Ending our Cruise with a Bang!

Well, this is the boring part. We woke up at 7.30am as we had to be out of our cabin an hour later. We went up to the packed Lido buffet for breakfast, then returned to cabin 4119, packed up all the rest of our stuff (including the bottle of Prosecco, which Trevor put in his rucksack) and had a last look round before leaving.

Then we made our way to the Queen’s Room to await the call for our coach. It didn’t take too long – the call to disembark was at 8.45am so we left the Queen Victoria and went along to the luggage collection point to pick up our two suitcases, which we loaded on to the bus.

After about half an hour, the bus was full so off we went. We had a long eight or nine hour journey ahead of us, back to the North East.

I spent the time reading my Kindle, listening to my iPod or just looking out of the window. The bus made its first stop to drop off some passengers and offer the rest of us a comfort stop of 15 minutes; we gratefully got off to stretch our legs and use the toilet facilities.

Around 11.00am, we decided we’d crack open the bottle of Prosecco. Trevor carefully removed the bottle from the rucksack, keeping it largely hidden as we weren’t actually allowed to have glass bottles on the coach. As the bottle had been shaken up a little by the vehicle’s motion, Trevor had to be careful when removing the wire muzzle not to allow the cork to fly out.

He made sure to keep his hand firmly on the cork to ease its exit from the bottle. Just as he thought he had it under control, it emerged with a loud bang in the quiet bus, which made the passengers near us jump and look around in alarm.  The people in front of us hurriedly reached up to get their bags from the luggage shelf, and frantically examined the contents, while Trevor’s face was an absolute picture and I was nearly peeing myself with trying not to laugh.  Any second now I was waiting for the driver to stop the bus and investigate what the bang was.  Maybe the couple in front of us had also bought some champagne/prosecco, and thought it had gone off!  Either way, we couldn’t stop giggling and the bloke sitting opposite us looked on in disdain.  🙂

The vintage Prosecco was really nice, poured into a couple of plastic cups we’d procured from the buffet, and it helped to prolong our holiday just a little bit.

At the next motorway services, we got rid of the “evidence” and went in to have a cup of tea and a sandwich, as we had half an hour’s break this time.

The coach crawled along in the endless traffic, which was made worse by a series of roadworks holding everything up.  There was nothing to do but grin and bear it.

Eventually we reached Scotch Corner, and Trevor phoned our daughter Melanie to ask her to come and pick us up at Washington Services, A1(M) northbound, at about 5.20pm.  When we got there, Melanie’s partner Neil and our grandson Ben were there, and they gave us a lift home.  We arrived back in the house 20 minutes later.

Another unique and memorable cruise had come to an end.  Here’s to the next time!  🙂

At Sea, en route to Southampton

Woke up this morning feeling a bit sad, because today is our last day on the Queen Victoria and we’ll be back in Southampton tomorrow morning. I could easily have done another week of cruising on this beautiful ship.  🙂

A quick look out of our window showed that the rain had finally stopped, although the sky was still an ominous grey colour.

Looking at the daily programme, we saw that there was a packed itinerary of activities today, and we decided to start with another lecture from maritime historian Chris Frame in the Royal Court Theatre at 10 o’clock. Once again, his slide-show and presentation described the great Cunard ships of the past and present, and his talk was very interesting.

Then we remained in our seats for another fabulous and riveting talk by former BBC reporter Martin Bell. What a fastastic orator that man is; he has the sort of resonating, plummy English voice that just grabs your attention, and his speech is so eloquent and interesting to listen to. His presentation was once again accompanied by various BBC news clips from the archives (Mr. Bell was active on the BBC from 1962 to 1997) and it was a fascinating talk. Great stuff.

We then had a coffee break before another presentation by Margaret Ryan, the lady who used to work for Cunard (trying saying that fast).  😉

This time her talk focused on the Queen Elizabeth 2, as well as the current three Queens. It was so nostalgic seeing the photos of the QE2, which is probably the world’s most famous ocean liner (next to the Titanic). We are privileged enough to have done a couple of transatlantic voyages on the QE2, in 1997 and 2000. We were also on the Maiden Voyages of all three current Queens.  🙂

Thus the morning was taken care of, and it was after 1.00pm when we left the Royal Court Theatre and went up to the Lido buffet, first of all sticking our head out of the door to see what the weather was like – yes, it was still too cold for going out on deck.

After lunch, we reluctantly returned to cabin 4119 to make a start with our packing. We filled one of the suitcases with the stuff we wouldn’t need again this cruise, only leaving out a change of clothing for tonight as well as our toiletries and other essentials. We then went up to the Commodore Club for a quick drink as Trevor wanted to be back in our cabin to watch the live football (!!) as Sunderland were playing Everton at Goodison Park, as we very badly needed this win. On the way back we stopped off at the duty-free shop and bought a bottle of vintage Prosecco to drink on the long coach ride back tomorrow.

I, on the other hand, decided to go along to the Queen’s Room where a charity auction was going to be held in aid of the Prince’s Trust. The items up for auction were the ship’s navigational chart for this voyage, which had all our ports of call on, as well as the position of the Lusitania wreck. The chart was signed by the Commodore and his senior officers and is a unique and authentic record of this special voyage. There were also a couple of donated limited-edition prints of the Lusitania; one of them contained signatures from some of the survivors.

I was very interested to see what the navigational chart would sell for, as on our last cruise we won the chart in a raffle, and I know from previous cruises that these often sell for a fair bit of cash.

Commodore Rynd welcomed everyone to the Queen’s Room and reiterated that all money raised would go to a good cause. He then called the assistant cruise director Alex to start the auction, and called for an opening bid of $100.

Wow! The auction was very lively as the bids came in thick and fast, increasing by fifty dollars at a time. Often, as the auctioneer was about to do his “going…going…gone” routine a higher bid would come in at the last minute, and we wondered where it was going to stop.

