Ports Part 2

Okay, pay attention. You’ll need to concentrate for this. I’m living it, and I have completely lost track, so this is for my benefit as well as yours! I’m hoping if I write it down it will (a) make more sense and (b) stay in my head. But don’t count on it.

So, the middle bit of the cruise was expected to be:

20th – Venice

21st – Ravenna, Italy

22nd – Split, Croatia

23rd – Kotor, Montenegro

24th – Corfu, Greece

Yes, five ports in five days. Yikes. We were dreading it. The most I have ever, personally, done is three ports in three days, and that was pretty exhausting, so five in five was never going to be particularly welcome. Last time, mum had the buggy. Now she uses a manual wheelchair for long distances, which means Dad and I have to push. It’s amazing, but just when you think you cannot possibly attain a higher level of exhaustion, another one inevitably appears. Let’s summarise by saying I was expecting to sleep well…

Anyway, after Corigliano, the Captain made an announcement that, due to the port being closed by fog, we would not be going to Venice, but to Trieste instead. Which we duly did.

Trieste, Italy (on the border with Slovenia)

What an absolutely lovely place. Even though the sky was grey and the temperature (18 C) low enough to warrant long sleeves for the first time since the Bay of Biscay a week ago, we had a lovely time here.  The whole place was built by someone with a love of that slightly florid stone architecture that the people of the 1800s and 1900s so enjoyed. Almost every building was stunningly beautiful.

And the dipped kerbs were unobstructed, which was nice for me!

The over-enthusiasm of the ornate architecture continued in the naming of some of the places in the town – the Grand Canal is neither Grand, nor a Canal. It’s an inlet that runs two blocks inland (enough to put some cafes down each side and some very small boats on the water that can only get under the bridges at low tide), but it’s very pleasant, despite its seriously overegged advertising/nomenclature. And we ate proper Italian ice cream (well, Dad and I did), which was a definite perk to the visit.

Back on board, things got complicated. Try and keep up. The general gist of the announcements were that there is a nasty low in the western Med, heading north (very unusual for this time of year). Therefore, we need to head south, and pretty sharpish, in order to avoid a very nasty few days on the ocean wave. So, instead of Ravenna, Split, Kotor, Corfu, we will be doing:

20th – Trieste

21st – Split

22nd – Corfu

23rd and 24th – Catania (two days) (where?!)

1.5 sea days

26th – Cartagena (half day)

So, today was Split, instead of tomorrow. Tomorrow is Corfu, instead of Tuesday. It’ll be interesting to see how Christian it is, because we are now arriving in a place that is now Greece on a Sunday.

Still with me? Good, you can explain it to me. I’m just trying to keep the upcoming 24 hours in my head. My brain cannot cope with the rest. I’m way too tired to have to think this hard! I’m supposed to be on holiday, dammit!

First few ports

Ports

Cadiz, Spain

Do not confuse the town with the region of the same name. The town is out on an isthmus into the ocean, connected to the mainland by a thin sliver of land. The town is old and cobbled and a bit hilly but beautiful, with fairly narrow streets and that faded charm that the Med does so well. The central market is very lively, and most of the shopping streets are pedestrianised (except for disabled access/ taxis/ police/ ambulances/ deliveries, i.e. not very!). We took a taxi to the Archaeological Museum, because this is one of the only places in the world with a significant Phoenician history and collection of finds (they called it Gadyr). But, despite my research on the internet prior to departure, they did not warn us that they only let in 25 people per hour, and closed for siesta until after our departure time, so I didn’t get to go inside. We then made our way down to the shopping area, and found that Punt Roma (mum’s favourite shop – although I was the only one who made a purchase) was very easy to find and C&A closed down in August.  Not the most satisfying of mornings! We went to the Senator Hotel (the only 4-star in the place) for a bite of lunch (there’s a lovely spa in the basement, fyi), and then we went for another wander, after which we returned to the ship, so we could all shower whilst we were still moored.

Messina, Sicily

Messina is a proper town, with the standard Mediterranean thing of putting a dual carriageway along the front (WHY do they all do that?!). It was noisy and smelly and surprisingly friendly. We plodded along the fairly well-paved pavements to the Piazza Duomo. We drank expensive (tourist priced) drinks and used the cafe’s (pretty poor) toilets while we killed time until noon struck, at which point, we all gathered under the Campanile to watch the rather impressive moving parts perform to the tune of Ave Maria. The ages of man processed, saints raised their hands in blessing, a dove of peace circled, a cock crowed and a lion roared. On one side of the tower is one of the most beautiful astronomical clocks in the world.  The weather was gorgeous, and we enjoyed the whole thing immensely.

