W1801 – Postscript!

In my last post, W1801 – Circle’s End, I said that it would be my last post about our fabulous Around the World cruise this year. The ‘postscript’ items that I have been putting at the end of most all the posts about the world cruise have become quite a feature, so I thought it only right that there should be a postscript post to the posts about the world cruise!

There were a couple of items that I wanted to cover in this postscript post, the first is something I meant to put in my last post, and the second is about what happened on our final evening on board, after my last post had been published.

Postscript 1

The first item is about the astonishing amount of money that was raised for charity during the course of the cruise. As well as the usual Raffle and collection of donations for the RNLI and Sail for Cancer that are held on almost all cruises, there was a Guest Walkathon which raised money for Sail for Cancer and for McMillan Cancer Support, and there was a string of events including the Crew Marathon and a Country Fayre which all raised money for Orphanages in Thailand and in the Philippines. Here is a breakdown of all the money raised:

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A huge well done and thank you to all concerned!

Postscript 2

At the end of the Crew Show on the penultimate night on board, Elliot our Cruise Director told us that the show on the final evening would be ‘Best of the Black Watch Show Company’, but that we should be sure to attend as there would also be a couple of surprises on the night. Regular readers will know that I have been a huge fan of this particular Show Company – they are the best all round combination of singers and dancers that I have seen in many years of sailing with Fred. Olsen – so I was delighted to have one more chance to watch them perform, but of course I was intrigued to find out what the surprises might be.

On entering the Neptune Lounge nice and early to get a good seat at the front, it was obvious what one of the surprises was going to be, as the sand tray that Wilmar Casa uses to create his wonderful sand pictures was set up on the far side of the stage. Sure enough, the very first item in the show was Wilmar, and he was even more amazing than usual. For six minutes he used the sand to create image after image telling the story of our cruise – images of the iconic places that we had seen as we travelled all around the world. Needless to say when he finally finished he all but brought the house down.

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It was then over to the Black Watch Show Company, who thoroughly entertained us with a selection of numbers from some of the many shows that they had performed for us over the voyage – but of course this time with a twist, each number had been reworked for a cast of 7 not 8 – as I explained in my previous post, Brandon is sadly unable to perform due to a serious knee injury. This had been done so well, once again you would not have known someone was missing.

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As they reached the climax of their last number, they turned back towards the wings and gave us the second of the surprises on the night, as they welcomed on stage a large number of the ship’s crew, representatives from all over the ship, all waving to us. The audience rose as one, and we all waved and clapped and cheered like mad back to them – it was such a simple but brilliant and moving idea. At the end of the song they all made their way out to line the exits to the show lounge, and as all the passengers made their way out, we applauded the crew and they applauded us.

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Finally where the two lines of crew met were the Show Company, and there was quite a scrum of passengers, me included, wanting to say thank you and wish them well for the future, as well of course taking final photographs of them.

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The whole show had been very thoughtfully and cleverly put together, and it made a moving and fitting final conclusion to an astonishing and epic cruise.

 

So this really is it for this cruise, Carol and I have sadly left the ship with a tear in our eyes, and made our way home, where we are making good progress dealing with the mounds of mail and laundry that are inevitable after such a long cruise. While it is wonderful to have fast and responsive WiFi back, we are very much missing having everything done for us – we waited in vain for a waiter to appear with a menu last night!

The suitcases have been put away for now, but rest assured they will come out again in the early Autumn for the first of three more cruises this year. Watch this space….

 

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W1801 – Circle’s End

In my last post, W1801 – Pisa & Ice Cream, I described our visit to our second port in Italy, Livorno, and the long tour we made from there to the iconic cities of Florence and Pisa. Leaving port late that evening, we had two days at sea for much needed rest and relaxation, before we sadly reached our very last port of call on this epic around the world cruise, Málaga in Spain.

Málaga was also our last port of call on our last year’s world cruise, and I have also visited the port on previous cruises, so we decided not to book a tour this time – especially as we will be returning to the port on another cruise later in the year. Instead we decided just to go ashore independently and have some retail therapy in the morning, and rest on the quiet ship in the afternoon.

We docked in the outermost berth – any further out and I think we would have been in Morocco! – and so we needed to catch a port shuttle bus to the terminal building, and then a ship’s shuttle bus to take us into the city centre. From there we set off on foot to explore the local shops, and then to walk out to a shopping centre where there was a C&A store that Carol wanted to visit. As it was a shopping expedition I did not take my camera, but I could not resist taking a few snaps with my phone as we walked around:

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Shopping completed we took a taxi back to the ship – and that was our final port done and dusted!

As this is my final post for this cruise, and so far it has been remarkably short, I will also bring you up to date with some events on board the ship, and also give some thoughts about the cruise as a whole.

Changes to the ship

Regular readers will know that I have been documenting changes being made to the foredeck of the ship in order to accommodate two Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIBs) that are to be a new feature offered on Fred. Olsen ships. The work has involved building up protective walls either side of the ship, and removing a small crew swimming pool. In the past few days they have now decked over the pool area, and have pretty much finished the work give or take some coats of paint. I was very interested to see some photographs of the RIBs being tested on Black Watch’s sister ship Boudicca that someone kindly posted on Facebook, and I noted that identical work had been done to her foredeck.

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Talking of paint, in the past couple of ports they have been busy painting the hull of the ship the new Fred. Olsen blue colour, that I have already seen photographs of Braemar and Balmoral sporting.

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(Did you spot the VIP in one of the photographs?)