To cut a long story short, the navigational chart went for a hefty $2,350. The Lusitania print signed by the survivors went for $2,000 and the other limited edition print for $1,100 – a fantastic amount raised for charity. Each time the bidding closed, the Commodore went over to the successful bidder and shook his or her hand; the items were then put into tubes for their new owners to take them home.

When I returned to the cabin, I discovered that Sunderland had won 2-0, three very much needed points that have taken us out of the relegation area.

By now it was after 3.00pm, so we pottered around for a bit, then I went to the Golden Lion and got a glass of rosé wine to drink in the cabin as I got showered and ready for tonight. I finished off the kumihimo bracelets I’d been making and went along to give one of them to Marian, our very efficient and friendly cabin stewardess. Another two I set aside to bring to the dining room to give to Rose and Janet on table #429.

Dinner was delicious as usual, and we spoke with our table-mates about the next cruises we had booked.  We finished off the meal with a glass of amaretto each, and I took the opportunity to give the bracelets to the ladies as a little memento of table #429.  Then we said our goodbyes and left to go to the Royal Court Theatre for the show.

Tonight it was a production by the Royal Cunard Singers & Dancers called “A Stroke of Genius”.  It was described as “a fresh and eclectic show which pairs world famous works of art with popular music”.  It was very original and colourful and made a change from the usual boring West End musical excerpts that have been done to death.  One thing is for sure – we have never seen a duff show this cruise.   🙂

Afterwards we made our way to the Golden Lion pub to take part in the trivia quiz, and we were joined by the same couple who had done the quiz with us before (we still didn’t know their names!).  Nope, we didn’t win – in fact this is one of the very few cruises where we haven’t won at least one quiz.   😦

We then had to return to cabin 4119 to finish our packing and place our suitcases outside our door by 11.00pm for collection.  We therefore had to change into the clothes we’d be travelling home in, and I hoped there wouldn’t be any complaints from the staff about being “inappropriately dressed” in jeans and trainers – really, they couldn’t exactly complain when they were the ones insisting our cases had to be out so early!

Once the cases were packed, labelled and left outside our stateroom door, we decided to finish off the evening by going up to the Commodore Club for a final couple of drinks.  I enjoyed a Manhattan then had a final glass of wine before returning to our cabin, just after midnight, for our last evening on board Queen Victoria.

A Rainy Day in Dublin

We awoke this morning to yet more grey skies and windy weather as the Queen Victoria glided through the Irish Sea on her way into Dublin, Ireland’s capital. We were not due to arrive until 1.00pm, so we had the morning at our leisure.

After breakfast we ventured out onto the aft decks, but as expected it was too cold and windy to make it a pleasant experience. A few intrepid joggers were going through their paces around the pool area, but we didn’t stay out long at all. In fact, I remarked to Trevor that this cruise must have seen us spend the least time on the open decks of any cruise. Quite different from the Caribbean, where it is a waste of the fantastic sunshine to be inside! 🙂

At 10.00am we went along to the Royal Court Theatre where a lady called Margaret Ryan was giving a presentation about her time spent working for Cunard as a purser on those great ocean liners Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. The talk was excellent and gave a fascinating insight into life on board the old ocean liners before air travel really took off (pun intended).   🙂

How luxurious those ships were, and how interesting it was to see how passengers made their own amusement and entertainment in the days before the internet, email, wi-fi – even television was a new phenomenon then. A far cry from the ghastly Royal Caribbean ships of today with their climbing walls, wave pools and Disney parades.

We looked forward to Margaret Ryan’s next talk, which would cover the Queen Elizabeth 2 as well as the current Cunard Queens – on all of which we have had the pleasure of sailing.

Around 11.45am we went along to the Golden Lion to be sure of getting our lunch for 12.00 noon; we were due to go on an excursion at 2 o’clock and we would probably not be back in time for our dinner at six, so we decided to eat a substantial lunch before we went. Trevor had the steak and ale pie and I opted for a chicken tikka masala, washed down with a glass of wine. 🙂

Afterwards we watched the Queen Victoria making her way into port, while the rain lashed down outside (typical!). We passed a number of other cruise ships, including the well-known and much-loved Marco Polo. We have done three cruises on Marco Polo and she is a proper classic ship from the old days – in fact she celebrates her 50th birthday this year.

Once the Queen Victoria was alongside, we went back to our cabin and gathered together our stuff (including cagoules and umbrella!) and went along to the theatre to await the call for our excursion. We have been to Dublin twice before, but each time we’ve just looked around at our own leisure (including visits to the Guinness Brewery) so we thought we’d do a city tour and riverboat cruise on the River Liffey today.

When our group was called to disembark, it was a mad dash in the rain across the tarmac to the waiting buses. Once we were all settled, the bus set off through the rain-lashed streets of Dublin. There was also a horrendous amount of Friday-afternoon traffic, and we crawled along at a snail’s pace as we watched the water pouring down the windows of the bus in torrents. Each time we paused for a photo stop, no-one made any effort to get off the bus.

Our guide told us all about the early beginnings of Dublin, from its time as a Viking settlement to becoming Ireland’s principal city following the Norman invasion. The city expanded rapidly from the 17th century and was briefly the second largest city in the British Empire before the Act of Union in 1800. It ended up being known as ‘Dublin’ because no-one could pronounce the Irish name of Duibhlinn.

As we made our way through streets broad and narrow (see what I did there?) there was no sign of the rain, or the traffic, relenting. We eventually pulled up at a large park that was being set up for the “Bloom 2015” flower festival, an annual event that attracts lots of visitors. On our way we passed a number of wild deer in the park, and the young trees and saplings had wire mesh around their trunks to stop the deer eating them.

