Post 40 – Final Thoughts

It’s a week now since our suitcases were put outside the cabin and our adventure was coming to an end.

Deb and I have lived in a bit of a dream since we came home, as life began to revert to normal. The washing is completed, the suitcases put away in the loft, the cupboards have been restocked with food, and the freezer is filling up. We have bought seeds and Deb has just about filled all the available space in the greenhouse with pots and trays of flowers and vegetables for the summer.

There is still a list of things that need doing such as digging the vegetable plot, getting rid of a forest of weeds that have appeared, empty last year’s compost bin and spread its goodness on the soil. The water butts need to go back to their proper places and connected up so they gather the precious water for the dry (hopefully) moments during the summer. The lawns need another cut and then be given a first dose of ‘weed and feed’ to turn it back to dandelion less and green delight.

Turning to more major projects, the shed needs to be re-roofed, and the greenhouse is scheduled to be changed for a glass one rather than the noisy plastic panelled one we have at present. We want new carpets in the bedrooms and the dining room, the settees need replacing, and we want a fence and gate across the gap at the bottom of our front garden.

On my personal ‘to do’ list there are three outstanding book projects in various stages, plus of course the book of the world cruise needs to be started, while it is still fresh in my mind.

Sadly Deb and I can only get on with our lists a little bit at a time. We have both got annoying colds since our return, but more importantly, our minds are still in cruise mode, and memories are far too vivid to shove to the back of our brains for a while yet.

So, how can I summarise those 104 days, those 30 or so different countries, those 50 or more cities that we visited, those hundreds of amazing memories, and thousands of smiles and laughs?

There were bad moments, and this blog has probably captured many of them, but are they what I will remember most, and will they sour the experience?

Was this a good cruise? …Yes of course it was.

Was it a very good cruise? …Yes for most of the time.

Was it better than the first world circumnavigation five years ago? …No, the buzz and excitement of the experience wasn’t so intense.

Would I do it again? …Yes in a flash, but I don’t think it will happen, and I believe the experience would be even less exciting, and become what I noticed on several faces of those who repeat the winter world cruise as a habit. They don’t see it as an adventure; it is just what they do to avoid the winter.

I will try and break it down now.

The experience of sailing into and away from exotic countries and cities, is still amazing. Only on a cruise ship can you savour the sights of a cityscape, and only on a world cruise can you drool at the first glimpses of iconic bridges and buildings in the morning twilight, and see them disappearing into the distance in the evening dusk as your floating home moves onto another city or country, or even continent. It is not like a Mediterranean cruise, you can go on these several times each summer and revisit cities and island, if you have the money and the time. A world cruise opens up the possibility of seeing places that are thousands of miles away and British-based ships rarely venture so far away.

Yes of course you can go by plane and experience the culture of the far east, the fun of Australasia, or the excitement of California, but you can never squeeze in so many different places with the comfort of a floating hotel.

On this trip I enjoyed our first visit to Malta near the beginning of the cruise, but I wasn’t so enthused generally about the first couple of sectors. Jordan was amazing for the ruggedness of the desert. The cocktail party and the water display in Dubai were sensational, but the city itself has become too glitzy and too big, in my personal belief. We saw a lot of what I can only describe as dirty cities and countries. India is a rich country with ambitions to be big and successful, but there are so many poor people, in poor towns, who seem to be ignored while the richer city centres get glitzier and bigger without thought for the less well-off, and less able people a few miles, or just metres, away.

The cruise was described as being a Heritage Cruise to remember 180 years of P&O sailing around the world, and yes we saw a great deal of history, with colonial buildings built as the trade routes expanded across the Indian Ocean. But the majority of these buildings are being forgotten for what they were, and if not modernised behind the original facades they are being allowed to decay, or simply pulled down and described by the guides as the site of a once-famous and important historical landmark.

Then we reached Singapore. This is a city that remembers its history, and modernises those colonial buildings whilst keeping their appearance. At the same time the city is growing, and is mixing glass and steel amongst its brick covered past. It is clean, vibrant, and fantastic. And it was like a turning point on the cruise. The two days in Singapore cheered us all up and the next three sectors were exciting and stimulating.

The majority of the cities we went to were clean. The people were friendly and generally looked to be comfortable with life. And yes, virtually everyone spoke English.

The island of Indonesia provided a wonderful tour of Buddhist temples and traditional ways of life. Its busy population and packed roads meant travelling in convoy and having police cars with blue lights and sirens everywhere we went but we quickly got used to it. Sadly we had a real tropical shower that lasted nearly an hour. It turned green and beautiful forests and fields into floods of muddy water. We realised just how volatile the tropical weather can be. The only real disappointment of Indonesia was the Port of Semarang which stank of something no one could recognise, but everyone felt concerned by it.

From there we moved onto Bali. This was a place where we had bad memories of our visit in 2012. We couldn’t forget, or forgive, and stayed firmly close to the ship.

After quite a period at sea we arrived at a run of ports in Australia. I will always be excited at the smiling happy people, and a country that I once thought I would never see beyond the pictures on the television, or in books. Now I have been there twice, and seen several of its beautiful major cities, plus the enchanting Kangaroo Island that was both a surprise and a delight. I love the country and will always feel proud and amazed that I ever got there.

From there we continued to New Zealand. There was more rain but sensational places to visit, starting with the southern Fjords before sampling both the South and North Island. Just as five years ago, the local people were eager to please and show us their homeland.

Aurora moved eastwards across the Pacific, for a day on the island of with Fiji. Finally we had sunshine and true heat on a beautiful tour. Next was Apia (Samoa) and once again the weather smiled on us as we explored another delightful Pacific Island.

Now we had a long run of sea days until Honolulu in Hawaii where we climbed a volcano to see the island from above.

It was all so wonderful and the sector ended in San Francisco where once again the weather cleared to make our two day stay superb. OK we didn’t get to Alcatraz as we had hoped to, but had a sensational time exploring on our own as well as an open top bus tour. We also had the most amazing experience of an organised trip on a restored vintage train along the Napa Valley. It included wine tasting and a delicious lunch. It cost more than we have ever paid for a tour and we thought carefully before we booked it. ..But it was sensational.

From San Francisco we had a series of stops beginning with San Diego before leaving the USA for a visit to Mexico at Cabo San Lucas. After that was Guatemala. We stopped at Puerto Quetzal, which was perhaps not the nicest of ports, but where we had a really good tour to an Orchid farm and a Macadamia plantation.

