Gotland

Competition time!

Who has been to Gotland?

No googling and no checking your atlas, but in which country is Gotland to be found and what is the name of it’s capital?

That’s where we were on Saturday and it was great that all three of us were able to go ashore together. The port had been advertised as an ‘Anchor port’ in the mobility information. That’s where the ship anchors off shore and passengers are ferried to and from the ship in the ship’s tenders. Those with mobility problems can’t go ashore, so when it happens, Jane has to stay on the ship and Kim and I each go ashore for half the day so that one of us is always with Jane.

Visby, which is is the capital of the Swedish island of Gotland, now has a large pier for two ships. The pier was opened last year. That’s where we tied up on Saturday 25 May. We didn’t learn of the new pier until the evening before, but it was great because Visby has a botanical garden which Jane had thought she was going to miss.

We had read that Visby is the best preserved medieval town in Scandinavia with cobbled streets so we decided against the electric wheelchair and opted for the one we push. What we hadn’t read was that Visby is very hilly. Steep cobbled streets. But it started gently and the ladies loved the botanical garden.

We explored onwards and upwards through pretty streets and colourful medieval buildings. There were numerous ruined churches and ramparts forming the old city wall. And the amazing three towered Cathedral of St Mary with dark spires and red roofs. It was originally built in the 12th century but has burnt down four times and has been rebuilt and restored many times. While we were in the Cathedral a baptism service started. The baptismal font is 13th century.

We were told that although the town was fairly busy it did not compare with the summer period. Apparently the island is incredibly popular with tourists. Visby is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Apologies for the lack of photos. The internet is so slow and I cannot download them at the moment.

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Do you remember Danzig?

We were there on Friday. Actually we were nearby in Gdynia. And Danzig has changed its name. It’s now the Hanseatic city of Gdańsk.

Those of a certain age will remember Lech Walesa who co founded Solidarity in 1980 and was elected President of Poland in the General Election of 1990. He had been a shop steward in what was then the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk.

It was a beautiful calm day when we arrived and the sun shone on us all day. Transport was limited. No adapted vehicles were available to take us to Gdańsk, but there was a bus with a (very steep) ramp to take us to Gdynia.

Gdynia was clean and prosperous. In the area that we explored, a festival was due to take place over the weekend and staging, food outlets and stalls were being set up. Alongside were a number of vessels including the Dar Mlodziezy – a Polish tall ship and the first Polish built ocean going sailing vessel to circumnavigate the globe.

In addition the destroyer Blyskawica was berthed there. Interestingly she was built in Cowes, Isle of Wight at J Samual White’s shipyard. She was launched there on 1 October 1936. The vessel was back in Cowes in 1942 for a refit and on 15 May 1942 was instrumental in defending Cowes from an attack by 160 German bombers.

We then walked south to the marina, which was packed with a variety of yachts and motor boats. The large number of Mercedes and BMWs surrounding the marina indicated that some people in Poland are managing well.

It was our first visit to Poland and we were impressed. It appears to be thriving, which may explain why many of the Polish people who came to England for a better life have now returned to their native land. Or might their return home have something to do with our Brexit problems?

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Musicians aboard

The name Phillip Browne may mean nothing to many of you. We used to find him popping up as an entertainer on these ships in the distant past, but had not heard of him for a number of years. He has a great bass voice and made his name in the Lion King in the West End.

The downside in the past was that his act was identical every time he appeared. The same stories of his life as a London bus driver and the same songs in the same order from the same shows.

But here he was again. A full 45 minute show featuring the same Phillip Browne. He was very good and hardly mentioned the buses.

That was a couple of nights ago. Last night two glamorous young women calling themselves the String Idols were the stars. Sparkling dresses and playing violins brilliantly. One said she was English but brought up abroad and the other said she was Lithuanian. We were at the back, but they looked very attractive.

They charged through a wide variety of music in a very slick and entertaining session, finishing with regulation Last Night of the Proms pieces played with gusto at a great pace.

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Wonderful Wonderful Copenhagen

It was Hans Christian Anderson who said so or was it Danny Kaye?

But before I tell you about our day in Copenhagen, I must apologise for the fact that some of the images didn’t appear in the short report on Skagen yesterday.