All-Rounder’s Lunch

On one of the sea days between Italy and Spain the “all-rounders” – those of us sailing all the way around from Southampton to Southampton – were invited to a celebration event over lunchtime. We first were invited to the Neptune Lounge for cocktails, and besides short speeches from the Captain, Elliot (the Cruise Director) and Bethany (the Future Cruise and Oceans loyalty representative), they showed a short video of highlights of the cruise, and a slideshow of photographs submitted by the all-rounder passengers. Carol and I had submitted a photograph of us taken in the Wadi Rum desert, and not knowing exactly what it was for, we included quite a long piece about how we met on last year’s world cruise, and how this one was our honeymoon. To our surprise our photo was displayed for quite some time while these words were displayed moving across it ‘Star Wars’ style – and we were very touched that at the end there was spontaneous round of applause from some of the audience. We then retired to the main restaurant which was reserved for our celebration lunch, with more complimentary wine, and a dessert to die for!

And then there were 7

The day before yesterday in the afternoon the Black Watch Show Company gave a matinee reprise of one of their brilliant shows – Musicality – but sadly they had to perform as a 7 not as an 8. Brandon Mallipal, their oh so talented male dancer who regularly brings gasps from the audience with his back-flips and other stunts, has badly injured a tendon in his knee and will be unable to dance for the rest of the cruise. With only hours to reset the dance routines for the reduced number, they performed (as always) a perfect show – had we not known the circumstances we would not have known last minute changes had been made – such professionals all round! We wish Brandon all the very best for his recovery.

Final Formal Night

Last night was our very last formal night of the cruise – and yes there have been quite a few! – and it was marked with the usual events:

  • Baked Alaska on Parade
    Before dessert is served, all the waiters parade around the dining room, some holding aloft the Baked Alaska puddings, to the sound of “When the Saints go marching in”. Sadly this is not the same spectacle since ‘Elf n Safety’ stepped in and they no longer have the sparklers; and going way back, when they used to bedeck the dining room in flags:

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  • Crew Show
    The ordinary crew members – waiters, chefs, stewardesses, deck hands, engine room guys etc – put on the evening show – mainly dances in lovely costumes from their home countries. It’s always a fabulous show and I was moved as always when the entire cast sang “We are the world” as the finale:

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  • Gala Buffet
    At the end of the evening the Chefs put on an astonishing display of food art, which we can view and photograph to start with, and then eat if we wish. I never do the eating part – it’s way too late to be eating fancy food by then – but it always makes a spectacle to photograph. I was particularly taken with the picture made just from cutlery, I had not seen this done before:

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Some thoughts and conclusions

Before we set sail on this epic cruise, I had expected the first half of the voyage – including Cuba, South America, Easter Island, Bora Bora, New Zealand and Australia – to be much more enjoyable than the second half. As it has turned out, while Cuba was a stand-out port, both Carol and I very much enjoyed the second half of the voyage more than the first – partly of course due to the better weather and calmer seas, but also because we enjoyed the more challenging but more different and therefore more rewarding ports in Myanmar, India, Jordan and Egypt.

All cruises are different, and this one was always going to be different to the world cruise last year. Comparisons are difficult, especially as last year’s cruise was unique and special in that it was when Carol and I first met, fell in love and got engaged to be married. Rest assured we have thoroughly enjoyed this one too, and both of us would without question recommend a world cruise to anyone fortunate enough to be in the position to be able to do one.

One question we always get asked after a long cruise is “which one was your favourite port?”. This is an impossible question to answer as places are so different – it’s like comparing apples and chairs. I am minded to relate something one of our local guides told us once – I think it was Kuala Lumpur – and I am sorry if I told this one before… There is a man who has two children, who he of course loves equally. One of them keeps asking him which of them he loves more, and he keeps replying that he loves them equally. Not satisfied, the child insists on an answer, so the man takes the child to stand in front of a mirror. He tells the child to look at them both in the mirror with first one eye, and then the other, and tell him which eye he prefers….

During the course of this cruise we did make a big change to our future cruise plans – but rest assured there are plenty of amazing cruises and even more fabulous destinations coming up over the next couple of years that hopefully you will be able to read about here in future times.

Meanwhile I would like to thank everyone for the very kind comments and ‘likes’ that I have been receiving over the course of this cruise. Some of you very kindly said that you will miss my updates now that this cruise is coming to an end – you will have to wait until the Autumn for the first of the three remaining cruises we have booked this year – in the meantime can I point out that this is the 174th post on my blog, so there is a huge backlog of posts you might like to catch up on dating back to January 2016 – including cruises to South America & the Rio carnival, around the Arctic, and of course the whole of last year’s world cruise.

Talking of thanks, there are so many I would like to thank for making this such an outstanding and special cruise – starting with our two Captains, and working my way through the entire crew – but I think this would make for a rather long read for you all – so I will just say a huge THANK YOU from both Carol and myself to each and every crew member for working so hard to make our cruise so special, and always with a smile on your faces.

There is of course one very special person that I must give extra special thanks to – my wonderful wife Carol. She has been so patient and understanding in allowing me all the hours it has taken to prepare, write and publish all 35 or so posts on this blog during our cruise. Not only that, she has made an excellent and diligent proof reader and editor, and has also come up with some amazing titles for some of my posts when I have been struggling to think of something apt. THANK YOU my darling!

So that is about it for this cruise – it’s just the packing to do now 😦

So, au revoir until the Autumn!

Postscript

We had a surprise last night when we received a letter informing us that we have to have face to face interviews with immigration staff before we leave the ship tomorrow morning, which we didn’t need in any of the other European countries we have just been visiting. Funny, I must have missed the news reports of illegal immigrants buying super expensive around the world cruise tickets in order to smuggle themselves into the UK!

 

W1801 – Pisa & Ice Cream

In my last post, W1801 – Vatican Mass, I described our visit to the port of Civitavecchia, the port for Rome in Italy, and our long and tiring tour around the Vatican in Rome from there. We then sailed overnight to our penultimate port on this wonderful world cruise, Livorno, which is also on the west coast of Italy.

