Cows and Potatoes

A new port of call for us when we woke up this morning – St. Helier in the Channel Island of Jersey, or the Bailiwick of Jersey to give it its correct title.  Jersey is the largest of the four main Channel Islands, the others being Guernsey, Alderney and Sark.  Jersey is most famous for its Jersey Royal potatoes and, of course, the light brown Jersey cows which produce the high-cream content ‘gold top’ milk.

The Adonia had dropped anchor and we were up bright and early to get the liberty boat across to the island for our “Coast and Countryside Panorama” excursion.  The sun shone brightly although there was still a brisk breeze.  Our first impression of St. Helier was how pretty it was; the rugged coastline, the gorgeous blue sea, whitewashed buildings and little crab and lobster stalls, along with attractive little souvenir shops and seafood restaurant.

Jersey is only 14 miles from Normandy in France, so although it is a British Crown dependency a lot of the place names and street signs are very French.  In fact, there are three official languages spoken in Jersey; English, French and its own regional language called Jèrriais, which looks and sounds a cross between English and French.

We set off on our tour bus along the fantastic coastline to the north-western parish of Saint Ouen and our driver, who was also our guide, explained that the property prices in Jersey were very expensive; an average three-bedroomed semi costing around half a million pounds!  So we won’t be moving to live there any time soon.   🙂

We stopped briefly for a photo opportunity where we bought some postcards and stamps to write out later.  Then we continued on our way, eventually stopping at Jersey Pearl in Saint Ouen, where we were given special offer vouchers for a free pair of pearl earrings with any purchase.

Jersey has its own oyster beds and as well as cultivating the oysters for eating, they also culture their own high-quality fresh water pearls.  I love real pearls and like to buy the pearls loose so I can knot them onto silk myself, but I didn’t buy any this time as I’d bought some last year when in China.

While at the pearl shop my mobile phone rang; it was one of the job agencies who’d seen my CV on one of the online job boards and was calling to see if I was still looking for work.  In light of recent events I said I was, and spoke to them for a while to tell them which jobs I’d be interested in.  I was also waiting to hear back from a temp agency with a job I could potentially be starting on Monday; wouldn’t that be a great chance to stick two fingers up at my current employer!

Back on the bus we continued on our way to see the Jersey war tunnels.  Jersey was under total German occupation during the whole of the 2nd world war and there is still a lot of evidence of this around, including the tunnels and the remains of some German lookout towers.

We next went to the picturesque Bonne Nuit in St John’s parish.  This is a small natural harbour which used to be used for smuggling in the 17th and 18th centuries but is now mainly a crab and lobster fishing port.  By this time I was quite hungry and could really have eaten some delicious fresh shellfish, so I was hoping to find a cockle and mussel stall somewhere.  🙂

Once we were back in St. Helier, we decided we wouldn’t go straight back to the Adonia but would fulfil my quest for some seafood and then go and find a pub to write out the postcards and enjoy a nice cold beer.  So we set off towards where we remembered seeing some seafood stalls, about a mile away.  When we got there, however, they were only selling lobsters, crabs and some uncooked prawns as well as the only cooked shellfish which was prawns.  No cockles and mussels.  So we got a big carton of fresh king prawns, and ate them as we walked back along into the main town.  They were delicious.

We had a look around the shops where everything seemed to be expensive in keeping with the rest of the island.  We then found a lively-looking pub that had tables and chairs outside, so we got a pint of beer each and sat outside, where I wrote out my postcards.  We noticed that the pub had free wi-fi, so we went inside with my laptop where I could check my emails over another pint of beer.  As we were doing that we noticed a Royal Mail van pull up outside, so Trevor took the postcards outside to ask the postman where the nearest postbox was, but the postie just took the cards and put them straight into his post sack.  Good timing.  🙂

At about 4.00pm we decided to get the tender back to the ship as the last one was at 5.00pm and we didn’t want to risk it being full.  Dress code on the Adonia tonight was elegant/casual, and of course we had our packing to do before disembarking the ship tomorrow morning.   However, we first of all had to visit an off-licence to obtain a bottle of something for the long bus journey home tomorrow; we ended up getting some Cava out of M&S.  🙂

We also wanted to be sure not to miss today’s sailaway deck party, so we could redeem our Peninsula Club vouchers for a free glass of champagne.  🙂  Up on deck, a local band called Acapella Brass had been invited on board to entertain us with some lively British tunes, so there was a lot of singing and flag waving.  We spotted Charlie and Linda, and Charlie was wearing a Union Jack waistcoat; Trevor also has one but he didn’t bring it as we didn’t know there was going to be a ‘British’ theme to any of the parties.  We enjoyed our champers in the sun and then went back to B117 to get washed and changed for dinner.

After dinner we nipped back to the cabin to finish our packing, then we went along to the Curzon lounge for the final cabaret act this cruise, and we were pleased to see that Anthony Stuart Lloyd was performing once again.  As ever, we really enjoyed his show.  Then it was up to the Conservatory for the last time for the syndicate quiz and we didn’t win.

Then back to our cabin for our last night on board, after putting our cases outside the door.  😦

Fastnet and Plymouth

Waking up this morning to our last full sea day, we were pleased to see that the fair weather we’d experienced yesterday in Cork was still with us.  It was a little breezy up on deck but still pleasant enough, if you found a sheltered spot, to sit out in.

