Liverpool – Cunard’s 175 year Celebration

You will no doubt have seen the TV coverage. It was a fantastic day. As we approached the entrance to the Mersey, we could see hundreds of people on the beaches. The tide was out and many of them had walked out on the wet sand to the water’s edge to get a closer view.
Queen Victoria had joined us before we reached the mouth of the Mersey and followed us. She stayed about a mile behind in the early stages, but gradually moved closer.
As we began to sail into the river, it became clear that the predicted crowds of between one and two million were there. Massive crowds were amassing on both the Birkenhead and the Liverpool sides.

We could see Queen Mary in the distance. She had been on the berth overnight and had cast her lines at about 10.45am and set off towards us. The 3 Queens met and then sailed south in formation.
There then followed a turn of 180 degrees by all three Queens, so that we were all facing north.

And then, the 3 Captains manoeuvred the ships into an arrowhead formation with QM2 in the middle, QE on her starboard side and QV to port.

 We seemed to be very close together.
You will appreciate that I have had to “borrow” one or two photos from Cunard to show all 3 ships together.
During these manoeuvres at 1.50pm the Red Arrows graced us with their presence. Most of us were not quick enough with our cameras. We had expected them to come up or down the river. In fact they came across it from the Birkenhead side. The professional photographers saved the day!

A passenger reminding us where we were. There were a number of Liverpudlians on the ship, but they were outnumbered by the 646 Aussies who were aboard.
At about 2.15pm QM2 left the party and headed for Southampton. QE moored on the berth and QV anchored in the Mersey about a mile from us.

 You can see the vast crowds in the vicinity of the Three Graces. The old Cunard building had the Cunard flag and the 175 flags flying on the roof.
Before we went ashore we were treated to a display by Spider-Man hoisted above the river on plumes of water.
 
Jane and I ventured out to the Albert Dock area where every building appeared to be a restaurant or a bar – all packed with people. Some imitation Cunard bellboys were to be found outside the old Cunard building.
In the evening, at 10.30pm, there was a firework display which was launched from a barge between us and QV.
And then, to round off the day, we were entertained by a tribute band – The Cheatles – in the Royal Court Theatre. And very good they were too. Particularly “Paul”.
Queen Elizabeth left the berth once the fireworks had finished, and set sail for Southampton. Queen Victoria then moved across to the berth and stayed overnight in Liverpool. She was due to arrive in Southampton the day after QM2 and QE.

A fantastic day that Cunard will be very proud to have organised. The Liverpool authorities announced that it was the largest ever event to have taken place in Liverpool.

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Orkney


We left it to the Scots to organise the day on the Orkneys. In fact Stewart and Elizabeth Wilson

offered to sort out the day with the able assistance of their travel agent son, Jeremy, in Aberdeen. He booked a taxi that would take the four of us and the wheelchair.

Kirkwall is the capital of the Orkneys and we were tied up before 9.00am at what appeared to be a very new berth. The taxi was booked for 10.30am and as we went ashore Stewart said that he had seen the Craigies taxi waiting for us on the quay. But as we came down the gangway the taxi had gone. The presumption was that the driver had picked up the wrong passengers!
But all was resolved within minutes when Billy from Craigies arrived. He had been waiting in town for the appointed hour. Billy was born and bred in the Orkneys. He had worked in the fudge factory for 40 years, had been an auxiliary fireman for 36 years, was a trained carer and a member of Red Cross. He was a brilliant guide.

The major problem was that he had a very distinct Orkney variety of Scottish accent. Stewart and Elizabeth understood him, but Jane and I struggled! I was pleased to learn, at our first stop, that Billy was as cantankerous as me. He carefully parked, for Jane’s benefit, at a flat section, so that we could get Jane out and into her wheelchair. It so happened that he had stopped behind 2 large coaches.
The driver of one of the coaches told Billy he was not allowed to park there. That area was reserved for coaches, he said. Billy gave it to him with both barrels and after he had helped get Jane into her chair he was off to tell the authorities what he thought about these coach drivers who had come over from the mainland with their coaches to help with tours from the ship. He was still moaning about them  at the end of our tour.
Billy took us to Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar thought to have been constructed before 2000 BC. Both are part of the UNESCO Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site.

 and then on to Skara Brae with its well preserved Stone Age village and a short walk away, Skaill House.

Stone Age Village

  Skaill House

From there we drove across to Stromness. Billy lived there. Very narrow streets, and a wonderful, peaceful place, on the water’s edge.

Stromness is well worth a visit. 70 of the town’s buildings are listed buildings, nestled alongside the pretty harbour.