Then we got on a rather cute road train for a tour of the town.  Unfortunately, the roads are not as lovely as the pavements, and I suggested they put up a warning sign to alert people to the fact that their vertebrae may not be returned to them in the same order as that in which they arrived.  We tootled up to the top of the town, where we took photos of little Oriana (1800 passengers) parked in front of MSC Meraviglia (5,000 passengers) parked in front of a Seabourn three-master  mock schooner that holds a few dozen. We found a lovely little neighbourhood restaurant for lunch (with much better loo!), and then we then plodded in (futile) search of shops (but at least it was all downhill!) until we ended up back at the ship. The one shop we did find was one that allowed mum to replace the reading glasses she had sat on the day before, so that was a plus.

It’s a very nice place, Messina, but although they have dipped kerbs for the mobility impaired, car parking is pretty haphazard (double parking, sideways parking, on the pavement, on the dual carriageway, you name it), and they park across the dips without blinking an eyelid, which means the rather high kerbs are the only option.  Not for the severely mobility impaired, this one, I’m afraid. And if you cross the road, pushing a wheelchair, at a zebra crossing, with a green man light in your favour, you will still get people trying to run you down, and when you object, they will tell you to go and do things to yourself that would usually be said in Anglo-Saxon in the UK – even my limited Italian understood that. Charming! Well, everyone ELSE was friendly! And the sun shone, which helped.

Corigliano Calabro (possible prize available if you can find this on a map!)

We waited AGES for a shuttle bus and took the 20 minute drive away from Schiaveno, where we moored, up into the hills overlooking the beaches, where this tiny town is perched, on, if not actually in, the cliff face. This town is not for tourists, and certainly not for those of limited mobility. The roads are so narrow, there is no vehicular access, and the town has no taxi service. It is also entirely built on sloping hills, which makes it quite unsuitable for wheelchair users. There is a pretty impressive castle (built by the Normans – no, I didn’t know they had come this far south either) with some lovely views. That’s it. For the whole town. No shops, no restaurants, no bars (except the one the shuttle bus parked outside of), no souvenirs, no postcards, no taxis, no maps, nothing. So we took the shuttle bus back down again.

The port area of Schiaveno is a very large patch of concrete with no freight cranes, so clearly intended to welcome passenger ships, rather than stuff, but the town is not ready. According to the internet, there are two resort hotels nearby, but as there were no taxis or maps, we couldn’t go looking for them. We never got to see Schiaveno town either, for the same reason. P&O wanted to whisk us up to Corigliano Calabro and if we wanted to go elsewhere, tough poo. We were back on board in time for lunch by the pool, and so were most of the other passengers. A shame, really. A bit of a waste of a day, that could have been much more enjoyable if P&O had tried a little harder. But, I think it was their first time here too, so maybe things will improve for future visits. I certainly hope so, anyway. What little we saw had the potential to be a lovely place to visit.

This is the end of the first few ports. It gets a bit complicated from hereon in so bear with me!

Colours

Black

Here I go

Out to sea again

The sunshine fills my hair

And dreams hang in the air

This is Oriana X721 and we are off to the Med. In October. Heading south as the weather in the UK cools and the nights get darker.  Boarding was surprisingly painless, and we arrived in time for the free buffet lunch (we’ve never got here in time before!). It wasn’t worth the excitement, to be honest. And it was a good thing I was a cynic and made myself some GF sarnies, because all they could offer was curry (not something I would eat for lunch, even if I wasn’t allergic to coconut!) and fruit jelly (which was forest fruits and delicious, but hardly filling).