After breakfast we spent most of the morning pottering around doing not very much in particular.  We got ourselves a coffee and sat out on deck, where I brought my laptop and did some of this blog, whiling away the hours until it was time for lunch.  We then made our way to the Crow’s Nest where, at 1.00pm, they were holding the Battle of the Sexes quiz final.

After meeting up with Charlie and Linda and enjoying a drink with them, it was time to get into our two teams.  The ladies’ team were lagging behind by five points, so this was our chance to make it up.   🙂

After the picture round, which was based on TV programmes, our team was ahead by a couple of points, so there was now only three points in it.  We were going neck and neck in the general knowledge, and also managed to ‘steal’ some points from the opposition (as they did with us) so we knew the final result would be a very close run thing.  It ended where the ladies’ team won this round, but in the overall competition the men beat us by only two points.  So we lost, but only by a whisker; we’d done well to make up the 10-point deficit we had after the first couple of rounds.  🙂

The men had the choice of a bottle of red, white or rosé wine and they chose the red; our team was then offered a bottle and we chose the white.  But when I asked for some more glasses to share it all out amongst the rest of the team, no-one really wanted any; they said they were happy for me to keep the bottle.  So when Linda and I went back to meet up with Charlie and Trevor, we got four glasses and shared it out between us, before the “Name that Tune” quiz at two o’ clock.

Once again, I excelled in the 70’s and 80’s music, and we ended up scoring 28/30, which we thought would be very hard to beat.  But another team (in fact there was only two of them) had 29/30, only dropping a point, so we were unlucky!   🙂

We finished the afternoon by going along to the Card Room where they were showing a 75-minute docu-film called Canberra – P & O Legend which related the history of this illustrious ship, particularly the part she played in the 1982 Falklands conflict.  The ship had had to be commissioned and refitted at short notice to serve as a troop carrier and hospital ship, and she spent 33 days in the south Atlantic, right in the midst of the war zone, looking incongruous in her white hull and yellow funnels.  The Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth 2 had also served as a troop carrier, but she stayed well out of the battle zone and was only there a few days before coming back to Britain.

The film was really quite moving in parts, especially when the TV cameras lined the docksides in Southampton to greet the Canberra’s return.  As she sailed majestically into port, her varnished woodwork dulled and her hull rust spotted, she returned to a heroine’s welcome.  We were amused to see a banner held aloft, proclaiming “Canberra cruises where QE2 refuses”.  The whole film was excellent and really brought a lump to the throat.  Canberra and the QE2 were both proper ships (in fact, ocean going liners) and they just don’t make them like that any more.

When we came out of the cinema time was getting on, and as it was formal night once again we went back to B117 to start getting ready.

Our dinner was fabulous as usual, and the meal was concluded by the chef’s parade, where you get the chance to applaud the chefs, cooks, waiters and busboys for their wonderful food and service (although really you should be berating them for being responsible for the extra inches around your waistline, ha ha).   🙂

The show in the Curzon lounge tonight was a comedian in the shape of Stan Johns.  He was OK I suppose, although his show was really dated; you know the type of thing – mother-in-law jokes and other jokes that would have had the PC brigade up in arms.  He was mildly amusing, but his humour wouldn’t appeal to the younger generation as it just didn’t keep up with the current trends.

We then stayed in the show lounge to watch Maiko Mori, the Japanese classical pianist.  I didn’t know any of the tunes, but it was nice and relaxing listening to her play anyway.

As ever, we ended the evening by going along to the syndicate quiz where we were joined by another couple who we recognised from the Battle of the Sexes quiz.  The guy had been the men’s team captain and he brought the bottle of red wine they’d won to share out.   More free booze.  🙂  We didn’t win the quiz, only losing by a single point.

Then it was back to cabin B117 for a nightcap before turning in; tomorrow we were due to arrive in St. Helier, in the Channel Island of Jersey.

Whiskey in the Jar

After a fairly restless night (the thoughts of losing my job kept creeping unbidden into my consciousness) we woke up this morning to find ourselves just about to dock in Ringaskiddy, Ireland.  We were originally supposed to be going into Cobh, but had been displaced by a much bigger ship, the MSC Magnifica, so we had to berth across the harbour from Cobh in the picturesque little port of Ringaskiddy instead.  Anyone who wanted to go into Cobh could get the shuttle bus round, but we were there last year, so we decided to explore this little town instead.

The sun was shining brightly and the air was pleasantly warm; a proper spring day.  At about 10.00am we disembarked the Adonia and decided to have a little exploration on foot as we weren’t due to go on any excursions until this afternoon.

It was very pleasant walking along the grassy verges in the sunshine, and we soon came to a charming little country village pub, with wooden tables and chairs outside.  I was just ready for a nice cold Guinness.  🙂  We went inside, ordered our pints, then sat outside in the sunshine, where some other couples from the ship were sitting at tables nearby.

The barmaid brought our Guinness which was just the ticket, and with the sun on my back I felt the last vestiges of gloom lift from me.  So what if my contract was being terminated, they can’t cut my hands off!  I’ll find another job.  Plenty of worse things happen at sea, ha ha.   🙂

We enjoyed the Guinness so much, and we weren’t in any particular hurry, so we had another one each before taking a slow stroll back to the ship in time for lunch.  We were due to go on an excursion into Cork afterwards, taking in the sights of the city and then finishing off with a visit to the famous Jameson Whiskey distillery, where we would see how Irish whiskey was made and have a chance to sample it afterwards.