When the blog doesn’t perform perfectly, I usually blame the slow satellite broadband on the ship, but the reality is that I am usually the one at fault. As Jane will tell you, I rarely admit to having any imperfections, but the problem with only writing a blog when at sea, is that I forget how to do it. And downloading images to the blog is one of the tasks I have to rediscover. If you look again at the Skagen entry you should now find the missing bits!

We arrived in Copenhagen on time. Cunard had managed to sort out a coach with a lift for a tour of the city and I had booked it weeks ago, for the 3 of us. Meet in the Queens Room at 8.30 am was the instruction. We did so and were told that there was only room for 2 wheelchairs and we were the third. Had we indicated that one of us was in a wheelchair, the rather brusque girl from the tour office asked. Yes indeed we had. Imagine the steam coming out my ears by then. Go over there and wait, the uncaring girl said. Not good public relations.

Jane’s smart idea was to go ashore immediately, find the coach with the lift and get aboard. We did that and all was fine. It transpired that the third wheelchair user could walk and climb the stairs into the coach and only needed the wheelchair if a lengthy walk was involved. Her chair was stowed underneath the coach.

But of course I’m not a moaner! From time to time I meet with Angus Struthers, Marketing Director at Cunard, and tell him where I feel improvements could be made. One area I always raise is excursions for those with impaired mobility. Can I report significant improvement? No. On this cruise only this one wheelchair friendly excursion has been offered. It’s a shame.

Now that that’s off my chest, I return to our day in Copenhagen. We have been here twice before on Cunard ships. The first occasion was on the maiden voyage of this ship, the Queen Victoria. Kim had not been before, so an organised tour was important. The first stop was less than a mile away at the Little Mermaid.

A coachload of Japanese tourists were milling about. The Mermaid sits on a boulder in the water with stones around to enable you to get close. After I had taken some photos, I started to move carefully up the stoney bank. I then felt someone holding my arm and supporting me. I looked round to find a young Japanese girl clearly trying to help an elderly man! And I have always thought of myself as a youngster. She thought otherwise.

Our tour was clearly designed for geriatrics, but we were occasionally allowed off the bus and the highlight was the Amalienborg Palace and Square. The Queen lives in one of the Palaces, the Crown Prince and his family in another and other royals in the Palaces nearby. The Danish royal family are said to be very popular and are apparently regularly seen in the area, walking or jogging or taking their children on cycles to school.

While we were in the Square the guards changed regularly.

Tomorrow we are at sea and then it’s Poland.

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Skagen

Skagen in North Jutland is Denmark’s most northerly town.

It is the place where the Kattegat and the Skagerrak meet. It is Denmark’s major fishing port.

After a leisurely breakfast we were shuttled into town to find numerous cafes, restaurants and bars in the street approaching the pedestrianised area. That area was packed with shops so Jane and Kim were happy. They managed to lose me for a time, but I had the cash and the credit cards. Mean – me – Never!

The streets of Skagen are packed with buildings almost exclusively painted yellow with red roofs.

Skagen is clearly a popular tourist area. It claims to have more sunshine than any other area of Denmark. It was certainly sunny for most of the day while we were there. Tomorrow Copenhagen.

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To Russia with love

We are on our way. Ian looked after the transfer to the port. Linda is house sitting and looking after the house. Kim is looking after Jane and I’m looking after the ship.

It’s a 16 night cruise to the Baltic on Queen Victoria. Many new ports and some old favourites, but the highlight is the 2 day visit to St Petersburg. Mira will be our guide for the third time, but more about her later.

We are enjoying a foggy day at sea today before our first port tomorrow. The itinerary is

Skagen – Denmark

Copenhagen – Denmark

Gdynia (Gdańsk) – Poland

Visby – Sweden

St Petersburg – Russia

Klaipeda – Lithuania

Oslo – Norway

Kristiansand – Norway

We met our dinner companions last night. We knew that Diana from Henley and Maureen from Bishops Waltham would be joining us. We had sat with them on QE two years ago and had kept in touch. As usual Jamie Firth had organised it so that we could sit at table 309. My fear was that I would be the only male on a table of eight, but I’m pleased to say that the Maitre ‘d has organised it brilliantly and Peter, Malcolm and Jim have made it four all.

Tonight is a formal night with the Captain’s party first and then, following dinner, a show featuring Phillip Browne. We have heard him many times before, but he has been starring in the West End for a number of years and we hope that his return to Cunard means that he has updated his act. He has a great bass voice.

