Archive for March, 2017

Calmer Crossing

We woke up this morning at 7.50am and looked out of our portholes at sunny weather and a flat calm Atlantic ocean.  Tonight was a formal night, so we knew there would be free fizz on offer at breakfast.  😉

We went up to the Grampian Restaurant and chose the table nearest the prosecco ice bucket.  I enjoyed a breakfast of fresh fruits and smoked salmon washed down with a couple of glasses of the free prosecco and good hot coffee to set me up for the day.  🙂

Then we went along to the Future Cruises booking desk for 9.00am, where we had an appointment with the on-board travel agent.  We had seen a cruise in the new brochure for 2018/19 that we were interested in, so we were here to find out more details.

We ending up booking another cruise!  Whoo-hoo!  We depart on Boxing Day 2018 and fly out to Port Louis, Mauritius, to start a 14-night cruise of the Indian Ocean.  The ship is Boudicca on which we’ve cruised three times before and we will go to Réunion island, the Seychelles, then cross the Indian Ocean to the Maldives, finally finishing at Colombo, Sri Lanka.  We have booked a balcony cabin and it all looks fantastic.  Not only would we see in 2019 from gorgeous sunny climes but we would also cross the Equator, from south to north.  How incredibly exciting.  🙂

Afterwards we went out on deck.  The sea was very calm and there were only tiny wavelets; no white caps at all.  The sky was blue with the sun shining brightly amid the fluffy white cumulus clouds.  It was a perfect day and we sat out at the aft decks and watched the foaming wake stretching out into the distance as the Braemar steamed her way across the ocean.  It was a lovely way to pass the time, and one that I will never tire of.

At 12.15pm we took part in the “Name that Tune” quiz in the Coral Club, but despite scoring 14/15 we still didn’t win!  Only one quiz win for us so far this cruise.

After lunch we spent some more time out in the sunshine.  By now they’d taken the nets off the pool and put all the sun loungers out again, so the decks were crowded with recumbent bodies.  We went to the Marquee Bar and enjoyed a couple of cold cocktails and just passed the time pleasantly until around two o’ clock when it was time for something different – the Braemar’s inter-departmental Tug o’ War competition.  This would feature teams from the engine room, housekeeping, the entertainments team, the galley, the junior officers and the bar staff, with men’s and ladies’ teams.  It promised to be a fun event.

We got a good vantage point at the front of the area which had been roped off for the competition.  Elliot hosted it and got the teams together and warned them against any cheating or other nefarious activity.  Apparently on the previous cruise one team had tied their end of the rope to the ship’s railings and the other team didn’t even notice, pulling away fruitlessly.  I bet that was hilarious to watch.  🙂

It was great fun watching the teams competing amidst lusty cheers from their colleagues and from the spectating passengers.  Some teams were pulled clear across the line by their stronger opponents, their shoes slithering uselessly on the decking.  Other teams were more evenly matched and it was hard to predict the winners.  It ended up being the Engine Room boys being the men’s winners, and the Junior Officers being the ladies’ winners.  It was a really entertaining interlude, standing there on the deck in the sunshine.

We had time to return to the cabin briefly before making our way to the Neptune Lounge to listen to a talk called “Interesting Times” which was about historic events from 1940-2017 which had shaped our lives.  The speaker, however, was inaccurate with some of his dates; for example saying the Berlin Wall came down in 1981 (it was 1989) and that Margaret Thatcher became the first female prime minister in 1974 (it was 1979).  It also sounded that some of the ‘facts’ he was pontificating were just the (not always accurate) generally held views, rather than conclusions he’d reached as a result of his own research.  So I wasn’t really too impressed with the talk; anyone could have done it really, you didn’t have to be a historical expert.

At 4.45pm I went along to the Atlantis Spa to get my hair put up in readiness for tonight’s formal evening.  He guy did a nice job of it; he back-combed it a little to give it some volume, then put it into an elegant French pleat with some little tendrils hanging down to frame my face.  It only cost £20.00 which is far cheaper than an updo costs at home (£28.00).

We then got ourselves dressed and ready; I wore a long burgundy dress with a sequinned bodice and matching sequinned jacket, and Trevor wore his dinner suit with a black bow-tie and cummerbund.  Thus attired, we went up to the Thistle Restaurant for a sumptuous dinner, including a superbly-delicious lobster thermidor.  Yum yum!  🙂

The show in the Neptune Lounge tonight was called “Let’s Swing” and, as its title suggested, was a tribute to the Rat Pack and other swing and big-band music.  It was very good; we always find the entertainment on Fred ships to be superb; considering they are small show companies on small ships it is amazing what they can achieve.

Then of course it was time for the quiz, where a win eluded us once again.  Tonight, however, there was a second show in the Coral Club; the Morning Light’s resident singer/guitarist Luke Palmer playing big ballads while the Revolverlites singer Natasha sang.  They were actually very good together, better than Luke on his own who is not really that good a singer.

Then we just passed the last hour or so listening the Revolverlites’ music and enjoying one more drink before turning in.  We were quite tired after the lost hour last night and the fact we were up fairly early, so we slept soundly, the gentle motion of the Braemar lulling us to sleep.

