Archive for January, 2014

How Green is My Valley

Today we had booked to go on the full-day tour of the island of Santiago, Cape Verde. The Braemar was docked in the capital city of Praia and our first impressions were that this was more developed than Mindelo, with busy roads and several large hotels, banks and administrative buildings.

We boarded our tour bus around 9.30am and set off through the bustling streets. A lot of the roads in Cape Verde are built with setts rather than being tarmacked, so it made for a rattly, bumpy ride. Today our guide was called Tee and our driver Marcelino.

Tee explained a little of the history of Cape Verde to us. The archipelago has a fairly tragic past, having been exploited over the years from all corners of the Atlantic. Since its independence in 1975, however, its future looks more hopeful and there is a wide multi-cultural mix of people who are proud of their country. Tourism is still fairly new, so we are pleased to be among those who have ‘discovered’ this unusual and interesting destination.

As we left the city centre behind we joined a dual carriageway and the road surface improved a lot, giving us a quieter and smoother ride. The road climbed steadily, giving us superb views of beautiful green valleys and dales with tiny cultivated fields. Against the backdrop of jagged peaks the vista was breathtaking.

We arrived at a small primitive distillery where we could walk around and take photographs. Althogh the sun was warm there was still quite a strong wind, although it wasn’t as bad as yesterday. There were a couple of wooden buildings with corrugated tin roofs and over all hung the evocative smell of wood smoke. This was where a brand of Cape Verde rum was distilled, and a gourd containing some was passed around for us to have a taste. I suppose “rum” is too grand a description for it; it was more like bootleg hooch.

Off we went again and the dual carriageway gave way to single track roads which twisted and turned, often with hairpin bends. It was quite disconcerting at times but our driver Marcelino drove slowly and carefully, so unless you were afraid of heights it wasn’t too scary. From time to time we stopped to admire the impressive views. We also saw egrets and kingfishers which flew past in a flash of brilliant blue. Santiago island has everything; mountains and valleys, rugged cliffs and beautiful beaches and sea views. Perched on the mountainside and down in the valleys were little farms and dwellings; however poor these people may be, no-one could take away the beauty of their surroundings – Mother Nature’s gift to them. 🙂

Once again we stopped in a small village with a few shops and a bakery/café. We decided to go in and have a beer and a cake each. We immediately spotted the Portuguese treat of a pastel de nata, a type of tart made with flaky pastry and containing egg custard – delicious. We’d first tasted these in Lisbon in 2010 and they are scrumptious.

Fed and watered, we were once more on the bus and we continued our picturesque journey. Eventually we descended down to the beach, and this is where we would stop to enjoy lunch.

The coach parked up and, along with several other tour buses, disgorged its passengers which all made their way into the open-air restaurant. There were no table plans so it was a case of sitting wherever you could find a free table. Then someone announced “the buffet is open”, so there was a mad scramble of people, several queues forming from all directions, converging on the hot and cold buffet station.

There was a selection of salad, fish, chicken and some sort of stew with beans in it as well as fresh vegetables. We loaded our plates then sat and ate our meal, washed down with a cold beer. While we were eating, a group of local musicians, singers and dancers arrived to treat us to a display of traditional African song and dance.

After our lunch we wandered down to the beach which was bustling with small fishing boats arriving with their catches. Ladies were busy gutting and de-scaling the freshly-caught fish and selling them. There was a little palm-thatched ramshackle bar where patrons could sit under the shade and enjoy a cold, refreshing drink.

I kicked off my flip-flops and walked in the soft sand along the shore line, occasionally standing and letting the sea wash over my feet. It wasn’t as warm as you’d expect. Some people had brought their swimsuits and had gone into the sea for a swim, but as far as I was concerned it was too windy/cool for that. Still it was very pleasant nonetheless, and certainly better than the January weather we’d get at home. 🙂

Once we were all rounded up and back on the coach, we set off for the scenic two-hour ride back to the ship, occasionally stopping to stretch our legs and take photographs. Several times we saw young goatherds driving their charges along the roadside, and we also saw children herding pigs, cows and chickens as well. I think I can safely say that everyone enjoyed the tour, and we were all most impressed with the island.

We got back to the Braemar around 4.00pm, in nice time to relax and get washed and changed for dinner at 6.00. Tonight the theme was rock ‘n’ roll, but we didn’t dress up for that as it’s not my era; I wasn’t even born in the 1950’s.