I had not been to Livorno before, so I went up on deck to see and photograph our approach to the port, and later Carol joined me just as we were entering the port itself.

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Carol and I had chosen a second 10-hour tour in a row – we knew the combination would be very demanding, but at least it was at the end of the cruise, and we didn’t have a tour booked in our final port later in the week. The tour was to visit two iconic cities in Tuscany, Florence and Pisa.

We left the port of Livorno, passing some canals and loads of new cars all parked up in rows, before passing through the green countryside of Tuscany, on our way to our first top, Florence. Including a comfort stop, it took just over an hour and a half to reach there, and on the way our local guide told us about the city, its history, and the buildings we would see there. Leaving the coach we began a walking tour around the historic part of the city, passing first the town hall and then museum where the famous masterpiece David is housed – there were long queues in the street outside waiting to go inside to see it. We would see a replica of the statue later in its original position, meanwhile we were making for the outside of the Cathedral (begun in 1296 and completed structurally in 1436) and its Baptistery (constructed between 1059 and 1128). Both buildings were visually stunning, but part of the Cathedral was covered in scaffolding while cleaning work was being carried out, and it was hard to see the Cathedral properly for all the crowds around it, and because of the way it is hemmed in by the Baptistery  and other buildings.  Our guide took us to see the east doors of the Baptistery, which were dubbed by Michelangelo as “The Gates of Paradise“. Lorenzo Ghiberti toiled for 27 years to make these doors, which have 10 panels depicting scenes from the Old Testament, and in one of the borders is a small bust of his own head.

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We then continued our guided walk around the historic part of the city, at one point we passed a covered market, where there was a brass boar with a very shiny nose, for it is considered lucky to either rub it, or place a coin in its mouth and let it fall into a slot below.

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Our guided walk continued down to the river to see the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval bridge featuring shops along its length – these were once butchers shops, but are now mostly jewellery shops.

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From there we were led through more piazzas with statues, including the Piazza della Signoria, with its replica of David and also many other fine statues. In the final piazza, close to the Basilica of Santa Croce, our local guide finally left us to have a couple of hours free time.

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For Carol and I the first priority in our free time was lunch, and in Italy for us that meant a nice restaurant for pizza! Suitably replenished, we set off on our own, and headed back down towards the river as I wanted to take more photographs in that area. On the way we spotted a Murano Glass shop – irresistible to us – and on the way into the shop Carol foolishly said that we were only going in to look, not to buy anything. Sure enough a little while later we left the shop with three purchases – two gifts for my lovely, special, and so understanding wife; and a lovely decoration for our Christmas tree. We successfully made our way down to the river, where I took more photographs of and on the bridge, and then we made our way back to meet up with our guide again at the same place we had left her.

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Walking around Florence I took a few photographs of the more quirky things that we saw, as I like to do. In one of them, Pinocchio is the quirky thing, not Carol – on second thoughts…..

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Our guide then led us back to our coach for the drive to our second city of the tour, Pisa, home of course to the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. On our way out of the city we were taken past the Piazzale Michelangelo, which is set high above the city and would have given us lovely views down onto it, if only we could have stopped and taken a look! Alas the guide said we could not stop as the coach did not have the correct permit. This scenic detour also took us past Villa Cora, the most expensive hotel in Florence where a top suite can cost $1,600 a night, and our local guide told us that Madonna once booked out the entire hotel for herself when she was performing a concert in the area!

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It took around and hour and twenty minutes to drive to Pisa, and as we drove into the city we could see the Leaning Tower in the distance. Like so often these days, we could only park the coach some distance from the sights, and we had a walk of around twenty minutes to reach the area where the Tower is located, including crossing a railway line.

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The Leaning Tower is actually the bell tower to the adjacent Cathedral, and the combination of the Baptistery, the Cathedral and the leaning Bell Tower together made an impressive picture. Both Carol and I were surprised just how much the tower appears to lean over when viewed directly – it looked far more than the 4 degrees that the internet informed us is the actual angle. Even at this small angle the  the top of the tower is displaced horizontally 3.9 metres (12 ft 10 in) from the centre. I would have loved to have gone up the tower, but tickets are strictly limited and only available at certain times, and we would not have had time to claim a ticket and get up and down in the limited time we had available. We therefore contented ourselves with a good look around from ground level, before retiring to a cafe for that other great Italian staple – ice cream. Our local guide had told us that ice cream had been invented by an architect in Florence, so actually we got things the wrong way around – we ate pizza in Florence, and ate ice cream (invented in Florence) in Pisa!!!

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Fortunately once we had walked back to our coach it was a much shorter drive back to Livorno and our waiting ship.

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Later that evening we set sail for our final port of call, Málaga in Spain, which we would reach after two days at sea – much needed days when we could rest up after two consecutive long and tiring tours ashore in Italy. Carol and I are not doing a tour in Málaga, we have both been there before, so my final post for this epic cruise will document what we do end up doing there, and a wrap up report on the whole cruise.

Postscript 1

During the sea day after we left Livorno, they held an “An Audience With…” session with three of the senior officers on board, Captain Åge Danielson, Hotel Manager Rico Taubert and Executive Chef Siggi Weich. It was hosted by the Cruise Director, Elliot Taylor. We had expected Elliot just to feed scripted questions to the officers, but instead the entire 45 minute session was for any questions to be posed by the audience members themselves – a commendable exercise.

