Bye-Bye Braemar

When we got up this morning after another rough night at sea we were back where we started from, in Santa Cruz de Tenerife.  Some other lucky people would be in cabin 7050 tonight, just starting their cruise, whereas for us our holiday is finished.  😦

At the end of each voyage every passenger receives a copy of the Cruise Log and we eagerly looked to see how many nautical miles the Braemar had sailed this trip.  I have always kept track of all the nautical miles we’ve done and we needed 2,634 to make our grand total reach an impressive 100,000.  How many had we done?  Unbelievably, we’d sailed a total of 2,624.  I could not believe it… we were only 10 miles short.  10 miles!!  So we’ve done a total of 99,990 nautical miles and will have to wait until our next cruise to reach our milestone.  😦

We had a decent breakfast in the Palms Café, then went back and picked up our carry-on bags, before having a final look around the cabin to make sure we hadn’t left anything behind.  Then it was off to the Coral Club to await our call to disembark around 11.00am.

What else can I write?  When the time came, we disembarked the Braemar and boarded the coach that was waiting to take us to the airport, a ride of about 40 minutes.  Once we arrived it was straight to security, as we already had the boarding passes for our 1510 Jet2 flight.  But this meant we would have a good couple of hours in the Executive Lounge beforehand.  🙂

The exec lounge at Tenerife airport is really very good.  It is quite large and has a good range of drinks and snacks to which passengers can just help themselves.  There are nice big windows giving great views of the aircraft taking off and landing and there was, of course, free wi-fi.  I enjoyed ham salad, sandwiches, crisps and several glasses of wine, as we wouldn’t be getting a meal on the plane (budget airline and all that).

Eventually our flight was called and we made our way to Gate 9 to board.   The aircraft was around half an hour late taking off, then we were airborne and on our way back to Blighty.  At least it was only a four-hour flight this time, and not 14 hours the way it was last January when we flew back from Buenos Aires.

When we arrived it Manchester, it took absolutely ages waiting at the luggage carousel for our cases to arrive.  Then it was onto the shuttle bus and back to the long-term car parking, where we picked up our Vauxhall Meriva for the drive back to Durham.

We arrived back home right on the stroke of midnight; the end of another fabulous holiday in some unusual places.

Here’s to the next time!  🙂

Gran Tarajal, Fuerteventura

Last night I’d had my sleep broken several times in what was a very rough night.  The Braemar had been pitching and rolling and my bed had never been still.  This morning, however, all was quiet as we found ourselves docked in Fuerteventura.  We hadn’t been to this island before so we were looking forward to seeing what it had to offer.

We felt a bit sad this morning as our long-anticipated holiday was fast coming to an end and we would have to do our packing later.  But never mind that for now; the weather looked as though it would be a lot better today so we were going to make the most of our last day.

We disembarked the Braemar and enjoyed a pleasant slow stroll along the harbour.  Gran Tarajal is, apparently, one of the biggest towns on the island and owes its success to the fact that all of the island’s tomatoes were once shipped from here.  From the harbour you could see numerous small streets and alleys built into the hillside so we set off to explore.  🙂

We took a walk along the seafront where there were several small bars and cafés.  The sun was out at last although there was still a lively breeze.  We came to a small market square and had a browse among the stalls, before coming to a wide sandy beach where a few people in wetsuits with surf boards were putting the wind and waves to good use.  Apart from that though the beach was pretty much deserted, which was probably most unusual.

Exploring some of the streets we discovered another one of those miscellaneous stores selling all sorts of imported Oriental stuff, so once again I was able to go in and buy lots of different kumihimo cords at a bargain price.  🙂  Then we spotted a bar with free wi-fi, so we went in and ordered a beer each, and I was able to check my emails and upload some of this blog.

Then we wandered around a bit more before returning to the Braemar just before noon and packing some of our stuff up; we then went down to lunch in the Thistle Restaurant as today they were holding their grand “King Neptune Seafood Buffet”.  They must have been making the most of all that lovely fresh seafood in Gran Canaria yesterday because the array of fresh fish was delicious.  I enjoyed fresh clams, mussels, squid, smoked salmon and sushi before going back to refill my plate, this time with half a lobster, some crab claws, shell-on prawns and langoustines.  It was scrumptious and what better to wash it down than with a glass of (free!) chilled Freixenet cava.  Lush!  🙂

Fed and watered, we then went up on deck at the stern of the Braemar to see what the weather was like.  It wasn’t too bad on the lee side of the ship in the sun,  but there was still quite a nippy wind blowing on the other side.  So we ordered a sangria each and found a sheltered spot outside to enjoy them.  🙂

Back in our cabin I read my Kindle for a while then got showered, did my hair and makeup and got ready for about 5.00pm as tonight was the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail party at half past five.  But before then, we had to go and trade in the prize vouchers we’d gained in the two quizzes our team had won; we managed to pick up a Fred Olsen Cruise Lines coffee mug.