Now came the transit of the Panama Canal that was still as exciting and spectacular on our second visit.

Aurora was now in the Caribbean and we had a call at Cartagena in Colombia. This was a bit of a let-down. We had a tour that showed us many intriguing places but the fast pace and the guide made it less than interesting. We had the ship’s tour lecturer with us, and she shouted regularly at the guide to slow down, and rescued what could have been a disaster.

Onwards and we visited St Lucia. Here we experienced another first and had a tour on a catamaran to see the Piton Volcanoes and finally had a swim in the Caribbean Sea. Oh, and we drank rather too much Rum Punch, and got a little sunburnt.

The next day it was Barbados and our last taste of sunshine before the long crossing of the Atlantic towards home. There was just one more stop in the Azores where the sun had lost its heat, but which was still a lovely day.

The final days were not nice. We had a three-day storm to remind us that we were returning home for the last few weeks of winter. Those days were disappointing, but could not spoil a superb couple of sectors. The passengers were visibly happier and smiling more as we enjoyed the sunshine and some wonderful ports.

So how about the things that makes a cruise special?

The entertainment was not as good as we remembered from five years ago. There were far too many vocalists, including at least four female ones that described their act as a tribute to the Divas. I am sure many people enjoyed them but we prefer something to laugh at or be surprised by occasionally. The comedians, and speciality acts – magicians, conjurors and ventriloquist were superb, but many jokes and tricks were repeated. The on-board entertainment team were a let-down. Not because they were bad, but because there weren’t enough of them for a major three month cruise. For the first few days after San Francisco we had two trained hosts plus the DJ along with two absolutely brand-new girls. This pair had to be trained and prepared by the others before being let loose on their own. It meant we had no special events and even the Syndicate Quiz ran with just one host.

…We deserved better!

Finally I will talk about the food.

This is the 18th year we have been cruising, and generally we have always enjoyed the majority of the meals served in the main dining room…but not this time. A new menu was introduced last summer (2016) and everyone seemed to be raving about it. Personally we found it boring with far too much fish on the menus, which were obviously not easy to repeat and keep the interest. The vegetables were tasteless, and featured the same things over and over with just subtle changes. Mashed potato featured regularly but never tasted right. Topping it with cheese, or mixing it with herbs, did not help.

Passengers were being forced to go to the speciality restaurants, but not as a treat, but as a change to excite the taste buds again. I hadn’t realised just how boring the menu and taste of the food was until we got home and my taste senses exploded with simple home cooking.

So after a lot of negative thoughts, how can I possibly say that the cruise was a sensational experience and worth the small fortune we aid for it?

Well, the ports of call and the cities were amazing. Even the places we have seen before were special because we made the most of what was on offer. We explored some cities on our own, but also had some wonderful organised trips.

We also enjoy life on a ship – well maybe not the rough weather – but generally we find the days at sea and the evenings of organised fun, plus the pampering is a real treat.

And we made some wonderful friends. The six of us who turned up on the first evening at the dinner table gelled. It took a day or two but we quickly shared our evenings together, and chatted or laughed as if we had known each other for a lifetime. We were comfortable with each other. Now the six of us have gone our own ways, but we will be meeting again in two years’ time for another winter away on a cruise ship.

In January 2019 we will all be departing Southampton on Aurora again for a trip to the Amazon and Caribbean, and we have all tagged on a second cruise at the end going to the fringe of the Arctic Europe. It will be over 10 weeks at sea, and maybe things won’t prove to be as good, but hopefully we will resurrect our friendship and the food will improve, and the entertainment will be more varied as we plough the Atlantic Ocean again.

In three months Deb and I are off again with a sort cruise on little Adonia. In the meantime we will be travelling around the country to see friends and family, so I will be posting about our other adventures.

Thanks for taking the time to read these adventures of Deb and George as we sailed around the world. It has been sensational and I would truly jump at the chance to go again, but as I said at the end of my first book about world cruising – There is an awful lot more of the world to see yet.

So that is the end of this blog. It will remain on the website for people to read, and you are welcome to drop us a few comments…but not about Viagra or Advertising other website please.

Bi for now

Post 39 – Back Home

It is Monday evening and we have been home for a little under three days. There are many good things about being home again, but it is strange to not be on Aurora and planning our evening around the ship.

We were home before 1:00 pm on Saturday after a pleasant journey with the roads not very busy. I suppose the only stressful bit was wheeling two trolleys of suitcases along the road from the terminal to the short stay car park where our car was waiting. Once in the driver’s seat, it took a few minutes to remember how to drive, but by the time we reached the dock gates the autopilot clicked into action, and along with Satnav to gently remind me of the junctions we were on the way. Our only stop was a short detour into Ross on Wye to Morrison’s to get some essential foodstuff to last the first afternoon and evening at home.

I had been driving for almost an hour when I suddenly realised the trees were in leaf. This may sound stupid, but the branches were bare when we left in January. It suddenly struck me that we had missed winter (just about) and it was soon going to be Spring.

Back home it took half an hour to wake up the house again. The water had to be turned on, and it took a moment to remember just what I had to do. The electricity had tripped so needed to be reset and that took a couple of attempts before it stayed on. The fridge and freezer could then be switched on. Meanwhile the suitcase needed to be brought in and Deb took the first of clothes out to the garage and set the first load of washing underway.

The first cup of tea was then ready and we had a chance to sit down and draw breath.

While Deb was unpacking and moving piles of clothes into the garage for washing, I set about sifting through the two piles of post that were each about 30cm tall. The vast majority of it was junk mail, and our empty recycling bin was beginning to fill by the time this useless waste of paper was moved to it. Then piles of possibly useful letters were made of post addressed to one or both of us.

By the time we had sorted through the envelopes, there were about 30 items to file away, and only about five things that needed action.  It seems rather sad that having been away from home for over 100 days, there was so little within the hundreds of items of past that was actually of any interest or importance.

We had lunch around 2:30 by which time the suitcases were nearly all empty and in the spare room ready to disappear up into the loft. There were piles of ‘things’ and ‘bits’ all over tables and other available surfaces that needed to be found a home, and it took the remainder of the afternoon to a final, or temporary resting place for these souvenirs, books,  and presents from our adventure.

