Our spring trip to UK

0500hrs on the 1st March and our drive back to UK starts; we were going to go a day or so earlier but we were “Parrot sitting”. We were very honoured to be trusted to look after Rita’s parrot “Jack” whilst she and her whole family had headed to over to the US to visit Disneyworld.

Our first stop was Andrew’s new home in Frejus (south of France), a hectic, 12-hour journey with minimal stops using expensive toll roads all the way. We were welcomed at the “building site” by Andrew and were told his plan to have a bed “up and running” for us didn’t work out and that we were booked into a local hotel for a couple of nights.   After an enjoyable French meal and catch-up we went to our hotel, exhausted.

St.Tropez buzzing as usual

St.Tropez buzzing as usual

We arrived back at the “building site” the following morning and took in the magnitude of the project Andrew was undertaking, converting this building from

Classic boats moored in St.Tropez

Classic boats moored in St.Tropez

four small flats into one, very nice home for himself.   Everywhere you looked there was work in progress but looking past all that, we could see a very “quirky”, “different”, and very modern living space; though 2881b5fd-a6d9-493d-a0ff-9eba4e69679dnot quite to our taste!!! We think, (well hope), Andrew was pleased for our visit as it gave him the excuse

Overlooking the harbour

Overlooking the harbour

to forget about the builders etc., and go out for a few hours. We had a very pleasant drive along the old coast road to St. Tropez where we had an enjoyable lunch and a relaxing walk around the harbour enjoying ice creams in the warm spring sunshine.

The next morning we headed north to Orleans where we spent a night with Catriona, Mike (Christine’s Nephew) and the two boys, Tobin and Max. Their apartment is right in the centre of Orleans so the buildings are not modern and their flat

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc

was on the third floor with no lift; steep stairs and everything has to be carried up, ugh!!!! We had another enjoyable evening catching up with all the news etc., and naturally discussing the pros and cons of Brexit as we both have a vested interest.

The next morning Mike left early to go to work, the boys went to school and Catriona

Lovely square, shame about the weather

Lovely square, shame about the weather

had some business to complete before she could go “out to play”. We therefore took this opportunity to wander about Orleans “in the rain and cold” to get a feel of the place before the 3 of us met for an early lunch.

Orleans is on the River Loire and has quite a history stretching back to when Julius Caesar conquered the area in 52-BC. During the reign of Charlemagne,

Cathedral

Cathedral

(800AD-814AD) Orleans became the intellectual capital, and in the 10th and 11th centuries was the second most important city in France after Paris. Of course the most commonly known historical fact is about Joan of Arc, the “girl” who led the French army against the English in 1429 and broke the 7-month siege during the 100-years war: (1337-1453).   In the 16th century Orleans was a Protestant centre until the Roman Catholics took control in 1572 when they massacred around 1,000 Protestants on St Bartholomew’s day.

The centre plaza of Orleans was very modern with trams running around it and the centerpiece is a statute of Joan of Arc. Running of

Beautiful old buildings with modern shops

Beautiful old buildings with modern shops

this plaza is a modern street with fancy shops and at the end stands the magnificent Sainte-Croix Cathedral, started in in the 13th century, then largely destroyed by Protestants in 1568, and reconstructed after King Henry 4th of France made funds available to rebuild it.   This cathedral is the same size as Notre Dame in Paris.   Naturally much of the centre of town has been rebuilt following destruction caused by bombing etc., during WW2.

After a pleasant lunch with Catriona we headed north to Cherbourg to catch the overnight ferry. We were dreading this passage as there was a storm passing through the English Channel during this time and the wind and rain were frightening but I have to say we escaped, luckily the storm had passed us just in the nick of time, and we had a very smooth crossing.

We arrived in Poole early on the morning of Tuesday 5th March and headed to Portsmouth where we stayed with Jenny and Bill but prior to arriving at their home we spent the day in A & E Portsmouth as Christine was suffering extreme chest pains. Fortunately, and after numerous tests and many hours sitting in corridors, she was discharged as the tests they did confirmed her heart was good. Unfortunately these tests did not find out what her problem was but she did feel better. Met up with Kathleen and Tom and went for a lovely meal in local pub.

