Off again on Queen Victoria

Remembrance Sunday – 9 November 2014. We are excited to be joining Queen Victoria again for two back to back cruises, the first to the Canaries and the second to the Western Med.

Linda is again housesitting for us which is great for us and hopefully it is for her as well.
Ian Gordon kindly drove Jane and her powered chair to the ship in the adapted Vauxhall, while I accompanied the luggage in Mark’s smart new Mercedes. Sunday was a beautiful sunny day and we were on the ship within 90 minutes of leaving home.
The last time that we boarded a ship on Remembrance Day was in 2008. It was for QE2’s final voyage to Dubai. 
You may recall the story. It was nearly 11.00 am when I remembered that a small plane was due to fly over the ship and drop a million poppy petals. The only way to see the sky was to get ourselves out of the terminal. I ran, pushing Jane in her wheelchair, and we arrived at the exit just in time to see the plane and poppies.
When I returned to the terminal, Sandy Gravestock (a friend from Mudeford days in the early sixties!), who was in charge of the ‘meeters and greeters’, scolded me, pointing out that I was the only person in the terminal building not standing to attemtion for the two minutes silence!
We have 3 days at sea before our first port – Madeira – which strangely was our last port back in April, but more of that later.


Canary Islands

This is not easy but we will get through it! Five ports in five days. We are not trained for it. We like a port and then a few sea days to get some rest and build up the stamina with plenty of food and plenty of Malbec for me.

This is some sort of marathon. I should have studied the itinerary more carefully! So after Madeira and a lovely day in pretty Funchal we sailed away and woke up in Lanzarote.
Many of you know the island. Some of you have stayed there. We were intending to travel to the Western end of Lanzarote, but after being shuttled to Arrecife, we found the old town delightful and mooched around the back streets.
It was sunny and hot but we had to get back to the ship to get ready for a formal night and dinner at the Captains table. The Deputy Captain Simon Love was the host. He is the man who went to sea as a young man, but after marrying decided to go ashore and join the family business. Some 18 years later he was persuaded to return to sea and after retraining he joined Carnival. He must be well on his way to a command in the not too distant future.


Murray Walker

The sun is shining and the 8 metre waves and Force 8 gale have been left behind. We are some 200 miles from Lisbon and will be on our berth in Funchal, Madeira by 0800 tomorrow.

Today we were entertained by the legendary voice of F1 and motorsport – Murray Walker. He was due to speak at 1100 this morning, Wednesday, but the start was delayed as they tried to shoehorn into the theatre the masses of people who wanted to listen to him. He was brilliant, telling plenty of stories about the personalities of the motor racing world and a multitude of tales of his gaffes while commentating. He is of course renowned for his faux pas, many of which he told against himself.

He also revealed that during the eleven years that he commentated with James Hunt for the BBC, if the Grand Prix was outside Europe, the two of them sat in the BBC studios in Shepherds Bush. They watched the race on a small monitor, pretending that they were actually in Japan or South America or wherever the racing was taking place!
On checking Wikipedia I have found that Murray Walker is 91 which I find amazing. He seemed much younger. He is giving one further talk later in the voyage and will also be taking part in a Q&A session.
Tonight if the Commodore’s Reception in the Queen’s room. Jane will be trying out the latest piece of equipment made for her by a volunteer from a charity known as Remap. She has found it difficult at cocktail parties to drive the wheelchair when holding a wine glass and canapes! Her OT recommended Remap.

Remap is a National charity and has a number of volunteer engineers who are in the main retired, but who love making things for people with disablities. They will design and make bits of equipment that are not available on the market. Mike, who lives about 200 yards from us, was asked by the charity to contact us. He discussed what was needed, made measurements, prepared prototypes and within a fortnight had produed the finished article, which will have its first trial tonight! Mike’s workmanship was exceptional.

The volunteer gives his time free, the charity bears the cost of materials and the charity survives by recipients making donations where they are able to do so. Remap has a website which has links to Remapedia where examples of their work can be found. I am sure there are many people who could benefit from the expertise of their engineers. They have the equipment and the machinery and the skills and are looking for nice projects! Please be generous, if you can, if you do make use of their engineer’s skills!


Gran Canaria

We spent our honeymoon in Las Palmas on the island of Gran Canaria all those years ago. And we also used to come to the island for Easter holidays when Louise and Michael were small. We usually stayed at the Costa Canaria Hotel in San Augustin.

We also had a wonderful holiday with the Holts in Maspolomas when Katie and Louise were toddlers. That place made headlines last week when a boatload of refugees from Africa arrived on the beach amongst a group of naked gay men, who quickly scattered, fearing that the boat people might be infected with ebola.