In the Neptune Lounge we collected a free glass of ‘champers’ (not so exciting any more when it’s all free) while listening to the Braemar Orchestra.  Then Captain ‘Bent Over’ arrived and made a little speech to summarise this cruise; he commented on the weather and sea conditions and remarked that the wind had followed the Braemar all the way from Cape Verde (very true).

We had a couple more drinks then went along to the Thistle Restaurant for the “last supper” with Mick and Jackie, Les and Gillian and Kevin and Val.  Then we hotfooted it along to the Neptune Lounge for the show; we didn’t think we’d have any luck getting in but we managed to get a good vantage point right at the back by sitting on a ledge.  Tonight the performance was a variety show featuring each of the guest acts, so we saw the Scottish comedian Ron Dale, singer Jane Beaumont and another singer called Fély Pandez, but no Martin Daniels as they informed us that he’d had to fly home in a hurry due to a bereavement.  😦

We then went along to have our final attempt at the quiz which we didn’t win!  Then it was time for the last performance of the cruise in the Coral Club.  It featured the Braemar Show Company and was called “Hits from the Flicks” and was an excellent show.  I regularly read (and contribute to) the web site “Cruise Critic” and I have come across some scathing reviews of the Braemar and her entertainment programme, but the people who write these ‘reviews’ must be professional whingers because I absolutely cannot fault the entertainments team; they all work so hard and the shows have been superb.  Bravo Braemar!

It was late when we got back to cabin 7050 as we’d been making the most of the free booze on our last night!  We still had the rest of the packing to do as our cases had to be left outside the cabin before 2.00am.  We already had the boarding passes for our flight home from Tenerife tomorrow, so once the cases were outside our cabin we wouldn’t see them again until we arrived back in Manchester.

Las Palmas, Gran Canaria

Had a lie-in this morning and decided not to go down to breakfast.  I just made a cup of coffee with the kettle in our cabin, and Trevor brought me back a muffin from the buffet as the Malarone prophylaxis have to be taken with food.  I don’t know whether it was the all the late nights or an abundance of free booze (or both!) catching up with me, but this morning I felt like one o’clock half struck.

Today the Braemar was docked in Las Palmas, capital of the island of Gran Canaria.  This is the third time we’ve been here; last time was in October 2010 on the Queen Elizabeth and the time before was on Queen Mary 2 in January 2004.  But what a difference the weather was today compared with those previous times; once again the skies were grey and cloudy, there were intermittent showers and a very strong wind.  😦

So when we disembarked the ship to walk into town for a look around, we had to wear our cagoules and I personally wish I’d brought a jumper or lightweight jacket as well.  You really don’t expect the weather to be other than kind when in the Canaries, but this time we were disappointed; it’s the coldest we’ve known it.

We walked into the main town and went to a large food and produce market.  There were vast arrays of fresh meats, fruit and vegetables, and of course a massive fish and seafood stall.  The various smells coming from the fish, vegetables, herbs and spices was very mouth-watering and the market vendors were doing a roaring trade.  I found what I was looking for; a stall selling soft drinks as I decided I needed a Red Bull to perk me up a bit.  🙂

When we came out of the market we saw a huge “El Corte Ingles” department store and, more to keep out of the wind than anything, we went inside.  The ground floor dealt with perfumes, toiletries and cosmetics, and I saw a Bobbi Brown counter. As I love her products, I allowed the lady on the counter to make up my eyes, then a I bought a sparkle eye shadow and a black gel eye liner.  I will try them out tonight.

We then spent some time riding up and down on the escalator and seeing what was on the different levels, before eventually making our way back outside again.  We looked around a few more shops then decided to go back to the Braemar; we hadn’t booked any excursions today as we’ve been here twice before anyway, as I’ve already said.  If the weather had been better we would have explored further afield, and maybe gone to the beach, but we just made up our minds to go ashore again later if we wanted, as we were in port until 11.00pm tonight.