Here we would take a comfort break. There was a café, toilets and souvenir shop and the guide said we had 30 minutes. We went inside to have a cup of tea, and the array of cakes and scones looked so tempting that we had to have one – it was the biggest fruit scone I’d ever seen.  🙂

Back on the bus we continued our sight-seeing tour. Our next stop was to the banks of the Liffey where we would take a 45 minute river cruise. However, as we were running late (and due to the inclement weather), some of the passengers said they just wanted to go back to the ship. It was therefore decided that they would drop us off at the river cruiser and take the others back, returning for us at the end of the cruise.

The riverboat ride would have been excellent if it hadn’t been for the rain, which prevented us seeing out of the windows properly. Our guide was friendly and had a fun Irish sense of humour. We glided along the river, going under several bridges, and the guide explained how grey seals sometimes came into the Liffey and he’d spotted one with a fish in its mouth just yesterday.

When the cruise finished we were running very late and we had a wait of about 15-20 minutes before the coach came back for us. It was after 7.00pm when we got back on board the Queen Victoria, so we only had time for a brief wash and brush up before going up to the Lido buffet for our dinner. As we’d had a substantial lunch and the giant scone, I only had a little salad.

After getting changed into something a bit smarter for tonight’s show, we made our way to our usual centre front seats in the Royal Court Theatre. Tonight we had some special guests on board – a group of Irish singers and dancers called “Gaels Afloat”. There were four musicians/singers, and three dancers and their show was brilliant. The group played the keyboard, guitar, banjo, flute and Northumbria pipes and the songs were lively and catchy; I could see people tapping their toes and clapping their hands.

The three dancers – one male and two female – were superb and did typical Irish dancing in the Riverdance tradition. We enjoyed the show immensely and were sorry when it was over.

After the show we went, as we always do, to the Golden Lion to take part in the quiz. We were joined by the same couple who were in our team the other night. We only scored 23/30 so we didn’t win.

As the Queen Victoria was due to weigh anchor around 11.30pm, we decided to go up to the Commodore Club, which has panoramic views from high up above the bow, to watch the sailaway. The Commodore Club was dimly lit with sumptuous leather sofas and chairs; a pianist played gentle background music.

I ordered a Manhattan cocktail from the extensive list while Trevor stuck to beer, and we watched as the Queen Victoria slowly moved away from the dock, so imperceptibly you couldn’t be sure if she was moving or not. We watched the lights of Dublin recede into the distance as we left our last port of call in this cruise.

Tomorrow we had a day at sea to look forward to, so we hoped the weather would improve.

RMS Lusitania Remembered

During the night, the Queen Victoria had paused over the wreck of the RMS Lusitania to allow those people who wished to do so, and who had perhaps lost relatives in the tragedy, to throw floral tributes overboard. She then continued on her way into Cobh (formerly Queenstown), Ireland, where she docked around 7.00am.

We got up about 8 o’clock and went to the Lido buffet as usual, looking with interest out of the window. We had last been to Cobh three years before on the Balmoral, and the Queen Victoria was moored up in the same place. We could see the large mural painted along the dock wall in which the Titanic was commemorated 1912-2012 which had been created especially for our arrival on the Balmoral in April 2012.

Today, however, we would be remembering another great ship that met a tragic end, that of the Lusitania, which was torpedoed by a German U-boat in the First World War, 100 years ago today.

After breakfast we disembarked the Queen Victoria and made our way into town, passing the well-known statue of Annie Moore on the way. Annie Moore was the first Irish emigrant to be processed at Ellis Island in New York on 1st January 1892, and she and her two brothers had set sail from this very port.

Cobh is a pretty little harbour town and one of Ireland’s main cruise ports; a century ago it was a regular stopping point for the grand ocean liners of the era, and the original White Star Line office building is still very much in existence, and is now a museum dedicated to the Titanic.

As we strolled along the streets we couldn’t decide what the weather was going to do today. There were quite a few clouds and here and there the odd spot of rain, but on the other hand the sun kept trying to break through. As long as it kept dry we would be quite happy.

Looking around, we could see preparations in place to close off the main road to any traffic. The town of Cobh was expecting 10,000 visitors here today, to remember RMS Lusitania and pay tribute to the 1196 lives lost. We could see a large stage being set up, and people putting out seats and erecting crowd-control barriers, all in preparation for the open-air service being held commencing at 1.00pm today.

Walking along the seafront, we arrived at the Commodore Hotel, where a slide-show of artefacts from the Lusitania was being shown in a room upstairs. We went up and watched the show, which was accompanied by some lovely, haunting Celtic music. I asked the lady what the music was called; apparently it’s called ‘Lumina’ by Irish musician Eoin Duignan. I made a note of it so I can buy it from Amazon once I get home.

When we came out of the hotel, we were pleased to see that the sun was out at last. 🙂

We continued on our way until we came to the memorial statue erected to remember the lives lost in the Lusitania disaster. A number of floral tributes had already been left; no doubt there’d be many more before the end of the day.

We stopped off for an ice-cream and bought a postcard to send to one of our friends; it was very appropriate as it showed the Queen Victoria moored up in Cobh; the very ship we are on today!

We enjoyed a walk up towards the magnificent St. Colman’s Cathedral, built on a hill and towering over all of Cobh. From here we had fantastic views of the Queen Victoria in the background, over the rooftops of the little colourful houses in their narrow streets. We decided we’d find a pub and enjoy a pint of Guinness (well, we are in Ireland after all!) while writing out the postcard. We went into a place called “Jack Doyle’s” where there was also free wi-fi. The Guinness was lovely; it’s funny how it always tastes much nicer in Ireland!

At about 12.00 noon we thought we’d better walk back down the hill and make our way to the park where the memorial service was going to be held, as we wanted to be sure of a good vantage point. The seating was available only for the VIPs and relatives of those who perished on the Lusitania; the rest of us would have to stand.