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The questions asked ranged from the predictable “what is your favourite place to cruise to?” / “what is your favourite food?“, to the bizarre “Is there anyone up on the Bridge steering the ship at night?” One person did ask the Captain about all the work on the foredeck that I have reported on previous blog entries, and yes my guess was correct, it is all preparation for the two RIBs (rigid inflatable boats) which will be coming on board next month. There was a question about how many people prepare all the food in the Kitchens for our meals, and Siggi gave a very detailed and interesting answer about all the different departments and how they rotate the staff around and through them, which took up quite a bit of the time available.

There were two topics which came up which I would like to give my views on, in case anyone from management are still reading this blog.

The first was about the poor quality of the WiFi on board. Both the Captain and the Hotel Manager responded to the question about this, and they acknowledged that the current system is simply not good enough for either the staff or the passengers. My personal view is that anyway, and especially while the system is inadequate, that the pricing model is wrong and unfair, and that when purchased on a “pay as you go” basis, it should be charged by the amount of data actually transferred, not the amount of time connected to the local router, when for much of that time no data transfer might be possible. I also think that each passenger should be given a small amount of data transfer each day for free – enough for them to check their emails and send one or two to keep in contact with their families while they are away – and charging should only start when heavier usage is made (for example writing extensive blogs!). I find it so sad and wrong that for so many passengers the priority on arriving in a new and exciting port is not to explore it, but is to find the nearest internet cafe. Only the other day in Rome, while we were on a scenic tour of the city, the passenger across the aisle from me was concentrating entirely on the tablet in front of him (as there must have been WiFi on the coach) rather than the sights around him – this cannot be right.

The other topic is the loudness of the shows in the Neptune Lounge. I have been complaining for years on my end of cruise questionnaires that the sound is always too loud, especially from the Black Watch Orchestra. My usual comment is that they don’t accompany a singer or other act, the compete with them and often drown them out! I have noted that on Balmoral, Breamar (and possibly Boudicca) an acoustic screen has been placed around the drummer, which has meant that the rest of the band have not needed to be so loud to complete, and this has improved things somewhat, but alas this has not happened on Black Watch – why? The other evening my wife and I went to see the group “Dominic Halpin and the Honey Bees” perform (no Orchestra this time) – and we only lasted one song before we had to leave as it was so, so loud and we were sitting nearly at the back of the theatre. Despite Elliot’s complacent comments that it always sounds fine where he stands, there really is a problem to us sitting in the audience, and from the reaction and applause when the question was asked in the session, I know that my wife and I are very much not alone in this view.

Postscript 2

On a much more positive note I would like to give my thanks and appreciation once again to the stars of this year’s world cruise, the fabulous Black Watch Show Company. The other night they put on a show called “Moving Through the Movies” – this one was a bit different as it was nearly all dancing, and the show had been created and choreographed by the company themselves during the course of this cruise – Elliot told us that they had been busy developing and rehearsing the numbers in all sorts of unlikely places around the ship – where ever and whenever they could find space and time to do so. The results were stunning, and it was especially good to see just how talented Hannah Ford and Luke Suri are at dancing, as well as at the singing they normally blow us away with. I don’t know if Luke’s Mum is still reading these posts – but if so – congratulations – you must be really proud of your son!! Here are a selection of photographs I managed to take in the low light conditions on the night:

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W1801 – Vatican Mass

In my last post, W1801 – Slippery slope to ruins, I described our call in Piraeus, the port for Athens in Greece, and our visit to the Acropolis and coach tour of the city from there. Leaving Piraeus we then had two days at sea, sailing around to our next port, Civitavecchia, the port for Rome in Italy.

I knew Civitavecchia to be purely a commercial port, and also we had a long and tiring day ahead, so for once I didn’t bother to go up on deck to watch us sail in. Carol and I were booked on a 10 hour ship’s tour to Rome, primarily to view the Vatican, but the tour also included a lunch and a coach tour around the main sights of the city. Both Carol and I had been to Rome before in our previous lives, in my case it was a long time ago on one of the two cruises I did on the former Cunard ship QE2, but neither of us had been around the Vatican before.

It can take a couple of hours to do the long drive from Civitavecchia to Rome each way, and I decided not to take any photographs on the way to conserve battery power, as I was using my small camera that day as I thought it very likely that we would end up in very crowded conditions. Driving towards Rome we made very good time, there was first the sea and then green countryside to view, and we knew when we were nearing Rome when first graffiti and then traffic jams came into view. We had a local guide on the coach, who told us a different guide would meet us at the Vatican and take us around there.

Our coach dropped us very close to the entrance to the Vatican Museums, where we met the guide and joined the queue for group entry. The queue inched forward, and eventually we were through the security checks and were each given a radio and earphones in order to hear the guide as we went around the Vatican. The reception area was packed with people, and this was just a foretaste of how it would be all the way around the Museums and the Sistine Chapel.

The guide led us first to an outside courtyard, were we could see part of the gardens and the outside of some of the buildings. She then led us to three notice boards showing the paintings inside the Sistine Chapel, and spent ages telling us in great detail all about the paintings – both Carol and I got very impatient then, there was far more information given than can possibly be retained, and we just wanted to get on and see things – we could always look stuff up on the internet later if we wanted to know more. I got so bored I started taking photos of Carol, Bethany (the Future Cruise lady who was the ship’s representative on the tour), and the local tour guide to help pass the time!

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At last we went back inside and started to make our way around the Museums. There is a one-way system around them, but the corridors and rooms were so packed with groups and individuals making their way around that it was difficult to keep close to the guide, and with the twists and turns of the corridors and thick walls, hearing all that she was saying through the radio system was often difficult. Although there were loads of statues, tapestries and paintings to see, it was the rooms themselves with their painted walls and ceilings that most impressed me, especially a long room containing painted maps of Italy on the walls with the most amazing and complex painted ceiling.