Deb and I also took a break to explore the garden. Our lovely neighbours (Pam and Kim) had cut the grass in an attempt to takeaway that shock when we got home. They didn’t know exactly where the edges were, as the grass was over 30 cm high. The lawns were in need of a further cut, but that was not a priority today either.

Almost as soon as we arrived home, I began to suffer from the strange phenomenon pf ‘Land Sickness’. This affects a lot of cruise passengers and leaves our body struggling to balance and we wobble as if still at sea. By mid-afternoon I was really in trouble, and although the world around me was still, I was moving as if I was still in the ship during the three day storm. I was dizzy and rocking, and Deb even suggested I took a sea-sickness pill to see if that would help. I knew that it would soon clear up, but this time it has been really bad, and I am still not totally back to normal two days on.

Anyway, apart from the grass needing cutting, the garden was full of weeds that were so big that it was difficult to instantly know if they were actually plants that should have been growing, or if they were interlopers.

…another job needing attention quickly in the days to come

The apple trees were in blossom, the pears had small fruit on them, and the soft fruit bushed were loaded with sweet delights to come in the weeks to come. Sadly the vegetable patch was bare, apart from weeds, and will have to be dug over and planted out very quickly to give us a harvest.

The garden would have to wait.

Deb cooked a delicious meal of steak and kidney pie, mash potato and carrots. The taste was so much more intense than the majority of meals we have had on Aurora. The ship meals maybe adequate with unusual names and ingredients, but they cannot produce the same degree of taste when catering for hundreds of passengers.

Our evening consisted of long deep baths, and generally relaxing in our familiar settees while discovering just how many television programmes we had recorded. Sadly a lot of what we hoped for hasn’t been recorded because of the power being off, but there is enough to last for several weeks when nothing live takes our fancy.

Sunday morning I moved the larger garden machines from the garage back into the less secure shed. Then while Deb went to complete a proper round of shopping, I began the task of clearing weeds, and then set about the lawns. The two lawns are usually cut in a little over an hour, but it took me nearly three hours this time for a very basic trim. The sun was shining and I was hot, and dripping in sweat from the effort. Midway through the afternoon I finished the lawns and sat down. It was then that I realised my back was screaming a complaint about the effort it had been put through.

I could hardly move by the time we had dinner, but I struggled to the table for roast chicken, Yorkshire pudding, boiled potatoes and more fresh carrots plus gravy. Once again it was delicious and so different from the bland tasting chicken on the ship.

Today (Monday) my back is still bad and I said I would give it a rest. That plan failed as the brick edge to our pathway began to fall off, and a job I hoped could wait until much later, had to be started. It meant scraping up the gravel and moving it to a different part of the garden. I only did enough to avoid accident but that took an hour, and I was exhausted and sweating again.

After lunch we went to B&Q to buy compost, vegetable seeds and weed killer so that I can begin on the vegetable patch and weeds properly. By dinner time, Deb had already planted beans in pots, and potatoes are in trays. That means I have to have the veg patch ready very quickly.

As the light is beginning to fade on Monday, I think we are back to normal and comfortable in our home. We have spoken to our family and all is well, except our son Andrew who has broken his wrist playing football.  There is still a huge pile of clothes to be washed, ironed, and put away, but the initial chaos has passed and we can relax again.

Of course, we are also planning, and looking forward to our next cruise in three months’ time on little Adonia. In the mean time we will no doubt be travelling to Cornwall to see my brothers, to Shropshire to see Deb’s brother, as well as visiting our children.

Oh, and that garden will take up most of our time as well.

It’s good to be home, but soon we will start to watch the videos, print the photographs, and the memories of an amazing adventure will come flooding back.

I will speak to you all again soon.

Post 38 – The final post from Aurora

Friday 21st April – The Final Day

After finally falling asleep when my legs stopped twitching, I was rudely woken at 7:30 by a new day.

The storm had abated from the crashing and banging of yesterday into mere bad weather. It was still blowing at Force 7 and the sea was simply ‘Moderate’ but after the last 48 hours this was a doddle.

It is cold (12°C) but there are blue skies as we complete the Biscay crossing. Aurora has speeded up from the crawl through the mountainous seas of yesterday when we were rarely much above 15 knots.

With breakfast completed Deb attacked the suitcases again, while I cowered from the bumpy weather doing my blog in Anderson’s.

When I returned to the cabin just before 10:00 the cabin had been turned into a second-hand suitcase stall. Deb has virtually completed squeezing everything into six of our suitcases and one holdall. There is another holdall to take the final remaining bits plus two smaller roller cases for the fragile bits, wash kit, and things needed to hand in the morning.

I struggle to be of any serious assistance as the sea is still throwing my balance around, and packing always makes the problem worse.

We won’t be going to the dance session as Roger and Ann are just recapping bits that the dancers want to perfect. We thanked them for their time, and we have really enjoyed the ‘going back to basics’ the iron out bad habits.

There was time for a cup of coffee and then we picked up the last of the photographs, and the final sector DVD.

Suitcases have already starting to appear in the corridors with tropical night flower garlands around the handles. Ours will wait until after lunch as requested. I sometimes think people never read the letters that give information and instructions.

Deb has the Battle of the Sexes final at midday and I will go along and watch.

1:30pm – We have had our last lunch on board. The first three suitcases have been sealed and put outside in the corridor. Three more cases and a holdall are ready to go out when there is some space around our doorway.

Deb completed her Battle of the Sexes captaincy and has some more prize stickers for this evening, and a promise of yet another bottle of wine from Martin. She really doesn’t want the wine because we have one in the cabin for this evening, plus another from Richard and Angie to say farewell to each other. There is also a farewell cocktail party before dinner, where there will be yet more free drinkies. This party was postponed from yesterday because of the bad weather, and it is going to be held in the Atrium rather than split between the Crow’s Nest and Carmen’s. Apparently Captain Dunlop favours one big event for each sitting.

The sea continues to calm down as we near Ushant Point where the Bay of Biscay officially ends. That will be late in the afternoon and then there is just the Channel and Solent left before our expected arrival in Southampton tomorrow morning at around 6:00am.

There was an announcement during lunch to let people know the upper outside decks have been re-opened to allow the quoits and shuffleboard competitions to go ahead. They have been closed for two days and a lot of people want to have their last game.