When we arrived, we went straight to the front, right up against the barrier; only the seats were in front of us so we had an unimpeded view of the stage. The orchestra was in place, practising some music before the main event. Officers from the Queen Victoria were out and about, all dressed very smartly in their “number one” uniforms with medals where appropriate; some of the other visitors had also dressed in period costume from 1915.

The sun was shining and we could smell freshly cut grass. A large TV screen, erected to the right of the stage, showed us what was happening elsewhere in Cobh, such as a guard of honour of sailors and marines, all waiting in their ranks for the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, to arrive. We were also expecting the chairman of Cunard, David Dingle, and also British Ambassador Dominick Chilcott, US Ambassador Kevin O’Malley and German embassy Charge d’Affaires Wolfram von Heynitz and, of course, the Master of the Queen Victoria, Commodore Christopher Rynd – as you can see, a veritable congregation of dignitaries.

As the park filled up with visitors, everyone was looking around and waiting for the President to arrive to kick off the proceedings; in fact it was after 1.20pm before his car and entourage arrived. He is only a tiny little guy with a shock of white hair, and he took to the stage amidst a smattering of applause. Introduced by John Mullins, the Chairman of the Port of Cork, Mr Higgins began his speech.

He spoke very eloquently in both English and Gaelic of the horrors of war, and the tragedy of the Lusitania that sent shockwaves around the world; the outrage that a civilian vessel should be attacked with the loss of nearly 1200 lives; the ship only took a mere 18 minutes to sink, so there was barely time to launch the lifeboats; in fact, as the ship was listing so heavily to starboard, the lifeboats could only be launched on that side, as they wouldn’t have been able to be swung out on the port side.

Mr Higgins’ speech was then followed by an address by the Chairman of Cunard, who spoke of the role that Cunard ships played in the First World War; he listed the names of the 20 Cunard ships that were lost.

This was then followed by a hymn sung by a solo tenor; as he finished the last note of the song, the Queen Victoria behind us gave a long, loud blast of her foghorn to mark 2.10pm, the exact minute 100 years ago that the torpedo from U-boat U-20 struck the side of the Lusitania. A Royal Naval ship at anchor in the port responded, and we all took the cue for one minute’s silence in respect and remembrance of the dead.

After the minute’s silence, there was another blessing by the priest and the bishop, before a number of hymns including Abide with Me, Pie Jesu and Hail, Queen of Heaven.

Commodore Rynd then read from a survivor’s account which noted the speed at which this mighty ship sank; in fact another blast sounded from the Queen Victoria at 2.28pm to indicate how little time there was between the first hit and the ship’s sinking. It was all very poignant and really brought a lump to the throat.

The service concluded with the famous and beautiful Ode of Remembrance:

They shall not grow old
As we who are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them
Nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun
And in the morning
We will remember them.

All the dignitaries and the three Ambassadors then left the stage to go to the Lusitania monument to lay their respective wreaths.

All in all, the whole remembrance service was a dignified, emotional and fitting way to remember those lost in this tragedy one hundred years ago today.

By now it was about 3 o’clock so we decided to go back on board the Queen Victoria for a cup of tea and something light to eat. We intended to come ashore again after dinner, as an open air musical concert was going to be held in the town.

A special dinner was laid on for us in the Britannia Restaurant tonight. The specially-printed menu booklets had details of the Lusitania sinking, as well as many photographs of the inside and outside of this luxurious liner.

After dinner we changed out of our smart clothing (don’t forget you have to dress for dinner on board Cunard ships!) and disembarked the Queen Victoria once again to walk back into town. We made our way back to the open-air stage, where an all-female choir was in full voice. A lot of people were about, and the hot-dog, burger and ice-cream stalls were all doing a roaring trade.

We stayed for about an hour, but as it was now getting a little cold, we decided to go to the nearest pub for a… you’ve guessed it… pint of Guinness. But first we wanted to go to the Lusitania memorial and have a look at the wreaths.

When we got there, the memorial was lit up, and there were four large wreaths, each carrying ribbons in the colours of the flag from the country they represented. There were two with red, white and blue ribbons (for Britain and the USA) as well as the green, orange and white of Ireland and the black, red and yellow of Germany. Other floral tributes had also been added.

We ended up in a pub along the sea-front, which was nautical themed and was loud and lively. We enjoyed our Guinness and sat talking and reflecting on the day’s events, but it wasn’t over yet. We wanted to make sure we were back on board Queen Victoria for tonight’s Grande Finale, a candlelight procession of boats which would be sailing past the Queen Victoria starting at 9.30pm.

Back on board we wrapped up well, got our cameras and went down to the promenade deck to await the flotilla of boats. The procession was to signify the life boats returning to the port of Cobh 100 years ago. In the distance, in the gathering darkness, we could see the lights of dozens of small craft as they grew nearer.

What an amazing experience! The flotilla of boats, each carrying candles and other subdued lights, drew level with the Queen Victoria as the bells of Cobh Cathedral rang out across the harbour, competing with the hoots and whistles from the boats as they gave the QV a salute on their way past. We decided to go up to the top deck to get a different view and, as we got there, the Queen Victoria gave an almighty blast from her foghorn, nearly making me jump out of my skin, it was so loud and unexpected. 🙂

The decks were crowded with people, and despite a few of us complaining of the cold, no-one wanted to go inside. How often were we going to experience something like this? It was truly a stunning sight, seeing all these boats, all lit up, gliding past us. Among them was the Cobh lifeboat; it kept going so far up the river then turning and coming back again, with other little boats in its wake.

Eventually the flotilla thinned out, and we went back inside to the warmth of the Queen Victoria and made our way to the Golden Lion in time for tonight’s quiz, which took the form of the old TV game show “Blanketty Blank”. It was all good entertainment, but we didn’t win. We just enjoyed a couple of drinks before returning to stateroom 4119 for the night.