I gave dinner a miss once again, and just went down to the Thistle restaurant for the coffee and liqueur stage. The show tonight was called “Happy Days” by the Braemar Show Company and was, inevitably, set around the music of the 50’s and 60’s. Despite arriving in the Neptune Lounge an hour before the show, the place was already almost full and we could only manage seats stuck at the side, at right-angles to the stage/dance floor.

Afterwards we went along for the quiz in the Coral Club and we were soon joined by George and Barbara. We called our team “Funchal Revival” and – wonders will never cease – we actually won the quiz with full marks, 15/15. Our prize, however, wasn’t the usual bottle of fizz but was some prize vouchers. I think Fred Olsen is cutting down on the bottles of wine it gives away ever since they became all-inclusive. I suppose there’s not much thrill to winning a bottle of plonk when it’s free anyway! But at least we’d finally won. 🙂

The show tonight in the Coral Club was called “Symphony” and featured the Braemar Orchestra with a classical singer. It was excellent; the orchestra is really good.

Then it was just the disco, where we stayed awhile and enjoyed a nightcap. Then off to bed after a very full, very interesting day.

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We had to be up early this morning and along to our assembly point in the Neptune Lounge for this morning’s excursion, which was called “A Taste of the Island” and would let us explore Mindelo in more detail from our brief look around yesterday.

We were allocated bus number 8 as we made our way down the gangplank and to the row of vehicles and smiling guides waiting for us. The bus was quite old and had rigid plastic seats, so not exactly National Express then. Our driver was called Rafael and our female guide was Swali; she was very smiley and friendly.

We set off and the first part of the journey took us along the route we’d walked yesterday. There seemed to be fewer people and cars around than there was yesterday, and Swali explained that today was St. Vincent’s Day as as that is the name of the island today was a public holiday. When we got to the pier we alighted from the bus briefly for a photo stop. A large mountain dominated the skyline and and it was explained to us that this was known as Monte Cara, which means “Face Mountain” as, when you viewed it with your head on one side, it looked like a man’s face in profile.

We also saw a monument with an eagle on top with its wings spread; this was to commemorate the first Lisbon to Rio crossing in 1922 by the Portuguese aviators Cabral and Coutinho. Apparently the aviators would take few days of rest in Mindelo before continuing to Brazil.

Back on the coach we drove along the coastline until we came to the small museum and craft centre. We spent some time in there looking at the various artefacts, including hand-woven baskets and wooden carvings.

We then came to the Governor’s Palace, where the crowds were greeted by a brass band, resplendent in smart uniforms with brass buttons, and there were some other uniformed men (maybe policemen?) who were standing to attention in a row. The road had been closed off to traffic, and there was a sense of anticipation in the air. The Cape Verde flag was flying, and one of the uniformed guys was then handed the flag of St. Vincent, which he then raised on the flagpole to a ripple of applause. Apparently the President was due to visit, so we wondered if we’d see him.

We then moved off down another street, looking in the shop windows on the way, then we came out on the other side of the Governor’s Palace, just in time to see a gleaming black Mercedes sporting the Cape Verde flag on its bonnet and the registration number of “PR CV”. The President had arrived. He got out of the car and, as he was mounting the steps of the building he looked around at the crowds of mostly black faces. But spotting our party there, white and obviously foreign visitors, he gave a little wave to us and, being British, we all waved back! 🙂

Once we were all back on the bus again, we wended our way up the twisting and turning mountain road on our way up Monte Verde, which is called the green mountain because of its abundance of orchill lichen growing on the rocks. The roads looked quite precarious as we went higher and higher, but we did have some terrific views as it is the highest point of the island. When we got up as far as a bus can go (it obviously couldn’t go all the way to the top) the wind nearly blew us off our feet. It was also quite uncomfortable as it was blowing sand and grit about, which stung against our skin. So we didn’t stay out too long, and soon sought refuge back in the bus again. Swali told us that it was often very windy in Cape Verde; I suppose it’s due to the location of the islands in the middle of the Atlantic ocean.

The next part of our trip took us back down and along the coast to Catfish Bay. Cape Verde still had a strong Portuguese and Brazilian flavour so were treated to a display of the traditional Brazilian combat dance that the boys and young men do, in which they use both their arms and legs while the other one has to duck to avoid them. There were also some female dancers dressed in very colourful costumes with bright feathers. While we were watching the dancers we were also offered some local snacks and drinks; I enjoyed a Vinho Verde (Portuguese wine which is a pale green colour with a light taste) along with some home-made cheese, fish fried in some sort of batter and a type of cake made with cous-cous.