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There’s nothing as strange as………

There is an attractive lady on board who has been married and divorced 4 times. I suppose that in itself is not particularly extraordinary. I’m sure that over the years we have heard of numerous actors and actresses who have managed that number and more.

When I used to make a penny or two out of the divorce business, the best I managed was a man who had two divorces which I looked after, married a third time and remained happily married for the rest of his days.

The story here, though, is that for a number of years after the last divorce, the lady had another lengthy relationship with a man, but she brought that relationship to an end some five or six months ago.

The lady decided to move to a different country and to take up a new occupation. And then she decided to sail on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth and that’s how we met her.

Once she was on the ship she started to receive anonymous gifts which were delivered to her stateroom. She says that it was obvious to her that they were being sent by her estranged partner. Then after a few days at sea he appeared. He had secretly booked himself onto the same cruise as her in the hope that he could persuade her to resume their relationship.

The man concerned appears to be having some success in re establishing the relationship, despite the lady telling us that that would not happen!

Watch this space.

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The Rewind Project

The blog needs a small rewind. I asked you if you recognised four gentlemen who appeared on stage on QE last week. Jean Whitehead from Torquay had seen them on a Cunard ship in the past but couldn’t recall their name. ‘Project’ on its own was not good enough. Sorry Jean!

They are The Rewind Project.

The lead singer is Mick Wilson formerly of 10cc.

Nigel Freer will know him and his guitar.

Some twenty men and women have been members of 10cc over the years, but Mick was a member for a long time – 1999 to 2017. The Rewind Project drummer was a member of the Moody Blues for years, but I’ve forgotten his name. I wrote all the names down on the back of an envelope but cannot locate it! If anyone can remember their names, please let me know so that I can update this.

The Rewind Project played twice in the Royal Court Theatre to standing ovations. Bearing in mind that the vast majority of the passengers on this voyage appeared to be older than me, the band did well to get them rocking in the aisles!

They were brilliant and it was announced that they would appear twice on the last night before Southampton in the Queens Room – the ship’s ballroom and large party venue.

On the last night they were to play for 45 minutes for those who eat their dinner early and then again at 10.30 for 45 minutes for the late diners, us included.

When we arrived at the Queens Room many of those who had heard the band, left their seats to enable the newcomers to have a drink and enjoy the band. We were ready behind a group of 4 waiting for them to leave.

When they showed little inclination to move, to check that they were indeed overstaying their welcome, I asked one of them if they had enjoyed the band. Yes they had, he said, but it he made it clear that they were not moving.

I have nothing against the Dutch. I have met quite a number of Dutch people over the years and have enjoyed their company. Some of you have children who have married Dutch people and they are delightful.

Suffice it to say that this bunch (I have no idea what their nationality was or is!) refused to move. To extend their stay they ordered a round of drinks – tap water, with ice of course, from an unhappy waiter.

You can see Jane stuck behind a pillar. The lady at the front was so conscious of the fact that we were waiting for her chair, she hung onto it! The good looking man sprawled out on the left was rated the worst dressed man on the ship in an earlier competition. I think I have another photo of him.

Yes there he is with his lovely wife. A very attractive couple I think you will agree. I’m sure they enjoyed their evening!

Despite all these diversions, The Rewind Project were terrific. They have clearly found a nice niche. Yes a nice niche.

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Competition time

Does anyone recognise these four gentlemen who appeared in the Royal Court Theatre last night?

Those travelling on QE are barred from taking part!

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The Brits in Gib

Most Brits go straight to the shops in Gibraltar. The perfume and the alcohol are incredibly cheap and the production of your cruise card produces a further 10% reduction.

Somehow the Brits cannot resist having a go at the Spanish. When a departure from Gibraltar happens in the middle of the day, large groups of them gather together on the open rear section of Deck 9.

These occasions have become something of a tradition particularly when the sun is shining as it was today.

Pimms appear to sponsor these sessions, in which otherwise respectable UK citizens wave Union Jacks, drink more alcohol than usual, and sing Rule Britannia and God Save the Queen (they all stood up for that!). And they dance. Sometimes it’s not a pretty sight.

Sadly, they are singing to absent Spaniards. Everyone hopes that the Spanish Navy will turn up to keep us out of Spanish waters. They are nowhere to be seen. They keep well clear when the Queen is about.

One day we’ll see something like this to liven up our day.

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