Cyclists are a Menace!

20/4/17. Between Lisbon and our next stop, Bilbao, we had another sea day giving the opportunity for another bridge session with Marc and Ron followed by afternoon tea.

We had both visited Bilbao before, Stephen on several occasions for business, and like it very much. So again we had no particular plans -just spending the day walking around enjoying the atmosphere and being in the 35th country of our 2 year jaunt around the world.

In addition, Stephen had arranged to meet Fátima, a former work colleague, who lives in the town where the ship docked. We had drinks and a lovely chat in a small restaurant overlooking the harbour where the ship was docked.

When it was time to return to the ship we stepped out onto the promenade just as a cyclist came along the cycle path that comprised half the promenade. He was going at a fair lick and just missed Stephen and then Fátima before ploughing into Christine. Both of them ended up on the floor, Christine sprawled on top of the bike.

Not surprisingly, she was very shaken up by this and sat down for 10 minutes to get over the shock. This done she headed to the toilet in the restaurant to see what had caused the marks that had appeared on the front of her trousers near the top of her leg. She discovered a deep hole in her leg – which immediately brought a return of the shock, dizziness and being very squeamish, she subsequently managed to faint!

Fátima drove us to the ship where we grabbed a wheelchair and she was wheeled down to the medical centre where the doctor inserted 5 stitches in the wound.  She is hobbling a little but is OK and, thankfully, not in much pain.

Oh the irony of it! We have spent such a long time riding bikes around the world and then, just before the end, one of us is clattered by a cyclist.

Incidentally the cyclist was equally shaken but seemingly only had a couple of minor grazes. Christine is not angry with him even though he was going too fast for the conditions. The doorway from the restaurant opens straight onto the cycle path and we were hidden from his sight, and he from ours by a pillar until the very last moment. Another not brilliantly designed cycle lane.  Hopefully next time he will slow down a bit!

18/4/17. Our third cruise has been as enjoyable as the previous two, so far at least. It started with 6 “sea days” as we headed for our first port of call, Ponta Delgado in The Azores. Although some people find these days at sea somewhat boring we enjoy the indulgence of having no commitments or things that “must be done”. We played bridge each afternoon with Marc and Ron (so Christine and Jim will need to watch out when we get back to Tadworth!) and caught up on several films on our list of those that we had missed while we have been traipsing around the world, including Hidden Figures and Lion, both of which were as excellent as the reviews suggested.

Christine took upon herself the task of organising church services on both Good Friday and Easter Sunday mornings and was surprised to find herself in front of about 900 people (Stephen’s estimate) for the second of these. Although she had not “appeared” in front of so many people before she didn’t let it daunt her. Stephen was immensely proud of her!

Stephen’s highlight also occurred on the same day but was much less worthy! He was complemented on his “beautiful cyclist’s legs” by a lady as he walked out of the service! He was slightly overwhelmed by this (but kept his composure enough to offer to hold onto her white stick!!) (That last part was a joke.)

There are the usual overwhelming quantities of food available at any time, day or night. Christine has particularly enjoyed going to afternoon tea most days – even though she cannot drink tea (it gives her a migraine). Of course what attracts her are the cakes – especially the scones with jam and cream!

The weather has been on the disappointing side with generally cloudy skies and much colder than we had been expecting (hovering around 20°). Also on occasions the wind has been strong (30-40 knots at times) which has made the water quite choppy. As a result the ship has rolled noticeably at times although the stabilisers have kept this to a sub-seasickness level, even for Christine who has a strong susceptibility to motion sickness of all sorts.

The two stops in port so far – Porto Delgado and Lisbon – have both been extremely pleasant and relaxing. As the organised tours are ludicrously expensive ($69 for 2½ hour walking tour round Lisbon -per person! – for example) we have elected to do our own thing. In Porto Delgado we looked round a very impressive garden and the food market before wandering thing the town soaking up the atmosphere and sitting outside the tourist information office downloading podcasts over the wifi.

Although there is more to see in Lisbon, it being a much larger city of course, we adopted a similar approach as we had a long weekend there about three years ago when we saw most of the sights. Therefore we were content to just walk around the streets of the old town and the shopping area looking at the very nice architecture and people-watching.

Boat Back to Blighty

8/4/17. With a fair degree of sadness, later today we start on the final leg of what has been a two year journey when we get on the Crown Princess here in Fort Lauderdale. The cruise will take us to Southampton via The Azores, Lisbon, Bilbao and Le Havre (which they call “Paris” for goodness’ sake!) arriving on 22 April.

As internet access seems to be even more extortionate than on other cruises ($70 for 2 hours!!) we will be “off the grid” for the next two weeks unless we find free access at one if the stops.

See you on the other side!