The only issue so far has been with our table for dinner. When we booked, about a year ago, we requested a table near a window. In all the eighteen years we have been cruising, this request has never been a problem. Here and now, apparently, it is. We were put near the middle. We knew this as soon as we got on board, and Dad went to see the restaurant manager immediately to request a move. The head waiter made a fuss about it but we got moved to a different table. But when we went down to dinner a few hours later, the table was full. The head waiter had moved us to SECOND SITTING!!!! No. Not possible. Dad rarely gets his dander up, but this really got to him. He was seething. We were put back where we started for the time being. We had a nice couple with us, but they weren’t very talkative, and I felt like I was carrying on the entire conversation pretty much on my own. During the meal, the head waiter had the bloody cheek to come over to us and explain that WE HAD REQUESTED TO CHANGE SITTING. Yeah, we’ve eaten at the same time for nineteen years, but now we fancied a change, just because you couldn’t be bothered to do your job properly. The next night, the non-talkative couple had been moved (without their knowledge)! So we ate alone – just the three of us. Dad now EXTREMELY annoyed.  During the meal, the head waiter came over and announced we would be moved from tomorrow, to a table by a window, as originally requested.  When we got to the table, this evening, the people are LOVELY (Di, Geoff, Jill and Ray) and they had ALWAYS had four empty chairs at their table.  Dad still quite annoyed (unsurprisingly).  There was absolutely no reason we couldn’t have been seated there from the start.  And our old table now has six new people on it (which may explain why the other couple were moved as well). All in all, pretty shambolic, but I think everyone is now happy.

Cream

Oriana has had a facelift. There is no rust in sight and all the carpets have been replaced. Unfortunately, they were replaced by an idiot with no idea how P&O or Oriana work. The little map they give newbies, to help them find their way around, explains that the forward lifts have green carpets, the midships are blue and the aft lifts are cream. It’s a brilliant trick to help orientate people. Ships can be very confusing, and Oriana’s layout is particularly tricky. Only, now the new carpets are down, everywhere is cream! Oops. Someone needs a good slap round the back of the head for that one. Idiot.

Blue

The new decor extends to the Conservatory canteen/self-service restaurant on deck 12, where we grab a bite to eat at lunchtime. New blue tiling, new silver and black chairs, the blown double-glazing has been replaced – which meant we could see the dolphins we passed today – and there are new counters and flooring. It all looks very nice indeed. However, the new head chef up here neither knows nor cares about feeding coeliacs. Now, don’t get me wrong, if the only options are chips and GF bread, I’m quite willing to eat chip butties for lunch two days in a row, but I’m not sure how my doctor would feel if it continued like that for three weeks! Luckily, today I found our old friend Clarence, who is now head waiter up here. He has arranged for my GF pasta to be resuscitated from tomorrow (well, Sunday). Why the head chef couldn’t have said yes to that request when I made it, I have no idea, but when I watched Clarence relay it to him (he continued to shake his head), Clarence then came back and said it was sorted.  And THAT’s why we love him so.

Into the blue of the ether. P&O has changed its wifi plans. Now you can pay £7 per day for social media only, £13 per day for email and social media and a bit more for video whatsitting, which I don’t think I need.  As it works out, when you pay for the whole three-week cruise at once, I’m actually paying quite a bit less than I was paying eighteen months ago. Nice for me, but I’m not sure that’s what P&O had planned! But woohoo all the same. It’s nice to win one occasionally!

Red

Went to the show tonight – Stage Door – whose central colour theme was red. It was an excellent compilation of songs from classic musicals – My Fair Lady, Oklahoma, Porgy & Bess, Carousel, Mack and Mabel, Barnum and so on. It was superb and this team of Headliners are excellent. We all thoroughly enjoyed it.

White(out)

We have had a gentle two days at sea – with a little rolling, but no pitching and nothing too bumpy (not even at the Western Approaches). This evening we hit a bank of thick fog just as I went for my massage, which meant I could listen to the mournful foghorn while I relaxed under Julianne’s expert ministrations.  It’s a very soothing sound, considering that the best way to probably describe it is a prolonged tuba parp at three minute intervals (the interval and the note tell you which ship is about to run you down – no two in the world are the same (allegedly)). The fog came down in the minutes it took me to cross the deck and lasted only as long as my massage, oddly, which meant a sparkly sunset over the sea, which we enjoyed from our new window view dinner table.  All good. All in all, not a bad day for a Friday the thirteenth.

Again, it’s not me, it’s the ship

I sometimes get told off for sounding quite negative and a bit moany when I talk about conditions on board ship.

So here is someone I have never met or heard of, talking about a cruise on the Arcadia – the ship about which my last cruise posts were about. So, he was on board the same ship I spoke of but seven months after I disembarked. You may find a few of the themes somewhat familiar…

Click here, please.

Oops

I don’t often post on this blog in between cruises, but this was something I simply had to share.

It’s just a headline, but I think it tells you all you need to know about the story.

Personally, I laughed til I cried. It probably wasn’t funny for those involved, mind you…

“The ship was waiting in Dover and the passengers were in Tilbury!”

