An Unusual Day

Yesterday, Tuesday, was an unusual day.

I started with a massage to ease my aching aching muscles and arthritic skeleton, and came away after 40 minutes relaxed. I really felt there was a spring in my step as I walked home and actually felt more at ease with my ageing body.

There was then almost an hour before going to my doctors surgery to have a flu jab. At the ripe old age of 65 I now get them for free and hopefully this will keep away some of the bugs that attack me during the winter.

Things were going rather well I thought…..

…but during that hour I was attempting to find out why my wife’s email account had failed, and things went  a little wrong.

We both have laptops and tablets and I was using a combination of the machines to check where the problem might be. Well, time was getting on and I needed to get ready to go to the doctors but decided to make one last check on Deb’s tablet which was out in the conservatory.

Maybe because I was rushing, or maybe the massage had left me feeling too relaxed, but I walked straight into the closed conservatory glass.

For a few seconds my confused mind tried to make sense of what the loud bang had been, and why I was still on the wrong side of the door. Then the pain arrived and my questioning brain now asked why my nose, head, and neck were suddenly very sore. I then realised what I had done and the next discovery was the warm liquid feeling on my face. There was a significant flow of blood from my nose.

I did my best to catch it in my hands as I rushed to the kitchen sink but a trail of red spots were unavoidable. As soon as I covered and gently applied compression to my throbbing proboscis , I went to find a mirror to inspect the damage. Rather than coming from within my nose I discovered a cut on the bridge of the nose where my glasses had been sitting.

Blood continued to drip so I kept the compression on, realising it had to be controlled so I could get my flu jab.

Then Deb returned after her massage to see the ‘plonker’ who was once an intelligent husband. There was little time for sympathy and the bleeding had reduced to the odd ooze, so I bid a ‘sorry for myself’ farewell and went off to the doctors.

The less than sympathetic nurse was too busy to do anything about my nose, but the injection was virtually painless.

The nose continued to require occasional dabs with my blood-soaked tissue as I walked home. Deb really did a good job of not laughing at my plight but I know she must have been giggling inside.

After a cup of coffee, painkillers, and the application of a very awkward dressing to the small but annoying cut, I began to regain a bit of control….but felt very stupid about what I had done.

A day on, and my nose has stopped bleeding, but still hurts. My self-imposed ‘whiplash’ as I rebounded from the glass door is probably the most painful of my injuries, but time will heal.

Now, back to work on getting the artex coating removed from the walls. The major patch of this unsightly decoration is on our stairwell, and with most of the reachable bits tackled it will soon be time to get the ladder.

I wonder if I am safe enough to be trusted to go up a ladder?

Speak to you soon.

Summer is over

Yes, the summer is over.

The cricket season has ended, all the athletes are back from Brazil, and several league football managers must be wondering if they have a job for much longer.

The birds are doing their best to strip any berries remaining on the bushes, and the leaves on the tree are changing to their autumnal colours, and some are even giving in to the wind and dropping to the ground.

The chimney sweep has been to make our log burner ready for use, and the central heating boiler is being serviced on Monday. I have made sure a warm jumper is close at hand every day as the temperatures have dropped, and my knees are stiff and painful as arthritis reminds me that winter is coming.

It has been a busy couple of weeks since coming home from our cruise to Scotland. I have dug all but one tiny patch of the vegetable plot, and three quarters of our conifer hedge has had a major hair cut. There is still more tidying up to be done in the garden with the other hedge demanding a trim, plus the water butts need emptying and storing away to avoid being sent flying by the winter winds.

Then there is the other quite pressing issue of getting ready for our world cruise in January. It is about 100 days before we set off, and 10 days to the moment we have to pay the balance of the fares. At least everything looks to be OK from a health perspective this year, and there appears to be no reason to cancel it again.

I have an appointment for a flu jab next week, and I have even had the all clear this week after a routine scan to check if I have a abdominal aortic aneurysm.

The hotel for the night before we leave has been booked, and I am making a final decision this week as to using a hire car or a chauffeur-driven lift to and from Southampton. The price is almost identical because there are Sundays involved meaning a double day hire for the car.

Travel Insurance has been dealt with, and the only major task left (except paying the balance) is arranging for a visa for India plus the entry permits for Australia and America.

Today we are going to visit our daughter and our grandson. We have a car full of cardboard boxes (flattened) as they are moving home soon from Weston to Bridgewater.

…..but more importantly there are also some chilled Cornish Pasties for our lunch

There is a busy autumn to come. As well as the family visits, and final world cruise preparations, I am also part way through updating several of my books, as well as trying to finish a new one.

It is also nearly five years since we retired….and it is so wonderful!

A busy week – by our standards anyway!

For some reason, this week has turned out to be really busy, but I have no idea why.  What with doctor and scan appointments, waiting in for deliveries, various conservatory blind sales reps coming and going, trips to the gym and shops, the week as flown by.  In addition, George has been trying to fit in digging over the veg plot and  cutting the hedge.  Oh, and we had the chimney swept too, which killed another afternoon.

And tomorrow we’re off to Weston as we’ve got a load of packing cases ready for their house move.

Maybe next week will be more like our normal relaxed retirement existence and we’ll both be back to regular blogging again!

 

Yet another one!

Got confirmation today of a cruise we’d pre-registered for – we’re going to Canada and the US east coast in two years’ time, on our favourite ship (Aurora).

Got two days in New York, and another two in Quebec (hope to tick Niagara Falls off the bucket list!).  Part of the world we’ve not been to before, so lots to see and do.

And our thanks to Judith at Thomas Cook Hereford for sorting this for us while our phone line is down!