It was then time for us to return to the Braemar. Once back on board we dumped our stuff in the cabin, got washed and then made our way up to the Marquee Bar for an al fresco lunch which we enjoyed with the inevitable cold beer.

What would I say about Mindelo? My first impressions were that there wasn’t an awful lot there, but the place slowly grew on me and, to be honest, the fact that there isn’t much there is part of the attraction. It’s a charming little town with a lovely coastline and colourful little buildings and seems very laid-back. I would hate to come back in 20 years’ time to find high-rise buildings and four lanes of traffic. Less is more, as they say.

After our usual post-luncheon nap we got ready for dinner and enjoyed a delicious meal once again. Then it was the usual mad scramble for seats in the Neptune Lounge for tonight’s show which featured a comedy magician called Martin Daniels. Turns out he is the son of the famous magician Paul Daniels and he was absolutely brilliant. Not only was he a very funny man, but the tricks he did were very impressive as well. We had a good laugh and thoroughly enjoyed his performance.

As ever it was along to the Coral Club afterwards for the quiz. Did we win? Did we heck! We still have a quizzer’s famine so far as we usually win two or three quizzes during the course of an average cruise, but so far victory had eluded us.

Then the late show in the Coral Club was called “Girls’ Night In” and featured Emily and Lauren from the show company. It was very enjoyable. On all the Fred Olsen cruises we’ve been on the entertainment had been very good; we can’t fault it at all.

We finished off the evening with a couple more drinks then it was back to our cabin for the night. Braemar was at sea once more, and tomorrow we were due to arrive in the Cape Verde capital, Praia.

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Welcome to Porto No-Go

When we woke up this morning, the Braemar was just about anchored at Porto Novo, Santo Antão, one of the islands that make up the archipelago of Cape Verde. The wind was strong and the water looked very choppy.

We’d got up early as we were due to go on a half-day excursion this morning and, once we’d had our breakfast, we returned to our cabin to get sorted out with camera, phone, cagoules etc. whatever we thought we might need during the trip. We were just about to make our way to our assembly point in the Neptune Lounge when the voice of Captain Bent Ivar Gangdal boomed over the tannoy. In a nutshell, he was informing us that, due to the very high winds and choppy seas, they were unable to launch the tender boats safely and, as passenger safety is of paramount importance, they could not now offer a tender service which meant, effectively, we wouldn’t be able to go ashore. The Captain was therefore cancelling our visit to Porto Novo, which had now become Porto No-Go. 😦

Instead the Braemar would weigh anchor and make her way to Mindelo, São Vincente a little earlier than planned (we had been due to sail there at 8.00pm tonight anyway). We could see the island of São Vincente across a near-distant stretch of ocean, as it was only seven nautical mile away.

We therefore spent the next hour and a half or so just chilling on the ship, and looking at the mountainous scenery that makes up the Cape Verde islands. There are 10 islands altogether, but only nine are inhabited. Cape Verde used to be a Portuguese overseas territory, but they gained their independence from Portugal in 1975 and have been the Republic of Cape Verde ever since.

Once we docked in Mindelo and were given clearance to disembark, we were able to spend the day at leisure. We left the Braemar and set off on foot to explore.

The Cape Verde islands are still developing as far as tourism is concerned, so if you expected to find gleaming hotels, restaurants, bars and other amusements you’d be disappointed, because none of these things are in evidence, especially not on a grand scale. As we left the dock and walked into town, we saw tired, slightly run-down buildings consisting of a few shops, a bank, post office, one or two small unassuming hotels and a couple of bars. There were lots of boats, in varying states of repair, and some local fishermen were selling their catches by the roadside. Numerous stray dogs wandered about, seemingly unaware of the traffic, and they caused some heart-stopping moments when they ran out into the busy road.

We passed a large fish market which was doing a roaring trade, and walked along until we reached a market square. There were many brightly coloured stalls selling everything from hand-crafted goods such as wooden carvings and beaded jewellery, clothes, textiles and holiday ‘tat’ intended to tempt the visitors into buying.

The currency here is the Cape Verde Escudo, a nod to the country’s Portuguese past, but the Euro is also widely accepted. That’s just as well, because we only had Euros, although we’d spotted an ATM on our way to the market.

We therefore bought half a dozen rather grubby and dog-eared postcards from one of the stalls, then went in search of a bar or café to write them out.