After 2 nights at Jenny and Bill’s we headed to Essex for a night before heading to Northampton for a weekend with Mark, Paula and the family.

We had a good and relaxing time catching up with all the news, especially the girls with their studies and love life etc., and being the middle of the 6-nations, watched a couple of matches on the TV.

We headed back to Essex on the Monday and had a hectic week at Jane’s and we were taken to ballet, gymnastics, swimming, pre-school etc., with Mia.

Friday morning and we were off again, this time to Towcester near

Franklin gardens

Franklin gardens

Northampton to Visit Jeff and Hillary for a “fest of Rugby”. We had tickets for the England V Scotland under 20’s game at Franklins Gardens, (home of Northampton Saints) in the evening where England scored 45 points against Scotland’s 7, a resounding win. On the Saturday we headed down to London as we had tickets for the main event, the “Calcutta Cup”,

Twickenham

Twickenham

England V Scotland at Twickenham, and being a late kick off we had booked into the Crowne Plaza in Ealing. This match was the classic game of two halves. England totally dominated the first half going into the break at 31:7 ahead. After half time there was a total reversal, Scotland totally dominated the second half and after a final scramble in the 82nd minute, George Ford managed to score a try under the posts and when he converted it, England matched Scotland’s score. A very

Before match

Before match

disappointed Scotland following their gallant effort; and naturally a disappointed England, that ruined their chances of winning the 6-nations championship.   Actually it was the fairest result under the circumstances and added to the atmosphere and excitement within the stadium, all of which made this a fantastic fixture.

Back to Towcester on the Sunday morning as we were then then off to Franklins Gardens again, this time to watch Northampton Saints; they were playing Saracens in the premiership cup final.   This was an extremely exciting match, which, un-expectantly Saints won 23:9 and won their first bit of silverware this season; long may winning become a habit!!!   Following this game we had another superb curry at the canal side Indian “Spice of Bruerne” at Stoke Bruerne.

Monday morning and we were off again, this time to Chester to have a night out with our good friends, Dave and Leisha. We stayed on the Chester Race Course and met them around the corner at the “Architect”, a Georgian designed pub serving traditional “good pub food”. What a good night we all had; we recounted our canal experiences and stories; we laughed, I don’t think we have laughed so much for quite some time; we drank, I don’t think we have had so much drink for such a long time, and after a very congenial evening went our own ways. Fortunately we hadn’t too far to stumble back to our hotel whilst Dave and Leisha fell into a taxi outside the pub!!!!

The other reason for visiting Chester was to finalise arrangements with my decorator, carpet man and managing agent for my new rental. Once completed we headed off to the Peak District to stay with Marian and Martin. A little bit of a detour on our journey south but always good to visit them in the peak district, however, Martin was on his own as Marian had gone to visit her Mother. Whilst there Martin up-graded my laptop and it is so much faster, thank you Martin.

Wednesday 20th March and we went South again, this time heading to Portsmouth, naturally via our usual haunt, “Ockham Bites” for our favourite double bacon baguettes.   Whenever we are in the UK it is strange how we always seem to manage a visit here.

Thursday and our last full day in UK and we had a number of things to do but the two main reason for being there was to collect all our boat “things” from Tom’s loft. These were left after we sold “Megastar” at the end of last year.   But firstly a quick visit to Pat, (Christine’s sister), where we met up with Marian and to check all was well following Pat’s new hip operation, then onto Tom’s. Our concern was that we had forgotten what there was in his loft and worried it wouldn’t all fit in the car, but once we arrived and lightened the burden in his loft, we were unexpectedly surprised that with Christine’s careful packing it all fitted into the car; what a result.   After a superb dinner with Tom and Kathleen, but before we headed off to catch the overnight ferry to Le Havre, we made a quick, un-scheduled visit to our friends Dave and Sue who were very surprised to see us.   Next stop Ferry queue, fortunately the weather was better and we were looking forward to an un-eventful crossing.

