Voyager

It’s Monday 20th February, my 66th birthday and I’m in the airport in Singapore heading for Perth for a family reunion.. It’s been an amazing 26 day trip on this wonderful ship the Seven Seas Voyager. The guests have been a special group, seemingly ‘up’ for everything, certainly everything I’ve been asked to do, with a large number who have previously sailed on cruises with me. The flight to Auckland was long and tiring with stops in Madrid and Dubai, before a morning arrival on North Island, and a car to the ship. Waiting for a beer and a bite were Den and Jen, friends from a previous Oceania cruise. And so off on our travels to explore the various ports along the ‘far side’ of both north and south islands. Tauranga, with a walk around the old volcanic hill, Napier and Picton, reminiscent of England in the days of yore, and Akaroa and Port Chalmers with their huge wood piles for export to China. It was a pleasant experience all around and topped off by our entry into the fjord of Milford Sound, with a ‘talk-in’ by me, where the clouds cleared and the sun gave of its best as we cruised in, pirouetted in front of the waterfalls and waited for our ‘overland’ guests to rejoin the ship.

And so to Australia. Two sea days across the Tasman Sea could have been much worse, as it often is, but we enjoyed mixed weather but nothing to be concerned about, for an early morning sail in to Sydney. As we went past the Opera House and under the Harbour Bridge the sun broke through and we began to appreciate this amazing city. I was able to spend most of the day with Terry and Sue, again friends from a previous cruise, and had a great lunch by Narra Been Lake, before we sailed away in the late afternoon. In Brisbane I met with Mike and Cassandra (yes, again good cruising friends), and a lunch by the water had been preceded by a meeting with an old school chum who I had not seen for 48 years! It could have been 48 days. I was able to visit Bee Gees Way, an avenue dedicated to the memory of the Gibb family who raised their sons here…full of photos, films, statues and music. It was a memorable experience to walk the street and sink into the nostalgia of the location.

In Cairns we experienced proper rain forest weather. Ten minute bursts of torrential rain and then ten minutes of brilliant sunshine. With many folk heading off to view the barrier reef (mostly disappointed by the lack of clear water), it was just pleasant to walk the streets of this well organised town.

At Cooktown  the weather did turn against us, and the Captain’s decision to allow tendering was greeted with some incredulity by many – I had been preparing a reserve programme believing my services would be required to fill the gap…but they went ahead and ploughed through the rough seas to visit a small town shrouded in rain and low cloud. Many regretted the undertaking. Darwin was very special. I had met a couple, Linda and Don, from the USA. Linda had told me that Don had been the first pilot to land a huge B52 bomber at Darwin airport 36 years ago. I told her there was a B52 bomber in the aviation museum at Darwin – facts unknown to each of us. Put them together and you have an occasion. The three of us visited the centre, to be welcomed as honoured guests, to view the giant machine and for Don to regale them with his memories of the event. A ships tour party arrived and Don was able to help them understand what had occurred those many years ago. A day to remember.

At Komodo Island, Indonesia, the dragons were awaiting us in the forest. We trooped through in small groups, learning about the flora until we came to the waterhole where four or five of these giant lizards – the largest in the world – were dozing. They blinked, stuck out their tongues, but did little else. Remarkable none the less.

And so on to Bali for an overnight stop. For me it turned into a surreal event. The Cruise Director told me she was to make contact with another cruise director she had once worked with who was holidaying on the island. It was a man I knew well! Ray picked us up and we went to his beach front villa, where a big BBQ was being prepared. And other guests included two past cruisers that I knew well. It was surprises, hugs and smiles all round and we left with a feeling of ‘how did that all happen?’