Oriana Cruise – Kirkwall

Kirkwall on Orkney’s “Mainland” Island

On Tuesday 6th September we arrived at the first port on the cruise where we would not be tendering ashore. This was Kirkwall on the north of the largest of the Orkney Island. I was a little confused when the guide on our tour told us the name of the island was ‘Mainland’.  When she referred to what we might have expected to be called the mainland, the guide called it Scotland. The Orkney people actually like to think of themselves as more Norwegian than Scottish.

…anyway, first things first

Our crossing from the north of Scotland had been quite smooth although it took a very strange route. The Orkneys are just 30 or so miles to the north of Scrabster but we sailed seriously further than that to the east before turning back towards the island archipelago. There was even a strange manoeuvre of turning back to the west that involved a loop of several miles. Presumably this was to make the turn very gentle so as to avoid passengers falling out of their beds.

By the time we woke we were making the final approaches to the small port of Hatson that is less than two miles from the Orkney capital of Kirkwall.  We needed the alarm clock this morning to ensure we had finished breakfast and organised ourselves for departure.

Just after 8:00 Deb and I were in a long queue waiting to get off. There was a delay because the tide was exceptionally low making the gangway almost impossible to connect. Later than our scheduled departure time, the queue finally started to bounce down the gangway, but just at that moment a lady in front of us collapsed. The crew were instantly in control and we were quickly ushered on our way to shore.

Five minutes later we were sitting on our coach listening to the guide welcoming us to the Orkneys. The driver (Alastair) was introduced but I cannot remember the guide’s name. She briefly outlined what we would be seeing and we set off towards our first stop at Skara Brae which is the partially uncovered remnants of a Neolithic village.

Skara Brae is on the west of the island near the Bay of Skaill. After a brief introduction we walked along the cliff-side path which has an interesting feature of occasional paving flags to the side with dates of historical moments going back in time. Starting with man landing on the moon, the centuries wound back with notable moments until we arrived at the archaeological site with a paving flag showing 5000 years ago when the village was active.

The site was discovered during the 18th century, and since then has been slowly uncovered from the sand by numerous teams until the present day. It is a simple village of circular single room homes partially below the surface. The houses had narrow entrances, no windows, and a fire in the middle. The different dwellings appeared to be connected by narrow pathways creating the communal living village.

Unfortunately it was very windy, and our guide struggled to be heard as she described the scene before us. It was also made worse by the salty sand from the adjacent beach being blown on to us by the storm. The sand stung our faces, got into our hair, and left a salty residue on our lips.

Even with the bed weather, the remains of this ancient village were quite amazing.

As we returned to the tourist centre associated with this site, there was a mock-up of an ancient house that resembled one that had been excavated. This one had been covered in a grass line roof to make it as close as possible to the original. Now we could see much of the original internal detail, and get a feel for the living conditions in this dark, cramped, and probably very smoky home.

With our cultural exploration complete, it was time to have a cup of coffee and a delicious cake. We also spent quite a bit here on souvenirs of this remarkable site.

Several of us forgot the time and we had to be rounded up by the guide and hurried back to the coach to set off again. We had more commentary giving us facts about the Orkneys and the lifestyle enjoyed by the 20,000 or so people that live on the islands. Our next stop was The Ring of Brodgar which there is a ring of 36 huge slabs of stone. After being there for 5000 years, some of the nearly three metre high stones have fallen, but 27 still stand. There is a hedge around the site plus a ditch like a moat to protect it. Although there is no real idea as to the significance of the site, it was obviously important to the people of that time as a meeting point maybe. This is just one of such stone constructions on the island and stand as testimony to the skills of the people living all that time ago.

There was an accident now as one of the passengers fell over on the pathway between the site and our coach. We didn’t see the incident, as we had made a point of being back on the coach early, but it was serious enough that first aiders got involved. The lady was eventually taken to the local hospital. This gave us an insight into island life as it took well over half an hour before the lady was finally driven away to the hospital.

Our tour eventually continued, and the coach began the return journey to the ship. On the way we passed a major archaeological dig site that had been active during the summer but was now covered over for the winter. This island is a significant area for archaeological research with so much already discovered, but far more is expected to be found in the future.

As we neared Kirkwall there was a further historical treat as we passed the vast expanse of water known as Scapa Flow. The British used this as the sheltered haven for their naval fleet during both world wars and our guide recounted a couple of stories. Firstly it was the scuttling of the captured German fleet from the First World War, then the sinking of HMS Royal Oak during the Second World War.

Back on Oriana after a delightful morning out, we had some lunch before returning ashore to catch a shuttle to the town centre. Kirkwall might be the capital and biggest town in the Orkneys but it didn’t have very much to capture the imagination of over 1000 passengers from the ship who descended upon it. Deb and I had a look around, did a bit of shopping, and enjoyed an ice-cream, but it was little more than 30 minutes before we headed back. I think we took almost as long queuing for our shuttle bus as we did wandering through the town.

Our floating home stayed in port until after 9:00 pm so it was a pleasant stable evening on the ship. After dinner we had no interest in any of the shows so instead sat in one of the lounges reading our books. We also took the opportunity for an early night.

Oriana had a short overnight voyage to make towards the Hebrides on the western side of Scotland, and as we left the harbour, the wind increased again and the sea gave the ship a bit of jostling. This cruise has reminded us that September is the beginning of Autumn and the seas around the northern coasts of Britain are not the calmest. At least it has not been overly rough, and what discomfort I have suffered has been controlled by the little white pills.

Tomorrow morning we have another tender port for the town of Stornaway on the Island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. I have to say that this is turning out to be a real voyage of discovery about this area of Britain.