We arrived early morning in Le Havre with insufficient time for

Early morning in Honfleur

Early morning in Honfleur

breakfast, so once we cleared the town, we headed into Honfleur. This is an old and very pretty and quaint little town situated on the southern bank of the mouth of the

View from our cafe where we had breakfast

View from our cafe where we had breakfast

River Seine. Historically it was a very important port, firstly during the 100-years war then later as the starting point for goods travelling to and forth to England, Canada and many other places.   We enjoyed breakfast overlooking the harbour with its multi-coloured buildings all around. Later we took a walk around and decided we needed to come back here at a later date and explore it properly.

Today we were driving to stay with old pals of mine, Sandy and Wendy who live near Lorient, (Brittany), on the west coast of France. The last time we had seen them was when they stayed with us in Spain a couple of years ago, so there was much catching up to do. Again we had lots of laughs and after two nights set off, heading back to Andrew’s as we had been informed this time we would have a bed inside the building site. We had had enough of long days driving, so decided to stop half way at a place called Brive-la-Gaillarde, again quite an attractive b29b2b75-f021-47ec-9756-f499e7e16d87centre to mooch about, though it was cold.

Marina near Andrews

Marina near Andrews

Off again south, the weather improving as each mile went by and finally we arrived at Andrew’s, not knowing if we had a bed in the house or in the local hotel. Andrew greeted us with the good news, we were staying in the house, and looking around, it was obvious there had been a fair amount of work done since our previous visit, 3-weeks earlier. We had another good two night visit, with Andrew managing his time between his business commitments, watching his small army of builders going about their business, and looking after us: however, our opinions on this house haven’t changed, its not for us if for no other reason there are steps everywhere!!!

Leaving mid morning and not wanting a repetition of the 12 hour drive we did on the way up, we booked into a hotel in the ancient town of Tarragona with its many Roman remains. This place goes back to 2407BC and is steeped in History.   In the evening we did have a little time to look around the central area of the town but not the interesting parts, so we must return someday.

After a good breakfast in a very comfortable 3* hotel that most probably should have been a 4*, we headed back home, arriving early evening and we were very happy to be back having driven 3,574 miles.

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Sea Days

Saturday evening and our first night on this, the last leg of our cruise heading non stop back to Southampton, it got off to an uncertain start.  Eight of us met up on our new table, a retired Geography teacher from the South and his lady friend from Essex, a retired couple, both US

Our new table friends

Our new table friends

judges from Texas and two widows from London well into their 80’s; quite a mixed bag but we kept an open mind.    Looking around, it certainly looked as if the Britannia restaurant was full up, so any chance of moving table looked improbable. Oh dear, best foot forward and see what happens.

Fortunately everybody seemed to want to make it work, and after introducing ourselves managed to enjoy a light hearted conversation involving everyone throughput the meal; so far so good.  One of the ladies though was concerned she may not come back as she had to negotiate a number of stairs to get to our table but after persuading her to have a glass of port, I think she was having second thoughts.

Sunday and our first of five full days at sea.  Apart from round the clock eating, there were lectures, films  and reading to fill our day, or so we thought.   Remember the saying, “be careful what you wish for”,

Paul Debbie Geoff and me

Paul Debbie Geoff and me

well, walking into a lecture an Australian lady tapped me on the shoulder and said “hello Geoff” and gave me a kiss, I looked at her with surprise until it dawned on me who she was.  Paul and Debbie were two of our fun dinner companions on the Queen Victoria, what a coincidence.  This chance meeting re-kindled our friendship over a few beers in the Golden Lion pub on board.

Tonight is formal, it was also the captain’s cocktail party to welcome

Xmas decks in dining room

Xmas decks in dining room

everybody on board and we enjoyed it in the company of our dinner table companions, school teacher Andrew, and his lady friend, Angela.  Fortunately on this occasion we had a seat in the main “waiters” thoroughfare and champagne was flowing!!!!  Like a well maintained clock, dead on 1800hrs the party ended and we had to leave for the Britannia and go to dinner.

Fortunately all of us had enjoyed the ships “complimentary fizz” before arriving at our table so we were all quite relaxed and “Sonia” let go🤪🤪🤪, probably much to Gill’s disapproval!!!!  Sonia and Gill are the widows and well into their eighties so what the heck.  Another sociable night followed; what a difference a change of table makes!!!!!  Things were working out so well that we were the last but one table to leave; I bet we will be the last before we arrive at Southampton.