Saturday, 11th March 2017

We awoke later than usual this morning, around 8.45am.  The sun was still out and the ocean still calm with barely a ripple; I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Atlantic as flat as this.  We had the morning completely at our leisure as there were no scheduled talks this morning because the staff were getting the Neptune Lounge ready for the Braemar’s version of a “Country Fayre” this afternoon, to raise money for charity; namely orphanages in Thailand and the Philippines.

We ate our breakfast outside and it was very pleasant sitting listening to the “shhhhhhh” sounds of the ocean washing against the side of the Braemar and feeling the gentle sea breeze in our hair.

Then we just pottered around a bit; went to the shop to see what bargains were on offer today, looked in the photo gallery to view our formal photos (we didn’t buy them and in any case we have absolutely loads of formal cruise photos!).  Then, as it was such a lovely day, we went and sat out in the sun at the aft decks and enjoyed a freezing cold pint of Stella Artois each, which really went down a treat.

At 12.15pm we decided to go inside (“mad dogs and Englishmen” and all that) and take part in the “Name that Tune” quiz.  Again we scored 14/15 but still no win!  😦

I decided to eat a decent lunch and miss going to dinner tonight, so we went up to the Grampian restaurant and had a table next to the window with fantastic high-up sea views and partook of a glass of chilled rosé with our meal.

Afterwards we just spent some time back in cabin # 3074 as Trevor wanted to watch the England v Scotland rugby match at 2.00pm.  So I did some crocheting, wrote some of this blog and decided to have a look in the Neptune Lounge at the Country Fayre which was on until four o’clock.

The Neptune Lounge was decorated with bunting and streamers and set out in the style of the traditional “All the Fun of the Fair”.  There was a ‘guess the weight of the cake’ stall, golf-putting, ‘name the teddy bear’, darts, ‘find where the Spanish galleon sank’ (by sticking a pin in a map) and lots of other things.  I had a go at the putting (no good), bought a beaker of Pimms and lemonade, and also purchased a couple of raffle tickets at a fiver each; one to win afternoon tea with the Captain, and one to win a mini-cruise.

Also, Elliot the cruise director was over by the Spa area (where you could pay a pound for a 60-second neck and shoulder massage) and, for a pound, you could put a wax strip on his leg or chest and pull it off!  They had Elliot lying back on the massage table, surrounded by ladies waiting to help wax him, and it was so funny to see him wince or jump whenever a strip was torn off him.  🙂

The other thing that made me laugh was the ‘human fruit machine’.  This consisted of three guys standing in a booth with a lady standing to one side holding a large maraca.  You pulled down on the maraca (the handle) and each guy, in turn, would hold up a fruit – an apple, orange, pear or banana.  Three of the same fruit won you a prize.

It was all good light-hearted fun and helped to raise money for a worthwhile cause.  At the close of the fair there was also an ‘art auction’ in which pieces that had previously decorated the Braemar were being auctioned off.  However, the paintings/prints were HUGE – not only were people worried about how they’d get them home (Elliot said FOCL would have them couriered home for the winning bidders) but who would have the wall space on which to hang them? You’d have to live in a mansion.  So, unsurprisingly, there were few to no bidders for some of the pieces, and the art auction was not really much of a success, apart from one smaller piece, a painting on canvas of a sailing ship at sea, which fetched £190.00.

Then the raffles were drawn, but unfortunately we didn’t win this time.  All in all though, it passed a pleasant interlude before we went into the Morning Light pub for an afternoon drink.

Then we wandered around the decks again, passing the time pleasantly with our fellow passengers and relaxing in a way that only those who have completed a transatlantic voyage would know.  🙂

I skipped dinner again this evening, and instead went into the Morning Light to have a couple of glasses of cava and do some of this blog.  While I was in there The Lovers came in and stood at the bar, making a lot of noise and drawing attention to themselves (and not in a good way).   The woman had on a dress that was far too short as well as some high wedge heels, and her makeup looked as if it had been trowelled on.  She was tittering and simpering and giggling in a really annoying way as the man couldn’t keep his wrinkly hands off her.  Yurk!  😦

I went up to the Thistle Restaurant in time for the coffee-and-liqueurs stage, but enjoyed a melt-in-the-mouth crème brûlée while I was there.  Then we went along to the Neptune Lounge to watch John Lenahan, the comedy magician again.  The lounge was fairly packed so we could only get a view of the stage from the side, but John did move around and show all sides of the room his tricks.  We enjoyed his show better this time; it really was hilarious; his jokes and patter as well as his tricks and illusions.

We finished the evening as we always do on board the Braemar; along to the Coral Club for the quiz with Jackie and Kathy (where once again a win eluded us), then the second performance.  Tonight it was called “Oh, What a Night” and featured the songs and music of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, very well performed by the Braemar Show Company.

At 11.00pm The Revolverlites came back on, and the dance floor soon filled up.  We enjoyed a few more drinks – they do a particularly good sangria here on board, consisting of red wine, brandy, Cointreau, lemonade, fruit and lots of ice.  🙂

At midnight the disco started, and although we said we wouldn’t stay long it ended up being after 1.00am when we left, because a few other people came over and joined us and we got chatting.  Apparently they are all solo travellers and they share the same table in the restaurant, so they’d become shipboard friends.