 

Deb’s view, second half of our latest cruise

TUESDAY 6th SEPTEMBER

We were in Kirkwall in the Orkney isles.  We’d docked by 8.00, and weren’t due to sail until 9.30 in the evening, but we had a tour booked to occupy our morning.

The trip took us to the west of the island, to the archeological site of Skara Brae.  This 5000-year-old village was only discovered in the mid-1800s, when a fierce storm blew away some of the coastline, including the sand which the village had been buried under.  It’s a terrifically fragile site, so visitors can only wander along designated paths, looking down at the well-preserved dwellings.  It’s a fantastic place, and includes a replica of one of the houses that visitors can go into, so you can get a feel for life back then.

But boy it was windy!  Our tour guide, who struggled to be heard over the wind, described it as “a bit of a blow”!  Should hate to be there when it’s really stormy!  The wind whipped sand up from the beach below Skara Brae, and we ended up with the stuff in our hair and various unprotected orifices: when I showered later in the day, I ended up with a fine layer of grit underfoot.

After coffee and cake, and a look round the gift shop, we were on our way again, this time to the Ring of Brogda.  This is a henge site, much like Stonehenge but without the topping stones.  Unfortunately our stop here had to be extended by half an hour or so, as one of our group had a bad fall and we had to wait for her to be taken off to Kirkwall hospital.  Thankfully, we heard she was back on board later that evening.

We returned to the ship, passing Scapa Flow on the way, so we’ve now learnt a bit about the events that went on there during the two world wars.

After lunch we got the shuttle bus into Kirkwall town centre, where we browsed through the shops (hooray, found a strapless bra!) and had ice creams.  The only real ‘site’ in the town is the little cathedral, but as that didn’t interest us we returned to Oriana where we preregistered/booked a 24-night cruise on Aurora to New England and Canada in two years time.

While we were at the Future Cruises desk the Captain announced the confirmation of a new ship to be built for the P&O fleet.  Unfortunately it’s to be another monster ship: isn’t it time they built a new Oriana/Aurora-sized ship instead?  They struggle to fill the three big ships they have already, so where are the extra 5000 passengers coming from?

Interesting, btw, to see that Carnival shares price dropped overnight after the official announcement.   Coincidence?

George also took the time to set up internet access.  Quite annoyed to find that on the cheapest option (£7.75) everything except Facebook, Twitter and similar are blocked.  It cost us £12.50 to be able to see emails and web-browse (including to see our own website). Also, only one device can be logged in at once, so we’ll have to take turns to use it.

At dinner, we’d intended to eat in the Conservatory carvery buffet, but a lack of seats sent us back down to the Peninsular restaurant where we were on a table with six others, only two of whom seemed to want to talk: the other couples barely said a word, not even to each other!

We weren’t too bothered about seeing the shows tonight, as one was the return of  the comedian/singer we’d never heard of, and the other option was the Headliners’ Abba show which we’ve seen countless times before.  Instead we went out onto Prom deck for a while, hoping to see the northern lights which our tour guide had said is a fairly common sight here.  Not tonight, sadly, so after half an hour or so we went back inside, parked ourselves in some comfy seats and made use of the internet.

WEDNESDAY 7th SEPTEMBER

Yesterday the Orkneys, today the Outer Hebrides!  We were in Stornaway, and after an early tender ashore we walked up to the castle where we had a cup of coffee.  The castle’s not open to the public (a safety issue, apparently), but it’s a stunning building set in lovely wooded grounds.  Loads of local people walking their dogs – this is clearly a popular place for walking, jogging – or riding on a Segway!  Not for us, but it looked fun!

We strolled back to the tender pontoon, browsing in the shops on the way.  Several of the people working in the shops were interested in Oriana, asking us all sorts of questions about her.  Made me feel quite proud to be one of her passengers!

This evening was black-and-white formal (with me in the pale pink number that I intended wearing the other night!), and after dinner in the restaurant with the best table companions we’ve had so far, we went up to the Crow’s Nest for the Peninsular Cub bunfight.  Once again we failed to win the raffle, which this time was a photo album, but at least we had a couple of free glasses of prosecco, courtesy of P&O.

We followed that with dancing in Harlequin’s for an hour or so (shock!  No Irish-version Mayfair Quickstep!  Excuse me while I go and hyperventilate….) before going to the theatre for an act called Ukebox.  I wasn’t sure about this beforehand, as it was described as five young men playing ukeleles, but it was great!  Yes, they played a George Formby number, but mostly is was modern stuff, finishing up with a Beatles medley.  They sang, too, so it wasn’t just ukelele-playing.  Even their instruments varied, from bass to soprano ukes, and even what they called a “kazookelele” which was nothing more than a kazoo taped to the head of a uke.  A lovely, amusing and clever act, and we’re already looking forward to their next show on Friday.

THURSDAY 8th SEPTEMBER

We were due to arrive in Dublin after lunch, so had the morning to ourselves.  The weather wasn’t the type for sunbathing or swimming in – most passengers retreated indoors.  We just spent an hour or so reading in the Crow’s Nest before going down to the progressive quiz.

We were on a tour of Dublin all afternoon.  Our coach drive took us past most of the major sites of the city (many of which we’d visited last time we were here), before dropping us outside the Guinness Storehouse for a couple of hours.  This was somewhere we hadn’t managed to get to in the past, and in spite of being very busy was an excellent exhibition.  As well as learning about the entire Guinness brewing process, there were halls dedicated to the history of the company, transportation, and even advertising the product.  We got a chance to taste the stuff as well as having a free pint towards the end of the tour.  We collected our pints from a bar at the very top of the building, which had 360° views across the city.  The views were good enough today (we spotted Oriana in the distance), so when the weather’s good they must be pretty spectacular.