Back on board we went to the Palms Café where I enjoyed a bowl of soup and some mixed salad.  I was craving for a packet of cheese and onion crisps as it is my favourite snack and I hadn’t had any since we came away on holiday!  🙂

After lunch I went back to the cabin for a sleep, to try to shake off my lethargy/hangover, whatever you’d call it.  😉

Around 3.00pm we went ashore once again, this time to have a look around a big indoor shopping mall.  I found somewhere selling crisps (yum yum) and we did a bit of window shopping but didn’t buy anything.  Again, it was just to keep out of the wind and the showers.

On our return to the ship we whiled away the time in our cabin before going to dinner at 6.00pm, where we enjoyed the company of our table-mates on table 123 as well as the delicious food.  The rosé wine I had was my first alcoholic drink of the day, but by now I’d perked up and was ready to take advantage of our all-inclusive drinks package once more.  😉

Once again we were unable to get into the Neptune Lounge for tonight’s show.  Usually the first performance is at 8.30pm for those on first dinner sitting, with the 2nd sitting’s show being at 10.30pm.  But for some reason, the second sitting passengers’ show was on at 7.00pm, which meant no-one from our sitting could get in, and the queues stretched all the way back from the Neptune Lounge, all round and through the Morning Light, and into the corridor beyond.  It was completely ridiculous just for a “West End to Broadway” show by the Braemar Show Company.

In any case I wasn’t too bothered about missing that show as I find the West End musical songs have been done to death on cruise ships;  it’s always the same – songs from West Side Story, Guys and Dolls, Singing in the Rain etc. etc.  Yawn.  So we just sat in the Morning Light pub and enjoyed a few of the gratis drinks before we went along to the Coral Club for the quiz.

There was supposed to be a party on the aft decks called “A Night under the Las Palmas Stars”, but needless to say the unusually cold and windy weather put paid to that, so the event was moved into the Coral Club, the performance coming from the good old Braemar Orchestra and the resident M.I.T. Band.

At around 11.00pm the increased engine vibrations coming through the floor of the Coral Club told us that the Braemar was leaving port once again.  We stayed half an hour or so to enjoy the disco before going back to our cabin and turning in for the evening.  There was quite a lot of movement of the Braemar and it looked as if we were in for a choppy night.

It’s Brilliant on the Braemar

Monday, 27th January 2014

We could enjoy a lie-in this morning as the Braemar is now on her way back up to the Canary Islands.  When we went out onto our balcony, we could feel that it was quite windy and the sky was cloudy.  So we hoped the weather would improve so that we could spend some time up on deck and enjoy the long, lazy sea days ahead.

After our breakfast in the Palms Café, Trevor went along to listen to one of the WW2 presentations while I returned briefly to cabin 7050 and made up some more kumihimo bracelets and updated this blog.  Then it was time to go to the Neptune Lounge and join Trevor for the latest presentation by ex-police inspector Bob Ferris.  Bob is also a bit of a comedian (in fact he does a bit of stand-up since he retired) so his talks are amusing as well as being very informative.  Today’s talk was all about the times when the police have that unpleasant task of breaking the news of a death to the victim’s family.

It was after 11.30am when the talk finished, so we made our way to the Morning Light pub as, once again, deputy Cruise Director Jamie and singer Pat Shannon were holding “Name That Tune”.

On our way to the pub we noticed that the library and Braemar Room were pretty full; almost every seat was taken as most people were staying below decks as it was too windy up top.  When we got to the Morning Light there were only seats at the bar again, so we took our places and ordered one of Emma’s famous sangrias each.

Presently we were joined by our team mates from the last Name That Tune.  This time, Jamie and Pat had said they were going to make the quiz harder, as too many people scored highly last time (I mean, we got 27/30 and that wasn’t enough to win).  So the quiz took the same format:  listen to a few bars of the tune and give the song title and the artiste most associated with the song.  Instead of singing along this time, we just ‘mimed’ the words as we didn’t want to be told off again.  Pat said he was quite amused by the “team at the bar” who were “singing along silently”.   🙂

The questions were indeed harder, and we only managed 24/30 this time.  But the bloke who marked our paper gave us 36; he said the other 12 points were for “entertainment value”.  But yeah, we got 24 which we thought wasn’t very good, but the highest score was only 25, so we missed out by one point!  Still, we’d had fun doing it.  🙂

We stayed for one more sangria then off we went to the Palms again for our lunch.  Venturing out onto the rear decks we discovered that, indeed, the weather wasn’t clement enough to sit out in; in fact when we took a peek at the Marquee Deck where the pool and open-air bar is, not a soul was about and the bar was closed.  A pity.