Then The Lovers arrived and joined the dance floor in a touchy-feely giggly fashion as the woman continued to do her amusing, very-stiff-legged dance.  We decided this was probably a good time to return to our cabin as the clocks were due to go an hour forward again tonight, so it was really after 2.00am.  We’d had a good day.

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Atlantic Voyager

Another day at sea today.  We would still not see any land for another four days.  So there was no timetable to follow, no excursions to set off on.  We could do want we wanted, when we wanted and the day looked a lot brighter and the sea a lot calmer than it was yesterday.  Had it really been a week since we flew out of Manchester to Barbados?  We felt as if we’d been on Braemar for ever, but we certainly weren’t complaining.  🙂

After breakfast we went along to the “shop event” as it’s called to see what was on offer in the sales.  Today it was perfumes, so after trying a few testers I bought a lovely ornate bottle of Marc Jacobs “Daisy Dream”.  It is only a very light subtle fragrance, but very nice.  Because we are Gold Oceans Club members, we get a 5% discount on anything we purchase on board, so that is an extra bonus.  🙂

At 10 o’clock Trevor went along to listen to a presentation about the end of the British Empire, but I didn’t fancy that one so I just took my laptop along to the Morning Light pub and sat and did some of my blog, as well as some of my crocheting.

Then it was time to attend another presentation from Bob Wragg, the ex-CID man; this time it was called “Stories from the Criminal Underworld” and it featured truth, fact, legend and myth about some of London’s notorious criminals such as the Kray twins and their rivals, the Richardsons.  As I enjoy true crime books and movies, I really enjoyed the talk.

This took us nicely to lunchtime, after which we ventured out on deck to see what the weather was like once again.  It was definitely calmer, although still windy, and I needed to wear my lightweight jacket.  It was still exhilarating enjoying the fresh sea air, and their was something hypnotic about the gentle rise and fall of the Braemar’s bows.

We passed the afternoon in its usual pleasant way until 3.00pm, when we were treated to a close-up magic show by magician John Lenahan.  He also explained how to do a lot of the tricks and how sleight of hand and psychological manipulation of your audience makes magic appear to work.  It was a very interesting and entertaining 45 minutes, and we had half an hour spare before the next talk by the ex-Royal Navy bloke, so we nipped into the Morning Light and grabbed ourselves a drink.  😉

The talk was about ‘Operation Pedestal’ which took place in August 1942 and which told of the convoy that saved the besieged island of Malta.  I always enjoy these presentations, and the speaker David Russell makes them interesting and informative.

It was then time to go back and get showered and changed before getting ready for dinner.  Tonight, however, we were not going to our usual table in the Thistle Restaurant, but instead to the Palms Café where they were holding a grand Indian buffet.  As we love Indian food and eat it once a fortnight at home, we really enjoyed the arrays of appetitsers, main courses, side dishes and desserts.  Some of the dishes were really spicy (which I love) so a scrumptious meal was enjoyed by all.

We got talking to another couple on our table who said this was their seventh cruise; they were astounded when we told them it was our 41st as they didn’t think we looked old enough! 🙂  They asked us lots of questions about different cruise lines, and who we’d recommend, and which was our favourite ship and cruise line.

Then it was time to go along to the Neptune Lounge where they were holding a version of the popular 1960s/70s game show “Mr & Mrs”.  Trevor and I have taken part in this on previous cruises and have won three times, so we hoped we would be picked again this time.  However, the three couples had already been chosen so this time it wasn’t our turn.  As ever, it was hugely entertaining, but we thought it was a bit of a “fix” that one half of the couple who won it was part of the Braemar’s entertainment team!

The game was followed by the excellent singer Jon Moses once again; he gave us a brilliant show and it was obvious he’d built up quite a little following of fans here on the Braemar; as he is so personable I think some of the older ladies wanted to mother him a bit.  🙂

Later in the Coral Club we met up with Jackie and Kathy once again and took part in the quiz which we didn’t win.  Apart from the second night we haven’t exactly been doing well; there are a lot of high scores so either the questions are too easy or we have a lot of very good quizzers.

At 11 o’clock they decided to feature karaoke with a difference – this time ‘bandioke’ or singing along to the live band rather than a backing track.  Basically it was a case of choosing one of the songs that the resident band the Revolverlites played, and singing along while reading the lyrics from the music sheet.  It’s a lot harder than it sounds!  When you think about it, the professional singers would have time to rehearse and practise with the band, but it’s a different kettle of fish entirely to get up and sing on the spot, without rehearsing.

None of the songs I can do really well featured on the list, so I chose to do Jamming by Bob Marley.  Although I know the song, I have never sung it before.  Natasha (who is the singer with the band) propped up her iPad on a music stand for me to read the lyrics, and the band struck up.

