Yes it’s a strange mix. A 7 day excursion down to Vigo and Lisbon (2 days) and then back to Southampton for a day when most passengers will leave and a new cohort will board.
In Southampton, next time, we will stay on the ship (unless we discover that checklists have failed me and that I’ve left an important bit of kit at home). I think I must have bought everything because as the luggage was being off loaded from the van at the terminal at Southampton docks, the luggage handler asked me I was about to embark on a World Voyage!
We had a lucky break at check in. A certain Mrs Linda C, who we have known for many years, led us to one of her team and we were all checked in instantly.
It is wonderful being back on Queen Victoria. We have sailed on QV for more than half of our 680 days on Cunard ships. But I must now unpack.
On Friday evening we expected to be leaving at about 4.45pm but for some reason it was 6.30pm before we left the berth. But before that, the magnificent flagship of Cunard Line, Queen Mary 2 slid by on her way to New York.
By the time we were south of the Isle of Wight it became clear that the weather was getting worse. Big waves and big winds. Queen Victoria rides a storm well but by Saturday morning there was substantial movement.
At 12.00 noon on Saturday the Captain broadcast as usual, but the news was disappointing. Because of a serious storm ahead of us we would have to slow down and divert to get round the bad weather. That meant that the visit to Vigo would have to be cancelled.
The weather proved to be much better on Sunday. Very little swell and much more comfortable for passengers getting around the ship. On Saturday night the dining room had been half full because of the storm, with people taking to their beds, but this morning they were out in force.
James, a Frenchman, who sits with us at dinner, was upset. He was intending to take the train to Compostela de Santiago.
James says doesn’t know why his mother decided to give him an English name. He was born in a small town in Northern France, 100 miles north of Paris, and lived there all his life, until retirement, teaching history in a local school. After retiring, he sold up and bought a flat in Paris where he still lives.
We have a table of 8 for dinner. Liz now lives in Chester and is with her elderly father Anthony. She has not cruised before but Anthony has. Liz appears to be enjoying her first cruising experience. Then there are Ray and Margaret. They used to live in Ferndown, Dorset but to be nearer to children and grandchildren they moved to Bagshot. The table is fun but sadly 5 of them will be leaving on Friday when new companions will arrive.
The daily programme said that we would be arriving in Lisbon at 9.00am on Sunday. I awoke soon after 6.00 to find that we had passed under the 25 de Abril bridge and were moving slowly towards our berth. These were views from our balcony.
As we had a tour organised for the next day, we decided to take the shuttle into Lisbon. This would be a test for Cunard. It was a fair walk to the terminal building. We saw some shuttle buses and alongside an adapted vehicle with a lift. Two ladies in wheelchairs were already in position and there was room for a third. Jane was installed and Kim and I climbed aboard.
Because of traffic we were told that it was likely to be 35/40 minutes to the drop off point in the middle of Lisbon. That meant that if you just missed the adapted vehicle there could be a 70/80 minute wait. I raised this with a local girl in charge of shuttles. She assured me that a second vehicle would be used. We never saw it.
We explored the beautiful squares. Wherever we went there were hoards of tourists. The explanation was that it’s too hot to visit Lisbon in the summer. Although the floor of this square appears otherwise it is in fact flat.
It was a tiring day, but we covered a sizeable area, much of which was new to us.
With Kim reading the map we returned to the meeting point. Guess what. No adapted vehicle. The local girl rang her colleague by the ship. I asked her where the second adapted vehicle was. She said it was on a lunch break! The other girl said it had to go elsewhere to help out.
Sorry to bother you with this but I know that Cunard read the blog and I want them to know yet again how poor their service is for the disadvantaged.
We had to wait 40 minutes before the adapted vehicle arrived. It was the same one that had taken us into Lisbon in the morning.
Some of you will know that I had an hour long meeting at Carnival House, Southampton about 6 weeks ago. It was with the people at Cunard responsible for shore excursions and shuttle services for wheelchair users. I told them how poor the service is and how it should be changed and improved. They clearly didn’t listen to me.
Two days before we left home on 20 October, a lady from Cunard rang and asked if we wanted to take up the offer of a 5 hour tour for the 3 of us in an adapted vehicle on the 2nd day in Lisbon. It was to start at 8.30am. I told her I knew nothing about it, that it had never been mentioned before, but that we might be interested if it started an hour later. The price seemed reasonable for a 5 hour tour with an English speaking guide.
Agreement was reached on the deal and this Wednesday we were ashore by 9.30am and there, awaiting us, was a large smart wheelchair adapted vehicle with a side lift. We were introduced to Sonia who was to be the driver and Pedro the guide.
The tour that had been planned was first a drive up the coast to Cascais, then across to the Queluz Palace, a tour of the Palace and its grounds and then back to the ship.
Pedro was fantastic. He was fanatical about accessibility and his knowledge of the history of the region, of Portugal and of the World was amazing. And he was able to explain it to us beautifully.