And so the two sea days to Singapore. The trip ended with the completion of 18 lectures (I prefer to call them ‘presentations’), 4 cabaret shows, including an amazing ‘Aint Patricks Night’, where I was able to do all the Irish stuff complete with jokes and a star appearance of the guest entertainer violinist Juliette who joined me in a couple of tunes, where people were being turned away due to lack of space… a Liars Club session (Call my Bluff in English), the ‘bridge talk in’ to Milford Sound and the usual appearance as King Neptune for the crossing of the line. I sold nearly all the CD’s I brought with me, and a goodly number of the ‘Adventure before Dementia’ badges. It’s been very busy, but the crowd have been universally accepting of everything. A final flourish of a four hour city tour of the ‘Lion City’, complete with a ‘sling’ at Raffles, and then the superb organisation and comfort of the airport …I wish all cruises were like this.

A few days in Western Australia and Julie and I fly to Darwin to connect with the Seven Seas Navigator ploughing its way through rough seas (we hear) on its world cruise. We have 47 days through to Rome….many talks and shows in store…and hopefully smoother seas.

Venice to Valparaiso

Venice to Valparaiso

 

It’s about 9 weeks ago since we boarded the Marina, via water taxi from the hotel in Venice, and via the Adriatic, the Mediterranean, the north and south Atlantic, and finally through the Beagle Channel and the Magellan Strait to the Pacific and push northwards up the coast of Chile to reach Valparaiso.

It’s been a voyage of contrasts, from the opulence of Monte Carlo, the ancient history of Croatia and Rome to the New World of South America. Cathedrals, castles, mosques, 5 star hotels and favelas – the burning sunshine of Rio and the snow of Ushuaia – the beauty of the Chilean fjords and the ugly urban sprawl of Santos….An Atlantic ocean of unexpected tranquillity and a Pacific alive with swells, lumps and bumps.

Whales, dolphins, seals and sea lions, and yes, one shark spotted idling past our cabin.

Albatross and petrels, frigate birds and pelicans, egrets and gulls beyond counting.

I managed to complete 30 different presentations (they call them lectures on this ship), and 10 cabaret shows, plus a cameo appearance as King Neptune when we crossed the line…

And now it’s packing and sorting ready for tomorrow and the drive to Santiago airport and the endless flight home, first to Rome, yes past Malaga, and then back again.

In just under three weeks I’ll be off again..heading to join the Regent Voyager in New Zealand…but what is there not to enjoy?

Exhilaration/exhaustion

Exhilaration/exhaustion

 

It’s now close to two months since we (Julie has since left the ship in Rio) boarded in Venice, the list of places visited on this assignment on the Oceania Marina has grown seemingly more impressive by the day. To name a few of the major ‘ticks’ on many people’s bucket lists – Corfu, Malta, Sicily, Rome, Naples, Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Gibraltar, Tangiers, Lisbon, Tenerife, Cape Verde, Rio de Janeiro, Santos, Montevideo, Buenos Aires….and so we continued to one of the most prized  destinations – Port Stanley, Falkland Islands. My three previous visits had been successful as landing from a tender in the wild and capricious waters around these islands is far from guaranteed – if fact little better than 50/50…and so we viewed the sea and the weather conditions with some concern as we approached the outer harbour. The tenders were launched and off we went to land on this piece of the United Kingdom which is more British than Britain itself.

The day previous to this had been a day of exhilaration. I had given my presentation, to a full theatre, on the conflict of 1982, when Argentina had invaded and then been ejected from what they laughingly call their own islands –Las Malvinas – ignoring UN resolutions, common law, historic sovereignty and most importantly the overwhelming will of the resident population. I cannot promise that my presentation was strictly neutral, but I do try and give both sides of the issue – along with a flurry of Union Flags at the beginning! And so besieged by endless questions as I made my way around the ship we eventually found time for the rehearsal for the main show that evening, yes, the Christmas Day Show! At 7.30pm I met with the lovely ladies of the resident string quartet – Sasha, Inna, Kristina and Polina – to go through what we had agreed on small scraps of paper handed to and fro during the preceding days. We tried the combination of guitar and quartet to form the title of the show – 22 strings in concert – and felt pretty pleased with the result. So at 9.30pm we performed a mixture of solo songs, quartet and ensemble pieces on a Christmas theme….and I’m sure the standing ovation at the end was for the ladies…and not for me…but I tried to bask in their reflected glory. A couple of glasses of red wine watching the late night broadcast of the Christmas Day American football game of the big screen I had hoped would ‘bring me down’, but sadly, my team the Denver Broncos were being thrashed by the Kansas City Chiefs….and so to bed, to sleep badly and then to rise early for the day ashore in this outpost of the Empire.