What a fiasco!  I started off well enough but then lost my place in the lyrics, so I just had to ad lib by singing words like “I have lost my place and just messed up my song, I don’t know what I’ve done wrong”.  This elicited a huge laugh and a spontaneous round of applause from the audience, so while the singing wasn’t very good at least folks found it entertaining.  Afterwards Duncan, the senior host, came and gave me a hug and said he didn’t even realise I wasn’t singing the right words!  It was all good fun though, we all had a great laugh and all the singers were in the same boat, so to speak.  🙂

The bandioke finished at midnight, and we just had one more drink and made our way back to cabin  # 3074.  As we had to advance our clocks one hour again tonight, it was really 1.00am.  We looked forward to whatever tomorrow would bring.

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Our hopes for a good night’s sleep were dashed by the ship’s heavy rolling and the occasional bang or jolt as a waves crashed against the side or bow of the vessel.  We always try to choose a cabin midships, as that is the area of the ship least affected by the motion, so goodness knows what those passengers at the bow or stern must have experienced.

We woke up to partly-cloudy skies and saw that the ocean still looked very rough.  After breakfast we ventured outside on the open decks, but some areas were still roped off and there was still a lot of sea spray in the uncomfortably-windy air.  The pool deck was practically deserted; both pools were empty and had nets stretched over them, and all the deckchairs and sunloungers were stacked up and lashed securely to the railings.

We went down to deck 5 and walked around the the lee side of the ship, where the wind was nowhere near and strong.  A few minutes later, and just outside the range of the swirling wash of the ship, we spotted the familiar silver streaks on the sea’s surface.  Flying fish!  There were only four in total, and no more appeared, but at least we’d seen them.  🙂

Back in the shelter of the Braemar’s interior we just spent the morning at leisure as there were no scheduled talks.  Cruise director Elliot Taylor’s voice came over the tannoy to say that, due to the adverse weather conditions, a lot of the planned deck activities were either having to be cancelled or moved inside wherever practical.

I enjoyed a lunch of fresh green salad and cold meats washed down with a glass of rosé wine before making our way to the Morning Light pub, where I did some crocheting. I am making a triangular shawl in a cotton yarn; the edge of the shawl will be edged with individually-crocheted daisies (there are 49 to make so it will take some time).

Then it was time to attend the first of today’s presentations.  This was entitled “Sink the Bismarck” and was given by David Russell, the former naval man and World War 2 historian.  It was all very interesting and educational.  David’s talk was followed by the ex-copper Bob Wragg whose talk was about his own experiences as a London CID officer in the 1960s and 70s.

This took us nicely up to 5 o’clock, where we pottered around before getting ready for dinner.  We went along to the purser’s desk where the ship’s navigational information is displayed, and we saw that the Braemar was just about ready to cross the Tropic of Cancer at 23º 27’ North.  The earth is tilted at an angle of approximately 23º 27’; therefore during the Summer Solstice (in the northern hemisphere) the sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer; the reverse of this is true in the southern hemisphere (during our Winter Solstice) when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn.

Then it was just the usual; delicious meal, palatable wine, good company etc, and off we went to the Neptune Lounge for tonight’s entertainment.
This time it was a Welsh comedian called Lloyd Davies.  As well as stand-up comedy he also played the keyboard and sang funny songs (those where the lyrics of popular songs have been changed to comedic effect).  I actually thought he was pretty hilarious and we enjoyed his show a lot.

Tonight there were actually two shows; after the quiz in the Coral Club the Braemar Show Company put on a production called “Happy Days” featuring high-energy singing and dancing – it passed a pleasant half hour or so.

We stayed in the Coral Club until around midnight, then returned to cabin # 3074 and settled down for sleep.  Braemar was no longer in the tropics but, unless we were imagining it, the ocean outside our portholes did seem a lot calmer.  We slept very well.

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We got up this morning about 8.00am, after being woken several times in the night by the motion of the Braemar on the Atlantic waves.  When we looked out of our portholes, we noticed quite a large ocean swell, and there were plenty of white horses dancing on the waves.  Every now and again we could feel a large shudder of the ship as a particularly big wave crashed against the Braemar’s bow.  🙂

We went and had our breakfast up in the Grampian restaurant, where we sat by the window at the stern watching the ship’s wake swirling and foaming eight decks below us.  You really had to pick your way carefully across the floor to the breakfast buffet, and we already noticed that some of the older passengers had already taken a tumble on the ship; some had their arms in slings and one or two others sported bumps and cuts – one poor gentleman had a number of stitches in his head.

As we would spend the next six nights at sea, a full programme of activities and talks had been planned for today, so at 10.00am we went along to the Neptune Lounge to listen to a lecture about the Battle of the River Plate that took place in December 1939.  This was very interesting as it described the sinking of the Admiral Graf Spee off the coast of South America, and indeed we have seen some relics from the Graf Spee (the anchor and the telemeter rangefinder) on display in the port of Montevideo, Uruguay, on our visit there in January 2013.

Immediately after that presentation was a talk from a former London policeman (and later CID at Scotland Yard) called “Bobby on the Beat”.  Once again it was a very good talk given by Bob Wragg, who was able to tell us many personal anecdotes of his time in the Metropolitan Police.