What an amazing and memorable day it had been. God rest RMS Lusitania – she will never be forgotten.

Happy 175th Birthday Cunard

Despite the Commodore’s warning last night of rough seas and a bumpy ride, we only noticed a gentle rocking motion from the Queen Victoria and we slept very well, getting up at around 8.30am to blue skies and a fine day, if a little windy.

What a busy day today turned out to be! It was our first full day at sea, and the entertainment team had provided a full itinerary of events to keep us occupied. At 10 o’clock we attended a lecture by maritime historian and Cunard expert Chris Frame, an Australian author who has written a number of books about the great Cunard liners of the past and present, including the Lusitania which is, after all, what this whole voyage is all about.

The lecture traced Cunard’s history right from its beginnings in 1840 by Samual Cunard with the first ship Britannia, and outlined the stories of some of the great steamships such as Mauretania, Carpathia, Aquitania and Caronia. You will already have noticed that all Cunard ships (with the exception of the Queens) have names ending in ‘..ia’ – this was so that passengers looking at the ships’ transatlantic timetables in the newspapers would know they were booking a passage on a Cunard ship. Similarly, all White Star Line ships’ names ended in ‘..ic’, such as the Olympic.

It was all very interesting. We learned how the German steamships were the fastest at the time, and White Star Line ships were the most luxurious. This left Cunard out in the cold, so they had to do something to become the industry leaders. They therefore decided to go for the growing market in transatlantic luxury, as we could see from various photos of the opulent interior of the Lusitania and her running mates.

After Chris Frame’s talk was finished, we stayed in our seats for the next one; a lecture from former BBC news reporter Martin Bell entitled The Age of Total War: 50 Years in the World’s Unquiet Corners. Martin started off with some short and witty poems he’d written; apparently he is quite an accomplished writer of verse and has published a number of poetry books.

Martin’s talk was fantastic. He showed us various news clips from over the decades wherein history was being made, such as the war in Vietnam and the Falklands War. He followed the clips with an additional commentary and injected a wry humour and irony into his talk. The overall impression that we got is that Martin does not believe in war, and that over the years, with wars in the world still raging, mankind has learned little.

After the talk was finished, we had a half hour break so Trevor went to get a couple of cups of coffee, while I kept the seats. While I was waiting, I did a bit of kumihimo braiding, and waited for the inevitable question. Whenever we go away on cruises I bring my kumihimo stuff with me, so I can keep my hands busy during the days at sea, and I always get people coming up and asking me what I’m doing.

Today was no exception. A lady sitting a couple of seats away was watching in fascination as I moved the cords around the braiding wheel. She asked what I was doing, so I explained that kumihimo was a Japanese method of braiding cord, using from between 4 and 16 threads, and indeed the word ‘kumihimo’ translates as ‘the coming together of threads’. She wrote it down and said she’d look it up on Google, but in the meantime I gave her a bracelet I’d already made.

By now Trevor had returned with the coffees, and we settled down for our next talk by Irishman Senan Molony. We had seen him before, on the Balmoral three years ago during the Titanic Memorial Cruise, so we knew his talk would be interesting. The presentation was entitled Last Traces of Lusitania and discussed how the people of Ireland reacted to the tragedy, from the first responders to the body recovery and mass burials, to the inquest and aftermath, and what there was to see of the Lusitania legacy when ashore in Cobh and Kinsale. He accompanied his talk by a lot of very interesting photographs taken from the archives, some of which had never before been published.

By the time Senan’s presentation was finished, it was after one o’clock and time to go for some lunch. We went along to the Golden Lion, but it was very busy and there were no spare tables. We therefore decided just to go up to the Lido restaurant and get something there.

Afterwards we tentatively ventured out on deck but, as we expected, it was cold and windy, so we didn’t stay out long! That is one of the problems with cruising around the British Isles in May; there is no way of predicting how the weather is going to be. Three years ago when we cruised the Scottish islands on the Marco Polo in May the weather was in the high 70s / low 80s and a couple of years ago on the Adonia it was windy and cold; this cruise the weather has been less than kind.

At 2.40pm it was time to go to the Britannia Restaurant to participate in some complimentary wine-tasting. As Platinum World Club members we get a free pass to take part in this event. Passengers below Platinum level can also attend, but they have to pay $30.00 for the privilege.   🙂

Today’s selection of wines was from Australia. We started off with a crisp white Sauvignon Blanc with citrus notes which I really enjoyed, then we moved on to a Chardonnay which to my uneducated palate seemed a little bland. The sommeliers told us all about the wine regions and the types of grapes, and also how much each bottle was if we wanted to purchase it for dinner.

We next tried two red wines which were served with a selection of cheeses. The first was a Merlot and the final one was a Cabernet Sauvignon; I enjoyed them but on the whole I prefer white wines.

After the wine tasting was the next event; the Cunard World Club cocktail party. Once again it was a formal night, so I wore a long burgundy-coloured dress with a sequinned bodice, with a matching sequinned lace jacket, along with a striking Murano necklace. Trevor wore a dark red bow tie and cummerbund with his dinner suit.

We made our way to the Queen’s Room, which was all decorated out in preparation for tonight’s Cunard 175 Year Ball. We enjoyed a couple of free glasses of ‘champagne’ before going along to the Britannia Restaurant for dinner. The sun was shining and from our table I was mesmerised by the white horses on the sea around the ship’s wake, and the gentle rise and fall of Queen Victoria‘s stern on the blue ocean waves.