The afternoon passed by in its lazy, pleasant way then it was time to go to dinner.  Once we’d finished, we wasted no time in going along to the Neptune Lounge as tonight the Cruise Director, Andy Mills-Brown was doing a sort of “Piers Morgan Life Stories” show, starring the Master of the Braemar, Captain Bent Ivar Gangdal (good old Bent Over, ha ha).   It was very interesting as the captain, like a lot of his Norwegian fellow countrymen, has a dry and subtle sense of humour.

The main show tonight in the Neptune Lounge featured comedian/magician Martin Daniels once again.  His show was excellent and very funny, as before.  On the Braemar, and indeed all the Fred Olsen ships, the orchestra always play the same introductory tune; we found out that it is called In The Stone by 70’s funk group Earth, Wind and Fire.  I’ll have to download it when we get home, so it will remind us of the great Fred Olsen cruises we’ve enjoyed.  🙂

We went along to the Coral Club as usual for the quiz and joined George and Barbara, who were kindly saving a seat for us.  Afterwards (nope, we didn’t win!) Holly, who is the lead dancer, came around the room looking for male volunteers to get up and do a dance with them during their nautical-themed show, which was called “Up The Anchor”.  George, Barbara and I volunteered Trevor to get up!

The Braemar Show Company put on an excellent performance as ever, and each of the four female dancers had a male ‘volunteer’, including Trevor.  All they had to do were actions, such as hoist the sail, sweep the decks, drunken sailor etc.  At the end, all the guys who got up got a massive cheer.  I think Trevor was quite well-known to the entertainments team by this time, not only for tonight but for getting the best dressed costume in the British themed night last night as well.   🙂

We enjoyed a few more (free!) drinks afterwards whilst listening and dancing to the M.I.T. Band and the disco, then it was off to bed after 1.00pm again.  But this time we didn’t leave our balcony door open; the sound of the wind whistling was too loud and distracting, so we were left to the mercy of the air conditioning blasting away.

Tuesday, 28th January 2014

Got up around 8.30am this morning and decided to go up to the Grampian restaurant for our breakfast, and also some of the free ‘champers’ as tonight was the last of the formal nights.  We were given a table for two right at the window, so we could look and see what sort of day it was.  From the movement of the Braemar we could tell the sea was still very choppy, and the clouds were still very much in evidence.

I enjoyed the usual smoked salmon, cured meats and fresh fruit breakfast, washed down with two large glasses of the free fizz.  Then off we went for a potter around, had a look outside (still fairly windy), went and looked around the shops to see if there were any bargains and listened to the guest speakers (another good one from Bob Ferris).

At lunchtime we went along to the Morning Light once again where they were holding an International Beer Festival as well as a good old sing-along with Pat Shannon.  This time we were allowed to sing out loud, ha ha.  The pub was crowded as most people were below decks once again; in fact the Morning Light is often used as a through-route between the Braemar Room and the Neptune Lounge, so people are coming and going all the time.  Usually the queues for the Neptune Lounge stretch through the Morning Light, and I felt a bit sorry for Pat who was valiantly trying to get the sing-along starting when there was a constant movement of people.  Nevertheless, some of the stalwarts like us joined in and sang lustily.  Of course, all the free booze helps and adds decibels (if not melody) to our voices, ha ha  🙂

Afterwards we had our lunch then went back to cabin 7050 for an afternoon nap, as the late nights were catching up a bit.  I did a bit of reading, watched the telly etc. then took a long, leisurely shower and did my hair and makeup and got ready for our last formal dinner.  We had a guest at our table tonight; lead dancer Holly (Trevor’s partner from last night!) and she regaled us with tales of her career on board cruise ships, as well as telling us about her family.  A convivial and amusing dinner companion.

Despite being out of the Thistle restaurant in good time to go to the Neptune Lounge, we were unable to get in, which was a pity because tonight it was the Braemar Crew Show.  The problem is that the passenger Choir Concert had been performing beforehand, so the people who’d gone along to see them at 7.45pm had just stayed in their seats.  Therefore the queue was massive and stretched all the way through the pub and into the corridor beyond.  So there was no point even trying to get in, as we wouldn’t be able to get decent seats.

Never mind though, we just stayed in the pub, had a few drinks, enjoyed Pat’s music and then hot-footed it along to the Coral Club for the quiz as usual.