Our visit coincided with a folk festival, and a number of musicians, with guitars slung over their shoulders, were beginning to arrive in the town. But we had to move on.
Next was Scapa Flow and the Churchill Barricades. In both World Wars, Scapa Flow was considered to be a safe anchorage for Royal Navy warships. To the east of Scapa Flow, there were, until World War 2, four channels leading in to the naval anchorage. They were all blocked by sunken ships, and it was considered that attack from the east by sea was impossible. But in October 1939, on an exceptionally high tide, a German U-boat managed to get through and sank the battleship HMS Royal Oak with the loss of more than 800 lives.
 The sunken cargo ships still there.

  HMS Royal Oak

On learning of this, Churchill ordered the construction of stone and concrete barriers between the islands and those barriers are still there today with roads over the causeways linking the islands together.
Close to one of the barriers is the Italian Chapel.

This was built by Italian prisoners of war who had been captured in the North African campaign and sent to Orkney to help with the construction on the Churchill Barriers. It was constructed from two Nissen Huts. The Chapel gradually became a place of pilgrimage for people holidaying in Orkney.
Time was running out. Billy took us to Kirkwall but there was insufficient time for us to explore the Cathedral. He was in trouble with his taxi firm for spending 4 hours with us when they considered that he should have been back to deal with other duties after 3 hours!
We had a great day in Orkney and would recommend Billy and Craigies. Agree an hourly rate beforehand. With 4 of us, less than £10 per hour each was the rate. Very good value with a commentary throughout!
I forgot to mention that early in the tour we stood on cliffs looking towards the island of Hoy and could just spot the Old Man of Hoy. You can just pick it out in the second of these photos.

Now we move on to Liverpool and the 175 year anniversary of Cunard on Monday 25 May 2015.

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Warnemunde

We had been to nearby Travemunde in the past. And we had been to Rostock before. In fact Cunard included my piece on Travemunde on the We Are Cunard site, and it is still there. It was one of the great days.

For some strange reason, it is not possible for a wheelchair to get directly from the ship to the centre of the town of Warnemunde. There is a railway line running between the two and the tunnel under the railway has numerous steps. Jane was talking to Corine, the German hostess on the ship, during the World Club party last night and when we got back to our cabin after the show we found a plan that she had downloaded from the internet explaining how we could get into town.
We had to walk past the Celebrity Silhouette moored astern of us and keep walking about a mile.

There was then an underpass which took us under the railway. The problem was that it was then another mile to get back into town

So a journey that would normally take 10 minutes took us 60, but so what! It was a pleasant walk through the residential part of the town. Elegant houses and lovely gardens.

Warnemunde is a seaside resort. Wonderful wide beaches and the estuary in which our ship was berthed had promenades on both sides. There were plenty of mime artists and one looked very playful.

There were multitudes of eateries and bars. We settled on a bar in the town square. Nearer the ship there were some interesting sand sculptures!
The Captain told us that there were likely to be thousands of spectators watching us leave and he was right.

Friday is a day at sea. I am taking a “Behind the Scenes” tour on the ship – something I have not done before. I will report on it shortly. Then on Saturday we are in Kirkwall which you will all know is in the Orkneys!

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Ships and the Spinettes

By the time we had returned to the ship from the Hermitage there were five other ships in the basin.

St Petersburg is clearly a very popular place for cruise ships. I can’t recall ever seeing that number in a European port at the same time (OK – P&O had all 7 of their ships in Southampton recently but that was different).

The Regal Princess
 The Costa Luminosa
 The MSC Orchestra
 The Aida Mar
 The Marco Polo
And of course to make up the half dozen, the finest ship of them all –
 The Queen Elizabeth
Wednesday was a sea day and the evenings entertainment was provided by the Spinettes. Three young ladies who sing 40s/50s/60s music. They were excellent. They had performed at the lunch launching the 175 celebrations on Queen Mary 2 in Southampton two weeks ago.

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Day 2 St Petersburg

We were ashore at 10.15 am on Tuesday for the 2nd day in St Petersburg. Mira and the Mercedes driver were ready for us after we were released from the terminal by some rather sullen female immigration officers. 

I find that if you smile at people you can usually get them to smile back – but not these girls.
We had the usual high speed journey across town. I talked to Mira about the financial situation for someone like her in Russia. She mentioned the sanctions and how they were making life difficult. She did say that her husband had had to work without pay for 2 years in the recent past. He didn’t want to stop working because of the difficulty of finding another job in the future. She had to support the family on her low income during that time, but it seems that now he is being paid again.
 The Hermitage

The plan today was to explore more of the Hermitage. Mira decided to take us round the areas that had been renovated and reopened since we were last there. Massive beautiful rooms and galleries.