We found a little open-air bar in the market square and ordered a couple of bottles of “Strella” the local beer. There were several cats roaming around, but they looked quite well fed so we think they belonged to the bar owner. They were certainly at home snoozing in the sun under the customers’ tables. I love cats so I was quite happy when one of them came over and curled up at my feet, and was soon joined by a couple of its mates (or maybe siblings).

We enjoyed the cold beer and wrote out our postcards. Meanwhile, the bar was doing a brisk trade with other passengers from the Braemar having the same idea as us and partaking of a beer. While there was quite a lively breeze, the tropical sun on our backs was very hot, so we didn’t want to stay out too long and risk a nasty sunburn.

Once we’d finished our beers, we went in search of the post office, but when we got there the queue was massive, so we just decided to post our cards on the ship. We therefore took a slow stroll along the sea front, looking at the many boats, large and small, among which the gleaming white paint of the Braemar, with her red funnel and distinctive Fred Olsen logo, took the centre focus.

In fact, there were two ships sporting the FOCL logo, as one of the Braemar’s sister ships, the Black Watch had also docked alongside us. We were on the Black Watch on our last cruise six months ago when we went to the Baltic, so it was nice to see her again. 🙂

Back on board we went to the Palms Café for some lunch and ate it outside on the attractive cascading rears decks. The sun beating down was very hot and we had a good view of the dramatic jagged peaks that surrounded us. On our port side we were also able to look across and down to the Black Watch and view the passengers moving about on her decks.

After enjoying a cold, refreshing cocktail, we returned to our cabin and sat out on our balcony watching the world go by. I did a bit of kumihimo braiding and read my Kindle book. I am reading The Gamblers by John Pearson; it is a fascinating account about the ‘Claremont set’ which includes the infamous Lord Lucan.

Tonight was a tropical themed night where the plan was a barbecue on the aft decks followed by a deck party with the entertainment coming from the Braemar Orchestra and an upbeat female singer. As is usual, we tend to get into the spirit of the thing so I donned a brightly coloured maxi dress as well as a multi-coloured wig I bought in Rio last year. Trevor put on his tropical shirt and a Bob Marley dreadlocks wig and so we were set for the occasion.

As expected, both of us received a lot of comments about our get-up; on the whole however the Braemar passengers looked very colourful as we went down to the Palms Café to enjoy the barbecue.

We had to collect our food outside the Lido Bar where we could either eat it al fresco or in the Palms. It was, however, a little windy so we decided to eat inside, and we hoped the wind wouldn’t spoil the deck party which was scheduled for 9.00pm.

We enjoyed a selection of meats and salad with a glass of the (free!) rosé wine, then we went along to the Neptune Lounge to procure a good seat for tonight’s show, which was entitled “The Heat Is On”, performed by the Braemar Show Company.

On our way to the lounge we greeted one or two people we knew, but you could tell by the vacant way they replied that they didn’t instantly recognise us in our tropical-themed wigs. 🙂

We managed to get front row seats (no mean feat!) and found we had George and Barbara Bethel sitting behind us. The performance, as ever, was excellent, really upbeat and cheerful, and we enjoyed it a lot.

In the meantime, around 8.00pm, the Black Watch had vacated her berth on her way to Recifé, Brazil, and the Braemar prepared to nip into her slot. However, it meant that the Braemar had to turn round so the relatively sheltered aft decks were no longer on the lee side of the port and were now exposed to the full force of the brisk wind.

When we went along to the aft decks to join the deck party, this meant, rather disappointingly, that the deck party only had about half a dozen people in attendance as it was just too cold. I felt sorry for the band who were valiantly playing to practically-empty decks.

As there was no entertainment in the Coral Club tonight (as the band was outside for the deck party) we couldn’t go there; in fact we wondered why the entertainments people just didn’t bring the band back into the Coral Club where they would at least have had an audience to play to!

We therefore finished the evening by going along to the Morning Light pub and listening to Pat Shannon whilst enjoying a few more drinks. George and Barbara came in and joined us, and it was after midnight before we returned to cabin 7050 and settled down for the night.

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Forget About the Price Tag

We have started to take our Malarone prophylaxis tablets as, once we arrive in West Africa, we will be in a malaria zone. Today, however, would see another leisurely sea day before we reach terra firma tomorrow morning.

The weather was sunny and warm, just what we’d been waiting for (we are, after all, now in the Tropics) so we spent a lot of time up on deck by the pool and just wandering around and talking with our fellow passengers.