Tonight’s show in the Coral Club was called “From Backstage to On Stage” and featured none other than our Price Tag rapping guy, Dong Gutierrez.  He was absolutely brilliant and he did some of the great classics like Time To Say Goodbye which actually brought a lump to my throat.  At the end of his performance I leapt to my feet and I noticed some others in the room giving him a well-deserved standing ovation as well.  Wow.  🙂

We stayed to listen to the M.I.T. Band and had a bit of a dance, then off we went back to cabin 7050.  Tomorrow we were due to reach land again, in the shape of Gran Canaria.

Senegal and the Slave Trade

This morning the Braemar docked in Dakar, capital of Senegal. The view from our balcony showed us that Dakar appeared to be more modern than Banjul, as there were several high-rise buildings and more traffic on the roads. It also looked a lot cleaner!

After breakfast we collected the tickets for our tour from the Neptune Lounge, then disembarked the Braemar, thereby setting foot on Senegal soil and our 74th country.

We didn’t need a bus this time, as our visit was to Goree Island, a ferry ride away from the mainland. The ride was only about 20 minutes, then we alighted at the other side, where we would learn all about the slave trade from the 18th century.
We had been allocated Bob Ferris, the retired policeman and one of the ship’s guest speakers, as our escort and our guide was called Hamidou. As we were group 13, we’d been told to join groups 11 and 12. As there are 30 in each group, Bob argued that a party size of 90 was far too big and said we were only supposed to be in groups of 60. Hamidou disagreed and there were a few raised voices while we all stood around waiting. Bob apologised to us and said that, as tourism is still fairly new in Senegal, they weren’t quite used to organising tour parties.

As we were waiting, we were approached by the inevitable hawkers selling jewellery, sarongs and wooden carvings. We were invited to look at their stalls but we explained we were on a guided tour. But they insisted we come and have a look afterwards, so we agreed just to get rid of them.

We walked along the streets until we came to the Maison des Esclaves or the House of Slaves. The official language of Senegal is French, so all the signage around the island was in French. The curator of the house of slaves showed us the depressing cells and explained how men, women and children were separated and given different prices, depending on their age, fitness and working abilities. The most valuable were the virgin girls, who would inevitably be used as breeding stock. The slaves were chained together with leg irons and shackles and the men were placed 20 to a cell. The cells had stone walls, small barred windows and dim lanterns; they were thoroughly depressing places. I found it appalling that a human being could keep another human in chains. The slave trade is a shameful and disgusting history of man’s cruelty to man.

We were shown the long corridor down which the slaves were herded onto the waiting ships, after which it was “goodbye Africa” and off to the unknown. Large numbers of slaves were shipped to America, the Caribbean and Brazil, which explains the many cultures of these countries; most of the black people there can trace their ancestry back to the slave trade in Africa 250 years ago.

Once we came out of the slave house we walked along the path to a sand-painter’s workshop and gallery. There are about 15 different colours and textures of sand in Senegal and the artist first of all draws the outline of his picture, then coats areas with glue, to which the sand then adheres before being smoothed. The pictures were most striking.

When we came out we were once again accosted by the hawkers but we just shrugged them off.

Our next visit took us up a winding path along uneven ground; you really had to look where you were putting your feet or risk stumbling on the stony terrain. When we arrived at the top we had excellent views over to the mainland, but the main attraction was a large gun turret and a pair of big guns with 8” barrels; apparently this was where the film The Guns of Navarone was filmed.

We wandered around a bit, enjoying the sea breeze before gingerly picking our way down the hill again. On the way I saw some ladies selling colourful African sarongs; a purple and yellow one caught my eye so I asked her how much. “20 Euros” she replied (she’s got to be joking!) but we bartered her down to 10 Euros.
Immediately afterwards another seller came over to me and said “You’ve bought something from her, now buy something from me. My name is Betty, you buy something from Betty”. I explained to Betty that I didn’t want another sarong as I already had one, and I didn’t want to buy any beaded jewellery as I make it myself. She carried on asking me and tugging on my arm, but I kept firmly saying “No thank you”.

As we walked around the island and looked at the baobab trees and other things of interest, Betty just latched onto me and kept following me around. “You buy something from Betty; Betty needs to feed her kids” she kept saying, annoyingly referring to herself in the third person all the time. I kept refusing; she was fairly plump and obviously wasn’t starving!