After lunch we once again left the Adonia to join our excursion bus with Tom, our guide for today.  Cork is Ireland’s second city and is built on the River Lee which divides into two channels at the western end of the city. The city centre is located on the island created by the channels. At the eastern end of the city centre where the channels re-converge, quays and docks along the river banks lead to Lough Mahon and Cork Harbour, which is one of the world’s largest natural harbours.

As it was a weekday, the busy streets were thronging with shoppers and the workers passing their lunchtime.  We passed the impressive City Hall and the upmarket riverfront buildings, and pulled up for a photo stop at the majestic St. Finbarre’s Cathedral (I couldn’t help thinking of the Viz comic character, Finbarre Saunders and his Double-Entendres).     🙂

We passed along the main shopping drag, Castle Street, and then headed out to the main attraction of the day, the Jameson’s whiskey distillery.  Notice how whiskey is spelled with an ‘e’; this is how you can tell, just from the label alone, that it is Irish whiskey and not Scotch ‘whisky’ (no ‘e’).

Inside the distillery, we watched a brief film clip about the world-famous Jameson’s before being introduced to our guide, Collette.  Talk about enthusiastic!  She was so animated and interested when talking about the whiskey distilling process, and her attractive Irish lilt added to her humour really made her a delight to listen to.  If ever there was someone suited to her job, Collette was it.  We were very surprised, therefore, to learn that she had only been a Jameson’s guide for a fortnight; she was actually a student doing holiday work.  She really made the visit, however, and we considered our party (they’d split our large group into two) had struck it lucky to have her as our guide.  🙂

We learnt some of the differences between Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky; the main ones being that the barley in Irish whiskey is roasted using a smokeless fuel (such as anthracite) whereas the Scottish use peat which gives off smoke and imparts a distinctive ‘peaty’ palate to the whisky (think of Laphroiag).  Also Scotch whisky tends to undergo a double distillation, whereas Irish whiskey is triple-distilled.  We also learnt how the whiskey is often stored in barrels that may have previously held sherry or port, and this itself imparts a subtle flavour into the finished product, as well as adding a hint of colour.

It was fascinating to see barrels of whiskey with glass ends, showing three year old, five year old, 10 year old and 15 year old malt.  As well as the whiskey colour getting progressively darker (being longer in the barrel), the amount of the spirit that had evaporated also increased significantly; this is known as the angels’ share.   🙂

At this point, Collette asked for six volunteers; three men and three women.  Trevor and I put our hands up and we were selected to be ‘official Jameson whiskey tasters’.  Once our tour of the distillery finished, we went along to the bar where our six places had been set out, each with three glasses.  One contained American bourbon whiskey, such as Jack  Daniels or Jim Beam, one contained Scotch whisky, and the third contained Jameson’s.  We had to sniff and taste each of them in turn, then decide which one we liked best.  A bit of a leading question really, as we were all bound to say the Jameson’s!    🙂

We then each received a complimentary glass of Jameson’s; I had mine mixed with dry ginger ale as I’m not really a whiskey drinker.  In the meantime, Collette asked the six whiskey tasters to write our names on pieces of paper which we handed to her.  By the time we’d finished our drinks, she returned with certificates for each of us, inscribed with our names; we were now Official Irish Whiskey Tasters.   🙂

We finished the distillery tour by going into the shop and buying some souvenirs and gifts to take home.  Then, back on the bus, we were nearly falling asleep as we made our way back to Ringaskiddy and the Adonia.

Tonight was the smart-casual dress code and we were getting ready for dinner when the Adonia blasted on her foghorn and slowly made her way out of the dock.   It was still a very pleasant, mellow sunny evening when we went into the dining room for yet another delicious meal.  After dinner Trevor went off to the cinema to see Skyfall, the latest James Bond movie, but Charlie and Linda said they’d join me later in the Curzon lounge, where the ship’s orchestra were doing a Glenn Miller tribute show.

So I went back to the cabin for a while, and as the sun was on our side of the ship I actually went and sat out on our balcony for the first time this trip, with the evening sun warm on my face.  On my way to the theatre I went for a look around the shop, where they had handbags on offer; I got a nice tan and yellow one for only 20 quid.  Then it was time to go along to the show.

When I got there, however, there was no sign of Charlie or Linda, and in fact they never turned up.  It didn’t really matter though, as I enjoyed the show immensely; there’s something so nostalgic about the big band sound, and everyone knows Glenn Miller tunes, so there was much foot-tapping going on.

When I went up to the Conservatory afterwards for the syndicate quiz, Charlie and Linda were already there looking a little embarrassed.  They apologised for not coming along to the show; they’d gone back to their cabin for a short nap and had actually overslept, not waking up until nearly 10 o’ clock!  But we were all here now, and just before the quiz started Trevor appeared, the film having finished.  So we had a full team, not that it made any difference as we didn’t win.  Nonetheless, I enjoyed a couple of proseccos before turning in for the night, at the end of what had been a lovely day.


We’ll Keep A Welcome in the Hillside

So say the opening lines of that well-known Welsh anthem, as we woke up this morning, after a nice quiet night, in Holyhead, Wales.