At around ten past eleven we joined the inevitable queue outside the Neptune Lounge for the 11.15am Oceans Club cocktail party. The Oceans Club is Fred Olsen Cruise Lines loyalty club and we are currently Silver members. We need to spend another 21 nights on board a Fred Olsen ship before we become Gold members (but we already have a 16 night cruise booked on the Boudicca in November of this year). 🙂

We enjoyed a few canapés and a couple of free glasses of fizz (although it’s all free when you’re travelling all-inclusive) then it was just nice time to think about lunch.

Up on the Marquee deck we decided to have a light meal in the sunshine by the pool. As it was lunchtime, most of the seats were taken but we were able to find a couple of free seats at a table; there were another two seats there, one which contained someone’s bag and another a towel and paperback book. We waited for our unknown table companions to come back, but there was no sign of them. Meanwhile, people were arriving at the bar and looking around for somewhere to sit.

Our meal and drinks arrived, which we enjoyed very much, and we finished off with a tub of dairy ice cream each. There was still no sign of the people who had ‘reserved’ the seats.

Presently Mick and Jackie, who share our table in the restaurant, came along looking for a seat, and when we told them no-one had seen the owners of the bag and towel for over an hour, Jackie moved them off the seats and put them to one side, then they sat down and ordered their meal instead. A little later an elderly couple appeared, looked all over for their stuff, then complained to one of the staff that ‘someone’ had moved their bags. The waiter did tactfully point out that chairs and sunbeds were not to be reserved and if no-one was sitting in the chair for over 20 minutes, items would be removed. The elderly couple collected their stuff and went off with their tails between their legs. It’s just so selfish and inconsiderate for people to behave like that; good for you Jackie for sitting in those chairs! 🙂

We sat and enjoyed a pleasant chat but then we had to seek refuge from the sun, as I could feel my arm burning and we weren’t wearing any sunscreen. So we went back to our cabin and sat out on our balcony, where I did a little kumihimo for a while before having a half-hour power nap.

We spent the rest of the afternoon pottering around the ship, passing pleasantries with the other passengers and enjoying some more (free!) drinks. Before we knew it, it was time to get ready for dinner in the Thistle restaurant once again.

Tonight was smart-casual dress code once again. We joined Leslie and Gillian, Mick and Jackie and Kevin and Val on table 123 and, as ever, enjoyed a delicious meal washed down with house rosé wine and finished with liqueurs. The drinks and the laughs and the conversation flowed.

After dinner we hoofed it along to the Neptune Lounge to be sure of getting a good seat. We were lucky and managed to get one at the front, albeit at the side of the ‘stage’ (which is also the dance floor).

Tonight’s entertainment was comedian Ron Dale. We’d seen him on this ship three years ago when we did our Amazon cruise. He is a Scotsman who comes onto the stage in full Scottish dress, playing the bagpipes. Last time we’d thought he was a better musician than comedian, but he’d updated his act since then and he was actually very funny; he had everyone in stitches. We really enjoyed his show.

Afterwards we made our way to the Coral Club for the quiz, and joined another couple who had a good table near the front in order to be able to see the entertainment after the quiz, which was one of the female singers from the show company (Maria) along with Dong Gutierrez, one of the Filipino sound technicians. Apparently Dong had served as crew on board some of the Fred Olsen ships and always participated in the Crew Cabaret, but he was so good that they took him on as one of the entertainment team.

Once again we didn’t win the quiz (we’re slacking this time!) so we looked forward to the entertainment. The singing duo were very good and we were enjoying ourselves. Trevor then decided to go to the loo as the band and Maria struck up with Jessie J’s Price Tag. The chorus goes something like this:

It’s not about the money, money, money
We don’t need your money, money, money
Just wanna make the world dance
Forget about the price tag.

It ain’t about the ker-ching, ker-ching
Forget about the (yeah) bling-bling
Just wanna make the world dance
Forget about the price tag.

Meanwhile, it was just Maria singing and Dong had disappeared, but when the rapping part of the song came, he appeared at the door of the Coral Club, wearing a baseball cap and flashing lights on his sunglasses as he rapped and strutted his way down the aisle towards the stage.

But as he approached the stage he bumped into Trevor’s empty chair which had been jutting into the aisle a little bit. He lost his balance and knocked the chair over, and then (one had still holding his microphone) he attempted to right the chair with one hand. Epic fail – the chair spun on one leg and crashed into our table, which then toppled in slow motion, complete with the drinks glasses, into the floor. The scene was complete and utter chaos, but what fascinated me was the fact that he didn’t miss a beat and carried on rapping and dancing. 🙂

Trevor had, meanwhile, been returning from the loo and had followed Dong down to the stage and had seen the whole thing. The other couple however had got soaked with beer when one of the glasses went flying, and they went off to get changed (or in a huff, whichever way you wanted to look at it).

