed back to cabin C149.  We were due to dock in Montevideo, Uruguay tomorrow, so we went to bed looking forward to what the new day would bring.

Rocking in Rio de Janeiro

When we woke up this morning the Arcadia was just about to dock in the port of Rio de Janeiro, bustling vibrant city and former capital of Brazil.  We had stayed here once before, for three days, in 2001 so we were excited to be back.  With anticipation we went out onto the balcony to see if we could see any familiar sights, but a misty day and low cloud surrounding Corcovado peak prevented any glimpse of the famous Cristo Redentor, or statue of Christ the Redeemer.

This morning we were booked on a tour of the city and of the famous beaches of Rio.  After breakfast we disembarked the Arcadia and stood dockside, awaiting our tour guide and bus.  While the sky was overcast it was still very warm.  We boarded the bus and set off through the city towards the first of our beach stops.

Off on its own surrounded by mountains, São Conrado Beach offers some fine scenery and a (relative) sense of isolation. Its other main claim to fame is as a landing strip for all the hang gliders who leap from nearby peaks.

We alighted from the bus and made a beeline for a nearby kiosk selling fresh coconuts, from which they removed the tops and gave us a straw with which to drink the cool, refreshing coconut milk inside.  We wandered along the beach front, watching the hang gliders and enjoying the sea breeze in our faces.

Back on the bus we wended our way through the morning traffic, and continued up the picturesque coastline until we came to the world-famous beaches of Leblon and Ipanema, each fronted by expensive hotels, restaurants and designer shops.  Even if you’ve never been to Ipanema Beach you are bound to know that song made famous by the Brazilian singer/songwriter João Gilberto:

Young and fair and tall and lovely
The girl from Ipanema goes walking
And when she passes, each one she passes
Goes “aah”.

Ipanema beach is where all the beautiful people hang out simply to be seen.  Girls with perfect tans and booty-licious figures shown off in ‘dental floss’ thong bikinis played beach volleyball with muscular youths in bandannas; there was even an outdoor gym with some guys flexing their pecs and doing some impromptu workouts.  Colourful kiosks along the beach sold soft drinks, beers and fruit juices.  Kicking off my flip-flops I walked barefoot in the powder soft white sand before getting back on the bus for our next stop, the famous Copacabana beach, where our hotel was based last time we were here.

The sun was tentatively trying to come out by now, so we enjoyed its warmth on our backs and we strolled along the beach front.  In the near distance we could see the well-known bulk of Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain) rising up, the cable car carrying its load of visitors to the top.  Our next stop was to this famous Rio landmark, and when we got there the queues were massive.  As we’d already been up to the top, in 2001, we decided against doing it this time.  Instead, we looked for an ATM, withdrew some Brazilian reaïs, and went in search of a cold Brahma or Antarctica beer.  🙂

Back on the bus our route took us once again into the city, where we passed the Botafoga football stadium as well as the big spectator stands from which the samba and carnivals are viewed in the street.

Arriving back at the Arcadia, we enjoyed some lunch out on deck.  The cloud was still low so there was still no sign of Christ the Redeemer.  We decided to go ashore again to do some exploring on our own (and enjoy a caipirinha or two, ha ha) but, before doing so, I changed into my Sunderland shirt.  Not only were we playing at home, but I like to fly the flag when overseas and particularly in Brazil where football isn’t just a game, it’s a way of life.

Walking around the streets we browsed the shops (still no interesting shoe shops!) then eventually found a bar, hidden away in a side street.  There were a few plastic tables and chairs on the pavement and the ubiquitous loud samba music emanating from huge speakers inside the bar.  We each ordered a caipirinha and sat down at one of the tables outside.

When the drinks came they contained generous measures of cachaça and were cold, thirst-quenching and delicious as ever.  I can never stop at just one caipirinha (!!) and was ready for another straight away.  Trevor said we’d go and find another bar, so we took a walk around until we saw a little market square with a few stalls and another lively bar.  In we went for another drink.  🙂

There was a stall nearby selling very colourful wigs and hairpieces, so I decided to buy one to wear as part of my ‘carnival’ costume at tonight’s deck party.  It was very bright consisting of hair in green, yellow and red with some gold threads woven in, cut in a sort of ‘Tina Turner’ style.  It was only a fiver so I bought it.  Trevor took a photo of me in my wig and Sunderland shirt with a massive caipirinha in my hand.  🙂

After one more caipirinha we went back to the ship as time was getting on.  We went up and had our dinner, and I still had my wig on as it saved having to wash and style my hair, which always takes ages.  The wig certainly drew a lot of comments in the dining room, which was fairly empty as quite a few people were still ashore as the Arcadia was not due to leave port until about 11.00pm tonight.