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Eventually we made it all the way through the various Museums to the entrance of the Sistine Chapel. Here the guide told us we would make our way through the Chapel without the guides, and that we would meet the other side. We were also told that we could not take photographs inside and that we must remain silent. Entering the Chapel I was slightly overwhelmed by all the paintings on the walls and the ceiling, but mostly overwhelmed by the vast mass of people before me. Most of the Chapel was filled with people standing shoulder to shoulder looking up and around, and down the right hand side there was a procession of people being urged forward by officials. We were swept along in this procession until we ducked left and managed to stand still for a couple of minutes to look around us. However the crowds around us were so dense that it was almost impossible to take anything in, and we soon rejoined the procession and were swept on through to the rear of the Chapel.

Carol and I were uncertain where we should meet up with the guides again, but seeing some other members of our group we just joined them and waited. After a while the guides appeared, but then we waited and waited for the final few members of our group to join us. Eventually we found out that they had also been confused on the instructions and were waiting outside. It was only while we were waiting down the furthermost end of the Chapel where the numbers of people were less that we could finally start to take in and appreciate the paintings around us. We were particularly impressed with the 3D effect of figures in niches that were purely painted on the flat wall.

Our final port of call in the Vatican was St Peter’s Basilica – neither Carol or I had any idea of the size and scale of the building – the largest Catholic church in the world. Although there were still hundreds of people, the building was so large that unlike the Museums or the Chapel it did not feel overcrowded. It was absolutely stunning inside, and there is no way that my little camera could do it, and especially it’s huge size, justice.

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Carol and I decided to leave the guided tour inside the Basilica, and looked around it and the square outside by ourselves. We felt relieved to be free to move around at our own pace.

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The Vatican, like many places and sites in the world today has a problem with the numbers of people that all want to see it at the same time – our guide told us that 30,000 people visit each day on average. Places like Venice and Dubrovnik are now putting limits on the number of people that can go there, and we felt that the Vatican should really be doing something similar too – partly because the experience is so affected by the sheer number of people in the way, but also very importantly on health and safety reasons – I dread to think what would happen if for some reason the Chapel had to be evacuated in a hurry. However doing some quick sums on how much money the Vatican must be taking in each day on admission charges I am suspect things will only get worse until heaven forbid something terrible happens.

Once the group had reassembled at the bottom of the square we were led to our coach and driven to the restaurant for our lunch. The lunch was lovely – vegetarian lasagne to start, then chicken potatoes & salad, followed by a creamy dessert – with wine for those that wanted it.

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We then rejoined our coach for the scenic drive around the city. To our surprise and delight our guide ask us if we would like as an extra bonus, to go and see the Trevi Fountain on foot. Needless to say we all said yes, and the guide made quite a song and dance about the fact that this must be our secret that we went there otherwise she would be in trouble – but I suspect from the number of other coaches doing drop-offs and pick-ups in the area that this might just be a game to make their clients feel more special. Of course Carol and I threw our coins into the Trevi Fountain, although we both think it unlikely that we would want to return to Rome.

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To re-board our coach we had to walk though a long and noisy tunnel, and we made our way out of the city past the Coliseum  and the city walls. The drive back to Civitavecchia was much quicker and easier than we imagined, and we were both relieved to get back to our ship after such a busy and strenuous day, not least because we knew we had another 10 hour tour ahead the next day!

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That evening the ship set sail for our second and final port in Italy, Livorno, which we would reach early the following morning. Our adventures there will be the subject of my next post.

Postscript 1

For reasons which will soon become apparent, I am going to let my lovely wife Carol write the postscript to this entry….

Right I’ve been told by Graham that I’ve not to write about any gossip that is going on around the ship, just stick to the facts!!

We decided to try and go to the “Call my bluff” game show that was being put on at 8 p.m. that evening before the main show – why the powers that be decided to put it on that night when there were several long tours that day i.e. ours was 10 hours long and people were generally not getting back until around 7 p.m.  so needed to shower and eat before doing anything is anyone’s guess?  Anyway we sat second row back from the front on the side.  As they were preparing the chairs and tables I did say to Graham perhaps we should move to the back in case they were looking for “volunteers”  But he thought we would be alright – wrong.  Duncan asked for  3 people, 2 ladies said straight away they would do it so he then wanted a man!! Graham looked everywhere but at him but to no avail he picked on him.  I think at that moment he wished the floor would open up and swallow him!  Me, I was laughing so much I was going to enjoy it. The game soon got underway with Elliott (the cruise director) Rico (the hotel manager) and Terje the Chief Officer giving the definitions.  Needless to say the words were unknown to us all but all had lots of hilarious “meanings” according to the panel and it was up to Graham and the two ladies to sort out who was telling the truth. Who would of thought that “Pismire” meant a urinating ant? Or that Fullfart meant full steam ahead???? Somehow I can’t imagine the Captain calling that out when he wants to put his foot down!!!  I’m glad to say that Graham and his ladies managed to win the game with 3 right and one wrong.  So for once he was at the receiving end of the camera and pictures.

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Postscript 2

While we were at sea on our way to Civitavecchia they held the finals of the ‘Build a Boat’ competition around the main swimming pool on the aft deck. Both passengers and crew had been invited to build boats using any materials they could get their hands on whilst on board the ship, that was capable of carrying a cargo of 10 cans of soft drink. On the day they held two competitions, one between the 3 entries by passengers, and another for the 8.5 from the crew – I say 8.5 because Jack and Alex from the Entertainment team put in rather a joke entry consisting of two life-jackets and lots of empty water bottles tied together with string!

Like last year the standard of entry from the passengers was high, but this year the ones from the crew were absolutely outstanding – one even had working lights and radar antennae that went around! Needless to say the ship that advertised free WiFi got a particularly loud cheer!

