the Holiday Season..?

Some people who read these blogs might already know that I have a problem with the word ‘Yes’….in that I use it too often. So when asked to do something I usually go for the affirmative rather than the negative. Over the years that has sometimes found me in strange and uncomfortable places wondering why I said ‘Yes’ so quickly!

Well I’ve done it again. But this time it should be far from uncomfortable, quite the opposite in fact. So when the call came to me that there was a ‘speaker’ cancellation on the good ship Voyager in early December, having initially felt that my time off between cruises was sacred, but then knowing that Julie was intent on visiting her father before Christmas I said the inevitable ‘yes’. So off I’m going to Singapore and Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia, but back for the family reunion here in Spain for the Christmas festivities. 5 talks and probably 2 or 3 shows and a chance to further explore the market in Ho Chi Minh city.

It should be an interesting trip and a bit of a warm up for the big World Cruise that starts in early January. On board the RSS Mariner for 131 days around the world is a full on project. Around 60 presentations and 10 shows together with the other bits and pieces that the Cruise Director Andy sends my way. We will get to see a few friends around the globe, with a  visit to Canberra and the War Museum promised us by friends in Sydney. I believe we will have a ‘Lord of the Rings’ special event in Auckland  New Zealand, and a further event planned in Tuscany. so off to Miami, via a brief visit to the UK for the New Year…

So saying ‘yes’ is not such a bad thing if you ask me.

On the Home Front here in spain we are advanced in our plans for an ‘International Festival of Music, Art and Drama’ over a week in early June. we have dance, singing and creative arts, culminating in a show from Sally jones based on the songs of Edith Piaf. (and I’m doing a night of Irish songs and humour!). So watch this space…..

Flying high

Uncharted Mediterranean – with TCS

It seems a long time ago that I was approached to be the ‘lecturer/expert’ on this very special tour of the islands of the Mediterranean. And with all the paperwork, forms and emails etc I was a little anxious about the whole enterprise. But with the World Cruise completed (131 days – 80 performances), and the Arctic Quest cruise only just finished (77 days and 35 performances), I made the most of the four days gap I had at home in Spain, to do laundry, repack and head for Malaga airport again for the short hop to Barcelona. It didn’t start so well! I had been told a car would be there for me…but, no car! A phone call to the destination hotel and I was told to get a taxi. I did. On arrival at the very nice hotel, El Palace, I found the TCS welcome team had gone for lunch. So I ambled down the streets of Barcelona to a small restaurant and filled up with some delicious mussels, chips and a beer. Back at the hotel the welcome could not have been warmer and I was given all sorts of stuff – name badges, lists of guests, programme details and a wheelie bag with all sort of useful items!

A gala dinner that night allowed me to introduce myself formally to the 28 guests on the tour, and to meet some more personally. Many already knew each other from previous TCS trips.

And so the routine started. The luggage is collected directly from the room and you don’t see it until you reach your next room. Small buses convey the guests to the airport and once there entrance is generally achieved through some ‘backdoor’ building, of the type reserved for those travelling incognito – I presumed this was where Lionel Messi and the rest of the Barcelona Football Club effect their flights to away games. The whole operation is slick and very select.

The private jet is commodious with a staff of about 4 flight attendants and a ‘chef’. My seat was of business class standard (despite having been told I was in ‘economy’!) Drinks and food are served in abundance – and quite speedily, as we rarely had a flight of more than 90 minutes. The ‘staff team’ sat at the rear – Eszter, from Budapest, the group leader, Ester from Portugal/Florida, second in command, Dan, the tour Doctor from Arizona, and me.

At each stop we experienced no problems with passport or immigration control, our bags were whisked away, and we were escorted by local ‘support’ guides to small buses for our onward journey to the next luxury hotel, lunch stop or tour.

At 10 am on the first full day I was boarding the jet in Barcelona , and at 12 I was being guided around the cathedral in Palma de Majorca!