As a result of this, there was no cabaret on in the Palladium show lounge tonight.  We therefore went along to the Rising Sun pub for a couple of drinks before going back to our cabin, where I put on my colourful sarong and feathered earrings to accompany my freaky wig before making our way up to the Aquarius pool, which was already packed with revellers for the Carnival deck party.

The party was great; I always love the infectious beat of samba and bossa nova so I worked up a good thirst strutting my stuff, shaking my booty and shimmying my hips.  Quite a few people commented on my ‘outfit’ and asked to have their photos taken with me.  After all the caipirinhas and proseccos I was feeling no pain at all.  🙂

The rain that had been threatening all day with the low cloud over Rio suddenly left the heavens in an almighty downpour which had everyone on deck running for cover under the canopies.  Some people, however, carried on dancing until they were soaked through; at which point they threw themselves into the pool, fully clothed!  Well, they couldn’t have got any wetter anyway.

As the Arcadia slipped her moorings and gave a mighty blast of her foghorn, the clouds parted for the first time that day, and there he was –  the illuminated Christ the Redeemer gazing placidly down at us from his plinth atop Corcovado peak.  It was almost as if he was blessing Arcadia as she set to sea once more.  A fitting end to a great day.

Canberra on Arcadia

Today we had another full day at sea to look forward to.  People who read this blog sometimes say to me, “But you always seem to do the same stuff on sea days – don’t you get bored?”.   I wouldn’t say we always do the same thing, but like everyday life, we tend to fall into a routine.  Get up, go out on the balcony, have our breakfast, attend the talks/lectures, wander around the ship, have lunch, have a few drinks, sunbathe, swim, have a few more drinks, get dressed for dinner, go to the show, then along to the pub for the quiz or karaoke or whatever.  So it might sound boring, but in actual fact you speak to different people, see different presentations and the good thing is we are on holiday instead of being at work.  🙂

So, after our breakfast, we made sure we were along at the Palladium theatre in plenty of time, because at 10.00am Captain Trevor Lane was going to be doing a presentation about the 1982 Falklands War.  He had been a navigator on board P&O’s famous ship the Canberra, which had been pressed into service during the Falklands conflict as a hospital ship.

We got to the theatre just after 9.00am to the inevitable queue.  They were still doing rehearsals for tonight’s show so they wouldn’t let anyone in until they’d finished.  Eventually the doors opened and everyone poured in en masse in their efforts to procure the best seats.  It always amuses Trevor and me how some of the (apparently) doddery old people with walking sticks and/or Zimmer frames suddenly develop prowess like Olympic athletes when it comes to queue-jumping or competing for “their” seats.  🙂

Anyway, we got our usual seats down at the front and I read my Kindle until the cruise director Christine Noble came on stage to introduce Captain Lane.  Apparently the presentation had been unplanned, but passengers who knew that Captain Lane had served on board Canberra had especially asked for him to do a talk about his Falklands experiences.  So by popular request they’d put it on the itinerary.  When Christine introduced the Captain and said the words “on board our own beautiful ship Canberra…” her voice wobbled with a little bit of emotion.  “Sorry… it always gets to me” she said, but I’m sure there were others in the audience who knew exactly what she meant.  I always feel like that at the mention of RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 or, as I’ve mentioned previously, our gorgeous “Speedbird 1” Concorde.

Captain Trevor Lane came on stage and said that he didn’t have any script or anything prepared, he just had some slides and photographs, as well as some BBC video footage, and he’d attempt to talk about each.  He explained about how some merchant/cruise ships had been commandeered into the Falklands conflict to assist in the war effort; most notably the Canberra and the QE2.  He had lots of photographs of the Canberra as she was before (as a luxury ocean liner) as well as as she was after she’d been refitted and altered to act as a supply and hospital ship.  He also had some archived BBC news footage of the ship during the Falklands war; the sort of stuff that was reported to the folks back in Blighty.