Dinner was delicious, and the conversation interesting as usual. So far the food and service have been entirely excellent, as we have come to expect on Cunard ships.   🙂

After dinner we took our places in our ‘usual’ seats in the front row of the Royal Court Theatre for tonight’s show. It was a production by the Royal Cunard Singers & Dancers called ‘Hollywood Rocks’ and depicted scenes through the history of the silver screen. The costumes were very colourful and the singing and dancing excellent; we enjoyed the show a lot.

Finally we went along to the Golden Lion where the entertainments team were putting on “The Liars’ Club”. This is similar to “Call My Bluff” where each panellist gives a definition to an obscure word and you have to guess which definition is the correct one. It was good fun as the words given were, predictably, prone to many double-entendres, such as ‘titman’ (the runt in a litter of pigs) and ‘willywaw’ (a cold wind coming from the mountains to the sea).

Afterwards we were quite tired after this activity-packed day, so we just went back to cabin 4119 and settled down for the night. Tomorrow we were due to dock in Cobh, Ireland, for what would be the highlight of this cruise.

Bonjour de la belle France!

When we woke up this morning at 8 o’clock, we were already docked in Le Havre, France.  A quick glance out of the window showed that the skies were grey and cloudy once again; indeed there was a sprinkling of rain.  Docked up alongside us and towering over everything like an ugly behemoth was the RCI ship that we had seen in Southampton, the Anthem of the Seas.

We breakfasted in the Lido self-service restaurant, then pottered around the ship for a while.  By now the rain was lashing down outside and we knew it wouldn’t be much fun exploring the town in this weather.  In any case we weren’t in a hurry; the day was all ours to do what we wanted.

Announcements from the bridge kept coming over the tannoy as the crew were participating in various emergency evacuation procedures, as well as what to do in the event of ‘man overboard’.  Every now and then we heard the shriek of the emergency whistles, as well as the “this is a drill, this is a drill” announcements.  It was just as well we weren’t having a lie-in this morning!   🙂

Around 11.00am we noticed that the rain had stopped, although there was still a brisk, cold wind blowing.  We therefore decided to go ashore for a couple of hours or so, but we packed an umbrella just in case!

Le Havre (which simply translates as The Harbour) is the second busiest port in France, after Marseille.  It had been devastated while under German occupation in 1944, during World War II, in which 5,000 people were killed and 12,000 homes destroyed, mainly by Allied air attacks.  Since then, the area has been rebuilt into a modern town with lots of office buildings, shops, bars and restaurants, all surrounding a picturesque park in the square.

We disembarked the Queen Victoria and saw that there was a shuttle bus waiting to take the passengers into the centre-ville, or town centre.  It cost six Euros each which we thought was quite expensive, but it was too windy to make a walk a pleasant experience, so we boarded the bus and off we went.

We walked along and had a browse around the shops as well as taking in our surroundings.  The last time I had been in Le Havre was in 1971 on a school trip, so I didn’t really remember it at all.  We stopped at an off-licence and bought a bottle of pink sparkling wine; at 7.25 Euros it was cheaper for the bottle than it is for one glass on the ship, so we planned to drink it in our cabin at some point.   🙂

We decided we’d go and have a hot drink so we went into a smart little café, enjoying a nice cup of French coffee before continuing on our way.  By now, the sun was shining and there was a lot of blue sky, although the wind was still unpleasantly chilly.

Around midday it was time for us to go and enjoy une bière so went found a bar-tabac in a street opposite a small park.  We were greeted by a large, friendly dog of indeterminate breed, who was tethered up outside.  There were a few tables and chairs outside the bar, but unsurprisingly no-one was taking advantage of them.  We went in and ordered a glass of beer each.  The dog kept jumping up and resting his head on the bar; the proprietor gave him some treats.  It was a clever dog; it could understand French!    😉

We spent about an hour in the bar, enjoying a second beer.  Then we decided we’d make our way back to the Queen Victoria as it was about a mile to walk.  The walk back was pleasant; we passed many moored-up fishing boats and we experienced the evocative scent of salt and the sea, as well as fish, rope and tar – all those lovely smells of the seaside.

Back on board we made up for the lost hour of sleep last night with an afternoon nap.  Then we went up to the Lido restaurant for a cup of tea and a scone with cream, as we hadn’t had any lunch.

It was then time to start getting ready for dinner.  Tonight the dress code was informal, but it still required Trevor to wear a collar and tie and me to wear a smart or cocktail dress.  I wore a turquoise and orange chiffon number with a pair of orange stiletto shoes with 5” heels.

As ever, we ate a delicious meal at table #429 and enjoyed the conversation with our fellow passengers.  The talk turned, as it always does, to various cruises past, present and future and we traded stories about the different places we’d been to.

Afterwards we popped along to the Clarendon Art Gallery and browsed the artwork for sale, while enjoying a complimentary glass of champers.  The paintings were all original one-offs and some of them were great but with the prices ranging from £520 to over £7,000 for each piece of artwork, I fear they were way out of our price range.  In any case, we don’t have any spare wall-space at home on which to hang them.

Tonight the show in the Royal Court Theatre featured TV household name from the 1980’s,  comedian Tom O’Connor.  We had seen him before on the Arcadia two years ago, and tonight we managed to get seats in the front row.  As expected, he was very funny and it was a great show. So far the entertainment on board Queen Victoria has been very good indeed.

Then we were off to the Golden Lion for the quiz.  Another couple joined our team for general knowledge, but despite scoring 28/30 we didn’t win – the winning team scored full marks.

We finished the evening by going along to the Queen’s Room, where they had a very good live group called “Synergy” playing a lively number of tunes ensuring a packed dance floor.  We had a drink each and listened to the music before we went back to stateroom 4119 and opened the bottle of sparkling wine we’d bought earlier in Le Havre, before settling down for the night.