Each boat was judged by a panel of senior officers led of course by the Captain, and points were awarded for design, audience reaction, how well they floated, and whether they survived ‘rough seas’ created by first Jack and Alex making waves, and then by one of them jumping into the swimming pool adjacent to the craft. When it came to Jack and Alex’s ‘boat’, we were amazed and delighted when the Captain himself, in full uniform, volunteered to jump into the pool to test it! The Captain surfaced minus his glasses, and was still looking into the pool for them when Jack surfaced wearing them! It was all great fun, and as with the tug-of-war earlier in the cruise, it was great to see members of the crew poolside cheering on their teams and joining in the fun.

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This was the winning ship made by passengers:

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This is the winning ship made by crew – made by a team of stewardesses who beat the teams from the engine room and from the deckhands!! :

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W1801 – Slippery slope to ruins

In my last post, W1801 – Turkish semi-Delight, I described our visit to Kusadasi in Turkey, and our tour out to a National Park which was a tale of two halves. Leaving Kusadasi, we sailed overnight to our next port, Piraeus, the port for Athens in Greece. Carol had been to mainland Greece before, while this was my first time – we both visited Crete on last year’s world cruise when we were diverted from Alexandria due to security concerns.

Once again it was a very early sail in – the Captain had said when we sailed the night before that we would be arriving earlier than planned due to congestion in port – so I went up on deck without Carol to watch us sail in just before dawn. I caught the sun rising over the hill just as we were tying up in port:

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The ship’s tour we selected was the obvious one to do in Athens – a visit to the Acropolis, followed by a short coach tour around the city. Our lady local guide told us that she spoke four languages and that she had studied ancient history and was therefore very knowledgeable, but unfortunately she was one of those who barely pause for breath when giving her commentary or information about where we were.

We drove through Piraeus and some other ‘towns’ before we reached Athens itself, but our guide commented it was not possible for a non-local to tell where one town ended and another began. We initially drove around the coast, then headed inland past several stadia from the Athens Olympics in 2004. Although there were the occasional nice buildings, most of what we saw was not particularly attractive modern concrete, especially as much of it was covered in graffiti.

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After around three quarters of an hour we arrived at the coach drop off point for the Acropolis. Leaving our coach, our local guide led us up footpaths and steps towards the entrance of the Acropolis. On the way she showed us the point at which we were all to meet up after our free time, this was right outside two souvenir shops that she recommended – as she listed in great detail everything that one of them sold I thought oh yes, here we go again after our experiences with the guide in Kusadasi yesterday!

As we climbed nearer the Acropolis the steps got steeper, and being made of marble that had been polished by countless feet over the centuries they were rather slippery too, which made the climb even more challenging. We entered the Acropolis using the tickets we were issued with, and soon had good views looking down onto the Odeon (theatre) that we had passed earlier at ground level.

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Climbing yet more steps we reached a point below the western entrance to the main site, from which there were amazing views out over Athens itself. Looking at the steep slopes and wooden steps ahead of us Carol decided she had gone far enough, and sat herself down on a wall to wait for me – she said that she would be content to see the rest from my photographs later.

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Once up the slopes and steps I emerged out onto the plateau and at last the Parthenon and the Erechtheion with its Porch of the Maidens came into view. I joined our group around our local guide for just a couple of minutes, but it looked like they were in for the long haul and I didn’t want to leave Carol too long, so I set off on my own to take lots of photographs of everything before me and of Athens spread out below all around.

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Returning to where I had left our group I was astonished to see them still there and still being lectured to by our local guide – I had definitely made the right decision to go off on my own! I then fought my way back through the throngs to where Carol was patiently waiting, and we made our way slowly back down all the slippery steps to ground level.

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When we reached the last set of steps, a large choir of young people came into ear and eyeshot – they were singing in beautiful harmonies, but alas they finished singing shortly after we arrived there. We made our way back to the meeting place, but we were very early, so we went into one of the souvenir shops and actually bought a couple of things, and were pleased to find that by quoting our coach number we were able to secure a 20% discount on our purchases. My wonderful photographic assistant, a.k.a. Carol, then pointed out a Greek Church just along the road, and I was pleased to be able to take photographs of that inside and out.

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Having stressed to us all the importance of arriving back at the meeting point on time, our local guide arrived herself 15 minutes late! She led us back down to the coach, and we started the tour of the city. It is always hard to catch half decent pictures of things seen from the coach on a panoramic tour, these are the best I could manage from the moving coach:

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We did make one short photo stop, at the Panathenaic Stadium, build where the original marathon ended – when the soldier brought news of victory back to Athens after running 26 miles, and promptly died. Our guide told us that this stadium is where the Olympic flame is always lit from the sun before being taken to each Olympic Games location. From there we also had a good view looking back to the Parthenon.

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Completing the panoramic tour, we drove back to Piraeus and our waiting ship. After lunch Carol and I went up onto the top-most deck to look at the views of the harbour and the city around us.

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After a busy morning we decided not to go ashore again, and rested in the cool of our cabin for the rest of the day. We did go up on deck to watch us sail, and later I returned to catch the sunset over some Greek islands.

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We then had two days at sea, sailing towards our next port of call in our penultimate country, Civitavecchia – the port for Rome, Italy. Carol and I have 10 hour tours on the next two days in Italy, so after three quick posts there will be a pause for a few days before I have time to write and post the next ones.

Postscript 1

In the morning of the second sea day we passed through the narrow Straits of Messina, which lies between mainland Italy and the island of Sicily. Before we reached the narrowest point we had to stop to take on a pilot, and also so that a medical emergency could be transferred to intensive care in hospital on shore using a Coastguard launch. Sadly the person very ill is a friend of ours that we made on last year’s world cruise – Carol did the quizzes nearly every day with him – we obviously send our very best wishes to him and his wife at this time.