USA Here We Come

13/11/16. We are almost there. The bags are packed. The bikes are back together. We dock in Fort Lauderdale early tomorrow morning and we have to be off the ship by 10.00 am.

It has been a wonderful two weeks of luxury. We are not looking forward to getting back in our little tent and cooking one pot meals after a large, comfortable bed, en suite loo and humongous amounts of food! But our waistlines will be better for the exercise!

The ports of call on the islands have been an interesting and varied selection. On St Maarten we went round the island (including the French half) by a series of three local buses. Christine was delighted when, on a “wifi visit” to McDonald’s, she was given change in euro coins from four different countries including, amazingly, Finland.

St Kitts was lovely. We wandered round the town of Basseterre and loved it. The buildings were interesting and there seemed to be a sense of civic pride with several people working on keeping a park tidy and weeding around the base of trees in the main square. The cricket ground, which does sometimes host test matches, was very picturesque and well kept.

We didn’t get to see much of St Thomas (US Virgin Isles) as we didn’t complete Immigration checks on board until 2.30 – there were 6 officials to process 3,600 passengers and 1,200 crew all of whom had to be checked even if they were not going ashore. When we did get off the ship we were surprised to discover that they drive on the left even though most vehicles are left hand drive. The town was largely devoted to jewellery shops because there are larger duty free allowances from the islands when entering the US but we did hear that there were nice beaches a short taxi ride away.

The next stop was San Juan in Puerto Rico. We were not expecting much but were blown away by the old town which was full of narrow streets with lovely buildings from the Spanish colonial period (it only transferred to the US after the Spanish-American war of 1898). There were also two large forts and the second oldest cathedral in the Americas. It is definitely worth a visit.

The last stop was at a resort owned by the cruise line on Haiti. It felt a bit “Disney” and not the “real” Haiti but was a pleasant enough place to go for a swim and a snooze on the beach. We arrived later than planned as two hours out of San Juan on the previous evening we turned round and went back to Puerto Rico because of a medical emergency for one of the passengers. The captain tried to get a US Coastguard helicopter to take the person off but apparently the wind was too strong, although to us, experienced mariners as we are (!), it didn’t appear so.

Slow Boat to the Caribbean

7/11/16. (Actually its pretty quick, going at about 18 knots day in, day out.) We are almost in the Caribbean after 8 days at sea without a sight of land (except if you were up in the wee, small hours when we went past the Azores). And it has been fun! We are enjoying cruising the second time round.

Our activities have been more “structured” than on our only previous cruise in that we have taken part in a quiz each morning (forming a team with Pat, Susan, Mick and Mick – we came joint 7th out of 77 teams over the 8 days of the competition which pleased us enormously) and then playing bridge most afternoons (unless it clashed with a film that we wanted to see). Initially, the bridge was not quite so successful as the quiz, partly because there were some seriously good players (regularly playing 2 or 3 times a week at clubs) and partly due to our ineptitude, but in the last two days we have fluked a 1st and a 2nd in our “half” of the draw. In addition, we have both been taking an early morning “constitutional” around the jogging track after which Christine has gone to mass at 8.15 each day while Stephen has had a leisurely breakfast.

For the first 3 or 4 days we found the ship very crowded because the autumnal weather kept most people below deck but as we have travelled south the temperature has improved and now the sun loungers on deck are in short supply as the Brits attempt to turn lobster pink en masse.

The cruise is completely sold out so there are 3,600 passengers on board and a huge majority is British. The next largest contingents are Americans and Germans and then a smattering of others, although we did hear someone say there are more than 60 nationalities on board (including crew).

A surprising number of people we have met are using the cruise to get across the Atlantic to their winter homes in Florida and, like us, will cruise back in the spring. We have been staggered by the number of “veterans” we have met – many have taken more than 10, 20, 30,…. cruises. One lunchtime we sat next to the ship’s loyalty program manager who told us that there are over 1,000 members of the Diamond Club (70+ nights on Royal Caribbean cruises) and 29 members of the Pinnacle Club (700+ nights)!

Much to Christine’s delight we have had an extra hour in bed on 4 nights as we put the clocks back. She is not looking forward to this aspect of our journey back to Europe in April as we will lose an hour on a regular basis!

Every day at noon the captain gives an update on our progress. A few days ago he told us that he had altered course to avoid a storm in which the wind was blowing at 60-70 knots. Even though we passed 500 miles to the south of the centre, walking on the deck was still challenging at times because we had winds of 35_40 knots and waves of 3 or 4 metres. The ship’s movement was noticeable but not dramatic thanks to the deployment of the stabilisers. Seasick bags were placed at various points around the ship and we heard that one or two people were unwell but thankfully we were not affected (Christine has been dosing herself on Stugeron throughout).