When Jane and I came to Las Palmas on the maiden voyage of Queen Mary 2 – our first cruise together – in 2004, we decided to locate the honeymoon hotel and were somewhat upset to find that it had been converted into what looked to be a rather run down apartment block!
This time we thought we would take a taxi to the south of the island and find the Costa Canaria, but before leaving the ship I looked at Trip Advisor which revealed that the hotel was in the middle of major renovations. There were some very disgruntled holidaymakers who had sent in negative reviews. So we decided to give the south a miss.
We wandered into Las Palmas and were about to watch some traditional dancing in the square, when the heavens opened. We scurried to a cafe with large umbrellas outside. The dancers fled and we eventually ventured across town, but the threat of more rain curtailed our exploration.



More memories. Jane and I first came to Tenerife in March 1977. Jane was pregnant. We stayed in the dreaded Playa De Americas at the Hotel Tenerfe. We spent most of our time by the pool, but after about a week the worlds worst ever air disaster happened at Los Rodeos Airport in the north of the island.

We realised something was wrong when half the hotel’s staff disappeared. We later discovered that they had gone north to help. Those old enough to remember it, will recall that there had been a bomb explosion at the airport on Gran Canaria and flights were diverted to Tenerife. There were so many planes that some were parked on the runways including the Pan Am and KLM 747’s involved.
By the time the Gran Canaria airport was opened, it was foggy in Tenerife. The Captain of the KLM 747 thought he has cleared to leave and hit the Pan Am plane killing nearly 600 people.
We were due to fly home about a week after the accident, but as the airport was closed, everyone had to be ferried to Gran Canaria to get home.
We have been back to Tenerife for golfing holidays on a number of occasions since.
This time we were docked in Santa Cruz, in the north, and as we approached the town we found that we had joined the Tenerife Marathon. The whole Waterfront area was packed with runners and their supporters. It was sunny and hot, but that didn’t appear to deter those taking part. It was a great occasion. 

Jane inevitably wanted to find the shopping area. I tried to avoid it, but failed. There were the usual mime artists in the main street, but by far the best were 3 girls in a box with just their heads showing. They were hilarious, making weird and frightening noises as people passed, particularly if they did not donate!

After returning to the ship, Jane decided to have a rest and I decided to eat. I found a table with just one person sitting at it, and when I sat down realised that it was Murray Walker. He was delightful with plenty of stories to tell. It is clear that although he made his name with motor car racing his true love was and still is motor cycle racing.
While we talked, other passengers came up to talk to him. Did he remember this? Did he remember that? He said he did, although I wasn’t so sure. But he still has a fantastic memory for dates and places and people, despite his 91 years. He certainly doesn’t look that age.


La Palma

This island should not be muddled with Las Palmas in Gran Canaria. “We have not been here before” I told everyone. Jane thought otherwise. But of course I know best.

As we went ashore we knew that this was one of the smallest islands in the Canaries, but that it was the steepest and boasted that it has the highest mountain.
As we meandered up the main street, Mrs Smith said she recognised some of the shops. Shoe shops look the same all over the World. And the boutiques. Some of our friends were returning to the ship because of some black clouds hovering over the mountains. They were sure they heralded rain. 

Being an authority on all things Canarian, I told them that the clouds had been hanging about all morning and that that occurred on all the Canary Islands we had visited over the years. The prevailing winds push the clouds up against the mountain, but that didn’t mean that it would rain. As it happened I got that bit right.
But further up the main street we came across a familiar looking square.

I said nothing but Mrs Smith insisted that we had been there before and said she recalled photos we had taken of the square and the buildings surrounding it. I had to protect my position and said nothing, but after turning a corner we spotted a row of coloured townhouses.

I had to admit that I was wrong. We had been to La Palma before. It must have been on tha maiden voyage of Queen Elizabeth. It must be an age thing. Mrs Smith is, of course, much younger than me.

And talking of the age thing, that good friend of mine, Michael Yeomans, celebrates his 70th birthday today. Seven of us, including his three sons, celebrated the occasion in London before the cruise. Too much red meat and Malbec at the Guildhall Hartsmoor! A great occasion.

Senior Officers Party

This week the parties have come thick and fast. The Cunard World Club party for frequent travellers and two days later the Senior Officers party. Exactly the same format for both, with the Commodore making a brief speech at the end to signal the fact that it was time to leave the free alcohol and go to dinner!

Jane was able to use the handy little table and wine glass holder that Mike of Remap had made for the wheelchair. This is Jane showing it off to Deputy Captain Simon Love.

We struck really lucky with our table companions for this voyage. Annette and Andy from a village near Sheffield are avid cruisers. They have sailed with a wide variety of cruise lines over many years. Andy has his own business dealing in gas. He was originally employed by British Oxygen, but eventually set up his own business and which is clearly very successful.

Norman and Pat live a couple of miles from us in Boyatt Wood – just the other side of the M3 from us! Norman was in the Army for many years and then worked for a Japanese bank in London, commuting daily. All four are great fun, so dinner is always a highlight. And we have Ivan looking after us in the Britannia Restaurant. He was our waiter for the second half of the world voyage.