As she followed me around (aaarrgh! Go away!) her demeanour went from cheerful to wheedling to downright belligerent. Even when our guide chased her away she was back again within minutes. I would be listening to the guide and would feel her eyes glaring balefully at me.

When we went along to a Christian church we finally managed to get rid of her. 🙂
Hamidou explained to us that Senegal is 90% Muslim and 10% Christian, but that there was no sectarian animosity and both religions lived together in harmony and peace, respecting each other’s beliefs. I wish it could be like that in Britain!

We had a look in the little wooden church, then went along for a seat in a large courtyard where a guide would give us a summary of our trip before we headed back down to the ferry port. There were complimentary soft drinks and bottled beer on offer, so we enjoyed a cold beer each until it was time to go for our 12.30pm ferry back to Dakar.

Once we were back on board the Braemar we went for our lunch, then made our way back down to the gangway where we’d noticed a bloke selling Senegal postcards and stamps; he explained we could write them out and he would then post them once he was back ashore. There was a box there where people could deposit their stamped cards.

So we bought a couple of cards, wrote them out, stamped and posted them then went back to our cabin for a post-luncheon nap.

Afterwards it was just the usual; sitting around enjoying a couple of drinks, wandering around the ship, socialising and swapping stories with other passengers.
The theme night tonight was red, white and blue or British Night, so as we got dressed for our evening meal I put on a pair of white trousers and a Union Jack t-shirt, as well as sporting a feather boa in red, white and blue. Trevor was extremely smart in his black trousers, white wing-collar shirt, a Union Jack waistcoat and Union Jack bow tie. I told him he had to be the best-dressed person on the ship. 🙂

We were actually the only couple on our table who’d dressed up, but here and there around the ship we could see quite a few others had got into the spirit and were wearing red, white and blue as well.

In the Neptune Lounge tonight we were all given little British flags to wave and the cruise director led a good old singalong, ending with Land of Hope and Glory.
Then the Braemar Show Company put on an all-singing, all-dancing show called “Cool Britannia”, featuring the great British bands and singers such as The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Elton John, Tom Jones, etc. It was a good show as ever and there was a lot of flag waving and arms in the air from the audience.

Then we went along to the Coral Club and joined George and Barbara for the quiz. For the second time we won, and got some of the prize tokens. But during the quiz the deputy cruise director Jamie had been coming round looking at the people who had dressed up. He said “if I tap you on the shoulder you have to stand up at the end so people can get a good look at you, and there will be a bottle of sparkling wine for the person considered the best dressed.”

Not surprisingly Trevor was one of the ones chosen, along with another couple of blokes and a woman. One of the other guys was wearing a Union Jack waistcoat but Trevor’s was nicer. Jamie then pointed to each person and asked the audience to cheer. By far and away Trevor got the loudest cheer so we won the bottle of cava, which we shared with George and Barbara. 🙂

Afterwards we stayed in the Coral Club for the M.I.T. Band and the disco. In fact, it was after 2.00am when we finally returned to our cabin. We had two days at sea to look forward to, so we propped our balcony door open and slept well, lulled by the Braemar’s gentle motion on the waves.

The Gambia Experience

It was with interest that we went out onto our balcony this morning to take in our surroundings, as it’s our first visit to West Africa (other than Morocco). The weather was warm and the sun, when it came out from behind the clouds, was very hot. Trevor made sure to pack our insect repellent in his rucksack before we left the Braemar to board the bus for our excursion, which was the Banjul City Tour.

Banjul was founded in 1816 and the town’s name was originally Bathurst after Henry Bathurst, the secretary of the British Colonial Office. When The Gambia achieved its independence in 1965, the town achieved city status and became the national capital. It was renamed Banjul in 1973.

Our first stop was to Arch 22, so called after 22nd July (independence day). It is a large, pillored archway and houses the National Museum. It was a long climb to the top, round and round the spiral staircase of 170 steps. The views over the city, however, are worth the climb.

Our guide, Dewar, told us all about the different tribes of the Gambia. There are Mandinka, Wolof, Jola, Foulah and Serere to name but a few. We also learnt a little about the appalling slave trade. We spent some time looking at the artefacts and going outside to look at the view and take photographs. Then it was back down the spiral stairs and out again for the short walk to the waiting bus. We had to fight our way through throngs of raggedly dressed children who were standing with their hands outstretched, hoping for sweets, pencils and money from the cruise passengers.