Holyhead is the largest town in Anglesey and is known mainly as a busy ferry port.  It therefore has a rich maritime history and some lovely beaches and coastal walks, and we were looking forward to exploring.  We hadn’t booked any excursions this time, preferring instead to do our own thing.

The weather, once again, was dry but there were a few clouds in the sky, and we couldn’t quite decide whether it was going to be sunny or whether we’d have a continuation of yesterday’s rain.

After breakfast, we disembarked the Adonia and took a gentle stroll into town to see what was on offer.  We spotted a former lifeboat station that was now serving as a maritime museum and, because I am fascinated by all things nautical, we went inside for a look around.

The lifeboat station which now houses the museum was built in 1858 and contains a fascinating look at the nautical history of Holyhead, its famous ships and shipwrecks, wartime stories (including an air-raid shelter below the museum) as well as fossils of seals and whales and even a woolly mammoth to which they’d given the good old Welsh name “Myfanwy”.

We spent about an hour and a half in the museum before deciding to walk into the town and have a look around the shops.  By this time the sun was out (hooray!) although there was still quite a sea breeze blowing.

As we wandered into the pedestrianised area towards the shops, we heard the sound of music and we soon came across its source; a music and dance display by a local dance school.  The dancers were all youngsters, from teenagers down to little kids of eight or nine, and they treated us to a display of ballet, tap, hip-hop and street dancing, as well as some traditional Welsh folk dances while wearing national costume.  It was an enjoyable bit of ad hoc entertainment.

We looked around the shops and I bought a few postcards to send; we didn’t buy anything else because, like most British seaside towns, the shops were full of holiday ‘tat’.  So we just window-shopped before deciding to go for a drink and write out the postcards.  For this purpose, the local Conservative Club was situated nearby and the drinks prices were reasonable.

We had a couple of drinks each before emerging out into the street again, where we discovered that there had been a shower of rain.  After looking in a few more shops we decided to go back to the ship for our lunch.  There wasn’t really all that much to see in Holyhead; I think it’s a ferry port to take people away from the place, although it’s pleasant in its own quiet way.   🙂

Back on the Adonia we enjoyed our lunch on the open decks at the rear of the Conservatory, then we decided to go back to our cabin for a post-luncheon nap and a potter about.

Around 3.00pm my mobile phone started ringing, and I wondered who would be calling me on my holidays.  It turned out to be the agency for whom I am currently doing contract work; I work in IT technical support and have been contracting ever since I was made redundant from my permanent job in March 2011.  Why were they calling me?

I soon found out.  During the first week we were away on holiday there had been some restructuring and a change of circumstances at the company I am working for, and the agency were calling to say that they were bringing forward my contract end date from 25th October to 25th June !!!  I had been sacked at sea!    😦

This was certainly through no fault of mine, it was just that the situation had changed in the Korean company and I, as a contractor and therefore hourly paid, was on the receiving end of a cost-cutting exercise.  I must admit I was not very happy that they’d decided to impart the news to me in the middle of my cruise!  I would have to try not to let it spoil the rest of my week.

Later that evening, in the Pacific restaurant, we enjoyed a good meal and it was nice to see that my appetite had fully returned after my stomach bug yesterday.  We wanted to finish our meal and be along in the Curzon lounge in good time for tonight’s entertainment, as we knew we were in for a treat.

The cabaret artiste tonight was Anthony Stuart Lloyd, a bass-baritone classical singer who (as I’ve previously mentioned) we’d seen on the Queen Mary 2 in 2010 and the Balmoral in 2012.  He really is very good and we enjoyed his repertoire very much; in fact I ended up buying his CD, which he signed for me.

Then we ended the evening as we usually have done this cruise; up to the Conservatory for the syndicate quiz.  As usual, Charlie and Linda joined us, and another couple (I don’t know their names) joined us too, to make up the maximum team size of six.  We won with 18/20, and cracked open a bottle of house white wine, which the other couple declined as they were off to bed.  🙂

Missing Man

Well, what a complete waste of a day today turned out to be! During the night I woke up several times and I could hear the wind howling and the waves crashing against the hull of the Adonia below our balcony.   After 32 cruises, we are used to feeling the motion of the ship when in bed, and indeed sometimes the gentle rocking is quite soporific, but here in cabin B117 the bed seemed to move independently from the rest of the cabin.  Imagine a table with one leg slightly shorter than the others, where you have to put a piece of folded-up cardboard under the table leg to level it off, and you’ll get the idea of how the bed moved.  It was constant, but rocked side to side more noticeably when the sea was rough, and it got rather tiresome very quickly.

So at 4.00am I found myself wide-awake in my shaking bed with some very ominous rumblings and churnings going on in my stomach. I turned over and tried to make myself more comfortable but to no avail. In the end, it was a dash to the loo where I shall spare you the details; I put it down to something dodgy I’d eaten the night before.   😦

After dozing on and off, the grey light of dawn crept into our cabin and the scene outside was dismal; a choppy, restless Irish Sea, the rain pouring down and the lighthouse of Douglas, Isle of Man, beyond, where we were supposed to drop anchor around 8.00am.

The captain’s voice boomed over the tannoy to advise us that, as always, he has to put the safety of the ship’s passengers and crew above all else, and so he regretted to inform us that it would be too unsafe to try to anchor and ferry passengers ashore in the tenders. He explained that the Force 9 gales were worse than they’d forecast and it wouldn’t be safe to land; he was going to stay in contact with the harbour master in Douglas to let us know if there were any updates.