We completely saw the funny side and were in hysterics; we couldn’t stop laughing. The singers were really apologetic and the barman brought us some fresh drinks; we were also offered drinks from both Maria and Dong. But as our drinks are free it didn’t matter – it hadn’t cost us anything. In any case, as I told them, it was worth it for the comedy value. 🙂 Talk about organised chaos.

We’ll be laughing for a long time about this, ha ha. Whenever I hear Price Tag I will remember the Coral Club and Dong the entertainments guy. 🙂

We stayed for the disco and I did a bit of dancing, but as it was nearly 00:40am by then we had to go back to our cabin, as we are due to drop anchor in Porto Novo, Cape Verde tomorrow morning.

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En Route to Cape Verde

We got up early this morning in order to be in the Palms Café in good time, as experience on Fred Olsen ships had taught us that there would be a free ‘champagne’ breakfast, because tonight is the first formal evening. On Fred ships, whenever it is a formal night, they always put bottles of sparkling wine next to the juice dispensers so passengers can enjoy a Buck’s Fizz or two, and today was no exception. 🙂

After an enjoyable breakfast of smoked salmon, cold meats, fruit and a couple of glasses of the free plonk we went outside on deck for a wander about. The weather had faired up and the clouds were few, so went right to the bow of the Braemar and enjoyed the feeling of the sun warm on our backs. The Braemar is one of only two ships we’ve been on (the other was the SuperStar Gemini) which allows passengers to go right to the front of the bow, and you can almost feel as if you are the ship’s figurehead as she glides through the calm Atlantic waters.

Back in cabin 7050 we went out and sat on our balcony while the cabin stewardess, Meemi, cleaned our room. I did some kumihimo braiding, read my Kindle and just generally whiled away the time in a pleasant and relaxing way.

At lunchtime we partook of a light al fresco meal up at the Marquee Bar on the pool deck, and enjoyed an hour or so sitting in the sunshine. Then around 2.30pm we went into the Neptune Lounge to listen to a presentation about the bombing raid during the Battle of Britain which was very interesting.

Trevor stayed for the next lecture by a retired Scotland Yard policeman, but I went back to the cabin to get showered and start getting ready for the Captain’s Cocktail party. As we are on first sitting at 6.00pm, the cocktail party was at the ridiculously early time of 5.15pm, so it meant putting on formal evening dress and DJ for Trevor which was, effectively, at tea time. The problem is that the second-sitting passengers who dine at 8.30pm were still dressed in their shorts and t-shirts, while the earlier diners were a complete sartorial contrast dressed to the nines.

Personally I think if there is a formal dress code it should be enforced in public rooms throughout the ship from a certain time, say 6.00pm.

I wore a gorgeous floor length black velvet Gothic dress with long black velvet gloves and a black lace choker, and wore diamanté platform shoes with 5” heels. Quite a few people commented on the dress, which is certainly different from how you see most people dressed on formal night (in fact, some of them need to look up the definition of the word “formal”).  🙂

As ever, once we arrived at the doors of the Neptune Lounge at 10 past 5, we joined the lengthy queue until they opened the room at precisely 5.15pm. Everyone poured in and we managed to get a seat near the front, before the cocktail waitress came with her tray of drinks.

The master of the Braemar on this cruise is Captain Bent Ivar Gangdal (who we’ve inevitably nicknamed Bent Over, ha ha), and he introduced his senior officers and did the usual little speech about how wonderful it was to see everyone on board enjoying a Fred Olsen cruise etc etc.

We enjoyed another couple of drinks each before spotting George and Barbara and going over to sit with them, where we spent some time reminiscing about the Funchal cruise before it was time to go to dinner at 6.00pm. Right now, Braemar was crossing the Tropic of Cancer, so fair weather and warmer waters beckoned.

I decided to give dinner a miss and just join the others on table 123 at the coffee stage. I often miss meals on cruises because it’s just too easy to eat far too much, so it’s nice not to feel like a stuffed pig when going into the show lounge. Instead, I enjoyed a couple of glasses of cava in the Morning Light pub, then joined Trevor and the others at around 7.30pm, just in time for coffee.

When we got into the already-full Neptune Lounge, we found seats that were partially obscured by a pillar, but we still managed to enjoy the show, which was a female singer accompanied by the Braemar Orchestra.