This evening the entertainment in the Curzon Theatre is the triple bill of singer Claire Bonsu, ventriloquist Gareth Oliver, and the rock and Roll group Bluejays. The six table mates will be going to this show, but we will also be meeting up for a final couple of quizzes, and to attempt to drink all the various bottles of wine we have collected.

The intention is not to stay up too late. We have lost a lot of sleep over the last two nights, and we all have the drive home tomorrow.

Our ‘getting off’ time is 8:45 and I have the phone number of the parking company programmed into my mobile phone to organise the car return as soon as we get off the ship.

3:40pm – Our final piece of luggage is now outside the cabin door. We have sat up in the Crow’s Nest to read our books. As is a very common theme, my eyes became heavy and I was no longer reading words, but just looking at them. I put the eReader down and settled into the comfy settee. I think I was I instantly asleep and when I woke, my confusion, and the sounds of chatter around me, came as a flashback of when I regained consciousness after my hip replacement operation. It was just for a couple of seconds and then I remembered where I was, but I must have slipped into a very deep sleep for a while.

All around us there seemed to be people with pots of tea so I suggested that we go for one in the buffet. It meant a walk outside along deck 13, and although there was a blue sky and sunshine, it was most definitely a late winter afternoon again. The memories of hotter days in the Indian Ocean, when we had temperatures into the high 30s, paid a fleeting visit from the depths of my mind to my consciousness. There will be many such moments in the coming weeks as we settle down in Herefordshire once more.

Back at the cabin our shoes were taken off, and we lay on the bed. The TV navigation channel shows we have crossed Biscay and we will be turning right soon around the Brest peninsular and then into the English Channel.

The wind has reduced to an acceptable level for our last night on board. Tonight I am sure I will sleep but I also suspect I will wake up to familiar noises as we dock at the Mayflower Cruise Terminal early tomorrow morning.

Well this is the last post I will be sending from Aurora. I will be back online from home when we have settled in and got our heads back to normality. The last 104 days and nights have been terrific, and I am so very sad that it is coming to an end, but I am ready to go home, and looking forward to the comfort of our own bed, and Deb’s tasty meals. We have lots of plans and projects for this year inside the house, and out in the garden.

As I said, the story will continue when I am back at home, and soon I will be planning how to put our adventures into a new book, but for now it is a cheerio from Aurora.

I’d like to thank all the people we have met and chatted to during the cruise and shared our lives for three months. Also, thanks to everyone who has been following our blog since that chilly night in January.

We have finished chasing the sunrise across the three major oceans of the world but we can look forward to the thrill of another cruise in just three months’ time on little Adonia.

Deb’s cruise diary – April 20 to end

Thursday 20th April – at sea

Temperature today = 12-13oC

Well, it was certainly rough – we woke to hear that the winds were at Force 9, gusting Force 10, and the swell was around 3m high.  Neither of us slept very well all, not because of the ship’s movement so much as the creaking and banging noises in the cabin.  But it is what it is…

George was pretty queasy this morning, and even I took a seasickness pill, which isn’t like me at all.  But mostly I was just dog-tired so just dozed in the cabin for much of the morning, while George found himself somewhere comfy to doze on one of the lower decks.  Dancing was definitely a non-starter for us this morning, and was even cancelled altogether this afternoon.

But I did get to the Battle, and George listened to the passenger choir and went to a guest speaker’s talk – anything to stay on a lower deck!  I also managed to pack another suitcase, so that’s three done now.

It was the final formal night, but with both of us feeling a bit bleugh we just had a light meal in the buffet.  Then we joined our friends and won another bottle of red in the Masquerades late quiz, which we shared between us as we had a go at the syndicate quiz.

Hopefully the late night will mean we sleep better, though the ship’s still rocking and creaking in the heavy seas.

 

Friday 21st April – at sea

Temperature today = 12oC

Yes we slept, once the ship noises died down.  The wind had dropped considerably by the time we woke up, but was still Force 7, we were told.  And in the afternoon the sun came out and the outside decks were re-opened.

I spent a good hour after breakfast packing, and stressing about how to fit everything in.  Think we’ll be okay though.

I had the Battle of the Sexes final at lunchtime, where one round was charades:  I thought I acted out “Free Willy” very well!  The ladies guessed it pretty much straight away!  But in the end the men won (just), and won the full cruise total overall.  But the ladies didn’t disgrace themselves, and we made new friends, which is the main thing.

It was back to packing after we’d had some lunch, and we put three of our cases outside the cabin ready for collection.  Then we spent some time just relaxing.

This evening we’ll see the show, maybe do a quiz or two, and spend time with our four new friends.  We still have a couple of bottles of quiz-prize wine to drink as none of us want to take it home!  Then we’ll hope for another decent night’s sleep before arriving back in England.

It’s been awesome.

 

Saturday 22nd April – Southampton, UK

Temperature today = who cares?

Damn.

Post 37 – A Stormy Couple of Days

Wednesday 19th April – Re-immigration Day

It was not the best of nights as the wind increased and the jiggling turned to bumping. When we got up at 7:30 the navigation channel is reporting Wind Force 6 and Sea Sate Moderate. And this is just the beginning of the storm.

The temperature was just 15° so any final sunbathing looks to be over. Deb is going to pack another suitcase this morning and the clothes left in the wardrobe have been drastically reduced. It was also medicine day and it’s the final time, so the spare pills are also about to be packed away, along with the remaining breakable souvenirs. They are wrapped and tucked away with the dirty washing.

There is one little task this morning. We have to line up to have our passports checked by the UK Borders Authority. It was supposed to be announced when it was our turn, but as I was updating the blog in Charlies, I saw people coming out of Masquerade’s where the process is going on.

Deb and I were in and out in less than a minute and I resumed work on my laptop for a little while longer.

Our only plan for the morning is a quickstep dancing lesson at 11:00, but it may not be very successful with the way the ship is being tossed around. I’ve already had a little white pill in readiness for Nature’s welcome home present.

The clocks have the final leap forward at midday, when we will become GMT +1 and so the same as home time. Deb doesn’t have the Battle of the Sexes today, so the time change won’t have any serious issue with getting to events…for us anyway.

Aurora is ploughing through the sea and we are a little over half way up the coast of Portugal. By this evening we will be entering the Bay of Biscay where the storm will be building to its crescendo.

Deb continued with the packing to put away another suitcase of unwanted clothes and ‘bits’ that we have collected. I went for a walk around the Promenade Deck where it was almost deserted as the sea crashed and boiled around the ship.