Guernsey and Gladrags

After a good night’s sleep we were awoken at 7.30 this morning by the hydraulic whirring of the lifeboat davits outside our window, as the lifeboat was lowered to be used as one of the ship’s tenders, as the Queen Victoria had dropped anchor off the pretty town of St. Peter Port, Guernsey. Looking out, we saw that the weather was grey and cloudy, but at least it wasn’t raining.

We got up around 8 o’clock and went up to the Lido self-service restaurant for breakfast. I enjoyed a healthy option of fresh fruits with smoked salmon and mackerel, washed down with fresh orange juice and coffee.

Returning to stateroom 4119, we got ready to disembark the ship, but first of all we had to go to the Queen’s Room to collect a ticket for the liberty boat to take us ashore. We didn’t have long to wait and soon we were bouncing along over a fairly choppy English Channel on our way into Guernsey’s capital.

The town of St. Peter Port is quite picturesque and we saw lots of little houses built into the steep hillsides surrounding the harbour, which had lots of pleasure craft moored up. Several narrow, winding streets led in all directions and, as we hadn’t booked an excursion today, we decided to set off and explore ourselves.

As well as a large Visitor Information Centre, we saw lots of shops, boutiques, bars and restaurants. We noticed that the currency was actually pounds sterling; we had thought it was Euros and that is all we had with us; not to worry though, we simply withdrew some cash out of a nearby ATM and went in search of some postcards and stamps to send back home.

As today is a Bank Holiday, some of the shops were not open, or were opening later. We had a good look around, and we remarked that it was nice to stretch our legs after the long day spent on the coach yesterday. We walked along the harbour front and saw a plaque that had been unveiled by the Queen on 9th May 2005 (nearly 10 years ago) which commemorated the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Guernsey, as it had been occupied by the Germans during the second world war.

Browsing in the visitors’ centre we bought some boxes of Guernsey clotted cream fudge and biscuits to take back home as gifts. We then decided to find a pub and go and write out our postcards over a drink.

We enjoyed a pint of John Smith’s each in the Library Bar, which was an offshoot of the Moores Hotel, one of the Best Western brand. The pub had free wi-fi so we were able to check our emails and online banking. Once the postcards were ready, we went off to find a postbox then decided to go back to the landing stage and get the next tender back to the Queen Victoria, where we arrived back at 1.15pm, just in nice time for lunch.

After dumping our bags back in our cabin, we went for a ‘pub lunch’ in the Golden Lion. Trevor had traditional fish and chips while I enjoyed a delicious salad Niçoise with warm salmon served in a piquant herb and lemon dressing.

The rest of the afternoon passed in its pleasant relaxing way, then it was time to start getting ready for the Commodore’s Cocktail Party. Tonight is formal wear, so I dressed in a long black velvet dress with silver killer heels and Trevor put on his dinner suit, winged collar white shirt and black cummerbund and bow tie. Thus attired, we made our way to the Queen’s Room, the elegant ballroom on board the Queen Victoria.

The Queen’s Room is high-ceilinged and has glittering chandeliers and grand and ornate panelling and artwork on the walls. It was easy to feel like a celebrity when sweeping into the ballroom, picking up a glass of champagne on the way from the line of tray-bearing waiters.

Trevor and I managed to consume four glasses of the free plonk each before going along to the Britannia Dining Room to table #429, where we met our table companions for the first time. There are Martin and Janet from Chelmsford in Essex, and Bob and Rose from Poole in Dorset. We enjoyed a delicious dinner in their company.  Our table is in a fantastic position; we are right at the stern of the ship, next to a large floor-to-ceiling window that gives us a great view of the ship’s wake, churning and foaming beneath us as Queen Victoria glides over the ocean.

Then it was along to the Royal Court Theatre for tonight’s show. We managed to get seats in the centre of the front row, so we had an unimpeded view of the stage. To be honest though, there are no bad seats in this theatre as it has been designed and built for purpose, rather than a lounge set out in cabaret style where a race for the best seats is a nightly event. 🙂

The show was excellent. It was a 60s tribute act band called “The Overtures”. They covered everything from the Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, Beach Boys, Kinks and many other greats from the 1960s. The musicians, consisting of guitars, keyboards and drums, were superb. Everyone sang along and we were sorry when their performance ended.

We finished off the evening, as ever, by going along to the Golden Lion for the quiz. Tonight it was “Name that Tune” type of questions, where we had to listen to a short piece of music and give the title of the song and the artiste. My music era is the 70s and 80s, but as this was the 50s and 60s we started off very badly, hardly knowing any of the songs. We picked up a bit when they started doing the 60s music, however, and managed to redeem ourselves a little by scoring 31/52. The winning team scored 39, so no prize for us tonight.

After the quiz it was karaoke time. I got up and did Lynn Anderson’s Rose Garden as well as Cyndi Lauper’s True Colours. Only about three or four different people got up, but the same singers tended to get up more than once, and in between the entertainers did some ‘singalong’ songs to keep it going. The karaoke finished at midnight, and then it was time for bed. We had to put our clocks forward an hour as we were due to arrive in Le Havre, France tomorrow morning, so we’d lose an hour’s sleep.

Coach Trip to Cunard

In the early hours of this morning, when everyone else was still sound asleep, Trevor and I were wide awake and getting ready for another cruise. We are due to spend a week on Cunard’s Queen Victoria taking part in various events that have been organised, not only to celebrate the 175th anniversary of Cunard, but also to remember another illustrious Cunard liner, RMS Lusitania which was sadly torpedoed by a German U-boat in the First World War and sank off the coast of Ireland on 7th May 1915 – a hundred years ago.

We have been on the Queen Victoria before, on her Maiden Voyage in December 2007, so we were looking forward to returning to this elegant ship. Today all three “Queens”, that is Victoria, Elizabeth and Mary 2 would all be meeting up in Southampton together, and setting off on their various voyages, one after the other.

