Zihuatanejo

This set of coincidences started with the regular Pick of the Week piece by the Managing Director of the Regent Seven Seas cruise company, Graham Sadler. He was aboard Seven Seas Voyager with his family on a cruise from Venice to Barcelona.

The ship was in Zadar in Croatia for the day. Graham set a puzzle for his readers pointing out that there were very few ports beginning with the letter Z. He offered a prize for the name of the film that made a Z port famous in the final and emotional scene in what he described as one of the greatest films ever.

I forget how or when I first met Graham Sadler. Regents UK office is just across the road from Paris Smith’s Southampton Office and possibly I did some Notarial work for him all those years ago, when I worked for a living. Certainly when Jane was more agile, she and I had two wonderful cruises on Regents Seven Seas Navigator, one out of Cannes for two weeks in the Med and another out of Fort Lauderdale for 2 weeks in the Caribbean. Six star luxury.

And some of my wealthier friends occasionally ask for advice about six star cruising and I always direct them to Regent. Mr and Mrs C, Mr and Mrs T and Mr and Mrs B and others.

I do recall that about 10 years ago I was invited to a lunch on Seven Seas Voyager when it was in Southampton for the day and I guess that it was Graham that invited me. Ben Ainslie (now Sir Ben) was also a guest and I managed to engineer a handshake and a photo with my hero before we left the ship.

As usual I have digressed. Back to Graham Sadler and his Pick of the Week. If I had read on I would have realised that the port beginning with a Z was on the itinerary of a voyage he was promoting on Seven Seas Mariner between Miami and San Francisco in January 2020 – Zihuatanejo. But even if I had worked that out, I would not have come up with the name of the film.

My pathetic answer was Zulu. It was not surprising that I didn’t win! Graham gave me the answer – the name of the film was Shawshank Redemption. I had heard of it and inevitably I looked it up only to find that it was nominated for 7 Oscars in 1995 and I had never seen it.

The next day I was playing golf with Nick Brewer and I told him the story. He told me that Graham Sadler and Regent had agreed to support the Southampton Shipping Golfing Society in its Centenary celebrations in 2021 when Nick will be President of the Society. That was a connection I knew nothing about. The first coincidence.

That evening Nick emailed me. Shawshank Redemption was on ITV on Wednesday. This coincidence was ‘Scary’ he said and it was.

On Wednesday morning I saw a link to an old Pathe News clip about the original liner Queen Elizabeth. I have been looking for footage of my Father for years without success. This short clip showed QE after she had come to Southampton for the first time. The year was 1945 and Queen Elizabeth had arrived from New York. She had been sent there in secret in 1940 after completion but before sea trials. She served as a troop ship through the war, making her first visit to Southampton in August 1945.

Father had served on Franconia, Ascania and Queen Mary during the war and was granted leave in July/August 1945 so that he could be at home when I was born at the end of July 1945. When his leave finished, he joined Queen Elizabeth on 22 August for what was the first of many trips returning American GI’s to New York. This clip records the send off from Southampton. They called it the Maiden Voyage. Father is on the left (CLICK HERE FOR THE MOVIE CLIP)

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on the bridge with the Commodore of the Cunard fleet Sir James Bissett.

And now to the final scary coincidence. That evening I watched the Shawshank Redemption. I was enthralled by it and when it reached the scene where Red finds the tree near Buxton, and finds the dry stone wall, I was ready. But what I had not expected was that when Red found the tin containing the money and the note, it was a Queen Mary tin. Queen Mary, the ocean liner that my Father had served on during the war.

That’s the convoluted story of a couple of days in my mundane life! And this is the place where the two hero’s of the film met in the final scene.

I wonder if Mr and Mrs C went to Zihuatanejo when they sailed between San Francisco and Florida on a Regent ship a year or two ago. The nearest port to that part of Mexico Jane and I have visited was Cabo San Lucas at the bottom of the Baja California Peninsula.