Then it was along to the Coral Club for the quiz; we spotted some spare seats neat the front and formed a team with another couple, but we still didn’t win.

At half ten the Braemar Show Company put on another excellent singing and dancing show, while we enjoyed a few more (free!) drinks, then made our way back to 7050.

Tonight the clocks went back an hour to Cape Verde time, so we would enjoy an extra hour in bed.

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The Rain in Spain…

…Falls mainly in Tenerife. Or so it seemed, when we woke up to low cloud and intermittent showers. This is our fourth visit to Tenerife on a cruise ship and it’s the coldest and wettest it’s been.

We got up about 8.30am and went to the Palm’s Café for a light breakfast, before getting ourselves sorted out and going ashore for a good look round. We both felt that we could do with some exercise after spending yesterday largely sitting around.

We took a leisurely stroll into town, having a good look around the shops and just soaking up the very Spanish atmosphere. We wandered for quite a while and then came to a covered food market which sold every imaginable fruits and vegetables, as well as fresh meat and a massive range of fresh fish and shellfish. Why are the food markets abroad always so much more colourful than ours back in Britain? The Brits are so reserved in their tastes and I really can’t understand it; seeing the rows of gleaming fresh fish and lobsters made my mouth water and conjured up images of yummy Spanish paella. Lush! 🙂

We were about to come out of the market when the skies opened and a heavy rain shower forced shoppers to take refuge. But it was very brief and once we went outside we donned our cagoules that Trevor had prudently packed in his rucksack, thereby preventing us from getting soaked.

Still looking around the shops, I spotted an Oriental-type store selling all sorts of novelties and nameless tat, but what had caught my eye was the range of kumihimo cords in the shop window. The word ‘kumihimo’ translates as ‘the coming together of threads’ and is a popular Japanese craft in which cords or threads, from four to 16, are braided into intricate designs that can then be made into bracelets or necklaces, or whatever your imagination could think of.

So we went into the shop and I bought a selection of cords for a much cheaper price than I could have bought them for back home. I have brought my kumihimo making stuff with me, so I can’t wait to get started. When we were on the Balmoral two years ago I made quite a few kumihimo bracelets and gave them away to the other ladies sharing our table in the restaurant. I’ll probably do the same this time. 🙂

As we wandered about we saw many clothing and shoe shops still having their January sales. We saw a lovely shoe shop and went in and it was funny, because Trevor and I, both at the same time, said “look at those” and pointed to the same pair of shoes! They had five inch heels and were in muted shades of brown and gold, with sequins and a gold satin heel. What my cousin Alan would call “hooker shoes” ha ha. 😉

They were only 20 Euros so I had to get them. No doubt I’ll wear them at some point on the cruise. 🙂

As we were returning to the Braemar we spotted a familiar face from our Black Watch cruise last year; Irish singer and musician Pat Shannon. In fact it’s the third ship we’ve seen him on, as he was also on the Balmoral in 2012.

We got back onto the ship about 1.00pm and went to the Thistle restaurant for something to eat. As you can easily eat yourself to death on a cruise we opted for a fairly light lunch then we went back to cabin 7050 to sit out on our balcony for a while, before having a nap as we were still quite tired from yesterday.

When we woke up, it was time for us to go for lifeboat drill, our muster station being the Coral Club, where we were allocated lifeboat number nine. Lifeboat drill is a tedious, but understandably necessary, part of cruising.

But on this particular lifeboat drill we were in for a surprise. As we stood in line ready to be escorted to the boat deck, a man came up to me and said “Do you remember the Funchal?” referring to a ship we’d been on in 1999 (nearly 15 years ago!). It was none other than George and Barbara Bethell, who’d shared our table in the restaurant on a cruise to Norway on the Funchal in June 1999. Who would have believed it?! We were delighted to see them again as we’d had such a fantastic time in their company on the Funchal, so we agreed we’d have to get together for a catch-up some time. Hey, it really is a small world. 🙂

Once lifeboat drill was over we went out on our balcony to watch the Braemar slip her moorings and set sail for Porto Novo, Cape Verde. Then it was time to get ready for our dinner. It was, once again, a delicious meal and a delight I am going to have to forfeit from time to time if I don’t want to get fatter than I already am, ha ha. 🙂

When we went along to the Neptune Lounge at 8.00pm for tonight’s show, it was already almost full, even though the show wasn’t due to start for another half hour. This is because, unlike some of the big cruise ships, the Braemar doesn’t have a theatre as such, but more of a cabaret lounge in a shallow horse shoe shape, so some of the seats have restricted view or you can spend the time looking at the back of someone’s head if you don’t arrive early to get a good seat.