That brought us nicely up to lunchtime, and we went along to the Palms Café again.  We wanted to sit outside, but there was a brisk wind blowing (the noon navigational announcement told us it was a force 6 on the Beaufort scale) and the waves were pretty choppy.

After lunch we decided to take a walk around deck.  I put on my sturdy rubber-soled shoes and a lightweight jacket and we ventured outside.  Walking around, we noticed that parts of the deck and railings were wet from the sea spray, and certain areas of the deck had been roped off and made inadmissible.

We walked as far as we were allowed and revelled in the feel of the wind and the salt spray.  The Braemar’s bow rose and fell, rose and fell, and the air was alive with the roar of the waves crashing against the side.  This is what crossing the Atlantic is all about!  We had a perfunctory look around for flying fish, which are often seen in tropical latitudes, but maybe they didn’t like the rough sea either, because there was no sign of any.

At 3.00pm we attended another talk in the Neptune Lounge, this one entitled “Pirates, Slaves and the British Empire”.  It was a history lesson explaining the British influence in the Caribbean, much of which can still be seen today.

Then we just did the usual stuff, wandered around the ship (the ocean was still pretty rough outside and the Braemar was doing a merry dance on the waves), read, relaxed, socialised with fellow passengers and took part in the afternoon quiz.  No need to tell you the result.  😦

Once again it was time for dinner; the day had gone by surprisingly quickly.  As usual we ate far too much and went into the show lounge fit to burst.  We always start off with good intentions, saying we won’t eat too much or we’ll only try a tiny piece of dessert, but the food is so delicious and is so beautifully presented that before you know it, you’ve eaten much more than you should have.

The show tonight was a production by the Braemar Show Company called “All Shook Up” which, as its title suggests, was a tribute to Elvis.  Elvis isn’t really to my taste and I don’t like roll and roll music, but the show company put on an exuberant display of singing and dancing, so we couldn’t really complain too much.

As usual, we went along to the Coral Club afterwards to do the quiz and listen to the resident band the Revolverlites.  They are pretty good; there is a couple of guitarists, an enthusiastic drummer and a female singer.

We didn’t stay terribly late tonight.  As we were travelling due east it meant we have to put our clocks forward an hour tonight, so we’d lose an hour’s sleep.  We’ve always said that west-bound transatlantic voyages are better value for money, because you gain an hour a night for five nights.  🙂

So off we went back to cabin # 3074, where we hoped for a good night’s sleep, despite the Braemar’s still very noticeable movement on the Atlantic waves.

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It was with excitement and anticipation that we woke up early this morning, as today were going to take a ride on the famous St. Kitts Scenic Railway.  Despite two previous visits to St. Kitts (in 2012 on the Ventura and last year on the Adonia) we had not yet experienced this delight, so we were looking forward to the 18-mile leisurely journey.  This time, the little Braemar was the only ship in port.  🙂

As ever, the fresh morning air gave a hint of the hot, sultry weather to come so, liberally coated in factor 20 sun lotion, we made our way to the Palms Café to enjoy an al fresco breakfast on the sunny rear decks.  Then it was off to the Neptune Lounge to check in for the excursion.

We were called very quickly for our bus, and we happily made our way down to Deck 2 to disembark.  Then we took our seats in the bus for the short ride to the train, which was situated next to a redundant sugarcane processing plant.  The railway had originally been built to transport the sugar from the many plantations along the route, but today the narrow gauge line was being used to transport us on a pleasure trip.

The train was a double-decker; that is, the bottom half was enclosed and had tables and chairs and a WC.  The upper decks, however, were open sided and had long seats down both sides, with an aisle up the middle.  There was also a bar showing various bottles of rum and soft drinks, and a couple of ice chests.

Once everyone was in their seats, the train gave a jolt and a resounding whonk! on its airhorn and off we went.  🙂

It did not take long for the staff to come round and take our complimentary drinks orders, even though it was just 9.00am.  There were various soft drinks as well as piña colada and the ubiquitous rum punch.  Trevor chose the former and I the latter, and a nice big beaker, full of ice and fruity (strong!) rum punch went down a treat.

The train slowly wended its way along the route, passing disused sugarcane plants, small villages, roads, hills and of course the gorgeous coastline viewed from up high.  Children in the villages would run out excitedly at the approach of the train, waving frantically until we were out of sight.

We were treated a couple of times to the vocal strains of an a capella group of local singers, who treated us to traditional songs and Gospel singing.  In between, the hostesses came round to replenish our drinks and everyone was in a happy holiday frame of mind, as our rustic transport chugged its way through the winding coastal tracks and allowed us to view the unspoilt scenery.

There were a couple of hair-raising parts of the route; when crossing the purpose-built bridges over small ravines the bridge would only be a couple of inches or so wider than the track on either side, so when you looked out you couldn’t see the bridge at all, just the train rattling and swaying its way over.  Happily we all made it in one piece, but it would have been terrifying for anyone even slightly afraid of heights.

After about an hour and 45 minutes, our 18-mile journey came to an end and the train slowly ground to a halt.  Our buses had taken the faster route along the road, and met us at the other end, where there was a large turning circle so the train could go round and be facing in the right direction for its return journey.