The dancing lesson gave us a really good reminder about the quickstep and also highlighted a couple of bad habits. Of course the ship performing its own slow, slow, quick-quick… in various directions didn’t help very much.

The amount of movement was increasing as the hours passed, and I was less than inclined to stay in the cabin for long periods.

In the afternoon we had the second quickstep was really good, and tomorrow we are hoping to have our first attempt at the running steps that make this dance so good to watch.

Dinner was a good get-together again, and I was allowed to sit in the window to avoid having to watch the sea. It was getting rough by now, and the forecast is for worse to come. I had taken a pill to reduce my discomfort and I certainly had some concerns for the next few hours.

We trooped long to the theatre tonight to watch a ventriloquist/comedian called Gareth Oliver. He started a little slowly with some weak jokes but when he went into his ventriloquist act, along with his wife, the show became absolutely brilliant. The couple did a double act that was technically superb, and then his final section with ‘Brian’ from the audience had the theatre in stitches. Gareth was a finalist in Britain’s Got Talent’ on the show with Susan Boyle and proves that sometimes (not always) talent has been discovered.

From the theatre the six of us split up and we went to Anderson’s for a drink. This was to be a mistake as I already knew that the pills I was taking for the sea-sickness respond badly to alcohol. Anyway, when we went to bed the ship was performing a sensational rendition of a jive, and along with the violent movement, every bit of Aurora’s structure seemed to be creaking. The pitching motion was causing wild roller coaster movements and deafening crashes as we went headlong into a Force 8 gale.

I couldn’t sleep. The alcohol had mixed with my pill and I had twitching and cramp in my legs. I saw the clock at 2:00 am and it was probably an hour later that I eventually fell asleep.

 

Thursday 20th April – ‘The Storm’

Today was not a very comfortable or pleasant day.

I woke and my eyes didn’t want to open, and my stomach was quietly telling me something was wrong. Strangely I still managed to go to breakfast and treated myself to a sausage sandwich.

From then on the day was little more than existence in what I think was the worst period of bad weather I have ever experienced on a ship.

As soon as I had cleaned my teeth I began a morning of moving from one comfortable and quiet seat to another while my pill took affect and I attempted to coordinate my brain and various senses that sea-sickness confuses. Deb stayed in the cabin and even managed to pack another case, but by mid-morning she was feeling the first symptoms of ‘Mal de Mer’.

During the morning and afternoon the wind increased to Force 10 at one point and the sea state was described as ‘Rough’ and curiously at one stage as ‘High’.

The dancing lesson never did any more of the quickstep, and I couldn’t have faced it anyway. In the morning I watched a talk by Gervase Phinn with his stories from a career as teaching inspector: it was superb and I am looking forward to reading his book that I downloaded yesterday. Unfortunately that will have to wait until my eyes are ready to stare at small letters again.

Deb managed to fulfil her role as captain of the ladies in the Battle of the Sexes, and after that we both had a little lunch, but in my case this was just an automated process, and not because I was hungry.

In the afternoon I tried watching a film, but having fallen asleep twice in the cinema I joined several other people who trickled out of the room realising the film was pathetic except as a way of snoozing.

Deb and I had another cup of tea and then I went to watch the choir give their final show. They were brilliant, and even the rocking and rolling couldn’t stop them. The performance had been moved from the theatre to Carmen’s because of the severe movement of the ship, so the audience were packed into the much smaller venue. I stood at the back singing under my breath the songs that I had taken part in. Although I haven’t joined in this sector, the choir has reminded me of the joy of singing, and hopefully I will find a choir when I get home.

Deb and I had decided that we would not dress up in formal wear this evening, and not go to the dining room to eat. It was horrendously rough and even simply washing my hair almost tipped my stomach over the edge. During her lunchtime quiz Deb had given a request for DJ Martin Scott to play on his teatime radio show. It was to thank our new found friends.

I have been quite negative about Martin, but that was all about the cricket. I have seen the man in a different light since I stopped playing the game, and have much more positive views about him. He works hard like all the Ents Team and has some wonderfully challenging quizzes that are so much better then the ‘Carnival supplied questions’ that feature so many American-themed questions that are a farce for this British ship.

Martin was also a great help to the four passengers who had fallen foul of pickpockets in America and lost their passports. The ship’s management did virtually nothing except kicking them off the ship, but Martin gave them advice and sympathy in what was a horrendous situation to be in. I must also say that the British Embassy did a tremendous job as well. I know the ship had to put them ashore, but there ought to be a softer way of reacting to this situation.

Well done Martin, for all the work you do, but I hope you have a slightly different approach to the cricket.

After our dinner in the Horizon Buffet Deb and I joined up again with Richard, Angie, Robin and Rosemary. We just lost the early evening quiz before going to the theatre to listen to a rock and roll band called ‘Bluejays’. They were superb and deserved the applause and shouts for ‘MORE’ at the end.

They will be back on tomorrow in a special variety alongside Claire Bonsu ( singer) and Gareth Oliver performing for 15 minutes each.

The entertainment at the end of the cruise has been so much better.

After the show we all went to Masquerades and succeeded in winning a bottle of wine. Then we moved to Vanderbilt’s for the Syndicate Quiz. The other five drank the wine as I was not interested in upsetting my sea-sickness pill again. We lost in the quiz by two points which seems to be our standard result.

The sea seemed to have calmed a little, but when we went to bed, it was obvious that the storm was still very bad and the cracking, banging, rocking, and rolling was not going to help us get to sleep for another night.

We were in the Bay of Biscay now and tomorrow will be our final day of this wonderful adventure. It is a pity that the weather has meant a slightly sour end to it, but we have so many amazing memories.

…oh, and we’ve been told that the weather is going to improve during the night.

Deb’s cruise diary – 18-19 April

Tuesday 18th April – Ponta Delgada, Azores

Temperature today = 17oC

Our final port of call, and tours were already leaving even before we went to breakfast.

We walked off the ship just before 10.00am, into a cruise terminal block that we didn’t recognise at all.  It seems it was built in 2008/9, which explains it – we were last here in 2006!  But it’s very well done indeed, with loads of cafés, bars and shops overlooking the harbour.

We had no real plans beyond stretching our legs, but managed to find shops in the streets back from the promenade, many of which were selling stuff at such ridiculously low prices that we parted with quite a few euros for a load of clothes, glassware and ceramics.  We also ducked into a little café for coffee and Portuguese nata cakes: these turned out to be the best nata cakes we’ve had anywhere, and at 85cents each were cheap as chips.