Well done, Fred Olsen Black Watch. You have absolutely made my day.

 

Wednesday 4th May 2016 – Sea Day 3 of 3

The last sea day for what will probably be a very, very long time.

Mind you, eight hours solid kip was lovely, and that was only ended by a bout of screaming cramp. Something I ate last night disagreed with me, but I’m good at finding the upside of that particular situation and I am happy to sit there and think of the weight loss.

Met the parents for lunch. Then back to the cabin for a nap. But I couldn’t sleep worrying if all the last bits I have unearthed (including one whole cupboard I had forgotten about) would fit in the space left available, so I had to get up and do the packing, to be sure. THEN I went to bed.

I have ended up with two jute shopping bags and a yoga mat that don’t fit in anywhere else. Not bad for four months of unmitigated shopping opportunities, and most of that is probably just down to my poor packing and could probably have been solved with more effort.

Went to the parents’ cabin and dad managed to house the contents of one of the bags, almost in its entirety, so now I’m down to one extra bag and the yoga mat, which will be much more manageable. Just must remember to get my stuff out of his case before I leave London on Friday! He taught me a very useful packing trick for one of the hardest items to deal with – belts. Every day’s a school day!

Dinner was mostly talk of travel plans and goodbyes. I think I have seen everyone I wanted to. Some of the waiters seemed genuinely sad to see us go. I suppose, thinking about it, if you go to the same restaurant every weekend (and let’s face it, not many do), you’d only see the staff 52 times a year. These guys have been with us for 114 nights in a row. That’s two to three years of friendship in the real world! Life can be very intense on a cruise ship, and the friendships can either last a lifetime or vanish in a puff of exhaust smoke. There is no in between. I hope some of the friends we have made on here will stay in touch – we haven’t made many, but those we have have been really lovely people, and I would like them to continue being part of our lives and social circle.

I really ought to start my next essay – due to the extension I needed because of that ridiculous lurgy, I now have only three weeks until the deadline for the next – but now that all my decorations and notes and magnets have come down and been packed away, sitting here at the computer, I see nothing but my own reflection staring back and me in the mirror that covers the whole wall in front of the dressing table/desk, and it is surprisingly distracting! I don’t want to watch myself while I type!

Talking of distracting, the hangers now have nothing stopping them really going for it with the jingling and so, although it is actually quite calm here in the English Channel, they are not stinting themselves on the moving about any more. It’s like being next door to a school music room, and every few minutes, someone drops a boxful of sleigh bells on the floor.

Watched The World’s End on the telly, which, I believe, is the one remaining part of the Cornetto Trilogy that I had never seen before, so that was both thoroughly enjoyable and a useful completion of that canon. Very satisfying.  And P&O had not noticed/ removed the swear words, so I got to see an unexpurgated version, which is rare on these ships.

That’s it. The end of the longest cruise we have ever done. TTFN.

Tuesday 3rd May 2016 – Sea Day 2 of 3

Bad night. Barely slept a wink. Didn’t feel like I had, anyway. Woken by announcements that started at 8.45am – no, really – for non-UK residents’ immigration. Met parents for lunch. No appetite – just fruit and a drink – well, two drinks – a pint of orange juice and a pint of diet coke. Then back to bed. Meh. I’m aware of my To Do list, thanks very much, but I’m no good to anyone like this.

Got up at 4.30. Shower, etc. Ready for last formal.  Black and white, although they forgot to say that in the paper. *sigh* Captain’s drinks. Said goodbye to him – he’s off to Adonia next – and chatted to some other people we like. Had a bit of a laugh and a free orange juice.

Then dinner at the Ocean Grill with mum and dad. Very pleasant. The steak was astonishingly soft – it was amazing. Bit boring there, though. Wouldn’t want to eat there too often, I’d be bored to tears. No one to talk to. No regular waiters. And dinner takes over two and a half hours. You’d never get anything else done ever again. Some people have breakfast there – if you have a suite, it’s included. No, thank you.

Then back to the cabin to sit on some cases and stare blankly at my essay notes for a bit.

That was Tuesday, that was.

Last day tomorrow. A bit sad, but a bit relieved too. I’ve had enough now. It stopped being fun about two weeks ago, and since then, we’ve just been counting down the days, til we can get back to some form of normality. Talking of normality, this essay won’t write itself…

3AM UPDATE: done, printed, bunged in the parents’ postbox for proofing. Bed.