But before I tell you more of the day, let me reminisce. Back in 1967, my father arranged for me to go on a 2 week Cunard cruise on RMS Carmania after graduation. If there were unsold cabins then dependant children were allowed to travel for £2 a day. I was still a dependant child. I see that I talked about this in the blog on 27 January 2022. But I didn’t tell you about Cascais, the place that we were to visit on this tour with Sonia and Pedro.
Back in 1967 after the ship had berthed in Lisbon, a crowd of us decided to catch a train to the beach resort of Cascais. We had a great time on the beach and in the sea on what was a very hot day.
It’s amazing how a place can change in 50+ years. From being a charming small beach resort there is now a massive town and a very small beach. Sadly it was raining this time, but Pedro took me to look at the beach.
There were just two boys braving the rain and a group playing volleyball. Perhaps I won’t be hurrying back there. We had a coffee and then we were off to the Palace.
We had all enjoyed the first week. It was unusual for us to visit only one port but the tour on the second day in Lisbon was exceptional. Those who frequent Queen Mary 2 and her transatlantic voyages are, of course, used to spending 6 or 7 days at sea visiting no ports at all.
Jane, Kim and I love sea days. There are always plenty of things to do. After a leisurely breakfast the Wordle, Sudoku, crosswords and books come out and then it’s time for coffee. The Commodore Club on 9 deck is the favourite for us these days.
It has fabulous views looking forward and because it is high up on deck 10 in the forward part of the ship new passengers find it difficult to locate. That keeps it peaceful and relaxed. Some never find it!
Thursday evening was our last dinner before our table companions departed.
And the next day, Friday 27 October, the vast majority of passengers departed and about 100 of us doing the back to back adventure remained. Some went into Southampton, shopping, but we stayed on the ship. By lunchtime the new contingent had started to board for the Norway cruise and the excitement began to build up again.
We left Southampton on time on Friday evening and eventually turned to the east and aimed towards the North Sea.
All our table companions turned up on Friday. Casey and Nadia from just north of Miami, Florida and Mark x 2 – from Southampton! So it’s a table of 7.
It soon became apparent that coincidences would be rife. Mark 1, from Chessel Bay revealed that his former father in law was Ken Bennett, a Southampton character, who would have been well known to many of you. Ken lived along the road from us in Chilworth.
By the way, I’ve lived in Southampton all my life and have never before heard of Chessel Bay. Have you? When I was a boy, our family GP practiced in Chessel Avenue, Bitterne. But a bay in a river? That’s new to me! But I have found it on Google maps.
Mark 2 revealed that he had worked for IBM in Hursley for 17 years. The park in which IBM operates is no more than 2 miles from our home and I drive past the park every time I go to Winchester.
On Tuesday evening at a World Club party, I found myself talking to a distinguished English gentleman with a very attractive Chinese wife. I didn’t get their names but they told me that they now lived in Winchester, having until recently lived in Kingsway, Chandlers Ford. Kingsway is 50 yards from our house!
The first of the 2 sea days was rough but not as bad as the weather in Biscay the previous week. We had 2 days relaxing and then we arrived at our first Norwegian port on this voyage – Alesund.
You can see Alesund, south of Kristiansand and Molde but north of Bergen and Haugesund (which is our last port before our return home)
For the four Norwegian ports, I had given up on Cunard tours and shuttles and in September I emailed taxi firms in all the ports. There were plenty of adapted vehicles. The firm that I eventually used in Alesund have 6 large Mercedes Sprinter adapted vehicles with lift and room for more than one wheelchair and 6-8 seats for the able bodied.
Our driver, of Eritrean heritage, arrived in the adapted vehicle as arranged at 10.30am. He was a lovely man. Courteous and a careful driver. We sorted out an itinerary and he wanted first of all to show us one of the handful of houses that had survived the fire back in 1904.
In many towns in Norway in the late 1800’s nearly all the houses were wooden. In Alesund in January 1904 a fire started in a factory when a cow apparently kicked over a torch! It was a very windy night and flames spread rapidly wiping out the 1,000+ houses in the town leaving 10,000 people homeless. Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II, who often vacationed in the town, led a swift rebuilding programme, combining German art nouveau with Viking flourishes.
He took us up to the Aksla viewpoint which gave us magnificent views in all directions. Queen Victoria was on her berth.
Our driver then took us to the Sunmore museum, an open air exhibition of Viking boats and homes.
It was a fun day and after our return to the ship I ventured out on foot to find a few items that I was in trouble about as I’d failed to pack them. I took some more photos on my travels. The buildings in Alesund are very attractive.
We have a day at sea on Tuesday with, apparently, some Halloween celebrations.
As I write the Captain has announced that we are now within the Arctic Circle. He also said that he will be leaving the ship in Tromso tomorrow for a months leave. The new Captain is apparently already aboard. We look forward to meeting him.