Xmas show

Xmas show

Monday and Tuesday followed the usual pattern, eating, lectures, films etc., but walking around the deck was not an option, well not for us as it had snowed, it was very cold and windy and the sea was beginning to get slightly uncomfortable, well for some anyway.

One thing we like about travelling this way across the Atlantic is, there is “no jet lag”, the clocks go on 1 hour at midday so no sleep lost, it just brings lunch an hour earlier!!!

Tonight we had another good night around our table and I also encouraged Sonia to enjoy a small port with her coffee.  

Wednesday and again at sea, though today we had all the political disruption about Teresa May and the vote of confidence so we were pretty well glued to the TV, well in between lectures and eating that

Geoff catching me unaware!

Geoff catching me unaware!

is!!!!!! Another good evening at our table and an interesting discussion with our American judges from Texas, Keith and Elizabeth, about the variances in the laws between the States.

Tonight our entertainment was music in the guise of two classical pianists, Worbey and Farrell, playing one piano with a lot of comedy; they were very entertaining and well worth watching.  After this we went to the Queens Room where the Queens Room and Royal Court bands joined up and produced “big band” music.

Thursday, another time-change at midday and the good news is the sea state has calmed down.  

Today, amongst the final lectures was one on the life and “times” of Oscar Wilde, very interesting it was to but this ship is all about “extracting” as much money as they can from their guests, and continuing this theme, today we had a Christmas market.  Following the lecture about Oscar Wilde, and whilst the Xmas market was taking place, I went to watch his play performed by a company of RADA, “The Importance of Being Earnest”.  It was an abbreviated version and adapted to fit into the ship’s timetable but good nevertheless.

Tonight we had agreed to meet Paul and Debbie, our Ozzy friends from the Queen Victoria in the Veranda Restaurant for a farewell meal.  We had a great night, lots of laughs and banter mixed with a little alcohol.   Cunard are getting quite naughty these days regarding money.  To enter this specialist restaurant there is a $39 pp cover charge and then if you stray off their “official” menue, there are supplements!!!  Still we had a good time.   Being much later than usual we went to the 2230 hrs show and as one would expect it had a Christmas theme, “Jingle Bells Rocks” performed by the Ships resident Bandmasters Singers and Dancers.   To finish off an excellent evening, Christine and I  went to the “Pub” and listened to the last of the “Karaoke” singers, some OK, some not so OK!!!!!!   One more sea day left😡😡😡😡😡

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Last few days of the first leg

Lots to choose from

Lots to choose from

Thursday 6th December and the birthday party’s over, we have another couple of days at sea, so it’s business as usual; eating, lectures, eating, reading eating and trying to socialise with our table companions, not very much success there, rather like the

Birthday cake, spoilt as usual x

Birthday cake, spoilt as usual x

weather, getting colder.

Friday 7th and it’s our last day at sea for this leg of the cruise, we dock in New York early tomorrow morning.  Today all the lecturer’s wind up their various talks and also they have brought the late theatre show forward, no doubt to allow everyone to pack and place their luggage outside their doors ready for collection; not for us on this occasion though!!!

New York at night

New York at night

Today we kicked into touch the idea of dining in the Britannia restaurant; we couldn’t bring ourselves to join our usual table this evening and sit down and go through the “platitudes” one does with dining companions at the end of a cruise, instead we went to lunch in Britannia and made this our main meal, and very nice it was.  This also meant we could go to the theatre with the late sitting diners for a change.  On several occasions as I have already said, we were not on a happy, party, social, funny table, and have talked many times about

New York

New York

our Queen Victoria cruise table.  Not only did our table of 6 gel, we had an excellent waiter and sommelier, who we kept very busy, which added to the fun, if only the others were here!!!!!  

Tonight we also picked up our room key-card for our new cabin, 4 decks below so we also had to pack everything ready for the transfer.