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27,000 days

Richard Smith is pleased to announce that today on the 2 July 2019 he is celebrating his 27,000th day on earth.

No need for congratulations or cards but please save a few pounds or dollars or euros so that when the autobiography is completed you will be able to buy one of the first editions.

I’m on the right.

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The end of the Baltic cruise and the beginning of the D – Day 75 Commemoration

On Tuesday morning we left Queen Victoria and headed home. Poor Maureen was on her way to Winchester County Hospital to have her broken wrist sorted out. The drivers Ian and Gary arrived as we came out of the Terminal building and we were home by 10.00am.

And then the D – Day 75 activities began and that prompted me to think about the movements at sea during WW2 of my father, George E Smith. Like so many of his generation, father never talked about the war. Mother never knew where in the world he was during the war. If his ship came into a UK port he would telephone and sometimes they would be able to meet.

Father first went to sea in 1930 when he was 16. He joined the New Zealand Shipping Company as a cadet.

His apprenticeship was for 4 years. He used to say that he had been round the world 7 times before he was 21. His first ship was the TSS Northumberland. After gaining his Second Mates Certificate he joined the United Baltic Corporation and sailed on their ships SS Baltara and SS Balteako where he stayed until he had gained his Masters Certificate.

At that point he decided that he wanted to move to something bigger. He wrote to 8 Shipping companies. Cunard responded immediately asking him to attend an interview and more importantly sending him a rail ticket to get to the interview!

He joined Cunard on 18 June 1940 and 3 days later on 21 June 1940 he boarded RMS Franconia as 3rd Officer.

I have discovered that Franconia had been requisitioned as a troopship at the outbreak of the war in September 1939. On 16 June 1940, while en route to St Nazaire as part of Operation Ariel – the evacuation of the Second British Expeditionary Force from France – the Franconia was damaged by near misses from German bombs and was escorted back to Liverpool

Father must have joined her when she arrived in Liverpool. Later in the war she took part in landings at Madagascar in May 1942, Operation Torch in North Africa 8-16 November 1942. During his time aboard Franconia, father was promoted to Junior Second Officer and then Senior Second Officer before moving to RMS Ascania as First Officer.

Interestingly in 1945 the Franconia was used as a headquarters ship for Winston Churchill and the British delegation at the Yalta Conference.

RMS Ascania was built in Newcastle and was completed in May 1925. Before the war she was employed on the London/Southampton – Quebec- Montreal route, switching to Halifax and New York in the winter. In August 1939 she was converted into an Armed Merchant Cruiser. After spells on convoy protection she returned to the UK and was converted into a Landing Ship – Infantry.

Father joined her on 7 February 1943 and she took part in the Invasion of Sicily between 10 July and 17 August 1943, the Anzio Landings which began on 22 January 1944 and the landings in the South of France – Operation Dragoon – on 15 August 1944.

On 19 December 1944 Father joined Queen Mary as Senior First Officer moving to the Queen Elizabeth soon after the war had ended.

And to finish this piece and to bring us up to date, Jane’s brother Nigel was carrying out his formal duties in Portsmouth on Wednesday, welcoming the Queen to Hampshire, for the D Day 75th commemoration. He was caught by the cameras as he walked just behind President Trump.

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Kristiansand

Sunday 2 June 2019 and it’s the last port for this voyage. Another new place for us. Yet again the Captain’s weather forecast was pretty accurate. Not very warm and the possibility of some rain.

We knew that access into the city would be easy and shuttle buses were not necessary (although there was a Noddy train which toured the city and some of Cunard’s more elderly customers eagerly boarded it).

I don’t suppose that many of the 87,432 readers of this blog know a great deal about this place. Briefly, the city is the 5th largest in Norway and was founded and named after King Christian IV of Denmark and Norway in 1641. (No one has explained to me why the name of the City starts with a K, but no doubt one of you will tell me). Norway was part of the Kingdom of Denmark then and remained so until 1814.