I was hoping for an hour or two in the sun once we’d got back to the ship, but sadly it turned cloudy and there was a cool wind blowing.  So instead we sat on our balcony, watching people ashore.

We had dinner in the Glass House.  The food and service were top-notch, but there was one woman there who objected to the music being played (rock and roll) and had it changed.  Not happy as we’d been enjoying it, so we made our feelings known to the head waiter: one diner shouldn’t be allowed to dictate the atmosphere to the rest, surely?

We joined Robin and Rosemary for a strange quiz in Champions – Kool Blue and Coral Law were singing/playing songs from Eurovision, and we had to name the song, the singer/s, the country they represented, and the year of the song’s entry.  Some, like Abba, were easy, but others were pretty obscure.  We managed to come joint first, but let the other team have the wine as we all wanted to be somewhere else by then.

We then spent an hour in Carmen’s where there was an hour of sequence dancing.  The first time in many years we’ve done anything like that: really enjoyed it.

 

Wednesday 19th April – at sea

Temperature today = 15oC

We’d been warned that the wind would get up and the sea swell increase, and that was certainly the case as we headed towards the Bay of Biscay.  But it wasn’t too bad in the morning as we went for our UK immigration inspection – which was the quickest yet: we went straight in and were out again less than two minutes later.

As George doesn’t like being in the cabin when the sea’s a bit lumpy, he went down to Charlie’s and caught up with his blog and then went for a deck walk.  Meantime, I packed another suitcase.

We went along to both the dance classes today, which was beginners’ quickstep.  This is a dance we can do the basics of, so we found it relatively straightforward – apart from trying to avoid bashing into couples who were going in every direction but forward.  Never mind, hopefully we’ll complete the routine tomorrow.

We watched the show in the Curzon this evening, which was a very funny ventriloquist act.  He started poorly, but quickly got into his stride and I have to say he had he falling about laughing.  He’ll be worth seeing again, but I have a nasty feeling he’s going to be in a ‘variety’ show with the Shirley Bassey tribute singer.

Before we went to bed we checked the ‘information from the bridge’ on the TV: we’re going through a Force 8 storm, with rough seas, apparently.  It explains why the ship is bouncing around so much.  And it’s due to get worse before it gets better.

Post 36 – Tuesday 18th April – Ponta Delgada, Portugal

Tuesday 18th April – Ponta Delgada, Portugal

Well, this is it, our final port and just four days to go.

I didn’t have a full night’s sleep, but at least it was peaceful.

Deb was up first and I crawled out of bed and peeked out between the curtains at the Port of Ponta Delgada, on the Azores island of Sao Miguel. It looked cool and the thermometer confirmed my suspicion showing just 18°.

Behind Aurora was a smaller ship called the ‘Serranisima’ and part from her, it was seemingly hundreds of yachts from the smaller family boats through to huge ocean going millionaire hobbies.

We were here on a cruise in 2006 but my goodness it has changed. We are parked in what appears to be a very new harbour complex with a new terminal connected by underground walkways to a shopping area that curves around to the main road. To our right we can see a vast swimming pool complex with diving areas and other pools besides the main swimming area.

What I do remember is the buildings being virtually all black and white. Of course it makes the buildings stand out from the lush green hills in the distance. The only exceptions to this black and white theme are the powder blue balconies of what I assume is a new tall apartment block near the harbour, and far away between the hills there is another apartment block with yellow panels. Everywhere there are red roofs, with some that are a bright red showing their newness, compared with the darker faded ones of older buildings.

It has changed so much.

After breakfast we did a bit of office work to allow the tours to get away, and for the bulk of the shops to open before we venture out. I was initially wearing shorts, but on reflection from the cool walk to breakfast, I will be putting on some trousers, and probably a jumper when we go out.

The sun is beginning to make an appearance at 9:30 so I think we can get ourselves ready now for a walk. It is will be good to be on terra firma for an hour as we have been warned that there is bad weather ahead before we get to Southampton. It looks like we are in for a rocky ride.

We spent over two hours walking around the streets and it was delightful. The memories came back of the black pavements made of what looks like volcanic rock, and then patterns created by little white marble type squares against the dominant black. We had no plans to do or buy anything, but after noticing that the prices in some of the shops was ridiculously cheap, Deb became tempted and bought some clothes. We even bought a glass jar for 2 Euros which would have been nearer £10 back home. Obviously Portugal is going through harder times that I had expected.

There was little hesitation when I suggested a coffee break and we stopped for a rest in a little café. Here we had a cup of coffee plus a Nata cake each and the bill came to 2 Euros and 40 cents. That is less than £2. Of course the cakes were delicious and another couple from the ship asked what they were and ended up buying them. We could hear them sig with delight at the taste…another pair of converts to these wonderful Portuguese custard tarts.

With our bags full of clothes and souvenirs we made our way back to the ship for a slightly later than usual spot of lunch. Deb was planning to spend an hour in the wonderful warm sunshine, but lunchtime saw the arrival of clouds, and the warmth disappeared.

With sun bathing forgotten Deb put a final load of washing in a machine while the laundrette was unusually quiet. There was no urgency for this, but gives us plenty to wear if it is needed during the final few days.

Many people seem to insist on washing everything before they go home, but Deb is more of the opinion to leave the washing until we get home to use our far better washing machine.

…each to their own

The entertainment tonight has a lady singer in Carmen’s called Clare Bonsu, who is billed as ‘The Girl from Tiger Bay’, or putting it another way, singing in the style of Shirley Bassey. At the other end of the ship the Headliners are presenting their show called ‘We’ll meet again’. Of all the shows they perform, this is one of our least favourites.

We are not too worried as we are going to have a final ‘Select Venue’ meal in the Glass House. We tried to book a table in the Beach House but they only had late evening timeslots that would give me major stomach protests. The menu in the Glass House is perfectly fine, but we just wished the venue had stayed the way it was as Café Bordeaux that we loved so much.

At 10:30 tonight the dance teachers are hosting an hour of sequence dancing in Carmen’s which will give us a chance of trying out yesterday’s Saunter Together dance, and refresh ourselves with some of our favourites. We warned our quiz friends that we won’t be around for the Syndicate challenge tonight.