Briefly the itinerary and highlights were as follows, we had two nights in all of the hotels, except in Sicily, where we had three:-

Majorca – to the Belmond La Residencia Hotel, a gala dinner with live guitar music, and the next day was a tour to Valldemossa with a short Chopin concert.(I did a talk on the History of the Mediterranean)

Corsica – Casadelmar Hotel,  the day started with a rather long wasted journey to the town of Sertin, but it filled in time. The hotel had lovely views of the sea and Porto Vecchio, a BBQ by the water, and a tour of Bonifacio, with a choir singing in a ruined church followed by a private boat trip along the cliffs and caves of this amazing coastline. (A talk on the Rise and Fall of Napoleon Bonaparte)

Malta – the Phoenicia Hotel, with a tour of M’Dina and a gala dinner in a Royal Palace, with transport there in vintage cars, and of course, a string quartet playing throughout the meal. ( a talk on the Three Great sieges of Malta)

 

Cyprus – The Four Seasons Hotel, and a tour of Pafos and its mosaics and lunch on the waterfront.  A dinner at the home and gallery of a locally famous sculptor and artist involved a beautiful setting with far too much food , but several guests bought pieces from the artist at around $2000 each!(a talk on The Crusades)

Crete – on arrival we were taken into the hills for a village experience including a lunch in the village square  with live Cretan music (of course) and then by helicopter (5 at a time) over the hills and mountains to the Blue Palace Hotel on the side of the hill over looking Spinalonga Island and the village of Plaka. A tour of Knossos, a cocktail cruise around the bay and a meal on the waterfront at Plaka with live music (including a few songs from me!!)

Bodrum, Turkey. To the Mandarin Oriental Hotel (a room so big I’m not sure I saw it all in my two days there!) The obligatory tour of Ephesus, and a lovely gullet cruise in Bodrum bay to the castle for a meal in the castle courtyard (with live music). (A builder’s crane nearby had been fitted with a big spotlight and it was swung over the yard to illuminate the dinner!)

Sicily – The Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo in Taomina. An evening tour of the Greco/Romano theatre and a gala dinner preceded by the usual cocktails, and for entertainment? Three tenors arrived! (a talk on the history of Sicily). A ‘trek’ tour into the foothills of Etna and a ‘rest day’ but an extra talk as voted in by the guests – ‘Gaudi’ in anticipation of our return to Barcelona.

Sardinia – Hotel Castello Forte Village Resort. A tour of the city of Cagliari, it’s museum and back streets and the next day a tour to the ancient ruins of the Nuragic civilisation and an excellent ‘farmhouse’ lunch. Both evenings were free to dine in the hotel restaurants.

Barcelona – a return to the Palace hotel. A tour of the Sagrada Familia and dinner in the first Gaudi ‘house’ Casa Vicens. This was a ‘first’ for me, as I performed some songs (with a rented guitar) at the cocktail reception – first time performing in a Gaudi house that is! The evening ended with a tenor and a soprano singing 4 songs, with piano accompaniment……but the guests wanted another song from me!

And so back to reality, back to Malaga, shopping and laundry.

A taxi to the airport and the usual check-in…no premier treatment this time!

My overall impression is good. The speed of the tour is the major factor I think. With the private jet the transport is swift and slick, on the whole the hotels were of excellent quality and most of the tours were good, especially in respect to the size of the group, rarely more than 8 or 10 in a guided party. Meals were of high quality also, and each stop had some ‘extra’ arranged – a choir, live music, singers etc. Comments around focussed on how the group had engaged with each other, no factions or cliques and no health problems – in fact my travelling companion, the doctor, had almost nothing to do except find a band-aid for a grazed knee!

Coming so soon after the long cruises I feel was not too good for me, and maybe my energy levels were down a bit, but I gave it my best shot…it remains to be seen what happens next!

For me, it’s going home, filling up the hot tub and taking it easy for a while with less food, and less alcohol.!