Tomorrow we reach our first port of call in St Maarten (the Dutch half of an island shared with the French). One of the main attractions seems to be the shopping (groan!) but we are hoping there will be something else of interest – even if it is only sitting on a white sandy beach gazing at the blue sea!

We’re Off Again

30/10/16. Later today we will be getting on board this beast for the next two weeks.

The Independence of the Seas
The Independence of the Seas

We will be leaving Southampton to cross the Atlantic in 7 days before spending a week visiting a number of islands (St Kitts, Sint Maarten, US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Haiti). We arrive in Fort Lauderdale (just north of Miami) on 14 November. While on board we will be “offline” as wifi is ridiculously expensive but we will see if we can hook up when ashore to post an update or two.

The last few weeks have been spent very pleasantly visiting family and friends in and around Oxfordshire, Bristol, Surrey and Hampshire and girding our loins about us for the next stage of our travels. Although we are not exactly going off the beaten track, we are both experiencing a degree of nervousness – more a case of “What have we forgotten?” than “What is going to happen to us?”

We’ll see you on the other side!

We’ve Been on a Cruise!

And we loved it!!!

Stephen is completely discombobulated by this. He was absolutely convinced that we are not the sort of people who would enjoy it and cannot get his head around the fact that we did.

So what was so good about it?

  • It was like being in a good hotel all day with excellent staff who cannot do enough for you.
  • It was just so relaxing.
  • If you are “time rich” as we are lucky enough to be now it is a tremendous way of getting from A to B – so much better than flying which is just a chore.
  • The food was great and always available.
  • Although there were 3,498 other passengers onboard you could find somewhere quiet to sit and read.
  • Or you could go people watching on deck.
  • Or you could find someone to talk to who almost always had something interesting to say. There was only one meal when we sat next to a yawn-inducing couple.
  • Christine did not get seasick.
  • Christine enjoyed attending mass on the mornings we were not ashore with a lovely priest taking it.
  • The entertainment and films were good if you chose carefully.
  • Having an inside cabin was not a problem. Many people said that they looked out of their window or used their balcony first thing in the morning and that was it. They didn’t go back until bedtime.
  • All this cost us £72 per day (including “compulsory gratuities”)! For both of us!! Amazing value.

What were the downsides?

  • The days ashore did feel a bit rushed.
  • A potentially interesting series of lectures was a complete waste of time (see Just Cruisin’).
  • A couple of the films were repeated. Inside Out was shown on 3 days in 2 weeks – a great film but there are others that could have replaced the repeats.

Photos of the ship added here.

The Last Day

29/4/16. Overnight we sailed back down the Malacca Straits to our final destination of Singapore. Some people disembarked that day but most people (including us) stayed on to enjoy the food and facilities for one last night aboard.

Because we will be spending several days in Singapore, we were in no rush to get off, which was perhaps as well as the immigration staff were overwhelmed by the number of passengers. Their procedures were more rigorous than elsewhere (Brisbane, Darwin and Port Klang) but eventually we were allowed entry.

Our first task was to find an ATM (changing money onboard is expensive because there is a conversion into USD first and then another one into the currency required). There was a metro station and adjacent ferry port less than a kilometre from where we docked but, much to our surprise, neither had a “money machine”. So we set off towards a strange looking hotel (three tall towers with, bizarrely, a boat in top! Google “Marine Bay Hotel” to see what we mean.) which has an adjacent shopping mall.

By crikey, was it hot and steamy walking there! It was 35° and very humid. We were very glad to reach the air-conditioned mall and soon found the desired ATM. The shops in the mall were amazing – all the top European brands such as Prada, Dior, Chanel, Louboutin and even one selling only Rolexes. Christine started looking in a jeweller’s window and spotted a large diamond ring. It sparkled like nothing she had ever seen before. But her jaw dropped when Stephen pointed out the price tag to her. Just the odd £300,000! We decided not to buy it as it might be a little risky to take on the bikes!

The mall also had an ice skating rink (not operating when we were there and a small “canal” with gondolas and the Rialto Bridge from Venice! Amazing!

Gondolas and the Rialto Bridge in a Singapore shopping mall.
Gondolas and the Rialto Bridge in a Singapore shopping mall.

After lunch we caught the metro into the centre and wandered around for a couple of hours, taking in the cathedral, the cricket ground, a walk along the river, and Raffles Hotel, before heading back to the boat for last minute packing and reconstructing the bikes.

Onboard we bumped into two couples who we had enjoyed speaking with and so had a chance to say our goodbyes. We also enjoyed a “last supper” with Shirley and Graham from South Australia with whom we had shared a table every night and who are excellent company. It was also an opportunity to thank the waiting staff, Brent and Putu, who had been great fun.