The sun came out again late in the afternoon. We were not inclined to go out on deck, and just stayed on the balcony watching things going on below us. It is a vibrant area with lots of people eating and drinking in the cafes and the swimming pool area was busy all the time. They were not in the pool itself, but in an area roped off across the inner harbour in front of us. There were serious swimmers and some not so proficient. Some took longer to get in than they stayed in the water, and a small group of boys were more interested in posing on the side of the water. They demonstrated various gymnastic feats and only once jumped into the water for a photograph.

Soon the trickle of passengers returning increased and as the last tour busses arrived, the numbers climbing the gangway dwindled and stopped. Captain Dunlop came on the PA almost instantly to announce we were about to sail for Southampton. His weather forecast was as suspected, and from tomorrow (Friday) afternoon the wind is going to increase to gale force and the swell is going to be 4 to 5 metres. The sea state is expected to be Medium to Rough.

To be honest we have had a reasonably calm passage for most of the three months, so the luck had to run out eventually.

The ropes were soon dropped and the ship was under the control of the Safety Officer although closely supervised by his seniors. He gave three long hoots of the horn as we started away from the harbour, and then we built up speed to head out into the Atlantic Ocean.

For dinner we had a lovely meal in the Glass House with just three other couple arriving while we were there. What a waste of a beautiful room compared to how busy and vibrant it was when called Café Bordeaux. There was one slight annoyance. The music being played when we arrived was rock and roll from the 50s and it was rather pleasant. Then a couple arrived and seemed to be questioning how the waiter was setting up the table. More seriously she complained about the music and asked for it to be changed. The waiter did so half way through ‘Tooty, Fruity’ and replaced by the Carpenters singing typical mood music.

I asked for the music to be changed back.

The waiter was worried and sent for the head waiter. He said that a customer had asked for quieter music, and I said I’d like what we had been listening to for about twenty minutes, and didn’t see why one customer could decide what the rest of us listened to.

The head waiter didn’t have an answer and the Carpenters continued.

We asked for the bill, thanked him for a lovely meal, but we didn’t want anything else because of what had happened.

Aside from that, we had some excitement when there was an order from the bridge for the fire crew to respond to an alarm in the Sindhu Restaurant. It turned out to be smoke from an air-conditioning drive belt, but had the full response with breathing apparatus and hosepipes all over the corridor. The captain told us it was all OK and apologised for the inconvenience caused.

It is so good to know how well the system works when an alarm goes off, and how well the officers kept us informed.

With the meal over we went to the early quiz and lost. We might go to the next one, but the plans are to finish the evening with the dancing for a change.

Well, we did go to the second evening quiz, and along with Robin and Rosemary, we actually came equal first on a challenge about recognising Eurovision songs. As Coral couldn’t do the tie breaker because she had let the band go, we gave the prize to the other team so we could leave Champion’s for the dancing.

In Carmon’s we had a go at six or seven sequence dances and were in there for an hour. It was really good to spend time on the dance floor doing different dances rather than the being taught the same one over and over again. I was dripping in sweat by the end of that very energetic hour.

It was bedtime, and I read my book for a while until my head had stopped leaking. Aurora was jiggling again, and the wind was sounding quite strong as it buffeted the balcony door.

Goodnight.

Deb’s cruise diary – 16-17 April

Sunday 16th April – at sea – Easter Sunday

Temperature today = 20oC

Another post-breakfast deck walk, then not a lot for the rest of the day.  The hour-long dance classes were the rumba, which we were concerned might be a bit much for George’s hip and knees.  To be honest, losing an hour each lunchtime is really screwing up what had been a happy daily routine for us, as the various activities have to be concertina-d up, making everything a rush from one place to another.  But I’m still going to the Battle (well, I am the ladies’ captain!).

With Richard and Angie we managed to win the late quiz in Masquerades, and took our prize bottle and four glasses up to the syndicate quiz, where we started well, but faded as the wine was drunk – any connection, I wonder?

I had to resort to banging on the cabin wall at 12.30 – our inconsiderate neighbours had their TV on even louder and later than normal.  We can hear it slightly any time they have it on (Sky or BBC news most of the time), but they must have been watching a film or something as there was a lot of music.  Anyhow, as soon as I knocked it went quiet, but that might just have been a coincidence.  We’ve not heard any of the previous occupants of that cabin, just this couple.

 

Monday 17th April – at sea

Temperature today = 19oC

George went to Reception and reported the noise last night, so hopefully that’ll be an end of it.

Our deck walk was followed by a visit to the Alexandria restaurant for the World Travellers’ final coffee morning.  We just had a quick drink and a small piece of fruit cake before leaving again for Roger and Ann’s dance class.

Many years ago we began to learn how to do the Saunter Together sequence dance.  For some reason we never completed it – but today we have!  The class this morning and the one in the afternoon took us through the moves, and to our delight we remembered what we’d learnt before, and easily mastered the ‘missing’ bits.  Result.  We’ve also bought Roger and Ann’s two instruction DVDs so we can remind ourselves of all the new things we’ve learnt on this cruise.

With nothing of interest in the theatre (yet again.  More operatic singers and classical music.  Really not good enough on a world cruise, P&O) we spent the evening with our friends again.  And fortunately when we finally got to bed there was no excessive noise from next door.

Post 35 – Final Sea Day to Ponta Delgada

Monday 17th April – Final Sea Day to the Azores

Yesterday evening, as I suspected, we ignored Mike Doyle’s second act, and had a quiet evening with Richard and Angie. We actually won a bottle of wine in the late evening quiz and then shared it while we failed miserably in the Syndicate challenge.

Deb and I returned to the cabin and after the usual read, we turned the lights off and snuggled into our pillows.

At 12:15 we were both shocked awake by our neighbours playing loud music. It lasted about 30 seconds before Deb took to the boarding house primeval method of making our feelings known, and banged on the wall. It worked and the music went down to a more acceptable, if still annoying, level for that time of the night. I was now wide awake, angry, and concerned that we could be seen as the aggressor with our wall banging.

It was over an hour later when I finally settled again.

When Deb woke and got up to make the tea, it was after 8:00.

After breakfast I apologised at reception for banging on a wall, but made my feelings known about the noise from our neighbours since they joined the ship in San Francisco.

So back to the present, and it is an even cooler morning with just 18° on the balcony. It is cloudy and when we took an early walk on the Promenade deck we could see showers on the horizon. We are level with northern Spain and roughly on the same latitude at New York and San Francisco.