Saturday and We passed the statute of liberty around 0530 this

Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty

morning and fortunately “El Capitain” held off the microphone, no announcement to wake us.    As we weren’t interested in getting off the ship and heading into New York, our instructions today were simple and clear, wait for the call for last passengers to leave then head off, armed with our old and new key-cards and passport and head for US immigration, ugh?  We’re heading straight back to UK, why go to all that time wasting trouble I ask.

We joined the queue at immigration behind the passengers leaving ship and waited. Fortunately the queue moved fairly quickly and eventually we were through and then walked round into the booking in hall.  Following the usual security checks we bypassed the queue of folk waiting to check in and sat in the waiting area along with about 500 other passengers who are staying on board who also had to go through the same “meaningless” procedure.   We knew our new cabin was ready, after all we had checked our luggage had arrived safely before disembarking and presumably, the vast majority of the people waiting were still in their same cabin!!!!!!

After a wasted morning and back on board it was lunch time, again. Today was all about getting another couple of thousand passengers aboard so there was nothing happening so we caught up with our reading, wondering all the time if we had done the right thing, moving to a new table of eight.

As dinner time approached and we were dressing in “smart casual”, we were still wondering what our dinner companions would be like right up to 1800hrs when all would be revealed. Continue reading

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Ending our Caribbean part of the holiday

No announcements from the captain this morning, hooray, however we switched on the TV to listen to the cruise director’s daily bulletin talking about today’s activities and when she came to Birthdays, Christine was mentioned; job well done!!!!!

Being back to a sea day, lecturers were the order of the day; the topics continued where they left off before we arrived in the Caribbean: History of Concorde; historical topics relating to the Caribbean and a new guest speaker, the author Peter James who was fascinating to listen to.  After his presentation we bought one of his books to “check him out”.

We had a gentle lunch today as I am taking Christine out to the speciality restaurant on board, “The Veranda” where hopefully the food will be as top notch as their prices!!!!!  After lunch I went to further lectures whilst Christine took in the last of the Caribbean sun around the pool; tomorrow we will probably be too far north.

Tonight we had an invitation to The captains cocktail party for “frequent guests” which kicked the evening off but, unfortunately it ended sooner than we would have liked ( stopped the free champagne!,) so had to take a break until our dinner reservation came round.

After a couple of cocktails we took our first table in the Veranda restaurant, but weren’t happy as we had booked a table by the window.  The Maitre de went to great lengths to explain it was first come, first served, naturally we kept to our line, we booked a window table.  To cut a long story short, we finally enjoyed an excellent meal overlooking the aft deck next to the window!   I think I managed to surprise Christine with the cake I had organised; it arrived accompanied by the waiters singing happy birthday 🎂; another job well done!!!!!

Tonight we went to the late show for change and it opened with the singers and dancers.  This was followed by an American comedian, so we placed ourselves for another quick getaway as quite often the American comics are very parochial with their content which goes straight over European heads.  Tonight though was different, his humour, probably “risky”, hit the spot, everybody in the audience thoroughly enjoyed listening to him, everybody was rocking with laughter, excellent entertainment.  Now it was passed our bed time so straight back to the cabin ready for another day at sea tomorrow. 

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More Caribbean

4e83d77e-0a76-4e1e-bd62-2d895b5f2da2Tuesday 4th December and we arrived at Road Town in Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, we knew that thanks to the Captain’s announcement, again!!!!!  When we looked out of our cabin window 14b48a1a-8659-4677-a42d-edaa265efd7band were faced with the Disney “Micky Mouse” cruise ship so the town and beaches will be busy, especially with children, still, as it’s our last day in the Caribbean, it has to be the beach.

No tendering today so walked off  QM2 soon after breakfast and jumped into a communal taxi and headed across the Island to Cane Garden Bay.  Road Town is that capital with a cruise ship dock and a very large marina where yacht charter company “Sun-seeker” is based.  There were quite a few of their charter yachts moored so maybe business isn’t so good for them, this  being their busiest time.