We alighted from the train and boarded our bus, ready for the ride back to the Braemar.  What an interesting and fanstastic trip the St. Kitts Scenic Railway was; we’d highly recommend it for anyone  visiting the island.

When we arrived back at the port we were reluctant to go back on board straight away, as St. Kitts was our last port of call before setting off on our transatlantic voyage back to England, via the Azores.

We therefore decided to go to a little local bar we knew (we know a lot of little local bars in the Caribbean!!) and enjoy a couple of lovely, refreshing, thirst-quenching cold beers.  So we settled down on our bench seats in the bar, with the Braemar as the backdrop, and enjoyed some freezing Carib and Stag beers each.

Then it was back on board Braemar for a tasty light lunch once again, enjoyed sitting out in the Caribbean sunshine.  In fact, the sunshine was so nice, and the sparkling blue pool looked so inviting, that we went back to cabin # 3074 and changed into our cossies before making our way back to the pool deck and grabbing a sun lounger each.  Then we went into the pool, gingerly making our way down the steps into the seemingly-cold water, which was lovely once you were in.  We had the pool to ourselves so were were able to put in a few leisurely lengths before climbing out and sitting in the sun to dry off for a bit.

Back in our cabin we finished getting dried, then got back into our clothes and tidied up before going back up to the aft decks outside the Palms Café, where the Revolverlites band were kicking off the “Farewell Caribbean” deck party, and waitresses were coming round with trays of complimentary rum punch (more rum punch!!).  The decks were already fairly crowded with people; one of the nice things about Braemar (and something which is sadly lacking on the large ships) is the lovely cascading rear decks, where they give brilliant unimpeded views of the sea and those on the upper decks can still join the party by leaning over the rails or sitting on the stairs and listening to the music below.

At 5.00pm the Braemar slowly started to make her way out to sea once again; we were not due to see land again for another week.  🙂

We stayed at the deck party for a while, enjoying three rum punches each and passing the time speaking with our fellow passengers.  Then it was time for us to start making tracks back to our cabin to get washed and changed for dinner.

However, I decided I’d give the evening meal a miss tonight, as it is all too easy to eat (and drink!) too much on a cruise and I certainly wouldn’t starve.  So, while Trevor went to the Thistle Restaurant to join Jackie and Kathleen I just went along to the Morning Light pub and wrote some of this blog whilst enjoying a couple of glasses of cava.  🙂

I noticed that the motion of the ship was much more discernible as the Braemar headed towards the Atlantic ocean.  Unlike the Queen Mary 2 which is an ocean liner and built for the rough seas of the north Atlantic, Braemar is a flat-bottomed cruise ship and whilst this does undoubtedly have advantages in shallower waters and river cruising, crossing the Atlantic would certainly pose a challenge.

I joined the others in the restaurant in time for the coffee-and-liqueurs stage, before we hot-footed it along to the Neptune Lounge to claim our seats for tonight’s performance by electric violinist Lauren Charlotte.  She did a pop / opera / classical crossover routine and was very good indeed; we would look forward to seeing more on Lauren later on in the cruise.

Afterwards we rather unsteadily made our way to the Coral Club; we could feel the ship rolling quite distinctly and predicted we’d be in for a fairly rough night.  We took part in the quiz with Jackie and Kathleen (nope, still no win!) and then it was karaoke time once again.

Some of the singers who got up prudently braced their backs against a conveniently situated pillar; I also decided to adopt this stance when getting up as it would have been difficult to keep my balance, especially wearing heels.

This time I sang Nothing Compares again, as well as Cyndi Lauper’s True Colours and Lynn Anderson’s Rose Garden.  Quite a few of the ‘regular’ singers got up and it was a good night.

Afterwards we stayed a short time for the disco, where once again “The Lovers” (as we’d nicknamed the randy elderly couple) made an exhibition of themselves, particularly as the woman dances as if she has two wooden legs (which she may have, ha ha).

Then it was time to go to bed, once again after midnight.  Our transatlantic voyage was well under way.

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St. John’s, Antigua

We woke up at 7.10am to the usual euphoric feeling of being on holiday in the amazing sunny Caribbean on the good ship Braemar.  Looking out of our portholes, we saw that we were just coming into the port of St. John’s, Antigua, where we’ve visited twice before; on the Arcadia in 2005 and last year on the Adonia.  It was great to be back in this historic island.

Last time we were here there were three other ships in port, all gigantic behemoths with thousands of passengers.  We were surpised to see that today, only one other ship, from the German AIDA cruise line, was in port.  This is probably due to the fact that this is more or less the end of the Caribbean cruising season, and most of the ships had made their way back over the Atlantic ocean, which we would be doing ourselves in a few days’ time.

After our breakfast we went along to the Neptune Lounge to check in for today’s excursion, which was called “Spectacular Antigua” and would take us on a tour of the island.  Once again we were on bus #1 and this time our guide was called Grace and our driver was called Natty.  Grace was plump and ebulliant and kept testing our knowledge of Antigua as if we were children in the classroom.  🙂

We passed fields that formerly held crops of sugarcane; Antigua’s early fortunes were made largely from this crop.  It doesn’t rain very often in Antigua, and in fact the island’s name comes from anti agua, which means ‘no water’.