In the meantime, the Adonia continued to circle slowly in the foaming water, with the lights of the shore just annoyingly out of reach. So near, and yet so far. It was quite a disappointment as we’d never been to the Isle of Man before and were especially looking forward to visiting this interesting and unusual island.

As it happened, I was too sick to have been able to go anyway. I just stayed in the cabin and drank plenty of water and some ginger ale, and hoped the sickness and nausea would pass.

After lunch, Trevor came back and said that he’d seen Charlie and Linda who had said that I had to get myself better for the “Name that Tune” quiz at 4.30pm, as they needed my expertise in 70’s and 80’s music.   🙂

By three o’clock I was feeling a bit better, so I got out of bed and got showered and dressed. By this time the Adonia had set her course for our next port of call Holyhead in Wales. We should not have been arriving until tomorrow morning, but due to the inclement weather they were seeking the shelter of the Welsh port at 6.00pm tonight, and remaining moored up overnight. As the old saying goes, “any port in a storm.”  🙂

Up in the Crow’s Nest for the quiz, we had a full team and got 14 out of 15 questions correct, as did another team. It therefore went to the tie-breaker where we correctly guessed that the disco song “Hot Stuff” was released in 1979. So we won some more gold stickers for our prize card.   🙂

When the quiz-master noticed the name of our team “Missing Man”, he said, “oh, is someone missing from your team then?” I said “no, it’s because we’re ‘missing Man’ as in ‘Isle of…’ “.   This created lots of laughter in the room, and I thought I was appropriate for today’s blog title.   🙂

I didn’t go down to dinner tonight as my stomach still wasn’t feeling 100%. I only joined our table towards the end where I managed a bowl of soup and a couple of pieces of cheese; the first food across my lips today. Oh well, it’s one way to lose some weight I suppose!

After dinner I just went back to the cabin and went back to bed. Trevor watched the show and took part in the Syndicate Quiz, but I just wanted to make up for the lost sleep of the night before. By this time we were docked in Holyhead, Anglesey, and the night was nice and quiet and best of all, no shaking bed!   Hopefully I – and the weather – would be a lot better tomorrow. 🙂

Greenock, Scotland

Once again we woke up to a cloudy sky, but at least it was dry. 🙂 We hadn’t booked an excursion today, preferring instead to explore Greenock on our own. People who arrive in Greenock tend to see it as the gateway to Glasgow and go straight there, but as we’ve already been to Glasgow we thought we’d have a look around closer to ‘home’.

We disembarked the Adonia and wandered into the town. It didn’t look very big, and the problem was, being Sunday, most of the shops didn’t open until 11.00am, if at all. Nevertheless it was pleasant just to wander the town and look in the shop windows. There was a big shopping mall but the shops were just the same as the ones you’d find at home, so we didn’t buy anything.

We spotted a pub called the “Hole in the Wa’ “ which was advertising Sky Sports, and this pleased Trevor as we wanted to be able to watch the Monte Carlo F1 Grand Prix, which was on today. We therefore decided to go back to the ship, have some lunch and come back to the pub later on.

After lunch, which we tentatively ate sitting outside (somewhere sheltered from the still-biting wind) we gathered together our stuff and went back into town, by which time the pub was open. No such luck regarding the Grand Prix, however; we’d fogotten that Glasgow football team Celtic were playing in the Scottish Cup and so every television for miles around would be tuned into that match instead.

So we went back on the ship and I decided to have a rum and Coke and read my Kindle, but Trevor found out that they were showing the Grand Prix up in the Crow’s Nest, so he disappeared up there for a couple of hours. 🙂

Once we had got back on board, the Captain Cook’s voice came over the tannoy advising that, once again, our passage over the Irish Sea to Douglas, Isle of Man, was going to be a rough one, with gales and high seas expected.

We didn’t go back ashore again; as someone had already told us, there wasn’t much to see in Greenock; maybe we should have booked on one of the excursions.

So we just spent the afternoon pottering around until it was time to go to dinner. We thought there might have been a sailaway party as they usually have them when leaving any port, but they’ve been few and far between on this cruise, and once again the pool deck was deserted when we got there.

We didn’t go to the Pacific Restaurant tonight as they were having an Indian Banquet in the Conservatory and, as we love Indian food and eat it often at home, we decided to go there, where it was delicious. In the entrance of the restaurant there was a fantastic sculpture, made entirely of icing, of the Taj Mahal. We learnt it had taken the chef over two months to make it.

After dinner we went, along with Charlie and Linda again, into the Curzon lounge for the show, where once again they were featuring Mark Lawrence, the pianist.  He was excellent, a really talented musician.  I think I enjoyed his classical pieces more than the modern stuff; he did a few Elton John and Billy Joel, but the classical was best.

As we came out of the lounge, we spotted a hugely (literally) familiar figure that we recognised from a couple of previous cruises; the Welsh bass-baritone singer Anthony Stuart Lloyd.  He is a giant of a man at 6′ 7” and immensely broad shoulders so you can’t exactly miss him.  We’d seen him on the Queen Mary 2 in 2010 and on Balmoral for the Titanic Memorial Cruise last year, and he really is very good; he is described as having the “Rolls Royce” of voices.  We stopped for a chat with him and were delighted to learn that he’d be performing later on in the cruise.