Kristiansand is a thriving port and commercial centre and is the favourite summer destination for many Norwegians. The city centre is laid out in a US style grid system which made it easy to locate the major sights. We mistimed our arrival at the Cathedral because morning service was underway and the sermon was being delivered.

After the best cup of coffee of the whole trip, we moved across to the Christiansholm Fortress built in a prominent position in 1660 to protect the port. Its 15 foot thick walls were impressive but apparently rarely put to the test. It is said that the Fortress only saw active service once and that was when the British mounted an invasion in 1807. HMS Spencer attacked the port but was repulsed by massive cannon fire from these weapons.

The city is delightful – clean and tidy. The roads and pavements are immaculate and it was a pleasure to visit and wander around the place. The cruise ship pier appears to be fairly new and accommodates just one ship. That is possibly all the city wants. It means they can cope with a thousand or two visitors for a day without causing too much disruption to their city.

Despite it being a Sunday, some shops opened and there were a few small market stalls near the ship and in the centre of the City. But the locals and the Norwegian tourists didn’t appear to be disturbed at the arrival of a ship load of foreigners. And there was a McDonald’s for some of our fellow passengers!

After we had returned to the ship we heard that one of our dinner companions, Maureen from Bishops Waltham, had tripped on a crossing during the day and had broken her wrist. The medical centre on the ship is looking after her, but whether or not we will see her at dinner, we will have to wait and see.

I am pleased to report that Maureen did arrive at dinner and was remarkably cheerful. She will need a fair bit of help to get herself packed and ready for our arrival in Southampton on Tuesday morning, but there appear to be plenty of volunteers.

This is our table in the Britannia.

From left to right clockwise. Malcolm, Me, Diana, James, Maureen, Kim, Jane and Peter. All great fun and excellent table companions.

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Oslo

Jane and I first came here in the summer of 2004. It was our second cruise together. Earlier that year our first cruise was the Maiden Voyage of Queen Mary 2. We had enjoyed that first cruise so much, we decided that we must book on to the QE2 before she was retired from service.

QE2 was important to me. For the benefit of new readers, my late father, Captain George E Smith was the second ever Captain of QE2 and was one of only 3 men who were Masters of both the original Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2).

My first cruise was on QE2. After she was built, Cunard refused to accept her because her turbines were defective. After the problems had been sorted out, but before Cunard accepted the ship, a shakedown cruise was organised. Families of the officers and crew including “dependant” children were invited. I just qualified as a dependant child. £10 a week (less income tax) as a trainee meant that I was still dependant on my Dad.

We had a freebie cruise to the Canaries and back. To help we had to move cabins from time to time and write reports about defects. We were given a sheet each morning telling us where we had to eat and where we had to play. They would put pressure on staff by flooding particular areas of the ship (with people not water). It was a great 10 day trip for us as passengers.

As usual I have digressed. So it was on QE2 that Jane and I first came to Oslo. It was the first port of call on a 14 day voyage to the Norwegian Fjords. If you have not tried one, I can recommend a Fjords cruise.

Since that voyage we have been back to Oslo a number of times and have seen it changing. The dock area has expanded and Oslo has modernised. On our way into the port we passed this house built on a rock!

Inevitably our day started with a transport problem. No adapted shuttle was there to get us into the City. The Tour manager was located and admitted that the vehicle had been stood down after delivering one person! Sounded a bit unlikely, but an adapted taxi soon appeared and we were then in town. Although it rained, it was a Saturday and Oslo people were out enjoying themselves. Kim was given the map (which on reflection was a bit unfair of me) and we set off in search of Cathedrals and Museums!

We found that a music festival was taking place in the main Central Park. We heard a Bagpipe band while we were having coffee. There were dressed as if they were Scots but we didn’t manage to hear them speak so were not sure whether or not they were Norwegian imitators. They had kilts, sporrans and dirks!