The roads are not very good in the Gambia so the bus rattled and bumped and lurched along the route. Our next destination was to a fabric market where the material was hand-dyed either using tie-dying or the traditional batik method, whereby the design is painted onto the fabric, then areas are coated with wax so that the die won’t penetrate that area. We watched some of the artisans creating their designs, and all around us the lengths of finished fabric were hung up to dry out.

The fabric is then made into garments and household items such as tablecloths and napkins, duvet covers and pillowcases, curtains and wall-hangings. The colourful designs were stunning and the prices were not too bad, particularly if you bartered.

After fighting our way through the kids, stray dogs and cats and hawkers selling jewellery and wooden carvings, we got back on the bus and continued on our way.

Our next stop was to a crocodile pool. The bus parked up and we had a walk of about three quarters of a mile before getting to the pool. We followed Dewar, our guide, through the small local villages to get there. It was hard going because the roads were not finished off and you were either walking in sand or on rough, potholed ground. Alongside the road were ditches dug which were acting as open sewers. The stench and the swarms of flies were disgusting. We were followed along the way by the ubiquitous kids and you hand to keep your hands in your pockets for two reasons; to stop your pockets being picked and to stop the kids grabbing your hands, which they would do given half a chance. Stray dogs and chickens wandered around to add to the general air of dilapidation.

We eventually arrived in a wooded area which we needed to go through to get to the crocodile pool. Dewar was explaining to us about the different trees, including kapok and baobab, but our attention was diverted by the antics of some cats in the branches of one of the larger trees. There was a ginger cat quite high up the tree, another ginger lower down and a tabby at the bottom. The lower ginger appeared very interested in the ginger who was higher up, and he made several attempts to climb up there. Meanwhile the higher ginger was trying to come down. At the bottom the tabby was watching all this with interest. Trevor and I and a few others in our group were also watching the cats stealthily making their way around the tree branches instead of listening to our guide!

Eventually all became clear when the higher ginger met the lower ginger on a stout branch and he attempted to mount her. We then realised it was a female in heat; hence the interest of both the ginger and the tabby. She did not appreciate the advances of her suitor however and, dropping lightly onto the ground, she shot off with the ginger tom and the tabby in hot pursuit. 😉

When we arrived at the crocodile pool, one of them was out of the water and was basking in the sun. The guide told us it was a male of about 35 years called Tony. We were invited up, one at a time to ‘stroke’ Tony if we were brave enough. The guy said that the croc had had a good breakfast earlier on, so as long as we didn’t approach him from the front or startle him, he shouldn’t snap at us. When it was my turn I felt his back and leg and belly; the skin on the belly was a lot softer than the back, which was quite scaly and knobbly.

As one woman was petting Tony, he decided to slither along for a couple of paces. We then walked on to the pool itself, part of which was covered in a bright green algae. Some of the crocs were out of the pool basking, but one or two went in for a slow swim.

At the other side of the pool we saw one of the disgusting open sewers again, and one of the crocodiles was in there, along with a couple of babies about 15” long. We didn’t want to get two close as I value both my arms! 🙂

After the crocodile place we had the walk back through the village and onto our bus once again. Before going back to the Braemar our last visit was to Albert Market, which sold meat, fish, fruit and vegetables as well as clothing and souvenirs.

Well, I can’t imagine why the tour company ever thought that we’d want to go to this place. It was absolutely horrendous. You’ve heard of a “flea market” – this was a fly market. The fish and meat products were covered in swarms of flies, and some of the fruit and vegetables were rotten and were festering quietly in the sun. Numerous stray cats and chickens roamed around and the whole effect was decidedly insalubrious.

The Brits all congregated together near a small bar selling soft drinks (no beer in this predominantly Muslim area) and stood together as one. The guide said “You have 20 minutes before you have to be back on the bus… or we could give you an hour.” After a resounding “NO” from our tour party we basically just sat it out until it was time to go. Trevor and I bought a couple of postcards and used the time to sit and write them out; we’d post them later on the ship.

Back on the Braemar we dumped our stuff in our cabin and got washed, then went down to the Palms Café for some lunch and just generally pottered about for the rest of the afternoon.

Tonight was Burns Night, in which Scottish (and other) people remember and celebrate the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns. So when we went along to the Thistle restaurant for our dinner, we were not surprised to see a Scottish-themed menu, including the inevitable haggis with “tatties and neeps”.