Then we finished off the evening by taking part in the Syndicate Quiz where we hoped to maintain our number one spot.  The same couple from last night joined us but to no avail; no bottle of wine for us tonight.

Back in our cabin we could already feel that the wind was getting up; the Adonia was pitching and rolling quite a lot and we settled ourselves down to a rough night – all part of being at sea.

Hebrides and Malin

When we woke up this morning, we looked out to a grey sky and grey sea, and a cold wind was blowing. God, the British weather is really rubbish.  Here it is, May Bank Holiday weekend, and we still have the vestiges of the winter hanging on. I don’t know why we bothered to get a cabin with a balcony this time, as we’ve never sat out on it yet – it’s been too cold. Yet this time last year, we had a mini-cruise around Scotland with sunshine and blue skies.

However, once thing we can’t control is the weather, so we decided to make the best of our day below decks, doing all the usual stuff such as attending the talks and taking part in the quizzes.

At one o’clock it was time for the next round of “Battle of the Sexes” and the ladies’ team knew they had some ground to make up as we were lagging behind by 10 points. The picture round was scenes from British sitcoms and you had to identfy which ones they were. Whenever we looked as if we were stuck, one of the barmen standing behind us held the answer up on the back of a beermat!   😉

The next round was general knowledge and we fared quite well at that one, even without the barman’s help. The ladies won by four points, so now we’re only six behind and closing the gap!

We stay in the Crow’s Nest for the “Name that Tune” round featuring music from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, at which we’ve been doing very well up to now, either winning it or just losing out on the tie-breaker. This time we won by miles, so we received a gold sticker to put on our P & O game card. Woo-pe-doo!   Apparently you save up the stickers and exchange them for prizes at the end of the cruise, but if they are anything like the stuff they offer on Cunard cruises they’ll be pretty rubbish; I remember on the QM2 Trevor had to collect three prize tokens just to win a Cunard keyring.

Dinner that evening was delicious as ever, and once again I ate too much, coming away from the table feeling as though I could do with being trocarised.  Afterwards we went along to the show lounge to see “Reel to Reel”, a song-and-dance medley based on the movies, but Trevor decided to go to the Crow’s Nest and watch the football, so I went with Charlie and Linda.

We all went up to the Crow’s Nest for a while after the show and met up with Trevor, until it was time to go into the Conservatory for the Syndicate Quiz. Two other couples joined our team to make it up to the maximum of six.  We felt as if we were doing really well, and sure enough we won – by one point. We therefore got a bottle of rosé wine, courtesy of P & O, but the couple who joined us didn’t want their share, so we just asked the barman for four glasses and enjoyed it ourselves. It’s not the greatest vintage of wine, but it always tastes much better when it’s free. 🙂

Then it was back to cabin B117 for the evening. We were looking forward to arriving in Greenock tomorrow.

Scrabster and John o’ Groats

Though the sea was a lot calmer this morning, the rough weather yesterday meant our arrival in Scrabster was delayed by about 90 minutes. So it wasn’t until 10 o’clock that we docked in this fishing port in the Scottish county of Caithness.

We’d never been here before but we learned that Scrabster is Britain’s northernmost large port set on the north-western edge of Thurso Bay, and has been a harbour town since Viking times, when the Norsemen arrived in their longboats and formed a thriving settlement at this natural port.

In fact, reading the word “Scrabster” reminded me of a cross between “crab” and “lobster” and I was hoping to find some seafood stalls selling local cockles and mussels, as I absolutely love fresh shellfish.

Today we had booked on the Northern Highland Sights and Scenery tour so, boarding the bus on the quayside, we set off through the small fishing town, past the little houses and cottages perched on the hills with fantastic views of the harbour.

The weather was cloudy and a little bit windy, but at least it was dry. The coastal landscape gave way to fields of sheep and cattle with the occasional farm building, as we passed through remote, tiny little villages. There was also rugged moorland of heather and gorse. It looked a peaceful, idyllic place to live, miles from the hustle and bustle and stresses of traffic jams. However, unless you were a farmer or fisherman, I don’t know if there would be many other means of employment here, apart from a shopkeeper or publican/hotelier.

Our first stop of the day was at the famous John o’ Groats, on the north-eastern tip of Scotland. It isn’t the most northerly point on the mainland (we’d visit that later on) but it’s the furthest point from Land’s End, in Cornwall, as is beloved of cyclists and backpackers who want to do the 876 mile journey from one end of this island to the other, usually as an endurance test and/or to raise money for charity.

The town of John o’ Groats takes its name from Jan de Groote, a Dutchman who obtained a grant for the ferry from the Scottish mainland to Orkney, recently acquired from Norway, from James IV, King of Scots, in 1496.
By this time the sun was peeping hesitantly out from behind the clouds so, alighting from the bus, we spotted a little shop called “Flavours” that sold 15 different flavours of ice cream. I got a rum and raisin cone and Trevor got a toffee one and we strolled around the cliff top, looking in the little souvenir shops; in fact it was now starting to feel like a typical British seaside holiday, especially looking at the tour buses and the visitors, all doing what we were doing and enjoying an ice cream in the sunshine and bracing sea breeze. 🙂

After about 45 minutes it was time to go back on the bus. We passed some more of the lovely, rugged and remote scenery, seeing the small crofters’ cottages among the fields, some containing the distinctive black Aberdeen Angus cattle.