There were blues bands and folk groups as well, but the rain inevitably put the dampers on proceedings.

On our way down the fjord, after leaving Oslo, these are just a few of the homes we passed – in the main holiday or weekend homes apparently.

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Friday at sea

Martin Bashir

The theatre was packed at 11.00am today for the Celebrity Speaker, Martin Bashir. He apparently boarded the ship yesterday and we only knew that he was here to speak when we received today’s Daily Programme.

The ladies in our midst expected him to talk about his Diana, Prince of Wales interview or his Michael Jackson interview, but he avoided them and addressed other issues. He only spoke for 35 minutes which was lucky because his lecture clashed with the “exclusive” (no not really!) Captains cocktail party which invited us for 11.15am. Unusual time for cocktails. There was time for a glass of red once the 12 noon bell had been rung.

Martin Bashir is appearing again in a Q&A session on Monday and he indicated that he will deal with some of his more famous interviews.

At 4.30 pm today we passed under the Great Belt Bridge, the third longest suspension bridge in the world. It joins Denmark’s Zealand and Funen.

As we sailed under the bridge.

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Klaipeda, Lithuania

The photo test appears to have worked. Fingers crossed I may get some photos to you. Klaipeda was a Maiden port for Queen Victoria and for the Captain. Neither the ship nor the Captain had ever been here before. The Captain was pretty confident about getting into the berth and carried out the manoeuvre immaculately.

Klaipeda is the third largest city in Lithuania with a population of 165,000. It has the country’s only significant port which is the most northerly ice-free port on the east coast of the Baltic. As it was an attractive port, it was taken over by Sweden for a time in 1629 and Russia ruled for a time from 1757.

Lithuania was occupied by the Germans in WW1, but Klaipeda (then known as Memel) came under French administration in 1918, then declared itself independent. Nazi Germany annexed the city in 1939 and Hitler came to the city on the pocket battleship Deutschland. In 1945 the city fell to the Red Army and following that was annexed to the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic.

In 1991 the USSR recognised Lithuania’s independence and then in 2004 the country joined the EU.

That’s a potted history, mainly courtesy of Cunard’s port guide.

This was a house on the bank of the River Dan viewed from our cabin on the port side of the ship. This was the view from the starboard side. A rust bucket registered in Riga was on the other side of the berth.

We won’t be cruising on her in the near future. I think Marian Pahars who played for Southampton FC in the nineties, came from Riga. My recollection is that he now manages the Latvian national team. My old firm sponsored Marian when he was with SFC and we got to know him well.

But back to Klaipeda. There was a shuttle with a ramp that took us the short distance to the City centre. Kim and Jane spotted a market which they wanted to explore. The big problem was the cobbles. The roads and pavements were cobbled and those in the roads were the worst which meant crossing roads was a nightmare.

I went in search of some from WiFi. It was not good in the first two bars – slower than the ship – but the information centre had very quick WiFi and I managed to download some photos before the ladies tracked me down.

Kim was in charge of the maps and led us to what had apparently been the city cemetery but was now a sculpture park. We wandered across the river, took in the sculptures and then found a lovely walk through the town and back to the main square.

Klaipeda is clearly developing as a tourist resort and as we sailed out of the river, back into the Baltic, beautiful beaches stretched for miles.

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St Petersburg Day 2

Yet again I must grovel and apologise for the fiasco over the photos. I have decided that the photos are too large and that combined with the fact that the internet beamed in by satellite is very slow means that the photos take longer and longer to download to the blog. I am pleased to say that after we had left St Petersburg I found out how to reduce them in the camera. So hopefully Lithuania onwards will be much easier.

On Day 2 Mira collected us at 10.00 with a different driver. We toured areas we had not visited before and then arrived at the Hermitage. It must be the largest museum in the world. 3.5 million exhibits, it is said. It was packed with people, but again Mira filtered us into pole position whenever there was a queue or a jam. Usually we were going against the flow, but Mira knew where all the rooms or paintings she wanted us to see were to be found.