A Guinness a day keeps the doctor away…almost

In Reykjavik at the end of the second segment of this Arctic quest cruise. And we’ve done very well. Dublin was sunny and busy, a hop-on, hop-off bus took us around and we hopped into a pub (of course) to add to our Guinness experiences….and as we left this city I took to the stage for an ‘Ain’t Patrick’s Night’ show of Irish humour and songs to a full house. Across the Irish Sea to Fishguard to meet with David and Alison for a trip out to the Roman/Victorian gold mines near Lampeter – a superb picnic lunch in the car park – and back to the ship and on to Waterford Ireland, and a trip along with Copper coast…to a pub of course – more Guinness and local entertainment. Galway was beautiful, and busy with people and street entertainers, and of course a Guinness and fish and chips!!  Portree on the Isle of Skye was next and a rendezvous with fellow lecturer Michael Scott and his wife Sue for a trip out into the drizzle to visit the dinosaur footprint museum and then to look for footprints on the rock of the nearby shore (Julie found one)…..and of course a fish and chip lunch!

The Faroes were chilly and damp but we walked around Torshavn having had our mountain hike cancelled…Akureyri was a trip to the big waterfall and the turf houses, and Isafjordur was a trip to ‘Bird Island’ to see a few thousand puffins and to be attacked by a few hundred Arctic Terns protecting their eggs and young. As we sat in the sun a flying Black Guillemot flew into me with a fish in its mouth….I’m not sure who was the most surprised!

And in Reykjavik we took a whale watching trip to see Minke whales and assorted dolphins…..

And so to today with a walk into the city for some shopping, keeping out of the way as the changeover take place for new guests to come on board for the next segment, via Norway to Southampton…….. not had a Guinness for a while, I must do something about that!

….

More cruises to avoid!!

With a few more assignments agreed with Regent Seven Seas cruises this is what is planned for the next couple of years…..2019 still has the exciting Arctic Quest to come on board the Navigator from the 18th June through to early September….a busy 77 days around the UK, Ireland, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Greenland, Canada and finishing in New York!

The 2019 World Cruise that finished just a couple of weeks ago was a personal success with high guest ratings for all 7 segments….so why not give it another go, when asked? So off again in early 2020 (and again in 2021!) Later in 2020 we get to go on the brand new Splendor closer to home around the Mediterranean with a welcome return to Istanbul.

2020

6th Jan …Miami to Miami 17th May – World Cruise  7 Segments   RSS Mariner

14th Sept..Monte Carlo to Barcelona 13th Nov – RSS Splendor   6 cruises

2021

5th Jan…Miami to Barcelona 3rd May  – World Cruise 7 Segments  RSS Mariner

11thSept…Southampton to Southampton

22nd Sept ..Southampton to Barcelona

6th Oct…..Barcelona to Venice

18th Oct…Venice to Istanbul  (finishing 28th October) RSS Splendor

AROUND THE WORLD – DONE!

AROUND THE WORLD – DONE

Sitting in the airport in New York waiting for the flight to Frankfurt and then on to Malaga…bags packed and checked in. The sail in past the Statue of Liberty brought it home….this cruise was over. 131 days, over 80 performances and a jumble of memories. Amazing places seen and some great people to share it all with. The final leg from Rome to New York gave us stops in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Malaga. And the first ever cruise ship visit by guests to Canillas de Aceituno. This proved a great success with all guests saying it was one of the best tours of the entire cruise. The weather, the village welcome, the food, the walking tour and the entertainment (flamenco guitar and dancers) was acknowledged as superb. The crossing of the Atlantic, whilst the seas were not very kind, gave us amazing days in the Azores and Bermuda, leading to a final run into the Hudson River and New York. Just over 150 guests had completed the circumnavigation, with others (over 1,000) joining at times for the 7 various segments. The final show for the ‘worlders’ was special, a good show, and many tears at the end.

The ‘highlights’ include revisiting Petra (amazing at any time), visiting Myanmar and swimming with the rays and sharks in Bora Bora. There are so many other experiences, great food and sights that it is difficult to manage to recall them all. This needs to be done with a leaf through the diary over the coming days.   In the meantime it is about having a rest…..and dare I say, to start thinking about the next cruise coming up in one months time!