Anyway… the taxi had been booked to come for 04:20am but arrived five minutes earlier, and we set off through the darkened streets towards Washington motorway services, on the A1(M) southbound, to pick up the Intercruises coach that would be conveying us on the long journey to Southampton.

When we arrived, we were the first people to board the coach, after first having the driver load our cases into the luggage hold. The next time we would see them would be in our stateroom.

At 5.10am, the coach set off. It was 10 minutes late because it had been waiting for a couple of passengers who didn’t show up; a phone call determined that they’d cancelled the cruise, but no-one had informed the coach company.

The weather today was absolutely terrible. The coach sloshed its way along the spray-laden motorway, windscreen wipers swishing side to side against the deluge. The skies were grey and leaden, and the weather could not have been less holiday-like.

We made various stops along the way to pick up more passengers, but after leaving Leeds we cracked open a bottle of Prosecco we’d brought with us for the journey; Trevor added his to some orange juice to make a Buck’s Fizz. 🙂

As morning wore into afternoon, the rain stopped, the skies cleared a little and the sun made a valiant attempt to break through. I passed the time reading my Kindle, listening to music on my iPod or just watched the scenery flash past.

Eventually we arrived at the outskirts of Southampton Docks. There was a lot of traffic, in particular coach loads of cruise passengers as there were a quite a few ships in port. As well as the three Queens that I’ve already mentioned, there was a big Royal Caribbean ship in, the Anthem of the Seas, as well as Fred Olsen’s Balmoral, on which we had a fantastic cruise in 2012 and are booked to go again next year. So it wasn’t really surprising that there were loads of people around all, like us, waiting with excited anticipation to start their cruises.

After what seemed an eternity, we eventually left the coach just before 3.00pm and went into the cruise terminal to check in. Luckily the majority of the queues had dissipated and we didn’t have to wait long at all before we were issued with our cruise cards and happily boarded the Queen Victoria.

We have been allocated stateroom 4119. It is a spacious and comfortable outside cabin with a king-size bed, settee, coffee table, dressing table and a couple of wardrobes. The bathroom contained a shower cubicle and we were happy to see a range of complimentary toiletries, as well as bathrobes and slippers for our use.

Because we are Platinum Cunard World Club members, there was the usual bottle of bubbly waiting for us on ice, along with a couple of champagne flutes. 🙂

The view from our window is obscured by one of the lifeboats, but at least it allows us to have daylight in our stateroom.

Shortly afterwards our suitcases arrived, so we spent the next 15 minutes or so unpacking our stuff and hanging it neatly in the wardrobes.

Then it was time for lifeboat drill. It was just the usual we’ve come to expect; listen out for the international emergency signal (seven short blasts of the ship’s whistle followed by one long blast), then collect your life-jacket and proceed to muster station. Once the drill was over, the time was our own and our holiday would begin in earnest. 🙂

We returned our life-jackets to our stateroom and got changed into warmer clothes for going out on deck and joining the champagne sailaway party. I enjoyed an ice-cold glass of Lanson’s Black Label while Trevor opted for a pint of John Smith’s.

The master of the Queen Victoria, Commodore Christopher Rynd, announced that since all three Cunard Queens were in Southampton together, we would leave in procession; Queen Mary 2 (Cunard’s flagship) in the lead, followed by Queen Elizabeth and with us on the Queen Victoria bringing up the rear.

In the meantime, we watched the Balmoral set off on her voyage and took lots of photos as we have fond memories of this ship.

Despite the thick hooded top I was wearing, it was cold and windy on the top deck, but I didn’t want to go inside because it was such an occasion for the Cunard Queens all to be sailing out together; we managed to get some great photos of the Queen Mary 2 and the Queen Elizabeth from our vantage point at the bow of the Queen Victoria, and the air resounded with the blasts from the foghorns of each ship, as the Cunard sisters saluted each other. We commented that those on land would have the best view of all three Queens, but we are actually taking part and it’s much better to be a participant than merely an onlooker. 🙂

Once all the ships were underway, we decided to go inside out of the cold, get washed and changed, and go up to the Lido self-sevice restaurant for our dinner, as we’d missed our 6.00pm sitting in the more-formal Britannia restaurant.

Dinner was delicious. I enjoyed a very tender calf’s liver and some ribeye steak, along with fresh vegetables and sautéed mushrooms. This was followed by a cheeseboard containing Danish Blue, Brie, Cheddar and Emmental.

Afterwards we went back to stateroom 4119 and enjoyed a glass of the free fizz, before making our way to the Royal Court Theatre for tonight’s show. The theatre on the Queen Victoria is just like a regular Victorian theatre, complete with ‘royal boxes’ and the ornate and evocative high ceilings and plush furnishings of theatres from a century ago.

We managed to get a good seat in the centre; in fact there were a lot of empty seats. We can only assume that, like us, a lot of the passengers had had a very long day and were tired. We knew we’d sleep very well tonight. 🙂

Tonight’s cabaret was a flautist called Clare Langan. She was very good indeed and played everything from classical (Bach and Mozart) to film scores to 60’s pop, ending with a nautical medley in which everyone clapped along to the traditional sailor’s hornpipe, in “Last Night at The Proms” style. We really enjoyed her show a lot.

Then it was along to the Golden Lion pub where the resident entertainer was a honky-tonk pianist playing a selection of songs before the trivia quiz. Readers of my previous blogs will know that Trevor and I always take part in the evening quizzes, whether on our own or as part of a team, and tonight was no exception. We didn’t win, only scoring 15/25. In any case, the prizes on Cunard ships are usually pretty rubbish; you get prize tokens to save up and trade in for stuff such as keyrings, bookmarks, etc. So no great loss really.

We enjoyed a night cap in the Golden Lion before retiring to stateroom 4119 for our first night at sea. We were due to drop anchor tomorrow at St. Peter Port, Guernsey – a new port of call for us.