With a mile walked we have little to do. There is a talk in the theatre from a submarine officer who is describing an attempted rescue of the ’Kirsk’ a Russian submarine that got into trouble many years ago. Sounds very interesting but we tend to avid stories of maritime mishaps when on a cruise.

There is the final Around the World morning coffee sessions today, so we will have a drink and a cake there before we go along to the dance class. Today the instructors are attempting to teach everyone how to dance the ‘Saunter together’. We have had a go at this on several occasions and failed to come to terms with it, but I am confident today will be successful.

Surprise, surprise, the clocks go forward again at midday, and then we will be on GMT time. That sets us up for Ponta Delgada tomorrow, and there is just one more hour to change before Britain on Saturday. It is 100 days since we left a chilly Southampton and somehow over three months have flown by with our global adventures.

After our final stop at the Azores we will have just three days and nights to complete the voyage around the world, and begin normal life again.

Deb will be captaining the women in one of the final rounds of Battle of the Sexes at midday (or 1:00) and after a quick lunch we will soon be off to dancing again.

This evening the theatre and Carmen’s will have shows from the girl singers (IDA) and the Frank Sinatra tribute artist. Ponta Delgada should mean a final cabaret act will join the ship plus we believe another girl singer, who has been on the ship with Leon since he joined, will also be performing.

Well, it is 10:00 in the morning and I am sitting in Charlie’s just outside of Anderson’s. The single travellers morning coffee is going on behind me in the Lounge, and in front are the temporary shop counters selling today’s amazing deal items. One of the racks is selling Aurora tee shirts at £10 for two. These are mainly shirts from previous world cruises plus other old designs that no-one wants. The corridor is quiet with hardly any prospective customers squeezing the merchandise and hunting for the price labels. I really think the shop has reached the point when there is nobody left who has not taken a look at the handbags, jewellery, soft toys, and old clothes.

…never mind, on Saturday evening they can start all over again with 2000 new customers.

Time to go and find Deb and get ready for our coffee morning and dancing.

Well, the coffee morning was well attended but as on the previous occasions, the cakes and biscuits weren’t the most inspiring. At least we had a chat with someone different before we dashed up the stairs to our dance class.

The Saunter Together went very well, and by the end of the 50 minutes we were happily doing the first two thirds of it. The remainder would be covered in the afternoon.

The clocks changed and Deb went to her Battle of the Sexes quiz. I watched from the back, and still did not assist the men’s side. They are quite a cocky band of people who are really taking it far too seriously with some not very nice banter at the women. Yes and the men won again.

After a healthy lunch of hot dog and chips, we had a rest in the cabin with a glass of coke and some chocolate.

At 3:00 we went back to Carmen’s to finish the Saunter Together dance and an hour later we were successful. This may sound ridiculous but we started learning this dance some 35 years ago, and have finally managed to do it.

Having said some not so nice things about the dance teachers (Roger and Anne) some weeks ago, I have to say that I am warming to them. We now chat and actually enjoy their teaching, especially as we have managed to learn a lot in the last 10 days or so.

Late in the afternoon the sun came out and the sea went almost flat. It was quite a different picture to the dull and cool weather of the majority of the day.

As we were eating our dinner a shout went up as whales were spotted some way behind us. Being at a stern window in the dining room we had a good view of the water spouts, but no actual whale was seen.

…still no luck!!

The evening went quietly, with a 4 way tie break in the early quiz. We lost again of course. We all met up later to continue our quest for wine in the late night Syndicate challenge. This was a painful quiz as we came second and nearly challenging. Only four more chances left now.

We have a port day tomorrow and it would be nice to have a good night’s sleep to be ready for it.

Deb’s cruise diary – 14-15 April

Friday 14th April – at sea – Good Friday

Temperature today = 23oC.  A bit cooler today.

We had an hour on deck after breakfast, which was lovely as it wasn’t too hot up there.  There’s a bit more cloud about than we’ve been used to lately, but still nice.  Then with George’s knees not complaining too much we went to the third tango class – and in the afternoon to the fourth and final one too.  It’s been good and we’re glad we could complete the sequence.

The men won the Battle again, but both teams were much depleted as quite a few players were at the first of the World Travellers’ Homeward Bound lunch.  Our four friends went today, too, but ours is tomorrow.

We didn’t go to dinner today as we had our friends in the cabin for a small party.  We’d bought a load of nibbles in St Lucia (we knew they wouldn’t be hungry after their lunch, and organising party food on board is a bit of a faff, to say the least) and I’d got some sandwiches from the afternoon tea buffet, but mostly we drank!  By the end of the evening there were four empty bottles outside our cabin, and Richard had also brought along a bottle of spiced rum for us to try – it was lovely, tasted of cloves.  He also had his i-pad with him and we had a sort of ‘name that tune’ session before ending the evening at the syndicate quiz where we did appallingly badly, which wasn’t a great surprise in the circumstances.

 

Saturday 15th April – at sea

Temperature today = 21oC

In just one week’s time we’ll be back in the U.K.  Shame.  The second half of this cruise has just flown by.

First thing this morning I apologised to Lloyd about the state of our cabin after last night’s shenanigans.  I now know why they’re often called staterooms (“sorry about the state of this room”)!  Lloyd just laughed and asked if we’d all had a good time, bless him.

We had a deck walk after breakfast and decided the weather was warm and bright enough to get some sunbathing in.  But we weren’t out for too long as we had to smarten up ready for our midday Homeward Bound lunch.  We were on a table with two other couples and Warren Payne, the First Officer, who seems very young at 32 to be third in command (though it has to be said that the Captain’s only 36!).  But he was a very nice bloke to chat to, and we learnt quite a bit from him about the training and career pathways in the company.

As for the food – well, it wasn’t great.  Each of the three courses had just three options: two on our table didn’t like the starters and just asked for melon, and likewise I didn’t fancy any of the desserts and asked for vanilla ice cream instead.  And the wine served was just the house red and white, so nothing special.

In fact, we were so under-full of lunch (not feeling bloated and needing a lie-down, as is the norm after these things) that we even went to dinner in the evening, much to our friends’ surprise.  Admittedly we didn’t eat much there, but we wanted something.

We’ve now had two mini Easter eggs instead of the pillow chocolates.  Wonder if we’ll get another one tomorrow night?