The road out of the town heads straight up the mountain;  it is very steep, very narrow, very bumpy, with a numerous sharp bends all with difficult passing places. As we crawled up at less than a snails pace, probably due to the vehicle being rather old and fully loaded, we were all crunched in with no air con and only small windows open.  I couldn’t help hoping that on our descent back down, the brakes had better performance than the engine going up.  This thought wasn’t helped much when the driver, with his West Indian sense of humour told us, “what goes up must come down”🤞🤞🤞🤞   Fortunately everything worked and we arrived ok.   Again a fairly crowded beach but there wasn’t the hassle we experienced at Carlisle Bay; we walked to the end, found two sun beds and set up camp.   Bearing in mind two big cruise ships were in town, the beach was really quite quiet, so enjoyed our part of the Caribbean Sea in peace.  Topping up Christine’s tan was the objective so I investigated the beach bars and enjoyed a bottle of “Carib”, for old time sakes of course.

Tortola in common with most, if not all, are still recovering from that terrible hurricane that tore through the West Indies a year or so back, we were told that here 75% of all buildings were affected in one way or another.  The one thing all the islands have in common is their resilience to adversities. 

When we had had our “fill” we eventually left and headed back to the taxi stand.  When we boarded the earlier bus to come here, we bought a return so no issue getting back: I must say everything was well organised, “and” we weren’t charged for our sun beds; what a result!

Our journey back was more comfortable, our vehicle was a modern, open sided bus, not full so we could spread and enjoy the ride back, and certainly not as hairy.

Arriving back at the cruise terminal we naturally had to stop at a bar for that last rum drink, and to our pleasant surprise, they sold “Ting” so rum and Tings were the order of the day.

Back on board we had our first and only formal night whilst being in the Caribbean, still there’s another one whilst heading back to New York; having dragged a case with all the necessary regalia, it would be churlish not to use it as often as possible. 

Back onto our usual “exciting” table; we really should have made the effort and moved, though this may have been difficult as the ship is full and the restaurant have allocated all the seats. Anyway after the exhilarating dinner we headed to the theatre.  Tonight there is a classical pianist so sat near to the end should we need to do a quick exit. 

Katie  Clarke from Norwich was extremely good and very entertaining, needless to say we stayed and enjoyed her performance ‘till the end.

Tomorrow, 5th December is the first of three sea days, but more importantly it is a big day, it is Christine’s Birthday.

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More of the same

Wonderful this morning, we didn’t arrive at St Kits until around 0930, so didn’t have the pleasure of the captain waking us to tell us we’d arrived.

Neither of us could remember St Kits though we think we sailed in here on Whitbread, some 11 or 12 years ago so decided to go ashore and see if our memories could be jogged.  Soon after collecting our tender ticket we were called to our tender, a far cry from the disaster at St Lucia a couple of days earlier.  Dropped off at the terminal amongst all the touristy shops luring you in with the promise of the best deal on earth and a free gift if you go in, we walked straight through and into the original town of Basseterre, apart from a coffee we covered enough of the town to understand why we couldn’t remember if we’d been here before, nothing of interest.  We found a supermarket and bought some still water but didn’t find sparkling for Christine so headed back a different way to the ship when we came across a Chinese shop, yes they are here as well!!!  To be fair they did stock sparkling water and Christine would have bought the remaining 6 bottles, but could only manage to hold 5, she dropped one and being glass didn’t bounce; 😬 whoops 😬, this action did cause a mighty uproar with some fellow who walked in with no shoes on!!!!!

Back on board and a visit to the buffet before relaxing on our balcony.  We’ve never had a balcony before, couldn’t see the point as there is plenty of deck space and thought it was an expensive add-on.  I think we have changed our minds as we have used and enjoyed it on this cruise.

I have to say the lure of the Caribbean is very strong and much to Christine’s horror, I hanker to have another boat out here.

After a pleasant afternoon sunning ourselves on our balcony we went down to the Britannia restaurant, again, and then thoroughly enjoyed a show of singing and dancing by the Royal Court theatre singers and dancers backed by the Royal Court Orchestra. Tonight there was a Caribbean party on the aft deck though it wasn’t very well attended, perhaps it would have been better on a sea day when people hadn’t been ashore.  Also Christmas has arrived, they are getting toe decorations out, more on this later post

Tomorrow we head for Tortola, our last Caribbean destination before heading north to New York.

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