Having arranged through a local contact on the island for 4 friends on board to get a 4 hour private tour, I saw them off with Tony to visit penguins, battlefields and memorials…with an agreement to meet in the Globe Tavern, I set off for my walk.

The 50 or so Royal Marines who constituted the garrison for the islands in 1982 had been stationed at the barracks at Moody Brook, about 4 miles out of Stanley, and this was my target. I knew the barracks had been attacked and destroyed by the invading forces, but the site was still on my ‘want to see’ list. It was chilly, windy and bleak as I walked along the waterside away from civilisation to eventually leave the tarmac for the gravel and discover the location of the barracks. A photo or two and turning my back to the wind (which was on the increase along with the threatening rain clouds), I trudged back to Stanley. More and more guests from the ship were being brought ashore to be whisked away in various forms of transport to view the penguins and the sites of that conflict 34 years ago. I settled for a pint of locally brewed stout and sat out in the watery sunshine aware that there were groups of young men, and some young women wandering around, which in other places and circumstances might have brought anxiety and concern, but not here. Their demeanour and attitude was anything other than threatening, as they passed by, some in Santa hats, and one even proclaiming himself to be Santa’s Little Helper’. They took on ‘liquid refreshment’, and I engaged some of them in conversation. As I thought they were from the Mount Pleasant military base a few miles out of town – army, navy and air force personnel who had come to town for the Boxing Day horse racing event which forms a major part of the festive celebrations on the islands. Sadly due to bad weather over the previous 4 days, the track was waterlogged and the racing had been abandoned. No one seems to have filtered that information up to the base. I was struck by the physical appearance of these young men, most in their 30’s I guessed, and most, again I presumed to be of officer class. They had an easy camaraderie, a politeness to the bar staff, and an easy manner when in conversation with me (who they recognised as a fellow ‘Brit’!).  I asked them questions – and they found out about me and my role on the ship. They wanted photos (based on the usual slightly comical perception that I have some resemblance to a famous wrestler – Hulk Hogan – but it was fun.)

I took on more beer, met my friends and we enjoyed the fish and chips. I was able to catch up with Tony on the latest developments on the island, particularly with their relationship with Argentina, and we promised to share another drink when next I am in Stanley. The wind was increasing and the rain was falling as we made our way to the tender for a rather bumpy ride back to the ship. On board we were told no one else would be debarking due to the weather….

I was wind blown, full of good food and John Smith’s bitter, and found myself giggling with pleasure at the events of the last 36 or so hours. And I pondered on the islands and the men I had met. It was so apparent that the islands were in very good hands, and if the quality of the troops we had sent in 1982 was anything like those I had just met, there was never any hope of Argentina having been able to hold those islands.

I had heard from others from time to time that a military 6 month posting to the Falklands was not popular….so I had asked a couple of guys if that was true..

One of the men said…’How can you not appreciate the history of this place, what we did, and what we are trying to do here for the people, you need to make the most it, it’s ok…you must have heard that from someone who hasn’t been in Afghanistan’

Future cruise assignments – subject to change

This might be considered a list of ‘cruises to avoid’!! The ‘subject to change’ statement covers whatever the booking management team in Miami might want from me, and also any personal issues that can arise as the influence of anno dominii takes more effect with each passing year.!

But it’s an exciting list!