The Duke of Wellington

The throne room.
At that stage the Hermitage was not overcrowded, but as the morning wore on, it became busier.

This rather strange clock apparently told the time but I couldn’t work out how, and Mira’s explanation was lost in the translation.

 Another throne room!
We had tickets for the Gold Rooms at 11.45am. It meant moving out of the main building into the Little Hermitage. It did not have the same facilities such as lifts and we were almost immediately confronted by a long flight of steps. Although Jane dislikes being lifted in her chair there was no option and Mira was soon seeking out a “boy” to help. She found a number during the rest of our visit! Cameras were not allowed in the Gold Rooms, and although the exhibits were good they were not as impressive as I had imagined they would be.
When we left the Hermitage at about 1.30pm there was a massive queue of people waiting to get in. It must have been half a mile long. It was very cold and we felt very sorry for them. They appeared to be Russian tourists rather than foreigners, who tend to be encouraged to visit in the morning.
We then returned to the ship via an expensive souvenir shop. It had been a very successful day and if anyone wants to take a private tour in St Petersburg I can recommend Mira, a superb guide.

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St Petersburg, Russia

Some years ago, before our first visit to St Petersburg, friends from the US, Pam and Peggy Zirkle advised us to book a private guide. We did so and Mira Bogachkova was assigned to us by Insider Tours. She was brilliant. So I booked her again for this visit.

Alexandra of Insider Tours and I had agreed an itinerary earlier in the year, and we met Mira outside the Terminal building at 10.00 am on Monday. She had with her a black Mercedes and its driver whose name I never mastered. The Russians had let us in. You either had to have a Russian visa obtained before you left the UK or be on an organised tour.
We started with the Church on Spilled Blood?

Truly amazing with gold and more gold and murals everywhere. Vast ornate floor areas and hardly a chair to be seen. The congregation stand throughout the services.
From there we travelled at speed across the city to the Peter and Paul Fortress and Cathedral. At speed because that was the way the driver liked to travel. I couldn’t work out what the speed limits were but we were in heavy traffic and the roads were standard city roads. 40mph at most would have been the limit in London. We were being driven at 60mph or more at times.
The Peter and Paul Cathedral is to be found within the fortress.

It was time for a bite to eat. Mira took us to a small cafe. There was a problem with steps to get in and out. Mira quickly sorted that out. She found a young man and charmed him into helping me to lift Jane and her wheelchair up and down the steps.

Then it was back into the Merc and another race across to St Isaac’s Cathedral. Another vast, beautiful building.

And then it was back to the ship for an evening in port. Many went to the ballet, but there were no facilities for wheelchairs so we had to forget that option.

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Tallinn, Estonia

OThey said there were cobblestones everywhere. That was four years ago and we did not explore Tallinn as comprehensively as we might have done.


This time we decided to make more of an effort. The plan was to take the shuttle bus which would drop us off in the centre and then we would either take a cab to the old town at the top of the steep hill or we would push up the hill, depending on the state of the cobbles!

We don’t take the electric wheelchair ashore usually, because of the problems with high kerbs, but also because buses and cabs with hoists or ramps are rarely available. So it is the folding wheelchair and no power!

It was a lovely day. Sunny but cold. Jane was wrapped up well.

The shuttle with a ramp soon arrived. There was very little Sunday morning traffic and we were soon at the Lower Town. 
It was between the 13th and 15th centuries, during Danish rule, that Talłinn was a renowned international and mercantile centre – a major member of the Hanseatic League. The merchants based themselves in the Lower Town. The Upper Town developed separately, ruled by German aristocrats.

We began to wend our way through the narrow cobbled streets, and found that comparatively easy, as pavements could usually be found on one side of the street and the hill was fairly gentle. We came across the Town Hall Square, which was lined with cafes and we settled down to excellent coffees before starting the more arduous climb to the Upper Town centered on Toompea Hill.
Again there was a flattish pavement and the steep part was probably no more than 100 meters long. Suddenly we were there and the Castle and Pikk Hermann Tower were magnificent.

Tallinn is sensational. The atmosphere in the Old Town was exciting and if you have not been here it is a must.
Next is St Petersburg for 2 days. We are looking forward to that.
My latest image of Queen Elizabeth!






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Stockholm

Did I tell you about Saturday 16 May 2015? We were due to arrive at our berth in Stockholm at 9.00 am. At 6.45 am I heard the Captain’s voice. If broadcasts have to be made when people are asleep they are made into public areas but not into cabins. 