I had not appreciated just how narrow the Straits of Messina are, the land seemed very close each side and we could see the waves in the water as it ripped through the narrow channel – no wonder a pilot was mandatory. It was just a shame that the weather was so misty – I’ve had to quickly process my photos a bit (which I never usually do) just to bring some detail up.

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Postscript 2

In my last blog I mentioned that Carol and I had been to see Bethany, the Future Cruise lady on board. We had gone with a very complicated proposed change that involved a couple of cruises that we had already booked and a new one, and we had left her to see what she could manage for us. This afternoon we called by her desk to see if she had any news, and bless her she was just putting the last line to a letter to us confirming everything we had asked for was all accepted and arranged. What a superstar! Your “dad” William must be very proud of you! A huge THANK YOU from us both. Here is Bethany (on the left) with her “sister”  Scout:

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W1801 – Turkish semi-Delight

In my last post, W1801 – Alexandria the Great, I described our visit to our second Egyptian port, Alexandria, and the excellent tour we made there around the town of Rosetta. After leaving Alexandria, we had just one day at sea crossing the Mediterranean Sea before reaching our next port of call, Kusadasi in Turkey. Although Carol had visited Turkey before, this was my first visit to the country.

It was an early morning sail into Kusadasi, so I left Carol in bed and went up to watch us arrive on my own for once.

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The ship’s tour that Carol and I had selected was called “Turkish Villages and Bird Watching”, which consisted of three parts – and I quote from the Tours guide:

  1. Explore the charming village of Doganbey, considered by many to be similar to an open-air museum with beautiful examples of age old Greek architecture.
  2. Go in search of local bird life at the Karine Lagoon, one of the most attractive lagoons due to the variety of wildlife including birds to which it provides sanctuary.
  3. Spend some time at leisure exploring the small fishing village of Karina and the Aegean coastline.

This all sounded wonderful and we were really looking forward to the six hour tour that lay ahead of us.

There were only around 16 of us on the tour, and our coach took us out of Kusadasi and across countryside to the Dilek National Park, where the village of Doganbey is located. To reach the village our small coach turned off down a rough track, and to start with we wondered just where we were going. We pulled up outside a small museum, and we were led inside to watch a very interesting and beautifully photographed film about the National Park and the wildlife to be found there. After watching this film Carol and I were even more convinced we had struck gold with this tour. When the film was over we were led upstairs to view the museum exhibits, which were mostly either stuffed birds and animals (or their skeletons) from the area, or lovely photographs of the National Park.

Once everyone had finished viewing the museum, our local guide led us on a walking tour of the village, which was simply stunning. After the hustle and bustle of Egypt, this was an oasis of peace and serenity, with just the sounds of the bees humming and the birds tweeting, and the village nestling in the hillside was so attractive. After a while we came to a small cafe with a very attractive garden, and here we paused for a while so people could buy a drink if they wished. Carol and I shared a tall glass of delicious raspberry juice, which cost us just 1 Euro. We then completed the walk around the village, returning to our waiting coach. So far, so good – this part was wonderful!

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The coach then simply took us down to the bottom of the hill, where there was a tall wooden tower, which our guide told us was the first venue for bird watching. The tower was right beside the road, miles from the sea, and the only bird or animal life we saw from there was a flock of sheep being herded by a local farmer and his dog.

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After a few minutes there, we then drove down to the coast, and to be fair I did spot a heron from the coach window! After a while we stopped by a second wooden tower, which overlooked the open sea and a small beach with a couple of restaurants behind. I went up the tower, and with the help of my powerful and expensive binoculars, I did manage to see two mallard ducks and a swan near the beach, and a small white dot that could have been an egret way in the distance. Frankly the chances of seeing any birdlife at either tower given their roadside locations was virtually nil, especially as by then it was the middle of the day.

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While I was up the tower Carol remained close to the coach, and some other passengers asked the local guide if they could walk on down to the beach area. They were told no, although it was only a short distance down a gentle hill – he said that we all needed to go together so that we would know where the coach was parked and where to go.

We all duly drove the very short distance down the hill to the beach in the coach, where there was only one very obvious place for it to park. Here the local guide strongly recommended which restaurant we should buy our own lunch in, and gave us around an hour and a quarter free time at the location so we could have this lunch – bear in mind that in the tour description nothing was said about having lunch, at our own expense or otherwise.

Carol and I sat down at one of the outside tables, and with hindsight unwisely started a large bottle of water while we waited for the menu to arrive. When this finally arrived there were no printed prices, and it was extremely limited – we were told we could choose a fish and it would be cooked for us, starting price was 30 Euros each, plus more depending on the weight of the fish chosen. Bearing in mind this is in Turkey with their normally low prices, there was no way we were going to have such an expensive meal in such an ordinary restaurant. We asked how much for the water we had started, and were shocked to hear he wanted 5 Euros! We paid for the water and walked away disgusted. The other restaurant had a small shop attached where we were able to buy some crisps and biscuits, which made for a much more realistically priced lunch until we returned to the  food on the ship. We then had a long and tedious wait sitting on rocks until it was time to go, which was even longer than expected as those who did decide to eat at the restaurant were late due to the slow service there. So much for a small village to explore – there was absolutely nothing to the place.

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The tour that had started so promisingly had just completely fallen apart – as to why the local guide didn’t take us further to the bird lagoon, just to two towers by the roadside that we were passing anyway, and insisted on taking everyone of us to outside a particular expensive restaurant with loads of time there, I will leave you to draw your own conclusions – Carol and I certainly have our ideas.