Once we’d selected our meal choices, the Scottish comedian Ron Dale came in playing his bagpipes to pipe in the haggis. He then proclaimed the “Ode to the Haggis” by Rabbie Burns, before cutting into the haggis, which was then served as a first course, along with a “wee dram” of Scotch whisky.

After our meal we went along to get a good seat in the Neptune Lounge (never an easy task!) and, later on, Ron Dale was performing again. Once again we enjoyed his show very much.

Then it was along to the Coral Club for the quiz which was also Scottish themed. We scored 13/15 but lost out to a Scottish team, who scored full points.

Name that Tune

When we woke up this morning, we couldn’t believe we were already half-way through our holiday. Today the Braemar was at sea, so we could enjoy a lazy day doing whatever we pleased. 🙂

We enjoyed our breakfast (which included a couple of free glasses of ‘champagne’ as it was formal night), took our malaria tablets and just wandered around the ship for a bit before it was time to go to the Neptune Lounge to see the Braemar‘s version of “Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook”, a popular TV programme in Britain which tries to get non-cooks to produce an edible meal. It featured the hotel manager, ship’s executive chef Martin Grabenhofer, and comedian Martin Daniels.

They first of all had to prepare a Baked Alaska, which was taken away to be cooked, then some sort of prawn dish. There was, of course, the comedy element as people who were cack-handed near a hot-plate had to be taught by the volatile chef. Neverthless they all produced some version of the dish, whether it was edible or not was left to the passengers, who were invited up to have a taste.

Afterwards we went along and had a look in the boutique, where I bought a reversible maxi-dress complete with wrap for only £45.00. I also spotted an absolutely gorgeous necklace with Murano glass. Murano, as you know, is the famous Venetian hand-blown glass and is much appreciated the world over.

We then went back to the cabin for a while, where I did some kumihimo braiding out on the balcony, until it was time to go along to the next event.

We made our way to the Morning Light pub, where the “Name that Tune” quiz was going to be held, played by pub entertainer Pat Shannon. The place was already pretty crowded so we perched on bar stools at the bar and I passed time time before the start of the quiz with my kumihimo. A number of people, out of curiosity, asked what I was doing, so I showed them how the 16 threads came together into a braid. I promised the little barmaid, Emma, that I would make a bracelet for her.

The deputy cruise director, Jamie, gave out the quiz papers and we were soon joined by another very pleasant couple to form a team. Singer Pat Shannon arrived and the quiz took the following format: Pat would play the first few bars of well-known songs and you had to list the title as well as the artiste to gain a point for each, with a total of 15 questions (30 points).

When he started playing the tunes, some of the bar staff, as well as our team, started to sing along, much to the chagrin of some of the ‘serious’ quizzers. It was all just good fun though, made more so by the (very!) strong sangria cocktails we were drinking. We quietened down once Jamie told the “team at the bar” to behave ourselves though. 🙂

Anyway, we thought we did very well, scoring a total of 27/30, but the winners scored an impressive 29 points, so once again no prize for us.

Afterwards we went to the Palms Café for some lunch, with a glass of rosé wine each. We then sat out on the balcony for a bit before having an afternoon nap.

Tonight was time for the glad-rags once again, so I got showered and did my hair and pottered around for a bit. I don’t know what on earth the barmaid had put in the two sangrias I’d enjoyed earlier on, but I certainly knew I’d had a drink. While getting ready, and due to the motion of the Braemar on the choppy Atlantic ocean, I lost my balance, crashing into the dressing table chair and knocking it over, resulting in a painful bruise on my right thigh.

I finished off a few of the kumihimo bracelets, adding the end-caps and clasps, then I went along to the Morning Light and gave Emma the promised bracelet. I also put the rest into my evening bag to allow Jackie, Val and Gillian on table 123 to take their pick later on. 🙂

I then decided to go back to the ship’s boutique to buy the gorgeous Murano necklace, which would go perfectly with the aubergine-coloured dress and sequinned lace jacket that I planned to wear tonight.

Once again we enjoyed a delicious dinner, stimulating conversation and the ladies were delighted with their hand-woven bracelets.

In the Neptune Lounge later on we saw Jane Beaumont, the singer, once again. Then it was off, as usual, to the Coral Club for the quiz which we lost by one measly point. The show company put on a performance called “Blues Brothers Soul Sisters” and we enjoyed the music by the M.I.T Band.

We were back in cabin 7050 at a reasonable time as we had to be up early in the morning. The Braemar was due to dock in Banjul, the Gambia, which would increase our “countries visited” total to 73.