Arriving in Asia

28/4/16. Stephen was up early on Thursday as we docked in Port Klang in Malaysia. Walking onto the deck there was a faint smell of burning and it looked to be foggy, although as it was still dark it was difficult to tell. The captain later confirmed that conditions were affected by fires “on the islands” (not sure whether he meant Indonesia which usually gets the blame for this sort of thing through clearing forests for agriculture) although when the sun rose it was hazy rather foggy.

Disembarking, we were diverted from our plan of hitting the nearby town of Klang by free wifi in the terminal building. Being among the first off the ship we enjoyed good download speeds initially but as the lounge filled up (with crew as well as passengers) things slowed down markedly.

Having dealt with most of what we wanted to do online,we set off on our plan of walking to the nearest ATM and then catching the train, based on where Google Maps showed the cruising terminal to be. After a few hundred metres Christine checked our position using the GPS on her iPad only to find that we had docked about 8 km from where we thought! There were several taxis hanging around just outside the port petimter (to avoid paying a few for entering) so we jumped in one, having agreed a price up front, and 40 minutes later we were in Klang.

We can see why none of the ship excursions called there! It is not the most picturesque of places but fortuitously we had been dropped outside a shopping mall that seemed to focus on “technology” so we were able deal with our our second major objective of the day, getting Malaysian SIMs, (the first was getting online). It took quite a long time to get the SIMs up and running but thankfully the lady who sold them to us was very helpful and got things sorted by putting them in her own phone. (We paid in cash and will not be using our credit cards for top ups so it should be “safe”.)

There was an hour or so until the time when we had arranged for the same taxi to pick us up, so we explored the area around the mall without straying too far. The only things of interest where a very smart mosque and a covered area with food stalls with many sells – not all appetising! We saw one cyclist – an old lady going the wrong way up a one way street.

By pick up time we had exhausted the delights and were glad to find our driver. In the morning we had crossed a bridge which had 3 or 4 alarming plumes of thick black smoke rising from somewhere under the road. On the way back there were several fire engines on the other carriageway and the police were in the process of either closing the bridge or at least one of the lanes in the direction in which we were headed. We just squeeked through!

The ship left an hour later than planned because several of the official excursion buses arrived back after the last boarding time and after that 2 passengers were “paged” several times leading us to speculate that they had not been checked back onboard.

A Couple of Old Salts

24-27/4/16. Much to both our surprise, Christine has been able to cut out the seasick pills completely after taking a full dose for two days and then reducing the amount. She has also dispensed with the “sea bands”. (For those who don’t know, she is one of the most prone to all forms of motion sickness – which is a bit of a hindrance for someone who loves traveling as much as she does!) BUT the sea has been like a millpond all the way!

A surprising number of passengers finished their cruise in Darwin – around 900 people, or a quarter of the full capacity, left and a smaller number joined there for the second half of the journey to Singapore.

The first leg to Kuala Lumpur (actually to Port Klang) is 4 straight days at sea, as from Brisbane to Darwin, and life aboard slips into a lazy routine. Pretty much the only way to tell the days apart is from the inset in the carpets in the lifts which tell you what day of the week it is!

Monday was ANZAC Day which remembers the Gallipoli campaign from WW1. There were two services on board –  one at dawn, where people were stood 10 deep around the swimming pool (including Christine) and one at 11.00 which over 1,000 people attended. Remembering the war dead seems to be a much bigger “thing” in both Australia and New Zealand than in the UK.

Along with reading and various forms of exercise, we have passed the time watching films (the latest Star Wars, The Martian and Steve Jobs), a Q&A session with the Captain and other senior officers and a Queen tribute band performance. Oh, and Stephen took part in a maths “quiz” which he won, returning with several Royal Caribbean souvenirs as a prize.

The route saw us heading west from Darwin to the edge of the Indian Ocean. One of the TV channels shows a similar display to the moving map on planes. After being about 150 metres deep for much of the passage through the Torres Strait and past Darwin, the sea bottom went to more than 3,600 m or about 12,000 ft. We then headed north between Bali and Lombok into the South China Sea past Java and Borneo and over the Equator, which was the cue for a silly ceremony with Neptune to celebrate. We didn’t see the big red line that the Captain had told us we would pass during the Q&A the previous day! It was then into the Singapore Strait, past Singapore towards Port Klang, where there was an amazing number of ships.

The Q&A session produced a number of statistics that appealed to us two “number nerds”.

  • The ship was the biggest in the world when it was launched in 1999.
  • it is nearly 50% bigger than America’s largest aircraft carrier.
  • It was the first ship with an ice rink.
  • It cost US$750 million.
  • When away from land all the water needed is produced by desalinating seawater.
  • There are 1,200 crew including 500 waiting and kitchen staff.
  • The average water consumption is 229 litres per person per day.
  • 17,000 meals are served every day to passengers and crew.
  • The La Scala theatre is modeled on its namesake in Milan and is 5 decks high.