Apart from the lovely first village, one thing that we both enjoyed seeing during the day were the bright red poppies:

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At long last it was time for the coach to depart, which took us back to Kusadasi and our waiting ship. Here Carol decided to return to the ship to rest on a comfortable seat, while I decided to use the three quarters of an hour left before we had to be back on board to quickly whiz around the port area taking photographs of anything that caught my eye:

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Safely back on board ship, we both went up on deck to watch us set sail for our next port, Piraeus in Greece, which will be the subject of my next post.

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Postscript

Later we sent to see Bethany, the Future Cruise lady on board, about a possible change to one of our planned cruises. We asked her if she had been ashore that day, and she told us that she had, with several other members of the crew – William the Destinations Manager, Scout his assistant, Kaidi from the Photographic team and Danielle from the shops. She told us that they all went to a cafe, and that the proprietor thought that William was father to all four girls! Needless to say they all started calling him Dad!!

Next morning when we called by the Tours Desk we asked Scout if her Dad was available – which produced a laugh from Scout and a groan from William in the back office. He came out and said “You are not going to put that in your blog, are you?”. Thanks William, it hadn’t occurred to me until you kindly suggested it!

 

W1801 – Alexandria the Great

In my last post, W1801 – Suez Crisis, I described our transit of the Suez Canal, and how the decision was finally made that we could visit Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt after all – on our world cruise last year we were unable to dock there due to security concerns.

We sailed into Alexandria early the following morning, and as usual Carol and I were up on deck to watch us sail in. It was not the most scenic of approaches, the commercial docks seemed to spread before us as far as we could see in either direction. The Captain made sure everyone was awake when several very loud and long blasts on the ships horn were needed to encourage a small fishing boat out of our way. As we neared our berth we could see a lovely palace in the morning light.

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The ship’s tour we had chosen was to visit the town of Rosetta, where the famous Rosetta Stone was found with the same text inscribed in three different languages, which allowed Egyptian hieroglyphics to be translated for the first time.

As Carol and I walked across the quay towards the terminal building we were stopped by a reporter with a microphone and a cameraman – we assume interviewing for television news. The reporter asked us how we felt coming to Alexandria, and what we were going to do there. We responded very positively, but of course we will never know whether we were stars on the local television later that day!

Leaving the smart terminal building behind, we set off through the busy streets of Alexandria, and out along the main road to Rosetta, passing fields, lakes and huge numbers of palm and other fruit trees on the way. As in Sharm el-Sheikh the security was very evident, we had an armed policeman on board the coach – he was joined by three more once we reached Rosetta, and a spare coach followed us around all day.

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Entering Rosetta there was a large cannon in the middle of the road, and we saw others inside the town too. Our local guide, Zara, pointed out the paintings on some of the walls, she told us that each year schoolchildren are given a project to paint the pictures on the walls for that year. Shortly after reaching the River Nile we alighted our coach and walked to the nearby museum. Here inside one of the old merchants houses we saw a replica of the Rosetta Stone, and learned more about it. The stairs in the merchants houses are really steep – Carol had a bit of a struggle to climb them – despite people being shorter when the houses were built. We were told that this was to slow any guests up as they entered the house, to allow time for the owner to tidy things away!

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We then set off on a walking tour around the market area of the town, and it was very interesting to see all the different stalls – and the inevitable flies! We noticed how welcoming everyone was – we got lots of smiles and waves and thumbs up signs – we were the first cruise ship to visit Alexandria for some time and people were really glad to see us. At one point our guide stopped to buy everyone on the tour some date bread – it was straight out of the oven so no problem with flies – and it tasted delicious!

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We stopped to view the inside of a church and a mosque, and  another merchants house and an old animal-powered mill:

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Returning to our coach which we boarded back, near the River Nile, we drove out past shipyards and brick factories to see the old fort where the Rosetta Stone was discovered. There was not a lot to see there, apart from some old cannon balls, but there were some good views of the River Nile from up on the top of the walls of the fort.

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As we re-boarded our coach once more, we saw a small but brightly painted ice cream cart being pulled along the road by a donkey which was very quaint.

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We then drove out to the mouth of the River Nile, where we stopped to eat our picnic lunches. This took is through a poorer part of the town, and we were very struck by the amount of rubbish everywhere – our guide told us that currently there is no rubbish collection, she hoped that might start when the tourists return to the area in numbers. Also in this area we saw lots of posters, our guide told us that for weddings and birthdays instead of sending out invitations, they put up posters inviting anyone to attend. After eating our lunches we drove back to Alexandria and our waiting ship, stopping for just a minute or two on the way to allow us to photograph the outside of another mosque.

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Returning to our ship we managed to get up on deck just in time to watch the sun set over the harbour:

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Before we visited either of the two Egyptian ports, Sharm el-Sheikh and Alexandria, both Carol and I were rather unsure about what to expect, and how much we would enjoy our visits there. In both cases we were delighted with what we found, especially with how friendly and welcoming the local people were, and we very much enjoyed both our days in Egypt.

Postscript

When the coach returned us to the port, it made sure it dropped us at the far end of a row of tourist shops so that we had to walk past them all. One of the shopkeepers made contact with Carol while she was still on the coach, and ushered us into his shop where he did a very determined effort to sell us anything we might possible want, including getting someone to go off in a car to get the particular trousers that Carol wanted. There then followed the usual haggling of course, but we left well laden but satisfied with our purchases and the prices paid.

As we passed by one of the other shops the shopkeeper ran out towards us, took my hand, and offered me 100 camels for Carol!!! I had a good think about it, but I decided that there just wouldn’t be enough room in the cabin for all those camels, so I declined his offer! He settled for a photograph of himself with Carol on his phone.