John and Linda Moore are also aboard and we are having lunch with them in the Verandah Restaurant tomorrow.  We were on a table together on Queen Mary 2 four years ago. We were all doing the segment of the World Voyage that took us from Capetown to Rio via St Helena, then Barbados, Fort Lauderdale, New York and home. The Moores are keen golfers and members at Mill Rise.

It was Samuel Cunard’s birthday today and there was the inevitable cake!


La Coruna

We had not been to La Coruna before. It is the gateway to Santiago de Compostelo which is about 40 miles south and it is said that in the Middle Ages no shrine was more venerated than that of St James the Apostle of Compostelo.

La Coruna is known as the ‘Crystal City’ because of the glass-enclosed balconies which cover the apartment buildings which overlook the harbour.

La Coruna is a lovely city and we explored on foot. Suddenly the street would open into a vast square with stunning buildings surrounding it.

We found the Old Town too hilly for the wheelchair (well, for the pusher rather than the chair) and we turned right towards the harbour to find that the City authorities were opening up the waterfront, with enormous promenades replacing less than attractive buildings.

The large hotel facing the harbour had 4 outdoor swimming pools and large numbers of senior citizens were to be  seen performing water aerobics and swimming lengths in the bright sunshine.



In the days prior to the call at Lisbon, the tour office on the ship had been selling hop on hop off bus tickets. The advertising said that the buses were wheelchair friendly. As we had not toured Lisbon for years we bought tickets.
Lisbon can be a great place –  but not when it’s raining. It was pouring when I awoke. I looked out to see that we were passing under the 25 de Abril Bridge, but the visibility was poor.

The bridge was built by the American Bridge Company who also built the San Francisco – Oakland Bridge (not the Golden Gate Bridge). I happen to know this because some years ago, after a visit to Lisbon, I saw a photo of the bridge in an online competion and was the only one to correctly identify it. The prize? A Cruise Critic cap!

In the past we have always tied up near the bridge, but this time we kept going and moored much closer to the city centre.

Very few people were venturing out, but the stupid Smiths did, with raincoats and umbrella. The driver of the wheelchair friendly shuttle bus kept us waiting for 40 minutes but we eventually arrived in the middle of Lisbon. It was still raining heavily. All we had to do now was to find the bus stop for our red bus. 
We were in a large square but eventually found the bus stop. When the red bus showed up, people emerged from the shadows and climbed aboard. When we found ourselves by the door, I asked the driver if he could get the ramp out, so that I could get Jane aboard. Despite having an area marked out for wheelchair users, there was no ramp to get them aboard!
I realise that I have become particularly cantankerous over the last year or two. Always complaining! When I complained about the lack of facilities, the driver said he would take us to his supervisor at the next stop. He helped me lift Mrs Smith and the chair on to the bus. At Stop No 1 he took me to the relevant chap who ranks at the top of the 2014 list of rude men. 
When I explained the fact that it was somewhat difficult for Jane to hop on and off without a ramp, he told me that I could find the address to which I could write on the company website. He then resumed the conversation that he had been having on his mobile. A lady employee told me that the drivers had all been complaining about the lack of ramps to their superiors, but that nothing had been done about it. That wasn’t much help to us, I explained.

So we gave up and returned to the ship to find that most people had stayed on board all day! I must get round to looking at that website and joining all those online complainers!
Pat has sent me a picture of Table 314.

Andy, Jane, Richard, Norman, Pat and Annette.

Round Two

Round One came to an end on Sunday. I managed to get ashore by 9.00 am leaving Jane with the Sunday papers, her laptop and iPad. Mark collected me from the cruise terminal and took me home. The house was immaculate as it always is when Linda is house sitting!

I had a list of 12 things to do and find. I succeeded with 11 items despite losing the list. At the appointed hour of 10.30 am Jean and Tim Whitehead arrived. Jane and I had met them on the QV earlier this year and they had decided to join the ship again for this cruise to the Med.

Tim and Jean are to my right at the Captain’s table.
The plan was for them to leave their car at our house and for the 3 of us to travel to the ship in Mark’s taxi. The plan worked like clockwork.
Jean and Tim live in Brixham but Jean grew up in Southampton and Tim read geography at Southampton University. Jean was a teacher and Tim was Director of Tourism, first at Southampton, then Poole and finally at Torquay. He is a keen sailor and we all have plenty in common. We sit together for dinner in the Britannia restaurant. They met at Fridays – a nightclub on London Road, Southampton!

This used to be Fridays but its name has changed a number of times since then.
We are now on our way down to the Med and were 60 miles off Cape Trafalgar at noon today. We should be alongside in Cartagena, Spain at 9.00 tomorrow.