Dinner Companions

We were very lucky with the group who arrived at Table 311 in the Britannia Restaurant that first evening 17 days ago. This is the group

In the front and closest to the camera is Jeff (with a J) and, clockwise next is his lady Edwina (Eddie), then Kim, Jane, me, Terry (with a Y), Terri (with an I) and Sandy.

They were all great fun and we enjoyed their company enormously.

This is Eddie, with Jane, during the departure from Gibraltar

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The Captain

From time to time I have heard a number of presentations by junior deck officers in the Royal Court Theatre on the subject of navigating ships like Queen Elizabeth. This time the presentation was by the Master of the ship Captain Aseem Hashmi.

He was excellent. He is a brilliant communicator and kept the packed theatre enthralled. It could have been a stodgy subject, but he brought it to life with his clever timing and special sense of humour. Don’t miss it if ever you sail with him on Queen Elizabeth.

I have mentioned his background in the past and the fact that he qualified as a BA Pilot first, but as BA had too many pilots at the time, he switched to the sea. He went to nautical college, and over the next 20 years worked his way up the ladder.

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Cagliari, Sardinia

Laura (pronounced Lowra) was the driver. She was pretty and her driving was fine, but her command of the English language was poor. When we booked the adapted vehicle we were told that we would have an ‘English speaking driver’ and that the driver would take us to the Cathedral and a tour of the city and then suggest places outside the City that we might like to visit.

As we drove out of the port I asked her about a brightly painted ferry that had just docked. It quickly became clear that she had understood little or nothing of what I had asked her. It was a pity because we completely missed the Cathedral that we had asked to see. She had deposited us in the old town without telling us that we were within a few hundred yards of the Cathedral. The cobbles, the steep slopes, the parked cars and the vast numbers of tourists defeated us.

But we did see the Church of San Michele.

Cagliari is an industrial town and much of it is not particularly attractive, but we did look down on and later drive around the lagoons on the west side, many of which are used as saltpans.

Nick Brewer was telling me last month that when he was a youngish RAF Officer he did a stint in Sardinia at a base near Cagliari (no ‘g’ as Simon Mayo would say). After 2 weeks of behaving like a bachelor out drinking with the boys and pretending he was younger than he was, he was due to return home to his lovely wife Wendy. He was packed and ready to go when the CO told him his replacement couldn’t come and that Nick would have to stay another 2 weeks. A difficult phone call followed (before he converted back to bachelor mode)!

I think that was the gist of what he told me. If I have embellished the story a little, I apologise.

Laura then took us to Poetto beach which was magnificent. Presumably in holiday periods and at weekends it is packed, but on Tuesday we almost had it to ourselves. After a sunny hour in a cafe on the beach we returned to the town and the port.

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Olympia – Saturday 3 June

My chum Michael Yeomans had been sent out to recce Olympia before our visit. He reported to me by email on Friday after his visit to the Olympia site the day before. He gave me a number of useful tips.

It was only by chance that he had mentioned that he was going on a Silversea voyage about a month ago. He didn’t have any detail of the ports they would be visiting as Posie had booked the trip. I looked up their itinerary and found that the voyage took them to Katakolon, the port for Olympia, 2 days before our visit.

We had booked an adapted vehicle through Cunard for 10.00am and I wanted to be sure that we would be able to negotiate Jane around the archeological site. Many internet message boards were saying that wheelchair users would be unable to get around. Occasionally we would find steps and no ramp, or areas of loose gravel, but we had no real difficulties.

Antonio was the driver. The vehicle had a lift and Jane was soon settled in position. Olympia is about 40km from Katakolon and we set off at a pace. There was very little traffic and we were soon at Olympia. A large town has grown up around the site with souvenir shops, restaurants and bars. A little different to the place as it was back in 776BC.

No one is quite sure why the Games started or who started them, but from 776BC for more than 1000 years the Games took place every 4 years. All wars stopped for 3 months beforehand to enable the great and the good to travel to the Games safely!

Antonio took us past all the no entry signs and along the walkways to get us to the archeological entrance and we spent the next 2 hours exploring the site and the Museum. The highlight was the Stadium and the arch through which the athletes entered the arena. Probably as many as 40,000 people would watch the Games, seated on the grassy banks surrounding the arena.

This is Titus, I think

After the museum we headed back to Katakolon. I had imagined it would be a sleepy little port. In reality it is packed with shops, bars and restaurants all beautifully laid out by the harbour. Someone (the EEC?) funded the construction of a dock large enough to take two large ships at a time. Antonio said that some Italian cruise ships come there on a weekly basis – 7 day roundtrips out of Rome.

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Celena Bridge

What do I know about opera? Not a lot, but I do know that Andrew Massey has written one. Whether or not he has persuaded anyone important to listen to it and consider its merits, I don’t know, but I hope that he does succeed.

He might run it past Celena who performed here on Queen Elizabeth two nights ago. She is a soprano and has a beautiful voice and is also a very pretty girl.

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Heraklion

We came to Crete twice in our youth. The first time was in 1975. We came with another couple and stayed at the Elounda Beach Hotel. It was a 5 star Hotel and pretty up market for us in those days. I remember that there was a fairly primitive windsurfer on the beach for the use of guests. We had never seen one before. We watched two German men trying to sail it, without success. By watching them we worked out how to steer it and how to sail it and enjoyed our first windsurfing experiences.

It looked a bit like this. I remember that the mast did not fit into the board very securely and it often came out and hit your toes or your ankle. Very painful.

In later years when we holidayed with Mark Warner on sailing holidays in the Med Jane became a real expert and windsurfed with a harness with considerable skill. I stuck to Lasers, being much older than her!