The show tonight was called “Come on Over to My Place” and was a tribute to the music of the Drifters, put on by the Braemar Show Company. It was excellent as I love the music of the Drifters.

Afterwards we went along to the Coral Club (no Skylark Club, boo hoo) for the quiz. We called ourselves the Mega Mackems (as last night) and the assistant cruise director, Jamie, came around and looked to see what each quiz team had called themselves. There was another team called “The Mackems” so we knew there were some other Sunderland supporters on board. Turns out it was a couple called Brian and Muriel and they live in Chester-le-Street, just about four miles away from us.

We only got 11/15 this time, so inevitably we didn’t win.

We stayed in the Coral Club for the next cabaret and then the disco. Some other people who were up dancing dragged me up to the old 70’s disco beat, but Trevor couldn’t be persuaded. It was well after midnight before we went to bed though, after propping open our balcony door to enjoy the fresh air and the sounds of the sea.

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Back to the Braemar

Well, once again it is time for us to go on another cruise. We will be spending the next fortnight on Fred Olsen’s Braemar, a lovely little ship we’ve been on before, to the Amazon in February 2011. So it will be nice to be back.

We got up this morning at 3.00am (!!) as we had to drive down to Manchester Airport for our 09:45 flight to Santa Cruz, Tenerife, where we were due to join the ship and spend the evening in port overnight. Luckily the English January weather was unseasonably mild, so we were able to negotiate the run down to Manchester in good time, and we arrived before our scheduled time just after 6.00am.

Check in at Manchester was quick and efficient and it gave us plenty of time to have a look round the duty free shop and, more importantly, spend time in the Executive Lounge, where we enjoyed a few drinks and some light snacks, as it had been a long time since breakfast. 🙂

Eventually our flight was called and we landed in Santa Cruz de Tenerife a little after 2.00pm.

When we alighted from the aircraft we were surprised to see grey skies and feel the hint of moisture in the air. I mean, this is Tenerife, most beloved destination of British people during the winter months because of its year-round, mild climate. Apparently Tenerife has been experiencing an unusually cold and wet winter. Nevertheless, we had arrived and this was the start of our long-awaited trip.

We have been on all of the Fred Olsen ships but the Braemar is my own personal favourite. She is the baby of the fleet at just over 24,400 tons but beautifully decorated with lovely cascading decks at the rear and she actually looks like a ship, instead of a floating block of flats like some of the modern monstrosities.

Our cabin, number 7050, is next door but one to the cabin we had last time (7054) and it is absolutely identical. It has a balcony, twin beds with the head end towards to the balcony, a settee, dressing table, stool etc.and a kettle with a selection of teas and coffees. The bathroom is small, but adequate.

As it was around 4.00pm before we boarded and dinner was at 6.00, we only had time for a half-hour power nap before getting ready. Tonight was smart-casual so at least I didn’t have to spend ages getting ready.

We have been allocated table number 123 (easy to remember!) in the Thistle restaurant. We usually ask for a table for six or eight as we enjoy the interaction with our fellow passengers. Table 123 is a large round table that can seat 10, but there are eight of us; couples each from Leeds, Nottingham, Dumfries and us from Durham. But the table is so large you need a megaphone to be able to converse with the couples opposite. 🙂

As with all the Fred Olsen cruises that we’ve been on, the food and the service were absolutely superb. I enjoyed pâté to start, followed by fresh garden salad with Caesar dressing, then a delicious calf’s liver and onions, finished off with crème caramel and washed down with house rosé wine (Free! Because we’re travelling all-inclusive!) We finished with an amaretto each before making our way to the Coral Club.

Last time we were on the Braemar we used to adjourn to the Skylark Club, a bar at the stern of the ship that used to host quizzes, karaoke and disco, and was just a nice place to hang out. Now, however, the Skylark Club has gone and the ship’s gym is in its place, so the Coral Club is now where it’s all at.

We didn’t think we’d last very long due to our 3.00am start, but we watched the resident band “M.I.T.” and took part in the quiz (scoring 12/15, not enough to win) before enjoying a night cap in a desultory sort of way before making our way back to cabin 7050 for our first night on board. Braemar is staying in port overnight, so we’ll have a better chance to explore Santa Cruz de Tenerife tomorrow.

We were out like a light and both slept soundly.

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