The presentation was absolutely fascinating and very interesting, as well as quite emotional in some parts, particularly when Captain Lane showed video footage of the Canberra coming back home to Southampton; the friends and families of the servicemen lining the dockside with a forest of Union flags waving, and the sailors lined up on deck in their “number ones” as a flotilla of smaller ships blasted out their foghorns as they accompanied the Canberra into port in a blaze of glory.  It made us all proud to be British.   🙂  The talk was all the more interesting for the fact that the Captain had spoken for over an hour with no prompt notes or script, the sign of a true orator.

Once the talk was over, to tumultuous applause, we stayed in the theatre to listen to the next lecture, which was given by crime historian Mike Harvey about Ronald Biggs and the 1963 Great Train Robbery.  There were 15 men who took part in the planning and carrying out of the robbery and Ronnie Biggs was really only one of the minor characters, but he became the most famous (or infamous) because of his spectacular escape from prison, following which he remained in Brazil for 37 years before handing himself in to the British police (as he was in ill health and wanted treating for free on the NHS).  Another very interesting talk which tided us over nicely until lunchtime.

We came out of the theatre just before the midday announcement from the bridge.  It was an unusual announcement and it went something like this:  “Ladies and gentlemen, the time from the bridge is exactly 12 noon” (chimes – ding ding, ding ding, ding ding) then immediately afterwards “Ladies and gentlemen, the time from the bridge is exactly 1.00pm” (chimes – ding ding, ding ding, ding ding).  This is because the clocks had to go forward one hour to GMT -2.  So we’d just lost an hour of our day.

After lunch we went and sat up on deck for a while and pottered about.  We whiled away the afternoon in its usual pleasant way and before we knew it, it was time to get ready for dinner.  Tonight the dress code was Smart, so jacket and tie for the blokes and cocktail dresses for the lay-deez.  I wore my black trousers, a sequinned top, and some mega-high heels.

After dinner we went along to see the show; tonight it was Mark O’Malley, the middle-of-the-road singer again.  Then it was along to the Rising Sun as usual to find nearly a full house from table #187:  Frank and Brenda, Chris and Sue and Paul, but no Tatiana – she was visiting a fellow Soviet passenger elsewhere on the ship.

The quiz tonight was diabolical.  It was called “Mind and Memory” and must have been pinched from the entrance exam sheet for MENSA, it was so blimmin’ hard.  There was lots of mental arithmetic, memorising numbers, doing long multiplication etc.  We really couldn’t be arsed at that time of night and we gave up half-way through.  We could see other teams around us abandoning their papers as well.  So, yet again, no prize for us in the quiz tonight.

We stayed for a few more drinks, me with my prosecco and Trevor with his “Newky Broon”, then it was back to cabin C149 for bed.  Tomorrow we were due to arrive at that pearl in the shell, Rio de Janeiro.

Samba in Salvador

This morning we watched from our balcony as the Arcadia slowly pulled into her berth in the port of Salvador da Bahia, ancient former capital of Brazil.

We had had a fantastic holiday here in 2001, when we stayed at the beach resort of Costa do Sauípe, so we were looking forward to exploring the old colonial town again.

We had our breakfast at the Aquarius pool deck as usual, then gathered together our bits and pieces for going ashore.  We didn’t have an organised tour this morning, preferring instead to do our own thing.

As we descended the gang-plank, we could already hear loud samba music and the rhythmic beating of drums; we were given to understand that there was some sort of carnival on in Salvador today.  Not *the* carnival, but a sort of parade or march or get-together, where many people would participate in the singing, dancing and general joie-de-vivre.

Taxi and mini-bus drivers accosted us as we walked out of the port area and followed the crowds into the town.  There were a few shops which were not yet open, but on every street corner were carts with cool-boxes selling Skol lager and Brahma beer, three cans for five reaïs (less than a couple of quid).  The parades started coming through the streets, the people carrying gigantic helium balloons containing some sort of slogan, and wearing matching t-shirts bearing the same sentiment.  Everyone was heading in the same direction, i.e. towards the main drag, so we decided to climb up the winding streets to the funicular, and get a ride to the top of the cliffs.

When we arrived at the funicular however, it was out of order.  I didn’t fancy climbing all the way up in the heat and the humidity, so we just went a little way up then decided to see if we could buy some postcards and find a post office, as we hadn’t had the chance to send any cards from Recife.

We managed to find a little kiosk and bought half a dozen postcards but no stamps; not to worry though – we could just post the cards on the ship.  Next we wanted somewhere to write them out, so after wandering around for a bit, we found a lively little bar filled with locals, and blasting out the usual deafening Latin music.