 

2017 Cruises 

9th March        Darwin to Singapore                          RSSC Navigator

16th March      Singapore to Abu Dhabi                                “

3rd April          Abu Dhabi to Athens                         “

21st April         Athens to Miami (13th May)                         “

 

17th June         Miami to Vancouver                                      “

9th July            Vancouver to San Francisco (20th July)        ”

 

14th Sept         Stockholm to Dover (26th Sept)                     “

 

13th Nov          Miami to Miami                                             “

25th Nov          Miami to Los Angeles (11th Dec                   ”

 

2018 Cruises

 

8th Jan             Southampton to Portsmouth (West Africa) Saga Pearl 11 (28th Jan)

 

15th Feb           Sydney to Fremantle              RSSC Navigator

25th Feb           Fremantle to Singapore                     “

13th March      Singapore to Cape Town                   ”

7th April           Cape Town to Rio                              “

30th April         Rio to Los Angeles(25th May)          “

 

1st August        Barcelona to Venice              Oceania Riviera

13th August     Venice to Rome                                 “

23rd August     Rome to Monte Carlo                       “

30th August     Monte Carlo to Barcelona                “

5th Sept           Barcelona to Lisbon (15th Sept)        ”

 

26th Oct           Venice to Rome                     Oceania Marina

2nd Nov           Rome to Monte Carlo                       “

9th Nov            Monte Carlo to Barcelona                “

16th Nov          Barcelona to Lisbon (28th Nov)         “

The Fall

A summer spent in southern Spain, and cruising around the Med and northern Europe is a very good way of spending ones post retirement years. However, sometimes the pressures of producing lectures and shows to an audience acceptable high standard can be a little daunting (you’re only as good as your last show!), and a little tiring. Whilst most people would envy the lifestyle (and I do not wish it away in any way), a succession of cruises can lead to a feeling of not ‘where are we’ but ‘what I am doing today’….but long may it continue, Regent Seven Seas and Oceania still seem to find the odd place where I have not been and, of course, meeting new people is always a pleasure…well almost always!

But the recent cruise of the wonderful Seven Seas Explorer (from Athens to Venice), brought home an important reflection. There are seasons! And it was when we arrived in Croatia the mixture of burning sunshine in Split, followed by a day of rain in Zadar brought home the fact that October was passing and November was very close…and these are the Balkans with their attendant weather issues. And so leaving Koper in Slovenia for a drive to the capital city of Ljubljana, again in pouring rain, it became even clearer that the season had changed. The 75 mile drive is pleasant on a nice day and still interesting on a wet one. But the colours of the trees as they turned on their autumnal hues were a sight to behold. Slovenia is 75% wooded, and with its lakes and rivers and its hamlets, towns and cities echoing its history of occupation by Venice and Austria in a charming architectural style reminiscent of a more Alpine location, it made one think that even the lure of New England could be seriously challenged here at this time of the year.

The people in Ljubljana are known by their neighbours as ‘the frog people’, because of their rain-filled existence. Yes it rains a lot here evidenced by the dense green foliage and flora. A three hour ‘free-time’ stay in the city was unanimously curtailed to two by the travellers on bus 19 who could not envisage stopping that long having seen the main sights of the river, its bridges, the castle on the hill and the cathedral.

I headed straight for the closest and snuggest looking bar that was serving something hot. I was not disappointed. The Café Antigua was serving beer and a piping hot potato goulash with smoked Slovenian sausage. A football match was replaying on the TV and I wasted a very pleasant hour. The Cathedral offered brief sanctuary from the rain and the half covered market was a damp fascination. Not surprisingly we were all present and correct for the return journey after a day of contrasts…notably between sunny Spain and soggy Slovenia!

The cruise had been a great success and the following morning we sailed into Venice for a dawn view of this amazing waterfront….I flew away to the UK to reminisce on a cruise that had given me a night in Athens, a few days through the Greek Islands, and a return to the Dalmatian coast of what was once Yugoslavia. 6 lectures, 2 shows and a hundred conversations in the 9 days and I felt my duty was done. With pleasure.

And now, after a few days to recoup in Rochester it’s off again on Monday, back to Venice, to join the Oceania Marina for a two month assignment through to Valparaiso…35 lectures and a good few shows…and no doubt (spoiler alert) the job of covering people in gunk as we cross the equator…yes it’s me King Neptune again!