Our next stop was to Dunnet Head, and this time it was the most northerly point in mainland Britain, at 58° 40′ N, 03° 22 W. There wasn’t much here apart from the lighthouse, but there were great views of the islands of Stroma and Hoy, as well as Orkney. We were told by Mary, our guide, that it was a haven for bird-watchers and there had often been dolphins spotted, or indeed a friendly seal or two. So not really a lot to see or do here but, as with John o’ Groats, at least we can say we have been. 🙂

Back on the bus we passed more of the beautiful scenery before arriving back at the Adonia in time for lunch at around half past one. We’d already spotted a pub in the village called “The Ferry Inn” so we decided to wander along afterwards, as the weather was now quite warm if you could find somewhere out of the breeze.
We took a walk along to the pub, passing the Thurso lifeboat station and the lifeboat itself on the way. Inside were a couple of the locals, but various people came in off the Adonia to do what we were doing and have a couple of pints or taste the local whisky.

When we went back on board we had an afternoon nap then got ourselves ready for dinner as usual. From our table near the window we could see when the Adonia slipped her moorings at 7.00pm and started to head back in a south westerly direction.

Then it was off to the Curzon lounge where singer Lorraine Brown, the Shirley Bassey wannabe, was performing again.
Later on, in the Crow’s Nest, we enjoyed some drinks with Charlie and Linda before they decided to go to the Conservatory to take part in the syndicate quiz, but we were staying in the Crow’s Nest as tonight it was karaoke night, and yours truly, as ever, would be getting up to do a couple of numbers. 🙂

We moved our seats so we could get some good bird’s eye views of the receding, rugged coastline and watch the lighthouses flash their beams, warning mariners of rocks. We saw another cruise ship in the distance, and looking through the binoculars provided, we saw the Fred Olsen logo on the funnel; the ship turned out to be the Boudicca, on which we cruised in 2008, when we went all the way up to Spitsbergen, and nearly to 80° north.

At 10.15pm entertainments officer Graham came into the lounge to start the karaoke. There weren’t many people in the Crow’s Nest by then, so I hoped a few more would come in after the main show had finished, as I didn’t want to be the only one to get up and sing! However, on this particular cruise most of the passengers were elderly, and indeed we’d been told that the average age was 69, so it looked as though most of them had taken their cups of Horlicks and gone to bed. 😉

Well, I have to say that the karaoke turned out to be the “Graham and Debbie Show” as Graham “filled in” by doing a few songs and I was the only passenger to get up! We each did four songs, but we were performing to a nearly-empty room, so I don’t think they’ll be putting on any more karaoke nights this cruise. 🙂

There Are Warnings Of Gales…

During the night we woke several times as the wind had got up and large waves were crashing off the side of the Adonia, and we could feel our beds shaking. When we got up it was quite difficult moving around our cabin due to the ship’s motion.  Not to worry though; sea-sickness has never affected us, no matter what the weather, so we were looking forward to another relaxing day at sea.

After breakfast we went along to hear another talk by the P & O marine historian Rob Henderson; this time it was about several of the great ships of the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company and their roles during the war. Afterwards we went along to the Conservatory to enjoy a mid-morning coffee, and we saw Charlie and Linda who were looking slightly worse for wear due to the rough weather and, they said, maybe a tad too many of the cocktails of the day.   🙂  We advised them to consume some form of ginger (ginger beer, ginger ale etc.) as we have always found ginger to be excellent for relieving nausea; indeed on the QE2 in the past they always used to set out bowls of crystallised ginger for the passengers to help themselves to whenever the going was a little rough.

We decided to venture out onto the deserted pool deck and were nearly blown off our feet by the strong wind, which was very cold.  All around us the Irish Sea crashed and foamed with large, choppy waves.  We sought refuge inside once again and pottered about the ship until lunchtime.

The mid-day announcement informed us that the wind was Force 8 on the Beaufort scale, which was gale force and, as ever, advised us to “take care” when moving around the ship due to the high seas.

At 1.00pm we went along to the Crow’s Nest for the second round of “Battle of the Sexes” and the picture round consisted of famous landmarks, followed by a general knowledge round.  When you are part of a large team there is a lot of conferring going on, and often someone on the team will offer the correct answer but then allow themselves to be talked out of it by the other team members; this happened quite a lot to us.  Also, it’s the luck of the draw which questions you get; sometimes we knew the answers to the opposition’s questions but not our own.  It’s all part of the fun though.  Once again, the ladies lost by five points, so we are now lagging behind 10 points overall.   😦

Charlie and Linda had joined in with the quiz and had taken our advice and got a ginger-beer based drink, but it didn’t do them any good and, in fact, they both left in rather a hurry to seek the comfort of their cabin.

We stayed for the “Name that Tune” round and had another drink, then it was back to our cabin for an afternoon nap, as we hadn’t slept well last night.  Another annoucement from the bridge advised us that the storm had increased and now the wind was up to Force 9 (strong gale).  Indeed some of the doors leading to the open decks had been roped off, saying the the deck was “closed” and advising passengers not to go outside.

Around teatime we spotted “land ahoy” and, looking at the map, saw that we were going through the Hebrides. In the distance we could see the islands of Lewis and Harris to our port side and some of the inner islands, such as Skye, to our starboard side.