It was gone 7.00 when we got back to the ship, so we just dumped our bags and went straight for dinner.  Just like on Tuesday, the buffet in the Conservatory was packed (Indian tonight, so not really surprising) so we went to the Peninsular again.  Table for two this time, as we felt too bushed to be very sociable.

Returning to the cabin, we showered and then went to the theatre where a local act, Gaels Afloat, were performing.  It was a mix of Irish music and dance, comedy, and – surprise, surprise – audience participation.  Very good.

FRIDAY 9th SEPTEMBER

We sailed from Dublin in the early hours and by the time we woke we’d got as far as the Gower Peninsular.  Our morning was slow and relaxed, with just a final visit to the progressive quiz where we came second, scoring a total 47 out of 61.  Not bad at all!

And then it was time for our Caribbean Tier loyalty lunch, which as always was a totally inappropriate midday blow-out and booze-up.  For us, lunch is normally soup, salad or beans on toast, so this is always off the scale.  Three courses, coffee and chocs, together with champagne and free-flowing wines, and by 1.30 I knew Zumba would be a non-starter for me.  A nice meal though, at a table with three other couples and  hosted by the theatre production manager.

As we were still feeling pretty full by dinner time we thought we’d get a table for two in the Peninsular, and just have soup and a dessert.  But there were no tables that size when we went down, so we explored the buffet, which was Thai.  And, sod’s law, we got a table there easily today, when we didn’t really want one!  By now I had earache and George was feeling ‘off’ (too much vino at lunchtime?  Unusually lumpy sea?  Dublin disease?  He didn’t know) and so neither of us ate much.

But it meant we were in plenty of time to get to the Pacific Lounge for the return of Ukebox, who were just as good as their previous performance and earned themselves a standing ovation at the end.  An excellent act, hopefully we’ll see them again sometime.

We followed that with a British history quiz in Lord’s Tavern, the only ‘serious’ quiz all cruise.  Didn’t do badly scoring 13/20, with the winners getting two points more.

Our final visit was to the theatre to see the Headliners in ‘Destination Dance’, which we’ve seen many times before, but it’s George’s favourite as it includes an Irish tap sequence at the end.

And that was it, another cruise over.  We had a bit of a different experience, partly due to the itinerary and partly as this was our first real experience of freedom dining.  We didn’t even get through all our onboard credit (£3.05 left over!), but that would have gone if George had felt like drinking on the final night.

SATURDAY 10th SEPTEMBER

I’m typing this in the Peninsular restaurant as we wait to be called to disembark.  We did battle for breakfast in the Conservatory earlier, and now everyone seems subdued, so in that respect at least it’s the same as every cruise we’ve ever done!    George is feeling even worse this morning, so I’ve phoned and asked our daughter and grandson not to come to stay as planned.

I have one suitcase rammed with washing to put in the machine when we get home, hopefully George can slob around until he’s feeling better, and then…..

….then we can start seriously getting ready for our world cruise in January!

 

Oriana Cruise – Part 2

Scrabster and Thurso

Monday 5th September and we awoke in the bay of Scrabster in Scotland. This is a port at the northern most end of the British mainland and is just a few miles away from John ‘O Groats and Dunnet Head which is the real furthest north point of the mainland.

We had been warned that there was little to see in the tiny port of Scrabster so our plans were to go ashore and take the shuttle bus to nearby Thurso.

There was a little delay waiting for a tender boat while the tours all left the ship, but soon we were bobbing along on the ocean blue for the short ride to shore. It was quite easy to see that Scrabster was not a place to spend long at. It is a ferry port with a cluster of houses and small local shops along the road. This road runs below a cliff where we could see sheep balanced on the grassy slopes, but little else caught our gaze.

It was drizzling and it wasn’t warm but this holiday was not about sun bathing, it was about discovering bits of Britain that we had never seen before. The free shuttle bus arrived very quickly and we were soon on the short drive to Thurso just a couple miles away.

In Thurso we got off the bus to discover the drizzle was now getting heavier. We made our way along the streets to find the shopping centre. It was obvious that although Thurso was bigger than the little port, it still wasn’t big and the shopping centre was little more than a dozen or so shops.

Within ten minutes we were at the other end of the street and turning back. The rain wasn’t pleasant and we took the opportunity to pop into the small museum where there were souvenirs to consider as well. As we made our way up to the first floor we saw a sign for a café. It was busy with slightly damp cruise passengers but we found a table and ordered coffee and cake. There was an added treat of free WiFi so Deb switched on her tablet to get the daily newspaper and to check emails.

The coffee and cakes were very nice and our few minutes in the café dried us off. We decided against exploring the museum anymore and just took a look at the souvenirs. With some small treasures in our bags we went back out into the drizzle and made our way back along the shopping street towards the shuttle bus stop.

Perhaps we should have booked a tour at this port there really was very little to see locally.

We were back on the ship in time for lunch and spent most of the afternoon enjoying the warmth and dry of the Crow’s Nest to read, and in my case, to doze.

Late in the afternoon we had our brain challenge with the individual quiz before we got ready for dinner in the Beach House restaurant. We had enjoyed this fine dining option of Aurora during the summer and had no hesitation going back again. Deb chose the steak which she cooked to her taste at the table on a hot lava rock. I went for the sizzling chicken which was less fiddly than cooking my own supper. The meal was delightful with superb service alongside the wonderful food and a delicious bottle of wine.