The only problem Mira had to face was with a lift that we needed to get us down to ground level. There was a large notice on it saying it was out of order. Jane had seen a notice in it, when the four of us had used it earlier, saying that it could only take a wheelchair and one Carer. So we had probably broken it. Please don’t tell anyone.

It meant that we had to walk about half a mile on the level we were on, to another lift that would take us down. That was fine until we left the lift. The only way out was down some steps. Mira grabbed 2 male tourists, pointed at Jane and the wheel chair, and gamely they helped to lift Jane down all the steps.

It was a great day. I will not attempt to input any images today but I will tell you a little story about the internet here on the ship.

When you board you can buy a package of internet time. If you are a frequent Cunard cruiser you get a fair amount free. The clock ticks every time you log in, but what you have to remember is to logout of the ships system, when you have finished. If you don’t log out the clock continues to tick. Sounds easy, but if Jane or Kim suddenly need something then logging off can be forgotten. It’s not just a matter of shutting the laptop or iPad, you have do more than that and get out of the ships system.

The other day I forgot, went down to the lady in charge, told her what had happened and expected her to give me the time back. About 2 hours of time was involved. It was obvious that I had downloaded the Sunday Times which had taken about 4 minutes and nothing else. But she said there was lots of activity because emails had come in. Of course emails come in. But I had not used the internet. Much argument and eventually she gave it back, but what terrible customer relations. It cost them nothing. Of course if I had run out of free time then I might have had to buy time. That’s what they could have missed.

I hate being treated like some sort of criminal. The lady was effectively saying she didn’t believe me. In the past similar situations have been dealt with instantly and sensibly. I hope someone senior in Cunard reads this.

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St Petersburg

This is our third visit to St Petersburg. On all three visits our guide has been Mira. I cannot remember how I found her originally. I guess it was Google. On the last two occasions Mira came with a driver and met us at the ship. My recollection is that on our first visit the vehicle was a little Russian car but that on the next visit things had improved and the driver had a Mercedes.

On those earlier visits I was able to manhandle Jane from her wheelchair into the front seat of the car. That is not now possible and we need a vehicle with either a ramp or a lift. For this visit Mira was able to organise one through her friend Tatiana who runs Petro Travel.

If anyone is visiting St Petersburg in the future, I can recommend Mira, Tatiana and Petro Travel. A small group can be guided through the Palaces, Museums, Cathedrals and Churches at speed. Over the last few days we have watched large groups trailing along behind guides and seeing and hearing nothing.

Mira has been guiding us to the front of every queue while telling us the story behind every building, every room, painting, piece of furniture and their history. She has a remarkable knowledge of St Petersburg and of European and Russian history, built up over a lifetime telling the story of the city. Let me know if you would like her contact details.

On Monday Mira met us at the port. This was the adapted vehicle. Perfect. It was a cold day and we were well wrapped up and ready to go. We had decided not to go to Peterhof, and Catherine’s magnificent summer palace. We had spent a day there in the past, so it was agreed that we would drive out of the city to Tsarskoe Selo where Pushkin was educated.

First Mira took us on a tour of the city.

The buildings alongside the Neva river are breathtaking and after a number of photo stops we set off to the area named after Pushkin, some 40 minutes out of the city.

The palace was magnificent. As we approached it there massive queues of tourists waiting to get in. Mira led us past the hoards of people and at one point I saw a sign saying “3 hour wait from here”. She took us right to the front and through a door to a small lift which took us up to the main floor of the palace. Mira has lost none of her skills since we last met her!

Pushkin statue. This was actually in the City itself.

Sorry there is still a major problem with the broadband being a narrowband and I can’t get the photos to you. I’m now in a bar in Lithuania and their free WiFi is hopeless!

But I’m now in the Information place and the broadband is terrific!

These two photos were taken in St Isaacs Cathedral before we drove off to Púshkin.

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