We enjoyed a hearty dinner at 6.15pm and noticed that the sea was calmer.  The captain had advised that, by about midnight tonight, the wind should have dropped and we had a good forecast for our arrival into Scrabster tomorrow morning.

In the Curzon Lounge tonight’s entertainment was a pianist.  He was very good and played a selection of contemporary and classical pieces, including one of my favourites, the fantastic Warsaw Concerto by Richard Addinsell.  He ended his concert by asking the audience to shout out some of their favourite piano pieces (I asked for Debussy’s Clair de Lune) which he then played in a medley.  We really enjoyed his performance and some people got to their feet while applauding.

We met up with Charlie and Linda once again in the Crow’s Nest, by which time they’d perked up considerably.  We played the “Majority Rules” quiz, which is a bit different in that there is no right and wrong answer to each question, but you score more points the more teams that have the same answer as you.  We didn’t win, but it was amusing to see some of the answers people had suggested.

Then it was off to bed again in cabin B117 where we noticed from our balcony that there were not as many “white horses” on the sea, so we hoped for a much calmer night.

In Dublin’s Fair City

When we awoke this morning, the Adonia was already moored up in the capital city of the emerald isle. There is a very old joke that asks “Which country is the richest in the world?” and the answer is “Ireland, because its capital is always Dublin.” 🙂

We had been here once before, on the Black Prince in 2008, so it was nice to come back and see the familiar sights as well as new ones. We weren’t going on an excursion this time, preferring instead to do our own exploring.

We got the shuttle bus from the docks into town, where we were dropped off outside the main library. Armed with a map of the city, we’d already decided on our first destination; the world-famous Guinness brewery at St. James’ Gate, where Ireland’s favourite beer has been brewed since 1759.

It was about a mile and a half of walking, but it allowed us to get some exercise, as well as looking in the shops on the way. When we arrived at the Guinness Storehouse (as its known) we noticed a party of men, all wearing white peaked caps with enormous black tassels hanging down; we thought they looked a bit daft). They were obviously a foreign tour group come to take a look around the brewery, as we were doing ourselves.

The Guinness Storehouse is a tall building with lots of glass and open-work staircases; in fact it is shaped like a giant pint glass. You work your way up the various levels, on each one learning the different stages of the fine art of brewing the “black stuff”, from the roasting of the malted barley grains, to the picking of the hops and the addition of pure mountain spring water, and of course the history of the company itself, which has been going for more than 250 years.

Once you reach the top of the “pint glass” you find yourself in the Gravity Bar, which is a circular rooftop bar affording the best views over all of Dublin. We had a voucher which we exchanged for a free pint of Guinness and enjoyed the panoramic views. We noticed that the group of guys with the daft hats had also assembled with their pints; just then, the barman asked for our attention and announced that we were very lucky to have a male-voice choir visiting us from Finland, whereupon the group of men burst into song, a superb a capella version of the Indiana Jones theme. They then did a rendition of Happy Together, and the harmonies were fantastic. An unusual and unexpected bit of entertainment; here we were in Ireland listening to a choir from Finland, while enjoying our Guinness in a rooftop bar over the city. 🙂

We then took a slow walk back, first of all stopping in a nearby pub called “Arthur’s” and enjoying another pint of Guinness with a bar meal, during which time I sat and wrote out the three postcards we’d bought earlier.

After posting the cards we continued on our way and had a look in a shop selling a fantastic range of unusual looking shoes. I saw a great pair with a 6” wedge heel and they would have been perfect apart from the fact that they had an ankle strap, and I cannot wear anything around the ankle any more, ever since I broke my right ankle and had to have it pinned in 2008. 😦

As it was now about 3.45pm and the last shuttle bus back to the Adonia was at half four, we decided to make our way back to the library, first of all stopping off to see the former home of famous Irish playwright Oscar Wilde, as well as a memorial statue of this great man of genius and wit.

We were almost falling asleep on the short bus ride back to the ship, so once on board we decided to have a nap. I’d already made my mind up that I wasn’t going down to dinner tonight (which certainly wouldn’t hurt, ha ha) so I took my time getting ready. Trevor went down to the dining room but I just took my Kindle along to Anderson’s bar and enjoyed a glass of champagne before joining the others in the Pacific restaurant for the coffee and liqueur stage.

The show in the Curzon Lounge tonight was called “Songs from 88 Notes” and was based around famous songs that had been composed using the 88 keys on a piano keyboard. It featured the Adonia singers and dancers and was the usual cheesy singathon, OK but not out of this world.

Then, as usual, it was up to the Crow’s Nest where the resident musical quintet called Quintessence were playing a tribute to jazz; we actually enjoyed that more than the main show.

The quiz tonight was called “All Around the World” based on geography (i.e. capitals, flags, famous landmarks etc) and we usually do quite well in these types of quizzes because we’ve been to 71 countries across all seven continents. However, we lost the quiz by one measly point, because we didn’t recognise Liverpool. In the section called “in which city do you find these landmarks” we correctly recognised Seattle, Moscow, Rio de Janero and Dubai, but didn’t get Liverpool. So no bottle of wine for us tonight then!

Back in our cabin we opened a bottle of prosecco that we’d bought in Lidl in Dublin, and settled down for the night. The forecast was for rough weather ahead, and the movement of the Adonia was already reminding us that we were no longer on terra firma and a taste of the high seas to come.