Our second visit to Crete was when Louise was about 4. No Michael at that stage. It was November and we stayed in Rethymnon in the north. The weather was poor but we were told that the south coast was always sunny which proved to be correct. Something to do with the mountains. We rented a little car and drove to the beaches on the south coast around Irapetra each day.

We also took in the Minoan sites including Knossos and our favourite, Phoestos, on the south coast. It was easy to stand at the head of the valley and imagine the army marching towards you to attack the Palace.

Today was our first visit by sea. We arrived in Heraklion at 7.30am. There was a strong wind and 2 tugs were in attendance to help with the 360 degree turn in a tight dock area. The turn was executed in style.

We left the ship at about 10.00am and found that an elongated golf buggy had been converted to transport wheelchair passengers to the terminal building. From there we found a number of smart Mercedes taxis. Dimitri was the best salesman and had the best English. His tour took us around the city and then up into the hills to an unspoilt farming village. Olives, goats and sheep and not much else, but the views were spectacular.

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Santorini

I know many of you have been here, but this is our first visit. It is an extraordinary place.

Santorini was once a single island. It suffered two massive volcanic eruptions around 1650 BC, which created a number of smaller islands and a caldera – a volcanic crater – and it is that crater or bay where Queen Elizabeth is sitting today. She is not at anchor because the bay is too deep, and we are kept in position by the ships engines. The cliffs are very steep and form the sides of the volcanic crater. They are some 300m high and the towns and villages sit on top.

Usually, when an island has no dock, ships use their own tenders to get their people ashore, but on Santorini they operate their own shuttle boat system. Presumably it is a way of supplementing the island’s income.

Jane was not able to go ashore, so Kim stayed with her in the morning and I went ashore. I came back at lunchtime and Kim then explored the island.

To get to the top there are 3 alternatives. Cable car or donkey or a zigzag path (allegedly covered in donkey muck). Everyone appeared to take the cable car going up, but I did meet one couple on the ferry back who took the path for the journey down. They were exhausted and the wife had slipped on the dung and bruised her bottom (she said). Be warned next time you are here!

The town of Fira is pretty, with masses of narrow streets winding through it. There are a multitude of shops, bars and restaurants. The shops in the main carry the usual tourist tat, but there were some smart boutiques and expensive jewellery and watch shops. When I arrived the donkeys were passing, before starting their day, carrying fat tourists up the hilly path.

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Athens Part 2

It was a shame that we couldn’t get Jane right up to the top of the Acropolis. Visiting the Parthenon had been on her bucket list since she was a child, but thankfully she was happy that we had managed to get as close as we did.

To make amends, Stavros took us to the King’s Palace just in time for the Changing of the Guard. Two guards being replaced by two more happens every hour. There were just a few tourists there when we arrived, and within seconds the two new guards and the officer in charge were marching down the pavement towards us. I have a short video which I will try to download to the blog but in the meantime here are a number of images. Their high stepping march is somewhat different to the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, said Alice.

From the King’s Palace we drove to the old part of the city and spent the next 90 minutes exploring the pretty narrow streets and the shops, bars and restaurants.

We also saw the site of the first Olympic Games. Then it was back to the ship.

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Piraeus and Athens l

I missed the docking. I awoke at 5.00am to find that we had arrived and that QE was tied up at the berth. I went back to sleep.

We left the ship after breakfast hoping to find an adapted taxi. Cunard had not been able to locate one, but I had the feeling that we would be able to find one in the dock area. I was wrong. There was a long line of standard yellow taxis and a taxi master. He was big. Very big. You remember Geoff Capes? Well he was his size. He could have pulled the ship out of Piraeus Harbour had he been asked. He explained that he would be able to pick up Jane and deposit her in the front seat of a regular taxi.

We agreed a price for 4 hours and the taxi master picked up Jane and placed her carefully in the front seat. We were off to the Acropolis with Stavros the driver. He drove his battered taxi fast and well. He knew every short cut and we soon passed the new (2009) Acropolis Museum. The difficult part of the journey starts there with tourist buses, coaches, taxis and private cars all converging on the narrow streets leading to the Acropolis.

But Stavros was born and bred there and wasn’t to be defeated by a few large coaches. More side roads, more overtaking, more cutting in and cutting up and we were there. But there were hoards of people wherever we looked and massive queues. Stavros explained that they were queuing for tickets for the elevator to get up to the Parthenon. He could tell that I wasn’t the sort who would queue for 45-60 minutes in the hot sun. He disappeared and 5 minutes later he thrust three €20 tickets in my hand.

We managed to get Jane into the folding wheelchair and set off for the elevator but on arrival at the entrance we were told that the ramp was broken and that there was no way that the wheelchair could get into the elevator. Typical. So it was back to the ticket office, with me pushing in at the front of the queue to recover the €60. Again typical, Jane says.

Stavros realised we wanted some photos and drove to another carpark with a flat roofed building. A large sign on its side said WC. He pointed at it. I pointed at my camera. Some mistake here?

He led Kim and me to some steps which took us up onto the roof. There we were, with our cameras, standing on the roof of the local public loo. But he knew that this gave us a clear view of the Parthenon

Part 2 of the day in Athens to follow.

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Fast run to Piraeus

Just over 21 knots is not a bad speed for Queen Elizabeth. 25 mph. That should get us to Piraeus by 6.30am on Thursday morning. The Captain wants to get us into the berth before the ferry rush hour starts. Mrs Smith won’t be up by then, but I love to watch the ship docking.

It’s been a glorious day today and the majority of guests have been out on deck. The sea is a beautiful blue and there is no other shipping to be seen in any direction.

Tomorrow Athens – if we can find suitable transport. So far no success.

Then three more ports in a row. Santorini – Crete – Olympia.

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