To round off the evening we took part in another quiz in Lord’s Tavern all about television comedy shows before having an early night. Meanwhile Oriana was on the move again for a very slow overnight sailing to the largest island in the Orkneys, called Mainland. We would be docking at the port of Kirkwall, and we had a tour booked here that meant an early breakfast to be ready in time.

 

Deb’s view, first half of our latest cruise

THURSDAY 1st
Unusually for us when we’re off on a cruise, we didn’t leave home until mid-afternoon.  This was purely because we were booked into the Holiday Inn Express just outside Southampton, and we were too far from anywhere to walk to get an evening meal.  So I cooked us a full meal lunchtime before we packed up the car and got on the road.
The HIE was okay, but nothing like the standard of our preferred near-to-the-docks hotels (DeVere or Holiday Inn).  We shared a pizza in the hotel bar, before demolishing a bottle of red in our room.
We barely slept all night.  For one thing, the bed was much narrower than we’re used to, but the biggest problem was the heat.  There was a desk-fan provided in the room which we left running all night, but it didn’t seem to make much difference.
FRIDAY 2nd
We gave up trying to sleep and were up early, showered, had breakfast, and headed for West Quay well before 10.00.  Oriana was waiting for us at the Mayflower terminal, but we had a couple of hours to kill before we could check in, so naturally we went shopping!  Actually, we were searching for an electric toothbrush, so it wasn’t just an aimless wander through the precinct.  We found what we were looking for, by which time it was gone midday.
The terminal was pretty quiet when we arrived for our 1.00 check-in, though the area for 12.30 arrivals was quite full.  A short wait, and we on board just before 1.00 and heading for the priority lunch in the Pacific Lounge which was better than we’ve experienced on recent cruises.
Oriana is now 21 years old, and the poor old lady is starting to show her age.  It’s just little things, like obvious rusting around the window frames, which has been painted over and now the paint is bubbling.  She’s also very creaky, like most of us of advanced years, but hopefully some of the more cosmetic things will be sorted when she is refitted in November.
But she was our first-ever ship, and so will always hold a special place in our hearts.  George was inspired to write his first book about her (“A Cornishman Goes Cruising”), and we still love her.
For this cruise we had a deluxe cabin, C-deck midships, which was very spacious, with plenty of storage for this relatively short cruise.  I missed having a balcony, though, but never mind.  One bad point though – the hairdryer is fixed to the wall in the bathroom, where it’s both awkward to handle and not nearly powerful enough.  I think I’ll start packing my travel-dryer for cruises in the future if that’s going to become the norm across the fleet.
We’d been allocated Freedom dining, but for the first night we tried out Sindhu as the cover charge was just £10 each instead of £16.  And it was fine.  Not too spicy for George, and a reasonable selection of dishes to choose from.
After dinner we went to see the Headliners who actually had a new show, for once!  Wonders will never cease!  It was called ‘Stage Door’ and was superb, one of the best we’ve seen.  Maybe things are looking up (though we’ve seen the two shows to come many times.  Many many times….).
SATURDAY 3rd
We were in St Peter Port (NOT St Peter’s Port – will someone tell the Port Presenter?  She’s hopeless.  Even seems to think our queen’s father was George IV – only a couple of centuries out).
We’d booked the tour to Sark as we were keen to see this pretty little island.  The tour effectively was a ferry shuttle to Sark, with about five hours to do our own thing, including having a horse and cart ride round the island, or hiring bikes for the day.  But there was a resident guide provided who did a leisurely walk around, so we joined her after taking the ‘toast rack’ tractor up to the village from the little harbour.  And it was a good decision, because as well as showing us different sites (including the heritage and WW2 occupation museums, and the seigneur’s house and gardens) she told us about everyday life in such an isolated spot with no cars allowed.
We left the guide after having lunch by the gardens, and just walked around a bit.  The weather was lovely all day – sunny without being too hot – and we loved every minute of it.
We ate in the Peninsular restaurant in the evening, before heading for the Pacific Lounge where there was a comedian performing.  I’d never heard of him (Bernie Flint): apparently he’d been on Opportunity Knocks, so that gives you an idea of how old he was.  He started off by murdering my all-time favourite Simon and Garfunkle track (“The Boxer”), which didn’t bode well, but ignoring the very dodgy singing the comedy wasn’t bad.  We finished the evening with a comedy quiz in Lord’s Tavern which was fun.
BTW, we’ve both noticed there are far fewer Weeble people on this cruise than on our recent trips.  Wonder why that is?  Still a couple of pregnant-looking men and balloon women, though.
SUNDAY 4th
We’d been warned the overnight run round Land’s End would be lumpy, and it was a bit.  Poor old Oriana‘s joints were creaking, and the noise combined with very thick pillows to give us another sleepless night.  The sea calmed a lot through the morning, and I’ve asked our steward if he can find us some thinner pillows, so hopefully we’ll be able sleep better if he finds any.
Today was a sea day, so we took things easy, spending an hour or so reading in the Crow’s Nest.  George went asking about the new internet packages – the old by-the-minute bundles are no more, but the 24-hour packages can start at any time, so from 9.00 one morning until 9.00 the next, for example.  That’s not too bad, as we had read that the day would start at 6.00 am, which wouldn’t be ideal.
After coffee and muffins in Tiffany’s we went along to the wine talk and tasting, hosted by the head sommelier.  Very interesting and informative, and there were four wines to try – white, red, rose and sparkling.  Yes, we paid for it, but we thought £10pp was reasonable, as did plenty of other pax, as Anderson’s was full for this, with later arrivals being turned away.
After lunch I went to Zumba, which was an unexpected bonus.  As always on board, some ladies turned up thinking it was a dance class, but they were quickly disabused of that!
We could then have gone to hear the guest speaker, but her subject – serial killers – we weren’t too sure about, so gave it a miss.  Instead I spent most of the rest of the afternoon trying to decide which formal dress to wear: I’d bought one for black-and-white night, and a pale pink one for tonight.  But the pink one needs a strapless bra, and guess what I forgot to pack?  In the end I opted for the black dress, in the hope that I can buy another bra in Thurso tomorrow.  It’ll mean wearing pink on b/w night, or wearing the same dress twice, but so what?
We had dinner in the Peninsular, on a table with six others, two ladies travelling together and a man and five ladies all solo travellers.  Afterwards we went up to the Crow’s Nest for the “welcome” drinkies, where we spent 20 minutes or so chatting to a junior engineer before retreating to Harlequins where we had an enjoyable evening with a couple we’d met the night before.  Plenty of dancing too!
We’d heard rumours that hot chocolate was served late at night in the Conservatory, so before turning in we thought we’d see if that was the case.  And yes, I’m pleased to report that the rumours are true!  It’s not as nice as the hot choc they used to serve in Cafe B on Aurora, but it’s not bad!
MONDAY 5th
Well, the thinner pillows our steward found for us certainly did the trick: I had the best night’s sleep I’d had since leaving home.
We dropped anchor in Scrabster bay around breakfast time.  The skies were leaden, and the rain looked like it wouldn’t be long arriving.  Sure enough, as we got off the tender and were waiting for the shuttle bus to Thurso, it started – nasty, heavy drizzle, enough to be annoying.  Never mind, we found our way to the museum where we had a look round, followed by coffee and cake in the little cafe there.  Then we wandered around the main streets, looking for a chemist for a couple of bits, and somewhere to buy my forgotten bra.  The chemist was easy, but the bra proved elusive!
Thurso is a pretty little place which reminded us a bit of Penzance.  It would have been nice to walk along the clifftops for a while, but the weather was bad enough that we returned to the ship instead.
After a late lunch I had a swim and joined George in the Crow’s Nest where we sat reading for a while. We weren’t in any hurry to get ready for dinner, as we were eating in the Beach House this evening.
A blow-out 3-course meal and a bottle of pinot grigio later, and we were fit for nothing more than sitting quietly, reading, yawning, and occasionally burping.  We were happy to have an early night as we were off on an early tour in the morning.