Grace explained some of the history of Antigua, starting with the arrival of the Arawak Indians, the ferocious Caribs (from which the name ‘cannibal’ is derived) and eventually the British.  She also described the slave trades, where the slaves were brought over on boats from Africa to work on the sugar plantations.  She also went on to tell us about the decline of the sugar industry (due to the drop in price of sugarcane) and how Antigua’s main income now comes from tourism.

On the way we passed small villages; each of the houses had a large water tank outside as Grace explained how it was important to store fresh water due to the island’s lack of rain.  Like a lot of the Caribbean there are frequent brief showers, but not enough for the earth to become soaked.  Some of the houses looked quite substantial, with porches, balconies and garages, and I thought how I could quite easily come and live here.  🙂

Our bus climbed its steady way up the winding narrow roads, and we stopped for a photo opportunity.  Up high it was very windy, although warm, and a few spots of rain main their presence felt; I was glad I’d brought my cagoule.

We made our way to Shirley Heights, named after former governor of the island, Sir Thomas Shirley.  Grace pointed out an island owned by guitarist Eric Clapton, and explained how he was very philanthropic towards Antigua, and had invested much of his time and money to the benefit of the island.  The view was fantastic and we could see many little boats and yachts bobbing gently on the waves far below.

Our next stop took us to the Antigua culture centre, where we went into a building to watch a video/interactive presentation on the history of Antigua.  The presentation was interesting in that it used all four walls of the large room to project the images and video, and lit up the waxwork figures and models.  We sat on swivel stools so we could turn round and follow the presentation; it was very good.  We realised we’d visited here before, in 2005.

Off we went again to our final stop – the famous Nelson’s Dockyard.  This was an old Royal Naval base from the 18th century and still had a lot of the original building, as well as its cannon-flanked walls on the shoreline.  We were each given a voucher so we could enjoy a rum punch (!) in the nearby cool bar.  🙂

Inside the bar there was a TV on the wall showing – you’ve guess it – the cricket. A few people, both British and local, were gathered around watching.  The rum punch was cold and quite strong, and we enjoyed it so much we bought another one.  The purchased ones were larger than the freebies, however, and we took them back onto the bus with us.

We toyed with the idea of spending the afternoon at the cricket watching the West Indies v England, and Grace said that if sufficient people were interested, we could negotiate with our bus driver Natty who would take us to the ground and back.  No-one apart from us seemed too bothered, so we reluctantly decided to give the cricket a miss for today.  It did look as though England would win, however.  🙂

When the bus returned to the Heritage Quay around lunchtime, we decided to go and get some postcards and write them out whilst enjoying a cold beer.  We went to the same little open air bar we’d visited last year, and enjoyed a couple of bottles of Wadadli beer.  It was just so pleasant sitting there, listening to reggae music and watching the cricket on TV screens around the walls.  Cold, dull and rainy Blighty seemed another world away.  🙂

Back on board we had a bite of lunch and sat up on deck for a while in the sunshine.  It’s amazing how quickly the time passes when you aren’t actually doing anything, and soon it was time to start getting showered and changed and ready for dinner.

The meal was delicious as usual, and we passed the time pleasantly with Jackie and Kathleen before  making our way to the Neptune Lounge to stake our claims for a seat with a good vantage point.  The Neptune Lounge is not really very well designed as a show lounge; the seats are arranged in a shallow horse-shoe shape and there are pillars which restrict some viewpoints; also, people wanting to get to some of the seats behind have to move the heavy chairs (and people!) out of the way to be able to climb over to the seats at the back.

The entertainer tonight was a comedy magician called John Lenahan.  He was quite good I suppose, although we have seen better.  It passed a mildly amusing hour though, and we enjoyed another couple of cold drinks during the show.  🙂

Then it was just the usual; along to the Coral Club for the quiz (we didn’t win!), enjoy the music by the resident band The Revolverlites and people-watch.  Often this can be entertainment in itself; one couple we had noticed used to sit on stools at the bar (or rather, the man sat while the woman stood in between his legs).  There they would kiss and canoodle as if they were teenagers and no-one else was around; in fact they were probably in their late 70s and it was all quite yucky.  😉

At 11.00pm we felt the increased vibrations through the floor which told us that the Braemar had weighed anchor and was on her way once again.  Shortly afterwards we returned to our cabin and settled down after a pretty full and interesting day.  Tomorrow we were due to dock in St. Kitts.

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We woke up this morning around 7.30am and looked out of our portholes to see that the Braemar was already docked up in Castries, its capital.  Across the harbour we saw the massive, ugly-looking  P & O ship Britannia; in fact it was moored up where we normally have been on previous visits to St. Lucia, but because it was talking up all the space we had to go to the other side of the bay.