Inside, I asked the barman for a couple of caipirinhas, as I had already spotted a bottle of cachaça.  However, the guy made me understand that we couldn’t have any cachaça, but could have beer instead.  Looking around at all the locals drinking, it was true that there wasn’t a single caipirinha to be seen, just beer.  Maybe they didn’t have a licence to sell it that early in the day, so we settled for a 900ml bottle each of Antarctica beer.

We found a vacant table and sat down to enjoy our beer, write out the cards, and just soak up the atmosphere.  As we were sitting there, we noticed a tour party bearing the numbered stickers indicating one of the excursions from the Arcadia.  Some of the members of the party stood outside the windows of the bar we were in, taking photographs of the exterior and the packed interior, no doubt to get a picture of a typical Brazilian bar full of all the locals enjoying themselves.  We found it amusing that there we were, Trevor and I, just in among all the locals as if we belonged there, lol 🙂

I wrote out all the postcards and finished my beer.  To be honest, I could have had another one, but we decided to have a look round the shops then have another beer later.  I had already spotted quite a few shoe shops, so I wanted to see if I could grab a bargain.  When we were last in Salvador in 2001, I had bought two pairs of lovely unusual shoes, so I was looking forward to getting some more.   🙂

I had a good browse around the shops then spotted a pair of red leather sandals with a high wedge heel.  They were only about 16 quid in English money so I tried them on.  They were nice and comfortable, as well as flattering, so I decided to buy them.  Trevor went to pay with his Visa credit card, but the chip-and-pin machine just wouldn’t accept the card, even after a second attempt.  So he then tried with his Mastercard.  Same thing.  This was strange, as we’d had no problems with either of the cards in previous transactions.  It was no good though; the cards didn’t work and we didn’t have enough cash, so I had to leave the shoes on the counter and do without.  😦

After wandering around the shops a bit more, we came partly back down the hill and decided to go for another beer.  🙂  We found another colourful, lively bar and went in and had a HUGE bottle of Brahma beer each.  Looking out of the windows at the crowded streets, we could still see throngs of people heading down the hill, and we enjoyed the music and the party atmosphere.

After our beers we decided to head back to the ship for lunch.  We followed the crowds back down the hill, sheltering under the portico of a large building when a sudden cloudburst soaked everyone and everything around.  Once the rain eased off, we continued on our way.

Down in the main square an open-air stage had been set up, and a live band was playing.  The square was filled with gyrating bodies and I must admit the beat was very infectious and made me want to join in.  🙂  The beer, ice-cream and popcorn stalls were doing a roaring trade as we entered the dock area and re-embarked the Arcadia in time for lunch.

After our usual afternoon nap, we sat out on the balcony for a while and generally relaxed and whiled away the time before getting showered and sorted out and ready for the sailaway party at 5.30pm.

Tonight was just smart-casual (it usually is when the ship has been in port all day) so we went down to dinner as usual then along to the Palladium lounge for the show tonight, which was called “We’ll Meet Again” and featured – you’ve guessed it – songs and music from the Second World War.  It was actually a very good show, although I’m sure it would have appealed more to the 70+ age group then those of more tender years.

Then it was along to the Rising Sun for tonight’s quiz, which was played in several rounds and you had to decide if you wanted to play your “joker” on a particular round, thereby doubling your score.  Our quiz team had grown considerably from when we started this cruise; we had several times had Frank and Brenda come to join us, but tonight was all eight of us from table #187 – Chris and Sue as well as Paul and Tatiana joined us.  So we had to split the teams into two teams of four, as six was the maximum you were allowed in one team.  🙂  Not that it mattered anyway, as we didn’t win.

After the quiz the entertainment team were holding their own version of TV’s Give Us A Clue, which was based on that old parlour game ‘charades’ and was a very popular programme in the 80’s.  The entertainment team played against the ship’s officers and it really was a laugh, especially as some of the film/TV/book titles were deliberately provocative, such as Twin Peaks, Free Willy and Moby Dick.   🙂

We decided to finish the evening off by going up to the rear decks for a nightcap. They were doing line dancing under the stars up there, but even though we don’t do line dancing we enjoyed sitting on the edge of the pool with the gorgeous sultry sea breeze ruffling our hair, enjoying a glass of prosecco before bed.

Once again it was after midnight before we got to bed, and we had another sea day to look forward to tomorrow.  🙂