Oriana Cruise – Part 1

The First Night on Oriana

We were on the good ship Oriana by around 1:00pm, having had a slight delay while the security scanner decided I was carrying a lump of metal somewhere about my body. I continually told them that I have a metal hip, but undeterred by my protests I had to remove my shoes and pass through the scanner again. It still uttered ‘beeps’ of disgust so the security man resorted to his hand held scanner…

…and found nothing…

…not even my hip.

Totally baffled, the security man let me through.

Oriana was as beautiful as I remembered. She is over 20 years old now and has ploughed furrows all around the world’s seas. Yes she is a little rusty around the edges, and her hull is a little dented in places, but inside Oriana still makes me think back to those wonderful exciting moments in 2000 when we first discovered cruising on this ship.

Our cabin was an outside one but larger than average with a sitting area. We would have loved to have had a balcony cabin but Oriana has limited choice here. To be honest, it is the end of summer, and the weather might make the use of a balcony a little restricted anyway.

We have been allocated ‘Freedom Dining’ meaning we just turn up at the Peninsula restaurant and eat when we want. But we don’t like this option and prefer the set time First Sitting for dinner. We intend to explore all the dining options around the ship, and while at the welcome on board loyalty buffet we were offered a cheap deal for the Sindhu restaurant on this first evening.

Sindhu was better than I expected. My stomach doesn’t appreciate excessive spices so Indian food is not my favoured choice. To my surprise but the dishes were of the lowest level of spice, allowing my taste buds to explore the more subtle flavours of India. I still came away with indigestion but I had enjoyed the taste experiences, along with the wonderful level of service.

From the restaurant we made our way to the Theatre Royal for a show from the ‘Headliners’. It was called ‘Stage Door’ and we hadn’t seen this one before. Loosely based on a group taking a guided tour of a musical theatre it gave a song and dance sample from several major shows. It was exceptional, and the dance troupe gave their all to make this one of the best I have seen. A fast pace section on Rogers and Hammerstein shows was incredible. This is one to look out for.

Still ready to enjoy the ship more, we went to the Lord’s Tavern for a late night quiz. We joined a confused couple on their first cruise and chatted as we struggled with the general knowledge questions. We didn’t win, and weren’t even close, but it was a pleasant few minutes to talk to the pair who are really not sure about this style of holiday. Cruising is something that people love, or hate. I wonder what this couple will think about it in a week’s time.

It was time for bed. We hadn’t slept for more than a few fleeting minutes in the hotel last night, so we were hopeful that exhaustion would take over, and give us a goodnight.

The Island of Sark

Saturday 3rd September and we woke after a good night’s sleep just after 7:00am.Oriana had arrived off the island of Guernsey and was dropping her anchors and launching her tenders for the day. The sky was a little cloudy but it was dry, and the deputy Captain announced that it would get sunny and warm later.

We prepared ourselves for the day gently with a cup of tea while we lay in bed. Then it was off to the Conservatory Buffet for breakfast. Compared to many, our bowl of cereal and a slice of toast was a very light meal, but many people were creating mountain ranges on their plates with seemingly every item available.  At home breakfast is just tea and toast so we try not to over-indulge with the choice available…but is difficult sometimes. I will almost certainly have a full cooked breakfast on one morning during the cruise.