After enjoying a good breakfast in the Palms Café, we gathered our stuff together, including our tour tickets, and made our way to the Neptune Lounge to await the call for our tour.  We were booked on a half-day excursion called “Made in St. Lucia”, which would give us a tour of the island and a chance to see the local handicrafts as well as a visit to a rum distillery.  😉

Our bus was no.1 driven by Ezra, and our friendly, smiley guide was called Janice.  We set off through the Saturday morning traffic past colourful houses and shops, Janice pointing out things of interest to us on the way.  Our first stop was at a wood-carving centre, where woods such as light mahogany and balsa wood were carved into intricate sculptures as well as larger items such as headboards and chairs, and household items such as bowls.  There were also lots of smaller pieces, including puzzle trinket boxes.  We didn’t see anything we wanted to buy though.

The stop at the wood carving centre was punctuated by a complimentary glass of rum punch and a piece of sweet coconut bread.  Then it was back on the bus again for the ride to the next place, during which we enjoyed looking at the gorgeous beaches, lush greenery and mountains that make up the island.  Several times Ezra stopped the bus to allow us to take photos or browse the many little souvenir and craft stalls that lined the dusty roadsides.

Back on the bus we continued on our way until we came to a fabric workshop, where the cotton fabrics were screen-printed by hand.  A guy gave us a demonstration of how the stencils are used with the screens, the paint being pushed through the screens with a squeegee.  The layers of the designs are thus built up, with the results being colourful and intricate.

We browsed around the shops selling examples of this craft; household goods such as oven gloves and pot-holders, teatowels and placemats, as well as clothing.  The shop was perched on the edge of a cliff, and we could walk around the balcony outside and look over at the restless waves crashing on the rocks and the small beaches below.  The roar of the surf was exhilarating.

After 45 minutes or so it was time to continue our tour to our final stop, a rum distillery.  🙂

Inside, we immediately noticed the tantalising smell of molasses and burnt sugar, as the guide explained to us how the rum was produced and the various levels of the distillation process.  Pure distillate is colourless (which gives us white rum), but in this case the rums were left to age in wooden casks that had previously held Jack Daniels bourbon (some distilleries use casks that previously contained sherry or port) so this is what gives the final rum its colour.

We then went to the tasting room.  There was a large array of different rums and rum liqueurs on offer as well as a supply of small plastic tasting beakers (that held about a tot) and we were just let loose to help ourselves.  🙂

The selection of rums was amazing.  There were aged special rums (both white and dark); I liked a smooth-tasting one called Chairman’s Reserve.  There were also other rums flavoured with coconut, lime or banana, as well as some delicious creamy liqueurs; one containing coffee and another exquisite concoction containing peanuts, which was so nice I had an extra helping.  😉

After making our selection we went to the shop to purchase them. I decided on a bottle of Chairman’s Reserve and a bottle of the Nuts ‘n’ Rum.  But when we went to pay for them with a credit card, the guy told us they weren’t accepting cards today, only cash. But we didn’t have enough cash on us for both bottles of rum; so we reluctantly just had to take the peanut one.  😦

It was very quiet on the bus ride back to the port; I think we’d all made the most of the free rum tasting.  We arrived back on board about 2.00pm, and went straight to the Palms Café for a late lunch.  We pondered whether or not to go back ashore again, but as our “shore leave” expired at 4.30pm ready for the five o’clock sailing, we decided we’d just remain on board.

We spent the afternoon just pottering around the ship, sitting in the sunshine and enjoying a (free!) drink or two at the Marquee Pool Bar, and passing the time pleasantly with our fellow passengers.

At 5.00pm we went along to the Neptune Lounge where there was the grand launch of the Fred Olsen Cruise Lines 2018/19 brochure.  We have our cruises booked for the remainder of 2017 and two for 2018 already, so we were interested to see what they had for 2019; if we saw something of interest, then we would book it.  🙂

There were a lot of fantastic, really tempting cruises on offer, but as we are limited to those under 21 days (because we work!) unfortunately we weren’t able to book any.  So we’ll leave it for a while and wait and see what other cruises we find; we have a couple of years after all!

When we came out of the brochure launch presentation we were amazed to see that it was 6.25pm – we were late for dinner!  So we just went back to our cabin to get washed and changed and had our dinner in the Palms Café instead.  The food was just as delicious, and we washed it down with the usual chilled rosé wine.  🙂

The entertainment tonight in the Neptune Lounge was a singer called Jon Moses.  Apparently he’d been a finalist in an Andrew Lloyd Webber ITV show called “Superstar”, where they were trying to find a male lead to play Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar.  I don’t remember the programme, but this guy had apparently progressed pretty far in the competition.  We recognised his accent straight away as he is also from County Durham, from a small village called Haswell.  We enjoyed his show a lot, not only was Jon an excellent singer but he punctuated his songs with a bit of comedy and chatter as well, and he had a big personality.

Then we finished the evening as we always do – along to the Coral Club for the quiz.  We met the two ladies from table #101 in the restaurant whose named we discovered were Jackie and Kathleen, and they joined our team.  We didn’t win this time, scoring 12/15.  The winners got 13.

Afterwards we just enjoyed chatting and listening to the music, partaking of several more (free!) drinks.  It was after midnight when we returned to cabin # 3074 and settled down for sleep, lulled by the gentle motion of Braemar as she glided through the blue Caribbean sea.

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