I opened the door to hear him say that we could not go into Stockholm and I think there was a reference to corporate regulations being breached. I had the impression that when the pilot came aboard he wanted the Captain to carry out a procedure or procedures that the Captain was not happy to do and that as a result we were told we could not go in. It seemed very strange.

An hour or so later the Captain broadcast again, but he didn’t really add anything to the information he gave earlier. So of course the passengers started speculating. It was too windy. There was a big argument between the pilot and the Captain. All sorts of theories, but nothing more from the Captain, which was a pity. I’m sure a fuller explanation would have been more satisfactory, and would have stopped the gossiping in the Guest laundrettes!
So we had a day at sea and we sailed on to Tallinn in Estonia where a berth was made available for us.

We arrived at about 6.00pm and some went ashore. We had been due to arrive here on Sunday morning, so we decided to wait until then before exploring Tallinn.

Missing a port causes enormous disruption. There are the passengers who demand compensation. There are numerous tours that have to be cancelled. Entertainers who are due to leave the ship are stuck aboard and new entertainers have to change travel plans to get themselves to a different port. And of course passengers who were due to meet friends are upset. These decisions cannot be taken lightly.
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Through the harbour and up to the quay. And there she stands waiting for me.

Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen.

Friendly old girl of a town.
Let us clink and drink one down.
Salty old queen of the sea.
They were some of Danny Kaye’s lines all those years ago. 
And on Thursday we had to have a yet another look at The Little Mermaid sitting on her rock only a few hundred yards from the ship. She is still small, still little, but somehow she looked more mature and more serene than she was. That, despite being surrounded by a large group of Japanese tourists, all desperate to get selfies with her.

In fact we found that there were massive crowds wherever we went, and it was only after we returned to the ship that we found out that it was a public holiday – Ascension Day.
Copenhagen is beautiful. The architecture is stunning, whether the buildings are old or new, and the whole city is wonderfully clean and tidy.

Jane and I had a hop on/hop off day which proved very successful except for the fact that it was impossible for Jane to get down to the jetty to board the canal boat, for the canal tour included in our ticket (Don’t worry, I managed to get a refund!) and, no, I didn’t do the canal tour on my own!

At that stage we had a coffee and a beer in a lovely square and watched the world go by. The sun shone and the tourists were happy. We returned to the Langelinie Promenade and hopped off the bus by the Queens Royal Yacht

and then strolled back along the promenade.

Back at the ship we found that the lady Captain Inger had departed on leave. Although she grew up in the Faroe Islands, she and her husband live in Denmark. The new master of the ship is Captain Alistair Clark and we hope to meet him this evening at his cocktail party.
This was the view as we left Copenhagen in the early evening.

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Oslo

The approach to Oslo is stunning. After crossing the Skagerrak, we entered the Oslofjord, which at times is fairly narrow, but for the most part, tree lined. Wooden homes of all shapes, sizes and colours are dotted about amongst the trees. Some are holiday homes, but others are permanently occupied.

The journey along the fjord took us about three hours, but the sun had risen just before 5.00 am and it was a beautiful morning. We arrived on our berth on time at 10.00 am.

Jane and I first came to Oslo on the QE2 during the summer of 2004. We had had our first taste of cruising earlier that year when we had managed to get a cabin on the maiden voyage of Queen Mary 2. People were talking about the QE2 being pensioned off, as she was then nearly 40 years old, so we decided that we ought to take a cruise on her before that occurred. It was a Norwegian fjord cruise and Oslo was the first port of call. 
We came back again in December 2007 on the maiden voyage of Queen Victoria. That voyage was billed as a Christmas Markets Cruise. There was snow on the ground and it was freezing cold and the Chritmas market was less than impressive!  I think Cunard realised that winter cruises to this part of the world are not a great idea. But in the summer Oslo and the Baltic are wonderful places to visit.
We also came to Oslo on Queen Elizabeth on a Baltic cruise in 2011. The highlight was, of course, St Petersburg but close behind was a place in Northern Germany called Travemunde. I reported on that day on the We Are Cunard website.
I have also been reminded by Helen Barnes that we did a North Cape cruise two years ago and that involved a visit to Oslo.
Oslo is a great place, with a multitude of museums and palaces. This time we walked in an easterly direction initially and then drifted to the west in search of the Ibsen museum where Ibsen lived for the last 11 years of his life. We eventually found it close to the Royal Palace.

The Palace guards were happy to be photographed.

On Thursday we are in Copenhagen. Another great city.
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