With breakfast over we got ourselves ready for the day out. We stopped at Guernsey a few years ago, and spent a wet day simply exploring St Peter Port. Today we had different plans with a tour  booked to explore the little island of Sark.

The first stage of the tour was a tender ride to shore on Guernsey. We have heard several tales of rough crossings here but our luck was holding and today it was quite smooth.  As we got off at the St Peter Port harbour pontoon, the guides immediately ushered us a few metres away to where the ferry for Sark was waiting. The trip to the Sark was perhaps three quarters of an hour and gave us some wonderful views of various islands close to Guernsey. Sadly we didn’t have a map to let us know what we were passing but our guide for the day did eventually give us one of Sark to help us later.

By now the sun had come out and the heat was rising. Deb and I were lucky enough to get a seat on the outside deck of the ferry and could feel the cooling spray at times, and there was taste of salt if we licked our lips.

As we approached Sark it was obvious that the island has very steep cliffs and the harbour itself has incredibly high walls with a long flight of steps from the sea to dockside. The climb up the steps must have been quite a struggle for some. Once on ground level we were instructed to walk through a tunnel in the cliffs to where we would find our transport to take us up to the island’s town.

This transport was a little unusual. It was a tractor towing what is referred to as the ‘toast rack’ which is a boxed in trailer providing seating for a dozen or so people. The ride up the cliff road was at an acute angle and those (like me) facing down the hill struggled to maintain our dignity and stay on the simple wooden benches. Only the knees of the gentleman opposite stopped me sliding off. I mentioned the term road, but I have to point out that there is no tarmac on the island, and the roads are created with a layer of compressed rocks making a flat surface. The only forms of mechanical transport allowed on the island are tractors, horses, bicycles, and motorised invalid buggies…. but only if you have a note from the island’s doctor.

This is truly a very unusual and delightful island.

As our tractor had got us to the top of the cliff, we discovered the town. Actually it is just a street with a couple of lanes leading off from it. There are no more than about a dozen shops or cafes on the sides of the street, but this is the island’s centre where virtually everything happens. We were greeted by drivers of horse drawn carriages tempting us to have a ride but Deb and I were in a small group that were going on a walking tour with our guide. It was now nearly two hours since we left the ship so most of us took a moment to find a cup of coffee before our walk commenced.

Our walk was a very relaxed stroll along the lanes near to the town. The guide made it very clear that life on Sark is never rushed, and she often has to tell her customers to “Slow Down”. We were given a potted history of life on Sark, including a special mention of the German occupation during the Second World War. Our stroll then arrived at the island’s museum where there is a collection of German memorabilia plus general items of older bits and pieces from around the island. Being an isolated island nothing is thrown away until it is totally useless, so there is a vast array of old items available to be displayed. The museum gave another example of the simplicity of life on the island, as there is nobody looking after the building, and visitors are expected to put their money in an honesty box.

From the museum we continued our walk with the guide now talking about the feudal land ownership on the island. Although my description of what I heard from the guide may not be strictly correct, here is a brief idea of how Sark became inhabited many centuries ago.

The island is owned by the British monarch and was once a refuge for pirates. To try and overcome the danger and expense caused by the pirates, the monarch split up the island into 40 plots and leased each to a family. They became the first official inhabitants of the island. These families were expected to protect the island from the pirates and were the only people allowed to build and own a house. This is still the case today. One person was nominated as the island’s protector and given the title of ‘Seigneur’. That person still exists and pays the Crown a nominal annual rent which costs the modern day equivalent of about £2.

Of course things have changed, but the 40 plots still exist and although some have been sold to new people, many have simply passed down through the family lines. Over the centuries these owners have built more houses on their land and leased them on to people. Although these houses were initially created for workers on the island, they are now occupied by a much wider range of people including some who find the simple way of life so much better than on the mainland, and so they retire to Sark.

Our walk had now taken us to the old school which has been replaced by a huge island centre where the modern school exists that serves as the nursery to GCSE level education. The centre also has various meeting rooms, a café and pub, and a large sports field.

Walking on we passed the doctor’s house. The island is not covered by the NHS and payment is made for any consultations and treatment. Anything serious has to be treated on Guernsey involving medical evacuations by St John Ambulance boats. We all had a good laugh when our guide pointed out that the doctor has his own tractor to get around the island. The number plate reads ‘Doctor’ but there are no blue flashing lights or sirens.

The stroll now reached the ‘Seigneurie’ where the head of the island lives. There is a large garden open to the public (at a price), but more importantly for us there was the ‘Hathaway’ Café and bar where we had some lunch.

It really had been a long time since we’d eaten by now.

With just a couple of hours left on the island, Deb and I went our own way and strolled at a slightly faster pace to see some more of this beautiful place. Before you decide to come and spend some time here, you must realise that this is not a holiday resort with fairgrounds and nightclubs. It is an oasis of tranquillity from modern 100 mile an hour life. As an example of its simplicity, one of the biggest industries on the island is bicycle hire. There are a couple of hotels for the visitor to sample a different way of life, and children will probably enjoy the family cycle rides for a while, but Sark is  more about a retreat for the people who want to sample a relaxing few days away from cars, noise, and rushing from place to place.

At 4:00 pm we left the island on our ferry and I think the majority of the 59 Oriana passengers had enjoyed the day. Our ferry returned past the various islands and gave us a surprise by taking us directly to the ship.

After a chance to take a shower to clean off the dust from the island we had our dinner in the main dining room before going to watch a cabaret act by a comedian. It was Bernie Flint who won the original ‘Opportunity Knocks’ television talent show for several weeks in the 1960s. He is now getting on a bit, and several of joke punchlines were quite easy to predict. He also played a guitar and sang quite well, but he really annoyed Deb with his version of a song by Simon and Garfunkel’s called ‘The Boxer’ and she never forgave him enough to enjoy the rest of his act.

After the show we had a quiet drink in Andersons followed by another quiz in the Lord’s Tavern… yes we lost again.

The daytime had been hot and sunny, but it had changed significantly since leaving Guernsey and the sea was getting angry and the strong wind was rocking the ship around. We went to bed after the quiz and I was well under the influence of my sea-sickness pills before the lights were turned off. The night was not going to be very pleasant, with a predicted force 7 (or worse) storm and what was described as a ‘Moderate’ sea state.

….to passengers with susceptible stomachs, that means ROUGH!

Tomorrow was a sea day as Oriana sailed overnight around Land’s End and up the Irish Sea towards Scotland.

The captain says the wind speed will drop, and the sea will relax again during the night, but this is not going to be a comfortable night.

Sunday at Sea

Oh what a horrible night.

The sea was giving Oriana a severe telling off, and she rocked and rolled around the Irish Sea. It was uncomfortable and very noisy with creaky bulkheads and clanking bits of metalwork. I was being rolled from side to side and although I slept quite well, there were several long intervals of being awake and listening to the noise. As the night became morning, the wind dropped and the sea relaxed a little, but the ship was still moving quite erratically when we woke for breakfast. The outside decks were virtually deserted and most of those braving the fresh air were wrapped up in thick layers.

This was a sea day as we sailed up to the north of Scotland. During the day we passed Ireland to Portside and caught glimpses of it plus the north western area of mainland Britain to Starboard. The sun rarely made any significant appearance and a cold wind blew across the decks all day. At least the sea began to calm down, and at one point in the afternoon it was flat and smooth.

Our day was going to be an indoor sort of day. We started by sitting in the Crow’s Nest for nearly an hour before going for a cup of coffee in Tiffany’s. After that we took part in a quiz in the Lord’s Tavern, and then took a look around the shops. The morning was rounded off by a wine tasting talk in Anderson’s with a chance to sample four different tipples. This was a civilised way to drink a mixture of wine under the pretence that we were learning a bit about it.

After a quick lunch of cheese and biscuits to soak up the alcohol, we went back to the cabin and had a rest. Having regained her strength, Deb went to a Zumba class while I continued my rest by soaking in the bath.

Tonight it was formal dress with the welcome on board Captain’s cocktail party. So late in the afternoon we sorted out our finest clothes and dressed to impress. Deb and I ate in the main dining room again and shared a table with several single travellers. It was another chance to chat with people and share our experiences of cruising the oceans.

Having had four small glasses of wine at the tasting session, we now topped up the alcohol levels with a couple of glasses more that the cocktail party. We even had a photo taken with the Captain, but only because there was no queue at the door where he was greeting people. Most people formed a long queue to enter via the opposite door. I don’t expect we will buy the photo, but at least it made the Captain feel wanted.

It was then time to go dancing in Harlequin’s. We took to the floor for several dances and also met up with the couple we did the quiz with on the first evening. They are still getting their heads around the finer points of cruising, including the dancing sessions. As usual the ballroom was far to e dressed in formal clothing and by the time we left I was dripping in sweat.

Our evening was rounded off with a cup of hot chocolate in the Conservatory before making our way to the cabin for bed. Although generally this had been a lazy day, there were a few bursts of energy as well. Tomorrow we would be in visiting Scrabster which is just a few miles away from John ‘o Groats.

 

 

 

Oriana Cruise Begins

Well when I say ‘begins’ I mean we have travelled from  home to Southampton. Our customary start to a cruise is to have a night in a hotel in Southampton, to avoid any possible stress of a journey on sailing day.

The afternoon’s car journey was a hot one, and we actually used the air conditioning for the first time in  months. I can’t actually remember the last time it was switched on. The roads were quite busy and a lot of overtaking was necessary with the volume of lorries and caravans creating queues.

We arrived at our hotel about 4:30 and this evening we are in a Holiday Inn Express on the outskirts of the city. It is not one of our preferred hotels, but the Southampton Boat Show has meant the city ones we like are full.

The bedroom is fine but the hotel’s facilities are budget. The restaurant is really designed for an express breakfast, but they also provide a limited menu of evening snacks. To be honest the menu is over the top for a budget hotel with some quite expensive choices, but we went for a shared pizza and a soft drink. We had eaten a full meal before we left home, but my stomach needed something at our usual eating time.

The pizza arrived quickly and was pretty tasty. So my hunger had been satisfied and we returned to the bedroom to watch television.

We have a larger than average double bed at home, so Deb actually requested two single beds so that we could roll around and stretch our legs without disturbing each other. But our room was set up with a double, and a double-size divan bed rather than two singles. This meant there was hardly any space left to walk around. We decided we’d share the double bed and fold up the divan to make so space. It is only for one night, and I expect it will be too hot to sleep anyway.

The shower is large and I enjoyed a wash to get rid of the grime of driving. The only problem was from the usual shared plumbing system of the hotel. It meant the water temperature varied with short bursts of scalding hot and seriously cold. I should be used to this after 25 years of working away from home and staying in hotels.

In the morning we will do our best to waste some time before driving into the city. Unfortunately the hotel is in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but a new factory building site, so there is no scope for going for a walk. Never mind, after breakfast we can relax with a paper to read before repacking the car and setting off.

Hopefully we can amuse ourselves in Southampton until around midday before driving to the Mayflower Terminal and stepping back on Oriana once more.

Now, we have a bottle of red wine to drink, so what’s on the television?